SEO and Press Releases

Small business owners frequently overlook press releases as a method to acquire backlinks in an SEO campaign since not many small business owners have heard of them or understand them. Press release sites are just news release sites that provide online capabilities and regardless of their traditional offline definition, you don’t really have to submit what you may think of as breaking news like you may be used to seeing front and center.  This is because we often think of alarming first page stories, when in fact almost all of the news paper is significantly less sensational. The majority of it merely talks about fairly regular things.  As one component of growing your brand, press releases could certainly help create local awareness about your company, which is what SEO is really about.

Here’s a few thoughts you may use to produce press release stories:

* Changes in your services

* Industry developments

* Events within your company

* How you are involved with the community

* How you are delivering more value for the same price

* Donated to charity

* Warn against a negative industry trend

* Start a podcast

* Implement new machinery or techniques

* Publicity stunt

* Tour of your business

* Improving employee benefits

* Developing a proprietary process

For many press release sites you can include what’s called a contextual backlink. Contextual backlinks an important part of your overall online profile and are characterized by being surrounded by language having to do with to your industry.  Use your most important keyword as the text of the link.  Check to ensure the particular press release service allows contextual links prior to selecting them.

Some examples of Press Release Services:

* http://www.free-press-release.com

* http://www.i-newswire.com

* http://www.pr.com/press-releases

* http://www.prlog.org

* http://www.ecommwire.com

* http://www.1888pressrelease.com

* http://www.pressreleasepoint.com

* http://www.addpr.com

* http://www.ecommwire.com

* http://www.theopenpress.com

An important thing to note is that you shouldn’t submit the same article to everyone. Instead you could submit unique language to each PR provider. One of many ways you can increase the speed of your press release submissions is to take one particular piece of writing and spin it into a variety of articles, and then submit each unique article to a separate press release site.

Another thing to consider is the manufacturing of the press release itself.  Some services do this as part of their base services.  Some will do it for an extra fee.  Others require that you provide a fully-written press release.  Given that this affects the charge, you will have to investigate this consideration.

Maintain a history of all your press release URL’s so that you will be able to reference them later on.

As usual, when you are thinking of SEO your primary consideration is always to give thought to your reader and growing your online brand, creating awareness of your company and services while doing so in a fashion that makes it much simpler for search engines to recognize how the services that your business provides are related to the searches that people are making.  Search engine optimization isn’t about any type of trickery; it is more about making things simpler for the search engines and simply being deliberate and not just throwing articles out there and hoping the search engines can connect the dots on your behalf.  Press releases aren’t any different in this way; they’re actually merely another kind of content marketing.  Reach out to us if you need help making sure you don’t end up doing a press-release the wrong way and creating an over-optimization penalty – it’s easy to do if you aren’t careful.

Avoid Doing These 4 Things with Your Website Design

As a business owner, it’s important to remember you only have a couple of seconds – literally – to get your visitor’s attention in a good way, or they will click Back and you won’t see them again.  First impressions are incredibly important in determining whether your website convinces someone to take a closer look, and, ultimately, call you.  There are a few things, though, that are just killers in terms of making an immediately negative impression.  What you have to realize is that it doesn’t matter how good the rest of your website is, or how good your services are, if you fail this first test with your visitor.

In terms of what makes a “good” website design, that’s a subject for many books since there is, in fact, a lot of research behind what design strategies and components convert visitors into callers.  That’s not my subject today, though.  Today, I’m talking about some specific things that you should avoid.  If you have any of these things in your own website, you should definitely take some sort of immediate action to do something about it.

1. Auto-Play Music

Don’t have your website set to automatically start playing any sort of audio as soon as someone lands on it, unless the entire page is either about music itself, or it’s a landing page with a video as the main feature.  Otherwise, anything with an audio component should not be activated unless the user chooses to activate it.  As a whole, people tend to have a negative reaction to such automatic background music because it’s seen as an unwanted intrusion.  Furthermore, there’s the distinct possibility that whatever music you like, your visitor won’t.  It’s one thing to have a professional relationship with your website visitors, but that doesn’t mean making them listen to your favorite song every time they come to your website.  It’s also unnecessary bandwidth usage for mobile users and slows things down while the music file is transferred.

2. Tiny/Large Font Sizes

Your website should be pleasing to the eye, and either tiny or unnecessarily large fonts are sure to ruin not only the aesthetic quality of your website, but the actual usability.  If the font is so big that they have to lean back in order to take it in, then it’s too big.  Conversely, keep in mind that just because you can read tiny text just fine, that doesn’t mean that your visitors can.  Always remember that your website is there to represent your business in the best possible way to potential clients/customers, and not everyone can read tiny text easily.  You want them to have a good experience with your website right off the bat, because they are going to extrapolate from that experience what the rest of their relationship with you is likely to be like.

3. Pop-Ups

Although there are cases where pop-up windows can serve a useful purpose, such as letting a shopper know they still have items in their shopping cart they may have forgotten about, if you are running a small local business then pop-up windows are something you should avoid.  They just tend to annoy most people.  If someone is looking for either a landscaper, or a restaurant to go out to dinner, people want to feel like they are in control of their online shopping experience, and annoying them with a pop-up window is a sure way to give them a not-so-great experience with you right off the bat.  As a general rule, don’t do it.

Why might you use pop up windows?  As I mentioned, one scenario is to let visitors know they still have items in their shopping cart.  Another potential use is to offer the visitor a discount when they are about to leave your website without having contacted you.  If they took the trouble to look at your website, but then leave, maybe they simply aren’t convinced yet that you’re the right vendor.  Giving them an unannounced discount offer can sometimes tip people over the edge into deciding to buy from.  You have to be careful, though, if you are serving a local area around you, because you aren’t just talking about random internet shoppers browsing through your website.  You’re talking about the same potential customer base, over and over again, so I do not generally recommend any sort of pop-up strategy in this situation.

4. Glaring Colors

Don’t use a lot of glaring or high-contrast colors.  Your website should have a nice overall aesthetic flow, be easy on the eyes, and make it very easy for a visitor to quickly scan through your site and naturally have their eyes fall right onto your Call to Action (CTA), whether it’s a Call Now button, contact form, etc.  Your CTA needs to ‘pop’ to catch their eye, but if you use a lot of strong colors everywhere else, it will be a lot more difficult for your CTA to do so.  I’m starting to cross over into some very technical aspects of neuroscience and how the brain works, which isn’t really the purpose of this article, so just remember to be careful in your use of strong or contrasting colors.  It’s very easy to use too much.

In closing, remember that you only have a couple of seconds to get a visitor’s attention and convince them to stick around a little longer and see what you have to offer.  You can easily ruin that first impression with autoplay audio files, tiny text, pop-up windows, and glaring colors.  If you need help fixing any of these things, visit me at on my web design business site.

Be Legit & Pass Inspection

If you want your business website to both reach and stay on the coveted Page 1 of Google for your particular keywords, one of the things you need to know is that you’ll probably be inspected by an actual human working for Google at some point once you make it there, so they can be sure that the site they’re promoting high up is legitimate, offering information and/or services that people are really going to want.  And with the top 3 spots getting 80% of the clicks, and 90% all staying on Page 1, the last thing you want to do is fail to pass inspection once you get there.  Google wants to be sure people aren’t just using a bunch of spam or other forms of trickery to get themselves ranked – and I think we can all agree that it’s in everyone’s best interest as consumers for them to do this.  What that means for your business is making sure your website has the ‘right stuff.’

 
 

Here are a few things to consider:

 
 

1. You need to look like a real business.  While this may seem obvious enough, unfortunately there are so many people trying to make a buck through less than scrupulous means that you need to be sure your website looks like it represents a real, honest business.  A few things to consider including are:

 
 

* A physical address, and possibly a Google map of your location

 

* Mailing address

 

* Telephone contacts

 

* Special awards, certifications, accreditations, etc.

 
 

2. Have a nice, well-organized website that’s easy to navigate and pleasing to the eye.  Be sure to include a privacy policy, about, and contact page, and give some thought to how you organize your site so it doesn’t look like it was hastily thrown together.  

 
 

3. Include customer reviews and/or testimonials, but remember that you may not have the right to just take them off of places like Google or Yelp.  

 
 

4. Don’t clutter your website with so many sales ads that it looks like your website content is just “filler” and the real purpose of the site is your ads.   That doesn’t mean you can’t have ads, but they should not be the dominant focus of the site.  Consider whether your site would be useful to people if the ads were removed.

 
 

5. Don’t cram keywords into every nook and cranny.  While keywords are important so that Google can correctly determine how your website is related to searches, you don’t want to over-do it.  Your website can up looking like one big spammy concoction designed to trick Google rather than make sense to visitors.  Everything should make sense from a human point of view.

 
 

6. If you don’t mind the work involved and dealing with spam etc., consider permitting and encouraging people to actively engaged in conversations with you on your website, and especially include social sharing in such case.  This shows that you’re a real person offering real services.  It’s also a terrific way to grow your brand, since if people ask you questions, you can take that as an opportunity to create and post new content in response, both solving their issue for them while creating new quality content at the same time.  

 
 

In summary, remember that if you make it onto Page 1, Google is going to have an actual person come look at your website.  They want to be sure that you’re a real business offering quality services and content – i.e. that you actually *deserve* to be on Page 1.  The main key to passing this evaluation is just to always keep your reader in mind.  Spend less time worrying about Google and more time worrying about the people who will visit your site.  If you design for the end-user in mind and ask yourself what would a visitor to your website want to know about you then you’ll probably be okay.

 
 

If you need me to take a look at your site and talk about protecting your ranking, contact me over at my website.

Web Application Development and ASP.NET vs PHP/MySQL

I’m going to step into shark-infested waters here a bit with this post, since there are some very heated opinions on both sides of this.  I’ve spoken quite a bit in recent postings about websites, from the point of view of the website serving as the nexus of a company’s online presence.  The vast majority of what I build are WordPress websites, because I primarily cater to the small business community.  WordPress provides amazing flexibility at a great price.  As long as you’re careful about plug-ins, you can get good longevity and reasonable software support with WordPress.

However, when it comes to developing an actual business application from scratch, over the years my go-to programming language has been ASP.NET for business web applications, with a MicroSoft SQL database, sometimes with wrappers for C++ API’s and such.

To explain what I mean by a web-based business application, let me give you an example.  Back around 2005, plus or minus a year, I used ASP.Net to develop an application called Scantastic.  (You won’t find it online; it was an internal tool.)  Scantastic was a browser-based mobile-oriented application to perform real-time property inventory location updates by means of using a bluebooth barcode scanner with the mobile device.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, large companies like to know where there expensive assets are and they typically have databases to keep track of them.  I used ASP.NET as the core of an application to go from carrying around stacks of paper, to doing look-ups and making updates in real time.

When you talk about any sort of a business application, one of the first questions you need to answer before you can design anything is the importance of the application – how available does it need to be?  Does it have to be 24/7 with absolutely no exceptions?  Or are maintenance windows outside of normal hours OK?  This leads to other infrastructure questions about load balancing, clustering, and all sorts of technical stuff that you may need if your application needs to be “highly available” – but I’m wandering slightly off-topic a bit I suppose.

The reliability of your custom web application is something you need to consider, though.  If you’re writing a custom app and it’s important to your business, I’d go with ASP.NET rather than any sort of PHP based platform for several different reasons.

First, the stuff is designed and intended to work together.  That means you’re a lot less likely to run into any sort of interoperability problem if you stick with a core MicroSoft platform.  All of the native data providers and whatnot will, for the most part, just work.  In the event that something doesn’t work right, you only have to go to one place for support.

This is contrasted with any sort of MySQL and PHP-based environment where you’re patching together things that generally play quite nice together, but are, in truth, completely independent of each other.  Any time you are dealing with such an environment and run into a problem, fixing problems is more complicated and takes longer.

The other issue is sloppy coding.  The nature of ASP.Net and C# together are such that you’re more likely to build a better-structured program.  This is contrasted with the completely free-form nature of PHP, where they may or may not write their code in a way that makes it easy for someone to make changes to later.  With C# on the ASP.Net platform, I feel like you have more of a fighting chance.  Why does this matter?  It was, in fact, that very issue that prompted me to write this article.  I recently found myself needing to change something about a website written in PHP, and as I dug into the code, I was flabbergasted at the short-cuts taken by the programmer that essentially crippled the software.  It was actually incapable of performing what you’d think would be a basic function, and due to the way it was written it would have just been too much work to re-write the code.  As that situation unfolded, I found myself saying, this would never have happened with a ASP.Net C# application.  Perhaps I’m being idealistic but that was my reaction at the time.

Now, by no means am I diminishing the MySQL and PHP communities, because they have some amazing products and awesome user communities.  You can really do some amazing things with their products and I wouldn’t hesitate to use them – for the right application.  For a lot of lower-end business applications, I think they’re probably a terrific choice because they represent a great balance between cost and functionality – the primary concern of a small business owner.

In contrast, with the MicroSoft ASP.Net platform, you have a set of products all carefully designed to work together as part of a common roadmap.  Does it always with in such a utopian manner?  Of course not – but it makes things a lot easier.

So, if you find yourself considering having a custom web application built one day, think through the importance of the application first.  Understand what it needs to do, and how available it needs to be to you.  Then you can make a better decision weighing cost and functionality as you consider the ASP.Net and PHP/MySQL platforms.  If you need a ASP.Net web application developed, feel free to send me a shout over on my website at http://dunntek.com/webdesign

Using Graphics In Your Website

What you start designing your website, it can be tempting to put a lot of graphics on it.  You need to be careful about graphics and use them correctly, though, to avoid a problem of slow page load time, and confusing your visitors.  Let’s dive into those things.

PAGE LOAD TIME

Your page load time is how fast it takes for your site to show up on your visitor’s device.  Your pictures take much longer to transmit than plain text, so the more pictures you have, and the more detailed the file is with data, the longer it takes.  That all said, there are a couple of ways to reduce page load time.

1. LESS PICTURES

One way to cut down on page load time is simply reducing the number of pictures.  For example, if you have a slider, don’t load up 9 slides and overlay them all with a bunch of dense text.  I’ve seen this done, and it’s like trying to cram an entire website into a slider.  It just isn’t something I personally recommend in almost any situation.

One case where you can’t necessarily cut back too far on the number of images is a picture gallery.  In the case of a gallery, the rest of the steps below become even more critical.

2. RESIZE

Often, modern digital cameras take extremely high resolution pictures suitable for printing out as a photo.  That’s great if that’s what you’re going to do with them, but on a website, you don’t usually want that high of a resolution.  In fact, you want to get the resolution to the bare minimum that’s still going to look good on a typical screen size.  When working on several pictures such as for a gallery, you might want to check out IrfanView.

3. EWWW Image Optimizer

This handy WordPress plugin will create multiple versions of each image in your library, and then deliver lower-resolution (less pixels) versions of your images if warranted.  The downside to this is that you end up with a bigger file folder due to the additional images, which will use more of your allowed storage space and make your backups bigger.  This may or may not be an issue.

4. RE-SAMPLE

Use a tool like either JpegMini or Kraken to resample your images.  What they do is fairly technical, but the idea is that they look at the colors in the image and find ways to do some averaging on things and reduce the overall number of pixels, but in ways that the human eye cannot often see.  For example, if there are hundreds of shades of yellow, you can imagine that many of them would be so close you’d have to look extremely close to tell the difference.  So these programs look at pixels that are right next to each other and if they’re only slightly different, it might blend them together in a way that makes the file smaller.  There are also lossy and lossless options, but I’ll save that for a rainy day.  I often get anywhere from a 25-50% size reduction.  Well, if a picture is half the size it used to be, the new smaller picture will now load twice as fast as the old one – and you probably won’t even be able to tell the difference.

JpegMini does the work off-line on your computer prior to uploading, while Kraken is a pay-per-month service that does all the work in the cloud and automatically optimizes any new images that you may add.

5. CACHE

If you aren’t using a cache, you need to be.  These come in different types, and it’s quite a discussion of its own.  For now, the important thing to know is that by using a cache, your website will be served up even faster still.

USING PICTURES PROPERLY

Too many pictures on the page will pull your visitor’s attention in multiple directions.  Usually, a web page should be funnelling your visitor toward taking a specific action.  If their attention is going in multiple directions, though, they may become a confused buyer, and confused buyers don’t buy.  Your pictures should either part of your overall story, in which case they need to be layed out in a way that flows properly, or parked in properly strategic places, such as where you expect to see a company’s logo.

You need to also be mindful about colors and your overall page composition.  Everything needs to all look good together.

Pictures can either showcase your best work, illustrate a problem to grab their attention, or be used as part of a discussion about your materials or work processes.  Which is best really depends on the purpose of that particular web page.

Thanks for reading!

Tell Them How You Can Help

As a business owner, you know your business inside and out.  In fact, your products and services, and how they can potentially help people, are things you know so well that you probably don’t give them much thought.  When it comes to your website, though, it’s important to realize that what may seem obvious to you may not be so obvious to someone who visits you online.

People come to your website with some type of life situation.  Whether they’ve just moved, or are about to move, they’re getting married, going out to dinner, or a plumbing fixture just broke, they want to know whether your business has the answer to their life situation.  They don’t just want information about your products and services.  They want to know if you’re the kind of vendor who’s going to be able to do what they need done, when they need it, in the way they need it done.  Your story as a vendor needs to match up to their story as a person to get them to call or contact you.  And it’s not just information they are scrutinizing; people are evaluating other signals about your company in order to determine whether you are the KIND of vendor they want in their life – and those decisions are made in a fraction of a second when they land on your website.

You convey these messages to your website visitors in several different ways that all need to work together.  It isn’t just one thing; it all of the individual things, both each on its own, and how they all work together, in order to convey the right message.  Let’s walk through some of these things.

As soon as new site visitors arrive at your website the first thing they need to know, before anything else, is what you do, and you convey this in two primary ways.

PAGE TITLE

Your page title doesn’t just say who you are; it tells people what you do.  For example, you wouldn’t want to just say “Raleigh UCM, LLC”.  Instead, you go with something like, “Raleigh UCM LLC – Custom Home Builder”.  Always use plain English rather than any industry technical terms, unless your normal customer is highly technical and knowledgeable in your field and that’s who you primarily market to.

Your title is very important to the search engines in determining your search ranking for different terms, so it needs to both have proper SEO quality while also engaging a visitor’s interest.  This is part art and part science to put them together.

IMAGES

You want an image on your website to quickly capture the essence of what you can do for your customers, or how you can help them.  In practice, I see this done several ways, but I recommend some of them over others.  Let’s walk through them, and I’ll explain my thoughts about each.

1. The End Result.  This type of images displays the end result that you give your customers, whether it’s a beautiful lawn, a gorgeous house, or delicious mouth-watering food.  This is my #1 top recommendation for the first picture that a visitor to your website should see.

2. The Emergency.  Sometimes people have a real crisis on their hands, such as an exploding faucet.  A picture that captures the essence of their disaster can help convey that you’re the right one to help.  A picture of this sort also needs to be accompanied by language that speaks to your being able to address it and restore peace and order back to their life.

3. The Work.  This type of picture conveys someone actually doing the type of work you perform.  I think these type of pictures are very useful in parts of your website, but I wouldn’t make it the very thing your visitor sees.  The last thing you want to do is show them a bunch of pictures that will create angst over their house being turned into a disaster zone, even if it’s just temporary while you’re doing the job.  That’s because you aren’t selling work; you’re selling results.  Save pictures of this sort for interior pages where you talk about your work processes, and accompany them by re-assuring language.

TAGLINE

Your tagline helps convey what you’re about – the mission or character of your company.  What makes a good tagline is a little beyond the scope of this article, but it can make a difference in the mind of your website visitor.  It also has SEO value.

MAIN HEADING

You want to quickly convey the essence of what you have to offer.  This is one of the first things that’s going to catch their eye, so it’s important real estate on your website.  You want it to resonate with them enough to make them want to read more about you.

TEXT CONTENT

Just as the point of the main heading is to capture your visitor’s interest and prompt them to read a bit further, the same thing is true of the very first sentence – and paragraph – on any of your pages.  A bit of mystery or intrigue can work, depending on your website and services, but you need to simultaneously provoke their curiosity while creating resonance between your story and theirs.  In other words, you need to sell them on the idea that you can help, and get them to read further.

The biggest trick to engaging content is not talking about all the technical details of your services, equipment, or capabilities.  You want to have such information available, but you don’t want to stick it in their faces.  Rather, you want to talk about results and how what you can do can help with the story of their life.  For example, if you’re a wedding planner, they don’t just want a cake and a dress.  They want a smooth, peaceful and well-coordinated wedding experience.  This exact same idea applies to any other trade or service.

CONCLUSION

I outlined above a few considerations for a small business owner on content for their website.  Most people decide in less than a second whether or not they want to read any further into your website based on whether the things they see and read are what they’re looking for.  You have to tie all of the pieces together so that you can capture your visitor’s interest enough to get them to call or contact you.  I tried to give you some solid principles to go by, but there’s a lot more to it than I layed out in this article.  If you aren’t getting the results you need from your website, it might be time for help.  If you’re in that boat, reach out to me here:  http://dunntek.com/webdesign

Mobile Websites (Part 3)

This is the third and final part of a mini-series about mobile series, to help small business owners understand some of their choices.

Things to Consider

The size of your visitor’s screen is something you need to consider when you think about the layout and content of your website.  What they see when they first land needs to resonate with your typical viewer.  With the much larger screen that a desktop has, you have more places to put more things, such as sales advertisements or seasonal specials.  With a mobile device, you have fewer places to put things, but you still need to be able to quickly qualify yourself to the viewer that you’re who they’re looking for.

Checklist for Your Mobile Friendly Site

Run through this quick checklist on your own website by viewing your website on your smartphone, and ask yourself these questions.  You don’t have to be scientific – just be honest about your own reactions.

  1. Did your website load quickly?
  2. Is the nature of your website clear?
  3. Can you easily read the text?
  4. Can you navigate easily?
  5. Is there a clear call to action?
  6. What sort of user experience rating would you give it?
  7. If it wasn’t your own website, would you come back?
  8. Can you easily click on any links?
  9. Are things spaced well?

If your website didn’t make the grade, that’s exactly how other people are going to feel – and it’s going to affect your reputation with them.   This may be their very first experience with your company, so it needs to be a good one.

Equally important, it will improve your online search visibility and rankings, which is important because a great website that nobody ever sees isn’t doing you much good.

It’s also a great opportunity to give your website a makeover, modernize things, and maybe include some newer, higher resolution photos that better showcase your work.  This will demonstrate to your viewers that you keep up with the times.

Also, while you may or may not engage in social media much yourself, many people do, so with a nice site this can be free advertising for you when people Share, Like, or Re-Tweet your page.

What About Mobile Apps?

Don’t overlook mobile applications, usually simply called Apps.  Some companies are embracing them as the ideal way to engage mobile users because you have very precise control over the experience.  Some people speculate that at some point in the future, all mobile website interaction will be with apps, but this is likely many years in the future because it would require uniform standards that are unlikely to emerge between device and operating system manufacturers anytime soon.

Regardless, there are many benefits to having a mobile app for your business:

  1. Ease of use.  The typical rules for app stores are more likely to ensure a good user experience than may be the case with a mobile website, since there are no rules about mobile websites.  Programmers can code websites to do whatever they want, with or without good forethought and quality assurance – which could be the reason why many plugins aren’t that well rated.  Mobile apps are more likely to be easy for your user to engage with.
  2. Apps can provide additional functionality that your mobile website may not be able to achieve.  Facebook is a great example of this.
  3. Credibility.  Having an app can increase your perceived level of credibility and professionalism, as long as the rest of the stage has been set correctly.  It can’t necessarily fix other problems, but it might be the thing that puts users over the top for choosing you over another vendor.
  4. With time being one of our most valuable resources, an App can make your audience appreciative by streamlining common activities they might do in connection with your business, such as making payments, online ordering, and scheduling appointments.
  5. Real-time engagement.  With an app, you can perform message push notifications to users, which can be a huge business boost by letting them know about unannounced specials.  Examples might include discounts on a home service that’s booked within the next 72 hours, or perhaps an evening special at a restaurant.

What Lies Ahead

The mobile world is constantly evolving as people seek new ways of making their lives easier and maintaining social connections in ways they might not otherwise have had the time for.  The latest smart-watch that we’ve all seen on television is a great example of mobility being taken to even greater levels as technology experts find ways to make common tasks easier.

As for what this means for your small business and search engines, one thing we know for sure is that they will continue to constantly make changes in their search algorithms – although I’ll stop short of calling them improvements, since people who’s search ratings change may or may not consider them improvements.  What we do know with certainty is that we can continue to see more changes, more often.  Consequently, it’s important to stay up to date with what Google is doing because what we do know for a fact is that they penalize you if you don’t.

The world of mobility will continue to change, and for a small business this will mean a big competitive advantage for small businesses that embrace these changes early since they will enjoy improved online rankings, while those who delay may see their rank suffer as a result.  This can be a difficult landscape for a small business owner to navigate on their own, since they may not have the time needed to keep up with what’s really important.  In fact that’s the reason for my business model of partnership.

Conclusion

I see, unfortunately, lots of people advertising they’ll design a website dirt-cheap, but what so many people end up with is what I described early on in this article series: a website that might seem nice at first, and possibly be quite visually attractive, but still fail to do its job and serve your business as your #1 sales machine.  If you need help with web design for your Raleigh business, hop over here and get in touch.

Getting Your Website Responsive

In the last article, I revealed that I think the best option for most small businesses is to use a good Responsive Theme.  If you have an older HTML website, you could convert your HTML site to a responsive HTML design, but I will warn you that from my own personal testing, I was not happy with how they behaved.  More specifically, the way the ones that I used worked is that the mobile screen was not horizontally “fixed” the way it should have been and would slide left or right – at times you would think that it ought to be locked in place.  So, at present, HTML responsive layouts get a big thumbs down from me.  If I happen to find some I like that work the way they ought to, I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, if you are stuck on HTML for some reason, I would lean toward dynamic serving with a completely separate set of pages.  Done right, such pages can have a very “app-like” feel to them.

If you’re using WordPress, which most small businesses really ought to be doing these days, then you have tons of options.  As a bit of an aside, one of the main reasons for using WordPress is that you can add and remove things from your, including new posts, blog content, plugins, additional capabilities, etc. without a big development cost.  And since Google very strongly favors websites that show growth and development, you can see how maintaining a competitive advantage over time will be easier if your website has the right stuff under the hood to help you do that.

So, if you’re on WordPress, your best choice is to move to a Responsive theme.  There are about a million of them, though.  I’ll share some places where they can be found, and then I’ll tell you my own preferences.

Here are some top theme providers that are currently mobile responsive:

  1. Thrive Themes – http://thrivethemes.com/
  2. Studio Press Themes – http://my.studiopress.com/responsive-wordpress-themes/
  3. Theme Forest – http://themeforest.net/collections/3226617-responsive-wordpress-themes Theme Forest also has designs for HTML and Joomla based sites.
  4. Elegant Themes are a very popular choice, with over 20 WordPress responsive themes available including their most amazing work, Divi.  http://www.elegantthemes.com/gallery/category/responsive/
  5. If you are looking for free themes, here’s a list of 30 designs. http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/30-free-responsive-and-stunning-wordpress-themes/
  6. Then there are the themes from WordPress here: https://theme.wordpress.com/themes/features/responsive-layout/

Now, if you read any of my other posts, you’ll know that I very, very strongly recommend that you do not simply pick a theme because you think it looks pretty, you like the colors, etc.  That’s a great way not to get many calls.  The reason I say that, and take a bit of a tough stance on the subject of website design, is that you have a website for your business because you want to convert visitors into customers so you can make money for your business.  It’s not a hobby or an art project.  I’m going to be as serious as I can here.  You need to decide which is more important:  making money for your business, or having a website like one you may have seen.  The reason I am prompting you to consider this question is that there is a tremendous amount of research into neuroscience and website design factors that convert people from visitors to callers.  So, as a developer, I want to help your business succeed, which means putting those things into play on your website, while trying to incorporate as much of your personal tastes and preferences as possible.  Some developers will quite happily just install any theme you want and take your money, but my point here is that they aren’t doing you any favors.

The second thing to consider is that, in many of those places, the developers come and go, and the support for their themes may go with them, leaving your website with buggy code that nobody is ever going to fix.

I am personally quite picky about the themes I use, because I want to be sure that both myself, and especially my customers, can count on having active support for a long time to come.  For most sites, I either use Divi by Elegant Themes, which can do practically anything you might dream up, or one of a couple of proprietary themes along with Visual Composer, the go-to industry standard for custom layouts.

Keeping Your Current Theme

With WordPress, you can use one of several plugins to create a separate mobile version of your website right from within WordPress itself.  I don’t recommend this approach for anybody that I typically work with, but there are certainly instances where it might make sense as a short-term measure just to get you back into compliance with Google while you then work on fixing the bigger problem with your website design.

HandHeld Mobile Plugin by Elegant Themes lets you create a separate mobile-friendly version of your existing site.  This plugin comes straight from the manufacturer, so it does not have a rating on WordPress.org.

Jetpack helps site owners by giving you the mobile-friendly features of hosted wordpress.com with your self-hosted site.

WPTouch is a plugin solution that will allow you to create a separate, mobile-friendly version of your website. Your desktop site will stay unchanged.  When visitors view your site from any mobile device, your website will display a different theme that you configure. You can select from various themes that the plugin offers. Currently rate 3.5 out of 5 stars.

WP Mobile Detector, works similarly, allowing you to select from different themes and create your mobile friendly website. This plugin only has 3.4 out of 5 stars.

Device Theme Switcher is a more complex plugin that allows you to even give a different version to not only phones, but tablets.  This gives you quite a bit of flexibility and more granular control, which may sound nice, but with complexity comes cost.  Although the plugin is highly rated with a full 5-stars, most small businesses that I work with are cost-conscious, so I would not tend to go this route.  Although the plugin seems quite nice, I have concerns about the longevity of support since there is only a single developer who has no other plugins.  We can only hope that since he seems to be doing good work that he’ll survive the test of time.

The thing to be cautious about with plugins is the same issue as with themes themselves.  Developers come and go, so you want to use mainstream, major brand plugins so you can be reasonably assured that they’re going to be likely to continue providing support.  The other main issue is that you may not be able to brand your website for a consistent viewing experience.  In general, I do not recommend the route of plugins to accomplish a mobile website due to both reliability and support concerns I have.  Is it easy to install it, charge a client money, and then walk away?  Sure.  But I can’t begin to tell you how many websites I’ve run into where a website developer installed a cool plugin that seemed a good idea at the time, but when I’m in there fixing things, the plugins are badly out of date with bugs but the person who wrote them is nowhere to be found, leaving the client to have to pay for me to move them onto a more reliable WordPress configuration.  If you are going to use a plugin, I would lean toward Elegant Theme’s HandHeld Mobile since you will likely get more consistent support over time.

Types of Mobile Website Design

You really have three choices when it comes to an approach for your website’s mobile version. From a Google perspective, neither is necessarily any better than the others just from the standpoint of gaining their favor. However, each does have both its advantages and disadvantages. I’m going to walk through these three choices, and then tell you which approach I generally recommend and explain why.

Responsive Website Design

Perhaps the most common approach, a responsive website design is one which automatically adjusts the size and position of different components of your website based on the visitor’s device. Some of the things that a responsive website may do include changing the font size, displaying smaller pictures and videos, spacing links further apart so they are easier to tap, and re-ordering the content so it fits well onto the screen and flows well as you can then scroll down to see the same content as if you were on a regular desktop PC, but it’s been re-formatted so you can now see it easily on your smartphone or table.

One advantage of a responsive design is that you have a built-in consistent look and feel to your website, regardless of how your visitor choose to visit it. This feeling of familiarity and comfort is a factor in website conversion. Additionally, since you only have to maintain one website, your overall cost will probably be lower than other options.

The downside to a responsive design is that you may be showing visitors more than they needed. For example, if you consider the scenarios in which a person is likely to visit your website and think through what they really want to know about you if they are using their phone to look you up, do they really want to read all of your articles and detailed explanations? Maybe, maybe not. Plus, all of that content has to load on their device.

Dynamic Page Serving

This approach to a mobile website will redirect mobile users to a different URL if they are on a mobile device. The methods for making this determination vary, but the most common result that you may recognize is visitors being sent to a “m.” version of the website. In this scenario, you essentially built a duplicate version of your website, including some pages while leaving others out, and tailoring the content of those pages to better suit mobile viewers.

The two main advantages of this approach are that you don’t have to make much modification to your existing website, and achieving a highly-optimized mobile viewing experience with streamlined or summarized content and less options for the viewer, so they are more strongly directed to a particular outcome, ex. calling you, as opposed to other things they might do on the desktop version of your website such as read PDF’s or special reports you may have.

The disadvantages include having to now main two different websites, and the attempt to tailor content for mobile viewers may leave your existing customers in a flux since they are used to looking for certain things in certain places, but now you’ve gone and moved things around on them which can be frustrating for your existing customers. Additionally, since you have two websites, you need some technology to decide which version you’re going to serve up to your user, and that technology may or may not work the way that you really want it to – a situation which is becoming more problematic as newer smartphones emerge on the market with extremely high-resolution displays. You also carry additional cost associated with maintaining more web pages.

Different Mobile URL

In this scenario, mobile visitors are sent to a completely different URL where your mobile website is housed.

The advantages are essential the same as dynamic page serving, in that you can deliver a highly mobile-optimized experience for your user with summarized content and simple navigation. Sometimes the term “web app” is used to describe this type of website, in that it functions almost more like an app on your smart phone rather than looking like a web page. In some cases it is cheaper to launch a new “web app” than to convert your website to a mobile responsive design, so some business owners may see it as a short-term cost avoidance so they don’t have to redesign their whole website.

The reality is that any cost-savings is very short-lived, because you’re going to be paying additional hosting and maintenance costs, plus you have all the same disadvantages as dynamic page serving.

Summary

You have three primary choices for how to approach the mobile website for your business, and I’ve done all three. First you have the responsive design, which maintains a common look and feel regardless of how someone access your website. This is what I do the most of. Second, you have dynamic page serving. I’ve hand-coded custom HTML websites in this format for some clients. Finally, you have what I call the “web app” which is essentially a completely separate website. I’ve done these as well. Overall, I steer most small businesses toward a responsive design because:

1. It maintains a consistent look and feel for your website;

2. Lowest overall cost;

3. Most future-proof as device resolutions change;

4. Less headaches with having to deal with multiple websites.

So there you have it – my general recommendation for most small business owners is a responsive website design. That said, there may be cases where one of the other options is a better choice for your particular situation, so feel free to contact me on my website and we can talk through which option might be best for you.

We’ll continue the discussion about mobile websites in the next article.

Why Your Small Business Needs a Mobile Website

If you want to get more customers online, then you probably know that it’s important to comply with search engine requirements about the things they want to see on your website.  If you don’t follow their rules, you’ll find yourself gone from their listings.  That means people aren’t going to be calling you as much.  What this means for a small business owner is that you can’t just create a website and forget about it; you have to keep your website up to date with these changing requirements by search engines.  Just like a house requires maintenance and upkeep over time, fixing and replacing things, painting, and regular yard maintenance, so does your website.

Over the years, the volume of online searches conducted from mobile devices has exceeded 50%, meaning that now well over half of all searches are being made primarily from smart phones.  This is particularly true with online shopping specifically; if your shopping cart isn’t mobile friendly it’s estimated that you can be losing 30% of your potential sales on that item alone.  But the main point here is that when people search on their phones for a local service provider, much of the time they aren’t idly cruising the web.  Rather, when people use their phones to conduct a search for a local service provider, they’re usually doing so with an intent to buy.  Think about that.  Most of the time when people are using their phone to search for a plumber, they’re going to call one for service.  If you’re a plumber and you don’t have a mobile website, you’re now letting all that traffic just pass right by you.

Back in April, Google instituted changes in their search algorithm.  Whether or not you have a mobile-friendly website design is now part of how you get ranked when people search from a mobile phone.  If you think about it, it makes sense.  People on mobile phones would rather see a mobile-friendly site that’s easy to navigate, than one with tiny text or where they have to pinch and zoom to find their way around.  This means that if your website isn’t mobile friendly, you’re going to get less calls.

If you don’t know whether or not your website design complies with the latest requirements, go to Google’s online testing tool, type in your website address, and it will tell you:

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly

How Online Searching Has Changed

One of the factors to consider about your local marketing is the manner in which searching has changed.  For example, once upon a time, you might make a search like one of these:

Pizza + Chicago

Plumbers in Seattle

However with the rise of location-detection technology, that isn’t really needed most of the time anymore.  Search engines can detect where you are, and deliver results that are determined to be nearby based on your location.  That assumes, of course, that your device supports location detection and that you have enabled it for your web browser.

Understanding Mobile Users

The first thing you need to do is think like a mobile user and put yourself in their shoes.  One common scenario is a person doing some quick shopping, in which case they want a simple, streamlined buying process without a bunch of steps, so it’s fast and easy to buy.  But for a small local business, the more important scenario is when they just had a major plumbing disaster and need someone NOW.  They want to do a quick search, see top-rated professionals, and be able to do a quick tap to call.  People want things to be quick and easy.  If your website isn’t set up so it’s just a matter of a click or two for them to either call or contact you, they’re going to call someone else.  If you’re a restaurant, your exact location with a map link and your menu should be easy to use.  (Tip for restaurants: Include pricing on your online menu, and allow online ordering for pickup customers.)

With over a billion people now browsing the Internet from a mobile device, the simple fact of having a mobile website means you should see an increase in traffic.  Conversely, not having one means your traffic will go down.

This is the first article in a series.  Next time, we’ll discuss some of the different types of mobile websites that are available.