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Wireframing: Yes, You Can! (And Should)

5 Oct

The Blueprint for Web Success

designer drawing website development wireframe

bradley1

Guest Contributor:
Bradley Williamson, Interactive Developer

In putting together a new website or app, there are many business decisions to be made along the way. Sometimes businesses are tempted by change for the sake of change, adding in tech just because it’s cool, or a “modern” design just because it’s trendy.

But if your website is neither functional nor user-friendly, it’s not going to increase sales, traffic, or conversions. Though there is a time and a place for focusing on fanciful designs and flashing animations, the heart and soul of your web user experience is what matters, and wireframing can begin to solidify that. Build from a blueprint using these tips, and your website will be fleshed out with purposeful simplicity.

Wireframing 101

A wireframe is a basic, visual concept of a user interface that defines key user goals and content hierarchy. Often, they’re unrefined sketches or concepts made on grid paper, whiteboards, desktop programs, and other web-based tools. There is no perfect way to perform this vital step.

Wireframes are done with “block diagrams” to house content.

Wireframes are done with “block diagrams” to house content.

 

Acting as a “blueprint,” wireframes serve as the bones of your design and development processes. Wireframing should come after discovery and before getting into the nitty-gritty details of design.

Wireframe concepts are meant to be thoughtful, fast and fluid, representing a kind of visual brainstorm for internal and external teams. They enrich the conversation around how users will engage with your interface. Wireframes help answer those brewing questions of functionality by taking the abstract ideas from the planning phase and arranging them meaningfully.

Talking with a “Wiry” Voice

Wireframes are often developed in black and white; it’s not the time for discussing color palettes, font choices, imagery, and even branding. The discussion around wires includes:
Content: deciding what should and shouldn’t be displayed
Information hierarchy: arranging that content meaningfully
Functionality: investigating potential action-oriented components
Structure: interconnecting all parts to work seamlessly together
Behavior: evaluating how the user is impacted in their product experience

Wireframing is a time-saver in the long-term, keeping usability headaches or graphical head-scratchers down the road at bay. In other words, you’ll know very early what’s going on your B2B site, where it’s going, and why it’s important. By taking the time to work through wireframes, it’s much easier to throw out large blocks of content and alter key sections, instead of having to change the design concept down the road.

Wiring in the Right People

User interface and user experience designers or information architects are primarily responsible for the creation of wireframes by balancing the larger goals against the user’s needs. During this time, wireframing can inspire the creative and development processes. Developers and designers will use the wires to reduce the learning curve around site implementations and enhancements. Internal project managers assess the wires to ensure the process is within scope and strategy.

Down to the Wire: Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever jumped into a website and realized it was challenging to navigate, or been part of a website development project that went awry, a wireframe should become your new best friend. The process of wireframing a website is a tried and true method to help tackle the challenges for your B2B website.

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3 Reasons to Renovate Your Website (And 3 Sites That Are Getting It Right)

18 May

An Outdated Website May Have Bigger Consequences Than You Think

web design

ChrisGuest Contributor:
Chris McCutcheon, Interactive Manager

Websites. We see and interact with them every day, and it seems there is one for just about everything. As an interactive manager at ER Marketing, I’ve seen it all when it comes to websites—the good, the bad, and the oh-so-ugly.

Not too long ago I had someone ask me to look at their website. I pulled it up on my phone and nothing showed up. Thinking it was a little strange, I waited until I got home and found it on my iPad. Still nothing. I knew then that something was definitely going on with this site. She said it was new, so why wouldn’t it come up? Turned out the entire site had been done in Flash, which I discovered after I pulled it up on my laptop. She was extremely disappointed and had no idea the person she hired to do her website built it using old technology.

So, ask yourself a few questions about your own website. Does it look good on mobile? Is the site built in Flash? Still using clipart from 1999? Still relying on misguided keyword stuffing? Is it supporting your brand? Unless it’s been updated recently, it might be time to rethink your website.

Here are 3 reasons why it may be time to renovate your website:

1. It’s not mobile friendly.

  • Two-thirds (64%) of adults own a smartphone, which means if your site doesn’t render properly, or delivers a bad user experience, potential customers may go elsewhere.
  • Google will ding you. They announced last year that sites will be penalized in the rankings if they aren’t mobile friendly. According to research by online ad network Chitika, Google page one results enjoy a whopping 95% of all search traffic, while 91% of searchers never reach page two.

2. Unknown security vulnerabilities.

  • Security flaws affecting an older website are much more likely, as these sites rely on older technology.
  • Even if you might not have confidential information you are worried about being stolen, there are other reasons you should be concerned, like letting unfiltered data insert into your database. This can cause a high risk of SQL Injection, which leads to your site being hacked—and unwanted links being injected into your site.
  • If you use any kind of third-party software—meaning your IT department didn’t code it—you must make sure it is always up-to-date. Any outdated software with security flaws can cause your site to be at risk.

3. High page abandonment rate.

  • Many older sites take forever to load. Sure, you may love the large images and the huge slideshow, but it’s probably making your site lag. 47% of consumers expect a webpage to load in 2 seconds or less, and 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. [1] Google values the length of time someone stays on your page, so if your website has a high abandonment rate, your SEO will be negatively impacted as Google puts delivering the best and most relevant content to users first and foremost above all else.
  • Poor navigation. If the user doesn’t know what to do or where to go, you are missing out simply because there isn’t any clear direction for the user.
  • Many websites fail to deliver a clear sense of what the company offers. Unless you are a well-known brand, you need to let people know who you are and what you can offer them in a way they can understand and easily access.

Here are a few sites in the building products industry to inspire you and get you thinking about your own site:

Blu Homes

  • Site is responsive and mobile friendly
  • Good user experience
  • Nice, easy to navigate design

Royal Building Products

  • Loads fairly quickly, even with a full screen slider
  • Offers a clear sense of who the company is and what they offer
  • Displays well on mobile devices

Guardian Building Products

  • Utilizes a card-style layout for chunks of content
  • Mobile friendly
  • Easy to navigate

[1] https://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time/

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SMX West Recap

22 Mar

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 8.33.19 AM

Lessons Learned from One of the Best SEM Conferences in the Industry

CoreyMorris3Guest Contributor:
Corey Morris, Digital Marketing Director

SMX West (Search Marketing Expo) is one of the premier events in the search marketing industry and is hosted yearly in a significant location for the search community—in the heart of Silicon Valley. I’ve been involved with SMX for many years. Last year, I had the opportunity to speak on technical SEO at this event. This year, I was able to catch up with colleagues, absorb as much new information as possible, and even make my first visit to Google HQ in Mountain View.

Coming into the event I anticipated several things, such as:

  • The reintroduction of the Google Dance (more on this below)
  • Industry reaction to the removal of right rail ads on Google
  • Insights and outlook on Google local search (since SMX West focused last year on details regarding the major shake-ups in the local search landscape, with local becoming much more like traditional organic search)
  • Specific details on how to harness added features and functionality in AdWords, including remarketing, customer audiences, and more
  • Seeing how the industry has grown and changed in the past year, as my focus has shifted to an integrated digital marketing model

SMX Google

Starting with the opening evening networking reception hosted by Bruce Clay, Inc., I realized that the buzz was definitely there. I’ve been to many shows in the industry (including West) several times, but this one had a different buzz about it. It seemed bigger and everyone seemed more engaged. Networking was at a different level this year, and while maybe it was just a perception due to the opportunity I had to meet a lot of great new people, I’d like to think that the industry has become more open and focused than ever before.

Key Insights from SMX West 2016

In terms of specific takeaways, I have more insights and perspectives in my notes than I can likely share, but here are some highlights:

  • Consider use of customer match remarketing in AdWords. This was rolled out last year, but most of us took a wait and see approach with this (as we do with many new Google features). Two specific case studies showed an average of 50% conversion rate with this tactic. It has been on my “To Test” list for a while, but has since moved up to a tactic to absolutely work into the remarketing mix and lead nurturing process for my clients. In basic terms, it allows you to upload your email list into AdWords and remarket to users that Google can match to their email address or Google account address.
  • A conversation that I had over a meal (that I can share) included a strong reminder to never forget that while search marketing is more widely accepted than ever before, that there are still skeptics out there (in US, Canada, and Australia…we have similar stories) based on the actions of a small minority and/or those that used shady tactics years ago. Search marketing isn’t in the silo that it used to be. Three of the six of us in our group did not come from search marketing backgrounds and are either new to the space or are working in companies providing the service as a value-add or new component (ex: printing company, PR agency)
  • Another takeaway is a great reminder to not lose sight of the basics in account structure and hierarchy in PPC. Advanced tactics and strategies are great, but you need to cut wasted spend and poor performers before scaling out into other areas.
  • The best slide that I saw in a presentation served as a simple, yet great reminder for PPC accounts:

ad-group-defnition

  • We received several very interesting insights from Google engineer, Paul Haahr, on the final day. I have a new vocab word in “shards.” The best insight from that session is that it’s rare to look at Google search results and not see an experiment. The oft-quoted stat that Google changes their algorithm over 500 times a year and the fun name associated with the Google Dance are strong reminders that nothing is done in a vacuum. We’re way beyond the days where results were somewhat static and we could see absolute ranking positions. Always be mindful that Google is changing—just like our competition is changing—and we’re (hopefully) also changing as we optimize our sites.

Google Dance

Google Dance

You may have started your reading here by scrolling down to see images of what a Google Dance looks like. Let me start with the
history lesson and detail that hopefully wasn’t missed by those that attended who are under 30. The Google Dance was agoogle-dance historical reference to the early days when Google would roll out updates to the algorithm at off-peak hours that would impact rankings and would often roll back the update (or continue a cycle of pushing out and pulling back updates). This garnered the nickname of the Google Dance from the SEO community.

Fast forward—Google started to hold an event for the SEO community (that Google refers to only as “Webmasters”) at the Googleplex in Mountain View. It was a great outreach event and stopped happening before 2010.

Maile OhyeThis was the first year that it was brought back for a VIP audience of 500 attendees at West. The whole experience felt special—food, drinks, trivia, a DJ, and even a cupcake bar. But the highlight for many was the brief return of Matt Cutts. Since he stepped away from the role of being the face of Google to many in the SEO community, it is now considered a treat when he makes an appearance. The night at Google rounded out with a great conversation that I had with Maile Ohye, a lead engineer at Google and a popular speaker at industry events—be sure to attend one of her sessions if you can, as they are very insightful.

Many items on my industry bucket list were checked off at SMX 2016 and I can’t emphasize enough the high quality of people I engaged with and both the validation of my strategies and supplement of new tactics that this event offered.

 

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ADA Website Compliance: Get Ahead Before You’re Behind

26 Feb

design

New ADA Regulations Could Affect Your Website Design Practices

Corey1Guest Contributor:
Corey Morris, Digital Marketing Director

For a long time, the only constant related to the web and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been confusion. Recent news and information floating around has caused many companies and web development firms to consider changes to website design and development practices to ensure compliance. Are we finally about to get clarity on the topic?

This topic has been discussed for years with many predictions of future actions with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and proposed amendments to ADA guidelines. For years, government organizations, some publicly traded organizations, educational institutions, and other entities have been concerned with ensuring their websites are ADA compliant. The bulk of other industries and focuses have worried only about certain usability aspects. Now, industry professionals are predicting that everyone will soon be required to comply with the ADA or face the penalties associated with breaking the law.

At this point I feel compelled to include a disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer and nothing in this post or on this site constitutes legal advice. I’m in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to rethinking how we build websites to ensure that all businesses, regardless of industry or sector are ADA compliant to the right standard.

Until now, many of us have followed the lead of Google in pushing for all image and video content to be labeled or marked up in a way that is friendly for the visually impaired by utilizing screen reading software. We have also emphasized rendering content in a user-friendly way for all sizes of screens and types of devices. And these have been great improvements—but we’re finding that they aren’t enough to meet the potential new standard.

While there has been a lot of talk and speculation about what the new standard will be and when it will be officially adopted, the consensus that I (and colleagues I’ve spoken with) have found is on WCAG 2.0 Level AA. That is a specific standard and level defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that works to define standards for the web. This level of ADA compliance would require a decent amount of work for a lot of existing websites. But when integrated into design and development processes for new websites, it won’t add too much extra effort in the long-run.

The two biggest challenges that I see for digital marketers are:

  1. Finding a way to get our sites ready for the potential April DOJ mandate
  2. Finding the budget to invest to update existing sites in a cost-effective way.

The more you read, the more uncertainty you’ll find regarding predictions for what is going to happen. Interestingly, the DOJ has chosen not to amend ADA guidelines in the past, but has taken enforcement action. Regardless of all of the speculation and confusion out there, the time is now to start considering where your web properties stand regarding ADA compliance and start determining how your organization will prepare for these new standards, whether they are officially adopted or left to be just guidelines.

References and Further Reading:

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