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When to Stay Out of Your Web Vendor's Way

When to trust the professionals

Many companies engaging in the website project process are unclear about their roles and responsibilities, and to be frank, each one has different expectations from their web vendor. Some clients want to drive the direction of the entire project; they feel they understand their organization best and therefore should be the lead decision maker on design, content, functionality, and usability. Other clients expect the web vendor to make all of the decisions; they expect their hired firm to provide them with branding strategies, messaging, content, and market research.

The truth is that the most successful web projects are when there is a good balance of decision making between the client and the vendor. The best results come from a high-trust, collaborative partnership, in which each side provides ideas and thoughts on the pieces of the project.   

That being said, there are two main areas in which the client should always let their design firm drive the decision making.

Look and feel

Design styles, user expectations, and technologies change so fast that even the experts who work day in and day out in the web world can’t possibly keep up with the latest and greatest upgrades. However, you hired them for a reason.There is a good chance that your decision to hire them was solely due to the quality of their portfolio. You liked their design style, and hoped your new website would be of similar quality. Therefore, it is a good idea to let them drive this part of the project.  

Unless you dislike the original mock-ups they created for you, you should let them win the little battles of layout and design execution. They have an eye for what people like, and you should trust their expertise.  If you decide to scrutinize every little aspect of the design, it will lose quality. In fact, we have had many clients go through countless revisions and never be fully satisfied with the final product. When this happens, we’ll go back and show them the original mock-ups, prior to the revision cycle, and they fall in love with the design all over again.

You wouldn't tell a doctor how to diagnose your symptoms, or offer guidance to your attorney on how to defend your case.  Let the designers do what they do best, and trust them through the design process of your project.

Technology requirements

Many clients have a bad habit of providing technical advice to their web vendors.  Their company’s IT guy might have told them to use certain software, or they recently read an article in FastCompany about a great CMS, and they decide it is a good idea to tell their web developer which technologies to use on their web project.  While it is great to be informed, web design and development companies have most likely worked with a variety of web tools and know which ones are best to use based on your RFP requirements.  By understanding your content types, work flow, security needs, and hosting platform, your vendor has most likely already narrowed your options down to one or two systems.  Your budget will probably determine which of those systems is best for your organization.  

However, before moving ahead blindly on your vendor’s recommendation, it is a great idea to read up on the technologies they are recommending, and plan on demoing them before making a final decision.  In some scenarios, web vendors may push a certain software or technology because they built it, or it’s all they know.  If that is the case, then definitely take the time to educate yourself a bit so you don’t get stuck with a buggy, homemade, proprietary system, or an over-hyped open source solution.

Monday, June 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM




Homepage Slider Best Practices

As most website designers know, jQuery homepage sliders are a great way to merchandise important information you want your users to consume.  Just because the click through rate on sliders typically seems to be low, it doesn't necessarily mean your users are not reading them.  Below are a few things to consider when setting up or modifying your homepage sliders.

Slider Messaging Ideas

Corporate Message:  A lot of companies use a corporate message as their opening frame.  This concept is a great way to introduce who you are and what you do to new potential customers.

Competitive Separation:  If your organization is doing or selling something that is more effective than your competitor set, use a frame in your slider to demonstrate the valuable differences.  An example could be something along the lines of...

“7 out of 10 blind folded volunteers preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coke.”

Products and Services:  If your organization has product and service offering you are hoping to sell or develop interest in, use a slider frame to showcase them.

Specials / Promotions:  If you are running a promotion or special, showcase it within a slider frame.

The new era of web design is one full of homepage animation and graphic images. These images should convey your business's message in a clear and enticing manner. The goal of the marketing campaign should be to appeal to the potential client’s emotions. This way, they are more inclined to choose you as a vendor for their services. The most important thing to remember when developing the concepts for your new jQuery sliders is to promote yourself and your business as a leader in the industry. In terms of responsive web design, these images adjust to fit different devices for viewer convenience. In a time when new web design features are being developed at a daily rate, you need to stay ahead of your competitors in the race for business.

Tips and Tricks

Tell a story or use like items:  The last thing you want to do is be all over the place when positioning your company messaging.  When utilized incorrectly, sliders are a quick way to get in trouble and confuse users if you aren't smart about the approach.  For instance, don’t say…March Madness Sale...followed by…Like us on Facebook…followed by...A Promise from our President…

You will be much better off targeting one topic and telling a story that comes to life through each frame.

Use Call to Actions:  Make sure users know that there is more content to come.  Create calls to action with each frame to drive users to the content relevant to the slider messaging.

Provide Hints:  Let users know that more frames are to come, or they can navigate through to other frames using arrows or thumbnails.

Track Your Users

It is great practice to track your user behavior.  Using analytic software, it is easy to set up tracking on each slider frame to see how many times it is viewed and clicked. 

Conclusion

A great suggestion for a homepage slider is don’t use one if you don’t need it.  However, if you have a slider on your homepage it is very important it isn't an afterthought.  It needs a purpose.  If you can tell a story, create an emotional response, and get users to click on the material you hoped they would, you have succeeded.  Good Luck!


Monday, April 21, 2014 at 12:00 AM




A Challenge to Website Owners

Ask any experienced Personal Trainer or Nutritionist, and I’m sure they will agree that one of the most effective ways to improve your health and eating habits is to keep a log of everything that you eat for 2 weeks. If you are honest with yourself and keep a truthful record, you will be able to see where you are participating in negative behaviors and how you can make adjustments that will benefit your lifestyle. 

This same idea can be applied to your website, but without spending two weeks of your valuable time. For one day (or half a day), we challenge you to take note of every website that you visit and keep track of the following items:
1. The website 2. Is it your first time or are you a return visitor 3. Why you went on the site a. To gain information b. To buy something c. For entertainment purposes 4. Were you successful/ did you leave the site in the middle of your session 5. What caught your eye 6. Did you view the site on a desktop/mobile/tablet
Understanding how you interact and make decisions on websites is challenging because it is difficult to be self-aware; We may not realize why we preform certain online actions. Once you pay attention to how you navigate sites, you will have a better idea of what a measurement of a successful user session looks like, and can take a closer look at your own site. DC Web Designers’ president, Mark Cyphers, has spent a lot of time educating clients on the importance of creating a “user-centric” website and the dangers of having an “organization-out” design and content architecture. We can help you obtain the successful user sessions your website needs. 

Call us at 410-740-9181 or email us at info@dcwebdesigners.com for more information on the benefits on user-centric websites. 


Friday, March 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM




The Next Big Idea

Every week we get calls from people that have big ideas for the next Facebook, Twitter, eBay, or Trulia, but they are rarely fully prepared to hire a web development company for these undertakings. We understand that typically the main reason to contact a web design firm is to get an idea of what the cost of the project will be in order bring numbers to investors or plan out project budgets. With this being the main focus, it is important to make sure that you understand the different kinds and amounts of information necessary in order for us to properly give you an accurate price estimate. 

In order to assure that your first meetings or phone calls with web development firms are effective, informative, and without surprises, there is a short checklist below to help you. (Remember, the more detailed you are, the easier it will be to receive accurate costs.)

1. Have you done your research? 

a. Do you use Google and other search engines?
b. Who are your targets, how many are there and where? 
c. Is there anyone doing what you want to do currently, who will your competitors be? 
d. What is your differentiator, or what is it that will make your idea stand out or better?
e. Do a simple SWOT analysis.
i. Strengths
ii. Weaknesses
iii. Opportunities
iv. Threats

If you put in the leg work along with the type of research described above, it will make the rest of your project process much smoother and will also allow you to focus your efforts on the end goal of launching a successful project. 

2. Do you have written information prepared on the business/service?

a. Business plan
b. Mission statements

3. Technical aspects 

This is the most important piece in making sure that you secure accurate pricing from all the vendors that you reach out to. If you have strict requirements and can paint a clear picture, companies will be able to outline the services and costs that you require as well as give you break downs for where time and money need to be spent. Remember that the design and development company is there to help you and give you guidance during the project, but if they don’t understand what you are looking for in the beginning, there will be additional time and costs that can add up. Some good things to have prepared are:

a. Functionality requirements:
i. What are the goals of your site?
ii. What does a typical visitor session look like?
iii. What is the user able to accomplish or gain from your site?
iv. Wireframes to show relationships and UX

4. Non-Disclosure agreement 

If you are willing to put in the time to develop your idea and draw out moving parts, you will find that responses from potential vendors will be consistent and precise. This allows you to not have to spend valuable time reviewing documents trying to compare apples to oranges. 



Friday, February 28, 2014 at 1:10 PM




The Many Factors of Google Rankings

 Do you want to come up higher in search engine rankings?

What are the factors that actually affect your website’s ranking on Google and other search engines?  You may be surprised to find out that there are many things that you could be doing to help your business to show up higher in the rankings.

We often tell our clients that we will provide them with not only the tools, but also the knowledge to continually increase their rankings in major search engines. Below is a great article from Entrepreneur Media, Inc. that supplies a nicely outlined info graphic that lists the factors that are believed to be involved in Google’s ranking system (although Google has never published them).

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/226884 

We encourage you to read the list yourself because there is an abundance of valuable information. Even if it doesn’t improve your ranking by much, it will improve your Internet presence and overall website. Below we have highlighted a few of the factors that popped out to us and are rarely mentioned when talking about SEO.

  1. Domain Registration Length:

     “Valuable (Legitimate) domains often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain.” – A Google patent

  2. Magnitude of Content changes:

    The “freshness” of content is understood to help your rankings, but it is believed that the amount of content has an effect as well. It should go without saying, but a full section edit is different than changing around a few words here and there. Frequency is key when it comes to content updates.

  3. Keyword Prominence

    Having a keyword show up in the first 100 words of a page appears to be a significant relevancy signal. Google still uses keyword density to determine the topics of webpages.

  4. Multimedia

Having images, video, and other multimedia elements indicate quality content.

 You can use these factors as tools to improve your site. Remember that many of the tips and suggestions that are on the list are things that will make your visitors’ interactions with you through your website, social media, branding, and other outlets better. In return, you will see your company’s value increased over a short amount of time.

 -Andrew Kendall, Sales Director


Friday, February 21, 2014 at 1:35 PM




Why Your IT Department Should Never Be Involved in Your Website Project

My fellow techies are not going to like this post.  

I am about to throw them all under the bus.

However, if your organization is embarking on a web project, what I am about to write is very important to the success of your project. 

DO NOT ALLOW YOUR IT DEPARTMENT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PROJECT.

There, I said it, now let me explain.  

Most IT departments are staffed with technical individuals who know a lot about networks, server configurations, software, and connectivity. They are typically not well versed in web technologies.  Believe me, there is a major difference.

Website projects have a few key components that can make or break the success of the project.

1. Understanding the target audiences, the language they speak, and their needs.
2. Clearly defined organizational and website goals.
3. Web design that is user-centric, and built specifically for your targets.
4. Clever and well thought out messaging and calls to action.
5. Well written content and informational architecture (how the content is organized and labeled on the website).
6. Proper tools to manage the website content.
7. Measuring the successes and opportunities for improvements.  

Your IT department most likely has none of these skillsets in their bag of tricks.  Typically they will pretend to be well versed in the software needed to manage the website content, but the majority of the time they make poor recommendations.  Content Management Systems (the software used to manage website content) are constantly evolving and unless you are “in the web space” it would be impossible to know which products are well suited for your organizational needs.

If you do need to get them involved, one area they can participate in is the programming language, database, and server environment they would like to see used for the project.  However, this is only relevant if you are hosting the website internally, or they are web programmers who have experience in a particular programming language or server environment. 

I have seen many projects go in the completely wrong direction because an organization feels compelled to receive input from their IT department.  I know looking to them for recommendations seems like a logical move, but the reality is, it may be the worst decision a business can make.  

A good design and development firm will make the proper website project recommendations for your organization, with the operative word being GOOD.  They do this stuff every day.  They live, breathe, and eat this stuff for breakfast.  It makes the most sense to trust them and not your internal staff for this kind of decision making.  

If you are starting a website project, and are looking for some initial direction for your project, pick up the phone and give DC Web Designers a call at 410-740-9181.


Monday, January 27, 2014 at 12:00 AM




Five Reasons Why Most Website Projects Fail: Part 2

A website project has many moving parts – it’s virtually impossible for most organizations to properly prepare and engage in this complex process. Now that the problem has been identified, it’s time to discuss the solutions:

  1. Write a Good RFP. A website project requires a well thought-out plan – the RFP needs to be very specific and have defined details for vendors. Prior to writing an RFP your organization should understand the following:
    1. What are the goals of the website?
    2. Who are the major target audiences?
    3. What information do I want my targets to consume?
    4. How much, and what types of content do we have?
    5. What tools will I need to manage my website?
    6. What were the successes and failures of previous projects?

      The best way to understand these items is a collaborative strategy session between your organization’s major stakeholders and a qualified consultant. Finally, do not leave the responsibility of writing the RFP to an unqualified employee – nothing will sink a project faster.
  2. You know your organization better than your web design company. For some reason many organizations feel that web design companies will take the time to research your business and understand all of its inner workings. In truth, it’s the organization’s responsibility to educate the web vendor on the following:
    1. Branding requirements
    2. History of the organization and its people
    3. Target audiences
    4. Internal business processes
    5. Core competencies
    6. Niche markets
    7. Competitor set
    8. Internal resources

      If you expect a web design company to really understand your organization without providing necessary information you’re setting yourself up for failure.
  3. Be educated about web technologies. It’s crucial for you to be informed about the latest web tools, such as Content Management Systems. Take the time to demo a variety of different online systems so you are better prepared to ask good questions.
    1. Know the latest Content Management Systems
    2. Learn how social media can be leveraged across many mediums
    3. Understand the basics about Search Engine Optimization
    4. Learn the principals of a good user-centric interface
    5. Understand the basics of web analytics

      Make your web vendor defend their technology choices, not dictate them to you.
  4. Be prepared to be involved during the project lifecycle. You will need to provide clear direction to your web vendor on many aspects of the project. Be prepared to be the lead on the following:
    1. Content architecture
    2. Messaging
    3. Conceptual imagery
    4. Branding protocols
    5. Marketing strategies

      These items take a tremendous amount of time and thought on your part – start preparing three months prior to the RFP process.
  5. Create a post launch strategy. Most websites have the exact same lifecycle. They get a shiny new look and feel, get ignored for three or four years, and then get repainted. The vast majority of websites are neglected to the point where they are worthless. To prevent against this, prepare to invest time on your site every month. Update content, change out pictures, post recent company or industry-related news, add new technologies, and commit to on-going Social Media and Search Engine Optimization plans. A website that makes consistent changes over time will be more far successful and produce better results for your organization.

Conclusion:
DC Web Designers, or our sister company, District Agency, can help you get through this difficult process. From pre-project consulting, including initial strategy, RFP creation, vendor selection, and project oversight, through to the custom design, development and on-going maintenance and management of your new website, we’ll tailor our services to the specific needs of you organization. If you’re planning or preparing for a website project, please give us a call: 410-740-9181

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM




So, You Need a Website... Part I

A website project should be considered an investment, not an expense. Your new or redesigned site will be the on-line face of your business or organization, and should leave a lasting impression with your clients, customers and visitors. In today’s age of technology your website is essential to the overall success of your company. Selecting the right vendor for this critical project is imperative.

Where Do I Start?

Before you even begin the search, you need to have a generalized vision of the websites’ purpose. Will it be informational in nature? Is it designed to attract new business and capture user information? Is there an aspect of commerce or an online store? Deciding on the needs and goals of your site, even if it’s just a simple wish-list, will help your potential vendors define the end deliverables.

The management and administrative capabilities of the site are the second part of this important equation. Having the proper tools to update site content and evaluate user behavior is just as important as the overall design aesthetic and functionality. Understanding the value of a Content Management System (CMS) and/or the purpose of analytic reporting will help to refine the overall scope of the project.

How Much and How Long?

It’s also a good idea to have a ballpark budget and an expected completion date in mind. More often than not these are the two key determining factors for a client. Total costs and production time vary greatly because every design and development project is different. In the web world one size does not fit all; the needs and goals of your business or organization are completely unique.

In Part 2, we’ll detail how to select a qualified vendor. If you can't wait, or you're interested in more information, just give us a call: 410-740-9181.

Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 12:00 AM




Five Reasons Why Most Website Projects Fail: Part I

  1. Organizations distribute a poorly conceived RFP
  2. Organizations assume web design companies are also strategy consultants
  3. Organizations expect web design companies to make technology recommendations
  4. Organizations are ill-prepared for a high-level of participation during the project
  5. Organizations fail to create a clear post-launch plan

Once upon a time…

Company X decided they needed a new website. Sara, their twenty-four year old junior marketing assistant, is assigned to write the RFP and come back the following week with three proposals. This is Sara’s first big assignment, and she’s never written an RFP before. Desperate for answers, Sara trusted the search engines and typed in “Web Designers Washington DC”. She picked three random companies she thought may be qualified, based on the fact that their websites had the prettiest pictures. Then, Sara Googled “sample RFP for website projects”, copied and pasted the results onto her company letterhead, and proudly replaced the author’s name with her own.

The lucky web design firms that received Sara’s Request for Proposal were very excited and quickly replied: “We look forward to this great opportunity”. Steve, the sales guy at SweetWebDesign Inc., rifled through Company X’s website to gain some insight on their organization. Steve found the names of the top executives, pictures from a recent tradeshow, and directions to an upcoming corporate picnic. After five minutes of research Steve was prepared and ready to get started.

Steve wrote the proposal like he wrote every other proposal. He copied and pasted his list of services and technologies into a nice layout, and put Company X’s logo on the front cover. He sat in his chair for a few minutes, toggled between his proposal and Company X’s client list, and made a best-guess on a bottom-line price-tag. He based his assumption on Company X’s industry type, annual revenues, number of employees, and client list, as well as the amount it would take to hit his quarterly sales goal. Steve thinks he did an awesome job coming in right under their project budget.

You might laugh, but this is the typical process for most organizations starting a website project. However, the problem can be fixed – next, I’ll present a sensible solution. Click here for Part 2.

Monday, September 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM




6 Tips for Creating Effective Web Pages

People do not read content on the web, they skim it. The tips below will help you create and structure your web pages to accommodate this behavior.

A good web page does the following:

  1. Provides a label that is clear and concise
  2. Presents the conclusion first
  3. Speaks to the target audience
  4. Contains short paragraphs, sub-headers and bullet-lists of information
  5. Provides numerous calls to action
  6. Links to similar content or resources

Clearly identify the page name

Do not get fancy when naming your web pages – users don't want to guess what type of content resides on a page when browsing for content. Instead of naming your webpage 'Behind the Curtains', simply name it 'Our Company'. The latter is clear, concise, and user-friendly.

Write the conclusion of the page first

Our natural instinct is to skim a webpage to locate the subject matter we want, so put the conclusion first – users will know right away if the content is relevant. The topic sentence of the DC Web Designers’ ‘About Us’ page is a good example: ‘DC Web Designers is a high-end web design shop offering custom content management solutions for all business sizes’. This direct approach eliminates wasted time, and lets users know exactly what they’ll find on the page. Speak to your target audience

One of the most important aspects to a user-friendly website is content relevant to those reading it. Many organizations make a critical mistake by writing content loaded with industry jargon and insider acronyms. This poor technique will leave your target feeling left out.

Short Paragraphs / Bulleted Lists / Sub Headers

Write your paragraphs with three or four sentences, than use bulleted lists as much as possible – users can skim content much faster when it’s broken into small chunks. Start each paragraph with a new sub-header that uses a larger font size (and maybe color) to draw users’ attention.

Calls to action located throughout the page

Whenever you can, lead a user to additional content about a topic. Write a short paragraph about say, a widget, then follow it up with links that direct to web pages or documents about the topic:
  • Download our whitepaper
  • View Widget Benefits and Features
  • See similar products

Links to similar content or resources

It’s very useful when a company offers additional resources at the end of the webpage. It’s usually a short, bulleted list that contains links to other web pages or documents related to the content the user just read. It’s also always a good idea to practice what you preach….

Additional Resources:

http://www.wpromote.com/blog/blogging/7-secrets-for-writing-effective-website-content/
http://www.idealaunch.com/blog/content/3-tips-for-creating-effective-website-content/
http://www.wizardofthewebsites.com/Effective_Content.html


Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM





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