Everything listed under: resources

  • Don’t Let Bloated Graphics Hijack Your Web Site

    The images on your company’s website have a big impact on visitors and are often their first impression of your business. So they need to be professional, up-to-date and fast. You want vibrant images and rich graphics, but if you have too many they can slow the site’s performance. I think we can all agree that no one likes to wait for a page to load, much less an image.

    Below are my six top tips for making sure your images aren’t bigger than your bandwidth.

    1. Compress, compress, compress. Digital pictures can take up an enormous amount of bandwidth if not properly compressed and that, in turn, can turn your website into a frustratingly slow experience. To keep images to a reasonable size, use a program such as Photoshop or Pixelmator and use the Save for Web and image export, respectively, to cut the size down. If you would like to make the image file size even smaller, you could also run the file through an image optimizer software like ImageOptim for the Mac. This application uses several compression algorithms to decrease the file size, yet keeps the image looking the same. ImageOptim can reduce PNG file sizes by 30-40%. The smaller the file size, the faster your site will load. Alternatively, you can reduce the physical dimensions of the image– for example, reducing a 3264 by 2448 jpg image from an iPhone 6 plus, down to 700 by 525, takes the file size down from 2 MB to 295KB. If you go a step further in Photoshop and save it for web, the file size drops to 71KB.
    2. Know your image formats. Different image formats have different uses. The older GIF format produces small files, but the images aren’t as sharp, and limited to 256 colors. GIFs are best for images with text and flat colors, as well as cute videos of cats. JPG images, on the other hand, are great for photographs or graphics with thousands of colors. However, be prepared for large, files of 3 to 5 MB’s on average. JPGs can, and should be, reduced through resizing and compression (see above) but that could possibly sacrifice some image clarity and colors. For images with large blocks of solid colors, you have a need for transparency and PNG graphics are best. PNG files compress well, but they will have an overall larger size than GIF and JPG images.

    3. Beware of large galleries. LightCMS (as well as other CMS applications) have an image “gallery” feature which allows web designers to put a number of small thumbnail-sized images on a single screen so the viewer can see them all at once. The viewer can then click on a small image and a larger version of it will load. However, you should keep in mind that galleries can load both the small and the large versions of each image causing the image files to compete for bandwidth.
    4. Use 3rd party video services. In the old days of Flash players, websites would host their own .flv’s and visitors with free Flash players could view them. Now, however, hosting Flash videos on a site is pretty much history. Today’s answer is to post your company videos to sites such as YouTube or Vimeo and embed the link on your site instead. The video plays on YouTube, saving you the storage space and bandwidth.
    5. Anticipate new technologies and how they may affect your site. Mobile devices created a need for more cleanly organized sites and fewer, smaller images. Now retina displays are moving things in the opposite direction with displays showing your site in a much higher resolution. To take advantage of the sharper capabilities of a retina display you can have two versions of each image, one for a retina-capable device and one for normal displays. The browser will look to see if the higher quality image is available and serve that image. If not, it will load the regular image.
    6. Make sure images are your own. Finally, make sure all of your images are your property. Designers are often tempted to “borrow” good images from other people’s sites. Don’t. The odds that someone will notice are higher than you think, and in the era of social media, your theft of someone else’s intellectual property could become a trending topic. Don’t you want to showcase your own high quality content for visitors to admire?
  • So You’re On the LightCMS Partner Platform…Now What?

    You love designing websites, not dealing with invoices and conducting server maintenance. That is why you became a LightCMS partner in the first place, right? The LightCMS cloud-based content management and web design platform was set up to make it easier for designers to focus on the creative aspects of their business rather than getting bogged down in the operational details. But to develop a strong presence as a web design firm, you should first learn about and how to take advantage of the LightCMS partner tools. Here are some of the resources and advice to get you on the right track.

    How-to videos and documentation. On the LightCMS partner help site, you’ll find a lot of helpful articles, videos and documentation on using the LightCMS tools, as well as tips showing how to customize sites for different clients.

    Free demo sites. LightCMS provides each partner with one free site. You can choose to use that as your actual business website, or turn it into a demo site to showcase your capabilities and the LightCMS platform. With the help of LightCMS’s free design templates, you don’t need to be an expert designer to quickly create a working demo. In fact, it’s possible to develop a demo site of two to four pages in less than an hour using a template, some of your own photos, corporate logo and web copy. In addition, you can leverage the LightCMS 14-day trial period that each new customer gets to create a custom demo for each hot prospect, then activate it when they’re ready to go forward.

    Responsive design templates. Today’s websites have to be accessible by all types of devices, from cell phones and tablets to large desktop monitors. That requires responsive web design, an approach for creating sites that can automatically adapt to the screen sizes of a wide range of devices. To ensure your clients’ sites can support their customers’ diverse needs, LightCMS provides multiple responsive design templates, free to its partners. You can also develop and implement your own custom templates. Once you’re happy with your template, just drop in a tiny snippet of code wherever you want your users to be able to add or edit content. The LightCMS system takes care of the rest.

    Flexible packaging options. LightCMS charges $19 per month per site. However, partners have a variety of different ways they can charge their customers. You can add 10, 20, 50 percent or more to the monthly price and bill customers the fees that you choose. Or you can have LightCMS bill you directly for the $19 while you bill your customers separately for hosting, design services, or other extras. Or you can bundle your services with LightCMS and create different packages to target different customer needs. For example, you might offer a one-time website and logo redesign package for a new business which wants to then take over management of its own site, while offering another package for long-term customers as part of a new customer web redesign package. Another bundle might provide long-term web site consulting, design and management services to a client who wants to outsource the oversight of it. You have the flexibility to create the packages and price structure best suited to your company.

    Marketing assistance. LightCMS offers advice on how to market and grow your business. If you’re new to the business, think about what types of organizations you want to focus on, and what services to sell. If you’ve already designed a few websites, consider targeting other businesses in those niches. Local churches, nonprofits, legal firms, schools, fitness centers, medical clinics, hair salons . . . they all need help designing web sites just for their businesses. There are dozens of potential markets, but it’s best to start with two or three and expand as you get more reference clients. Your LightCMS account manager can provide feedback and advice, and you’ll also find articles and blog posts on the LightCMS web site.

    Whether you're designing a single site or building a web design business, the LightCMS Partner Platform has the tools to help you do it well.

    To find out what other services LightCMS can provide to get your business growing, visit http://www.lightcms.com/partners.

  • Six Tips for Treating Your Website's Content and Audience with Care

    There is a lot you may want to share with your website visitors. But not all of it can, or should, be shared equally. Here are some basic, but critical, tips on web content organization and management.

    Don't cram content "above the fold." This is an old term from newspapers, which used to be folded in half, with the banner headline on top. Any story that ran above the fold of the newspaper was considered breaking news. However, websites don't have folds and the screen resolution of today's monitors is much better than it used to be -- they can display an entire page at once. Also, with the wide range of monitors, laptops, tablets and cell phones it's impossible to know where the fold will be for every display. So instead, arrange your content thoughtfully to draw people into your site and guide them through the page. Then let them use the scroll bar as needed.

    Don't overpopulate the homepage. Likewise, don't treat your homepage as your only page. It's common for web managers, especially in small or nonprofit organizations, to gradually overbook the homepage as new and “important” content comes in, while the older content never gets removed. That can result in the endlessly scrolling home page. While people are used to some scrolling, they don't expect to navigate three-foot long webpages (as they might have in the early days of the web). Today people get bored quickly, so keep your homepage content fresh, interesting, and short. Provide links and navigation buttons for visitors to reach other content not located on the homepage.

    Be consistent with typefaces, fonts and colors. The classic new designer's mistake is to fall in love with fonts and typefaces -- lots of them. But going overboard with multiple typefaces (the style, such as Garamond) and fonts (size and weight) makes it hard on readers. It winds up making a webpage look confusing and unprofessional. Instead, select two fonts, one for titles and one for content text. Usually, one will be a serif typeface (e.g. Caslon) and the other sans serif (Proxima Nova). Also avoid too much bolding, highlighting, underlining, colors, etc. Be bold with your design, but conservative with your font treatments. If you have a professionally designed template you can use, like the included designs in LightCMS, stick to it and avoid going outside its styles.

    Update regularly. Once you start a blog, or a news area, or a series of articles -- keep it updated. Nothing says "out of business" like a blog that was updated a year ago or a press release from six months past. If you can't commit to updates, then keep the site simple with just contact information, an overview of your organization's purpose, and other static content.

    Use SEO keywords carefully. It is often tempting to get as many keywords into your content as possible, to help it turn up in searches. However, too much repetition of keywords and phrases is a turn-off to would-be consumers who can quickly sense a ploy for hits vs. quality content. So select those four or five keywords that really represent your business. Use them whenever it makes sense, but not multiple times in one short article.

    Most of all, know your audience and what content they want to see. Then give it to them in as clear and concise a manner as possible. They'll appreciate it.

  • Top Four Navigation Pitfalls to Avoid in Web Design

    Providing a good web experience depends heavily on good use of navigational aids. While it sounds simple enough, in fact, designing good navigational elements on a site can be tricky. Here are four common mistakes to avoid:

    Too many levels.

    Don't make visitors do a deep dive into your site to find information. If possible, keep the site reasonably shallow, around three levels, and keep the most important information on the first or second levels. Use design elements, such as sidebars to squeeze more information onto a page, and resist the urge to add another page link.

    Unclear identifiers.

    Avoid cutesy or long-winded language in identifying URLs and pages. Also avoid unclear words. For instance, "engage" is vague, but "contact" is clearer.

    Too many words.

    Visitors should be able to cut-and-paste a link without needing to copy a dozen words. That also means limiting your links to one or two words in length. Anything longer is a waste of time. For instance, "See How Our Product Works" is not a good title. But "How It Works" is better.

    Avoid "mega flyout menus."

    Some ecommerce sites with a lot of product categories will use drop down menus that spawn other drop down menus -- as much as four to five levels down. The problem is visitors can't see those hidden categories so may not go looking for them in the menu. Multi-level drop down menus also have a tendency to collapse, forcing the person to start over again.

  • 7 Best Practices to SEO Like a Pro

    When prospects search for products like yours, do they find you or your competitors? Getting to the top of the search engine rankings seems like an impossible task to many marketing managers. But it's neither complicated nor expensive. It does require a lot of effort and a little know-how, and maybe some help from a good web content management tool to automate some of the more time-consuming tasks.

    Here are seven SEO best practices to follow to getting to the top of the search results.

    1. Do your keyword research. You can't know how to optimize search engine results unless you know what search words are most popular and most likely to be used by the consumers you are trying to reach. Start researching these keywords using the Google keyword research tool to get a list of the most-used words that relate to your product category. You can also find out what keywords people use to find your site.

    2. Create focused and unique content. Content is king and critical to improving search engine ranking. Not just any content will do though. Your content should be high quality and contain valuable and useful information from which your readers can learn. Developing fresh and relevant content on a regular basis is not always easy. By taking an integrated and team approach to content development, not only will you be able to generate fresh content on a regular basis, but you will also be giving your internal team an opportunity to share their thought leadership. Expanding your content development team to customers and partners is also a great way to generate new content and build stronger relationships. Just make sure to avoid overusing too many keywords or copying content from other sites. Search engines are programmed to look for patterns that indicate cheating. On the other hand, you do want to optimize each page to get the best ranking it deserves. Usually including two to four good keywords in the page, repeated a few times each, is a good goal, depending on the amount of copy.

    3. Know your tags. HTML code includes several types of content tags. The important ones for SEO are the title tag, meta description tags, meta keyword tags, alt tags for images and your H1 and H2 tags. They all help to tell the search engines the focus of the content so they'll be noticed and indexed correctly. Some content management applications automatically generate tags for you. LightCMS, for instance, generates title tags and some header tags. The title tags should reflect the main focus of your content and include the most important keywords.

    4. Leverage software tools. You can't tell how effective your SEO strategy is unless you are monitoring traffic. Google Analytics is a good free tool for checking performance, traffic volume, keywords used, and the loading speed of pages. Many web content management systems (CMS) such as LightCMS also have analytics capabilities and/or integration with Google Analytics. Web CMS applications can also automate a lot of tasks, such as generating URLs and meta tags. Another set of tools provided by both Google and Bing is Webmaster Tools. This is where you submit site maps, learn which keywords bring in the most people, find ways to optimize your site, get alerts to problems with your site, and other useful things.

    5. Consider architecture. Site architecture is another important factor in SEO. Basic considerations include having a clearly worded URL structure with descriptive keywords as well as a clean navigation structure. Page load time or how fast your page loads is increasingly becoming a priority, so make sure that the pages on your site have clean code that’s optimized for loading. The size of images and videos should also be considered when building a site. These factors all contribute to page load time. Once your site is done, make sure you have an XML site map and submit it to Google and Bing using Webmaster Tools. Just as an HTML site map tells people what is on a website, the XML site map informs search engines. If you use a web CMS like LightCMS, the sitemaps are created automatically.

    6. Keep to a schedule. SEO isn't a one-shot promotion. You aren't aiming for three weeks at the top, followed by a gradual drop to the bottom. The goal of SEO is to create a sustainably high ranking. That requires consistently updating your site and sticking with a schedule that web crawlers can come to anticipate. If you don't update content for weeks, the crawlers will learn not to check for new content very often. If you update every Tuesday, eventually crawlers will learn to come every Tuesday to update your listing.

    7. Become a trusted source. The best way to be visible on search engines is to become a trusted source of information. That means providing content not just about your products but content to educate your readers about related issues. This is important because customers often start out as curious researchers. Someone who sees a person paddle boarding might be motivated to search on "water sport using board and paddle," and if he likes what he finds, he might next look for "how to paddle board" and eventually "buy paddle board."

    The most sophisticated SEO strategy is to become an integral source of information for everyone — the curious as well as prospects and returning customers. The more useful and up to date content you provide, and the better organized and labeled it is, the more often your company will float to the top of search engine results.



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