Friday, January 27, 2017 by Kevin WoodAs a graphic designer you have a lot on your plate. Not only do you have to continue to advance your skills and creative mindset, but you also have to find new ways to showcase your work online. Luckily, WordPress makes showcasing your work easy with the massive selection of themes they have available. However, because there are so many themes to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when choosing one for your site. Lucky for you, we've culled out the best of the best WordPress themes for graphic designers. Keep reading and find a new favorite below!
Monday, January 9, 2017 by Shayla Price
With the New Year comes new goals for your business. And as you begin to reevaluate your finances and hire new employees, it’s important that you maintain your website, too. You don’t want to repel visitors with an out-of-date site. “One of the most often overlooked components—yet one of the most critical—to any successful website strategy is ongoing maintenance. While the initial website project is critical to creating the right foundation, the ongoing maintenance and upkeep is where you’ll really see your website shine,” writes Don Cranford, principal and director of technology at Katalyst Solutions. Maximize your return on investment by giving your website extra attention. Here are a few best practices to help you in 2017.
1. Revamp Your HomepageThe homepage is the bread and butter of your brand’s online presence. People visit your website to learn more about your company’s products, team, and mission. So, when visitors arrive for the first time, you don’t want to scare them away. Instead, your goal is to offer an experience like no other. Update your design by tweaking the navigation of your site. Anticipate where consumers will click and provide clear calls-to-action to help them locate what they need. Eliminate any wording that doesn’t benefit the visitor. Too many words can distract customers from their intended reason for checking out your site. In the example below, HostGator customer Hiatus Spa + Retreat uses its site to say more with less. Coupled with a few words and vivid imagery, the spa chain invites the customer to learn more. Make the best first impression by showcasing a modern, uncluttered homepage. It’ll give clarity and accessibility to your visitors.
2. Revive Old (But Useful) ContentYour marketing team has spent countless hours creating content to educate and entertain your customers. And once it’s posted, you probably move on to the next one and then another. But if you’re creating 10x content, like I know you’re doing, your old content still has value to new and existing customers. Rather than producing new content, revive your old, but useful content. Work with your team to add the latest trends to an old blog post. Insert new data into an infographic containing outdated statistics. Or you can transform one content form into another. Kim Garst, founder and CEO of Boom! Social, offers the following suggestion, "Compile a bunch of blog posts on a particular topic, and promote them as a multi-day e-course. Each day, send one email (blog post) to your new subscribers to help them accomplish whatever goal you have promised to help them achieve.” Don’t be afraid to revisit your content archives. Give your audience an opportunity to experience the content again.
3. Fix Any Checkout Process IssuesSales matter in business. If you’re not driving revenue, you won’t sustain in the marketplace. To attain your aggressive sales goals, your checkout process must possess no friction. Friction is any obstacle causing your consumers to think twice about continuing with their purchase. It can be a technical issue, like a page not loading fast enough. Or it may be a psychological trigger, like they don’t trust your site security. “There are many reasons a customer will abandon your site during the checkout process. Top of the list, after technical problems, is that you ask for too much. Too many steps in the process, too much information, having to create an account to make a single purchase— you are too needy, and this relationship is over,” says Jeremy Said, a conversion expert. If you discover that customers hate creating member registrations, one solution is to try a social login. This one-click alternative will help consumers move through the checkout process faster. Stopping the sale from happening isn’t good for business. Remove any roadblocks in your customer’s pathway.
4. Check Your Domain RegistrationIs it that time again? You know what I’m referring to. Yes, your domain registration! No matter how many email notifications you receive, somehow renewing your domain falls through the cracks. But no worries. Contact your hosting provider to learn when your registration will expire. If it’s due soon, go ahead and pay for the renewal. You might want to sign up for auto-renewals for future registrations. And remember to update any contact information—business name, address, and phone number. It also may be time to purchase a new domain for upcoming brand changes. So, ask your provider for details about availability and prices. Sometimes the smallest things in your business are overlooked. Make sure your domain is registered to offer uninterrupted service to your customers.
5. Reinvest in Your Brand CommunityAs your business grows, it’s essential to keep your brand community engaged. Your customers want to interact with your team. In 2017, pledge to give your consumers the engagement they deserve. Respond promptly to comments left on your blog posts, and ensure that no complaint goes unanswered. Experiment with starting or reorganizing your loyalty programs. Brand ambassadors serve as an extension of your company. If they’re not satisfied, you may expose your business to unwanted negative publicity. In addition, expand your community to generate new ideas. To do this, install a pop-up box on your website asking visitors to join your exclusive newsletter. Here's an example from Bebe: Get reacquainted with your target audience. A dedicated community opens the door to business opportunities.
6. Evaluate Your AnalyticsAnalytics is the ultimate tool for examining the health of your website traffic. It’s vital for your team to know how your visitors and qualified leads find your business. Organic search or Facebook? Avoid moving analytics to the bottom of your to-do list. Jenn Soloway, senior art director of Strategic Insights Brand Marketing, gives her perspective: "Website analytics and website maintenance updates go hand in hand when it comes to truly owning your website. With this combination, pain points that can add up over time and lead to an expensive—and time-intensive—relaunch can be addressed as part of an ongoing maintenance plan.” Compare your traffic from month to month and year to year. Assess your current campaigns and develop a plan to target sources that bring the most return. You may even need to change your SEO strategy.
A New Year, A Better WebsiteIt’s time to roll up your sleeves. The New Year is a time to reflect and reassess your business’s needs, which includes your website. Revamp your homepage to gain immediate attention from visitors. Fix any friction issues influencing potential buyers to abandon your shopping cart. Also, reinvest in your brand community by responding to blog comments. Start 2017 off right! A better website is where you should begin.
Sunday, January 8, 2017 by Kevin Wood
There’s no doubt about it – website speed matters now more than ever before!
As average internet connection speeds increase around the world, web users are becoming less and less tolerant of slow load times. At the same time, Google has stated unequivocally that it prefers to reward fast sites with higher positions in the natural search results.
To take advantage of these dual benefits, you need to make site speed a priority on your site. Any of the following seven tips will help to get you started on this important path.Test your HostGator server upload/download speed here!
Tip #1 – Size images before uploading themIf you use a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla, you’ve probably noticed that you can upload images at full size and then adjust their display size within your website’s backend. However, doing so forces web browsers to execute multiple commands – pulling up the initial images and then re-sizing them on the fly – which can slow down your site. To prevent this from occurring, use an image-editing program to adjust images to the correct size before adding them to your site. Most of us will have access to a simple tool like Preview (on Mac), or even Microsoft Paint (on Windows). With these programs all you have to do is open up the image and re-size it in your editor of choice. Once you’ve done this you can take your image editing to the next level with a compression tool. Even after re-sizing each image the total file size might be pretty large and this will slow down your site’s loading speed. One of the best tools available is an online tool called TinyPNG. All you have to do is click the link, upload your re-sized image and this tool will reduce the file size without reducing the resolution. Then, all you have to do is download the image and upload it to your site. With this tool your images will look exactly the same and will load much faster.
Tip #2 – Eliminate unnecessary pluginsThe huge number of plugins and scripts that are freely available today makes it tempting for website owners to add more than they truly need. Keep in mind, every plugin you add requires resources to run – and more resources mean a slower site. Before adding any new plugins to your site, ask yourself if the functionality you gain is worth the trade-off in site speed, or whether the plugin’s content could be coded into your site’s theme instead. If you notice your site is running slowly, or you believe it could be running much more effectively, perform a plugin run-through. This involves you disabling every plugin on your site, one by one. After you disable a plugin, run your site through a tool like GT Metrix. This will show you the speed of your website. If you find that the speed of your site greatly increases after deactivating a plugin, then you’ve found your culprit. If you absolutely require that specific plugin’s functionality for your site to work, then experiment until you find another plugin that doesn’t affect the speed of your site. Plus, getting rid of plugins can prevent plugin conflicts that arise when you have too many active plugins at once. The more plugins your site has active at any given time, then more likely their code may conflict and cause them to not work properly.
Tip #3 – Make sure your site’s scripts are up-to-dateDepending on the CMS or e-commerce platform your site uses, you may need to check back regularly to determine whether new releases of your site’s scripts are available. If they are, upgrade your site as soon as possible (making sure that you have a current backup file in place first). Site script developers are always working on improving their code for future releases, particularly when it comes to site speed. Updating your scripts to the latest versions could go a long way towards eliminating coded roadblocks that prevent your site from loading quickly. Now, remembering to check-in and update your website can be tough. After all, you have so much stuff on your plate already. Lucky for you this isn’t something you have to do on a daily basis. Often, once a month is enough to do a simple run-though of your site and install any updates that might be available. If your site runs on WordPress, then you’ll find these updates within the Updates tab of your WordPress dashboard. Just one click and your site will install the latest software updates. No need for anything else on your end. Set a recurring event on your calendar and set aside an hour every single month. Usually, it’ll take much less time than this, but it’s important to build the habit of always ensuring your site and plugins are running the latest version. Plus, having all of your software up to date will help to patch up any holes that could lead to your site being hacked.
Tip #4 – Make use of CDNsContent Delivery Networks, or CDNs, are vast networks of servers that are housed around the world. Typically, if you’re not using a CDN, then your users will have to access your web host’s server at its central location. This can lead to slow site speeds, especially if your visitors are located far away from the central location of your server. Additionally, if you’re just using a single server, there’s a chance it could get overloaded and cause your site to crash. CDN’s solve both of these problems by letting your users access a cached version of your site from the web host that’s closest to them. Better yet, if one of your server locations is overloaded, then they can be switched to a new server location. The result? Faster load times that will make your customers and the search engines happy. To get started, look into the CDN services offered by SiteLock TrueSpeed, MaxCDN, or Cloudflare.
Tip #5 – Enable browser cachingBrowser caching is a technology that allows a website visitor’s browser to store copies of your site’s individual pages so that, when the visitor returns in the future, the content can be called up from within the cache rather than reloading the entire page. This saves the number of resources used to display your pages, resulting in faster overall load times for your visitor. The easiest way to enable browser caching is with a plugin like WordPress W3 Total Cache. To install this plugin on your WordPress site, follow the steps below:
- Navigate to your site’s Dashboard, then Plugins>Add New, and search for W3 Total Cache. Click Install, then Activate.
- Once the plugin is activated, navigated to the new Performance tab at the top or lefthand side. This is where you’ll control all of the features of the plugin.
- There are a ton of features that you can turn on or off with this plugin. If you want to fully configure this plugin, then check out this post by WPMU DEV.
Thursday, December 29, 2016 by Kevin WoodVPS web hosting is a relatively new form of web hosting that has grown in popularity over recent years. The hosting you choose can make or break your website. There are several different styles of hosting. Which one is best for you will depend upon the needs of your site. Below we dive into VPS hosting, what kind of person uses this style of hosting, and the drawbacks of using a VPS compared to other kinds of hosting. If you’re confused about VPS hosting, then this post should help you get on handle on it!
What is VPS Hosting?VPS stands for virtual personal server. A physical server is housed in a data center, the location of which depends upon the hosting provider you’re using. A VPS is a portioned part of one of these servers that contains it’s own operating system, bandwidth, and disc space. These physical servers will generally be divided into multiple different VPS, dedicated, or shared servers. A VPS will be used like a dedicated server, and can be customized to the liking of the user. Most shared servers come with an existing hosting environment and certain settings already built-in. A VPS acts like a dedicated server without the cost of having a dedicated server. Plus, they can be customized to your liking, if you have the technical chops. [bctt tweet="Benefits of #VPSHosting: A VPS acts like a dedicated server without the cost of a dedicated server." username="hostgator"]
The Pros of VPS HostingWhenever you’re trying to determine the best hosting option for your needs it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each service. Here are some of the most common benefits of a virtual personal server.
- They are less expensive than a full-fledged dedicated server.
- They can be customized to your liking and you only pay for what you need.
- You have a lot more control over your hosting environment.
- A VPS can grow with your website as its server needs increase.
- Generally, the support staff are very helpful and can help solve complex technical issues.
The Cons of VPS HostingOf course, a virtual private server isn’t perfect. Just like any kind of hosting environment, there will only be the best hosting for your existing needs. Probably the biggest drawback of VPS hosting is the cost. It’s usually more expensive than shared hosting and does require a lot more knowledge and work on your end. So, if your website isn’t profitable yet, then you might be better off starting with a cheaper hosting package. Also, since the existing market for virtual personal servers is smaller there’s a chance the host you’re using won’t correctly allocate the server resources you need. Think of it similar to airlines, which tend to overbook the airplane, banking on the fact that some people won’t show up. Of course, this leads to people getting booted and having to reschedule their flights. Some server companies oversell their servers, hoping that every site currently using their server won’t have a peak traffic day. When choosing a VPS host, just make sure you choose wisely and do your research.
Who Uses This Kind of Hosting?Shared hosting is generally for more basic websites. As your needs and traffic levels increase you’ll usually want to upgrade to another style of hosting environment. People generally switch to a VPS hosting environment, because they want more customization and control options. Sometimes website owners will end up using the same settings that they were using with a shared host, but they enjoy having more control over their hosting environment. A VPS is also less technically heavy than a dedicated server, and can be a great bridge into an eventual dedicated hosting setup. Hopefully we’ve cleared up some of your questions in regards to virtual private servers. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask away in the comments below.
Tuesday, December 27, 2016 by Jeremy JensenPart of what makes WordPress so incredible is the ability to simply install plugins which act to enable greater functionality as well as improve the appearance of your website. WordPress now has over 30,000 unique plugins, allowing users to execute their greatest imaginations when branding themselves online. The trouble for most is not having enough familiarity with how plugins operate to sift through such a massive inventory. Luckily, we've created a list of five plugins that have been shown to help users of all industries so you can start getting the most from your WordPress website.
1. Yoast SEOFormerly known as Wordpress SEO by Yoast, this plug-in is one of the best available for guiding you through the process of optimizing your website to appear in the search engines. Some of the key features include:
- Post Titles and Meta Descriptions: Every time you search in Google, you'll see the title of a web-page and a description underneath. With the 'Snippet Editor' you get to edit this section manually to have complete control over the SERPs appearance for your website.
- Visual Feedback: Yoast lets you know when your copy is ready to post from an SEO standpoint.
- Set Focus Keywords: Yoast lets you know if you're using your focus keywords too much, too little, or if you've used them before.
2. Google FontsYou may have noticed while creating your first blog posts that WordPress only houses a very limited amount of fonts to choose from. Well, with this free plugin, the font resource is one of the most exciting developments in typography in a very long time. Not only does this plugin add the necessary Google code for you, it also gives you the ability to assign the Google fonts to specific CSS elements of your website. The Google Directory has hundreds of font families to choose from, which is an excellent way to add a touch of personalization to your blog.
3. AkismetHave you ever gotten a comment on one of your Wordpress blog posts that at first glance seemed genuine, but may actually be spam? While these comments are mostly dirty tactics used by Internet spammers trying to get you to use their service, or visit their site, sometimes these comments can link to malicious downloads, or at the least be a large waste of your time. Askimet is an anti-spam service that analyzes masses of data and prevents these comments from being posted on your blog.
4. Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is one of the most powerful tools on the web for monitoring nearly all of the traffic related data on your website. With the free Wordpress plugin, you'll quickly be able to run reports on where your visitors are coming from as you work to build a target audience.
5. W3 Total CacheW3 Total Cache improves the user experience on your site by reducing download times, increasing server performance, and by providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration. Other benefits include:
- 10x improvement in overall site performance.
- Improved conversion rates will up your rank on Google.
- Reduced page load time, which allows visitors to view more pages, and spend more time on your site.
- The ability to sustain high traffic.