So your website is complete, it is a triumph, a masterpiece, a beacon of gloriousness shining out above us all, making everyone who looks upon its majesty feel inferior. Or at least that’s what you tell your mates down the pub because you’ve not had one single solitary visitor. Welcome my friends to the wonderful world of SEO.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (SERP) -- including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines (source). It is quite possible that you’re making the same face that I did when someone tried to explain it to me in much the same way. In this article I hope to help you get a clear understanding of what SEO means and how YOU can get it working for your site.
It is as this point I’d like to share a disclaimer. Reading this article will not guarantee your website getting to the top of the first page of Google, nor will it get you ‘server-crashing’ traffic. Follow the advice herein and your site visibility will improve. Keep doing these things and who knows…
Understanding What SEO Means
Imagine Google is a massive library. It has different sections and each book on its shelves represents a website. Let’s imagine that you work in this library and it is your job to organise the new ‘books’ coming in. The first book that you pick up has a picture of a dog on it and the title is ‘Paws for Thought Dog Groomers – West London’s Premier Dog Grooming Service’. You smile and trot off, pushing your trolley as you go, to the West London Dog Grooming Section. Placing the book on the shelf you get an overwhelming sense of satisfaction that when someone comes to the library looking for a ‘book’ on West London Dog Groomers, they may just pick this very item up.
The next book has a blank cover except for the title ‘Home’. It has no pictures, text or any distinguishing features at all. You open it up, flick through the pages, turn it over and over in your hands but it’s no good. Nothing. You through it over your shoulder and go about your business.
Hopefully my analogy is clear enough but just in case it is not – All SEO does is tell the search engines what your site is and where it should be stored for reference. It really is that simple. So please put your trolley to one side, button up your cardigan and I will take you through a few things that will help your site get recognised by the search engines.
An artist's impression of what Google's library might look like.
An artist's impression of you as a librarian in the Google library.
SEO Tip 1: Site Titles and Long-tail Keywords
How many websites have you seen where the site title in the tab at the top of the browser window is ‘Home’ and the contact page is ‘contact’? Probably a few I would bet. This is not a good thing as this does not tell Google what the page is and who it is aimed at. Going back to my dog groomer analogy, the title on the homepage of their website was ‘Paws for Thought Dog Groomers – West London’s Premier Dog Grooming Service’ so there is no doubt that if someone was looking for a dog groomer in West London then the chances of them visiting this site would be increased.
This leads me into keywords and in particular ‘Long-tail’ ones. So many of you know of SEO keywords and that you would like your site to rank highly when one of those words is typed into Google. But really think about it – really thing like your target user. What would someone most likely type in if they wanted to find your site? Could your service and location be summed up in one word? Possibly not. The fact is when people are looking to buy an item or service they are initially very broad with their search terms (Dog Groomers), this is the research phase, but when they are ready to commit they will be very specific about what they want and where they want it (Dog Groomers West London.
Now this next piece of information is very important. Google (and others) are getting very clever so please don’t just put ‘Paws for Thought Dog Groomers – West London’s Premier Dog Grooming Service’ in every sentence or paragraph as this will have a very detrimental effect on your rankings and visibility.
SEO Tip 2: Changing, Valuable Content
As I have just mentioned Google can now tell the difference between ‘SEO Optimised’ content and truly valuable content. I’m sure this means that the human/robot wars are mere decades away but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. So we need to make sure that we keep the content on our site up to date and valuable. There are a few ways that we can do this. Firstly get your social media feeds on to your website. This means that the content on your site will change as often as your tweet or Instagram your breakfast. Secondly, start a blog on your site. Post something new every day, week or month and then share that on your social media feeds. It is just like waving a big flag to attract the attention of your potential audience.
SEO Tip 3: Your Sites’ Performance
Google looks at how your site performs both on mobile and desktop, so first thing to say here is that you need to make sure that your site is responsive. If you go here you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to analyse your site and make suggestions on how you can improve its performance.
There are several other ways that you can get your site seen by more people but I hope that this is a nice little insight into understanding what SEO actually is. My real hope is that I stop at least one person paying a fortune to someone promising them #1 Ranking in Google and delivering something like this.
If you have any questions or need any help with something design-related you’ve read about here or elsewhere then please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
As far as I can tell there are two ways to ask this question. “WHY do I need a web designer?” and "Why do I need a web designer?”.
I deduce that the person asking the latter of these questions most likely has a computer at home or in their office that they use every day, so why on earth would they need to pay somebody in to design them a website? They may or may not have had some experience with Microsoft Paint or possibly even PhotoShop too! But this a web designer does not make. The fact of the matter is that most of us live in houses every day of our lives but would not be able to successfully design and build one. In the world of business time is money and to me it would make no sense to waste a large period of your time building something that would be far inferior to something that a professional could do better in half the time.
The real question should be “WHY do I need a web designer?” as the answer to this is very simple. In the UK there are only 10% of the population that do all of their shopping in physical stores, which leaves a whopping 90% do at least some shopping online (source). A well-designed website is a good start to getting you a piece of that pie and the best way to get a well-designed website is by using a web designer.
I have been designing and building websites for a number of years now but not so many that I have forgotten how mind-numbingly complicated everything seemed to me when I started. On the surface it is very easy to design a very nice, clean and pretty site but I can assure you that that is only the very beginning. I spoke in my last post about designers’ skills being valuable and nothing highlights this point like web designers.
“I don’t need a Web Designer – what’s the worst thing that can happen?”
If you have the self-belief and drive to undertake building your own website then I applaud you but I think it’s only fair to show you some examples of what could happen. Below are screen shots and links to two websites that I found on a list of the most ‘over the top websites of 2014’. Have a look at them for yourself and then ask yourself “Based on what I see hear would I trust this person or give them money?”
As you can see there is a lot going on this page. The navigation on the left is hard to read due to there being an image of a car underneath each of the words. There is little continuity to the colours used or indeed the image sizes. Multiple fonts are used and the scrolling txt seems very outdated.
Fonts...fonts everywhere. Generally I would always adivse to stick to one font or two (title and body) at the very most. These mavericks went a little crazym as you can see. Every colour clashes and the background is just off-putting. This site looks like it is from 1995 but it is clearly still being maintained. The mind boggles.
Even without my insight you can see some of the issues that these examples have, but it is always easy to see the problems in others work. Despite this, it can be very easy to fall into the hole of adding things to your design that you (or others around you) think are a good idea. A web designer is impartial and experienced in these matters. A good one knows that your homepage is your store front, your handshake, and needs to be making the right impression to your potential audience.
“What do I need to do before hiring a web designer?”
There is no correct answer to this, speaking as a web designer I would happily take a panicked call from someone who didn’t have a clue about what they were doing or what they wanted and advise them. That said it makes things a lot smoother if you have a clear brief in your head of what you want to end up with – maybe a list of websites that you like and what you like about them. Do your homework, look at potential designer’s own website and find someone whose style fits in with what you’re looking for. Ask for recommendations from people that you know as word of mouth is the most reliable way to get the truth about a service. Make sure that you think you can get on with the person you intend to hire as, from experience, designing and building a website can get stressful as it is a very personal thing for both the client and designer.
“So, as a web designer, what makes a ‘good website’?”
Design is a subjective thing but within that there are certain tropes that tie all well-designed and built websites together.
Good, high quality images.
Allow some budget for stock imagery and custom graphics as no matter how well designed a site may be, there is no hiding a poor image. This stretches across the board and should include product shots (if you are an ecommerce site), banners and social icons. Quite simply good images look better than bad ones!
A straightforward navigation setup that promotes a good user experience (UX)
A whole industry is growing up around UX and with good reason. Your user needs to have a good experience and a good web designer knows this. They need to be able to get to the information they want in the quickest possible time. We want them to be able to easily and intuitively explore your website, so we need to consider their journey from landing until they finally leave.
A considered user interface (UI)
Basically it has to look pretty and be functional. It has to make you want to stay on the page because it is so nice to look at but it also has to be easy to understand how to get to where you need to go.
Responsive functionality has been considered
Today, a large proportion of browsing is done on mobile devices so responsively needs to be considered and not just be an afterthought. Your site needs to look as good on the small screen as it does on a desktop for all of the same reasons.
The design reflects and is in keeping with your brand
As I said before, your website is your shop front so it needs to fit in with what you, your company or your service is saying. There needs to by synergy between the name of the company, the colours used in the logo, the service they provide and the design of their website. When all of these things are in harmony it really works!
In conclusion, you need to ask yourself “Do I need a web designer?” Not everyone has the budget for an all singing, all dancing site but, to be honest, not everyone needs that. I would go so far as to say that there is a website to suit every pocket. I would say though that as far as web designers go, you get what you pay for. Don’t try and go for a cheap option as you may end up paying twice, so please make sure that you do your homework.
IF you have any questions regarding something you’ve read here or just a general inquiry, we offer a free consultation so please feel free to drop us a line and we will see if we can help you.
Mary Poppins once said:
“In ev'ry job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and SNAP! The job's a game”.
While this is true (it must be true, it was in a musical) there are also plenty of elements that are anything but fun in many of our jobs.
As a designer, something that either makes or breaks a project is the client/designer relationship. Get it right and the task is a ‘spree’ but get it wrong and no amount of sugar will help this medicine go down.
My intention with this article is to share with you my tips for promoting a positive working relationship with your client and vice-versa. This is by no means a cure-all but hopefully you will find it helpful.
Firstly a positive affirmation. As a designer you have valuable knowledge and experience.
The client wants a logo - "It will only take you five minutes, it's easy!".
When someone hires a designer for a task, they are paying for that skilled person’s time. This is the same as in many trades all across the world. The problem that I have found in the past is that people can sometimes have a preconceived notion on how ‘easy’ a job is and will tell you as such. This is not conducive to a good relationships. You don’t invite a plumber into your house and presume to tell them how long a job will take or how easy it is – we as designers are no different.
So remember- don’t undervalue yourself – the knowledge that you have worked so hard to gain is helpful, useful and above all else valuable.
Relationships tip 1: Be enthusiastic and professional.
We all know this and I mean ALL OF US. If you have a job…no..scrap that….If you are a human being then you know that if you encounter an enthusiastic, polite and professional person then, nine times out of ten, you’re going to get a good first impression of them. This is a universal truth and essential to building a good business relationship.
Relationships tip 2: Treat people as individuals.
I have worked for over 150 different clients and none of them were the same. I always try to get to know them if it is at all possible – try and find some common ground. This way they know that you are not a robot and that you care about their projects AND YOU SHOULD CARE! It is no secret that the clients I have the best relationships with are the ones that come back to me again and again for work. That makes me happy, not because it’s more work but because they were happy enough with their experience and were happy to come back.
You've got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.
Relationships tip 3: You gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
As a designer you need to be flexible, I’m sure this is no surprise to you. Unfortunately, sometimes a client’s request can force you to come to a crossroads. Do I stand my ground and refuse to do what I have been asked to do? Or do I just grit my teeth and make all the text on his website Comic Sans? It is a matter of making a choice that is the right one for you. I would always say, above all else stay professional. Always try and be as flexible as you can be – go above and beyond as it will give you tremendous satisfaction to see a job well done.
That sinking feeling that we have all experienced at one time or another.
Relationships tip 4: What to do when the when the brown substance comes into contact with the rotating blades of an air-conditioner.
So for whatever reason your project has gone wrong. You’ve missed a deadline, broken the client’s e-commerce store and have no idea how to fix it because you are so stressed by the whole situation. The client is furious and wants your head on a plate – with good reason. If this happens just do this one simple trick to fix everything…Talk to them. Explain the situation. I can honestly say that not burying my head in the sand is one of the hardest but most rewarding lessons I have had to learn in my time as a designer. Explain what is going on, why it has happened and how you intend to fix it – be open and honest – we are all human.
Okay, there you go. Another one of my random lists is out there in the public domain. I hope that you find some of this useful and please feel free to feedback and tell me how right or wrong I am about anything in here.
If you are one of my current or former clients reading this, you were definitely my favourite!
It all started a pretty long time ago... way back in 1994 would you believe! I was 11 years old and decided I wanted to be a graphic designer. I had recently started my new secondary school, not the best I will grant you that, but the place that would start my journey down the creative path. You see, as I came from what was considered a "deprived" area the school had recently received quite a lot of money and had been given Technology college status which meant, a shiny new graphic design studio among other things (I also got to try my hand at engineering, pneumatics and ceramics, but that is a very different blog covering the fact that I am a rubbish girl).
It captured my imagination. I got to create stuff that solved a problem by using creative thinking. I had to give reasons why I used colour, type, shape and form. It opened my eyes to a new big world out there that I had never really thought of being part of, it gave me my career path, graphic designer here I come!
It is safe to say I have always been a bit of a creative type, while my little brother would save up pocket money to but the latest thundercat or wrestling figure I would buy books, pens and paper. My shocking stationary habit exists to this day and my collection of pro-markers is now something I enjoy with my own kids (supervised of course, they are my babies, and not really for children :D) I loved art, photography, museums, books, whatever I could get my hands on really, and my parents indulged me. Music was another big influence, with bands like the Beatles, the Kinks, the Move & the Who being played at home it meant I dodged the bullet of the likes of the Vengaboys and early 90's pop forever frying my brain.
So you weren't academic then?
Actually I was, I was a complete swot. My parents got called aside when I chose subjects like graphics, art, media studies & history instead of more preferred subjects like double science and languages. I was going to be wasted taking creative subjects was the general opinion. The lack of understanding for the creative process and the level of knowledge that came with it was amazing. Why would I want to be a graphic designer when I could be an accountant or a lawyer? (Nothing wrong with those professions, but they probably wouldn't let me wear my Doc Martens to work each day like I do now). I probably use more math in my role as a web designer than I would have done in most other jobs I could have chosen, today alone I have worked on a site in german coding to meet their commercial needs, and had to apply knowledge of history, culture and fashion to put together a design for a client. Sounds like a pretty rounded education to me.
So where next?
From school I went on to my local art college and believe it or not only touched a computer around five times in the whole two years I was there to do any design work. I hand rendered type, used a grant enlarger (do they still exist?) and learnt all the fundamentals that came with being a designer. Learning the hard way made sure that it stuck in your head. If you had spent two days drawing a layout by hand you were gonna be damn sure you had thought long and hard about every alignment point and piece of content. It was hard work but it laid the foundations for skills I use every single day.
Onward & Upward
From there was a university degree in graphic communication, in the very orange Wolverhampton University SAD (it must have turned my brain somehow). We explored typography, film, semiotics, conceptual design, philosophy, so much I can't even begin to cram it in here. Making you see things from all perspectives, to analyse each element with equal importance & to use creative skills to solve a multitude of problems was where I wanted to be. We probably didn't realise it at the time but out lecturers were pretty amazing too, I still refer back to things they said and told me about now over ten years down the line.
Into The Big Wide World
And so off I went. I guess I have been pretty lucky as things go, I have been able to work with huge household names and I have see small businesses grow from the corner of a back bedroom to being a global brand. Being a graphic designer has meant I have interacted with people I would never thought possible and has taken me out of my little corner of the Black Country and out into the world.
I do what I love and I do it every day. I think people struggle with that, the fact that I don't switch off, I look for inspiration everywhere, I encourage my children to absorb the world around them. Because after all, a world without designers would be a pretty boring place.
Books that formed my journey
There aren’t enough hours in the day and that deadline is so close that you can smell it. Clients are breathing down your neck and every email you receive, when spoken by your internal monologue, sounds impatient and sarcastic. So you sit in front of your screen, feel your throat tighten and shoulders draw closer together and just marvel at the colossal task ahead of you. Any passion that you once had for this job is a distant memory and instead of a mind full of creative verve, you have a head full of white concrete.
A lot of us have been there and it is not a great place to be, or need to be. Working in a creative industry or with someone in a creative industry should be an uplifting experience for everyone involved, so I’ve put together a list of things that I do to help keep my passion for my work alive. I run a design and branding agency with my wife so this is something that we need to take seriously as it is so deeply entwined into our family life. This is not a definitive list by any stretch, but all of these things have taken me out of the ‘wake – work – sleep’ cycle and now I feel that my business is benefiting because of it and maybe you can benefit too.
Everyone is different. We all wake up at different rates and drop off at different times. My number one tip is to talk to your colleague/colleagues first thing in the morning. Grab a coffee and a notebook and discuss what is on the anvil for the day ahead. Talk about new and creative ideas that you’ve had, get excited about things that you want to try out that day. If you have no colleagues to meet with then get up, get out and find somewhere to grab a coffee and sit amongst people - gather your thoughts and focus on the day’s tasks ahead. This leads on nicely to my next point…
Change your surroundings
Get out of the office, away from the screen. This could be as easy as having a meeting in a coffee shop or it could be a day trip to a city, it doesn’t really matter - just get out of your normal setting. It is very easy to get caught in the cycle of thinking, especially if you work for yourself, that if I’m not sat in front of my computer then I’m not earning. While technically I suppose this is true, spending shorter periods of more productive time is surely better than eighteen hours of banging your head off the keyboard right? While you’re out and about you have the opportunity to meet people, connect, leave business cards everywhere (get creative), take pictures for inspiration and generate content for your blogs and social media posts, which is planting seeds which will hopefully bear fruit for you.
Following on from my last point, networking is a great use of your time. This is quite a recent thing for me and as a natural introvert I am surprised how much I enjoy it. For the uninitiated, networking is when someone organises a gathering of people with the intention of connecting with them, sharing details and hopefully generating new contacts and business. Now there are probably blogs written exclusively on this and I don’t wish to throw my hat into that arena but give it a try! I find that talking to people about their business really motivates me and gives me potential ideas on how I can grow my own business – so I consider this time well spent.
So give some of these a try, I have found that these three things have really helped push me and my business to the next level and made me take myself more seriously. If you’re lucky enough to do something that you love for a living you have to not allow yourself to lose sight of why you love it and reassure yourself that you aren't just playing at business. The items on the list here all allow you to ‘take a step back’ and reflect on what you’ve done, what you’re doing and what you could potentially do if you keep driving forward.
Here are some places where you can get some information on networking:
Branding is a massive part of of who we are. How you dress, the things you like, the way you present yourself, these all make up our own personal brand. As a business it becomes your logo, corporate colours, your website. In a digital age these are the things we use to tell the world about who we are. More and more relationships survive based upon our digital personas more so than our real life identities, so what is your brand saying about you?
You might love cool, crisp corporate design. The professional formality of a serif font, the icy blue tones we have all come to associate with high-end banking establishments, lawyers and accountants. Unfortunately, you have decided to run an artisan bakery... doh! The image you give off must be relevant to you market. Of course you want to stand out but you also have to make your customer feel comfortable, let them know that not only do you understand the market you are selling in but also that you understand their needs.
While it may say all the right things this cold corporate logo really doesn't hit the mark for the Knead It! audience. Cold, and corporate just doesn't fit this companies profile.
So you have agonised over your brand, you've tried every font the internet has to offer and every colour from puce to chartreuse. You now have a brand guidelines that is the size of a small encyclopedia (double sided)... but you don't bother to use it. If your audience never meets you in person, your brand is your handshake, your face, your signature, the one thing that makes you identifiable from the rest of the digital universe. Brand is king, and that great big world out there are your subjects.
Stand out from the crowd. Don't look at million other businesses/bloggers/products that exist in the same market as you and follow them. Take what is great and good about them and add some of yourself to that. Create a brand you are proud of and that will get you noticed. Talk to people and get their opinions on your ideas, might be that they see something different in there that you don't, or maybe just can add that little something that will really make it shine. But always be careful, things can sometimes be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The Dirty Bird logo was memorable for all the wrong reasons - Kind of image to be associated with an eating establishment?
A-style logo - definitely showing some kind of style there. Intentional or in error? Discuss.
So you have this amazing new brand which everyone is gonna love. You're on to a winner. So you get your business cards printed, you build a website and you make some social channels, and the world comes running.... errr, nope! Get out there. Shout about your brand, interact, get your face noticed. You need to find people as much as they need to find you. Like, comment, share. Make yourself an integral part of the little corner of the digital universe that you want to master. Soon you will be recognised not just by what you do but also by who you are. If someone loves your blog post they will seek you out, they may spot your trusty logo in a forum, or your brand colours all over that facebook post. The more your brand is used to more confidence you instill in your following, and confidence builds trust.
So what if that one instagram post goes out without your logo carefully nestled in the corner, no one is gonna notice, right? I once worked for a company that created a viral game, it went crazy. Being shared all over facebook with thousands of people playing and sharing their scores, it was a massive success. The only problem was it had gone out into the world without any branding. Instead of receiving all this great free advertising and collecting up the wealth of likers and followers that the game attracted, they just had to sit back and watch it take flight. Watermarking, branding and placement are all tools in your arsenal to make sure that you get the full credit for that amazing stroke of internet wonderment.
So whether you are just starting out or your brand is centuries old, it is never to late to inject that fresh enthusiasm into the way you project yourself to the world. Start small and build up, Rome wasn't built in a day, but every step should aim to be a positive one.