The Dangers of ADA Non-Compliance

ADA Compliance

ADA History

In 1990, the United States passed a comprehensive civil rights law that was enacted to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination called The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is the reason we have things like disabled parking requirements, service counter height requirements, and wheelchair ramp mandates in building codes. This act came one year before the first web page went live on August 6, 1991. Since this time, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been tasked to keep up with the ever-evolving worldwide web, updating ADA compliance constantly. 

ADA Compliance + Websites

So, what happens when a business fails to meet the changing rules and regulations? Let’s check out what’s happening in one New York industry: art galleries. In 2018, over 75 galleries were sued for not maintaining ADA compliant websites. This trend is only growing. In the U.S., the number of federal website accessibility lawsuits reached 2.2K in 2018. That works out to a 177% increase from 2017. This tremendous increase in compliance cases is in large part a result of vague descriptions of the ADA. However, regardless of why a website is not compliant, the penalties can be steep.

Comparison chart of ADA Compliance lawsuits from 2017 vs. 2018

ADA Non-Compliance Penalties

Fines

Organizations and businesses can be fined up to $75,000 for a single ADA violation, raising that fine to $150,000 for additional violations. This is a pretty large bill for most businesses and can have devastating effects.

Comparing the cost of upgrading your website to a hefty ADA fine and suddenly affordable website migrations don’t seem expensive in the least. When hiring a web developer, it is important to choose a company that understands the laws in your state and knows how to ensure a compliant migration. 

Lawsuits

The ADA states:

As the Internet has become a major source of goods and services, many courts have shifted to include websites as places of “public accommodation”. This interpretation has varied among courts, resulting in a circuit split regarding whether a website must have a brick-and-mortar store tie, such as a physical restaurant, to fall within the scope of the ADA. 

The only way to avoid the negative outcomes of neglecting to meet ADA standards is to maintain the compliance of your site.

Equality

Beyond the financial risk of ADA compliance, one must ask the moral question: why should resources and information be inaccessible to select groups? ADA compliance is centered around providing impartial services to all citizens, regardless of their ability. Making websites accessible to all only takes a few simple adjustments, but can make a huge difference in people’s lives.

Solutions

Guidelines for maintaining ADA compliance are posted here

Beyond this, our web developers here at O8 offer an extensive audit of your website to determine if it meets ADA compliance criteria. We assess if the site provides the best possible user experience for people using assistive technology.

Our audit process will identify any and all issues that might be affecting website navigation for people using assistive technology and offer detailed recommendations on how to address each one. 

To get started on making your site accessible to everyone, schedule a call today!

"Do I Need a Site Audit?" Probably.

Site Audit

You and I should go to the doctor for a checkup once a year, but what about your website? How can you make sure there are no underlying health concerns? A site audit! 

Audits result in two types of action: Corrective and preventative. Corrective action is a response to an existing problem, whereas preventative action eliminates the potential for problems. For this reason, it is important to regularly run audits, regardless if symptoms are visible or not. 

Here are three reasons that regular site audits are important:

1. Website audits monitor user experience

2. Website audits help find broken tags and prevent corrupted data

3. Website audits make sure your site and data are secure

When it comes to your website, there are two functions of a CMS Site Audit: security and performance.

Site audit 

Now more than ever, Cybersecurity is an important factor in managing a website. As a result, it is now necessary for business owners to heavily secure their Drupal or WordPress websites. The only way to ensure your site is securely running at peak performance is through a comprehensive site audit.

The goal of a site audit is to provide a comprehensive understanding of your site's current state as well as any changes necessary to maximize the effectiveness of your site while reducing potential technical risk. The audit uncovers all relevant issues and suggests the best practice solutions.

There are many reasons to conduct a site audit, such as security or performance concerns. A site audit is also necessary if business goals have changed or the website requires an upgrade for technical reasons. In all cases, an audit will help ensure that you are running a quality, stable, and optimized website.

Audits performed on Drupal or WordPress Site typically include a number of critical reviews. One of the most important steps is the security review. 

Security Review

During a security audit, your site will be checked for any potential security risks. Risks could be a result of many site problems such as poor custom coding, known security problems related to modules, weak passwords, or incorrect user permissions.

Performance Audit

Poor site configuration can affect your website’s performance through aspects such as load speed. As a result, it is also important to conduct a performance review when auditing a site. A successful performance audit will most likely recommend several tasks for improving your site's performance, particularly if your site receives a high volume of traffic.

Larger sites with lots of rich media files and content can run slowly if the site is not optimized correctly. Performance is a key issue as it can impact the success of your site in several ways.

A Drupal or WordPress performance audit is something that should be run regularly, even if clear-cut issues have not surfaced. Your site’s ability to respond and handle traffic are the key ingredients for great user experience, so a regular check-up is a smart strategy. Perhaps more importantly, search engines such as Google now prioritize site speed in SEO. A Google penalty is a monster to avoid.

A performance audit reviews all layers of your website to identify likely problems. The Auditor will inform you of all the issues observed as well as recommend solutions. The process will also tell you what you are doing well so that you can focus on increasing those behaviors.

Smart website maintenance requires regular checks, so keep this in mind as you plan your website strategy.

For more info on Drupal or WordPress audits, schedule a call today!

FYI - You're Being Converted Without Even Knowing It

Conversion Rate Digital Marketing

Even if you’ve never heard of ‘conversions’, you have personally been converted thousands of times already! You are converted every time you make a purchase, create an account, sign up for emails, and much more. You are being converted all day, every day whether you know it or not.

So what is a conversion? A conversion is a target action that businesses want a consumer to take. There are two types of conversions: primary and secondary. A primary conversion is the main goal for consumers, while the secondary conversion is an additional action which would benefit a business. Conversions vary based on the type of website. For example, let’s analyze the retail e-commerce site, Walmart. Take a look at their homepage below. What actions are they prompting you to take? 

A screenshot of Walmart's homepage used as an example for a retail e-commerce site

Walmart’s ultimate goal is to sell items, making ‘purchases’ its primary conversion. Secondary conversions include creating an account, paying for NextDay delivery, and subscribing to an email list.

There are different ways to track conversions based on the type of conversion. For example, if you want to track online purchases, email signups, or other website actions, you can set up conversion tracking through Google Analytics. To see how many customers called your business by clicking the number on your webpage, you can use Google phone call conversion tracking. Conversions are countable actions, which make them easy to monitor via online programs.

The ability to drive conversions measures the effectiveness of a website’s design. Conversions are best monitored via conversion rate, which is calculated by dividing the total number of conversions by the total number of sessions. If 100 visitors came to Walmart’s website, and 20 of those visitors made a purchase, then Walmart would have a 20% conversion rate.

Conversion rate formula

So, how can businesses optimize their conversion rate? One way to implement Conversion Rate Optimization is to use A/B testing, where one singular aspect of an existing webpage (A version) is changed (B version). The software then randomly shows consumers either the A or B version of the webpage. Conversions are measured and compared between the two webpage versions, allowing you to identify whether the change is more or less effective. When optimizing conversion rate, the website’s design should be based on data such as the A/B test method. 
All in all, conversions are typically the main factor when it comes to driving revenue. Online conversions are how you can tell if your site needs a redesign, if your content is effective, and if you have a strong digital reputation. Hiring a digital marketing agency can provide support to an existing marketing team, providing the tools and software to monitor conversions, run tests, and gather data. If you want to start increasing conversions, schedule a call!

Case Study: UX, marketing, design for IgnitEd

Higher Education Institution

Drupal website restructure, UX review and marketing support for a major higher ed institution

www.ignited.global
  • The website restructure and redesign resulted in more than a 50% year over year increase in traffic from organic search

  • Conversion rate for registrations increased 113% as a result of paid search and social campaigns

  • Number of site pages indexed for search increased nearly 4x following site redesign/rearchitecture

 

“For us, as a small department, O8 has been critical to our continued evolution. I truly feel as though I have more people working on the success of my business than what is listed on the payroll. I trust their guidance and their willingness to accept feedback and pivot."

Tracy Couto

Le Moyne College

 

Project Components:

  • Content strategy

  • Page redesigns

  • Digital Marketing  (paid search and social)

  • Digital Impact Optimization (ongoing SEO, UX, CRO improvements)

  • E-commerce

  • Solr search

  • Ongoing maintenance, feature additions, and design refreshes

  • Emergency support

  • Web hosting architecture

  • Security and disaster recovery planning

  • Migrations of acquired brand websites

Challenge

Ignited is an online community and collaborative platform for business faculty developed by Le Moyne College. Its purpose is to encourage the sharing of business school curriculum, course materials, case studies, teaching notes, articles and studies with like-minded peers. Participants can submit their own research and scholarly articles for peer review. The Ignited website features hundreds of course resources, available at no cost for downloading and review by business faculty.

Ignited’s emphasis on ethical and sustainable business practices is a direct outgrowth of Le Moyne’s roots as a Jesuit institution. As a result, Ignited’s mission is to be the preeminent source of case studies and teaching resources, serving faculty, administrators, students, and alumni at Jesuit institutions around the world. In addition, Ignited’s resources are available to any business faculty looking to emphasize the contribution of ethical business practices as a way to bring about global transformation. 

O8 Solution

O8 was initially engaged by Le Moyne in the summer of 2018  to support the launch of Ignited, both for website and marketing support. 

Paid Media Campaigns

O8 worked with Ignited’s marketing team to develop, launch and manage social ad campaigns on Facebook and LinkedIn. This enabled the new site to gain targeted exposure among business faculty active in fields such as marketing, operations, accounting, and international, as well as those who had interests in topics like social justice, business ethics. and sustainability. 

 

 

 

LinkedIn

Facebook

 

Following the initial launch, the ad strategy shifted from social to paid search, which provided a lower-cost acquisition model. Beyond registrations, another key conversion goal was to encourage review of case studies and resource downloads by interested faculty.

The initial ad campaigns greatly raised the profile of Ignited, resulting in hundreds of thousands of impressions, thousands of site visits and contributed to hundreds of registrations.

Site Redesign

O8 was also tasked with re-architecting and redesigning the Drupal 7-based Ignited site from the ground up, updating the underlying site structure to make it more scalable and sustainable. Page URLs were updated to make them more meaningful to search engines as was the taxonomy of course materials. This internal redesign was followed by an external visual/UX redesign to make the site more welcoming and user-friendly.

Home Page

The home page redesign balanced the need to maintain key brand elements, navigation, and existing color palette while still providing a more engaging, interactive experience. The new design offers three different calls to action, which update if the user is already logged in. Featured Course Materials are showcased immediately below the hero space, using colorful imagery, similar to stories on news sites.

 

Before:

After:


Course Resources Page

The new design removed the detailed sidebar filters from the main page and brought the main curriculum topics into focus.

 

Results

During the marketing campaign, the registration form conversion rate rose over 113% (i.e., more than doubled) as compared to the previous period:

Following the launch of the redesigned site, the number of pages successfully indexed for search increased nearly 4x, as reported by Google Search Console:

Overall, for the one-year period of O8’s involvement, encompassing July 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019, organic users increased nearly 51% over the July-June of the previous year:

Sessions

Users

 

O8 continues to work with LeMoyne on new functionality and performance improvements.

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5 Metrics That Determine How Much You'll Sell

Important Marketing Metrics

Are you looking for data that will help you increase your sales? In this digital era, data and numbers are readily available to businesses. However, the world of too much information can be overwhelming. Where should business owners look? How can they turn these numbers into predictable sales? We have narrowed down the data to these 5 metrics: Total Visits, Churn Rate, Traffic Sources, Reputation, and Bounce Rate. Understanding these metrics can make or break your business, so pay close attention. 

1 . Total Visits

While the number of site visitors does not equal the total amount of sales, monitoring this general metric is important. The total visits metric can be a good indicator of the success of your marketing campaigns and product placement. For example, the number of visits to a site suddenly dropping could indicate a fall in the Search Engine Rankings. Alternatively, a spike in total visits can let businesses know that their campaigns are effectively reaching potential customers. If the number of total visits is dropping, it is likely that sales are dropping too. 

2 . Churn Rate

Churn rate is a measure of how many existing customers are lost in a set time period. 

It is important to analyze who is engaging with your site. Why are existing customers so important? The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% (Marketing Metrics). Keep an eye on this metric to monitor existing customer relationships!

3 . Traffic sources

Analytics can provide data that shows you how visitors found you. . For example, an organic search means that a visitor found you through natural search. A paid search means that a visitor found you through a sponsored search result link, and direct traffic happens when visitors type your name directly into their address bar.

In 2019, Wolfgang Digital analyzed the total revenue earned in 4 different retail categories by traffic source type. For all commerce types, organic traffic is the highest revenue yielding traffic type. This is followed by a near tie for second with Paid Search and Direct Search. From this information, we get a glimpse into the mind of consumers. While paid search is effective and brand awareness is always helpful, being clearly present online so that consumers can find you organically is the most effective way to drive sales.

Revenue

 

Organic

Paid Search

Direct

Email

Social

Display

Referral

Other

Retail

35%

20%

16%

5%

3%

0%

19%

2%

Multi- Channel

37%

16%

14%

5%

1%

0%

24%

3%

Online Only

33%

28%

19%

5%

5%

1%

9%

1%

Travel

41%

15%

23%

2%

1%

0%

16%

2%

Overall

38%

18%

19%

4%

2%

0%

17%

2%

Wolfgang Digital 2019

4 . Reputation Metrics

Reputation metrics such as social media mentions or star-rating user reviews help to explain what consumers think about you. Word of mouth recommendations both online and offline are helpful to track and monitor. According to Convince and Convert’s 2018 report, 83% of Americans say that a word of mouth recommendation from a friend or family member makes them more likely to purchase that product or service. When a product or company’s reputation is both positive and widely talked about, sales can be expected to increase.

5 . Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is a measure of how many visitors immediately exit a site after opening. When a visitor immediately exits, they are spending no time engaging with the site and, even worse, not purchasing products/services! Alternatively, keeping a low bounce rate can predict future sales, as consumers are spending time on the page. Keep bounce rates low by keeping keywords relevant. Make sure your landing page is user-friendly and works across all devices. When consumers bounce from a site, a potential sale is lost!

Monitoring these five metrics can help you understand and predict consumers’ purchase behaviors. An ideal website will organically attract site visitors who then stay and engage with the brand. Smart companies will work to keep existing customers satisfied, reminding them to share their positive experiences both offline and online. By keeping an eye on what matters most to your business, you can make informed decisions and maximize sales.

Want to make your business’s digital presence more effective?  Schedule a call today

7 Deadly Sins of SEO

Biggest SEO Mistakes

According to Chikita, the first page of Google results gets 95% of user attention. If you’ve ever wondered why some websites are lucky enough to receive that first-page placement, you were wondering about SEO. SEO, or “search engine optimization”, is a way to gain organic traffic through improving rankings in search engine results page (SERP).  

Search engine webmasters are constantly evolving the SEO guidelines to enrich user experience. These governing rules work to keep searches safe, credible, and relevant. Penalties for breaking the rules can wreak havoc on a business. Alternatively, great SEO practices can help to improve conversions and KPIs. So, how can you be sure to appease the Google gods? To simplify the process, we have outlined 7 Deadly Sins to avoid in SEO.

Thou shalt not...

1 . Wait to start implementing SEO

Organic search, or a search resulting from matching relevant keywords, is generally the most important form of web traffic. From the very start a website’s creation, making it easy to find online can greatly improve your business. Websites without visitors don’t sell much! If the first page of Google results gets 95% of user attention, then SEO should be considered along every stage of a website’s life.

2 . Hire any old SEO company

It is extremely important to hire a reputable SEO company. Search engines like Google don’t accept excuses such as ‘I didn’t know’ when doling out penalties. If your website is caught using high-risk tactics, you are the one who will be punished. Check that the company in consideration will measure and collect data to design trend-based, tailored solutions. Only use companies that set a clear intention to improve the quality of the traffic. Companies who promise specific numbers of quality links are lying to you. No legitimate SEO agency can promise the first place ranking on Google for important keywords. If it sounds too good to be true, it may be. 

Do your own background research, and ask for referrals.

3 . Use irrelevant keywords & links

A keyword is a word or phrase that describes the message of the content. Keywords and links to external sites which are unrelated to your product offerings can lower your ranking on the search engine results page. In 2016, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines began penalizing websites demonstrating ‘patterns of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links’. Search engines will penalize websites who wrongfully insert irrelevant keywords and links.

Search engines catch unrelated keywords and links because it hurts the user experience. Even if you get away with it, visitors who come to your page only to find that it doesn’t match their search criteria bounce off the site. High bounce rates also hurt your SERP rankings. Keep the keywords and links included on the page as specific as possible to your product or service.

4 . Use too many links

Google recommends a maximum of 100 links per webpage. This loose limit does not mean that they are going to punish anyone for having 102 links. Rather, Google is trying to set a standard that they believe to be the maximum amount of links present to still keep the content relevant and meaningful.

Something to consider, however, is that when a web page is chock-full of links, it can look sketchy to visitors or be hard to read. This could drive people to bounce from the site, dropping the site’s search ranking. 

Keep in mind that every time a page includes an external link, that link is drawing a visitor away from the original site. Do not forget the power of internal links!

5 . Commit keyword ‘stuffing’

So you’ve found the perfect keyword: it’s specific to your content, drives traffic, and follows consumer trends. You should put it everywhere you possibly can, right? Wrong! While this black-hat tactic could work in the short term, eventually you most likely will be caught, resulting in a harsh penalty or, in the worst case, a total SERP removal. Google is particularly harsh on techniques such as keyword stuffing as they trade improving user experience for beating the algorithm.

A solution to this ‘sin’ is to use synonyms and to only use keywords where they naturally fit. 

6 . Focus too heavily on “Text” content

The world of the web has so much more to offer than plain text! Flex your creativity by including pictures and videos. Not only will this make visitors become more engaged with the website, but it also gives the opportunity to create titles and alt-texts. By giving pictures and videos written descriptions, you can double check that the content is relevant to your webpage. All content, including images and videos, should relate to the overall message of the page.

7 . Copy external content

Copying and pasting relevant external content may be convenient, but it hurts your SEO in the long run. Search engines avoid showing the same exact information on the results page, so they filter to only show the original content page.

Your website is the door to your business. Managing SEO leads potential customers to access that door! Being thoughtful with content, keywords and links not only give searchers the best experience possible but also improve the site’s search engine ranking. Stay in Google’s good graces, and avoid the 7 deadly sins.

Don’t commit an SEO sin! Start optimizing your site today. Schedule a call with our experts.

Tips From the Dev Team: Monitoring Website Health

Website health

In this quick post, we're going to talk about site health, monitoring, and updates. This is often an easily overlooked function, which can lead to complications, or even worse, downtime. Does your current web host provider supply a list of recommendations or a notice of required updates?

Pantheon’s Example:

If your provider doesn't give you a list of updates/notifications, you may need to run periodic manual checks. However, setting your site for automatic updates might cause some issues as well. Let's say, for example, you update to the latest version of WP and your theme (which may have been created years ago on an older version of WP) isn't compatible with the most recent update: it could potentially break your site, in which case you better have a backup and be able to quickly restore and debug the code.

On the flip-side, let's say you've configured to update manually (which I would highly recommend) and updates need to be made. So, now what? Run the updates on a LIVE site? I'd suggest updating elsewhere. Depending on your server environment, you may have a STAGE or a DEV environment where you can apply the updates and QA where needed. If, after the update, everything looks normal, push updates to the LIVE site and re-run your QA check. 

Here's Pantheon's workflow (which works best for larger sites):

Check out more on Pantheon's workflow. 

This all sounds great, but who has time to monitor core and plug-in updates? Other sites might not have a multi-environment capability. If your site is hosted on Bluehost and on a very basic service plan which provides no monitoring, no notifications, and you don’t want to pay for a ManageWP subscription (which by the way is very inexpensive), you have some options. There are a variety of plugins that can do much of this monitoring and notify you about what you'll still want to do manually.

My Top 3 Plugins

1. Sucuri Security – Auditing, Malware Scanner and Security Hardening

Cost – Basic: Free & Pro: Starting at $199/year

"The Sucuri Security WordPress plugin is free to all WordPress users. It is a security suite meant to complement your existing security posture. It offers its users a set of security features for their website, each designed to have a positive effect on their security posture."

  • Security Activity Auditing
  • File Integrity Monitoring
  • Remote Malware Scanning
  • Blacklist Monitoring
  • Effective Security Hardening
  • Post-Hack Security Actions
  • Security Notifications
  • Website Firewall (premium)

My notes:

This is probably one of the best plugins for this type of monitoring, however, it requires advanced knowledge of WP core. Also, be prepared for a barrage of notifications/recommendations. Perhaps use a suitable addition if you’re not hosting on a less expensive platform.

2. Wordfence Security – Firewall & Malware Scan

Cost –  Basic: Free & Advanced: Starting at $99/year

"Wordfence includes an endpoint firewall and malware scanner that was built from the ground up to protect WordPress. Our Threat Defense Feed arms Wordfence with the newest firewall rules, malware signatures and malicious IP addresses it needs to keep your website safe. Rounded out by 2FA and a suite of additional features, Wordfence is the most comprehensive WordPress security solution available."

  • WordPress Firewall
  • WordPress Security Scanner
  • Login Security
  • Wordfence Central
  • Security Tools

My notes:

I've experienced slower site speeds using this plugin, but only when logged in. Otherwise, this is a great plugin. If you have multiple users contributing to the site, this plugin’s audit trail is a must (in fact, our clients love it).

3. Jetpack by WordPress.com

Cost –  Basic: Free & Personal plans: Starting at $3.50/month

"Jetpack is your site’s security detail, guarding you against brute-force attacks and unauthorized logins. Basic protection is always free, while premium plans add expanded backup and automated fixes. Jetpack’s full suite of site security tools include:"

  • Brute-force attack protection, spam filtering, and downtime monitoring.
  • Backups of your entire site, either once daily or in real-time.
  • Secure login, with optional two-factor authentication.
  • Malware scanning, code scanning, and automated threat resolution.
  • A record of every change on your site to simplify troubleshooting.
  • Fast, priority support from WordPress experts.

My notes:

I’m undecided on this plugin, neither here or there. Yes, its’ many functions bundled into one all-encompassing app are great, however, there's a tremendous amount of ‘bloat’ (functions/features) that you may or may not end up using. We’ve typically only used a few of Jetpacks features, the rest of which sit unused, slowing down site speed (even when disabling unused features).

Monitoring Services

Beyond plugins, there are a couple of “all-encompassing” external monitor services. If your site is down for any reason, these services will notify you of the potential issues. Here are my two favorites:

1. Uptime Robot (free for up to 50 sites)

We’ve been using this service for several years, and it’s been extremely reliable. In most cases, we’re notified of downtime before any notice from the hosting company.

  • It asks for your websites headers and gets status codes like "200-ok", "404-not found”,  etc., every five minutes (or more depending on the monitor's settings)
  • If the status code doesn't indicate a problem, we are good
  • If the status code is ~400+ and 500+, then the site is not loading
  • To make sure the site is down, Uptime Robot makes several more checks in the next thirty seconds
  • If the site is still down, it sends an alert.

2. ManageWP

"Manage multiple WordPress websites from one dashboard. Schedule backups, migrate WordPress website, automate updates, monitor website traffic, and SEO."

My notes:

ManageWP also has monitoring services, as well as daily automated backups, etc. Costs are also relatively low for this monitoring service. I have been using it for the past several years, and highly recommend it. I’m not going to go through all of the features, instead, I’ll just list off a few of the functions we use for report automation. 

1. Plugin update notifications and one-click updates - BUT, be careful. I’d suggest doing this online on your DEV or STAGING instance. If your server doesn’t have dev instances, I’d recommend doing so cautiously (remembering to QA after each update), either by updating one at a time, or using the ‘Safe Update’ feature.

2. Automated backups with restore. Various WP specific hosting platforms, like WPEngine, Pantheon and Kinsta already have automated backups. The only time we typically use this is if we are jumping into a client site that doesn’t already have backups running, or we’re unsure of where they’re being stored. There are also dozens of plugins that might do this, however, it can take some time to set up and integrate, not to mention the trust/reliability of the plugin.

3. Automated white label reporting. Yes, this is another key feature with ManageWP. If you’re a smaller agency or even a marketer that would like to provide reporting back to your executive team, you can create and customize white-label reports that give you a high-level status of your site’s health.

Bottom line - you should always be monitoring your site’s health, whether it's a core or plug-in update. How often and when is totally up to you, but keep in mind that not updating can put your site at risk for security breaches or downtime.

Using another one of my analogies (ha!), you go to the dentist regularly for routine checkups, cleaning and whitening, so why doesn't your website (well, minus the whitening)? In this ever-changing world of cores, modules, and plugins, routine (if not daily) monitoring and updates should be a requirement.

 

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Brian

Brian comes to Origin Eight with over 20 years of expertise directing both local and international development teams. He has an extensive background and skill set focused in the areas of security, network management, cloud application development, directing off‐shore teams (of over 45) and architecting corporate technology solutions. This includes multi‐platform software‐development, implementing best practices, security, disaster recovery and representing the organization to clients.

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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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