mobile website usability: Google warnings & how to fix them

Fix Google's mobile website usability warnings

A few weeks ago, I started getting email alerts from my Google Webmaster Tools account telling me that some of my clients’ websites had “critical mobile usability issues”.

Mobile Usability Issues: alerts from Google and how to fix your site

Most of the emails were about sites I designed and built years ago, before smartphones were a Big Deal. It wasn’t long before one my clients contacted me about it after getting an email herself, asking if this was something I could add to her website, and of course the answer was yes! I can do that for you!

Is your website mobile-friendly?

First, take a look at your website on a smartphone. Most sites look great on desktop computers but are difficult to read and navigate on a touchscreen. If you view your site on your phone or tablet and find it lacking in ease of use, then it’s time to consider adding that functionality.

There are also online usability tests that will tell you if a website is mobile-friendly or not. Google Webmaster Tools has a Mobile-Friendly Test that you can use if you’re not sure. The test even gives a screenshot of your website in a mobile setting, which is a helpful visual guide.

Why should you care?

We reached the tipping point in 2014: more people use their mobile-devices to surf the internet than their desktop computers. This means that if your website isn’t easily readable and clear to navigate on a smaller screen, you’re losing customers- especially if you’re in a specific industry like hotels, restaurants, blogging, or have an e-commerce website.

How do you fix it?

Rebuild the website with a responsive design. A responsive website will change orientation and layout depending on the size of the screen being used to view it. One design, one solution. This can be a big undertaking if you already have a website up and running that you love, but if you’re losing customers because your website is hard to use on a smartphone, it can be a very wise investment. And if you’re starting out with a brand new website, paying a designer to build a responsive website is a great idea.

Create a separate mobile-only version of your website. This is a common choice, because it’s easy to implement on an already existing website. Adding a mirror website for mobile users also gives flexibility, because sometimes certain content is best viewed on a desktop computer, or perhaps you want to streamline the information on your website for your mobile visitors. Because the majority of my clients’ websites are currently running in WordPress, adding mobile-friendly functionality to them is fairly simple with the use of plugins. I can also customize the features on the mobile site to include unique content, color schemes, and calls to action just for the mobile audience.

Mobile-Friendly Websites in my Portfolio

I’ve published several websites in recent months that have a streamlined mobile experience.

Christofferson Commercial Builders

mobile-friendly website design

 

Cooking with Crystal

Cooking with Crystal mobile site design

 

Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School

mobile-friendly design mobile-friendly design

 

And my own site!

mobile-friendly Inksplash Designs

What should I do next?

If you’d like to talk about adding mobile functionality to your website, please contact me! I can add a mobile theme or design to your site, which will give your business a boost in visibility and usability on the mobile web.

5 tips for choosing the perfect domain name

5 tips for choosing the perfect domain name

One of the first things I recommend that my clients do when they’re getting ready to build a website is purchase a domain name. Sometimes it’s an easy process but a lot of times, they have questions about the best domain name for their business. Here are some domain registration tips I’ve shared with my clients over the years.

Short & Sweet

A short domain name is easy to remember and easy to type. If possible, avoid using numbers- it can be confusing if you’re telling someone your email address or web address over the phone and you say “5” and they think you’ve said “five“. Same goes for other punctuation like hyphens. They’re allowed in domain names but can sometimes feel clunky and hard for customers to remember.

Keywords are… well, key.

A domain name is the perfect place to inject some keyword goodness into your website to help with search engine ranking. Brainstorm the top five keywords for your business to find a domain name that makes sense with your business name. For example: platinumrepair.com is great, but platinumshoerepair.com is even better. Be sure to consider the length of the domain name with the keywords you use.

Be aware that sometimes it makes more sense to simply use your business name as the domain name, even if there are no keywords in it. Sites like Amazon.com, Google.com, and Monster.com rely on brand awareness more than SEO keywords in their domain names and that works just fine. So in some cases, it comes down to personal preference and what is most important to the business-owner.

Location, Location, Location

If your business relies on local customers, putting a city name or location in the domain name is a great way to target customers in your area. PittsburghShoeRepair.com or ShoeRepairPA.com are some examples.

Protect your investment

Register multiple extensions and variations of the main domain name that you choose. You don’t need to build a separate website for all of them, but owning them will keep others from registering them. For example, platinumrepair.com, platinumrepair.netplatinumrepairs.com… and so on. You may also want to register a few misspelled variations of your site to catch that website traffic as well. Your web developer can setup 301 redirects so that all of these domains point to the original website.

Buy it now!

If you find a domain name that you love and it’s available, don’t wait! Buy it as soon as you can. Domain names go quickly and you don’t want to miss out on the perfect domain.

These are just suggestions, not rules. Sometimes the right domain name doesn’t conform to all of the guidelines and that is okay. If you love it and it fits your business model and your brand, go for it!

building my designer’s toolbox

Camera Wordpress theme download at Creative Market

As a designer, the tools I have at my disposal are important. Over the years, I’ve collected hundreds of fonts, stock icons and photos, graphics, and WordPress themes that I can go to for inspiration and use in my projects. I recently found a great source for these things at Creative Market. It’s a fantastic community where designers share their creativity and can sell their work for others to use in theirs. I’ve already bookmarked a ton of stuff for potential use in future projects (mostly fonts, because I LOVE FONTS.)

Camera WordPress theme download at Creative Market

Capriccio font - purchase at Creative Market

Vigneta Typeface - purchase at Creative Market

(all images courtesy of Creative Market)

My very FAVORITE part of Creative Market is the Free Goods of the Week. Every week, I get an email with free stuff! Photos! Fonts! WordPress themes! I’ve already added a few great freebies to my toolbox and I can’t wait to use them. Maybe your project can be next?!

( I have become a partner with Creative Market, and I’m thrilled to be able to spread the word about their service!)

getting a handle on writing for your small business

copywriting for your small business

As a small business owner, sometimes I wish I could ignore the non-website-designing work that comes along with being a one-person operation. At the top of the list: marketing. Okay wait, that’s not true. ACCOUNTING IS FIRST! But second on the list is marketing. I am NOT a sales person. I am NOT a writer. I like to create pretty websites and dig into code. But the reality is that I’ve had to learn a lot about marketing and how best to use the web to promote my own business, as well as provide copywriting advice to my clients.

Sometimes I feel like I have a good handle on the writing I put out there, but I’m always looking for ways to make things less painful. I found a fantastic infographic recently with guidelines on how to write effectively for email blasts, blog posts, Facebook, Twitter… the list goes on. In some cases, it’s more prudent to hire a professional copywriter, but for everyday social media interactions, this is a great summary and something to save for those WRITER’S BLOCK moments!

VerticalResponse Copywriting Cheat Sheet Infographic

What are YOUR most dreaded small business CEO tasks?

holiday break

Happy Holidays from Inksplash Designs

Happy Holiday Break, everyone! Inksplash Designs will be working on a very limited schedule over the next two weeks. School is officially out for the kiddos so we’ll be spending some much-needed family time together. I’m looking forward to returning in January, recharged and ready for 2015!

Happy Holidays from Inksplash Designs

 

SEO: a focus on the basics

SEO basics

SEO: a focus on the basicsYou have a website. You want to attract customers and build your business. You can do this in various ways: advertising your link on your products, business cards, and other marketing material. But the most valuable traffic on a website is from search engines: reaching your target audience and connecting with new customers who are looking for your product or service.

I frequently get asked the question: “What keywords did you put in for my site on Google?” and unfortunately, it’s not that simple. High organic ranking in search engines is hard work. It just is. Search engine optimization is a multi-level process and in order to do it correctly, you need to constantly monitor your ranking, modify and update your content, and analyze your competition.

In my experience, there are three basic necessities for a well-optimized website. I call them steps, but each one actually has multiple steps, and may require revisiting on a regular basis!

Step 1: Content, Content, Site Structure, Content

Content is #1. If your website doesn’t have anything good for your customers or the search engine spiders to read, then you’re sunk before you’ve even started. Ideally, you should have 500-1000 words of clean, grammatically correct sentence-structure content on every page. Some websites lend themselves better to more text content, others may have more visual content, but even a few well-written sentences goes a long way.

Beyond the readable content, the technical structure of a website is very important. This is where I focus my efforts for my clients, even if nothing else is done. I write clean HTML code for a lightweight website, use heading tags for important content and headlines, include ALT tags on images (because search engines can’t read graphics!), and strive to generate search engine-friendly URLs.

Fresh content is also excellent for boosting your ranking! Search engines will give more importance to a site with recently updated content, so a blog, a news feed, or even a portfolio page or photo gallery can help keep your site from getting stale.

Step 2: Research & Decide on Keywords

This step really could/should be part of step 1, because it goes hand-in-hand with writing the quality content. But I’ve kept it separate for a reason. I tend to prefer building a website with naturally organized content that makes sense from a user experience perspective, and then go back and revise things based on which keywords will best highlight the content and attract targeted traffic. But starting with Step 2, or at least keeping it in mind while developing a site map and navigation structure, isn’t a terrible idea.

It can be a daunting process to select keywords and write appropriate, relevant content. The good news: there are many tools and tutorials on the web for analyzing a website’s content and choosing keywords on a page. It’s a balance between having readable, useful content for the customers, but also giving the search engines what they need to properly rank a site. Here’s the not-so-good news: maintaining a high organic SEO ranking requires constant monitoring and rework. So launching a new website with some good keywords and letting the search engines have at it isn’t enough. Things may need to be adjusted monthly, or weekly, or even daily in order to keep a website at the top of the list.

(I will be the first to admit that this particular phase of SEO is NOT my area of expertise! I am not a copy writer and I don’t pretend to be one. But I am learning more with each project, and I’m happy to give advice to my clients when I can, and make referrals to some GREAT experts I know who can help!)

A bit about meta tags: a long time ago, meta tags were all you needed to “tell” the search engines what your site was about. But that quickly became an easy way to cheat the system, so meta tags aren’t used as the primary way to highlight keywords in a website. Meta tags should still be used, because you aren’t penalized for them, but they work WITH your content to build your ranking.

Step 3: Tell the Search Engines!

After I launch a new website, I have a laundry list of things I do to make sure that the search engines know it’s there.

Generate an XML site map. This is simply a file that helps the major search engines understand your site structure. WordPress has some useful plugins that do this, or it can be generated using an online tool.

Create Webmaster Tools profiles. Google and Bing both offer these free tools. After doing this, I can submit the XML site map, specify a preferred domain to avoid duplicate content penalties, analyze keywords through the site, view search traffic statistics, integrate the profile with Google Analytics, and so much more.

Create a local profile for your business. Verifying your business with Google Business and Bing Places for Business, and Yahoo Small Business will get your business in any location-based search results, so customers in your area can find you more easily.

..And then what?

There are about a million OTHER things that can be done to increase a website’s ranking, but these three areas are where I usually start with clients. Getting a few simple tools in place can make a big difference. And once a site is up and running for a couple of months, it can be useful to revisit the keywords or to take a look at your content structure and reorganize a bit.  If you’d like me to take a look at your website’s SEO status, contact me for a quote!

new websites launched: snacks & stained glass

Tracy's Tasties website

I published two websites in the last couple of weeks and I wanted to share them here!

The first is a site that was brought to me already designed for Tracy at Tracy’s Tasties. My job was to take the (amazing!) design mockups and build them into a functional website so she can sell her gourmet hulless popcorn on the web. I did this, adding a WordPress backend for content management and a custom product area that she can use for PayPal e-commerce buttons.

Gourmet Hulless Popcorn

 

The second site is for a local stained glass artist. Brian wanted a place online to share photos of his beautiful stained glass pieces, and also to keep customers informed about upcoming art show appearances for his company, Three Rivers Art Glass. He already had a logo designed, so I used that as inspiration for the site design. The site runs on WordPress, with a custom project gallery and a blog so he can update with news and event information.

Stained Glass artwork

finding balance as a self-employed, work-at-home mother of three

finding balance while working at home with kids

Self-employment comes with its own set of unique work-related stresses and challenges: inconsistent money flow, staying motivated, keeping yourself accountable. When you add three kids to that plate, with their uncanny ability to get sick RIGHT when you have a huge project to finish and their superior chaos-making powers, things can get very stressful very quickly.

finding balance while working at home with kids

I’ve been working as an independent web designer for nearly ten years. When I started out, I was working full-time in my former field of medical research (which feels like a completely different LIFETIME now). I worked all day at work, then came home in the evenings and worked on websites for clients. My goal was to get my business to a place where I felt comfortable enough to leave the steady paycheck and day job to work “full time” as a web designer. Fast forward a couple of years, and I got there- right around the time I got the news that I was pregnant with our first baby. I had a brief and LOVELY stretch of time where I was home, working, with no kids running around to distract me. But for the most part, since I’ve been working as Inksplash Designs, I’ve been a mother.

I make no secret about the fact that I’m not a big fancy agency with full-service everything and 24/7 tech support. Inksplash Designs is a small, custom-fit webdesign shop that is a great fit for some projects and not so great for others. I’ve always been honest with my clients about my working situation, and I think that has been appreciated. I typically designate three days each week for work, and on those days my younger two kids go to daycare/preschool. The older one is in elementary school now, so that makes things simpler (and cheaper!) So in theory, I have three whole days each week where I can focus on Work and not on Everything Else. In reality, the lines get very blurred and it can make my head hurt.

Over the years, I’ve established some rules and tricks for myself to keep things semi-separated and to keep myself semi-sane. It’s not a perfect system, and I’m always making adjustments and exceptions, but it helps a lot.

1. No phone calls (or work email) after 5, unless it’s prescheduled and/or absolutely necessary. This is a stickler for me because it would be VERY easy to let my business take over our lives. Between the hours of 5 and 8pm, things in our house are just this side of insanity. Three hungry kids (and a husband!), homework, dishes, cleaning up, laundry, bedtime… not a lot of room for anything work-related. So if my phone rings and it’s not a number I recognize, my voicemail does the work and I catch up the next work day. There are exceptions for this, obviously, if there’s an urgent issue with a client’s email or website, in which case I hand the kids over to my amazing husband and lock myself in the office to take care of things. But in general, evenings are family time and household time.

2. Keep Work Days about work and Kid Days about kids. Also related to the effort to not let work take over, I try to make sure my days with the kids stay clear of work-related things. We run errands, go shopping, head to gymnastics classes, or play outside. Only one of my kids still takes an afternoon nap, so I can’t even count on using that time for work- which is okay with me. I usually have piles of laundry to fold, or meals to plan, or any other number of chores to take care of around the house. On the flip side, I make an effort to let the house stuff go on work days and focus on finishing projects, making client phone calls, returning emails, and writing proposals. (So if my husband wonders why there are still dishes piled sky-high in the kitchen at the end of my work days, this is why!)

3. Use childcare more if you need it. Sometimes I’ll have a lull in client work. It happens. I try to use that time to take a breath, and maybe work on some of my own projects, tinker with my website, or follow up with some old leads. And sometimes I am overwhelmed with work (hooray!) and I have trouble keeping up with things with only three days in a week. Fortunately our childcare center allows for flexible schedules each week, so I can always add an extra day for the kids if I need it. I used to feel guilty about doing this, and I worried about the financial hit with the already delicate balance of childcare payments vs my income, but sometimes it’s necessary. My kids love their school, so that helps ease the guilt a little. And if it helps me to feel less like I’m being pulled in a million different directions, I say thumbs up.

4. Set a timer. Take breaks. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my smartphone pretty much runs my life. I have multiple reminders each day that alert me to do various things (water the plants!) I’ve also recently started to set a timer so that I remember to get up from my chair a couple of times a day. Ridiculous, I know. But it’s necessary. Otherwise, I would likely stay rooted in my chair for 7-8 hours at a time because some days feel like a RACE to get done ALL THE THINGS before the kids get home. And while that’s great dedication on my part (HA!), it’s probably not super healthy. In order to feel balanced, you have to take breaks. Go get a drink. Eat a snack. Stretch a bit. Check in on Facebook and Twitter. Setting a reminder has been very helpful.

5. Be flexible and remember what’s important. Above all, this is key. Years ago, I would lose my MIND if things didn’t go according to plan, but I’ve learned to roll with the unexpected. Three kids teaches it, and three kids plus a business requires it. I love my job and I love my work situation, but my kids are more important part of everything. So if they need me because of sickness or injury or an important school event, I will be there. It may mean working extra late tomorrow, but in the end, it all balances out.

The system isn’t perfect by any means, and I still have days when I feel stretched to my mental and emotional limits. But after nearly a decade, I’ve mostly figured out what works for me. I love my job! I love my family! And I’m so thankful to be able to have both in my life.

project round-up

Joy in Jackson's Journey blog

So! It’s been about a million years (or 8 months) since I wrote anything here. I’m happy to report it’s because my workload has been steady and my plate has been full! I do get frustrated at times that I don’t have enough mental energy to devote more time to writing helpful and thought-provoking blog posts, but when I realize it’s because my client work is filling my schedule, that makes me happy. Lots of new work coming in must mean I’m doing SOMETHING right!!??

While I have landed several new clients this year, a bulk of the work I’ve done in the past few months has been updates and changes for existing and past customers. So even if nothing is being added to my portfolio, I am usually hard at work helping my clients add new features to their websites, expand their online presence, and boost their business. Probably the biggest project of this year that wasn’t a completely new website was adding a full-featured e-commerce section to a site I designed two years ago for B.E.A.R. of PA. I also worked with a few new clients to make small changes to their current websites- new photos and graphics, social media integration, WordPress troubleshooting and support, and helping to put some finishing touches on WordPress themes before launching the new site.

Another large part of my business this year has been my blog design service. I am thrilled at how well Dress My Blog has been doing- I love designing blogs and being able to change gears from the more corporate/business-y projects is refreshing sometimes. I’ve designed and launched five new blogs since returning to work after maternity leave less than a year ago (two of them for the same client!) Here’s are some recently finished blogs:

Branching Out
Branching Out

Joy in Jackson's Journey
Joy in Jackson’s Journey

Moving Company Reviews
Moving Company Reviews

Cooking with Crystal
Cooking with Crystal

And finally, two other non-blog, WordPress websites I completed recently: Pittsburgh Pierogi Truck and Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School.

Pittsburgh Pierogi Truck
Pittsburgh Pierogi Truck

Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School
Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School

Business is good, work is great, and I am still loving what I do. I’m working with two new clients right now on their websites- one is a brand new site and another is a redesign- and I’m also almost ready to launch another new blog design. Keep it coming! :)

new year, new goals

Happy New Year! As much as I do NOT like winter sometimes, I do enjoy January and the change of years. It’s like a clean slate, looking ahead to twelve whole months where I haven’t yet gotten behind on things! A chance to renew, reset, and refresh.

With that reset typically comes a list of goals and for the upcoming year. I have a list of personal goals I’d like to meet by the time 2014 comes to a close, but I’ve also made some plans for my professional life here at Inksplash.

1. Expand. I’m not planning to hire any employees just yet, but I am looking to partner with a few great people locally so I can offer additional services to my clients. There are areas in which I am NOT an expert and I’m completely fine admitting that! I’d love to be able to connect my clients with people who can provide them with features, services, and consultation on things they might need. And in turn, I hope to be able to make new client relationships of my own through my partners. I’ve already started the wheels in motion on this a little bit and I am so excited!

2. Organize. It doesn’t take long for files and documents to become a jumbled mess. My paper filing cabinet is in need of a good purge of old client files and notes I no longer need. So my paper shredder had better be prepared! I’m also in need of a new laptop before my current one finally gives up (preferably WAY before!) and once I replace it, I’ll need to go through my computer files and get things in order- some digital spring-cleaning!

3. Automate. The busier I am, the more I notice how much time I spend (waste) on paperwork. I’ve been using Freshbooks (affiliate link) for several years now and I absolutely love it. Before that I was using spreadsheets to manage my invoices and payments due and it was… well, it was a nightmare, frankly. Using an online accounting tool has made things so much easier for me, and I know there are features I’m not taking advantage of now that could make things even more pleasant to manage (because who likes paperwork? ugh)

4. Learn. Nearly every website I design makes me learn something new, even if it’s something small. Sometimes it’s a surprise, but a lot of projects I take on knowing that I’ll need to learn a new skill or technique, and I love that (even if it does make me a little anxious at first!). But outside of projects, there are a few areas where I’d love to strengthen my skills and become more confident, and I’m hoping to find the time to read and research a little bit.

Mostly though, I just want to continue enjoying my job and building useful, functional websites for my clients. I’m getting ready to start two new projects which is a great way to kick off the year. Here’s to a prosperous and busy 2014 for everyone!

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Creative Market: fonts, icons, graphics, website themes