Why Web Design Is Like Parallel Parking

May 7th, 2013 in Bespoke, Design, Marketing Branding Design marketing SEO

James and I were over in Belfast last week meeting with a client. Instead of boring you with a field report, though, I thought you’d find this video more interesting. Filmed in Belfast, but nothing to do with us, we only watched it for the first time when we got back home. Put the kettle on, grab a tea or coffee, and settle in: this one takes a while.

You have to feel sorry for the poor woman (and let’s not make a point about her gender, lads – we’re all above that). She’s obviously just found herself in that zone where nothing you do quite works. We’ve all been there, and nothing’s worse than being watched while you’re in that kind of mood. It only makes things worse!

But you also have to kind of admire her. Not for her parking skills, maybe, but certainly for her persistence and refusal just to give up.

We were in Belfast about a website – of course. We build these things all day every day, for all kinds of different clients selling all sorts of different products to all kinds of different people. The one thing all these sites have in common, though, is the need to keep working on them. Whether it’s an e-commerce site or a blogging site, a straight brochure design or something more bespoke, there’s a simple rule of thumb that works for every site we build: keeping going back, don’t give up.

Sites are like anything else. The first draft might not work. You might put it up and not get the traffic you like. It might work brilliantly for a year or two and then suddenly no longer suit your business. The trick is to understand that a website is always a work in progress.

The powerful thing about the internet is that it’s always changing, constantly updated with the latest information. That means that your website should be tinkered with almost daily – and that it’s worth persevering to ensure you get things just right.

Growing your business and your website together doesn’t just make sense – it’s easy once you get the persistence bug. Change your colour scheme with each marketing campaign; tweak your copy so that search engines direct users to your site more regularly; tweak the design so that it looks its best on every platform. Keep going back, don’t give up.

So, like the lady parking that car, you should keep at it. The Image+ team promise not to turn up at your offices and make a YouTube video about it – but over the years we’ve become adept at helping ease your website into the right space.

Statistics and Sales: Getting the Most out of your Website

April 19th, 2013 in Marketing, Search Engine Optimisation, Web analytics marketing SEO statistics

They say cliches only become so popular because they have a grain of truth. So while we like to avoid them in our marketing materials, there’s one old saying which we think has a lot to recommend it in marketing circles: practice makes perfect.

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I risk over-using a tired old saying because constantly monitoring your activity is the best way to ensure your return on investment is as high as it can possibly be. Like learning to play a musical instrument or improving your golf handicap, tailoring your website is an activity to undertake over time. Practice really does make perfect.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been focusing our attention on the Sleepeezee website, paying detailed attention to the statistics of each and every one of the site’s pages. By going back again and again to these pages and these statistics, we’ve been able to increase their hits by twenty-seven per cent. On our own site, the same attention to detail has seen our ‘bounce rate’ reduce from 63% to just 4%.

But what does all this mean in plain English? The ‘bounce rate’ is simply the percentage of visitors who enter a website and “bounce” (leave the site) rather than continue viewing other pages within the same site. A high bounce rate is bad news: it means people simply aren’t lingering for long on your pages, reducing your chances of converting eyeballs into paying customers. The only way to rectify this problem is to look closely at your pages, and figure out what it is about them that is failing to capture your visitors.

So practice makes perfect. At Image+, we capture, monitor and interpret the usage statistics of our client’s websites, and use this process to improve bounce rates. We can identify which of a site’s pages have the worst bounce rates, and analyse their content to ensure that it is more engaging; once we’ve tweaked that content, we can again monitor the page’s statistics to see the changes – and repeat the steps as many times as it takes to improve and perfect the way in which you site communicates with your potential customers.

This process really is essential if you are to get the most out of the website in which you’ve invested so much time and money. If you hardly ever pick up that guitar, or never manage to get any time on the course, you’re not going to become the next Jimi Hendrix or Seve Ballesteros; likewise, if you don’t pay detailed attention to your website, and spend time tailoring your pages on the basis of active and passive user feedback, your website won’t work for you as it should.

Put it this way: purging your sales copy of cliches is a great way of helping to keep your visitors’ attention; but in doing so you’re proving one of the oldest ones in the book. Practice makes perfect.

SEO: The Race To First Place

March 15th, 2013 in Search Engine Optimisation, Web SEO

photoThe Cheltenham Festival has been hard to miss this week, with blanket coverage on Channel 4 and advertisements everywhere. The team at Image+ haven’t been immune to the excitement: in between developing websites, it’s possible we’ve been watching a few races online this week and having a flutter in the office. There’s a big buzz amongst the team – if not too many winners!

In part, our enthusiasm might be down to a certain amount of sympathy for the owners, trainers and jockeys who prepare so carefully for events like this. From stamina to speed, and jumping to sprinting, the team around a horse focuses on ensuring that every element of its race is matched as tightly as possible to the demands of the course it will be running. Huge amounts of research and work is put into understanding how a given horse might be given the best chance to achieve that coveted first place.

Put that way, horseracing is – and bear with me here – oddly similar to Search Engine Optimisation. This is a process we undertake for many of our clients, by which we assess their market, understand its demands – including what phrases customers might use to search for relevant services online – and then tailor the website in such a way that the biggest search engines place it pride of place on their results pages. This is a game only for experts: it’s detailed, difficult work, but done right can have huge benefits.

Google ‘Cheltenham festival’ right now and the top sponsored links feature the various bookmakers to whom this week is so important. The first natural link, of course, is to the website of the Cheltenham Racecourse itself, which has made the Festival a key fixture in its calendar. Newspapers are listed, too – search engines like nothing better than regular, constantly updated content – and before the first page is over the bookmakers are making a return. The presence of each of these sites – and their re-appearances as keyphrase-sensitive advertising on those newspaper websites – reveals something about the nature of SEO, from its key importance for revenue generation to the virtues of pay-per-click campaigns and the best means of achieving natural listings.

The bookmakers are a case in point: fittingly, they hedge their bets by investing in paid advertising, ensuring they are always at the top of the page, but also optimising their sites to achieve natural listings. Paddy Power, for example, features both as a sponsored and natural link on Google’s first page of ‘Cheltenham festival’ search results. Key to Paddy Power’s success, though, is what punters get when they click that link: visitors to the PP website are immediately exposed to a wealth of content, but also a user interface which is easy and enjoyable to use. All the SEO in the world won’t help if your website is poor – once the search engines have sent you visitors, it’s up to you to keep them.

I’ll be following the runners today at Cheltenham, cheering on one particular horse named after my home town’s theatre. I hope I’m cannier in my betting at the course itself than I have been online: when I won recently on the Paddy Power website, I found myself with £100 in my account – and gave it all back to them in the shape of further bets.

Now that is a successful website!