Outdated or Here Another Year? - Website Features

Website features, like anything else, come and go with differing fads and fashions.  Does your website have a feature you should hang on to?  Or a feature that you should get rid of?

Recently. Mashable asked 12 entrepreneurs for their opinion on web trends and features.
We read their ideas and had a few thoughts to share.

Homepage Sliders


What is it:  A slide-show of images and/or text that automatically rotates through.  Viewers can also click through all of the tabs.

Keep it or Trash it:  We currently produce a number of sites that use this feature.  Why do we love it?  It gives your web visitor a quick run though the hot-topics on your website.  In our visual-heavy culture, a combination of images and text can send a message faster than just text.

We say, keep it!

Stock Photos


What is it:  Getty revolutionized websites with the availability of a stock photo of pretty much anything and everything.

Keep it or Trash it:  If you don't have any proprietary photography that will work well, a stock photo may be your best bet.  However, web consumers are becoming more brand-loyal and they like to know the faces and places behind those brands.

We say, use stock photos only when necessary!

Animated Gifs


What is it:  In this case, a picture is worth 1,000 words.
Keep it or Trash it:  This fad went out over 10 years ago.  The American flag is a beautiful thing!  Just put a nice, small graphic of the flag on your site and leave it at that.

We say, keep the flag, get rid of the animation!

Reloading Pages


What is it:  As you navigate along a website, the menu, sidebar and footer don't need to be reloaded, necessarily.  Just the content in the middle of the page would need change.

Keep it or Trash it:  This is a must keep.  If you ever want to send a customer to a specific page or product, then each page really needs their own unique address.  Also, search engines love to crawl pages on your website.  Make it easy for Google to find your site and index all of its information.

We say, keep it!


Mobile Websites


What is it:  A separate website just for mobile devices.

Keep it or Trash it:  Responsive websites are becoming more of a necessity with increasing web use on tablets and cell phones.  If you've got an elaborate website, a separate mobile site may actually be easier for your audience to navigate.

We say, go responsive if you can.  If not, be sure to have a separate mobile-ready website.


Sidebars


What is it:  The 250-300 pixels along the side(s) of a website.

Keep it or Trash it:  If you utilize sidebars on your website, be sure all of the information you put there is necessary and not simply taking up space.  If you choose to go without, be sure your web site content has large margins.  What's a good rule of thumb for text width?  Your text should be no wider than it takes to list out the alphabet three times.  Any more and it is difficult for the eyes to track.

We say, do what delivers the most value!

Hit Counter


What is it: 
Keep it or Trash it:  Please let the "hit counter" go the way of the floppy disk.  But do delve into your website's stats to see how many visitors you've had, what the top search terms were for your website and other valuable information.  Please note:  hits are no longer being tracked.

We say, trash it!

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What website elements do you think should be a thing of the past?  We'd love to have you join the conversation on Facebook!

What the Top Apps of 2013 Say About Us

If you're like us, you've downloaded and used a number of different apps this year.  Apple recently revealed the top apps downloaded in 2013 from their App Store.  Here's the list:


Top Free iPhone
  1. Candy Crush Saga    
  2. YouTube
  3. Temple Run 2
  4. Vine
  5. Google Maps
  6. Snapchat
  7. Instagram
  8. Facebook
  9. Pandora Radio
  10. Despicable Me: Minion Rush 

Top Paid iPhone
  1. Minecraft – Pocket Edition   
  2. Heads Up!
  3. Temple Run: Oz   
  4. Angry Birds Star Wars
  5. Plague Inc.
  6. Afterlight
  7. Free Music Download Pro – Mp3 Downloader
  8. Bloons TD 5
  9. Sleep Cycle alarm clock
  10. Plants vs. Zombies 

Top Free iPad
  1. Candy Crush Saga    
  2. YouTube
  3. Temple Run 2    
  4. Calculator for iPad Free
  5. Skype for iPad
  6. Netflix
  7. Despicable Me: Minion Rush    
  8. iBooks
  9. Facebook
  10. The Weather Channel for iPad

Top Paid iPad
  1. Minecraft – Pocket Edition 
  2. Pages
  3. Temple Run: Oz  
  4. Plants vs. Zombies HD    
  5. Angry Birds Star Wars HD    
  6. Notability
  7. Angry Birds Star Wars II    
  8. iMovie
  9. The Room
  10. Bad Piggies HD


What do these apps reveal about us?




WE LOVE TO GAME

Minecraft, Temple Run, Despicable Me: Minion Rush, Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, The Room, Bad Piggies--our smart devices are gaming devices, no doubt.  Whether we're waiting in the terminal before catching a flight or taking a breather on a stressful day, a quick gaming break may be just what the doctor ordered.

Smart device games are typically broken up into short, challenging levels.  This makes them fun to play and figure out yet easy to set down and come back to later.  Perfect for killing time.

The increase in gaming downloads also confirms that many parents use their smart devices to occupy kids on car rids, airplane flights or trips to grandma's house.  As much as we love our devices, our kids might love them even more than we do.  


WE'RE SOCIAL

Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Vine, -- sharing is second nature.  When we're at a movie, on a vacation or just having dinner with friends, most of us love to tell the world about it.  

While we're increasingly connected, there may be a bit of an illusion of friendships here.  It will continue to be a struggle to engage with people in real life, just as has been an issue since the beginning of human kind--people be messy.  These social media tools are a wonderful way to be connected, but we can always put more time and energy into the relationships we truly value.


WE WORK ON THE WEEKENDS

Pages, Notability, Skype for iPad, --our devices are mobile offices.  We can work when we want, where we want and how we want.  Meetings, brainstorms and updates can be done on the fly.

We can take work with us.  This is a major advantage when we want to live a little.  Taking a vacation and not falling behind; attending a birthday party and not missing an important email; and staying up-to-the minute are all benefits of the smart device generation.  For some people this can be liberating.  For others, this can be a stressful situation.  The key is to find the balance that works the best for you,  so you can be fully engaged at work and in your personal life.


WE'RE VISUAL

Instagram, iMovie, Afterlight, --our devices capture our lives.  Many people no longer take a separate digital camera.  We rely on the accessibility and convenience of our phones and tablets, as they're never too far away from us.  

While these devices can take great snaps and pics, we all need to remember to back up our photos, or risk losing them when our phones break, fail or are misplaced.   Also, a good quality digital camera may be preferable when we're capturing truly important moments.  It's easy to overestimate the photo quality of our favorite device.  


WE'RE RELIANT

Weather Channel, Sleep Cycle, Netflix, YouTube, Google Maps, Pandora -- our devices are our BFFs.  In bed, in the bathroom, at work and at play, our smart devices never far away.  We've come to rely on them for entertainment, information, normal every-day use.  When we lose or break a smart device we feel like a part of us is missing.  That's because a trusted tool relied upon every day is missing or not working properly.

While we rely on our devices, we must remember that they won't work properly without some proper care.  Backups, taking along power cords, and handling them with a bit of care are all important parts of the smart device relationship, so to speak.  We can lose valuable photos, information and contacts if we're not a little bit proactive.  That way, when a new, shiny model comes out, we won't be so invested in our current model that there's a fear to upgrade.  Or replace one that fell in the toilet.

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What do your apps say about you?  We'd love to hear your thoughts over on Facebook!

How to Unplug

As people who love the web, technology and our mobile phones, we readily admit that we're plugged in.  All.  The.  Time.  However, this can lead to information overload.  Or a sense of never really focusing on who we're with or where we're at.

What are The Symptoms?

Taking a retreat from your phone, laptop or tablet may be in order if:


  • Each time your phone chirps you absolutely HAVE to check it.  Resistance is futile.
  • Your Facebook friends know what you're doing, thinking and eating throughout the day.  Every day.
  • You've blown-up your significant other's phone because they haven't responded.  You've given them 30-seconds to do so.
  • You see a person in real life and can't connect with them.  You'll Facebook them instead.
  • You frequently stop talking with the person in front of you in order to check your phone.
  • Eating a meal without checking your phone is uncommon.  
  • Your typical response times to email is 3-seconds.
  • Your children recognize your obsession and rush to bring your phone to you each time it beeps, rumbles or squawks.  

How to Unplug


If you've reached your critical max for online-associations, here are some ideas to help you unplug.

1.  Decide how long you'll unplug.  Maybe just an hour?  A day?  A weekend?  Decide what's best for you given your current projects and commitments (no sense unplugging to relax and losing your job over it).

2.  Make it easy to do.  Maybe set a timer if you're looking for a 1-hour break.  Put your phone on silent so you don't hear every email that lands in your inbox.  Turn off your laptop and put it away.  Shut off your desktop computer and put a Post-It reminder on it that you're taking a break.  If you're unplugging for a longer period of time, be sure to respond to all important emails and possibly set up an auto-email responder to let interested parties know when you'll be available again.

3.  Focus away from technology.  You have a life outside of technology--trust us!  Plan a date night, go see a movie, pack a picnic or a day-trip.  Focus on people and places rather than what's happening online.

When you've completed your break, be sure to Facebook us because we're dying to know how it went.

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Here's a great info-graphic we found about unplugging (HT: DailyInfographic.com) :




5 Web Design Tips from the CNN.com Redesign

Image courtesy of Fast Company
Want to know what a $15 million website redesign looks like?  CNN.com is planning to unveil their brand-new website in November, and they've tweaked the homepage, the mobile experience and the back-end of their website all in an effort to redefine readers' experience.

There are a number of tips from their major website overhaul that translate to any website--no matter the budget.

Be Responsive


More people are accessing the web via a mobile device everyday.  With faster phones and data streaming speeds, looking something up on the web is becoming a natural part of daily life.  Whether it's checking in on Facebook or researching area restaurants, mobile customers are a huge source of web traffic.

"Desktop [traffic] is flat. It's aging," KC Estenson, general manager of CNN.com said. "Mobile growth [is] off the chart."
Currently, CNN.com garners about 39% of their total traffic from mobile devices--a figure they expect will only increase.

Takeaway


Check your website stats.  What percent of total traffic is from a mobile device (phones and tablets)?  You may be surprised.  Now, check out your website on a few mobile devices.  What is the experience like?

Update Your Color Scheme


CNN.com is known for using the color red in their logo as making red a major player in their color palette.  The new design will maintain the red logo, but the color scheme will be darker and more dramatic.  Then, as news stories are more pressing and urgent, the colors change to become more urgent--a brighter background with a red headline.

Takeaway


Seriously revisit the colors used on your website.  How long have you been using them?  Is it time to introduce a new feeling or theme using color?  However, be sure to keep the brand consistent (aka - don't mess the logo unless you're looking to update it across the board).


Streamline the Back End


CNN.com is looking to make the process of adding a news story to their website easier and quicker for their contributors.  In addition, the process of publishing a story to the web and mobile devices will be streamlined.  Finally, readers can tag stories and recieve updates and view articles of a similar nature.

Takeaway


What current website features have become cumbersome or unenjoyable?  Is it due to a process that is too clunky or time consuming?  An update to the back end of a website is more costly, but the time, effort and tears saved may make the project entirely worthwhile.  


Big Photos


The new CNN.com will feature more photos.  And, the more pressing the news story, the larger the photos.

Takeaway


Web viewers are becoming more visual with websites like Pinterest capturing much of their time.  Is there an area of your website that could benefit from larger photos?  If your shutter skills are rusty or you rely on your smartphone for website imagery, it may be time to up your game.  Consider hiring a professional or honing your photography skills.  Either way, remember that a picture is worth 1,000 words.


Personalization

The ability to tag news stories is going to be huge.  If visitors to CNN.com tag a human interest story, the website will then suggest other, similar stories in an effort to make the website as personalized as possible.

Takeaway


Are there similar ways you can present a personal experience for your web visitors?  It can be as simple as an email suggesting similar products when a customer completes a purchase or as sophisticated as delivering content based on their viewing preferences.  Another way to personalize your brand is to respond to commenters on social media and blogs.

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No matter the budget, there are a number of lessons appropriate for any website in the $15 million redesign of CNN.com.  What are your thoughts?  We'd love for you to pop over to our Facebook page and fill us in!

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To read more about the CNN.com redesign, check out the following news stories:

Fast Company
Mashable
BrandChannel


Innovate like Marissa Mayer


Marissa Mayer's strategic plan for innovation at Yahoo! has been to acquire 20 start-ups in just over a year.  Sometimes she did this to acquire technology and sometimes it was the people behind the tech that caught her eye.

Your small business may not have the assets that Yahoo! has to "Innovate through Acquisition" but that doesn't mean you should just forget about innovative thinking entirely.  

How can your business innovate like Melissa Mayer?


1.  Acquire New Blood


One way to acquire innovative ideas and skills is to invest in people.  Hiring someone new to be a part of a group that has worked together for a long time may be a great way to raise the bar.  

When looking for someone to add to your staff, set your sights high and look for someone that is driven and creative--no matter if they are a programmer or a customer service rep.  Exceptional people are out there!  You just need to actively find them.

2.  Invest in Your Employees


When was the last time you sprung for the sales team to attend a leadership seminar?  Or funded your IT team to attend a conference?  Nothing gets people fired up more than spending time with innovative thinkers.  When was the last time you made that possible for your team?  

Exceptional conferences and dynamic events are out there!  You need to actively find them!  (noticing a trend?)

3.  Break the Mold


Staff development seems like a running joke.  Team building and trust exercises might be your thing, but your staff probably isn't looking for something along those lines.  How about taking your team to a movie?  Or buying everyone lunch--and then enjoying lunch together as a team.  

Friend your employees on Facebook or follow them on Twitter to see what their interests are and then foster those interests.  Maybe a bunch of them like zombie movies.  Maybe a family picnic is more their style.  Whatever it is, seek out an opportunity to thank your employees for their dedication and hard work.  You'd be surprised how different Monday morning will be.

4.  Become an Active Listener


While you may be the CEO of your small business, your faithful employees probably have valuable ideas of their own.  One of the most difficult things for a business owner to do is to keep their opinions and justifications to themselves while employees are talking about their desires, dreams and visions for your company.  After all, the company is your baby, we get that.  But you're all bringing up baby together.  Often, the best results come from collaboration.  

Ideas, opinions, and dreams can be explored and it doesn't mean your business won't be the same anymore.  Dare to listen to your staff.  The results just may surprise you.

5.  Go Outside


When working on your business and brand is a full-time job, sometimes, it can blur your view of things.  Nothing helps clear vision like an outsider's point of view.  You see the same walls, the same signage, the same processes everyday and may overlook them all.  But, to an outsider, everything is new.  They may help you to see inconsistencies in your product, your service or your brand.  Seek out outsiders and welcome their ideas.

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Marissa Mayer's innovative thinking is really shaking things up for Yahoo!  Innovative thinking can really help your business to succeed.  Are you ready to take the plunge?  We'd love to hear about it on our Facebook page.

Search Privacy - An Education from DuckDuckGo

With the recent news about PRISM (government access to US Citizen's search information), would you make the switch to a search engine that promises privacy?

DuckDuckGo is a search engine whose privacy policy is they do not share any searches with third-party sites or store user data.  In the weeks since the major news stories on PRISM, DuckDuckGo has seen a major up-tick in searches and traffic, although, the surge is certainly not a threat to major search engines like Google.  However, this is not their goal.  The goal at DuckDuckGo is to provide a private search experience for those on the internet that are concerned about such things.

In addition to being a search engine, there are a number of insights you can learn from this private search engine.

1.  What Are Search Engines Tracking?


DuckDuckGo has a neat graphical explanation of exactly what search engines track and why you see the same or similar ads across a variety of websites.  If you've ever wondered what all the fuss regarding PRISM is all about, it's worth a minute to read through it.

2.  How Can I Stop Some of It?

It's impossible to stop every website from tracking information about your searches.  Though, you can lessen the effects.  DuckDuckGo offers great insight about improving you're browser's privacy settings and tools that prevent third-party tracking.

3.  Do I Live in a Bubble?

One last issue DuckDuckGo discusses is what they call the "filter bubble".  What is this bubble?  It's your past clicks, searches and purchases all stored by search engines to create your perceived preferences.  When a new search is performed, the engines use that bubble of reference to give you the results the engine thinks you'd prefer.  So, your results for a search term or phrase may differ from your Mom's, your best friend's, or the guy sitting in the cube next to you--all because of this "bubble" of data you've created.

At lunch today, why not do a quick test while dining with coworkers?  Pick a common search term and see if/how search results vary on the same search engine given each person's "bubble".  We'd love to hear about it over at our Facebook page!  Are the results quite different?  

4.  Tools


DuckDuckGo has a ton of neat tools to quickly find whatever you're searching for.  What to know how many calories are in a bagel with cream cheese?  Need a strong password that is at least 7 characters?  Need to convert currencies?  There are a ton of fun, useful tools to be found here.  

5.  Search


Of course, DuckDuckGo is also a search engine.  Why not give it a try for a few days?  Upon our initial queries, it doesn't seem to be as comprehensive as a Google or Bing search.  However, it is nice to have alternatives when Google or Bing don't find what you need.  We'd love to hear your thoughts!

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Care to read a bit more?

SearchEngineLand has an article on why DuckDuckGo is no threat to Google.

Here's a different take on DuckDuckGo and private search engines courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle.

DuckDuckGo's Wikipedia article.



Facebook Hashtags on Personal Profiles

How do Facebook hashtags affect your personal profiles?  Many businesses and pages can be seen
rolling out hashtags with their updates, photos and statuses, but what does this mean for personal profiles?  It seems a number of people are asking.  We'll help clear up any confusion.

1.  Who can see my hashtags?


For public pages, anyone can see updates marked with hashtags.  However, for personal profiles,
Facebook always looks at the setting on the status update.  If it is marked "Friends", only your friends will see the posts with hashtags.  However, if your status update is marked "Public" anyone will be able to see it.


Takeaway:  Your statuses privacy setting always trumps the hashtag.

2.  What are hashtags for?


Hashtags are a way to mark a status update with a category or description.  For example, if you've posted a picture of your summer vacation, you could mark the post with #summervacation.  Then, your friends can easily click on the hashtag and view all of your #summervacation updates, photos and more, with one click.  Think of it as a social-version of labeling your updates.

3.  Beware of becoming a hashtag-a-holic.


Once you being, you may quickly learn to enjoy tagging updates.  You may feel more social media savvy than your 16 year old niece.  While the goal of tagging updates is to add to Facebook's social atmosphere, please be cautioned that you could make your friends upset with you in real time.

Here are a few tips to keep you from losing your friends:

Tip:  Avoid long tags


Hashtags are fun and even a bit useful.  However, please remember that a run-on of more than three words is difficult to read.

#summervacation

That one is easy to read and even adds to a post.

#bestvacationofmylife

This one is more cumbersome and has less of an impact - there is really no reason to use that tag as it's probably not relevant to anyone other than you.  But, it can be fun to use once in a while.

#summervacationshouldlastforever

Woah!  Slow down slugger.  Tags with more than three words are difficult to read and your friends will soon hate you with a passion if each of your updates come with one (or more!) of these bad boys.  Remember the whole point of Facebook is being social.  Don't pull out a whopper of a tag and expect all of your friends to read your updates with willingness and anticipation.  You're not a celebrity.  Yet.

Tip:  No more than 3


We wouldn't recommend using more than three tags to a status update.  While tagging updates is a ton of fun, the goal isn't to make anyone's eye's gloss over looking at the long list of hashtags that accompany your update.

Choose three of the most relevant tags you can think of and always remember your audience.  No one likes a person that tags more than a graffiti artist.  Keep it in control.

#hopeyoulikedthattip  #thinkyoucanagree #toomanytagsaretoomanytags #yougetthepoint

Yuck!

Tip:  Kick it up a notch


Be smart when tagging your updates.  If you've got a class reunion coming up, tag the updates, photos and posts with the same tag all of the time.  Your classmates may catch on and it can quickly become a great way to share everyone's content under one tag.

The hashtag should be easy to read and remember.  If you see other's posting content about the class reunion, encourage them to use the hashtag.  There are many Facebook users that still don't understand what hashtags are all about.  Once they see tags in action, they'll never forget.

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The point of all this is to have fun on Facebook and enjoy one more neat feature.  The second point is not to become frenemies with those that follow your Facebook feed.  Remember your audience when posting, updating and tagging.

Be social!