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UX Design: How Does User Experience Impact Web Design?

July, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

When you think about web design, chances are better than not you immediately jump to logos, graphics, and photos. After all, the visual elements of a website serve as the foundation of design, right? While you wouldn’t be wrong to guess to think of the overall appearance of the site first, another component of web design is perhaps even more important than the graphic elements: user experience. Often shortened to the acronym UX, user experience design looks at the overall usability of a website.

Exploring the Components of UX Design

Designers keep several elements in mind when focusing on user experience. The look and feel of the website does play a role in UX design, as visual page components dictate the overall vibe of the destination. Web designers typically consider the following items as well:

Structure and Navigation: Is the site easy to browse? Does a clear, concise navigation system exist for exploring the pages?
Usability: Does the site perform as intended? Are pages optimized to fit the reading habits of web users? How easy is it to find information on the page?
Accessibility: Is the site easily understood by all audiences? Will older readers or disabled visitors be able to navigate successfully?
Responsiveness: Does the site function properly on all devices?

These are merely a few of the many different factors a web designer needs to keep in mind when striving to craft a site that offers an excellent user experience.

Considering the Psychology Behind Design

Designers have developed specific practices for improving UX by studying the psychology and behavioral patterns of web users. The visual hierarchy of your pages, use of negative space, and graphic elements of a page all contribute to the overall experience. Most designers strive to juggle the various processes associated with web design simultaneously, crafting a pleasing overall design while also addressing issues like UX. On the other hand, some designer focus solely on UX, spending large amounts of time studying visitor patterns to better optimize their sites.

How Should Businesses Keep UX in Mind?

As a small business owner, the psychology behind UX design may not play a huge role in the overall success of your site, but you should keep user experience in mind when choosing a web designer. Much more goes into great design than simply choosing a nice color palette. Effective designers have undergone extensive training and should be able to help you build a site that delivers effective results.

The complexity behind UX design may appear intimidating at first glance, but the fascinating principles behind this oft-ignored portion of web design have a direct impact on your site’s visitors. When choosing a designer, be certain to discuss user experience and perform thorough quality assurance checks before taking your site live. By keeping user experience at the forefront of your design, you’ll end up with much more than just a “pretty” site—instead, you’ll be the proud owner of a vibrant, powerful site that serves your business well.

Tweet This: How to Maximize Your Social Media Impact with Status Scheduling

July, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

When it comes to building a dedicated following on social media platforms, most people fall into one of two camps: you either can’t get enough, or it feels like a massive chore. Whether you’re wasting too much time on Twitter and Facebook, or you can’t bring yourself to craft a single update, scheduling your statuses in advance can have a powerful effect on your overall social strategy.

Think you’re ready for the challenge? Use the following keys to maximize your social media impact and save time, too.

What is Status Scheduling?

Most casual social media users write statuses on a whim, uploading this information through the sites of their favorite social platforms. Heavy users and marketers instead rely on tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck.

These tools allow you to simultaneously update multiple accounts, shorten links, and schedule your statuses far in advance. It’s also worth noting that Twitter now allows business users to schedule tweets in advance through Twitter for Business.

A scheduled status looks just like a normal status, except it’s uploaded into the system in advance of its eventual publication. If you’re trying to keep your feed continually updated, you can schedule statuses to appear like clockwork every few hours or days, based on your unique social strategy.

Why to Schedule in Advance

Scheduling your regular updates in advance can help you save time and keep your social media accounts fresh. If you routinely go weeks without updating your social profiles, scheduling large blocks of updates several days in advance can help you stay on top of your strategy. Simply set your statuses to publish and forget about it.

Dos and Don’ts to Follow

Think you’re ready to start automating your updates? Before you jump in feet first, keep the following keys in mind:

● Do: Focus on evergreen content. Don’t write time-sensitive updates that won’t be relevant when they appear days later.
● Don’t: Automatically tweet to people who mention your brand. This feels inauthentic and spammy.
● Do: Smatter your relevant updates between scheduled statuses to keep your feed spontaneous.
● Don’t: Overlook the performance of your statuses. If you’re using a tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, it’s easy to review how many people are clicking your links, favoriting your updates, and sharing your content with others.
● Do: Carefully consider when your statuses should appear. It’s smart to target users when they’re likely active on social media. Before work, lunchtime, and in the early evening are all great options.

Scheduling tweets and updates far in advance has some great applications. Use it to stick to a tight editorial calendar or schedule a bunch of statuses to update while you’re disconnected on a long vacation. Whatever you do, don’t allow automation to make you lazy. Continue to invest your best efforts into your social strategy and you’re bound to see results.

Plenty of brands successfully use automation to simplify their social media activities. While it may appear intimidating at first glance, learning to schedule updates is quite simple. If automation fits within your social strategy, pay attention to your social performance and continue making tweaks to ensure you’re getting the most out of your social media presence. Happy tweeting!

Food Styling: 5 Simple Tips to Make Your Photos Pop

July, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Conjuring up the right words to describe the delicious aroma of a decadent dessert or the stunning visual artistry of an entree often proves tricky. As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words and modern consumers are eager to share their indulgences with the world via social media. Many social media users share these photos with the cheeky hashtag, #FoodPorn.

Whether you’re a restauranteur courting would-be diners or an entrepreneur blogger showcasing your latest creation, mastering the art of the simple food shot is vitally important. Use the following simple tools to take photos your followers will be thrilled to share with the world.

Find the Light

It doesn’t take an artistic genius to know bright fluorescent lighting rarely makes for a great photos. On the flip side, you’ll also want to avoid taking pictures of your food in a dimly-lit restaurant. Instead, try to flood your frame with natural light, which highlights the dish’s appearance without washing it out. If your photo looks washed out, try to adjust your white balance to correct the color.

Keep Distractions to a Minimum

Your food should be the star of the show, which is why it’s always preferable to eschew patterned dishware and busy backgrounds in your photos. Keep overall photo composition clearly in mind—remember, social media users will likely see a small thumbnail of your picture. If you crowd the shot with too many items, your picture will fall flat.

Bring Your Audience to the Kitchen

While it’s only natural to focus on your finished product, social media users love to take a trip behind the scenes from time to time. Why not amp up the value of your photos by including pictures of the actual cooking process? Bowls of batter, boiling vats of oil, and ingredients in their raw form can all look contribute to a great feature piece on a particular food item.

Play with Angles and Bites

Don’t position your camera directly over your dish, take a snap, and call it a day. Try some different angles to add interest to your photos and discover which perspective best highlights your dish. You might also want to interact with the food, using a fork to stab a bite or photographing a piece of cake in hand. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and try to transport them through the image itself.

Forget Hot Out of the Oven

Advertisers have long used visual tricks to make food photos more appealing. Mashed potatoes stand in perfectly for ice cream, and Elmer’s glue looks more appealing than mayonnaise. You might not want to dabble with non-edible ingredients, but at the very least, experiment with photographing your food at different temperatures and add various components at different stages of the photography process.

Headline Tags: How to Optimize Your Content for SEO

July, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Writing for the web differs greatly from writing an essay or a letter to a friend. Online readers don’t consume content in the same way they might read the pages of a novel. Instead, most web users skim pages quickly, jump from page to page, and only read the parts they find most interesting. Further complicating matters, search engines consistently browse the pages of your site, using information buried in the HTML to influence your search ranking. Fortunately, learning to master the art of headline tags will help you address both of these challenges.

Headlines 101: What are Tags?

Headlines break up your content and direct your reader through the page. Tags are used within a page’s HTML code to mark the headlines. Contrary to popular opinion, headline tags do much more than simply determine the font size for your text. The tags determine the importance of each headline.

Don’t try to stuff your headlines with keywords or use them too frequently in an attempt to “trick” the search engine. It is important to remember, however, that the search spiders do compare keywords in your headlines to the body of your text. As long as you’re writing relevant headlines, you’ll be in good shape.

How to Use Headline Tags

An h1 tag should be used for the most important headlines on your page. Each subsequent number h1-h6 denotes a subheading of the number before it.

It’s important to follow this hierarchy, or the search engine spiders won’t be able to understand your headlines within their intended context. You’ll likely be using a content management system like WordPress for creating your blog posts, in which case, you can simply highlight the text and choose which headline style to use. The system will add the tags to the code for you.

Understanding Headlines from a Reader’s Standpoint

Unless you’ve studied web user behavior, you likely underestimate the importance of a page’s headlines. The next time you find yourself browsing online, pay attention to how you use headlines to guide yourself. The most important headline (h1) shows you what a specific page references, whereas subheadlines help you find the relevant portions you wish to read. Using headlines effectively helps optimize your site for SEO purposes, while simultaneously improving overall user experience.

Headlines might appear complicated at first glance, but it’s quite easy to master these helpful tools. To maximize your headline potential, experiment with different headings and pay attention to metrics like bounce rates and incoming visitors from search engines. With a bit of luck and hard work, you’ll be able to work out how best to use headlines to improve the quality of your site’s pages.

Professional Photography: Why It’s Worth Paying for Photos in Web Design

July, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Truly effective website design incorporates a number of different elements, including graphics and photography. Many small business owners are tempted to snap a few photos on their smartphone to save money, but paying for professional photography often offers greater benefits. Not only will professional pictures help establish brand credibility, but images play an integral role in evoking an emotional response.

Furthermore, research has continually shown that the presence of photos encourages web users to read blog posts and articles.

Foster Better Conversion Rates

Web marketers spend a lot of time and energy attempting to boost their conversion rates, but photos are an effective way to do so with little effort. 60% of consumers feel more likely to contact a business if it posts photos online. Additionally, blog posts with images receive 94% more views than those without photos. PPC campaigns and aggressive marketing rarely rivals those numbers, all of which can be achieved simply by using professional photos.

Create a Visceral Response

Emotions have always played an important role in marketing, which is why you’ll see countless ad campaigns that attempt to pull on your heartstrings or conjure pleasant memories. Professional photos should go hand-in-hand with an interesting narrative that ties back to your brand’s mission. Together, photos and written content create a potent potion for marketing success.

For businesses in the hospitality industry, stimulating positive emotions will cause potential customers to crave the experience you offer. Plunge your readers into the soft cotton sheets in your hotel’s suites, make readers smell the juices of your freshly grilled steak, cause their tongues to salivate in anticipation for your newest merlot. Stunning photos paired with vivid descriptions will maximize your selling power.

Establish Your Brand Authority

Why should customers choose your company over your competitors? It’s a simple question, but too many small business owners don’t have the right answer. A well-defined company culture and a polished appearance go a long way toward convincing consumers to choose your products or services.

Think of brands within your industry that have catapulted themselves to mass acclaim. Review their marketing materials, and you’ll likely find real people enjoying themselves. Happy customers and courteous staff enjoying the products and services in question. If you want to compete with these brands or even enjoy a small taste of their success one day, it’s worth investing now in photography that connects with your customers in the same manner.

Professional photography doesn’t have to break the bank, but it does represent a significant investment. While you may be tempted to cut corners and use DIY shots or stock imagery, professional photos offer the only effective way to control your brand narrative and ensure you connect with customers in a meaningful way. Consider photography one of those unavoidable expenses and partner with a local photographer who can help bring your brand to life on the page—you may be surprised to see just how useful it ultimately proves for your online marketing efforts.

10 Best Practices for Online Storytelling

July, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Carefully crafting your brand narrative serves a number of important purposes. An effective narrative provides context for the services and products you offer. Why, where, and how did your brand get its start and what mission propels your business forward? Prolific marketers use storytelling to highlight a brand’s key selling points without making the business the center of attention. Storytelling on the web should incorporate the fundamentals of great marketing while tailoring your message for a digital audience.

Feeling stuck? Use the following 10 keys to transform your storytelling online.

1. Focus on the Customer
Storytelling shouldn’t serve as a vehicle to talk endlessly about the greatness of your company. Instead, effective storytelling intertwines the customer’s experience with the overarching values of your brand. Capture your reader’s attention from the start by telling a story that expands beyond the confines of your business.

2. Learn How to Write for the Web
Think writing a long-winded blog post serves as a powerful storytelling tool? Think again. Remember, you’re competing for the attention of your readers. Learn how to craft content that connects with your audience effectively. Use headlines, lists, and short sentences to break up your text.

3. Keep Your Message Truthful
It’s tempting to only share a highly polished message with your audience, but consumers connect with brands that are honest and transparent. Quality, sincerity, and brand history are the key governing principles for authenticity, according to the New York Times. Make sure your story lines up with the overall vision of your brand.

4. Mix Up Your Materials
There’s a simple reason we don’t try to read classic novels to young children—they lose interest too quickly. Instead, a children’s book uses short paragraphs of text, just a few pages, and vivid images to capture an infant’s attention. Keep the same idea in mind when telling a story online. Don’t revert to the blog post for every piece of content you publish. Use images and video to keep your audience connected.

5. Don’t Forget Story Structure
Great stories have three key elements: a beginning, middle, and end. Make sure you address every part of the story’s structure, or you could risk confusing your customer. When your customer becomes confused as to how the story relates to your brand, you risk alienating your buyer.

6. Turn to Real People
Customers like to hear stories that feature real people—other customers, employees, or company founders. It’s easier to connect with a story that feels directly tied to the real experiences of everyday people. Consider using your own customers or people in your organization to highlight how your brand connects with them.

7. Steer Clear of Objectivity
You’re extremely biased towards your unique products and services—and that’s okay! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your content needs to be overwhelmingly objective. You’re not a journalist; you’re a marketer. Highlight what makes your brand truly great.

8. Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Yes, your story should have a clearly defined end, but that doesn’t mean that the stories you tell should serve as one-off marketing vehicles. Work to create “mini stories” that fit into an overall theme for your business. Captivate your audience and leave them eager for more.

9. Say Goodbye to Jargon
Using industry jargon or overly salesy language doesn’t generate the results you’re after. Keep your message clear, concise, and easily understood. Your story shouldn’t be complicated.

10. Expand Beyond Your Blog
Of course, your website serves as a great platform for reaching the masses, but don’t restrict yourself to the boundaries of your site. Look to expand beyond your company blog to maximize your brand’s exposure. Continue to tell your story through social media, advertising campaigns, and content published on other sites.

5 Simple Tips to Create Attention Grabbing Headlines

July, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Powerful content can dramatically impact your digital marketing endeavors, but convincing readers to look past your headline is no simple feat. Modern web users face a constant barrage of content fighting for their attention, making it imperative to write headlines that reel visitors in immediately. Ready to try your hand at writing catchy headlines for the web? Use these five simple tips to captivate readers.

1. Use Numbers

This very post uses a numbered headline—and for good reason! Numbers immediately convey the presence of actionable information to the casual web user. Numbered lists, sometimes called listicles, should be easily digestible and packed with valuable information. According to industry leader Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 users only read blog headlines. Try using numbers to get people engaged.

2. Go Over the Top

Make a promise to your reader that sounds incredulous, but only if you can follow through on your claims. Think of the last advertisement you read. It likely started with an unbelievable claim. “Lose 2 pounds in 24 hours,” “Discover One Simple Way to Kiss Debt Goodbye,” and so forth. Use a hook to catch your reader’s attention, but don’t make a promise you can’t keep.

3. Get Super Specific

If your headline is ambiguous or vague, you can bet your post will have an abysmal clickthrough rate. Outline a specific benefit your content offers and you’ll attract more readers. Consider headlines like “Dramatically Increase Your Foot Traffic” or “How to Boost Your Bottom Line by 50%.”

4. Embrace Controversy

Feel like stepping outside of the box? Consider writing a headline that stirs up a bit of controversy. Often used by web journalists looking for social shares, a controversial headline can stimulate conversation and encourage your readers to share the piece with others. It’s important not to anger your clients with inflammatory posts, but don’t be afraid to take a walk on the wild side.

Examples of controversial content headlines might include, “6 Ways GMO Foods Destroy the Dining Experience.” In fact, you’ll see this headline uses both the numbering strategy and a controversial topic. Remember, to maximize the effect of this headline approach and keep your customers happy, you should possess an in-depth understanding of your market. The last thing you want to do is drive people away with offensive content.

5. Ask a Question

Intrigue would-be readers with a question and they may very well view your content to get the answer. If you’re using the question headline, you’ll want to ask something that is bound to resonate with your audience. With a bit of luck, readers will immediately answer the question, only to read your content to see if your opinion lines up with their perspective. Even if you have different viewpoints, writing question headlines can encourage conversation and spur on social shares.

Writing headlines takes plenty of practice, and there is no perfect method to follow. Take your time and remember, practice makes perfect. Feel free to experiment, and monitor the results of your previous posts to continually improve your skills.

Why Your Business Needs a Well-Planned Content Strategy

July, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Harnessing the potential of web content can lead to significant returns for businesses of all sizes. Creating content that fosters lead generation, brand loyalty, and an increase in overall clout takes much more than simply slapping a few blogs together, however. To best equip your business with the tools necessary for success, it’s essential to build a well-defined content marketing strategy. Still struggling to grasp the concept? Discover the simple ideas behind creating a content plan that will maximize your business’ impact online.

Ideation: Developing Effective Content Concepts

Many business marketers want to create interesting content for the web, but they feel blocked when it comes to developing new ideas. It’s important to approach brainstorming with a twofold approach. First, consider what value the content will bring in terms of search engine optimization (SEO). Can you use keywords, external links, and social tools to capture the attention of the masses?

In addition to the value, content delivers for traffic acquisition, does your idea provide knowledge or information that your reader wants? To pinpoint great ideas, you need to possess an in-depth understanding of your customer. Holding ideas up to these guidelines will help you weed out the good from the bad.

Content Calendars: Maximizing Your Content Value

Using content as a marketing tool presents some benefits. For one, content creation often costs less than investing in traditional advertising or promotional efforts. Even if you create all of your content in-house, however, you’re still paying for content by investing your time.

Rather than letting that investment go to waste, you need to build a content calendar that will let you wring the most value possible out of your content. Building a game plan for sharing your content multiple times, publishing at the right moment, and making routine updates will help catapult good content to the forefront of your reader’s attention.

Working Towards Business Goals

If you’ve ever drafted a business plan, you understand how important it is to outline short and long term goals. Don’t be tempted to overlook this portion of the content strategy, because well-defined goals will direct your content creation in the appropriate manner. Take the time to work out goals both big and small and then focus on creating content that helps your business obtain those goals. By directing your efforts towards an end destination, you’ll keep your content on track and further boost the power of your promotional efforts.

Building a content marketing plan doesn’t have to feel like a daunting endeavor. Make time regularly to take stock of your current market position, develop goals for your future, and brainstorm content that will take you there. A thorough content strategy will take your ho-hum web content to a whole new level, as you begin to publish content that connects with your audience and builds your profile. With a bit of luck and hard work, your content could revitalize the future of your business online.

SEO vs PPC – Working Side-by-Side For Your Business

July, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

When it comes to capturing the attention of potential customers, generating traffic for your business site is an important consideration. Many small business owners struggle to determine whether it makes more sense to invest in SEO or PPC, but you shouldn’t think of these tools as competing forms of traffic generation. Instead, PPC and SEO can and should work together harmoniously, transforming your site into a veritable powerhouse.

Using SEO to Grow Your Business

SEO is an umbrella term that applies to the techniques webmasters use to ensure their site meets the best standards and practices of the web’s largest search engines. Don’t be tempted to put SEO and PPC in the same box, because SEO serves a distinct purpose. Using the right SEO approach will certainly boost your traffic, but deploying a thoughtful SEO strategy is meant to establish your site’s authority.

As you create optimized content, search engines will start to prioritize your pages over others. Naturally, this results in more traffic, but it also results in increased brand exposure and name recognition. Both of these factors help a growing business succeed.

Launching a PPC Campaign

Much like a print or television advertising campaign, PPC ads provide a short-term boost for your company. Effective PPC ads target web users who are likely to be interested in your products or services. Because each click of a PPC ad results in a financial charge, most small businesses run PPC campaigns periodically, based on the constraints of their advertising budget.

SEO & PPC: Which is Better?

In a nutshell, SEO is a long-term growth strategy while PPC ads pull in immediate traffic. So, which technique is better? Neither method is inherently better than the other, but consider the following keys when the values of these tools for your business:

● SEO often represents a lower overall cost, simply because it doesn’t carry a direct financial expense like PPC clicks.

● PPC ads generate traffic much more quickly than SEO.

● SEO often represents a higher ROI over the course of a site’s lifetime, since web users are more likely to trust organic search results.

● Effective pay-per-click ads need to be optimized continually, but they’re not subject to changes in the search engine algorithms.

Feeling overwhelmed yet? While it’s certainly a lot to consider, think of it this way: PPC ads are more expensive, but they generate quick, targeted traffic. SEO works in the background and improves with time.

Before you discount one method in favor of another, instead contemplate using both tools together to maximize your site’s effectiveness. The world’s most powerful brands use a combination of SEO techniques and targeted PPC ads to connect with web users. Choose to continually invest in high-quality content that uses SEO appropriately, and deploy PPC when you’re in need of a traffic boost. While there is no perfect equation, juggling both methods will ensure your site connects with the largest audience possible.