Shiny! New Tools For Your Blog

Blog tools

Blog tools

Yes, I admit it, I’m a Firefly fan – if you didn’t know where the quote "shiny!" came from… there you go.

Speaking of shiny… lately there have been some new plugins surfacing that can help you be more productive with your blog. For those of you maintaining a blog – automation and enhancements will get you those "shiny" responses!

I’ll share some of the things that have me excited.

Automate Posting to Social Media

Don’t you love time savers? Here are three worth considering to cut down on your social media tasks when promoting your latest blog post!

  • Twibble. Twibble will tweet your latest blog post title and URL to Twitter WITH your featured image. The latter is particularly important since having a nice big photo in the Twitter stream brings attention to your blog post. Similar to Dlvr.it, Twibble uses your RSS feed to grab your latest post. Unlike Dlvr.it, you can schedule what time your tweet is posted. I love solutions like this because it means no plugin that has to be updated.
  • Post Promoter Pro – I finally purchased the plugin for myself (have a client using it). For those of you who want to work on Tweet phrases etc inside WordPress instead of an outside service, this is for you! Once you have published your blog post, you can go to the Scheduler tab of Post Promoter inside WP. You can edit the times and titles (phrases) to what you prefer. Post Promoter works with Twitter and LinkedIn with Facebook coming out in the next release.
  • Dlvr.it – I keep discovering new gold with this service. Dlvr.it will auto post your latest blog post title with a URL to your social networks. Although it isn’t clear in their instructions, they do offer posting of photos too. It isn’t turned on automatically to post photos; go to the pencil icon for your RSS feed (on left) to bring up the Source Editor and click on "post photos." In addition to posting your title and URL to social networks, you can customize the text to be added such as "via @YourTwitterName," which is nice so people know who it’s from. To post to Google+ you need the premium plan.

While On the Blog

I’ll be honest – many social share plugins are eyesores, taking too much attention away from your content. Design tip: keep it simple with icons! Fancy is out, simple is in! This is one of the web trends that has definitely changed, so don’t go to fussy with the social media share stuff.

  • Simple Share Buttons Adder – still loving this plugin. Social sharing without the bloat of the popular ones which really kill your website download speed (turn off counters, though!). I wrote a post last month if you want to check it out and it has a pro option, too.
  • Related Posts for WordPress – trying this out. Showing related posts at the end of an article you enjoyed is a nice feature. Not only that, but Google counts reader time on a site as part of your bounce rate. My related posts plugin nRelate is closing its doors this month so I am trying out Related Posts for WordPress. Has a premium option if you want more control. Still working out the kinks but so far pretty nice – let me know what you think?

I hope that helps you be more productive with your blog post sharing needs.

Have a time saving tip for your website you want to share? Do tell!

Posted in Social Media, Website tips

The GRAMMYs and Going Mobile!

Paquito D'Rivera website

Paquito DRivera Website

Congrats to my client, Paquito D’Rivera, on his second GRAMMY win for the album "Song for Maura" with Trio Corrente. First with the GRAMMYs and second one with the Latin GRAMMYs.

I was caught off guard by an informal email, "We just won a Latin GRAMMY… we need something good online!" It was 6:00 pm and I was getting ready to sign off for the day. I didn’t realize it was THE DAY!

Artwork – so what are the Latin GRAMMYs using to promote their stuff? Off I went because if you are going to announce winning a GRAMMY, you need something in sync with what they are using. The website itself was still airing the broadcast and the only sign of the win was the updated web page. Obviously they still had a long ways to go. No help there. Next stop was Twitter – yikes! The updates were way behind. It took until 9:30 pm, but finally I had something I could use (screenshot of the win announcement) and a style I could go by. In the meantime, I quickly created some artwork they could use the next day for a blog post announcement and fired off to the client for approval.

Working with such a talented client and management, is fun because it keeps me on my toes!

Website in the Queue

It hit me after all the excitement – Shoot! The new website is just hours from being finished! We were converting the Paquito D’Rivera website at Arts Assistance to a brand new responsive (mobile) design. Traffic to the website would be spiking and wouldn’t it be nice to have the new website live?

I don’t know how my client’s management survived my many emails – but we got the proofing done and went live within 24 hours. WAHOO!

Google Favors Mobile In Searches

It has been four years since the last website design update for the artist. You might not be aware, but there has been a fundamental shift in website development. Responsive design (mobile friendly) has become the new standard since 2010 (some may say even 2009). Even Google is trying to push for everyone to convert. But we needed the right image and design that reflected the personality of the artist and finally we had the perfect picture!

Within three days of launching – Google had indexed the new website. Wow!

What You Need to Know

Google now identifies mobile-friendly websites in search engine results to mobile users. Why? Because no one on a phone wants to squint at tiny type!

Check out the screen shot I took of Google search results.

google search result

Google definitely favors mobile sites. For businesses, desktop-only websites that aren’t mobile friendly are losing to competitors who made the switch.

Make 2015 the year you switch to a responsive design so your site is viewable to all device users. After all, doesn’t everyone use their smartphone to surf the web?

Posted in Mobile, Web Design

A Dying Trend – Sliders

Slider Sample

Slider Sample

In web design, trends come and go and you learn to keep an eye out for them. The life span of popular trends can take a nosedive rather quickly with websites. Sometimes trends start to die out for good reasons.

Let’s take sliders, for example. They’ve become so ubiquitous with sites it’s hard to avoid them. If you were having a site designed, you wanted one because doesn’t everyone? It’s the thing to do.

In the last two years, I have had to talk many clients out of the idea. If you weren’t a heavy picture-producing company with a portfolio, why would you need one? They require a lot of maintenance to keep them fresh. Yes they were pretty, but were they appropriate?

Sliders Don’t Sell

I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the notion that "sliders don’t sell" since they do benefit certain people, like interior designers. Obviously they have a lot of photos to feature and the judicious use of sliders might be a good introduction. Just don’t make it the only way to view pictures; don’t overwhelm the content, and keep in mind they have usability problems (can’t use the keyboard to access, for example).

Banner Blindness

Most companies have content or offers they need to feature to entice the user to venture further into a website. Unfortunately, sliders (a.k.a. carousels) haven’t lived up to the promise of engaging users. They seemed to have developed "banner blindness."

Wednesday, industry leader Jeffrey Zeldman tweeted a link about sliders from his leading web design conference "An Event Apart." The tweet shared a link to the website "Should I Use A Carousel?" produced a year ago. It was the first time I’ve seen it, but I was already aware of other articles indicating that people simply ignored them. They were used too much; it made sense that people skipped them to get to the content – you know, information we actually want and need.

Here are some quotes from "Should I Use A Carousel?"

"1% clicked a feature. Of those, 89% were the first position. 1% of clicks for the most significant object on the home page?" nd.edu stats by @erunyon

Ouch – 1% for a site that has over a million hits! Here are more:

"We have tested rotating offers many times and have found it to be a poor way of presenting home page content." Wider Funnel in "Rotating Offers, the Scourge of Home Page Design"

"Carousels are effective at being able to tell people in Marketing/Senior Management that their latest idea is on the Home Page. Use them to put content that users will ignore on your Home Page. Or, if you prefer, don’t use them. Ever." Lee Duddell

"Carousels pose accessibility issues for keyboard and screen reader users that simply cannot be adequately addressed by markup or hacks. Carousels are this decade’s <blink> tag." Jared Smith

The data has been pouring in on the ineffectiveness of sliders, which means this trend is dying. Ineffective techniques get the boot by those making websites. So for your next website – give this a pass!

FYI – a word to the wise with looking at theme sellers. Since people love the look of sliders, you’ll see them as the last bastion of website makers promoting sliders. They target the uninformed buyer who most likely doesn’t have a developer to clue them in.

What do you think of sliders? Do you notice them or simply continue scrolling to get to what you’re looking for?

Posted in Web Design

Bigger Font Sizes Mean Fewer Wrinkles!

Cute wrinkled dog

Cute wrinkled dog

Can we apply anti-aging tips to font sizes? Sure, why not? All that squinting to read stuff might cause crows feet! Egads!

Okay, so you might not be too worried about wrinkles, but you want your audience to be able to read your websites and emails, right? They probably don’t want to squint to see them; if it’s too frustrating, they may give up and leave. A savvy marketer wants the reader to stick around – that is just common sense.

What’s Your Size?

Let’s take a quick survey!

If you aren’t sure you can check at Stylifyme. So if you are wondering what size you need to be less squinty? Well, it depends.

What Font Size Should You Use?

It is going to depend on the font your body content (paragraphs for example) is using. Typically nothing under 16 pixels. Some fonts run small, you may need to beef them up to 18 pixels (Please note pixels, not points).

But isn’t the standard 12 pixels? Yes, and a few years ago that would have been fine; however, technology doesn’t stand still. Computer and mobile phones have increased resolution display sizes in recent years. Everything looks smaller which means, oh no, those 12 pixel fonts look TINY.

For example:

  • Yo – I’m 12 pixels
  • That is so yesterday – I’m 14 pixels!
  • Puhleese who says that? I’m 16 pixels!
  • (Flexing arm muscles) bigger is better, I’m 18 pixels!

Depending on your screen resolution – that will really vary on how that looks for you.

Whoa – What About Emails?

Mobile phone users have really nice resolutions. They have extra squinty text challenges.

Resolutions are so advanced on phones, I took the advice of EmailOnAcid (an email testing service) on recommended phone font sizes. Phone users for my newsletters see 24 pixel font sizes for the body copy.

You can apply this to a website also. Media queries allows you to target mobile users; just set the body copy to 24 pixels instead of the usual 16 pixels. I have done this with 2 websites recently and my clients love it.

Posted in Web Design

Do I Really Need a Home Page Button?

Confusing directions

Confusing directions

How Sophisticated Are Your Website Visitors?

This is important to consider when you decide upon navigation for your website. People have little patience and usually aren’t willing to spend much time looking for things on your site.

Here are two hot topics that you should consider for your navbar:

How Do You Get to the Home Page?

If you’re on a website exploring and can’t find what you are looking for, you might be inclined to return to the home page.

Hopefully, your audience doesn’t need to go back to the home page to look for anything. If they do, your navigation isn’t clear, and may need some adjustments so people can find what they are looking for (check search results in Google Analytics or check your search plugin if you have one).

Is there a right answer to A, B or C? Not really, but wowza, you’d be surprised how strongly people feel about these answers. Here is how it breaks down:

  1. Home button users are not explorers; they haven’t figured out most logos go to the home page. These users are probably older and used to seeing the home button or icon more prevalent on sites developed prior to 2008.
  2. Logo clickers have figured out this shortcut to the home page. These folks are on the computer a lot (both young and old). They appreciate shortcuts, so if they are "desk jockeys" they probably know.
  3. If a logo is missing, a techie type will be impatient and just edit the URL in the browser. It works – try it!

Casual Users. If you know casual computer users are the majority visiting your website, you might need a Home button. It isn’t sophisticated, but it works! But also link the logo to the home page – don’t hang the sophisticated users out to dry.

Sophisticated Users. If you have mostly sophisticated users, they know the logo goes to the home page. Skip the Home button. If they’re your main audience, don’t dumb it down with a "Home" button; it will not make a good impression. Oh and don’t worry about the URL editing folks, they are surviving quite nicely.

Why Worry About One or the Other?

The Home button on a horizontal navigation bar takes up VALUABLE space, so it’s important; don’t base design decisions on the minority! Focus instead on the majority of your target audience!

What? The Top Button Goes to a Page?

These days the navigation bar links are usually pure text instead of images. But when they were images (pre 2007), the top-level button with a drop down menu underneath was just a holder that went nowhere, like a subject button.

But once menus became more accessible, retailers and other large sites, hated wasting valuable "real estate" on a navigation bar. Top-level buttons are hugely important.

This one is definitely a hot topic. Not everyone has realized times have changed. Websites now link a page to the top-level button.

Fortunately only the minority haven’t learned the top-level button goes somewhere. Online retailers have taught us everything is clickable!

If you have a lot of drop down links underneath a top button, you might want to make the top-level page (we call that the parent level) a guide to the rest with links. This will make it easy for your visitors.

Don’t Forget a Search Box

Tip: provide an easy to find search box. It shouldn’t supersede your marketing, but at the very least put it in the footer or as the last thing on the sidebar. Check results of searches (your analytics) to see if your navigation needs some adjustments.

Do you go back to the Home page when you are lost on a website?

Sign-up for our newsletter for more great tips!

Posted in Web Design

Setting Up and Installing Sucuri

Sleepy Puppy and all good things that are fuzzy

Sleepy Puppy and all good things that are fuzzy

Okay, so you have decided you don’t want to wait for disaster to strike. Or it has happened before and you really don’t want to go through a hacked site cleanup again.

Sucuri is one of the leading tools to protect your website.

I’ve outlined the steps to get you started with Sucuri (the paid version) to save you some time. And can I say congrats for being a smart business person, an ounce of prevention will likely save you a wad of $$$ down the line. Malware cleanup is not a cool business expense!

Be Smart, Get Sucuri and Protect Your Website

First, sign-up for a Sucuri paid account (affiliate link). Yes they have a free plugin but it doesn’t include cleanup and customer support, etc. (they are good about answering quickly).

Once you get your lovely new account, roll up your sleeves, it’s time for some setup.

  • Go login to Sucuri.net.
  • To add your website, go to the "Website Monitoring" tab on the left (probably the default you might be there already). For a new account, scroll past the video to "Add Default Website" and add your URL in the field.
  • Click on "Add Website" on the right add the URL in the box and click submit. (They have a video for just this step http://kb.sucuri.net/videos/sucuri-welcome-intro .)
  • You should now be on "Website Monitoring". To the right of the website domain name click on the gear shift icon to go to the Monitoring panel.
  • Modify monitoring type to every 3 hours for Malware and add WHOIS monitoring for every 6 hours.
  • Click on button "Enable Email Reports" and put in your email address where you want to be notified.
  • Scroll down to the "Server Side Scanner Settings" area and click on the "Enable Manually" tab.
  • Download the Sucuri php file in step #2. Keep this panel page open.
  • Upload the Sucuri file to the public HTML (root) of the server for the website via FTP.
  • Go back to step #3 inside Sucuri and click the green button to "Verify File and Enable".
  • Yeah, your website is now being scanned by Sucuri.

WordPress Plugin – The Missing Link

Want to know what is happening from your WordPress dashboard… follow these next steps.

This is hard to find, access for the plugin isn’t available from the Sucuri.net dashboard. Sad face! I asked support and they gave me the link. The plugin at wordpress.org is not the same one – we are talking about the premium plugin which currently is separate. *

  • Login to Sucuri.net and go to https://wordpress.sucuri.net.
  • Click on the "Download" link at the top.
  • Login to the WordPress site at domain.com/login (of the site you are working on).
  • Go to "Plugins" on the left dashboard and "Add New" tab.
  • Click on "Upload Plugin" at the top.
  • Choose the Sucuri-wp-plugin.zip file and "Install Now".
  • Activate the plugin by clicking on the activate link.
  • Sucuri will display a message to "Activate" Sucuri.
  • On the Sucuri dashboard in WordPress you will need to get the API keys. Login to Sucuri.net (the provided link does not redirect properly and instead goes to the Website monitoring panel.) Enter the https://wordpress.sucuri.net/ URL to get to the WordPress panel after you login.
  • Click on the "Settings" menu at the top (you might already be there).
  • Add the URL of the website "Add a new WordPress site for monitoring:"
  • Copy the Authentication Key. Go back to the Sucuri dashboard within the website WordPress dashboard, and paste in the key at "SUCURI API KEY".
  • Setup "Main Settings" and select "Save values".

Ah, security Zen!

This is too Geeky For Me

This is one of several plugins I use to monitor website security. Get Sucuri and a host of other monitoring tools to keep your website in top form! No geek speek required. Read more.

* "The free plugin will be replacing the Premium plugin in the coming weeks. Eventually, there will only be one plugin. If you have the premium plugin, and install the free version, the free version will overwrite the premium version."

Only one plugin will be available and you enter your code to access the premium features.

Posted in WordPress security

Best WordPress Plugin for MailChimp Users

MailChimp

MailChimp

Simplify Your Newsletter Forms on WordPress

Busy marketers may need something a bit more than one newsletter sign-up box on a sidebar. If you are maintaining more than one list, and are a MailChimp user, you need something that makes life a bit easier. Connecting with multiple lists isn’t the norm with most plugins for newsletters. Of those that do connect to multiple lists, they usually are fairly complex.

MailChimp for WordPress Pro

This plugin is the answer to saving your sanity in setting up multiple list sign-up forms. If you need forms to different lists, MailChimp for WordPress Pro is THE plugin to do the job.

In the WordPress community we get rather spoiled, a lot of solutions available without opening your pocketbook. However, this is worth the $49 for this very well maintained and powerful plugin.

This plugin does come in a Lite version, but like most plugins, does not offer multiple lists connections.

Features of MailChimp for WordPress Pro.

  • MailChimp for WordPress Pro can see all of your lists in MailChimp.
  • Unlimited sign-up forms, each can go to whatever list you choose.
  • You can redirect your sign-up form to your own thank you page or message. Much less confusing to users if they can stay on the website instead of a MailChimp tab.
  • Add a checkbox for your newsletters to comment forms, registration forms etc. See the full list.
  • Comes with an easy to use WordPress widget.
  • Forms can be individually styled.
  • Comes with an embeddable shortcode, add your sign-up forms anywhere on the website.

The developer is also very good about responding to email. One of my clients needed to be able to see more than the average number of lists displayed and the developer quickly expanded the capability to a larger number. I’m not sure 24 hours even passed, that was unusual even with the more expensive plugins.

This well maintained plugin is going to save you time. Multiple list users need multiple forms. MailChimp for WordPress Pro is the best plugin for the job!

Do you use a plugin for MailChimp? Which one?

Want More Plugin Recommendations?

Posted in WordPress Plugins

Choosing Colors for Websites

colorful rubber bands

colorful rubber bands

Do you have a favorite color or colors? Most of us do. I’ll tell you mine, it’s black. Yeah, weird I know, but I used to be a musician and black is the concert dress color for orchestras (think tuxes). To me it will always represent the business of making art in whatever form it takes. As much as we enjoy our favorite colors, it isn’t necessarily a great choice for websites. Black backgrounds for websites, for example, are definitely out and have been for years. Remember when it was everywhere?

Choosing Colors – It’s Not About You, It’s About THEM

Repeat that 3 times!

Individual color preferences can get in your way. For successful design marketing, this needs to be a great marriage. You can’t pick PINK if your audience is predominantly men. You need colors (two preferably) that your audience likes or can relate to. Preferably colors shown to successfully sell in your products/services category.

Don’t Forget Your Logo

Assuming you have a logo – your color scheme may already be locked in. You don’t want to go outside the normal parameters of a color scheme at odds with your logo. It should use the same color with perhaps some complimentary or varying shades within those colors.

Most logos are 2 colors, one is dominant and the other a secondary color. Assuming your logo is a good fit for your audience, this is the basis of your website color scheme.

Don’t Listen to High Volume Marketers

Unless you are mass marketing, you are appealing to a specific target market. Following the advice of a generalized marketing guru for color choices may lead you to poor choices. They are not designers or even user experience experts. They may tell you RED TEXT is necessary to bring attention (never mind red is a terrible accessibility color) or all call to action buttons must be YELLOW.

(Yes I know, I have some red in my wallpaper, part of my market is the performing arts. It is a stylised wallpaper based on old concert halls.)

Only recently have marketing gurus stopped using auto-play videos, well after data showed people abandoned pages with them. Do you like auto-play? Yeah, me neither, and the last time I asked my audience about that – I received a lot of NOs. Talk about a hated technique yikes!

Recently, a client instructed I design with a color scheme I know they weren’t fond of. Their logo didn’t lock them in to any specific color scheme, but they knew their market well and they wanted site visitors to be able to relate and be comfortable. That was very savvy marketing on their part.

Such extremes are usually not needed, and if you are branding based partially on yourself, you will want something that is reflective of who you are. After all your audience relates to you (or you prefer people who relate to you), so the color choices are appropriate. However, if you want pink glitter and you are a medical transcriptionist, then maybe not so much!

But small businesses on up usually are not personality based, they are dependent on appealing to the target market. Your branding colors, from your logo to your website, should be something that makes sense for who you are trying to attract.

Color is marketing. When choosing – it should be based on what is appealing to your audience.

Target Audience Design Evaluation

Want to check if your website meets the Donut Test?

Posted in Web Design

Control Which Images Facebook Chooses with Links

controls

controls

Tell Facebook Who’s Boss!

Two clients asked me recently about how to control which images are displayed when posting links on Facebook. With the ever changing rules of Facebook, it’s been a bit of a moving target. Now they have their own standard code for interpreting your links and info called Facebook Open Graph.

If you always want the same image to display no matter what, you can actually put in a link in the head code telling Open Graph which image to pick. But most of us prefer Facebook to pick a featured image and as backup a default image when there isn’t a featured image available.

The Secret Sauce – And It’s Low Fat!

For WordPress SEO fans, you probably have been utilizing the Social tab and telling Facebook and other services which image to pick. But not everyone has WordPress SEO plugin installed, or they have a Facebook plugin with a bunch of bloated features. Trust me – you probably don’t want a Facebook plugin anyway, many of them slow your website speed with extra scripts. It’s the main reason I mentioned it’s time to retire your Facebook Like Box.

Hat tip to my friend Nadine in NYC who shared this awesome plugin WP Facebook Open Graph protocol. (FYI if you are a Pug owner, Nadine creates pug gifts.) The plugin is lightweight, pulls the featured image and allows you to specify a default image fall back. It also works with GooglePlus and LinkedIn!

How To Set It Up

Once you install WP Facebook Open Graph protocol do the following.

  • In the WordPress Dashboard, go to Settings > Facebook OGP.
  • You will need to retrieve your Facebook User ID, you can find it with the link and putting in your name after the last slash http://graph.facebook.com/yourusername
  • If you prefer to use the App ID instead (FYI no instructions there on the plugin but probably you can google it) for business pages. I use the personal ID since it’s fast.
  • Create a default image 200 by 200 pixels. Upload to your Media library, grab the URL and paste it in the "Default Image URL to use" input box.
  • If you want the same image every time, you can check the last box "use this if you want to use the Default Image for everything…" but don’t if you want your featured images to be picked up first!
  • Click save and you are set! Now don’t you feel empowered?
Posted in Social Media Graphics, WordPress Plugins

New Fav – Best Social Sharing Plugin for WordPress

Thumbs up in a latte

Beautiful Share Buttons Without the Extra Pounds

Thumbs up in a latte

I used to adore the Flare plugin share buttons. However, once I became aware of the extra download time it took for my favorite plugin, I pulled it from my website. With only 3 seconds to engage site visitors before abandonment kicks in, Flare was adding too much overhead and sadly I had to let it go. It’s like eating cake all the time and expecting never to have to pay the price on the scale. Not planet reality.

However, Flare wasn’t totally at fault, share counters certainly added to the download lag. Having count totals for each time your post is shared means your website has to check in each social media service to find out what the latest count is. Cue in Jepardy music. That means your share plugin is going to Facebook, Twitter, GoogePlus and perhaps LinkedIn, to get those totals. That is a lot of extra time and they aren’t necessarily quick. It’s best to simply turn them off – remember 3 seconds is all you have before people will start giving up and leave your website.

Simple Share Buttons Adder

I read about this plugin on BlogAid last summer and at the time, I thought this was referring to a similar plugin that was asethically challenged. Fortunately, that isn’t the case.

Since the proof is in the testing, my first speed test showed 1.66 seconds. After setting up the plugin, the second test was 1.65 seconds (no total counts for shares). I’m assuming the time difference has to do with being on a shared webhosting server (lots of websites on one computer box) which will have some fluctuations on download speeds if the server is busy.

So what makes Simple Share Buttons Adder plugin special? It looks good AND is not download heavy. Eurkea, we can eat cake and not have to squeeze into jeans! You can see what it looks like in action on my site.

Installation Tips

  • If you decide to use your own custom icons, be sure to put in the full URL. If it is in the media library – you can find the URL path there.
  • Also on the Stylings tab, make sure the Button Size matches your image size otherwise it will override it with less than stellar results.
  • Also be sure to drag and drop which social media sites you want for sharing icons. I would recommend keeping it 4 max, less overwhelming that way.
  • Don’t use the counters, those totals will cost you download time. Just say no!
  • BlogAid made a nice tutorial on setting up the plugin.

However, I want to stress you might not need social share icons. There are already indications people share blog posts and other links on their own if they are excited about it. Those lovely icons could be competiting for attention, so keep that in mind with your marketing efforts and maybe limit it to just blog posts or not at all.

FYI – there is a pro version of Simple Share Buttons which uses sprites, that alone makes it worth consideration!

Posted in Web Design, WordPress Plugins

Web Design Insider Tips