New responsive website launched

Evan Thompson and Associates website
We are pleased to launch a new responsive website for Evan Thompson and Associates, a Toronto-based communications coaching and content development firm. We rebranded, slimmed down, optimized, and deployed our very own Twitter Bootstrap WordPress Theme to create a responsive framework. In addition to developing the WordPress theme, we built a custom media gallery plugin to accommodate Evan Thompson’s media interviews and extensive articles he writes for many major news outlets.

Using Twitter Bootstrap for Web Design and Development

thinkinsure twitter bootstrap websiteWe have recently jumped on the Twitter Bootstrap bandwagon and are very happy with the decision. If you don’t know, Twitter bootstrap is a web framework that is “mobile first”. When they developed the framework they solved many of the issues that web developers face when dealing with responsive design such as how columns will collapse and stack as the screen gets smaller, re-sizing images to the device, managing device specific content, plus many more.  Traditionally we built websites that looked great on the desktop, then would add CSS and javascript to make it look good on mobile devices. With this approach we had to pick certain mobile browsers sizes to concentrate our efforts on such as the  iPhone and iPad (as the were the most popular). If you go to any smart phone retailer now you will see a huge variety of screen sizes, so with our original approach many of these new screen sizes would have wonky looking websites.

So using bootstrap and a mobile first approach our websites now look good on every device and screen size. Over the last 6 months we have developed a custom bootstrap website (thinkinsure.ca) and a WordPress Bootstrap theme (memorycentre.ca and roofing-solutions.ca).

Custom Bootstrap Website: thinkinsure.ca

This project was 6 months in the making. Darkstar Media handled both the design and development of this insurance company website. We worked hand in hand with thinkInsure’s SEO specialist and made sure the user experience was great for all devices and is fully optimized for search engines.

WordPress Bootstrap Theme: memorycentre.ca and roofing-solutions.ca

These are the first 2 completed websites to use the Darkstar Media WordPress bootstrap theme. The theme is simple to customize because of the bootstrap framework. It has custom callouts (calls to action) for the home page and internal pages which are very easy to manage. For memorycentre.ca we also designed their logo and set up their social media presence.

roofing-solutions.ca Bootstrap WordPress themememorycentre.ca Bootstrap WordPress theme

 

4 new responsive WordPress websites launched

Hello,

We have been quite busy at Darkstar Media recently. Over the last month we have launched 4 responsive WordPress websites. Edson Legal, Monster Gym, Construction DIB, and Vault Mortgage.

edson legalMonster Gym

vault mortgage
construction dib

Google Sending Out Responsive Website Warnings

Is your website reponsive?
mobility warningDo you know what that means? As per wiki, it means
“Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones).”

As of April 21st, Google has announced they will be expanding their use of a site’s mobile-friendliness as a key-ranking signal. This change is going to affect all mobile searches, in all languages around the world and impact search results significantly.

As a result of this significant change, Google has been sending notifications to all the webmasters who have existing non-mobile friendly websites. The message also states that the pages will be affected in search results for smartphone users.

Some of the most notable changes include:

  • The Google bot has to be allowed to crawl JavaScript and CSS in order to pass the mobile-friendly test
  • The mobile friendliness is determined by the page level, rather than site wide
  • Tablets are not being affected
  • Google is working with a dedicated mobile index

The fact is that savvy webmasters already have these changes in effect.  Google has been telling us for years that it was coming. However, with this latest announcement, there are a number of webmasters who have a compelling reason to take action.

Now you have to decide if implementing a mobile site or responsive site is right for you. Mobile sites can be customized for mobile users, and they provide a cheaper and easier design. However, responsive designs are more flexible and the configuration that is recommended by Google; however, it does cost more upfront.

The right option is really going to depend on what your site does. The key is to ensure that your website is relevant, helpful and friendly so that you will have the best possible chance of ranking in organic searches on Google. If you need to get your website responsive to meet the needs of Google’s search engine rules, give us a call today.

Faster Website results with Google PageSpeed Insights

google-pagespeedThe internet has grown exponentially from just a highly competitive sphere for promotion and commerce to an overcrowded marketplace where visibility is essential to success. Most competent web developers are already aware of the more traditional tools of higher internet visibility: keyword saturation, social networking promotion, and search engine optimization. But with more and more competitors targeting your own audience, even optimizing your website for search engines is no longer enough. Surprisingly, a new factor has slowly emerged as a growing influence in site rankings-website speed. Google PageSpeed Insights

In 2010, Google came out publicly saying that no longer were keyword optimization, content and authenticity the only means of ranking a website. Website speed was now becoming a relevant factor in search engine rankings. This meant that if your website loaded into someone’s browser too slowly, the amount of traffic you could attract would significantly decrease. Many studies were conducted based upon this latest revelation about Google’s newest methodology for ranking, and the findings were not good for slower sites. In calculating the time-to-first-byte (the speed at which a browser received the first byte of data from any requested URL), there was a clear and causal relationship between the increasing TTFB and search engine rankings. This indicated that websites with better optimized back-end infrastructure (the background programs that help a website react faster in its interactions with users and thus load faster) are the sites that tend to rank higher in search engine results. So if you want to compete with sites that rank higher than you, posting to Facebook and using Twitter may not be enough.

However, just knowing why website loading speeds are important doesn’t help in speeding those loading times up. For this, you need to learn how to boost load times. This is why Google PageSpeed Insights can be extremely useful in this situation. This is Google’s online app that allows you to enter a website URL and analyze its load time performance as well as offer optimization suggestions. It mainly looks at the front-end infrastructure (the different ways users can and possibly could interact with your site) rather than how your site is best optimized to support these interactions (back-end infrastructure). This entails examining aspects that are independent of your network’s capability, such as images, JavaScript and CSS. When used in conjunction with other analytical applications such as GTmetrix, a developer could assess their front end performance and the back-end, further finding ways to optimize the overall performance of their website.

With this is mind, any developer should utilize PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix to gauge their site’s loading speed performance. After this, developers should implement these easy fixes below to help them get moving in the right direction.

Leverage Browser Caching

Leverage browser caching refers adding expire or cache control headers to your site. When you do this, you are reducing the number of http requests a server needs to process, which reduces load times. You can add these by modifying your .htaccess file. In WordPress, this is actually easier to do than one might think. All you need to do is access your .htaccess file by going to cPanel and clicking on the File Manager. A pop-up box will appear and you will need to click on the Web Root option, all while ensuring the “Show Hidden File” option is ticked off. Once your .htaccess file is opened, all you need to do is cut and paste these directives at the top of the file:

## EXPIRES CACHING ##
<IfModule mod_expires.c>
ExpiresActive On
ExpiresByType image/jpg “access 1 year”
ExpiresByType image/jpeg “access 1 year”
ExpiresByType image/gif “access 1 year”
ExpiresByType image/png “access 1 year”
ExpiresByType text/css “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType text/html “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType application/pdf “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType text/x-javascript “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType application/x-shockwave-flash “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType image/x-icon “access 1 year”
ExpiresDefault “access 1 month”
</IfModule>
## EXPIRES CACHING ##

After this is done, save your .htaccess file and watch your site’s loading time speed up dramatically.

Plug-Ins

If you are using WordPress, you will also want to install the plug-in W3 Total Cache as an additional way to speed up load times by improving conversion rates and helping pages render (or download) quicker. The plug-in. while speeding up some instances will also slow down others, but you do end up ahead of the game with a better score after installing it. The setup of WordPress is part of the issue and hard to get around.

Minifying CSS

You can minify, or compress your cascading style sheets (the programming language used to change the style of webpages) by going to the website cssminifier.com and following the instructions on how to input the language so you can in return receive the compression language . http://cssminifier.com/

Minifying JavaScript

Javascript is another programming language that allows users to interact with website. To compress the Javascript on your website, you can go to this site-javascript-minifier.com-which operates in pretty much the same way as the CSS minifier site. http://javascript-minifier.com/

Eliminating render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content

Some Javascript and CSS script in above-the-fold-content (content on a website that is visible without scrolling down) can block rendering of your site and slow load speeds. To remove these scripts, put your Javascript files in the website footer. Also, it is additionally beneficial to try and combine any CSS scripts into others whenever possible. (The W3 Total Cache plug-in can cause an error here)

Once your site developer has fine tuned your website with these easy, basic adjustments, you can look into further ways to speed up your site’s loading time. Some other places for assistance include Pingdom and Google’s own Webmaster Tools  to help optimize any deeper levels of back-end infrastructure to reduce load lagging. Once you have speed up and refined your website as much as possible, you can now focus your attention on what really matters – your content.

Kanara Medical Spa WordPress Website Launched

Kanara Medical SpaWe are proud to announce the launch of Kanara Medical Spa.

For Kanara Medical Spa we handled graphic design of logo, website and all print materials. We also developed a responsive custom WordPress theme and handled search engine optimization for the website including the keyword research.

Responsive WordPress Theme Developed for Blue Chip Leasing

Blue Chip LeasingWe are happy to announce the launch of another great new website, Blue Chip Leasing. We both designed and developed this website. The content management system used for this website is WordPress and it is fully responsive.

Special attention was paid to 3 key areas of the website and Blue Chip’s main services, Broker Partners, Vendor Partners, and Equipment Leasing. For these key areas we created Calls to Action on the home page as well as the sidebars.

Seven Elements of Great Website Design

website wireframeIn today’s post I wanted to talk a little about some of the elements that make up a great website design. There are a lot of design principles that go into website design but I chose seven I wanted to touch on today and those are:

These elements may not be as important from one designer to the next but they are certainly concepts that all designers should have in the back of their minds when designing sites for clients and those of you who go the do it yourself route should be aware of. Let’s get started shall we?
top ↑

Ease of Navigation

When designing a website, the ease with which visitors to the site will be able to find their way around should be one of the first problems addressed as a web designer.

Deciding on a navigation menu style, left side vs. top would be the first place to start. Each has its advantages but using this menu to help minimize clicks is the real gift. Visitors to the site want to find the information they need quickly and easily and you want them to be able to have access to the information without having multiple links cluttering up your page.

All pages should be accessible from all other pages so that users can quickly get back to where they started without too much hassle, and your navigational scheme/menu should distinguish itself from any ads you may have placed on the page so that there is no confusion.

Attention to detail is crucial when dealing with your site’s navigation. If visitors feel confused or hassled, they will not return.
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Calls to Action

You can use Call to Actions for many things on your website.

They bring a sense of focus to your site by highlighting a particular idea or product. It quickly draws the eye of the user to the point of the page or site and gives a sense of urgency … creating an “I need to know more!” focus about your goods or services.

Call to Actions can provide a direction to your users as well. It quickly tells them the steps to take to get more information on the topic you want them focused on.

Calls to Action can also help you judge the success of your website. By using tracking software plug ins which align with your Call to Actions, you can have a count of the number of clicks and page visits your site and your Call to Actions receive giving you valuable feedback.
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Informational Footer

It is so disappointing to see a footer at the bottom of a page that just contains a copyright and nothing else. This is a great space to be creative so let’s use it!

This footer is a great canvas for a second navigational menu or as an area to place social media icons as well as links for more information. You could also use this space as a way to connect with users on a personal level by placing funny graphics or visuals that have meaning to you.

It is also a great area for search engine optimization. By adding a secondary menu linking to your content elsewhere, you can improve SEO rankings without much effort.

Finally, It’s a great place, as a designer, to place a link to your design page as a way of helping users find out more information about possibly hiring you for their next website building project. Please don’t neglect this area!
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Stylized Buttons

Stylized buttons are a great tool to add to your site’s ease of navigation, organization, and engage your users but they can be tricky when it comes to applying them. Do not allow them to overwhelm the site.

To aid in navigation on your site, style buttons need to add to the functionality and it should be clear from the button graphic, where clicking it will take them. Choosing the graphic for a particular button is very important as you don’t want to confuse or overwhelm your visitors. Stylized buttons should organize the information, not make it less available.

Engaging your user with interactive buttons is always fun but again, you have to be careful. Always keeping aesthetics in mind, being cautious about overwhelming your users, making certain the button graphics match the purpose of the site, and that you are bringing continuity to the site with them, instead of taking it away, are all thing to keep in mind when using style buttons.
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Responsive Design

Responsive design … we hear that a lot and will continue to hear it a lot. Why? Because we are moving (pretty much have moved) into such a mobile society that it has become a necessity for websites to be designed to be responsive to mobile configuration. This allows the same website to be viewed from both a PC and a mobile device such as a cell phone or tablet. It also eliminates the need for a second site.

As far as SEO goes, having a site with responsive design can aid in your boosting your search engine rankings because the content is already there and there is no need for the engines to crawl two different sites.

Due to the ever changing technology of mobile devices, responsive design is your best bet when designing a site that will flex and grow with the fast pace of technological growth. You are assured of optimal visualization across multiple platforms.
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Content

Here it is again, content. I won’t send too much time on this because we have talked about it so much but it really cannot be stressed enough.

Content is king. It is now and it will continue to be from here on out. Producing fresh, relevant content is your websites best hope at staying current and falling into the category of one of those really great sites.

The better your content is, the more it will get shared across social media, the more it is shared across social media, the more hits your sites get, the more hits your sites get, the more product or services you sell. It’s a win-win.
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Images and Space/Visual Design

To say that images, space, and visual design are important to your web design would probably be an understatement. Your website is your storefront. It is your first impression and it shows off your goods and services. To sell or attract the most visitors you will need to use this space in a way that draws in your users but which does not overwhelm them. The space should sell your product, service or you.

Images can be amazing to website when used correctly. You need to make sure they are sized and cropped right, positioned correctly, and that follow the theme of your site. They need to work with your color schemes and engage your users. It isn’t a bad idea to use images that say something about you to develop a personal relationship with your visitors but use caution you aren’t choosing something too quirky or off-putting.

Being aware of your space is key to designing your site as well. The overall visual design should utilize white space as well as images in an effort to ensure that visitors do not feel overwhelmed with clutter. Less often really is more and it is especially true in web design when you are working in such a limited space. Everything should balance and flow in the direction you’d like the users eyes to move. The key is to push them in that direction using space and images without overwhelming them
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I hope you’ve learned a little something today about the elements of really great websites. The key points to remember would be to make your site inviting, make visitors want to return … engage them but don’t overwhelm them but most of all … have fun!

 

Responsive Website Launched: Triton Background Checks

Triton Background Checks

We are pleased to announce the launch of a new website, Triton Background Checks. This is a fully responsive hand coded website which has web form integration and clear “calls to action” which  lead users towards filling the forms. It works seamlessly with a WordPress blog which is used to handle all the latest news articles and company announcements.

Special attention was paid to SEO (Search Engine Optimization). They are currently on page one of Google and we plan to keep them there.

 

Online Marekting Software … The Low Down

This week I’d like to talk a little about online marketing software specifically, what it is, what it does and do you need it

What is Internet Marketing Software?

internet marketing - mouse clickOnline or internet marketing software is a great option for boosting your business and its internet presence by helping you direct more business to your website; providing you with more leads which you can concentrate on turning into revenue.

This type of software helps to automate all of the components of internet marketing and provide reports, statistics, and predictions for future growth all in one place. Doing business over the internet has come to such a head that this type of software has now become a necessity where once, it was a convenience.

Good online marketing software will communicate the value of your brand using the internet to send promotional marketing messages as well as include options such as, inbound marketing, email marketing, social media, CRM, and lead scoring, to name a few.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing includes promoting your brand through blogging, vlogging (video blogging), e-newsletters, podcasts, and other forms of content marketing (Again with the content! Hopefully you’re seeing a trend here!). It is all aimed at engaging your customer, drawing them in, and building a perceived relationship.

Inbound marketing done right should be earning your customer’s attention whereas, conversely, things like mailers, TV and radio ads, flyers, and spam do not do anything to build a relationship with your target consumers and are passive.

The key to long lasting business relationships on the internet is all about producing interest, creating a relationship, and building on that relationship to maintain great customer loyalty.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is an efficient way to send a commercial message to a large group of people using email. It can be very effective if done correctly and online marketing software can help your business coordinate and send mailings. By storing customer contact information as well as allowing you to send one message to everyone on your list at a keystroke, email marketing software is a one stop service for all of your email needs.

This type of marketing allows your customer base to keep up to date with events or new content going on in your business or with your blog. It also allows your followers the opportunity to directly click to your blog or web page if you have provided pertinent links in the mailings.

Unfortunately, if it is done incorrectly, it can lead to followers terminating your relationship because you’ve flooded their inbox with spam or too many updates. Email marketing walks a fine line between being informative or intrusive; something to remember if you decide to mount an email marketing campaign.

Social Media

Have we exhausted the social media angle yet? It really can’t be stressed enough how important social media is in this day and age to the growth and success of your brand.

Internet marketing software can help with social media branding by suggesting relevant content based on statistics, give reports on how your own content is doing on your social media outlets, what’s trending, and help to bring all of your various social media outlets into one central place.

Social media has really become a way for your brand to reach massive amounts of people in one go and all for little to no cost, so it should never be over looked when choosing internet marketing software or drawing up a marketing plan.

CRM or Customer Relation Management

Customer relation management or CRM is defined as a system for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers but, what does that mean?

CRM software is an extremely useful tool for online businesses. It maintains your customer database by storing information such as, customer contact information, products which the customer has purchased in the past, ones they currently own and even products they’ve expressed interest in via shopping carts, wish lists or shopping habits.

All of this information can be used by a business to follow up on prospective sales and maintain customer service if a customer should call with a complaint. The stored information can also be shared across other departments to influence product development and marketing strategies.

Lead Scoring

Lead scoring works on a point system where each point is assigned a predetermined value. The values are based on certain criteria which the business is looking for their prospective customers to meet. Criteria such as their website visits, customer contact information through form completions, job title, content downloads etc.

Lead scoring software tracks these criteria and assigns a point for each marker hit. The points add up over time and the sum total of the values make up the lead score.

Lead scores can help a business decide which customer leads to actively pursue and which to discard. This allows for shortened conversion times and helps to narrow down which customer relationships to nurture to effectively increase sales.

A Word about Scams

Now that we’ve delved a bit into how online marketing software works to help grow your business, I’d like to quickly mention that there are a lot of opportunities for scam artists in this market.

Google, in particular, has zero tolerance for content mills, spamming, and other means of generating page clicks and the like. Falling victim to one of these scam software companies could likely land your business on the wrong side of a search engine so vital to the success of your business.

Be sure to do through research on any companies or software you are considering using and keep in mind that marketing takes work and human involvement.

Please remember, online marketing software is a tool to help YOU grow your business, it does not build it for you.