One of My Favorite Blogging Tools

Time-saving

I love stuff that saves me time, don’t you? One of my favorite tools just keeps getting easier to use. This plugin ROCKS.

If you are a newsletter subscriber, you’ve probably read about my favorite plugins for bloggers (it’s also available as a blog post). That was more than six months ago. This particular plugin really saves me time and has changed since I last wrote about it.

Scheduling Social Media Right from Your Blog Post

Many people love Hootsuite or Sprout Social. They are both great social sharing management apps, but they don’t quite fit me when it comes to my blog. For one thing, both require you to login and jump through several hoops when I just want to write and quickly promote a post.

This is why Post Promoter Pro is a time saving rock star. You can take care of your promotional Tweets, Facebook, and LinkedIn posts from the comfort of your WordPress dashboard. It is really user friendly!

Promote Your Blog Post While It Has Your Attention

The reason it is simpler to work on promotional tweets, etc. while you are in the blog post dashboard? It is easier to get quotes from your post, you can quickly look up the pictures to go with your promotions and decide on your exact schedule for them. You don’t have to login to a social media app, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.; you simply schedule it to your social networks in one step! That saves time!

Take a look at this no-nonsense dashboard that appears below the "Edit Post" dashboard.

Time Saving Plugin

There is a tab for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook (not shown, I use FB directly). For scheduled tweets, the dash tracks how many characters you can use and turns red if you go over. You can schedule several tweets (love that part). LinkedIn tab doesn’t offer multiple schedule posts, but you can have it go out to LinkedIn at the time of publication.

Not Sure Where to Get the URL for Your Image?

Just to go the Media Library in your WordPress dashboard, click on the image, and the URL will be to the right. Or just save time, click on the upload icon for the image URL in Post Promoter Pro, and it will take you straight to the Media Library! Easy peasy!

Posted in WordPress Plugins

Get Your Learning On

Books

Books

I’m frequently asked where I learn how to make websites. First, let me say it took several years; it isn’t something you just pick up overnight, that isn’t realistic. Websites are not MS Word, even if WordPress looks deceptively easy. Just like hiring a plumber, web designers, developers, and user experience developers know which bolt to tighten to fix a leak, etc.

However, some things can help you beef up your own skill set and I’ll share those resources even if all you want is better looking posts and pages!

WordPress Learning and Resources

There are many resources but I’ll share the handy ones. Sometimes you need help with just one function, like "how do I make a link," etc. Often a quick Google search is a mixed bag of results and if you are like me, you prefer authoritative sources that won’t waste time!

  • Easy WP Guide. This is a must have for your digital bookshelf. Anthony’s manual is easy stuff, no coding, just going over the different areas of the WordPress dashboard.
  • WP101 Video Library (*aff link). Sometimes you need to see how it’s done. These short tutorials are perfect for refreshing your memory on how to do simple stuff on the dashboard, etc. FYI – that lifetime deal is a steal!
  • Lynda.com. Although pricey for the long term, there are some great teachers there. WordPress changes a lot, so make sure the course is close to the latest version of WP.

WPBeginner has some videos but I’ve never tried them, at present it doesn’t have the depth that WP101 Video Library has.

For Those Making Websites

If you are in the biz, here are some of the places and learning resources I use!

  • Code School. A paid service with a few no-cost entry courses. It’s code focused but has design courses as well. I like the course focus structure they use.
  • Genesis Camp. StudioPress is a theme seller, but this live stream event was done independently and has a lot of great tracks for people in the business. Videos are available to watch online!
  • Treehouse. They have short videos and got started with responsive design with these tutorials a few years ago. They have learning tracks to guide you.
  • WordCamps! These volunteer-run events are dirt cheap, and feature guru speakers. They’re usually held on weekends. Find one near you.
  • WordPress TV. Some of the WordCamp sessions have been "taped," check them out.

And of course Lynda.com, which I mentioned earlier. I do share a lot of tips on my blog as well so check that out!

What are your favorite learning resources for websites?

Posted in Learning, WordPress

Have You Looked At Your Website Lately?

spyglass

spyglass

Have Your Eyeballs Seen Your Website Lately?

I had a Gmail setup question, so I went to a couple of gurus’ websites. I was surprised by obvious broken image links (you know those blank boxes), a footer widget that stopped working, and some other display issues I won’t bore you with.

Most of these problems indicate that something has gone haywire under the "hood," probably due to a plugin conflict or upgrading WordPress beyond what the theme supports. Conflicts of one thing or another do happen – it’s good to check your website visually on a regular basis.

Because your website isn’t a print document, you should monitor it after any software/plugin updates. Even if you haven’t changed anything in recent months (yikes), your webhost may have made adjustments that impact your website.

Your Visual Inspection Checklist for Your Website

Before you lament anything that may have gone AWOL, know that websites do not function well when ignored. They do need the "oil changed." It is the nature of the beast.

Here are some tips on what to look for:

  • Have someone else check. Have your Virtual Assistant or someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time on the website do a visual check, etc. You might overlook some of the obvious issues because you’re familiar with your own website.
  • Check your pages and posts. You don’t have to read line by line, you’re just scanning for anything that looks "off." Especially pay attention to the "Blog" page that summarizes your posts, your contact page form, portfolio pages (displaying a lot of aligned images), calendar pages… anything that uses special functions (sliders especially break easily).
  • Sidebar check. Do they look okay, does everything appear as it should? Click through several pages to verify they are still working. Conflicts with third party widget plugins are common and usually among the first to break.
  • Footer check. Is your copyright date 2015? FYI, if you have WordPress credits and a theme credit, you should edit those out. Stick with the basics: your business name, city and state, and a link to your contact form.
  • Images check. Go page by page (especially top level pages on your menu bar). When inspecting for images, first clear your browser cache (clear history). Websites will store images and other assets locally on your computer so be sure you’re getting a live view. This way you can see immediately if your images are still aligning correctly, etc.
  • Check for broken links. If you want to save time, install the broken link checker plugin (if your webhost allows). Run it and once you have your report, go fix those links or reinsert missing images, etc. Once you’re done, uninstall the plugin because it’s a huge resource pig and will slow down your website.
  • Browser check. The new Microsoft Edge browser is coming July 29! My favorite service already has it available. I use Browser Stack – love them!
  • Mobile device check. My 88-year-old dad recently got his first smartphone! Everybody has one these days and for many, it’s their primary device! Check your website with an online responsive web design tool!

Hopefully everything looks as it should or better yet, showed you something you need to change. Websites are best when not treated as static print brochures, but instead evolve to meet the needs of your clients.

Need some help fixing some stuff that has gone awry? Give us a shout!

Posted in WordPress Maintenance

Image Tips for Facebook Boosted Posts

cardboard rocket

Boy in a cardboard rocket

What’s a Facebook boosted post? When you share a link, image, or post on your business page in Facebook, you can opt to extend your reach by paying to "boost" your post. Essentially it’s a paid ad.

I realized the limitations of designing Facebook images during a recent conversation with a font vendor. Here are tips to save you time and keep you from pulling your hair out!

Extending Your Blog Post Reach

You may have seen my newsletter about business websites with blogs getting a lot more visitor traffic. I see this with the websites I maintain for clients; so, I highly recommend maintaining an active blog as part of your marketing strategy.

To help get your latest blog posts out there, share them on your Facebook business page to increase your audience. However, you can have a ton of likes and still not reach many folks (unless you are an entertainer). That’s why using the boosted feature is one of your best bets. With the boosted post option on your Facebook business page, your blog post can effectively reach those who have liked your page and their friends!

I think we can all agree Facebook won’t win any design awards (what’s with the perpetual baby blue background color?). But people do use it (for some obsessively), so be sure to extend your reach by boosting your blog posts on your Facebook business page.

Facebook Boosted Image Tips

One way to ensure your boosted post attracts attention is to have a terrific image. Start by searching at places like Big Stock Photo, Stocksy, or Creative Market. Need some tips on choosing? Check out my post with tips.

Once you have that awesome image for your blog, you need to make sure your wording will work within Facebook’s image ad restrictions. The tricky part is staying within Facebook’s 20% text restriction.

Facebook fortunately does have a tool so you can check:

Facebook Grid Tool

The grid tool divides the space into a 5 x 5 grid. You upload your image, click on the spaces where text appears, and voila, you know if you’re within the 20% rule.

A couple of things to keep in mind when including text:

  • The text needs to be readable on a mobile device – LARGE TEXT,
  • You only have about one line to work with so think 4-5 words,
  • Use a condensed font (this article has some winners); you can go large and still fit within the restrictive 20% text grid.
  • Make sure your text has good contrast by adding a background color to the text area for best readability.
  • When in doubt, check the ad image policies (Facebook logo, for example, not allowed).
  • The shared boosted post image size is 1200 x 900 pixels recommended (displays 470 pixels in the timeline), although it will look smaller on a mobile phone being around 4 inches wide.

I hope that’s helpful. Do you boost your posts?

Posted in Social Media Graphics

Are Social Sharing Buttons Wasted Space?

Social Sharing Buttons

Social Sharing Buttons

Around the Water Cooler – Social Sharing Buttons Report

A huge report on stats regarding social media sharing button effectiveness has been the hot topic at the web designer water cooler. I wanted to share in case you weren’t aware.

"61 million mobile sessions we studied, we found that only 0.2% of mobile users do any social sharing…" Moovweb.com

What does this mean? People aren’t using the social sharing buttons on mobile devices from websites. Since mobile device traffic is on average over 60%, that puts quite a crimp on the importance of social sharing buttons.

The article nails one of the top reasons why: "users must be logged in in order to share…" on a mobile phone. Who wants to login manually? No one.

Should You Stop Using Social Sharing Buttons?

Let’s go through the pros and cons. First the pros:

  • Marketing logic says these will remind people to share the page or post with their networks.
  • Showing how many shares is good "social proof" and reaffirms it’s popular.
  • ‘Cause all the big guys are doing it…

Okay, the cons:

  • Social media icons take up a lot of visual space on a page and detract from more important marketing messages.
  • Only 0.2% of users ever click on the sharing button – ouch!
  • Social media sharing buttons with stats turned on slow down websites (they check with each individual social network and that takes time)!
  • Even with stats turned off, most social sharing plugins slow down your website.

The last part – slowing down your website – is what has the web design community talking up a storm. Anything that slows down a website is evil. You only have three seconds before site abandonment kicks in (harsh I know, but unfortunately reports have been consistent on this issue).

Given that desktop folks are likely 40% of your website traffic (and increasingly losing ground), most of us are better off without the sharing buttons.

What am I doing? Presently, I have the fastest sharing plugin I could find, Simple Share Buttons (but I don’t use the Google Fonts with it – slows things down.) But I’ll do some heat map tests to see how often people are actually using them.

Are you using social share buttons and do they work for you?

Posted in Social Media, Website speed

Media Library Tips for WordPress

Media-Library

Three questions in one week on the same topic means it’s time to share some tips and why WordPress doesn’t let you upload everything your heart desires. As easy as WordPress can be, it does have built-in restrictions, mostly to protect you from file types with questionable security.

File Types Allowed

Keep your audience in mind; don’t assume they have the same software you use. If you offer to share downloads with your website visitors, it’s best to use the most popular formats available, but be wary of Microsoft formats. Version compatibility is shaky, leading to display issues. Moreover, a surprising number of people don’t even use Microsoft Office.

The WordPress repository lists the following allowed file formats for the Media Library.

  • Image formats: .jpg; .jpeg; .png; .gif; .ico; .svg
  • Document formats: .pdf; .doc; .docx; .ppt; .pptx; .pps; .ppsx; .odt; .xls; .xlsx; .psd
  • Audio formats: .mp3; .m4a; .ogg; .wav
  • Video formats: .mp4; .m4v; .mov; .wmv; .avi; .mpg; .ogv; .3gp; .3g2

Although WordPress software may allow these file types, your webhost may impose other restrictions.

Unless a file type is an example file intended for them to modify, stick with the safe types. Here are my recommendations.

  • Image formats: .jpg and .png are overall the safer types to share. The .ico format is fairly dated and not everyone can open it (used for favicons in browser bars). The .svg format is best for advanced users, such as designers, who are more likely to be able to access the format for editing.
  • Document formats: stick with PDFs. It’s the only format they most likely have installed. PowerPoint version compatibility is dreadful and produces overly large file sizes, and many don’t have the software. Visually you can trust a PDF will display as you intended and will even embed fonts.
  • Audio formats: .mp3 is probably the safest. Website visitors may have .m4a but this is riskier. If you aren’t offering it as a download, consider SoundCloud to embed on your website page.
  • Video Formats: .mov and .mp4 are fairly common, but don’t offer videos as a download. A lot of expertise is required to make videos small enough to even share and most formats are not universally installed. Consider Vimeo for hosting your videos (top choice) or YouTube. If using YouTube, turn off the ads and suggestions feature, no one likes them.

File Size Upload Restriction

Your Media Library has a file size upload restriction. Your webhost determines the default size; the lowest I’ve seen is 8 mb. Increasing the file size restriction is something you should ask your webhost to modify as this involves the PHP.ini file (unless you have a VPS or dedicated server).

This is a pretty good article on what is required but even then, it’s complicated. Keep in mind your webhost may restrict access to your PHP.ini file and they may need to adjust the upload file size for you. Tip: you might need your PHP.ini file in the wp-admin instead of the root folder which they don’t mention in the article.

Increasing the file size is great, but remember that you should keep files optimized (reduced size). I use compressor.io often for optimization.

Adobe Acrobat allows for saving as a reduced file – be sure to take advantage of that. Heavy images and other media library assets can significantly slow down your web pages too, so keep it lean and mean. Speedy downloadable sites equal happy website visitors who stick around!

Posted in Learning, WordPress

Don’t Cram Everything Above the Fold

Newspaper headline

Newspaper headline

I was reading a discussion among designers about clients wanting everything at the top of their websites. Usually this happens when marketing goals are not prioritized and an assumption that website visitors only pay attention to the top of a website.

Prioritize Your Marketing Elements

In our anxiousness to sell, it’s all too tempting to get a bit manic and try to squeeze all your call to actions above the fold. To overcome this – this is what I tell all my clients:

  • Make a list of your marketing goals in order of priority. For example, selling books; professional services; newsletter sign-ups, etc. Now you have your marketing goals priority list.
  • Next, make a list of website elements (I usually help with this) like a newsletter sign-up box; social media icons; a list of recent articles, any promotional items, etc.

Based on the marketing goals priorities list, you can now easily decide which elements are more important than the others. This is a huge help in deciding where elements should go on a web page layout.

Common Above the Fold Mistakes

  • Social Media Icons in the header. Your site visitors just arrived – you want them to leave immediately? At the bottom of a sidebar or your footer is usually where a site visitor will check to see where else they can find you on the web.
  • Busy menu bars. Although seven topics in a menu bar is no longer a golden type rule, overwhelming your site visitors will lead to decision paralysis. Keep it lean and prioritize your menu bar, don’t forget you have drop menus.
  • Text inside your header image. Unless it is a fancy logo, don’t put your sales text in an image (plus Google can’t index that). It will resize horribly for mobile devices – no one will try to read tiny text.
  • Sliders. Studies have shown they don’t convert people to buy; they just keep scrolling. Still not convinced, I collected some expert info for you "A Dying Trend – Sliders."
  • Trusting Your Theme Template. Sorry, developers of themes are typically not user experience designers studying every click and behavior of website visitors! They are designing to sell to you the template buyer – not your clients.

Above the Fold Is Toast

Bubble bursting thought: there is no longer an above the fold! Yup, you read that correctly. There are thousands of devices accessing websites, that magical 700/750 pixels height mark previously defined as the fold, is pure fiction for most devices. According to the experts, over 60% of most websites are accessed via mobile devices.

Data supports people are actually spending almost no time at the top. Check out this amazing article "There Is No Fold."

I have to admit this has been a hard concept for me to wrap my head around. Belief should not eclipse facts and I prefer to serve effectively my clients. Time to let go of old concepts.

Do you still believe "above the fold" matters?

Tagged with:
Posted in Formatting Posts and Pages, Web Design

Best Font Size for Smartphones

Best Font Size for Smartphones

Hands using an iPhone

One Size Does Not Fit All

I wrote a guest post for SheOwnsIt.com, "Website Design Mistakes That Cost You Money" and mentioned text sizes should start around 18 pixels. Because the majority of the readers are non-techs, I limited my response to pixels and a desktop sizing I would start with. I actually don’t limit myself to just 18 pixels (or necessarily use pixels). I’ll spare you web designer geek speak of more modern sizings like rems, percentages, or ems. (Tap, tap) Hey, did I just lose you there?

Mobile-friendly sites make use of the technique called media queries. Media queries allow you, in a style sheet, to specify instructions to certain screen sizes like a smartphone. Since most smartphones have retina (high resolution) type screens and things look tiny, I amp up the text size just for them.

And the Magic Answer Is…

The answer is: approximately 24 pixels for body copy. You can achieve that with rems, percentages, etc., but that is the fixed size reference that looks readable. Of course this depends on your font, not all display equally. (Got this idea from EmailOnAcid’s blog.)

I apply this technique to both websites and email newsletters (including this one!).

What size font are you using for smartphones on your website or email newsletters?

Posted in fonts, Mobile

Do I Need to Worry About “Mobilegeddon”?

Mobilegeddon

Mobilegeddon

What exactly does this new term "Mobilegeddon" mean? Fortunately, it doesn’t refer to the latest uber snowstorm (whew). But the media is fond of the phrase and confusing advice doesn’t help. I’ll boil this down and explain what it means for your business.

Google Flexes Its Search Engine Muscles

With the huge rise in tablets and smartphones usage, website makers have been trying to make mobile viewing both appealing for users and affordable for businesses. First the trend was to make a completely separate mobile website. With the introduction of responsive design in 2009, most businesses prefer the more affordable solution of updating their website instead of two separate websites (mobile and then desktop).

In 2014, mobile usage surpassed desktop viewing by 60% on average. This means more than half of your site visitors are using a mobile device, not their desktop computer. Google certainly noticed this trend and decided to make life easier for the majority of users (mobile).

Google Favors Mobile-Friendly Websites

This is the part that can be confusing, especially when USA Today’s article includes terms like "webmaster." That word is no longer used by the web industry, which tells you something about the quality of that advice. Dude, 1999 wants its terminology back!

What does this mean for your business? When mobile users on Google do searches, mobile-friendly websites will rank higher in results. They will also be marked as such.

If your website is not mobile-friendly, you will rank lower in search results with mobile users using Google search. For now, Google desktop and tablet searches are not affected.

Google’s Test

So how do you know if Google thinks your website is mobile-friendly?

Take the test!

It will show you (or your web designer or developer) what work needs to be done. This checks only one page, not your entire website, FYI.

Did you pass? YEAH, congrats! Your website will be listed ahead of others (i.e. your competition) that fail the test.

Yikes – Google Says You’re Not Mobile-Friendly!

How much time do you have before your website ranking is affected? It might take a month or two to show up in mobile search results. Now is a good time to update your website.

While losing your ranking can be painful (thus the term Mobilegeddon), it’s more important to consider how your site appears on mobile devices. Even if you aren’t depending on search engine results for prospective clients, you may be scaring off site visitors.

Your business will benefit from switching to a mobile-friendly (responsive) setup; not only will it be easier to read on mobile devices, but you’ll have better ranking with Google, and stay ahead of competitors who haven’t switched!

Posted in Mobile, Web Design

Does a Blog Really Help Website Traffic?

Traffic

Traffic

As a web designer, I take care of several websites for my clients. Usually, they give me access to their Google Analytics, so I can set up some tracking scripts. I occasionally check to see if there are any issue indicators requiring attention.

Who’s Winning?

It’s interesting to see firsthand the pattern between those with blogs and those without. Clients with active blogs have much higher traffic. We are talking the difference between a few hundred visits per month to thousands!

Are there exceptions? Yes. The event-only sites are heavily marketed by clients and those do well; or a popular search phrase leading to a page gets a lot of traffic. But even the latter doesn’t do as well as business sites with blogs.

I can’t give away my clients’ stats, but I’ll share mine. Two years ago I added a blog to my website and I usually write one post per week. My stats before I started were about 460 visits a month. Now my stats range about 3,000 and more monthly (unique visitors). Two of the blog posts getting the most hits are on topics relating to the services I provide.

Why Do Blogs Increase Traffic?

Prospective clients appreciate answers to questions. Help them get to know your business by providing useful information. Topics need to be relevant to your business, otherwise you’re paying for webhost bandwidth that is not converting people to customers.

So should you have a blog on your business website? I guess the real question is, are you getting as many clients as your business can handle?

Does your business have a blog?

Posted in Website tips

Web Design Insider Tips