Not yet one month into 2018 and Google has already announced a pretty substantial Algorithm update. Simply being called “Speed Update” and it harkens back to 2010 when Google announced that page speed was a factor, but back then it was primarily speaking in terms of desktop search queries.
This new update rolling out in July, now takes a closer look at website’s mobile page speed and although it will only affect a small portion of search results it’s still a glimpse into the future of UX website design
Google’s Zhiheng Wang and Doantam Phan elaborate: “The “Speed Update,” as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.”
Wang and Phan caution website owners not to sacrifice relevance in the name of faster web pages. It stands to reason that a mobile page with a faster loading time will garner favoritism in 2018’s search results but fresh relevant content will always prevail.
There are many online tools available to test page speed such as Pingdom page speed test at our disposal, so providing lightning fast relevant content to the Google gods has never been easier.
Here at Alpine we’re ready for 2018 and all Google has in store for us, are you?
Waiting for a website to load is fun for no one. Most website visitors will not wait long if your page takes forever to load. Slow loading pages not only have an adverse effect on user experience but also on search engine ranking. If a page takes too long to load your visitors will most likely end up leaving your page for another. Google has picked up on this and will punish your page with a lower search position than a page that loads quickly. Your best bet is to shoot for a 3 second or less load time and your visitors and Google will be happy. So how do you fix this on your WordPress website? We spent some time speeding up our site and this article will explain how we did it.
Our Problem – Massive Page Size
Alpine Design’s homepage had a major loading issue. Due to an HTML5 embedded video, our page was over 70 MB in size when an average web page is just 1-3 MB. This left us with a 15 second load time. We had to get the load time down significantly but first we had to get the page size down. Our first step was uploading our video into video editing software. The length of the video was 30 seconds long to start. We know that most visitors don’t spend more than 10-12 seconds above the fold so we clipped the video to 12 seconds. Next we edited the resolution slightly and ended up with a video that was 1/8th its original size. We tested the page speed with GT Metrix and improved our load time to about 10 seconds.
Our next step was to optimize the images. Many images were much bigger than they needed to be so we installed the WordPress image compression plugin EWWW Image Optimizer. This reduced the size of all of the images on the website. Between reducing the video size and compressing the images, this left our homepage with a total size of 8 MB. That is 90% of it’s original size! Our load time dropped to 7 seconds.
Website Caching And The Road To Glory
We have successfully cut the load time in half by reducing our page size but we are not yet to the magic number of 3 seconds. Our next step was to install a caching program. A good caching program like W3 Total Cache will come with quite a few great features that improve your website performance. On PHP website software like WordPress, web pages are created dynamically on the fly. There is typically some lag time while the code queries the MySQL database and “builds” the pages. A caching program will essentially pre-build these pages and take snapshots of the code to server to web visitors. This greatly reduces the database lookups and decreases page load time.
Delivering Content At the Speed of Light
Well not really the speed of light but fast is how a CDN or Content Delivery Network can serve your website. A CDN is a network of servers around the globe that cache and store a copy of your website to be served to regional users. We like Cloudflare for it’s ease of use and free package to get started. Setting up is relatively easy if you understand how DNS works. You will need to point your websites nameservers to Cloudflare and then instruct Cloudflare where to point the IP. This is done quite easily in their dashboard and the rewards are almost immediate. Once you configure your parameters, Cloudflare will cache your site and images then deliver them around the globe at lightning speeds. And you can see the results for yourself:
3 Seconds! We have successfully taken our page load time from 15 seconds down to 3 and you can too. If you follow the steps.
Page speed is one of the most important factors of any website since it will directly affect your visitors’ experience and your search engine position. Follow these steps and you too can have a dramatic reduction in your WordPress page load time.
Reduce size of media by clipping videos or compressing images
Use a caching plugin
Minify CSS and HTML
Run your website through a content delivery network
We will continue to optimize to get that load time even lower but always shoot for the 3 seconds benchmark.
When it comes to selling products online, selecting the right shopping cart is the backbone to your success. There are dozens of Ecommerce solutions available and comparing them side by side is an increasingly complicated task. Most shopping carts can be broken up into 2 main categories, leased and owned. Leased shopping carts like Big Commerce and Shopify are cookie cutter shopping cart websites for one size fits all that charge a monthly fee. The first drawback of these leased shopping carts is that each business is different and there really is no such thing as one size fits all. The second drawback is that you will never own your website. All of the hard work you put in building the website, money you have spent with a developer, add-ons or marketing is gone the day you stop paying their monthly fees.
This is why our analysis will focus only on shopping cart platforms that are owned or open source. This means that once you download the website software, it is yours to keep. You are free to edit and modify as you wish. The 3 platforms we are exploring are WooCommerce, Opencart and Magento. Each one is vastly different and offers it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages. Each one has features that may work extraordinarily well for one business but perform poorly for another. We will give examples of the types of business ideal for each platform.
WooCommerce isn’t a shopping cart platform per se but more of a shopping cart add-on for the popular content management system (CMS), WordPress. WooCommerce is the lightest of the 3 shopping cart platforms and is ideal for smaller stores. Since it attaches to WordPress, it is ideal for users that have or need a blog or CMS website. Say you are a museum that has lots of pages for exhibits, admissions and coming attractions but also has a gift shop. This is the perfect platform for you.WooCommerce can handle the online sales for your gift shop. WooCommerce is ideal for businesses that sell 1 to a few hundred products and these products are not the primary source of income.
The main drawback to WooCommerce is that you must be running WordPress to use it. WordPress is an excellent platform and if you are looking for a new site anyway, you should consider it. The other drawback to WooCommerce is doesn’t have the advanced inventory management tools that larger platforms have so a few dozen to a few hundred product is ideal. The software has many great add-ons that can help you with some of the drawbacks but they can be pricey and compromise the stability of the site so it is best to use this with smaller inventories on a website whose main focus is not e-commerce.
Opencart is a completely stand alone shopping cart platform that is a great fit for the largest segment of e-commerce stores. It is driven off of PHP script using a MySQL database that can run on just about any server setup. It is quite powerful and is ideal for businesses whose primary source of income is product sales. It can comfortably handle anywhere from 1-10,000 products depending on configuration and is ideal for 500-5000 products. It has the easiest to use administration area of any e-commerce platform we have tested and has nearly every tool needed to run most web stores right out of the box.
Opencart also has an extensive online community for support and over 12,000 add-ons that give it just about any capability including blog, SEO and caching. Out of the box, Opencart has limitations for SEO, product and customer management and a few other minor areas but can be easily configured with one of many extensions to strengthen these areas. The latest 2.0 Opencart version has an integrated extension installer much like the WordPress plugin installer. Opencart’s ability to set up product variables, shipping services, payments and integrating with your eBay and Amazon store are some of the best we have seen.
Although most users have every feature they need with a stock install, many users will find the need for several extensions to optimally run their store. This is typically an added cost but usually a very minimal one. Opencart has yet to integrate with popular point of sale systems so larger companies with advanced inventory controls might find Opencart a bit lacking which brings us to our next shopping cart.
Magento is by far the king of all shopping cart platforms and is offered in 2 versions, Enterprise and Community Edition. We are concerned with the downloadable, fully licenced and open source Community Edition (CE). Magento CE has every tool you will ever need to run a large scale e-commerce website. Right out of the box it has advanced customer and catalog tools as well as SEO and caching programs for very large websites. We have seen Magento stores handle over 100,000 products with the greatest of ease. Why not just start with Magento if it’s that great? Because it is overkill for most store owners. It can be like shoveling snow off your sidewalk with a bulldozer.
This platform really isn’t for everyone. It is extremely complicated and there’s a steep learning curve just to run your store. You must have some web development skills just to run patches and updates. Most users without these skills will shell out Several 100 to several 1000’s of dollars annually just to have a developer keep their store up to date. Build and extension costs are quite high as well. Opencart extensions run $10-50 while Magento extensions can run $100-1000s and a basic Magento build is often 2x the price of an Opencart build.
With that being said, Magento is right for some users. Users with very large inventories will benefit from Magento’s rich features as well as those who need their inventory integrated with their current management system or Point of Sale. Magento can cache pages more effectively than any other platform to allow visitors to access any page of even the largest catalogs very quickly. If you are running a company that needs the features of the most powerful website and has the resources to do so including deep pockets and\or an in house developer, then this is the store for you.
“Marketing Is About Values” is probably one of the most prolific things Steve Jobs ever said and not only carved the path for Apple over the following 20 years but also is the perfect starting point for every entrepreneur to develop their Brand Management Strategy.
Steve realized that customers responded best when they were presented with benefits of a product as opposed to its features. The Apple buyer was far more interested in how the Mac made work easier, learning more fun and provided entertainment for the entire family than boring specifications like processor clock speed or how much memory it has.
Focusing on benefits vs. features is the key component of creating emotion in the consumer that leads to greater sales. By taking this principle and applying it to some of your most basic web elements, you can enrich your online Brand Management Strategy in a very Jobs-esque way.
“So we have to be really clear what we want the customer to know about us” is heard in Steve’s message. By this he means that once a company’s values are determined, the message must be consistent across all media, branding and advertising. Before we can do this we must determine what values are important to not only the company but also the customer. You should define and continually re-define answers to these 3 key questions:
What are my company’s values?
Who are my customers?
What values are important to them?
Once these questions are answered, it is possible to create a value driven message. The message must be present from the first time a potential customer sees your ad and is with them through every stage including purchase and use of your product. If your ad is clear about your company’s values and the benefits of your product, the potential customer may visit your website to learn more. If benefits and values are clearly defined on your website, this should lead to an eventual purchase of your product or service.
Once the customer receives the same benefits and values as advertised, they might just pass along their positive experience by word of mouth or social media creating an increase in brand recognition and inevitable sales and growth.
Getting your customer to see the benefits of your product and relate to your values is done on a much more personal level. Triggering an emotion can create a memorable experience thus associating your brand with that emotion.
Let’s say you are selling a convertible sports car. Your ad and website could boast about how powerful the engine is or how many speakers the stereo has but most people won’t remember boring specifications. What they will remember is how the feel when the top is down, the wind is blowing through their hair and the sense of freedom and youth this beautiful machine will give them.
Showing benefits of a product will evoke a memorable response while features are just forgotten.
Using images and graphics in your ads and on your website showing the benefits of ownership create an emotional response that will make people desire your product. Adding well thought out headlines, taglines and copy can help in painting this picture of an emotion that leads to ownership. When selecting images and copy for your website and ads, use a consistent message of benefit backed by emotion and it will more often lead to a purchase.
Giving your business personality brings to life the values and benefits you offer and allows customers to identify with you. This is done through the careful selection of fonts, colors and a well developed logo. Fonts and colors should directly reflect the personality of the company. Is your product or service fun and exciting? If so, the colors should be bold and dramatic to create excitement. Is your product or service professional or formal? If so, fonts might be classic and traditional to represent professionalism.
The logo is your biggest chance to make a memorable impression on a customer. It needs to be identifiable and speak on many different levels. Look at Amazon’s logo. They are known to have everything from A to Z so there is an arrow that points from the A to the Z. It also doubles as a smile, indicating a pleasant shopping experience.
By defining your company’s core values, presenting benefits to your customers in an emotional way and bringing your business to life by giving it personality you can build a lasting foundation. Perhaps the most important part of Steve’s quote was nestled in the middle of the that opening keynote paragraph:
“It’s a complicated and noisy world, we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us”
Perhaps the hidden meaning of what Steve was trying to say was that make sure the stuff people remember is the stuff worth remembering.
“My cousin told me she can build my website” or “My IT guy says he can build a website since he took a web design course 8 years ago in college” are phrases we hear far too often as professional web designers. The truth is, anyone can build a website using one of the many drag and drop generic web design templates from places like Wix and 1and1.com. The problem is, the website ends up looking like a novice did it and your customers can tell. While your cousin may do a pretty good job for a non-professional or your IT guy built a website in college, since they are not professionals that do this everyday, they may actually do more harm than good. This article will explore some of the reasons why trying to save money may end up costing you more money in the long run.
Your Online Image
Your website is the face of your company to the world and what does that face look like? Drag and drop website builders have little variance in the websites they produce and there is little uniqueness between templates. This software generally only allows you to add text to a predefined template and add pictures and change colors. They typically don’t have all of the extra elements a professional will use. In the end, you will have the same generic website your competitor has except with different colors and pictures.
On the contrary, a professionally designed website will have a unique structure and look to it. All of the colors and fonts should be branded to your business and the layout should be easy to navigate and be very appealing to your customers. A professional will make sure everything is aligned and flows properly instead of the jumbled, mismatched mess we often see with amateur sites.
Converting a visitor into a buyer is no easy task. A novice will have no specific training on how to do this. Many non-professional websites have a conversion rate of less than 1%. This means that if your website has 100 visitors, you would be lucky to have 1 person reach out to your company to do business.
Let’s say your IT guy (remember, they fix servers all day long not build websites), builds you a website that converts at a 1% rate (1 out of 100 visitors buy). You market this website and spend $10,000 over the course of the year in advertising netting you 10,000 new web visitors and 100 new customers. No bad right? Suppose you had a professional build your website in the first place and you converted at a 3% rate or perhaps a 5% or 7% rate? You could have had 200-600 additional new customers from the same $10k advertising spend. Trying to save a few $1000 on your website could have potentially cost you 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars.
Organic Search Engine Position
If your cousin or IT guy don’t build websites everyday like the pros do, it would probably be safe to say they have no idea how to optimize your website for the best Google possible. Did you know that the first 5 search results make up for nearly 75% of the clicks for a keyword? This can have a dramatic effect on the number of the visitors that visit your website. There are over 200 factors that influence your search positioning in Google and many of them can be influenced by elements incorporated into your website by your web designer. It is important that whoever is building your site knows what to include to give you every advantage possible.
A little knowledge is dangerous too. A novice trying to search engine optimize your website can also damage your rank that is difficult, expensive or possibly impossible to recover from like a de-indexing. Things like keyword stuffing can cause Google to penalize your website causing it to be somewhere on say, page 4 or 11 of the search results. No one will ever find you there. In extreme cases, Google may even de-index your website and domain if you break their rules. This is impossible to recover from and will require a new domain and website.
Your business is what feeds your family and pays your bills. 80% of all internet users will research a company online before they do business with them. They will formulate their impression of your business based on your website and will compare that to the impression your competitors website makes on them. Subtle differences may determine if they buy from you or the other guy. With so much at stake, why trust anyone less than a professional?
Website conversion never seems to be as hot of a topic as SEO yet it’s due equal time in the spotlight. Many companies spend 1000’s if not 10’s of 1000’s of dollars on marketing to get visitors to their website but neglect to pay attention to what these visitors do once they are there. Lets say you spend $100 to bring 100 visitors to your website and 1 of them expresses an interest in your product or service. You have a 1% conversion rate. With strategic changes to your website design, structure and content, lets say you get 3 out of 100 visitors to express interest in your product or service. Now you just tripled your web leads and your advertising dollars are working 3 times harder. Conversion optimization is far more important than SEO since it capitalizes as much ROI as possible for each visitor. Let’s examine some of the reasons why your website isn’t converting.
1. Your Design is Outdated
An outdated design is the number 1 reason for a lack of conversions for a good reason, it makes you lose credibility with your customer. When your site looks like it hasn’t been updated in several years or looks like it was built in the dot com boom, customers tend to think you are behind with the times. According to a study by Pew Research, 78% of internet users research a product or service online before they buy. Your website is the face of your company and is the first thing most potential customers see making it extraordinarily important to make a good first impression.
The latest design trends help your company appear successful and modern while giving you a one up on your competition. If your website isn’t the full width of your screen, uses flash or Ariel font, it is probably well past the time to upgrade. Many business will see an uptick in business shortly after the redesign of their website if done by a company that understands buyer behavior and how to optimize for conversions.
2. Outdated Technology
Coming in at number 2 is outdated technology and it ties in very closely with number 1 since it also leads to a loss of credibility. With the internet changing faster than Clark Kent in a phone booth, it is essential your website is up on the latest tech trends. These are made possible by modern coding that allows for full width responsive design, parallax images and HTML5 videos. Flash is out. Let me repeat that: Flash is out! There is nothing that dates a website more than Adobe Flash Player and it really hasn’t been in for the better part of the last decade. In fact, it doesn’t even play on most browsers.
Did you know according to Google, up to 60% of web visitors enter a website on a mobile device? If your website isn’t mobile friendly you are losing out on over half of your potential customers. To add insult to injury, Google also announced it will penalize websites they don’t find to be mobile friendly with poor search results on mobile browsers. The good news is, once remedied, Google will reward your website with better rankings and more traffic.
3. Poor Layout and Navigation
Is important information easy to find on your site? Do you have an online product catalog that is easy for customers to find their product and checkout? In many cases it is not as ideal as it could be. A website’s navigation can be a make or break for any business. If your website is cumbersome to use, you may actually be better off not having a website at all. It all boils down to first impression. If you frustrate someone trying to use your website for the first time, they may not only leave your site and not become your customer, they will also have an unfavorable impression of your company.
This can all be remedied by making sure your layout is foolproof and easy to use. No need to reinvent the wheel here, make sure you have menus in the top section and\or left column where users expect them to be. Clear contact information should be on every page in the top bar and footer section. Don’t over crowd pages and have clear calls to action.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is: An outdated website is costing you sales and money. In many cases a re-design can recoup the cost rather quickly and sometimes within the first month. You work so hard and spend so much money to bring people to your website that you need to maximize the results once they are there. So isn’t it time for a re-design?
Alpine Design Group offers the latest trends in web design with the features and usability your business demands. We build all websites with the latest code optimized for display, conversions and SEO. Our sites focus on clean responsive design that will adjust to mobile phones and tablets that is years ahead of the curve. Our experience in conversion optimization helps you get the most out of your website by improving your visitors experience and leading them to the desired result, whether that be a phone call or a sale.
Complete Approach to Web Design, Not Just Pretty Colors
Web design is not just flashy graphics and pretty pictures, it is the journey that is traveled from the concept phase to the final design. Like any great endeavor, a website must start with a rock solid plan. We begin every project with a client interview to learn as much as possible about their business and their customers. To create a high quality site, you must first understand the potential visitor to it. If you understand the website user, you can predict their actions and lead them more efficiently to the information or product they are seeking. The websites we build are carefully laid out with attention to detail and are far more than just pretty colors.
Great Design Begins with Great Software
Perhaps the most important step after determining the needs of a client’s website is pairing the correct software with those needs. Do you need a shopping cart? Or perhaps a blog with an RSS feed? Every business has different requirements and there is no one size fits all solution. That is why we are familiar with many different platforms and constantly test them to make sure they can fill the needs of our clients. We are not only expert coders in HTML, CSS, PHP and Java Script but we also understand and further develop the following platforms:
Modern and Responsive for the 21st Century
Since the devices we use to search the internet are rapidly changing, the coding and website structure must also change to keep up with technology. Responsive website design has never been as important as it is today. Responsiveness is the ability for a website to adjust to the screen size of the device used. Responsive sites will appear different from desktop to tablet to smartphone. This is done using CSS stylesheets that change the size of the containers content and images appear in.
Not only does a website need to be responsive but it must also reflect the latest in web design trends. The use of stylesheets and flat design are very common. If your website is outdated, your customers will notice and lose confidence in your company. Your website is your face to the internet and an outdated site portrays an outdated company that is out of touch with the rest of the world. If you want to compete with the rest of the world, you need a world class website.