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How to Write an RFP for a Website Redesign

February, 2016 · By Deborah Fiorentino

So, you need a to find an agency to manage your website redesign, but you don’t know how to weed through the endless array of development firms vying for your marketing dollars. Choosing the right option for your redesign shouldn’t feel like an impossible mission, but many small business owners find it downright overwhelming. Writing an RFP, or request for proposal, will help you narrow down the solutions available to you.

Ready to get started? Use the tips below to write an effective RFP that will save you both time and money.

What Should My RFP Include?

Many entrepreneurs wonder if writing an RFP is even worth the effort when it’s relatively easy to ask for a quote from a web designer. The short answer is a resounding yes! An RFP will ensure you receive the best product at a competitive price.

Your RFP should perform a few different functions. Firstly, it announces your intent to compare a firm’s quote against its competitors. This gives you a headstart on the negotiation process before it even begins. The RFP also outlines the expectations and needs of the project, ensuring no wires are crossed down the road. RFPs detail the scope of a project, explore the limitations of your existing site and include your requirements for the submitted proposal. Finally, an RFP must reference budget information.

Provide the Right Context

Unless you’re a budding web developer in your own right, you’re probably more familiar with your goals than the solutions your website should use. Instead of providing a laundry list of “must have” features, use your RFP to explain what you’re looking for and why. By giving the recipient some flexibility, you may find you receive better suggestions and recommendations.

Keep the Right Perspective

While it may be true that the buying power rests in your hands, don’t offend your developer with a bevy of proposal requirements and a ridiculously low budget. Also, you may be ready to start working on your new project tomorrow, but a busy developer likely has to juggle a full roster of other clients jostling for his attention. Don’t insist on an extremely tight lead time, and don’t act like you know everything. Remember, you’re partnering with an expert for a reason—they know what it takes to get the job done right.

Once you’ve drafted your RFP, take some time to customize it for each web designer you contact. A template RFP may provide a smart starting point, but you don’t want to spam 12 different companies with your request and sit back on your laurels. Instead, aim to initiate a conversation about what you’re looking for, and use your RFP to crystalize your wants and needs. By taking this approach, you’re bound to find a development partner who will work diligently to bring your vision to life.

UX Design and Why It Matters

December, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Content is king, or so the old adage goes, but what happens when you neglect the design of your business website? If your website isn’t easy to use, you’ll send your bounce rate soaring. You’re missing out on potential leads and sales, all because you forgot to make user experience a priority.

Don’t let this happen to you—instead, learn how to use UX design to keep visitors engaged and convert casual readers into buyers.

What is UX Design?

The premise behind UX design is very simple: designing products that are easy and enjoyable to use. Every physical product on the market undergoes extensive UX testing, but many business owners mistakenly overlook user experience on the web.

Don’t focus exclusively on the visual appeal of your brand’s website, but keep your eyes peeled for potential trouble spots that could be confusing your audience. Design no nos include confusing navigation systems, pages that aren’t optimized for mobile viewers, and a convoluted layout.

Avoiding the Ramifications of Bad Design

If your site employs a bad design, you’ll find yourself dealing with a laundry list of unpleasant problems. Visitors will quickly give up, meaning you’ll lose the opportunity to connect with a new buyer. Existing customers may change their opinion of your brand, as bad design comes across as unappealing and outdated. Furthermore, you’ll make yourself an easy target for competitors looking to swoop in and steal your customers.

Keep yourself in the clear by partnering with the right web developer. Modern websites are composed of a wide assortment of different components, each of which play an important role in the success online. Whether you’re in the market for a website overhaul or you’re starting at the very beginning, choose a designer who is confident talking to you about the ins and outs of UX design, right alongside factors like color scheme, visual imagery, and logo placement.

Finding the Right Balance with Content

Content is rarely considered in conversations about UX design, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important factor in your website’s usability. Just as a bad navigation system can send visitors into the black hole, poorly optimized content will leave your visitors feeling confused.

Effective UX copy should be concise, clear, and easy to understand. Your copy should work in direct partnership with the overall appearance of your website. To better understand the role content plays in UX design, consider this overview of UX copywriting.

Making a powerful impact online is of the utmost importance. Remember, the first impression is often the only impression a digital user has of your brand—there are no second chances. Don’t send your buyer scurrying for the hills by neglecting one of the fundamental keys of website design. Partner with the right web developer, and continually monitor your site’s performance to ensure you’re on the right track.

5 Keys for Evoking Positive Emotions Through Visual Design

November, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Generating positive emotions related to your brand is paramount to the success of your business. Not only should your site’s visual design effectively reflect your brand identity, but it should stimulate the right response in your visitor. While there is no scientific formula you can utilize to connect with your users, the following keys offer a simple checklist for ensuring your visual design makes the right impact.

1. Think About Your Color Palette

Researchers have spent years studying how humans respond to color stimuli. You’re likely already familiar with some of these principles. For example, most consumers associate yellow with happiness and optimism, while green evokes thoughts of health and peace. As you focus on branding, spend some time getting familiar with how users perceive various colors to ensure your branding is on point.

2. Pay Close Attention to Page Layout

Web design has long been focused on utility, but user experience extends far beyond simply functionality. If you can merge personality and emotion with a usable site, you’ll harness the true power of the web to boost your bottom line. Focus on building pages that are easy to navigate, with large buttons and headlines, all without neglecting positive imagery and appealing visual themes.

3. Tell a Story with Your Site Copy

It isn’t uncommon for designers to think of copy in secondary terms, the text that merely complements the design. Of course, marketers understand that language is one of the most important elements of a cohesive marketing message. Copy is also one of the most versatile components of a modern website. Most brand settle on a static logo and page design that only changes very rarely, while copy can be edited frequently. Use this key to your advantage to change your narrative as your brand evolves.

4. Choose the Right Photos and Images

Images are another overlooked factor on many websites. When choosing photos for your site, it’s almost always preferable to steer clear of stock photography, which reads fake and inauthentic. Think carefully about what images will strengthen the message of your marketing language. Focus on the real deal: photos of your staff members, products, and storefront, offices, or dining room.

5. Communicate Value Above All Else

Creating the visual appearance of your site gives you the perfect opportunity to spend some time tailoring the profile of your target customer. Look at your site objectively and ask, “What is my buyer seeking?”

Think of successful brands that have trailblazed with their marketing initiatives. Apple uses visual aesthetics to demonstrate their products’ superior value to the traditional home PC, and Whole Foods plasters health logos and farm imagery on its ads to connect with health-conscious consumers.

Consider A/B testing if possible, or simply have some brutally honest friends and colleagues take a look at what you’ve created. Ask reviewers to describe the site in two or three words. If you’re on the right path, you should hear adjectives that clearly describe what your brand is all about.

Creating a Strong Call-to-Action: 6 Tips to Get Started

October, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Perhaps one of the single most important aspects of a modern website, the call-to-action often receives little more than a passing thought for small business owners. A call-to-action, often shortened to CTA, gives your reader direction. You can hire the world’s most talented copywriter, spend thousands on a cutting-edge design, and continually invest in online advertising to pull in traffic—yet without a killer call-to-action, you won’t convert visitors to buyers.

Ready to get started creating dynamic CTAs for your site? Use the following tips to ensure your call-to-action will deliver the results you’re seeking.

1. Set a Clear Goal

Too many business owners overlook the importance of setting conversion goals for their website. Your company’s presence on the web shouldn’t be underestimated. What do you want to do with your site? Are you trying to earn more newsletter subscribers? Do you want to encourage readers to make a reservation? Perhaps you’re selling a great product.

Determine what you want your visitor to do, and then, craft a CTA with that action in mind.

2. Action Verbs are Your Friend

Which of the following two options catches your attention? Option 1: Do you want to stay in touch & receive free coupons? You can sign up for our newsletter by clicking here. Option 2: Save money on your next visit by signing up for our newsletter now!

Don’t make a suggestion—create an exciting opportunity your visitor won’t want to miss.

3. Create Scarcity for Visitors

Establishing a false sense of scarcity is a key marketing principle you don’t want to overlook with your call-to-action. Crazy Egg recommends creating a sense of scarcity and urgency with words like immediately, now, and instant. You can also talk about deadlines and limits to get visitors interested.

4. Keep it Brief

Your call-to-action is not an opportunity to make a long-winded sales pitch—your copy should have already convinced the visitor. Instead, the CTA is sending them in the right direction. Don’t over complicate it with long sentences and explanations. Hubspot suggests aiming for 90 to 150 characters.

5. Highlight Your Key Benefits

Use your product or service highlights to get your visitor’s attention. Try to directly tie those benefits into clicking through your link. You should have taken the copy as an opportunity to expound upon the important stuff, but the call-to-action is your way of saying, “You want this. Let’s make it happen.”

6. Think Wisely about Placement

Most marketers place their CTA above the fold or at the bottom of the page. Both can be effective positions, but think about the story you’re writing for your visitor. Let the CTA be the culmination of a well-thought out marketing message.

The ultimate truth is that there is no perfect CTA that applies across the board—instead, experiment to find what works best for your site. If you receive enough visitors, consider using A/B testing to determine what option works best for you. With a bit of elbow grease and some luck, you should be able to determine what call-to-action most effectively helps you reach your business goals.

Web Design 101: Using Color to Boost Conversions

October, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Most small business owners don’t give the color of their website much thought—after all, a design’s visual appeal is most important, right? In fact, your site’s design should extend far beyond appearance, by incorporating colors that can land you more sales. If you’re not already familiar with colors role in design and how it can alter the perceptions of your buyer, learn how you can utilize colors to boost your online conversions.

Why Does Color Matter?

Colors evoke emotions and subconscious responses from consumers. Yellow and orange tones project happiness and optimism, while most buyers see blue as trustworthy and dependable. In addition to these general ideas, different target groups vary in their color preferences. For example, many female buyers don’t like orange and brown, while men don’t like purple. A few simple color changes can make or break a company’s branding and marketing initiatives.

Finding the Best Color for Conversions

A number of detailed case studies have taken a closer look at color on the web, in an effort to pinpoint which colors help buyers land more sales. Some studies have found that using a red button instead of a green button can produce up to 34% more results. Before you fill your site with red buttons, however, it’s important to understand that color is merely a portion of the conversion equation.

See, while color is undeniably important, it’s even more important to understand your audience. Many case studies and A/B tests have revealed results that seem completely contradictory to one another. That doesn’t mean that one color is necessarily better than the other, it simply means the site’s visitors respond better to one option in a particular case. Confused yet?

How to Realistically Choose the Right Color

Is color one of the most important elements of a website’s design? Yes—and yet, even the most talented marketers in the world are split on the best ways to implement color. As Unbounce points out, there is no single button shape, size, or color that will work perfectly in every situation. Instead, try to use colors that stand out and don’t be afraid to experiment to find the right fit.

Choosing the right colors for your website’s design is no easy process, and unfortunately, there are no definitive answers you can apply across the board. Don’t be discouraged, however. Treat your site like an ever-evolving tool to help you better market your business. Experiment wildly and see what you’re able to produce. If you have the resources to do so, consider testing different designs and colors to see what resonates best with consumers. Above all else, know your buyer—with a clearly defined target audience in mind, you’ll be better able to gauge a visitor’s response to your business site.

Elicit an Emotional Response with the Right Imagery

October, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Emotions have long been recognized as one of the most important factors in marketing. In one analysis of 1,400 case studies, marketing campaigns that elicited emotional responses were nearly twice as effective as the baseline. To capitalize on your buyer’s emotions, you need to understand how to elicit that elusive response. On the web, copy and design form part of the equation, but it is a site’s images that truly impact a visitor’s emotions.

Wonder how to use your website’s images to make the biggest impression on potential buyers? Use these simple tips to maximize the power of your digital photos.

1. Understand Your Audience’s Needs

Defining a narrow target audience has benefits that extend across every facet of your marketing strategy. If you understand what your reader needs emotionally, you’ll be better equipped to evoke that response. Establish your audience needs first, and you’ll then be better able to choose imagery that will connect with the reader in question.

2. Use People to Sell Your Product

We’re naturally wired to focus on human faces, which is why you’ll see human beings as one of the top image choices on the web. Buyers don’t merely want pictures of your products and services. If you can use a photo of a person to drum up feelings of nostalgia or memories, you can generate an even greater emotional pull.

3. Focus on Authenticity

Many marketing firms shy away from stock photography for one simple reason—it doesn’t resonate as well with web users. Consumers want the real, raw deal, with photos that aren’t airbrushed to perfection. Choose to highlight photos of your staff members, or instead take photos of your business, flaws and all. An honest portrayal of who you are is much better than trying to create an unrealistic fantasy.

4. Select Sensory Photos

If you’re not already familiar with sensory marketing, take some time to learn more about the science behind this riveting phenomenon. Our senses affect our mood and memories in a powerful way, and while photos only call on a web user’s sight, the right picture can make your reader practically smell your product or taste your food.

Choose graphic pictures that catapult your web user into another world. Remember, the whole marketing equation should be focused on your buyer, not on your company and what you sell.
When selecting images for your site, try to imagine what your ideal customer would want to feel when interacting with your brand.

There are countless resources available to business owners who want to use images to enhance their marketing efforts. By selecting photos that emotionally resonate with your web visitor, you’ll boost your conversion rate and get consumers excited about choosing your business. If you’re able to do this consistently, your website could easily become one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal.

Website Design – You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

September, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Customers make split-second judgments about your business every single day. From your branding and logo to the product you sell, your clients will use the information available to them to make a snap decision. While some things simply cannot be helped, your business website isn’t one of them. Rather than slapping something together on the cheap and calling it a done deal, it’s essential to approach your site’s development from a marketing point of view.

Ready to get started? Use the following tips to make a great first impression on your site visitors.

Exploring the Importance of UX

User experience, often shortened UX, is a key component of a successful website. UX encompasses a number of different elements, including your branding, marketing, and overall usability of the site. In most cases, partnering with a trusted web development firm is the smartest option for creating an appealing site that makes the right impression on your customers.

Remember, a poor site won’t merely cause frustration for your customers, but it could send them in droves to your competitors. A poorly designed site shows a lack of appropriate customer care and could convince would-be clients that you’re irrelevant or out of touch. Don’t play around with bad design—get things in order from the moment you purchase your domain.

Connecting On Mobile Devices

The mobile web has witnessed an incredible period of growth over the last decade, as consumers flock to smartphones and tablets to access the internet. Responsive website design plays an important role in ensuring every visitor receives the same positive browsing experience. If your site is only optimized for desktop users, you could be missing out on a huge segment of your target audience. An estimated 79% of smartphone users search for local businesses via their mobile devices, which should be more than convincing if you’re still in two minds about investing in responsive design.

Creating Cohesive Branding

Cohesive, consistent branding falls under the umbrella of Marketing 101, but a surprising number of small business owners ignore this key principle. Simple discrepancies in your color scheme, logos, and marketing materials could confuse your clients and cause them to lose trust in your brand. Treat your website as an extension of your marketing materials, and apply the same branding across your physical products, ads, and site. This builds credibility for your business and keeps your message on point.

As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Don’t leave your business’ success up to chance, but instead invest in the right tools to build a strong foundation for your company. A well-designed, thoughtful website serves as the first point of contact for reaching many of your customers. By investing the time and resources to ensure the site effectively converts, you’ll avoid lost sales and keep your company on the path to a healthy future.

Your Newsletter, Revamped: How to Supercharge Your Reader Engagement

August, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Collecting email addresses from your loyal customers allows you to target these readers with your customized marketing message, but many newsletters fall flat. If you’re tired of putting in all the effort and seeing no results, perhaps it’s time to rethink your newsletter strategy. Using a few simple tips, you can drive engagement, gain more subscribers, and ultimately, boost your bottom line. Ready to get started? Read on for a simple look at how to maximize the potential of your business newsletter.

Keep Your Content Digestible

Email users checking their inbox aren’t looking for a novel to read. Instead of bombarding your subscribers with too much information, provide small chunks of relevant text that can easily be consumed on the go. If you’re using your newsletter to highlight recent blog posts, include a few lines of your article as a teaser, and direct your readers to your site to read more. If you instead choose to write content specifically for the newsletter, use short sentences, plenty of headlines, and small lists to keep your reader’s attention.

Clearly Define a Call to Action

Plenty of business owners send out newsletters because they think it’s what you’re “supposed” to do. Don’t invest your energy creating a newsletter, only for your time to be wasted. Create a clear call to action to drive interaction with your brand. “Schedule a Dining Reservation Now” or “Check Out our Latest Dishes on YouTube” could be possible CTAs you might want to test.

Share Special Discounts and Offers

Everybody loves special savings, which is why many successful marketers use newsletters to share coupons and sales with their readers. Entice potential subscribers with the promise of free stuff, and deliver on that promise in your emails. Loyal followers enjoy feeling like they have “members only” access to your brand, and the promise of discounts and savings can help ensure your emails don’t head straight to the trash.

Include Timely Information

Many web writers strive to create evergreen content, meaning posts that will remain interesting from years to come. Your newsletter should do just the opposite! If you’re telling your audience to keep up with the latest by signing up for your emails, you should indeed be providing the latest, rather than simply rehashing tired topics.

Don’t Forget the Visuals

Newsletters should feature more than text alone. Use professional photography to immediately pull in your subscribers. You can also pepper your newsletter with colorful advertisements, vibrant social media posts, and enticing video content.

Newsletters can make an impressive impact, encouraging your most devoted followers to patronize your business and spread the word. By taking the time to carefully outline goals for your marketing materials and optimizing your emails with great content, you will help ensure your newsletter makes a powerful punch. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas.

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.

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.