Jan 19

Mobile Web Development with jQuery Mobile

Last night the Tampa Bay Mobile Development Meetup hosted a presentation on jQuery Mobile with speaker Raymond Camden. The presentation was given online but the group met at K-Force in Tampa and participated remotely.

JQuery Mobile is a fairly new HTML5-based user interface system that aims to simplify the process of designing and developing mobile websites and mobile apps for all popular devices. While it’s still a relatively new platform and has some slight performance issues to straighten out, all in all it is a very promising system.

One important point that was made, which was not specific to jQuery Mobile but rather about mobile websites in general was that redirecting mobile users to a mobile version of your website without offering any way for them to exit the mobile view and return to your main website is not a very user-friendly approach. In fact, it may make most sense to simply have a banner at the top of your main website that will appear for mobile users, giving them the option to view the mobile version of the website rather than just automatically redirecting them.

Anyway, overall it was a good presentation and a nice opportunity to expand our knowledge of ways to help our clients take their online business mobile in a streamlined way.

Jan 17

Mobile Website Design: Fad or Necessity?

A few posts back we talked about some advantages of redoing your website.  Today we’re going to look at mobile websites and answer the question:

“Do you really need a mobile website?”

The number of wireless subscribers in the U.S. is now estimated at around 322.9 million.   More importantly, data usage–an indicator that people are using their phones for web-related activity–has seen an 111% increase from the same period a year earlier.  (But don’t take my word for it, just spend some time driving around Tampa, Florida and it will become all too clear that mobile usage is on the rise!  Put down the phone and drive already, right?)

Is your website getting a significant amount of mobile traffic?

An easy way to find out is by setting up a Google Analytics account, which among other things shows you the percentage of your traffic that comes from mobile devices.  We can help you with this if you want to save time or need a crash course on how the analytics system works.

If you discover that you are getting a lot of traffic from mobile devices, or even if you currently aren’t but realize that in the future that’s bound to change, you need to ask yourself:

Is my current website mobile-friendly?

There are a few things to consider when answering this question.  First, how does the site look on a smart phone?  Does it “make sense” so to speak?  Is it easy or hard to navigate through the pages?  Is there a lot of Flash, which won’t even show up on most devices, including iPhones.  Second, what about the content?  Mobile users often come to your site specifically to do something rather quickly, such as find your phone number or get driving directions, look at your menu or make a quick purchase.  You may have content that works for people on PCs and laptops, but is generally irrelevant to mobile users.

A mobile version of your site or a separate mobile website?

Depends.  Some sites lend themselves well to mobile-versioning, which may include showing mobile users a slightly different design and hiding or revealing content depending on the type of device detected when a visitor accesses your site.  In other instances it may be less time consuming and smartest to just create a simple mobile version of your site to include the basic tasks mobile visitors may be interested in.

If you have a smart phone with a QR Reader app handy, scan the code below for an example of our own mobile website:

Scan for J Allan Studios Mobile Website

Bottom line, mobile is here to stay.  It’s definitely not a fad.  If your site is currently working well on mobile devices, you may not need to change a thing.  If that’s the case you’re probably better served putting your time and resources into some other pursuit, rather than worrying about mobile websites.  However, if you feel there’s room for improvement, give us a shout to discuss some easy, cost-effective mobile website solutions.

Jan 16

Website: Tampa Great for New Businesses

According to website Tampa a great place for new businesses.

According to Kiplinger website Tampa is a great city for new businesses. Having started a web design and marketing firm in Tampa myself, I would have to agree. According to Kiplinger:

Local government is particularly business-friendly, promising tax credits to businesses that locate in certain areas or work in one of a number of high-demand industries… Local nonprofits, such as the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, connect entrepreneurs with mentors and organize frequent conferences and networking events. Tampa’s small-business owners also benefit from the state’s lack of personal income tax and 5.5% corporate income tax. The city is a key player in the Startup America Partnership, a national initiative that has funneled more than $730 million to new businesses in Florida and six other states.

See the full article here

The article mentions wufoo.com, a website form creation company that is based in Tampa. There are countless other great businesses that have started in Tampa.  Both online ventures and brick and mortar businesses call Tampa home.  A good example is OSI Restaurant Partners, which owns Outback Steakhouse.

As a company that specializes in Tampa website design and web development, it’s great to be located in a place so conducive to start-ups. We really enjoy working with new businesses. We like helping them with web design, marketing, branding and overall marketing strategy. It’s rewarding to work with businesses that have real potential and then watch them grow and succeed over the years.

Viva Tampa Bay!

Jan 15

New Year, New Website Design

New Website Design!

Getting a new website can be a daunting task.  We know, we just redid our own website design and corporate identity.  However, as much work as the process involves, it really gives you a great opportunity to reassess what is and what is not working.

We’ve been doing website design and development in the Tampa Bay, Florida area for the past 7 years.  When we first started, things like content management systems, css best practices, and search engine optimization were fairly new concepts.  We found a system called DotNetNuke, which at the time offered our clients some real advantages that you couldn’t find with many other platforms.  We liked it, maybe a little too much in retrospect, and put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak.

Now, years later, DotNetNuke has been eclipsed by other content management systems in… well, basically all categories.  It is consistently slower, harder to use, and less search engine friendly than other systems, like Joomla, Drupal, and, our new personal favorite, WordPress.

After finally getting unstuck from the DotNetNuke website design rut that we’ve been in for far too long, we’ve come to embrace and excel in WordPress website development.  Our new website is in WordPress and we are now almost exclusively offering websites to clients here in the Tampa Bay Area in WordPress.

Why WordPress Website Design?

Simple, it’s faster, easiest for our clients to use, the most affordable to implement, and the best for search engines.

For example, we just redid a client’s website in WordPress and it now gets solid A scores from GTMetrix, a website that shows you how fast and efficiently your site loads, a crucial factor for search engine ranking (click here to see the report).   Not only that but it now takes them less than 5 minutes to log in and create a new page or blog post.  It’s super easy, and even kinda fun.  Plus there’s a great SEO plugin we use that walks them through optimizing new pages and posts for the search engines.  All in all, it’s a win.

So if you’re considering a new website design, please keep two things in mind.  First, it is a great opportunity to make sure you are doing things the right way, which will only help you in the long run.  Second, go with WordPress, you won’t be disappointed.  Contact us today if you’d like to discuss redoing your website design.

Dec 03

What can a colander tell us about web design?

The other day my wife brought home a fancy Michael Graves stainless steel colander she purchased to replace our our old plastic one that had been melted by… ahem, someone while cooking dinner the night before.  I have to admit, the colander looked really cool and definitely made a good first impression.

What can this colander tell us about good web design?

A week or so later, I needed to strain some steamed broccoli for a dish I was making.  After emptying the cooked broccoli into the new colander and letting it sit for a few minutes in the sink, I picked it up and poured the broccoli into a bowl of other ingredients I was mixing together.  The colander had a nice feel to it and the broccoli slid smoothly out — along with about a cup of water!

Upon further inspection I realized that the design of the colander, while definitely sleek and stylish, left an area at the bottom where a good deal of water pools rather than draining.

This is unacceptable.

The main purpose — the only purpose — of a colander is to drain liquid from something solid.  I could have forgiven a colander that was too heavy or one that had handles that were too small. But a colander that failed to do the primary thing it was purchased to do is just unforgivable, no matter how cool it looks.

So what does this have to do with web design?

Simple. Having a cool-looking website is only worthwhile if the site actually succeeds at doing the thing you want it to do, which is to convert your visitors into customers (or fans, subscribers, etc.). If it fails to do that, if the design inhibits that from happening, if all the creative bells and whistles actually interfere with what you want your visitor to do, then the company who created your site has done you a serious disservice.

And since your website is often directly linked to your livelihood, it’s infinitely less forgivable than the worthless “designer” colander sitting in my recycle bin.


Nov 30

The new project triangle of marketing and web development

Posted by Mandy Minor, marketing strategist and copywriter   I’m sure you’re familiar with the project triangle: fast, cheap, or good, where you have to pick two.  It’s fairly ubiquitous; heck, it even hung in Stump’s Supper Club when I worked there in college.

Project Triangle

But with good marketing and web development projects the conversation should be about rushed, inexpensive, and perfect instead.

Fast vs. rushed: All good marketers will get you what you need as fast as they can.  But if you need it yesterday, that’s an issue of rush services.

Cheap vs. inexpensive: Cheap isn’t a word you want associated with your marketing and web development.  But inexpensive – that’s different!  We all want what we need to be inexpensive.

Good vs. perfect: Again, good marketers and web developers will deliver good work all the time.  Perfect, on the other hand, takes your project to a higher level and consequently requires a higher level of service.

So there you have it, the new project triangle of marketing and web development – and graphic design, copywriting, resumes, and all other professional creative services.  Rushed, inexpensive, or perfect.  Which two are most important to you?

Sep 01

Working with web designers

Posted by Mandy Minor, marketing strategist and copywriter   A friend posted the webpage below on his Facebook page and I couldn’t resist using it as fodder for a blog post.  It’s called “If Architects Had to Work Like Web Designers,” and as you might imagine it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at the web project process.

We love our clients and love the work we do.  And we know there’s no way for anyone other than a web developer to know what goes into web development.  But I think it’s safe to say that it’s a fair bit more complicated than most clients know.

So, check out this webpage and see what many web developers wish they could say out loud.

Apr 01

Tickle me SEO

SEO is hot, smokin’, on fire.  Everybody wants it, even if they don’t know exactly what it is or how to do it.  It’s coveted almost as much as Tickle Me Elmo was a few Christmases back – we’ll call it Tickle Me SEO.

Thing is, SEO is just another marketing tactic.  It’s not a strategy or plan, but an actionable pursuit that you can – but don’t have to – use as part of your larger marketing strategy.  So when companies rush to jump on the SEO bandwagon before evaluating if SEO really belongs as part of their marketing strategy, they’re not doing themselves any favors and may be wasting money.

Before you pump oodles of cash into your website and press releases getting them “optimized,” follow this list of action items to make sure you’ll get the best of what SEO has to offer.

1. Know the purpose and goals of your online marketing.  This means spending some time determining what you want your website to do for you and what level of return would deem the SEO a success.  After all, if you don’t know where you want to go, how will you ever get there?

2. Know your audience, what makes them respond and take action (also known as psychographics in Big Words Land).  You may know that women between the ages of 18 and 24 want your product or service, but those women have a few different reasons for buying.  Only if you know those reasons can you appeal to them.

3. Create relevant content.  You need your website or press release to pique interest and motivate people to take action.  What does this is information, not flashy ads and declarations of how many years you’ve been in business.

4. Present your content well.  If you have a pot of gold on your website but it’s buried in a fourth-tier page, no one will take the time to find it.  People want to find what they’re looking for with as little effort as possible, so make sure your site delivers that.  If you need to bring in a navigation expert, do it – the investment is well worth it.  This step also means designing and arranging your site for your visitors, not the search engines.  People first, machines second – it’s the people who buy!

5. Test it out.  Have employees, clients, and friends spend some time on your website or read your press release.  Take their questions and comments to heart, because if they’re wondering something you can bet other people will too.

After you’ve built and tested an easy-to-use site with lots of great content you’re ready to optimize – if you even need to at all.  And now you know you’ll get a great ROI instead of just guessing and hoping like those poor souls who stood in line for hours to get a doll!

Mar 01

No, most folks shouldn’t do their own design. Here’s why.

In a recent post titled Why aren’t you (really) good at graphic design? Seth Godin discusses why good design “Is as important as driving. But easier to learn and do, and requiring less talent.”

He throws designers a bone with, “…hire the very best in the world when you need a breakthrough. But you don’t have to pay for better-than-mediocre design. You can do it yourself.”

We have a rebuttal.  And we will preface it with a clear admission that we know we have nowhere near Seth’s level of acumen or expertise.  But we do have good heads on our shoulders and have been doing quite well for our clients and ourselves for many years now, so we feel we have a right to chime in.

Our sensitive side wants to go on about how his post “relegates design to an ultimately worthless skill because anyone could conceivably learn to do it” and thank Seth for setting us back even further as we try to earn graphic design the respect awarded long-standing practices.

Instead we will focus on the positive.  What Seth says is true but, using that same rational, you could make your own clothes, or paint your own car, or put a new roof on your house, or… well, you get the point.

What it comes down to is that if you really want to succeed, you should do what you do best and hire out the rest.  We didn’t invent this concept, but it makes sense and what’s more, it works.  You get more from your time and energies, and avoid a lot of frustration.

Most people really can’t create attention-grabbing design, or craft effective copy, or build a solid marketing plan, and that’s okay.  There are people who can do that for you.  It’s not necessary to take a DIY approach to every last aspect of your business.  Instead, exploit your strengths and get help with the rest.

Jan 30

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Or, a tale of two logos.

Two recent news items about companies that changed their brand identity got us thinking about the necessity of such changes.

One is Pepsi’s new logo.  Greeted with some admiration but mostly angry backlash over the million-dollar budget that produced a logo only slightly different than its predecessor, the new logo begs the question, Was this necessary?

The other is the new Tropicana packaging, which was also met with dismay by consumers and industry folks alike.

Interestingly, both of these projects were done by Arnell Group, and we’re really curious to know one thing: Did they ask Pepsi and Tropicana customers if they wanted a brand redesign?

To our thinking, both new product identities look generified and are in no way improvements over what had been in use for years.  But it doesn’t matter what we think, as design professionals.  What matters is what we think as customers – us and the millions of other Pepsi and Tropicana customers.  And we think Arnell Group didn’t bother to find out.

All too often companies want to change their look, get a new website, or update their logo “just because.”  Because they’re tired of looking at it.  Because their competition did.  Or because their ad agency suggested it.

But none of these are good reasons.  And in fact there is only one good reason to undertake such a task: Because your customers want it.

We’re all guilty of putting the cart before the horse and charging down Marketing Lane without first getting the input and approval of our customers.  Lucky for us smaller businesses such moves are rarely disastrous, because we can easily change back and don’t have a client base of millions to potentially piss off.  And make no mistake, people are emotionally invested in their favorite brands and get mighty pissed off about changes to them!

Regardless, now is a good time to re-learn the lessons of “look before you leap” and “if it’s not broken don’t’ fix it.”  And lucky for us, we can learn these lesson vicariously through Pepsi and Tropicana, rather than first-hand.