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.
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?
Access is very important for your business and your website is on the frontline! When a prospective client is interested in your firm, your website is often the first stop.
But if your site is momentarily offline or just slow (happens more than most realize), potential clients won’t wait. They keep moving and you miss an opportunity. And it is preventable.
Your Website Services Need to Grow With Your Business
I’m not sure why most people feel this way, but webhost loyalty is practically a religion. I’ve been guilty, but as one who deals with clients’ webhosts, I lost my "religion." Instead it is about results; data-based decisions can help you avoid some of the "blind loyalty webhost" pitfalls.
An economical webhost or too small an account might hurt you by costing you potential clients. Uptime with the lower budget webhosts are prone to "outages" that are tough to catch. Additionally, most businesses are on shared webhosting and to make money, less responsible webhosts will oversell their space. When servers are overloaded with too many shared accounts, they are slow.
Recently I moved a client from a famous brand name webhost. I was surprised to see when I installed their website, their server added one second of download time. Given we only have three seconds before people will abandon your website, that was totally uncool. Moving the client to a business grade webhost that didn’t oversell sped things up to under two seconds. Cost difference? None; however, their site traffic was up.
Tools to Keep Them Honest!
Although a webhost is only one reason for a slow site, having it be temporarily offline is a red flag if it happens repeatedly. When potential clients go to your site, you don’t want them to encounter "timeouts" or slow loading pages because of a busy server. Here are some tools to help determine if a change is needed:
Uptime Monitoring Tools. Use a monitoring service to alert you when your website is down. Most times (especially with shared webhosting) it will be short outages that resolve quickly. If you get three or more of these a month, it’s time to investigate. Pingdom has a no-cost uptime service (if you have Jetpack active, that has an option for monitoring.)
Plugin Monitoring. With WordPress websites, most folks have several plugins installed. They do go bad or are poorly designed and need to be tracked. Use P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) to confirm they are performing well (or ask your web designer to run a scan.)
Run a Speed Test. Make sure your website is optimized to download within three seconds. Pingdom has an accessible online tool. Website too slow? Hire a web designer or developer to optimize your website for speed.
You’re Growing – Time to Upgrade
When you started, the cost of a webhost account was your top consideration. But as your traffic stats go up, you need a reliable website. Any outages or slowdowns, or a problem with economical webhosts, are bad for business and your reputation.
It doesn’t matter how "nice" the customer tech is on the phone, your webhost account may be struggling to keep up. That is fine, your business is no longer the "casual blogger" type of those under $10 monthly which is what they are meant for. Business-grade webhosting is what most small businesses need.
Shared webhosting. If you have serious traffic, this is not for you. However, if you are under 3K a month, it might be fine. Some webhosts promise not to oversell their servers; look for that statement guarantee. Price range should be about $25 for business grade shared hosting.
Managed WordPress Hosting. If your site traffic tends to be a roller coaster, a solution like WPEngine or Pagely might be the way to go. Managed WordPress hosting providers do well with sudden spikes.
Virtual Web Servers. Sharing isn’t always the best idea and your web designer may nudge you to upgrade to VPS. You have your own reserved memory, storage space and most importantly, no sharing with "neighbors" for the system resources. If you have multiple websites for your business, this is ideal. Look for phrases like "managed VPS" solutions.
Dedicated Servers. If you have a lot of websites, this is definitely your speed. You need someone versed in managing a server to assist. Most small businesses will probably not need this option.
Those are the typical types of accounts with webhosts. Another tool you should consider if you have serious traffic and you want to guarantee your uptime is a CDN (Content Delivery Network).
My advice: don’t let brand loyalty overcome good business sense. Monitor your website with uptime monitoring tools, etc., so you have data to determine whether your account may need an upgrade or change in vendor. It’s a business decision.
Do you use uptime monitoring tools to track your website?
No? We can help! We do uptime monitoring, security monitoring, plugin updates, and backups. Sign-up today!
Last weekend I finally took a moment to check out a big spike in newsletter sign-ups. Although I guest blog (sheownsit.com) and have my own marketing efforts, it seemed unusual.
At first glance I noticed a lot of yahoo.com email addresses. Because business owners typically do not use Yahoo for their email needs, I started Googling. And uh oh, the few email addresses I tried were all known spammers!
This prompted seven hours of list email address verification to determine legitimate sign-ups; then came additional research, and correspondence with MailChimp and the plugin developer for my newsletter form.
Now for those of you who are experienced MailChimp users – your first response is, "Dude, double opt-ins will stop spammers."Um no, spammers are confirming double opt-ins! Yup, that! MailChimp support is aware, and working on a solution.
Hero Plugin – MailChimp for WordPress
MailChimp for WordPress (affiliate link) comes in a Lite and a Pro version, and is a popular plugin. It has flexibility the embedded MailChimp form doesn’t offer. Also, it is highly rated, and I personally experienced part of the reason – excellent customer service.
MailChimp for WordPress has options many other plugins lack. Also, it’s specifically for MailChimp, one of the most popular newsletter providers for businesses. Integrations and multiple sign-up forms make this a great business tool and it’s easy to use.
I reached out to this developer about my spam problem. They welcomed specific information feedback and I applied their recommendation for the fix. I noticed a plugin update was applied the same day that probably addressed my issue. Now THAT is awesome.
Aging WordPress Theme Issue
Based on the update – it looks like it addresses older themes. I’ve said before that three years is long in the tooth for a WordPress theme. Mine has hit that anniversary. (Yup, I’m working on a new site, logo design is wrapping up.)
I checked with one of my other clients who isn’t experiencing the issue of spammy sign-ups. Sigh, my theme looks very guilty, so it was great of the MailChimp for WordPress developer to address older theme limitations so we can all enjoy protection against the latest threats.
So the Fix – Another Hero Plugin
MailChimp for WordPress wasn’t the only option; I also put in a support ticket with MailChimp. They suggested their embed form which has a Honeypot hidden field for spambots. But if spammers are constantly cracking our forms, there isn’t an easy way to update that embed code. I’ll assume you are not “code” inclined, so a plugin is far more practical to update with the latest preventions.
MailChimp for WordPress suggested I give Goodbye Captcha a try to see if it would stop my issue. Most spam tools are meant for comment forms, etc.; however, this one reaches the newsletter sign-up and it is quite powerful.
Goodbye Captcha – Goodbye Spam
On the first day I installed this plugin, the bot sign-ups stopped. WOOHOO! Just be sure in the “Subscriptions” settings area to click on “MailChimp for WordPress” so it will look for your subscription forms. Oh, and if you don’t have other tools covering brute force login attempts, this plugin can also address that.
There you go. Two awesome plugins I heartily recommend for MailChimp users.
I shared a wonderful article on testing the various WordPress plugins for automatically optimizing images (reducing the download size). Many folks upload large images for blog posts and pages, increasing the download time for their websites. Slow sites are bad news; users will click away if it takes more than three seconds (on average) to download.
Although a plugin can help, I don’t mean to advocate a cure-all for heavy images. As your trusty web designer, my advice is to keep it lean and mean. The more plugins you have, the greater potential for problems.
Take steps to ensure that images are prepared prior to uploading rather than relying on a plugin that may have a hammer approach to reducing image sizes. Quality is your goal, right? Here’s what I do.
Optimizing Images for the Web
Resize in WordPress (non-Photoshop users). You can resize images in the Media area of WordPress (if a recent version). Once you have selected your image in the media library, click on "Edit Image" below the image. In the new window to the right – you can adjust your size under "scale image." Now that you have the size you want, download the image (grab the URL of the image and download from your browser). FYI, this is not optimal, but will do in a pinch. If you are image editing frequently, get Photoshop.
Resize in Photoshop. First make sure your lovely image is sized for the place it’s going. If the area is 600 pixels wide by 350 pixels high, don’t load up a 2000 pixel heavy image. In Photoshop, go to menu item "Image" and drop down to "Image Size" and adjust. Keep the aspect ratio in place (link icon to the left should be on); you don’t want a "stretched" or distorted image.
Reduce File Size in Photoshop. Use "Save for the Web" in Photoshop to prepare an image for usage on websites. You can reduce the quality a bit and get the file size smaller. I usually set it on "High" and start going down from there checking to make sure it still looks okay. Try png and jpg versions as well to see which yields the best results. Don’t be too strict, just make sure the image looks good.
Cool Tool to Compress! A colleague shared her favorite compression tool called Compressor (it’s awesome). Once you’re in, upload your image and it will compress it. In many cases you will see a significant decrease (test Lossy vs. Lossless). Now your image is ready!
Speedy Websites Are Smart Marketing!
This little step will go a long way in making your website faster and friendlier to visitors. They want to get information quickly, so don’t risk them ditching your site before the image is done downloading. Speed counts! This is an easy way to get you closer to a lightning fast website they will read!
Yesterday I saw several articles touting great plugins for your blog or WordPress site. Unfortunately, some shouldn’t have made the cut. A few are known resource intensive speed killers, while others are not compatible with the latest version of WordPress. A couple of them were even unattractive looking, which is definitely a cardinal sin!
Fortunately, I have your back. I’ll share how folks in my field typically evaluate plugins and avoid server resource hogs and style disasters.
Consider the Source
You see an article entitled "Plugin Must Haves For a Successful Blog" (I made that up, but I’m sure it’s been done) by a prominent leader in social media or marketing. Sounds like a winner, right?
Well, social media gurus and marketers are not typically in the web design/developer field. They see the shinier aspects of a plugin, read that many of their colleagues recommend it, and from a marketing perspective, it looks effective.
However, with the huge push for faster downloadable sites (ahem, Google!), some of the popular plugins are slowing your website. Not to mention that some are stylistic mismatches and look about as in sync as stripes with plaid.
Checklist for Evaluation
To determine if the latest popular plugin is right for your website, use this list of criteria:
What is his/her expertise? Check out the author bio recommending the plugin. If it’s a non-technical expert, he/she may not have checked with technical colleagues. Same for technical people, have they checked UX and marketing experts?
Compatible with the latest WordPress version? The issue I see most often is out-of-date plugins being recommended (even on leading publications) — those with known technical problems. Also, old plugins are a security risk and may cause conflicts with other plugins.
Check WordPress.org for reviews. For those listed on the repository, looking at the reviews is an excellent barometer. For premium plugins, search for issues.
Google for performance issues. Surprisingly, some of the plugins I saw yesterday are banned by several webhosts – they are huge resource eaters. Hello, slow website!
See if other fields of expertise like it too! Digg Digg may be the defacto sharing plugin of the marketing field, but what are the web developers recommending? If both fields like it it’s a safe bet, but be sure to do your homework. Technical information is like bread; it goes stale fast.
Does it make web designers wince? Once in a while, a popular plugin has the design community scratching its head. Style-challenged or out-of-date looking plugins are not going to fly with that industry.
It’s hard to read an SEO article without hearing about responsive (mobile-friendly) websites. But did you know your Google ranking is also based on how fast your website downloads?
"…website loading speed has become one of the biggest determinants of your site’s value and ranking position" Search Engine Journal
Most speed reductions are a bit technical, but no worries. I have your back with one thing you can do on your own if you’re comfortable with WordPress. Or you can ask your web designer or developer to give it a try (keep in mind he/she may already be using other methods).
The Need For Speed
You may not be particularly concerned about Google rankings. However, you may want to make sure people stick around long enough to read your website to potentially become a customer. If your website is taking too long to download, potential clients won’t even stick around to see what your company has to offer.
How did you do? I’ll summarize the articles I have read on the topic to give you an idea.
1-3 Seconds – Excellent, people will stick around
3-4 Seconds – Foot tapping – they are losing patience and some folks have left
5+ Seconds – Ciao baby, I have better things to do!
If you were in the three seconds or more category, don’t despair. Here’s one of my tips for tracking down guilty culprits that slow your website.
The Hunt for Slow Plugins!
GoDaddy makes a wonderful plugin for WordPress called P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler). P3 is a simple way to evaluate your plugins in WordPress and how they might be impacting your download speed.
Once you install this, you can run a scan. It is a bit hidden.
On the Admin dashboard in your WordPress website, click on the "Tools" tab on the left;
Click on "P3 Plugin Profiler" to display the P3 dashboard;
Click on the button "Start Scan."
For your first scan, I recommend "Auto Scan." A window will pop up and show you its progress.
This might take awhile. Once the scan is done, you can look at the results. Although they can be influenced by many factors, it will give you some idea of the plugins you might need to replace or pull from your website.
Analyzing the Results
Okay, you’ve done a scan, and now this lovely pie chart is displayed. Be aware that it’s fairly general. First look at the total time your plugins are taking; if it’s more than one second, you probably need to see which plugin is adding to your time. Remember that three seconds is all you have before "Hasta la vista, baby!"
For specifics, check the "Detailed Breakdown" tab to see if any plugins stand out. Just hovering your mouse over the colored vertical lines will display the plugin name. If one or two plugins are time eaters, do some checking.
Plugin Slow Pokes
Here is a checklist for those with a snail’s pace to get you started.
Is the plugin up to date? Is it compatible with your version of WordPress?
Is your plugin configured properly? Something as simple as a plugin trying to connect to an API to a plugin license can send it into a tailspin.
Visit the WordPress.org reviews. Do people complain the plugin has problems, especially website speed?
And, of course, Google the plugin’s name along with slow to see what pops up.
When I tested mine, one of my plugins was out of date and no longer maintained. I’m on the hunt for a replacement. See, that wasn’t too technical, was it?
My Plugins are Fine – But My Website is Still Slow!
Egads!! How bad are we talking? Four or five seconds? Do several tests on Pingdom tools; results will vary if you are on a shared web host server. Other culprits are:
Images not resized for websites (large resolution image used for a small-sized picture, for example, is a frequent mistake);
Slow web host (the cheaper they are, the slower they are);
Too many connections to social media. For example, counters on social sharing plugins are known to slow sites.
If this is above your technical level, ask a developer to do a website optimization. I hope these tips help. Speed is very important, so keep in mind you may be losing clients before your site finishes downloading.
Did the P3 Profiler Plugin help you find slow plugins?
Last night, I was on my iPhone going through the latest tweets and finding articles to read. A popular blogger shared something he found interesting. I followed the link and then… the scrape of the needle echoed through my head.
The blog post images were so unappealing, all I could do was stare, simply stunned. I’m sure they were intended to convey a message but they did not instill confidence; instead I became concerned about the quality of the information.
Well enough ogling! On to the next tweet. Ciao, baby!
Why You Should Choose Quality Images
A well-written article is a must for your newsletter, blog, and other mediums. Informative pieces that help the reader are the way to go. But they aren’t going to read what you’re sharing if the image isn’t pulling its weight.
Poor quality images and illustrations will cause the reader to:
Question the professional level of the information (or worse the writer);
Be distracted by the image rather than engage them;
A poor performing image/illustration will not move the reader; and
Leave the blog post before reading a single line or look any further on your website.
You’ve heard about Google showing bounce rates in website analytics, right? With great pride, I can tell you that Arts Assistance’s bounce rate is a single digit. Although I’d like to think I write well and I’m sharing valuable info, I know my images are an important factor.
Great images with your blog post will:
Look professional and subconsciously communicate your competence as an expert;
Engage your readers and get them to start reading;
Set the tone of the article or pique their curiosity; and
Better yet, (when appropriate) move them.
Yes, "move them," because fabulous photos will have an emotional impact. If your post is something serious like childhood brain cancer, clip art won’t work.
Looking for the Holy Grail
There are some wonderful articles about free photos. Cool, but be prepared to spend some serious time looking for those that will do the job. I see a lot of stunning photography, but finding something that fits is rare in the freebie zone. And what’s with all those pictures of desktops with Macs? Enough already, dudes!
Most of us are fairly busy, so spending a buck for a properly licensed photo is worth it. I frequently find what I’m looking for in much less time with the paid photo vendors.
Also don’t begrudge photographers the money! They have bills to pay, too. If you want quality images to rock your newsletters and blog posts, remember that you get what you pay for.
How I Choose Photos or Illustrations
First off – notice I have mostly been referring to photos? Why? Illustration seems to be waning in popularity. Quality photos are on the rise, emphasis on quality.
Choosing a great photo.
Repeaters. Avoid overused stock photos (lady with arms raised in victory for example).
Too obvious. Avoid hitting them over the head with imagery communication; be a bit more subtle if you can.
Homemade. Words in an image takes finesse. Most tend to be way too wordy and resize poorly for mobile devices. If you need a strong marketing message with wording, hire a graphic or web designer professional. Keep in mind – Google doesn’t read text embedded in an image – save it for titles and your text.
Subject. Consider the subject of your blog post. What do you want to communicate?
One idea. Keep your communication simple. Don’t try to fit multiple concepts into your headline photo for your post.
Emotion. Is it an emotion you want to share with your reader? Your image does not have to be the exact subject of your article, just nail the emotional connection.
Communicate a concept? Is it to reinforce an idea? Did you notice I used a tugboat in my last newsletter (also blog post)? I mentioned early on in it that logos should more than "pull their weight."
Provoke their curiosity. A photo that leaves them wanting more is perfect for your blog.
Whatever you decide, choose a quality image that pulls the reader in. After all, images are part of design, and effective design is part of your marketing.
Two weeks ago, I shared tips to determine whether your website needed some updates or a total redo. If you’re redoing your site, look closely at your logo first.
Do You Need a New Logo?
When you first started your business, you may have designed your own logo or had a friend who could do nice PowerPoints help you out. Maybe it was impossible to afford a logo.
But now that you are more established, your original logo may not be on par with your business growth and success. You may be hurting your image with a logo that doesn’t represent the level of service offerings.
Logos are powerful. They communicate your business identity and your professionalism. A poor quality logo can work against you and send the wrong message to prospects. But how can you tell if you need a new one?
Checklist to Determine if You Need a New Logo
Was your logo created by a professional graphic designer, or preferably a logo specialist? They are the ones who draw from scratch.
Have your clients ever complimented your logo? You are appealing to them, they should like your logo.
Does your logo have a stock image or stock illustration? If so, you will not be able to trademark it because it is already copyrighted. This is a sign the quality of your logo is probably low; get something unique that markets like a rock star for your business.
Does your logo use legal fonts? Sometimes new designers or amateurs do not properly check out copyrights; it’s possible they just Googled the font.
Are you happy with your logo? Does it communicate your brand effectively? If not, hire a graphic designer to evaluate it.
Have your services or product offerings changed significantly? Using a logo that reflects your old business model may be confusing prospective clients.
If alarms are going off in your head while reading these criteria, it’s time to start asking business colleagues for their logo designer recommendations.
Steer Clear of the Crowdsourcing Logo Websites
Logo design (and website design) is a consultation process. You want your designer to know your business well. Also there are a number of copyright infringement horror stories resulting in bills for illegally used images, etc. It can be a crap shoot. Quality takes time, so skip the shortcuts.
A high quality logo is a fantastic marketing tool that tells clients who you are and makes a great impression.
I recently celebrated my two-year anniversary of blogging. One issue that keeps surprising me is why so many established business owners think they need to be going the DIY route?
Most businesses are strapped for cash at the beginning and hiring out is not possible. WordPress fortunately makes establishing an online presence possible. Learning WordPress may take awhile, but if you have an ounce of tech knowledge, you can probably get a theme setup and populate it with some content with an off-the-shelf template.
However, once your business is more established and you have some moolah in the bank, it is time to revisit the DIY approach. And I would state this would be more than just your website (I include myself in the finger wagging). The more successful you become, the more expensive it is to lose time on tasks that are not your skill set; after all, how many of us can quickly do our own bookkeeping?
This is where WordPress and other accessible content management systems can be misleading. The ability to post and edit content on a website does not mean you are a professional designer and coder.
Advantages to Letting the Pros Design Your Website
Website design and publishing is a fast-moving industry. It isn’t possible to keep up on all the trends (or trends you should give a pass). Web designers will steer you towards appropriate solutions.
You are never done learning to code, staying up to date on latest standard techniques, and configuring for constantly-evolving devices websites are accessed from. However, your web designer probably knows HTML5 is the latest version for today’s technology.
Web design is similar to graphic design for the web, except it isn’t static and you can’t think like print. Many web designers are former graphic designers that learned advanced HTML, CSS, and more. Their job is to make sure your design is not just decoration but communication!
An effective web designer will take the time to learn your audience and translate that information into a design that is part of your marketing. A template does not know who your audience is or what is appropriate.
Web design is an expertise. As fun as it is to do it yourself, an established business is better off hiring a professional to make sure its website is its most effective presence on the web.
Remember: a prospective client who wants to learn more about your business will go to your website first.
Some of you are thinking if it’s time to redo your website, or if there are aspects that need updating? These tips will help you determine whether to tweak things a bit or to redesign your website completely.
What is your copyright date – is it 2015? We’ll wait while you check (cue Jeopardy music). Hopefully it auto updated for you (PHP sites usually do, but not all). If it isn’t, this is a fairly simple coding fix depending on where it resides – hire a web designer or developer to help.
Does your contact form work? These do go bad, so it’s worth checking.
Is your WordPress version 4.1? Backup your website first, then update. Security is the main reason you want to have the latest. Malware fixes due to out-of-date software are $$$ or $$$$. Ouch. If you are uncomfortable doing this, get a web designer to help. Don’t be an ostrich now – security will nail you. It is not a matter of if, but when!
Are your plugins up to date and working? Login to your dashboard and install Better Plugin Compatibility Control, which will show you what versions of WordPress your plugins are working with to help evaluate.
Any broken links? Use Broken Link Checker to scan your site, but if you install this plugin, be sure to remove it once you are done – it is a bit of a resource hog for your server and slows your website.
Check individual pages – everything look ok? Video links broken, images not showing?
How about your content (text)? Is it up to date? Does it answer questions for potential clients? Reading through it is worth an hour or two to be sure.
"Powered Proudly by WordPress" in the footer? Yikes! You are a business, you don’t want it to look like "cousin Joe the tech wiz" did your website. Remove it.
Web Trends and Tech Changes – Time for a Redesign?
Here are some points to consider when deciding if it’s time for a redo or refresh to stay current.
Text size. You should be using at least 16 pixel font sizes (not points) for best readability. If you are on 12, your site is hard for folks to read for retina screens (most things Apple) and mobile devices. If they have to squint, they may leave.
Outdated web trends. Do you have a content box that has large rounded corners (vertical rectangle with all your website text)? This technique was really overused in recent years and about as current as those bell-bottom pants in the closet. (Oh and skip sliders – they are trending out because they don’t convert site visitors.)
Has it been more than three years and you have a desktop-only website? Responsive design (mobile-friendly) is now marked by Google in search results on mobile devices. It is the standard. If you aren’t mobile friendly, you’re frustrating website visitors. Mobile usage surpassed desktop usage in 2014 for websites.
Okay, enough about mobile – if your site was produced more than three years ago, the bottom line is it’s old! Flash has "left the building," web browsers are constantly updating, computers and devices are always changing… yikes! Functionality may come into question with outdated code and expired web trends like an embossed button just look like you don’t care about your online presence. Remember: people go to your website to check your business out! Time for a refresh.
If you are an established business, consider hiring a pro to redesign your website. After all, you wouldn’t hire a plumber to do your taxes, would you?
Web designers can customize design solutions that best fit your audience. They know all those pesky trends, and will keep you looking professional. Make 2015 the year your website design is part of your marketing toolkit.