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    Sarah is co-director of Malvolio. She brings her creative skills to the business, and loves concept development in commercial projects, illustration, and working on various self-initiated paper craft projects in her spare time.

  • Category: The Web

    Sarah: my history with webdesign

    A personal post today: how did I get into webdesign?

    I grew up in a house without a computer. We didn’t get a computer until I was in year 9, when the school I attended required students to type their essays instead of handwriting them. However, I had already been going to the local internet cafe every day after school, making the most of my hour on the net. We are in the year 2000, by the way.

    During that hour each day, I found Yahoo groups. I soon realised these could be customised with colours and your own images. I worked out what HTML colours meant and got customising. As soon as I had my own computer at home, I started using Jasc Paint Shop Pro (memories!) and designing my own banners. Terrible now, but it was the beginning of my career and I had no idea.

    Yahoo Groups were boring. I wanted to do more. I idolised fan websites of my favourite TV shows and bands, and wished I could be as creative as that. I wanted to learn to create what they had created. I wanted to do MORE than what they were doing. I had to learn HTML.

    You can laugh now, but I actually started at www.lissaexplains.com. A daggy website now, but back then it was exactly what I needed. I soaked in every page, followed every tutorial. What Lissa Explains It All couldn’t offer, I did additional tutorials over at Webmonkey (no longer online). I started building my own websites – fan websites, personal websites, websites for friends…whatever I could do. I hated how basic HTML was on its own, so I picked up CSS along the way, adding some Javascript and CGI scripts for even more features.

    I was learning, yet I didn’t realise how much I was learning. That was until year 10: we had a project to code a website in IT class. I already knew how to. It was surreal. I had only owned a computer for less than a year and I could already build websites from scratch. I ended up showing all my classmates how to add scrolling marquees and blinking text (thank goodness neither of those are in anymore!), until my teacher got really frustrated and gave me a Javascript textbook to learn from instead.

    There was no turning back. By now, I was fully capable of editing photos, creating unique layout designs, making pixel art. I learned so much about colour schemes and typography during this time, too. So I kept creating. I kept coding. I kept building new websites as often as I could.

    I tried out designing Flash websites, and while that was also fun – I’m grateful it wasn’t to be forever. I loved solid code.

    Fast forward a few years later, we had started to move away from tables and into div layers. Oh how excited I was (#nerdtalk). The possibilities were opening up. And then there were content management systems. I had dabbled in ASP early on while managing a few existing websites…but then there was PHP. And how I fell in love with the possibilities. It changed everything about webdesign: no longer would a website need to be static or fully managed by someone who knows code. A website could be custom designed, and someone else with basic editing skills could maintain the content. This was the biggest turning point.

    From there, coding and learning and developing continued. By the time I graduated university, I already had many paid webdesign projects – I don’t remember how it happened, but it snowballed and became a big part of my work.

    11 years later, and webdesign is now a major portion of our studio. I am still constantly learning new code, and designing websites for our clients is just as much of a joy now as it was all the way back in the beginning. You know, I didn’t even realise what I was doing was “designing” when I was 15. I was just having fun!


    WordPress Plugins: Why Less is More

    Not only do we build websites from scratch, but we also help redesign or improve existing websites, primarily on WordPress. We always focus on setting up suitable plugins for each website.

    WordPress can be great, both from a developer perspective and even a DIY perspective. But it has one ironic downfall: you can add a plugin to do nearly anything. The WordPress plugin library is nothing short of gigantic. Which means we regularly see DIY websites with a large amount of plugins installed.

    There’s a balance to using plugins: choosing ones that work best with your needs, ones that are updated regularly, and not using too many. More plugins = longer loading time = slower website. Incorrectly set up plugins can also slow your website down, or be incompatible with other plugins.

    The other trap we often see people fall into, is using additional plugins to “fix” things that just need some coding done, rather than a whole plugin. As a guide, we generally try to keep an average-sized website to use no more than 5-6 plugins at most (and less where possible).

    Less plugins mean:

    • Less chance of your website breaking
    • Less areas of your website that need updating/monitoring
    • Less items to load on each page (faster website)

    Less plugins also gives you more control, knowing what you have installed – rather than having a whole library of plugins and not understanding why they are all there.

     

     


    Website design in 2018

    Website design is a large part of Malvolio, and it’s probably the most changed. Website design feels “new” to us every year – there is always something new to learn, something new to add.

    I remember when I started designing websites back in 2001, and was simply in awe with what is very basic code today. I saw that the possibilities were endless then, and I still look at website design the same way today – with fresh eyes every year.

    So what has 2018 brought us in website design?

    Websites on Mobile Devices

    The move to mobile devices is done, it’s here. If you’re not already accessible on mobile, you’ve missed the boat and need to get onto it ASAP. It’s not even an option anymore (which strangely, was the case only a few short years ago). The expectation is that your full website will be available on mobile, not an abridged version. This includes forms and online stores working the same on desktop as on mobile.

    Ecommerce/Online Stores

    Businesses are taking online stores far more seriously. While they did become accessible budget-wise in recent years – especially with the rise of DIY services such as Shopify – online stores were still being treated as a sideline to a business. There was expectation that “you build it and they will come” in the ecommerce space, which it’s now that people realise this is not the case. Marketing your online store is just as important as marketing every other aspect of your business. We have seen a huge move towards businesses really taking the reigns of their online stores and making them successful.

    AfterPay has become very popular to add into online stores this year, too.

    Security, SSL Certificates and SEO

    Although it was all the way back in 2014 that Google mentioned security on websites was beginning to be used as a ranking signal, it hasn’t been until this year where it’s had a marked affect. When Google announced that they would begin marking all HTTP websites as non-secure in Chrome from July, this seemed to set off a worry for a lot of website owners and the SEO industry.

    For our own clients, we offer a basic SSL certificate automatically on all hosting accounts/websites, which means your website will show as secure on all browsers.

    Multi-section Website Layouts

    Multi-sections on pages has had a steep rise. In previous years, at a very basic level, each page would generally have a header, a block of text and photos, and a footer. Now this “block of text and photos” regularly includes blocks of text, all sectioned and describing different things. Each section often links to another more detailed page. These sections are much more designed than previous, making websites far more aesthetically pleasing from top to bottom. This trend started with single-page websites, but is now across even the largest of websites with clever navigation planning.

    What will 2019 bring in website design? We are looking forward to finding out!

     


    Interactive location search for No Lights No Lycra

    New section launched on No Lights No Lycra’s website for their locations. They have over 50 sessions running worldwide (most are weekly), and outgrew the list they used to use.

    It is now an interactive map showing all locations. Users can search for their own location by postcode, a list of locations or navigating through the map. It’s such a big change from what they had before!

     


    Mobile-responsive case study: Emma Tomlinson

    We designed and built Emma’s website all the way back in 2012, before mobile responsive websites were a common thing. The website design hasn’t changed (it’s standing the test of time!), but the lack of mobile responsiveness was becoming a problem. So we’ve now upgraded it to be the same design and mobile responsive.

    Mobile users always prefer a website that fits on their screen with no effort – make sure your own website is easy to view on mobiles. Search engines are also known for ranking mobile responsive websites above non-mobile friendly websites. In some cases, a non-mobile website will not even appear in mobile search results.

    If you have a website you still love, but doesn’t fit on mobile devices, get in touch – we might be able to convert it for you!


    Online Store Development

    The Pawfect Pet Foods Delivery Co are a fellow Somerville business, who came to us wanting to build an online store.

    They were taking orders manually – in-store and via email – but felt there had to be an easier way. They wanted to automate the ordering process. So an online store was built. Their entire menu of raw pet foods is listed on their website, available to order in 1kg batches. The online store has also made it possible for add-ons during ordering, such as adding veggies to selected dishes.

    As Pawfect Pet Foods deliver Victoria-wide, they have varied delivery prices. The checkout process automatically works out which delivery area they are within, and sets their delivery fee accordingly. Before their online store was launched, they worked this out for each order manually.

    The online store also has the ability to create coupon codes for selected customers to use. Coupons can be set for single use, for only selected email addresses, selected products, and more – making them versatile. Much easier than trying to figure out a discount at the counter!

    Other pages on their website include meal plans, useful guides such as meat/weight percentages, and happy snaps of their furry friend customers.


    Why do we use WordPress?

    There are numerous content management systems for websites out there. We use WordPress for our clients’ websites – but why WordPress?

    Popular System

    Being supported by a huge community of developers, there is a lot of benefit in using a widely popular system:

    • It is automatically updated regularly, keeping it secure and current with modern browsers.
    • There are a lot of plugins available to extend the functions of your website. Things such as forms, online stores, social media connections, etc are easy to add.
    • Those plugins are also regularly updated from their developers to keep in line with the main system updates.
    • While we provide customised how-to guides and one-on-one training for each client, there is an abundance of guides, articles and forum conversations publicly accessible online too.

    Easy to Update

    WordPress has one of the most simple user interfaces we’ve come across. For those clients who still might feel overwhelmed, the user interface can be customised even further to the most basic set of buttons. It’s easy for anyone to maintain; I normally refer to that if you are familiar with typing a document in Microsoft Word, you’ll be able to use WordPress (there are a lot of familiar formatting options).

    There are also nifty little features, such as autosave while you’re typing, a dynamic word counter, and even the ability to schedule pages and posts to publish on a set day and time.

    Easy to Expand

    We work with a lot of start-up businesses who don’t need a large website initially, but have plans for expanding later on. WordPress is one of the most friendly systems I’ve ever worked on to expand a website. Whether it’s adding new pages to the menu sometimes, or to the extreme of adding a full eCommerce store, the system not only makes it possible, but keeps it simple.

    Good for Best Web Practices and SEO

    “Best web practices” likely doesn’t mean much as a phrase to you. It’s all the background stuff you can’t see, but makes the user’s visit a pleasant one – such as a page loading quickly, or a page easy to read on mobile and desktop.

    With WordPress, you’re not limited to a selection of templates. We custom build each layout, not only to keep it unique to your business, but also to keep the code neat and tidy. A well-built website also has the benefit of improving your opportunities with SEO. WordPress has turnkey SEO tools to help you make the most of your keywords and content too.

    No Ongoing Licensing Fees

    WordPress, at its core, is a free system. You don’t have to pay a fee to use WordPress, or to receive updates. The only part you pay for is the development/customising of your website, which is a one-off cost. Quite a few content management systems have monthly or annual fees for simply using their system – but not with WordPress. This makes it a sustainable long-term solution for developing websites.

    We can convert websites from other systems into WordPress. If you’re feeling limited by your current system, you can contact us to discuss your options.


    SEO: it all comes down to content

    Good search rankings on Google come from a lot more than using keywords – the content that surrounds the keywords is just as important.

    When it comes to search rankings, you need to look at Google as “match or better my competitors”.

    In 2018, the things Google looks for:

    Content Density

    The goal is a minimum of 150 words per page on a set topic. 300 words is preferred, 600 words is ideal. Don’t treat content as an essay – use lots of subheadings so there’s no more than 100-200 words under each heading.

    Regular Updates

    Adding new content to your website regularly is integral to ranking in search engines. There was a move away from ranking historical websites a few years ago, so now the most recently updated websites fare better. Updating existing content on a page can help, but it’s adding new pages that has the most impact.

    Our general recommendation is to update your website with a new page at least once every 2-4 weeks, but it really depends on your competitors websites who are ranking for the same keywords. You need to match (or better) how often they update their own websites. If they all add a new page weekly or daily, then that would also be your goal.

    Linking

    Internal links: Google looks for pages linked to each other that are related to the same topic – it uses this to decide if a website is a collective of information or a once-off source. For example: if you have a page that discusses a product found on your website, make sure to link any references of that product to its own page.

    Backlinking: is not as popular as it used to be, as Google now takes a lot more into consideration when ranking a website. If you want to build backlinks (as they do still hold value in rankings), ensure that the websites who are linking back to you have an excellent page rank and a low spam score.

    Total number of pages

    From our personal experiences, we have found that Google will rarely rank a website less than 5 pages in size. 5 pages is the bare minimum however. When you look at your top-ranking competitors, review how many pages are on their websites – that will give you a fair idea of what you need to match or better to be in a similar position to them.


    While this is all relevant now, it will be interesting to see the changes over the next 6-12 months. Google is often changing their algorithms, but we have a feeling that content will always be the main driver of website rankings. After all – we visit websites for information, that’s the core reason for websites to exist!


    Google Adwords: Lead Generation

    Did you know that we can also help you and your business with Google Adwords lead generation campaigns? We were approached by Benton Insurance Services to develop a turn-key ‘lead generating’ solution for their business.

    Farm Insurance Online was founded and we worked closely with Benton Insurance Services to create a Google Adwords campaign that delivers potential leads from Google search directly into a website which we custom developed. The website captures critical lead generating data about the customer before being transmitted directly into Benton Insurance Services business systems for immediate staff follow-up and potential business transaction.

    If you’re looking for something like this to help give your business a bit of a boost, feel free to chat to us to see how we can help.


    Maintaining a website: the launch is not the end

    One thing we find that a lot of people still don’t realise is that once a website is launched, that’s not the finish – if anything, it’s really the beginning of looking after a living and breathing publication.

    Testimonials page – website designThe thing is, you can keep adding new pages and new features. A great example of this is Safecom Security’s website. Their website has been running for over a year now, and the newest feature we’ve added is a reviews/testimonials page. The client is able to add reviews as they receive them, plus there’s a section on the page for customers to also leave a review.


    Another example is on the No Lights No Lycra website, where we recently added a Gift Tokens page. On this page, visitors can purchase gift tokens to use at No Lights No Lycra sessions, which offer discounted entry.


    The goal with a website is to keep it current, keep it relevant. Sometimes this may be from adding new information (or updating existing information), or it may be adding a new feature that adds benefit to your customers while visiting your website.