Bear Web Blog

Bear Web Blog features our Webmaster’s Blog & Our Designer Street Blog.

Webmaster’s Blog is for business owners, marketing managers, webmasters & web content managers that are all aiming to gain a greater understanding of the internet and how it can be applied to their business.

Designer Street blog is where design meets functionality with expert commentary by the Bear Web Design Design and Development Team who have produced over 400 custom websites.

Analysis, Communication & Collaboration – A Key To Great Web Design!

Of all the areas of web design and development that I enjoy the most – our Web Design meetings really rank highly for the part they play in ensuring a great website result for the client.

The key to the success of those meetings starts with analysis & research before the meeting, which can include reviewing the client’s business and marketing models , their current website, and industry leading websites for comparison and samples.  Key communication actually starts in the sales cycle and should be in full “voice” – during the design meeting.  Clients should be engaged in identifying their needs, aims and outcomes and the whole team (client and designer) should establish a collaborating process to ensure a successful outcome.

Surely Your Web Designer’s Skills Would be More Important?

Without a doubt you have to have a great web designer to produce great websites. But an accomplished Web Designer is not only measured by graphic abilities. He or she must have a strong knowledge of the development tools the website will be using (and how they function) and must also have the ability to understand their client’s needs and requirements and to create a design that is results oriented.

There are many great web designers out there who can create the most eye catching web designs. But not all of those designs actually work for their clients. If the site looks good that will no doubt pass the first test of a new visitor  – the test of whether they like the website or not. But as soon as they start to look for the specific items and areas of interest this may quickly change from “Liking The Site” to “Leaving The Site”.  As my dear mother in Australia used to say “Peter – Looks Aren’t Everything” – in my case and the case of a successful website she would be right. (p.s. I do have a great personality!!!!)

Good Web Design Planning Starts with Analysis & Research!

We had two web design meetings planned for a Monday recently.  In order to ensure that myself and our Design Director Vicki Payne were ready for those meetings we spent around 1-2 hours preparing for each meeting. During the sales cycle we really focus on the business and marketing models of the clients, the desired results they want from the website, and their timeline and budget. In the design meeting we really start to hone in on the look and feel!

Preparing for our Design Meeting:

To prepare for design meeting my primary responsibility is to prepare an agenda for the meeting that ensures when we leave that meeting our Design Director has direction and clarity as to the design the client is seeking (the “look and feel” of the website). Although the design is now in the hands of our designer this process should remain a collaborative process.  The client will ultimately pick the design sample (or combination of) that they feel best represents them. This decision making keeps the client in the forefront of the design process.

Wouldn’t The Designer Know Best when it comes to Web Designs?

At Bear Web Design we have two of the best custom web designers in Middle Tennessee.  Vicki Payne our Design & Development Director has designed and developed over 150 great web designs over the last 10 years (plus hundreds of other sample designs).  She is clearly expert in her field – as is our junior designer, Dana Bryson, who joined Bear Web Design in 2010. Yet when we attend a design meeting with a new client we approach every design the same – analysis, research, business direction, and business and marketing models of the client. Those steps really help establish a great design plan, ensuring that it is never just “our opinion” that directs these meetings.

I am sure many small business owners have ended up with what they thought was a great looking website that 6 months down the track was deemed as non-functional. (or basically not working for them). If you have ever been involved in a web design project and you have been told “Don’t worry – our designer knows exactly what you need” – you probably need to REALLY WORRY!

Without a strong analysis of your business, how on earth can that designer really know what your business is about and what specific outcomes you are looking for with your website?  Pre-selecting a website template is a great example of how a website that only looks good on the surface is simply not the best option (because in all probability that template was never built for that client’s business in the first place).

Analysis – Starts in The Sales Cycle!

It is much more difficult for me to produce a proposal for a client without having the entire web project understood. The only way to understand a website development project is to have a full analysis of the business and marketing models of the client. There is no other way to do this but to ask questions and do research — including research on the client’s existing site and also similar sites in their industry. So when we have produced a proposal we have a complete timeline and pathway to designing our client’s new website. We understand the client’s business models and we understand the outcomes the client is looking for.

Design Meetings Focus On details

When we commence our design meeting we are really focusing our design on the details with a primary focus on the look and feel of the website. We must leave this design meeting with clear direction. To help show the techniques we use to accomplish this,  here is our standard agenda we use to help us really focus in on the details (with some comments to explain each area)…

  • Introduction – Specific Aim of Meeting – Identifying Look & Feel of Website(s)
  • Client’s Mission Statement – Primary Business & Marketing Models
  • Slogans – Logos – Identifying Demographics and Customer Base
  • Design Discussion – Website Look – Site Functionality – Web Site Areas
  • Color, Images (Photos), Logos, Font Style, Menus, Graphic Techniques
  • Additional Extensions, Components & Modules and any integrating 3rd Party Software
  • Social Media integration and interaction as well as the website interaction
  • Review of current website (likes, dislikes) and good industry examples (that we can learn from)…

Additional Questions – Next Step(s)

At the completion of the design meeting we have really established all the necessary information and direction for our designers to be able to produce design samples for our client. We do not actually start building the website until the client has signed off on the design through this process. Our designers then create and post  3-5 unique design samples in .jpg image format, which are the exact replica and size of a normal website.  This saves time and money in deciding the final design. To design the site and then change the design after development has begun would be inefficient and extremely costly.

Once the client has selected the final design we are ready to move forward with the actual web development. To a very large extent the success of the website has already been established and — don’t be mistaken — it has been established with analysis, research, communication & collaboration, and of course a great web designer!

Writing A Great Blog – The Process

Writing a great blog can be fun.  That doesn’t mean that it is easy.  Writing takes effort.  But if you are writing about your passion and you know your subject, then process becomes the key.   Though this topic is not particullary exciting, it is very important!

Your Environment:  Peter and I were talking about blogging recently.  He has a great approach.  Peter gets up early every Sunday morning.  And while it is still quiet, he sits in his favorite spot, with his coffee and writes his blog.  Though that is not my habit, I like it and intend to adopt it. 

 

Your Objective:  Every blog has a purpose.  So state your purpose.  In your posts, offer insights, information and actions.  Make sure that they are clear, to the point and support your blog’s objective.

 

Your Plan:  

Having a plan will help you stay on target and on point.  In a perfect world, I would have a measurable goal defined for the year.  Operating from a quarterly plan works best for me. 

So I use the following steps as my process:

  • State the purpose of my blog
  • Develop a communication goal for the year
  • Develop and state a theme for each quarter (this is where it starts to get easy)
  • Then my topics (usually three) flow from the theme of the quarter
  • And individual posts are written to illustrate the topics

Using this post as an example, the topic could be “Writing A Great Blog.”  And my posts would be.

  • “Writing in The Best Environment”
  • “What’s Your Purpose?”
  • “What’s Your Plan?”
  • “What’s your Process?”

 

At the end of each post, I always preview the next.  It’s worked in television for years.  So why not use it here?

 

Your Process – There is a “fast and furious” vs. “deliberate” debate.  I have used both methods.  “Fast and furious” is the sit down and knock it out approach.  “Deliberate” involves writing, waiting, editing, and then posting.  I prefer the product that comes from the “deliberate” approach.  However, time and circumstances rule the day.  So here are some things to remember when you are writing:

  • You have 7 seconds to grab the reader’s attention
  • On screen, readers scan – so make your post easy to scan
  • Use lists or bullet points
  • Highlight headings
  • Ask questions
  • Use short sentences (getting to the point has a great impact)

 

There are three final things to remember…length, content and originality. 

 

Length – If you are hoping to be found through a Google search, then the length of your post is important.  There are directories that will not consider your post unless it exceeds 400 words.

 

Content – Search engines, like Google and Bing, are in business to provide the best results for a query.  They are continuously refining their algorithmls to ensure that the content of a blog matches its title.   If your content doesn’t support your title (stated purpose), your post will be discounted.

 

Originality – Copying material from other posts does not work!  Those pesky Google algorithms only recognize and credit the original post.  So if you copy and paste, you are just wasting your time.  Linking to an article is a much better approach.

 

Next time we will delve into techniques.  It’s a great topic,  I’m looking forward to doing a little research and writing my next blog post.

 

By the way, I would love to hear from you.  So if you have any questions, please send them in.  If I don’t have the answer, I’ll find it for you.  Writing great blogs is my passion!  What’s yours?

Is Your Website A Part Of Your Team?

Over the last few years I have really become very aware of the important connection between a website owner and their website. The arrival of Content Management Systems has provided website owners with the opportunity to update their websites directly and in my opinion (and most importantly) allows the website owner to be an active participant in the process.

And, I might add, not every website owner understands or view the website from this point of view, at least not initially. But make no mistake about your website – it is a part of the team and it is going to play an active role in your company’s success.

In the old days (first generation – or Web 1.0), websites were seen as electronic brochures to a large extent. You were really taking the marketing and sales brochure of your organization and placing it online. Based on past experience – and also by the process through which websites were primarily managed back then – creating and launching a website was a “one time” event, with the website going live and then “great – I don’t have deal with that for another few years”. Your connection to any updates to the website were through your webmaster. Generally to pay a webmaster to update your website was costly and quite often not very timely – so this only reinforced the view of a one-time setup process of a website….

Roll forward to Web 2.0 and websites have now become a much more active part of the operations of a company (including the marketing, sales, and operations). The basis of a glorified brochure sitting online is becoming a thing of the past, and content management systems have become the norm. Your website is now a key player within your corporate team. Here are just a few of the roles websites now play:

1. First impression of your company for a prospective customer. (Marketing)
2. Introduction information about your company and key staff.(Marketing)
3. Descriptions of services and products that your company sells. (Marketing & Sales)
4. Key contact information, including directions to your office, e-mails & phone numbers. (Marketing & Sales)
5. Inquiry forms that entice a prospect to send a sales inquiry, as well as Social Media to engage your customers and web visitors. (Marketing & Sales)
6. Online Content, blogs, e-NEWS, photos and multimedia (Operational & Marketing)
7. Online Shops and e-Commerce (Marketing & Sales)
8. Subscriptions, registration login and customer portals (Operational)
9. Customer forms and documents (Operational & Sales)
10. 3rd Party add-on products such as Real Estate IDX (Operational & Marketing)

These items should really highlight the roles a website can provide to your company. And like any other team member, the website and its results should be actively included in periodical staff meetings. For every organization to be able to maximize the use of their website, this team member must be given high consideration!

So take the time to consider your website’s role within your organization. Starting with the education of staff members who learn how to update and manage content (and become responsible for it). Expand your knowledge of website statistics (so you can track and measure your success) and make these results a part of your corporate reviews and analysis. Call your website “Wilbur” if you have to – but be sure to create a culture where your website is an absolute part of your team!

Username Overload (No More!)

At the start of 2012 we were requested by a client to change their Online Store login requirement from “Username” to “e-mail” so that it would be easier for the client to be able to sign in (or reset their password) without having to remember their username (no one ever forgets their e-mail!).

It was a timely request. I had been talking with Vicki about a new login process called “Social Login” or specifically the area we were starting to implement  – “Facebook Connect” – that would allow a user to come to your website (or online store) and use their Facebook login information to log into the website and then be able to return with ease any time in the future with their Facebook login. 

Fascinating stuff hey? (You can see why I am so excited about the upcoming Mt. Juliet Chamber’s Toast of Tennessee this Saturday when my whole world evolves around things like username and logins!)

But I have to say this is really a great shift that everyone will start to see shortly and benefit from.  One of the many great things about the Joomla world that we work in is that it is always on the pulse of current technologies and this was no exception.  After co-ercing Vicki into customizing our first client’s site from the username to e-mail (which meant changing quite a few files and was messy) – we discovered a great Joomla extension called “Email as Username” .

Combining this with the use of Facebook Connect we have quite quickly created a new standard for our client base that helps supports all aspects of user website interactions – posting comments, updating events, blogs, news or photos, buying product (and even coming back to buy more products –which every website owner loves).

And the icing on the cake with Social Login is that it is based on the profile that Facebook (or Google or Yahoo) forces you to setup – we get your name and photo (and other relevant demographic information) when you engage in our websites.  Web visitors never forget their e-mail and in particular their Facebook password (Could you imagine?) – so instead of “Username Overload” we see a future of people flying in and out of their favorite websites with website owners getting the full value of client engagement!

Facebook Spends One Billion Dollars – Why?

Most likely no matter what your interest in Social media you would have heard of the recent purchase of Instagram by Facebook. I suspect the biggest reason we all heard about it was the actual buying price – one billion dollars (Somehow I could imagine Dr. Evil stating that price!).

What is Instagram? – Here is their explanation taken from their home page:

“Snap a picture, choose a filter to transform its look and feel, then post to Instagram.  Share to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr too – it’s as easy as pie. It’s photo sharing, reinvented.”

Instagram has no reported income to date but it has become very popular very quickly – approximately 15 million users since its inception in 2010. Without being a user of this product, I believe the filtering options feature is one of the big reasons it is so popular – helping make a digital photo taken on a mobile device look better.  It offers filters (black and white, sepia toning, etc.) that you select once you have taken the photo to improve (and finalize) the shot.  Then it’s ready to share.

So back to our big question – Why did Facebook buy this?

The answer I believe is simple – we now communicate thru photos.

On average we design around 30 new custom websites each year and this year we have really seen the demand go up for slideshows, photo galleries, and photo integration into articles. The story and message is often told now thru a photo (and not just words).  And those photos help us interpret the story in a very different way than when we read and, most importantly, in a much quicker fashion.

It is very possible that that future story or message will be sent directly from the field as a finished product – to a website or social media site. And this is where I hear a very loud message from Facebook’s purchase –“We believe this is how people will communicate in the future”….

In 2010 I was visiting Australia and was sending my fiancé Vicki Payne photos of my trip from my Blackberry.  This was highlighted as I spent a day in Sydney including walking across the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  The actual reason I was not using a camera was for convenience and time – I could take the photo – add some “inspiring caption” – and SEND. At the time I did think it was rather magic in particular sending photos directly from the Sydney Harbor Bridge as I was experiencing the views.

But you are probably wondering how good the photos were? Were they keepers or did they have a 5 minute inbox life span?  No doubt a tool that would clean up the photo at the point it was shot and then allow me to select an appropriate filter or theme and send it to my loved ones, my commercial website or social media may truly make a keeper.

So why did Facebook spend one billion dollars on buying Instragram?

Maybe they just recognized the evolution of that next “Kodak Moment”!

Blogging with Easy Blog!

Hi – this is my first blog in Easy Blog that is automatically updating our Facebook Account!

Easyblog also updates Twitter, Linked in and other social media as well!

Have a great day!

Peter

What’s in Your Color Wheel?

One of my favorite lines in the movie The Blind Side is when Sandra Bullock (referring to UT Orange) says, “But I will not wear that gaudy orange, I will not. It is not in my color wheel and I’m not gonna wear it.” And that gets me thinking about web design.

color wheelMost people, male and female, have a general idea of what’s in their “color wheel” – what their favorite colors are, whether they are comfortable pairing, say, a purple blazer over emerald green slacks, or whether they are soothed by the sight of a closet full of khaki and blue. The same goes for interior decorating, the color of our cars, the television ads that catch our eye… all sorts of things. The bottom line is that, generally, we pay more attention than we know to color and style.

But websites haven’t been around nearly as long as those other things, and I’ve noticed that sometimes people can’t define exactly what it is they like about certain websites. Is it the color scheme that’s most attractive, or the “flow” and ease of use, or the crisp-and-clean lines, or a feeling of excitement that there’s a lot of information and interactivity going on here?

As a website designer, I ask clients to provide a few examples of websites they like. Sometimes they will supply distinct details of what sort of look they want — color, type of background, location of logo and other features — but I’ve also noticed that sometimes it’s hard to define what it is you love about certain sites (and, equally important, what drives you away from other sites).

If you are thinking about getting a new website, or upgrading an existing one, it’s a good idea to do a little analysis on the sites you visit frequently, or ones that have caught your attention. Even if one of your favorite websites is for a restaurant, and your business is something entirely different, ask yourself what it is you like about the site.

Some things to pay attention to include color, depth (a flat, clean look vs. 3-D and layered), squared or rounded corners and borders, visually vibrant or information-rich, even what kind of background is behind the site (you might prefer a colorful and interesting background – or you might not want to distract your site’s visitors from the content).

Of course, there will be many other questions to be asked and analysis to be done before we design and build your new website… but the clearer you are about what you want and don’t want, the closer we will be to creating a site you will absolutely love!

And, incidentally, if you happen to like UT orange, we have no objections at all to using it in your website.

Blog, Blogger, Blogging – What’s All The Fuss About?

So Blogging…

what’s all the fuss about?  Does social media really level the playing field for small business?

As I am writing this post, there are 2,503, 650,356,302,700 internet users.  And according to http://www.worldometers.info/, that number is increasing at a rate of approximately 1 user per second.  With that information, all I can say is, if you want access to the eyes and ears of millions of consumers, just Blog!

Am I passionate on this subject?  You bet I am.  Since the seismic shift to social media, small businesses have taken a place at the table with fortune 500 companies.  How else and where else could that happen?  When used effectively, blogging gives small businesses a voice that can be heard above the sound of high dollar advertising.  It offers worldwide exposure at a nominal expense and makes blogging one of the best marketing tools available for any business.

 

What is a Blog?

A blog is made up of a series of blog posts; much like a diary or journal is made up of a series of entries.  The difference of course is that with a business blog, your intention is to measure success.  And that means you need a goal and a plan.

Maybe you have a goal to increase sales by a certain percentage.  You could focus a series of posts on a product or service, its features, benefits and possible uses.  Testimonials are always great.

A really successful blog actually attracts advertisers.  That means, if you can gain a large readership you can add a little to your bottom line by allowing companies to place their logos and links on your blog.  What a happy thought!

 

How do you write a blog?

Of course there has to be a process for this; which may sound dry, but I promise it won’t be.  The number one thing to remember is just to do it and keep it up.  Set a regular schedule and be dogged about meeting it.  If you know your topic (product, service, solution) and you are passionate about it, then you are 80 percent there.  Now you know, there’s no need to make a fuss…just blog.

Our next post will be about writing content in a way that it can be found by the readers (a.k.a. people) you are targeting.

Get started now.  If you get stuck, just let me know.  I am here to help!

What is Functionality?

As a designer I refer to functionality on a daily basis. I truly believe in having a well designed website, however, if it doesn’t have functionality it is just a pretty image on a computer screen.

SOO.. Let’s define functionality.

Functionality is defined in the dictionary as the “quality or state of being functional.”

Functional is defined as being “used to contribute to the development or maintenance of a larger whole.”

A Function can be described as a purposeful action.

Ask yourself this question, “What should be my website’s purpose be?”

Your answer should be that you want to reach your audience efficiently and market your company/organization well.

To be able to bring that purpose into fruition there needs to be an understanding that a well designed website is more than exciting colors and graphics.  It is a high-level dynamic mixture of a strong content management system with branding, color schemes, composition, clean design, meaningful and easy to update extensions, and good content. That mixture is used to achieve a website that is designed well because of it’s level of functionality and of course some good aesthetics.

You see there are a lot of templates site and graphic designers out there that can provide a image that looks dynamic, but in the end it flops.  We make sure that behind the scenes it is working for you … not against you. Each client that we work with is a customized experience. We review the needed functions and pick the right extensions and design elements to achieve their marketing purpose.

At Bear Web Design we use slide shows, photo galleries, blogs, action buttons, search modules, calendars, forms, Google maps, social media integration, multi-level menu systems, video players, and all sorts of other extensions that have to be integrated into the overall design to be the “larger whole” – to achieve that sought after purpose. (Do you see the functionality ooozzzing out!?)

Hopefully you can see that we take web design seriously and design websites that are more than just a image on a screen, but a functional marketing tool that can grow as your company grows.


It is not “Intent” it is “Content” that Google Ranks You On!

As we enter a new year and many of our clients are reviewing their websites and marketing plans for 2012 I have found myself repeating this line above in both client and prospect meetings:

It is not “Intent” it is “Content” that Google Ranks your website on.

This seems to strike a chord and really helps website owners and managers realize that what your business is about only matches up and gets good results with Google Search Engine Rankings when your website has content that supports, explains and elaborates on that. This does not just mean a well written two paragraphs about your business.  (That’s a start).

You really have two types of core content that you should focus on. One is your static content – such as your About Us, Services & Products you provide, Team Members and Business Location (and coverage range) but the other form of content that is really critical is ‘expert’ content that comes in the form of a Blog.

When you think about it you have two distinct visitors coming to your website – the human that will rate their visit to your website based on design and look of the site, navigation and ease to get to important information, the clarification of your expertise and ultimately the action and engagement they participate on your website.

The other visitor is a robot (Search Engines) that reviews your content (and really can’t rank the human elements mentioned about) but can map and record every piece of content you have and ultimately establish what is the specific core content elements to your website and then match them up to Search Engine key phrases and key words (and ultimately prospects searching for services and business on the web).

This year we have introduced a great extension called Easy Blog as a primary content tool to help clients really develop that expert content.  Easy Blog is “easy” to use and has the capability of automatically updating social media (which is an outstanding feature).   And what I really like in this focus is when you blog on your website you are the primary beneficiary (your website gets better SEO rankings, you get more visitors, you prove your expertise).  And being able to update social media directly is incredibly efficient.

We are generally incorporating Easy Blog into new development’s  but are also encouraging all our clients to consider this to be part of their internet marketing focus for 2012. We primarily add a small portion of the blog to the home page (so visitors can immediately start to get a feel for your expertise and personality). Over the last month we have seen clients incorporate individual or team blogs and the best testimony I have received back to date is a client who had a person respond specifically to a blog (that was found on Google) and ultimately became a customer.

Generally it is not a large investment to do this – but it is a definite team effort with both the client and our team. (The client is the expert in their respective fields and getting them to share that expertise in a sustainable blog is the key!).

We will also be shortly announcing our Spring Blogging Class (our very first) so be watching for that as we all work together to bring more successful outcomes to your website.

Cheers,

Peter

Contact

Bear Web Design
2622 Bluefield Avenue
Nashville, TN 37214
(615) 504-6845

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