How Do I Select the Right Web Development and Design Agency? [Overview]

Choosing Dev-shop

Most companies, if not all, have a website -- some of them archaic (we’re talking early 2000's), others more recent. Modern sites using a CMS like Drupal or WordPress are in desperate need of a refresh, update, or some restructuring. So here you are, reading this post, and wondering what to look for when selecting a 'dev-shop'. If you haven't already browsed through our site, I would encourage you to do so. And if, for whatever reason, you decide to go a different direction, here are a few things to consider.

Reputation, References, Size & Location

Does the company have an online reputation, e.g. social media outlets like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.? Are their projects / portfolio inline with your vision? A well presented portfolio, with a variety of experience, adds a tremendous amount of credibility, as well as who they've worked with.  They might not know your exact industry, but do they have experience working with B2B or B2C?  Much like a resume, can they provide a list of references? Do they have experience in the back end as much as they do design? Many smaller agencies will recommend templates (which isn't a bad thing). There are, however, circumstances where templates will require customizations which call for an experienced developer to dive into the code and database.

If you're in need of help, and don't have a strong background in IT or web-related projects, you should consider hiring a local agency. Why? Because of the in-person meetings which create project continuity, collaboration, open lines of communication, and sharing of ideas.

If you decide to hire an agency that is outside your local area, be sure to consider the following: Can you meet everyone on the team either in person or video conference? Many web development companies are one to two person shops (typically a sales-y person with some technical background) that outsource the majority of their work. So what's the problem with that? I've been down this path before, and it took a lot of communication and getting to know the overseas team.

I was once brought into a project where roughly $1.2 million was spent on “development”. Up to this point, all the company had to show for it was a few wire-frames and Photoshop layouts. This 'round robin' approach had one fundamental flaw: communication. An 11.5 hour time zone difference meant that when the team had questions (and they always do), nobody was awake to help move the project forward. Time was of the essence at this point so I spent the next 4 months overseas working shoulder to shoulder with the team in order to get the software out the door (or at least version 1).

The point is, if you have a project and think you can just hand it over to an offshore development team to complete, you may want to reconsider. Also, make sure there are more than 1-2 developers within the company that you can have direct access to. I can't tell you how many meetings I've had with potential clients where I realize they are frustrated because they can never get a hold of anyone. Most reputable web-dev agencies will have at least 5-10 developers on staff.

Support, Maintenance & Hosting

This leads us to support & maintenance. Larger teams have greater availability for support and constant monitoring of your site's health. It's also likely that at some point you're going to encounter an urgent issue with your website. Is the team able to roll with the punches and get things fixed in a timely manner? Be sure they provide basic training as part of the plan, and make sure you have a list of things that will need frequent updating. For tasks that may require a higher level of technical ability (like design, configuration or programming), the company should provide a quote before starting the project.

While reputable agencies should remain agnostic to the idea of having multiple platforms and multiple hosting platforms, there can be other motivations. Some  agencies are incentivized to get you hosted on their platform, so make it a point to ask them whether or not they make a commission.

Digital Marketing - SEO / SEM Services

If a company doesn't outright list any SEO or marketing offerings, consider this a little bit of a red flag.  Do they understand and comprehend SEO? Most reputable companies will have a dedicated and experienced SEO team that works in collaboration with developers and designers to understand a client's needs.

[RELATED: 10 Reasons You Should Consider Outsourcing Your SEO]

Here’s an analogy I like to use: consider the web development process much like getting an astronaut to the space station. After the site is launched, much like the rocket breaking orbit, the real work will then begin once the astronauts reach the space station. This compares to site optimization. What's the point of having a site hanging out in space if it isn't being optimized?

One last thing to note: pricing is never the same, and you'll typically get what you pay for. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, which means the company is either under bidding, or perhaps not looking at everything. If the price seems unreasonably high, you might want to dig deeper into how they operate. And finally, like getting diagnosed at the doctors, it's always good practice to get a second opinion. Or for this particular purpose, get at least three quotes from firms that are local. This way, you can establish a relationship, and they'll be able to come into your office and meet with you to understand your needs.

Bottom line: Whether you're going local or remote, it's best to have a team that's communicative and is accustomed to working together.

Understanding Responsive Web Design (And Why It Is the Norm in 2019) [Overview]

Responsive design

Your company website is your calling card – it is very likely the first impression anyone will have of your business, and that will determine if they engage or even stick around. It stands to reason that making it appealing and easy to use should be your number one priority.

 

 

Responsive web design will ensure your website caters to your visitors by making the experience pleasant, functional, and useful.

Your website’s ability to address user needs in 2019 will make or break your business.

 

What is this responsive web design thing I keep hearing so much about?

 

Responsive web design is the internet’s answer to the changing browsing trends that began many years ago with smartphones and tablets. There is no longer a standard screen size, which means that the content displayed needs to adjust itself to whatever dimensions the user has.

Basically, responsive web design is giving websites the ability to adapt to the needs of visitors instead of making the experience more tedious for them.

 

 

No serious business should dismiss this as a trend or consider it some sort of an added bonus. This is the new standard. By now, responsive design is a vital part of the website development process. It is not a matter of staying ahead of the competition anymore, as failing to implement it will put any company at a complete disadvantage.

Think about it: mobile accounted for over 50% of usage worldwide in 2018. That means most people are using their mobile phones to browse the web, and they expect websites to adjust to their needs, not the other way around. Your website needs to be prepared to match their expectations or risk losing traffic.

The same applies to tablets, and even desktops, as many users may choose to run their browsers at smaller sizes for comfort or taste.

Originally coined by Ethan Marcotte back in 2010, the term has long taken a life of its own, becoming as commonplace a part of the development lingo as HTML or CSS.

Responsive web design is about putting users first, making the experience smoother for them, and should be considered the norm in terms of web design approaches.

 

How does responsive web design work?

 

It is not magic or rocket science. It is all about two main components: fluid grids and media queries.

In the past, websites were designed with rigid pixel numbers across each page, also known as fixed width layouts. Everything had its size and place in the grand scheme of things, and it would not change for anything. With the shift in trends and diversity of screen resolutions in use, the idea to create layouts more flexible and adaptive gained strength. Fluid grids are precisely that: a way to maintain proportions regardless of how the page size changes, granting all the content – text, images, forms, links – the capacity to change simultaneously in order to maintain the visual balance. The code adapts based on the data it acquires from the user, which it does through media queries.

Media queries are responsible for obtaining specific information about each visitor so that the CSS can be adjusted under those parameters. Essentially, they gather data and use it to condition style sheets so they offer optimal results for each individual user.

 

 

The ability to transform your website into a gateway that is comfortably open to visitors with different screen resolutions is less a matter of complex technical knowledge, and more about strategic implementation in order to prevent performance issues and optimize results.

As long as those responsible for implementing the responsive web design into the pages understand the more common and finer points of layout and performance – such as breakpoints, fonts, object nesting, type of platform used – there should be no problem creating a flexible interface that appeals to all visitors.

 

How big a deal is it? Does it really matter if I implement a responsive web design?

 

Yes.

If you walk into a store and everything is in disarray, you can’t find anything, and things are inaccessible, how likely are you to buy anything? Or even stay there for too long? That is what it feels like for users using, say, a mobile phone or tablet reaching a website that is designed strictly to display on desktop resolutions.

The assortment of tools and platforms available to surf the web in this day and age is so vast that the only way to appeal to everyone is to make sure your web design can quickly adapt to their needs.

There is a reason why responsive web design has been the standard for the past few years, and failing to acknowledge or understand this can create issues with traffic and engagement.

 

Make sure your company website has a responsive web design implemented.

And, if it doesn’t, we’re here to help. Feel free to reach out.

The 4 Reasons Why You MUST Implement Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) On Your Website

O8 AMP

Mobile has been slowly overtaking desktop in terms of usage for all web related activities. The shift has been gradual, but still an irrefutable sign of the unstoppable rise of users who choose to handle their browsing from the comfort of their phones. In fact, mobile accounted for over 50% of usage worldwide in 2018, surpassing desktop which failed to make the halfway mark at 45%.

 

Mobile usage 2018

Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Platform Comparison Market Share

This tendency has been long coming, and the people at Google, as the leading search engine, decided a few years ago that it was time to help websites evolve in order to meet this growing trend. Which is why they created the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project, an open source effort to help optimize websites for mobile browsing.

AMPs are essentially pages that use a very specific framework based on existing HTML in order to streamline the information exchange with browsers, creating a seamless, faster and more efficient user experience. In other words, it makes loading speed for pages almost instantaneous.

Developed by a large community of professionals and backed by Google, the AMP framework works perfectly with all browsers and integrates flawlessly with the most widely used content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress and Drupal, making it a viable alternative for companies seeking to adapt their websites to these mobile-friendly times.

Considering the large number of smartphone users, adopting AMPs for your website’s mobile version will drastically improve results in terms of traffic and retention of visitors.

These are four main reasons why you must implement AMPs on your website in 2019:

 

FASTER LOAD TIME IN THE MOBILE FRIENDLY ERA

Accelerated mobile pages are all about speed. The entire project was founded on the idea that mobile users expect results quicker, so pages adjusted for smartphone use should load at optimal speeds. Naturally, this means that some of the more complex pieces of back-end programming had to be pragmatically reduced in order to favor efficiency.

So, how do AMPs make pages load faster?

For one thing, content rendering never stops. See, normal pages obey a loading order specified by the underlying code which the browser follows to the letter, rendering each part by turn. This means that, until certain loading criteria isn’t met, the next piece of content on the page won’t load. A third-party script (such as an ad) could, for example, take longer to load, stalling the entire rendering process. As you can guess, this makes things slower.

The AMP framework resolves this issue by making all its own components load simultaneously, while at the same time not allowing any sort of script that can impede that one golden rule of parallel rendering. Essentially, all the interactive features in the page will be handled by custom AMP elements designed to never interfere with performance.

This doesn’t mean your pages can’t enjoy some Javascript, of course. There are ways to create dynamic and interactive content within the AMP framework, as long as it is handled with caution.

Asset-independent layout. Usually, browsers need every single asset on the page loaded before they actually know what the page will look like. This is because the layout includes various images, media elements and scripts that need to load before their size and even their effect on the page can be known. In AMP, all of this is handled through the HTML, so even before any of these elements load, the browser knows what the layout will be because size has already been established and predetermined in the underlying code. This is called “static layouting”, and it allows pages to load at once without waiting for other resources.

Inline, size-bound CSS.  AMPs only allow a single stylesheet. By limiting the number of CSS, they reduce the HTTP requests to just a single one. Not only that, but the CSS size is restricted to 50 kilobytes, which is ample enough for some nice degree of design while still forcing the developer to use clean and efficient coding.

Font optimization. Normal websites wait until everything else is loaded before downloading the rather large fonts often used on pages. Because AMPs limit the CSS and use of external scripts, the system requires no HTTP requests until font has downloaded.

Minimal style and layout recalculations. This is again related to the fact that dynamic scripts on normal websites can have an impact on the page layout, changing it based on interactions by the user, which in turn forces the browser to recalculate how the content will look. The limits put in place by the AMP framework reduces the need for these sort of calculations.

CPU vs. GPU image acceleration. When a CPU renders a page, it uses layers for the images, then sends the media to the GPU (graphics card) for further actions. AMP only allows images to be handled directly by the GPU, which makes load times significantly shorter.

Prioritizing resource loading. The AMP framework prioritizes resources that are likely to be seen by the user. This means everything above the fold, but also resources that are predicted as important, which can be pre-fetched prior to loading precisely because of the static layouting. Basically, the information is there and ready to use, but only renders when a user actually needs to see it.

As mentioned, AMPs are about speed. This means other aspects about the page come second to performance. Your ideal web design may need to be altered, with some details sacrificed in order to fully embrace the speed enhancements granted by AMPs. If you are unwilling to change that design, then weigh your options carefully and decide whether your mobile visitors would rather have a page with all the bells and whistles you envisioned, or one that loads almost instantaneously. Just remember that, in this mobile-friendly era, faster gratification might be a more valued asset in terms of user experience.

 

LOWER BOUNCE RATE ON MOBILE PAGES

Recent research by Google found that, not only do mobile users expect fast loading times, but their expectations play a vital role on their decision to stay.

Their study found that load times of up to three seconds have a bounce rate of over 30%. Up to five seconds, that bounce raise increases to a whopping 90%. At the six second mark, the rate surpasses 100%.

What this means for mobile pages is that optimization is crucial in order to survive and stay ahead of the competition. By this logic, and given the mobile browsing market share, having mobile-friendly websites will make or break businesses. By making load times almost immediate, accelerated mobile pages can be the one factor that sets your company apart.

 

HIGHER PERFORMANCE AND GREATER FLEXIBILITY FOR MOBILE WEBSITES WITH THE AMP FRAMEWORK

AMPs are not the only framework out there designed to improve mobile website performance. It is, however, the most flexible one in terms of granting access to a streamlined stylesheet, and the one with the best speed results precisely because it is built around the idea that mobile users want their content immediately.

While this in no way means other alternatives – such as Responsive Web Design or Progressive Web Apps – should be dismissed, it is worth asserting the importance of giving this very viable option proper consideration.

 

MOBILE SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (AMP SEO)

Performance and speed are very important factors in terms of retaining and converting visitors, no doubt, but in order to drive traffic to the website you need to rank in search engines.

As we mentioned, the AMP Project is backed by Google based on the increased mobile browsing trends, which means they vest this particular subject with a lot of importance. In fact, starting 2018, the search engine giant rolled out mobile-first indexing, which assigns ranks based on just how friendly pages are for mobile navigation.

This means the usual best practices necessary for efficient SEO as part of your digital marketing strategy are no longer enough. Making your website mobile-friendly, and, in fact, optimizing it with the use of the very framework backed by Google, means your company has a better chance of ranking higher in results pages.

 

AMPs are not without some setbacks, of course. As mentioned, you likely will not be able to fully replicate your normal web design if it’s too complex and charged with dynamic elements. This can be sidestepped with some clever programming, but it will require creativity and patience.

Also, the framework does not naturally allow for Google Analytics tracking because of its heavy reliance on cached information, but this too can be fixed with rather simple solutions readily available.

While these can be points of contention against the use of AMPs, the simple truth is that users are now more inclined to favor speed above all else, so in the act of balancing things out, your company may very well choose pragmatism over aesthetics.

Implementing mobile compatibility on your website is a vital part of your web design. Using the accelerated mobile pages (AMP) framework will not only help your business stay on top of trends, but boost your website traffic and stay ahead of the competition.

Need help implementing mobile compatibility on your website? We can help. Click here to schedule a quick chat and we'll help you maximize your website traffic.

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