Staying Current with WordPress & Plugins Updates

WordPress has fast become the world’s most popular CMS and in doing so is taking security very seriously. WordPress’ days as just a blogging platform are long gone and it was now being used to power sites for organisations like government and media for which security is so critical. Whether you are a small business or large corporation, if your site is on WordPress it is critical to keep your WordPress core and plugins updated.

The top 5 reasons to keep WordPress updated are:

  • Security
  • Performance
  • Bug fixes
  • Compatibility
  • Features

One of the reasons that WordPress is increasingly becoming the target of security attacks is because it’s so big. A CMS that powers up to a quarter of the internet will doubtless attract the attention of anyone wanting to insert malicious code, take sites down or steal data.

Many times users are worried their site will break if they perform an update. Seravo.com has a nice solution for this. Based in Finland, Seravo has been performing tested auto-updates for the past three years for thousands of sites and created the WP Safe Updates plugin with the desire to remove the barrier of fear that often prevents users from updating their sites.

WP Safe Updates allows users to test plugin updates in a sandbox before applying them on a live site. After installing the plugin, you’ll see a new “test update” link with available updates on the plugins page.

This allows you to check out the frontend, admin, and any area of the site that the plugin affects. Once satisfied with the results of the update, you can exit the sandbox and proceed with confidence in updating the plugin on the live site.

This plugin is definitely worth taking a look at to help better management of updates.

Web Design Trends for 2016

2016 will be another year forward for web design trends as we look to simply things further and build sites that are quicker, minimal easy to navigate. If your website is not responsive it needs to be. Responsive design was a trend a few years ago but is now becoming the standard. At 540 all of our HTML and WordPress built websites are responsive. Responsive design provides the most optimal viewing experience for a website regardless of the devise it is viewed on. So as you transition from desktop to laptop to tablet to phone, the website remains easy to read and navigate with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling.  Your website provides the highest quality user experience, which search engines take note of.

Here are some additional patterns you should be familiar with:

The hamburger menu: Some have a love/hate relationship with it’s use, there’s no doubt that it’s widespread use makes the function easily recognizable. Users no longer question those three lines in the top corner of a website or mobile layout.

Long scroll: The need to place all your important information above the fold is a well-known myth. Users are becoming accustomed to long scrolling pages now thanks to mobile devices. The technique works especially well for sites that want to lure users through storytelling, and you can still mimic a multi-page site by breaking the scroll into clear sections.

Hero images: High definition hero images are one of the fastest ways to grab a user’s attention. Thanks to advances in bandwidth and data compression, users won’t suffer from slow load times. One common layout you’ll find is a hero images or sliders followed by block sections introducing pages of the website.

Hidden Navigation: Hidden navigation menus have become increasingly popular, especially as they can be used to save screen space.

Background Animation: A simple animated background can add visibility to a site, but should be used in moderation or it can be very distracting to the user. The key is to work on individual sections or create a gentle movement of an entire image.

Material Design: Google released its Material design language back in June 2014 but the adoption has been a bit slow. However, designers now have a better understanding of Material design and I anticipate they will start opting to use it more in their designs as documentation and examples become more widespread.

Material design focuses around dynamic elements that remind us of paper and ink. Shadows that are realistic, items that overlap do so with regards to reality, interactions stay inside of material and don’t impact other material around it.

Since we’ve seem to have reached peak flat design, designers are opting for the next thing, and Google offers that up in their Material design language. I anticipate many more sites to follow this same material design aesthetic in 2016.

Simple SEO Tips For Every Website

The strategies related to search engine optimization are always changing. As search algos become more sophisticated and change their framework, coding for SEO and SEO strategies will change as well.  2015 presented some changes for the search engine optimization landscape across the web. While new strategies may emerge there are some tested methods that will never fail.

Here are some simple tips for SEO in 2015:

Content is still king.

There is no way you can rank well in search engines without good content. Copywriters have become an important part of the SEO landscape and their involvement in SEO teams with become more prevalent in 2015.

Search engines are beginning to show an emphasis on longer, well-researched content. Google added in-depth results a few years back. This refers to content over 1,500 words. This shifted the focus to quality content. Some in the SEO space have strong opinions that publishing 2-3 blog short blog articles a week hold less weight than a solid well thought out and well written article. Focusing more on high quality content instead of publishing as many pieces of content as possible can yield better SEO results.

When SEO was in its earlier stages, getting as much content onto your site with little regard to to quality or usefulness to the reader was a trend that could yield better search results. Now Google algorithm updates like Panda are stopping these efforts and in some cases removing websites that are flooding their site and others with content that is not useful.

Responsive design benefits SEO.

If your website is not responsive it needs to be. Responsive design was a trend a few years ago but is now becoming the standard. At 540 all of our HTML and WordPress built websites are responsive. Responsive design provides the most optimal viewing experience for a website regardless of the devise it is viewed on. So as you transition from desktop to laptop to tablet to phone, the website remains easy to read and navigate with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling.  Your website provides the highest quality user experience, which search engines take note of.

The easier it is for a user to navigate a website, the easier it will be for a search engine spider to crawl. This can lead to more indexed pages and a lower bounce rate due to optimized content display, which makes it easier to read.

Let your user base be your guide.

You can use Google Analytics to your advantage and gage the benefits of entry points to your website and call to action buttons. This can help to determine what pages need to be better optimized. As analytics continue to get more robust, examining online audience behavior will be critical and can offer a significant impact on SEO.

Focus on what works best for your website or organization through data and engagement tracking, and you will be able to see what’s best moving forward into 2015.

Avoiding getting on Google’s nerves.

Outsourcing your SEO to a third world country that guarantees you top placement of your top 5 keywords for a few hundred dollars seems like an awfully good deal. If you are wondering if it’s too good to be true,,, well it is! I have unfortunately seen these situations as potential clients have called saying the hired an “SEO Expert” who did great work but now their website is on the 20th page for basic search terms.

Over the years, these “SEO Experts” have stuffed content with keywords, spammed the comments on blogs, bought and traded links in order to game Google’s algorithm and push mediocre content toward the top in keyword rankings. All they really have contributed is a massive amount of spam and poor quality content on the Web.

For awhile this method did work to increase your search rankings. In 2011 Google released its first major anti-spam algorithm called Panda. Additional updates over the years to both Panda and Penguin have rendered most of the old SEO tactics obsolete.

What it all comes down to is do not be consumed by the almighty ‘keyword.’  Instead, we must optimize our content for the user, make it relevant and delivery quality, not quantity.

Benefits of Content Delivery Networks for Your Website

Different strategies are being used by different web developers to make a website more catchy and attracts more web traffic. However, all the features and sophisticated contents on a site will not be useful or beneficial to the owner if they cannot reach their target audience or market at their desired time, in short latency. Now that internet users are not only using desktop computers, but mobile devices as well to download video, audio files and even in live streaming, latency issues become more complex.

In search of a remedy to the growing issues like choppiness, loading lags and poor quality, especially when viewing live events or if they are located far from the hosting servers. Content Delivery Network or CDN came into being and has revolutionized web hosting by providing the following benefits:

Confronted Latency

Latency: the amount of time it takes for the host server to receive, process, and deliver on a request for a page resource; it depends largely on how far away the user is from the server. CDN minimizes the transcontinental electronic hops, especially for websites that targeted global market by providing local data centers.

Edge Cache and Pre-Cache

A CDN caches static resources in distributed servers across a region or worldwide, thereby bringing resources closer to users and reducing round trip time. Also, there’s a high probability that someone visiting your pages has already visited a site using the Google CDN. Therefore, the file has already been cached by your browser and won’t need to be downloaded again.

Maintain Strong and Manageable Web Traffic

CDNs help to deliver better user experiences when downloading video and audio content with the help of different domains, in effect a single CDN permits the browser to download four files at the same time.

Scalability

Though you have a great hosting, getting real will not do you harm, can you honestly compete or at least be on the level of sophistication of Microsoft, Google or Yahoo in terms of capacity?  Now different innovative CDNs offer a growing selection of competitive products and newer technology that plays well with other technologies such as real user monitoring (RUM).

In conclusion, customers expect flawless video images and fast processing speeds. Companies that want to stay competitive need the benefits of delivering lots of content globally without delays. At 540 Design Studio we have implemented CloudFlare CDN. Acquiring CDN for your website might cost more than single-server hosting, however, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks it fixes.

iPhone 6 Resolution Increase Affect on Mobile Websites

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are packed full of updates both in hardware and software through the launch of iOS8. The most obvious and significant update is the size. The iPhone is now available in a 4.7″ version and a 5.5″ alternative. So how will this affect the mobile viewing of your website? Well, lets take a closer look. It isn’t just the size of the screen, the real innovation is under the hood though higher contrast, wider viewing angles and greater pixel density. In other words, Apple has made a pretty drastic resolution increase for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus compared to previous models.

This raised a question for many businesses running a responsive design website…

How will the iPhone 6 & 6 Plus resolution increase affect responsive design?

You will be happy to know that as long as your website is properly responsive there will be no change at all.

When designing a responsive website you design it to be flexible so the website will automatically adapt from desktop, tablet and smartphone to provide the user with the best viewing experience. When creating a responsive layout we don’t generally design for specific screen sizes. When done properly, your site should be able to fluidly adjust to any screen width from a desktop all the way down to an iPhone 4 or earlier. Let’s not forget about non-Apple devises. Samsung, Nokia and Google and others all make smartphones with larger resolutions than the iPhone 5 and responsive coding when done correctly can scale up to accommodate these sizes.

If your website currently functions fine in a responsive format on most smartphone displays now, it’s going to work fine on iPhone 6 & iPhone 6 Plus. That said, you’ll still want to make sure you’re sticking to responsive design best practices.

Although responsive design is not normally created for specific layout sizes, app developers may find it useful to know the various devise width in pixels. To the best of my knowledge you will be looking at something like:

iPhone 6: 375px (portrait), 667px (landscape)

iPhone 6 Plus: 414 (portrait), 736px (landscape)

Does Your Website Need a Terms and Conditions Page

In most of the websites that you have visited, you may have come across some fine prints, which are always located at the bottom of a page. The fine prints are rarely read and most people find them boring. The terms and conditions page is the most ignored section of a website. Believe us, we know, our little terms and conditions link at the bottom of our site has been clicked an whopping 7 times since it was added to our site a year ago. But that little link is there for a reason… do you know that it can absolve you from wrongdoing in a court of law. Now that you know that, it’s not a bad idea to consider adding your own terms and conditions to your website. The page not only stipulates the terms and conditions of running the website but also dictates how visitors should conduct themselves while in the website. It may not be a legal requirement especially for the websites which do not collect any personal information but it is a necessary page, one which can make a big difference when caught up in a legally challenging situation.

Having a terms and conditions disclosure where you limit your liability in cases of errors in the content which is posted in the website means that you may not be held responsible in such a circumstance. When you let the viewers and visitors know that the content which is posted in the website should not be construed as the gospel truth and solely relied in making certain decision, nobody will hold you responsible in an event that they engage in some activities and suffer loss or damages. In some situation, you may allow the visitors to post content in the website, where they may express their opinion. A terms and condition page will have clearly stipulated that the views expressed by the visitors are solely their opinion and does not represent the stand of the website or company. When this is clearly stipulated viewers, visitors and any other party who may read the content will be fully aware that the website does not endorse such an opinion. Terms and conditions in this case will have saved the company from a negative reputation especially if the content which was posted was offensive to the readers or visitors. At times it may be hard to control what goes on in the internet given that website owners may not be online all the time. An offensive content may be posted in the website and within a short time millions of viewers or visitors will have accessed the content. This will have hurt the reputation of the website but with the terms and condition clearly stipulated the clauses will have absolved the site from the actions of visitors, and the company will have saved its face.

While writing terms and condition for a website, there is a need to consult a legal expert since there are some technical jargons which need some clarification. This is necessary when the website will need to collect personal information. There is a need to put it clearly, in a language that is understood by all. It is a website legal requirement for the owners of the site to clearly stipulate how they will use the information and ensure that it cannot be accessed by an authorized party. Terms and conditions page for a website should be seen as an important component which can save the website owners especially when they are challenged in a court of law.

What to expect in WordPress 4.0

WordPress 4.0 is right around the corner, with an expected rollout towards the end of August. After downloading the Beta version I am impressed with not only the layout changes but the further optimization of the WordPress core. For discussion purposes, lets take a look at the features that will most impact our clients who manage their own site content through the WordPress CMS.

1. New Media Library

The new Media Grid will be the most noticeable change for clients.  This new design will allow you to view your media library files, including images and videos in a grid view. The new interface is a  modern approach to viewing your images, those hard to view thumbnails are a thing of the past in 4.0. We now have a  faster way to view and manage your media files. When you click on a  file a pop-up window will one where file information can be edited.

2.Creating & Updating Blog Posts

There are several changes to the post editor that will make writing and editing your blog posts a little easier. The menu bar in the editor will now stick to the top as a user writes a post. A cool feature now is that the editor will re-size itself as you write. The scroll bar in post editor is also gone. This was rather annoying, particularly on mobile devices. The new editor providing a much better writing experience. Video embeds have vastly improved as well. Users will be able to see the actual embed in the post editor when they paste a URL from supported site, such as YouTube.

3. Plugins

For those clients that manage their own plugins the experience has been greatly improved in WordPress 4.0. Similar to the media view, plugin search results are now displayed in a grid. It’s much easier to quickly scan through plugins and read descriptions.

Since we are still in the Beta version I would anticipate additional features and certainly bug fixes to be implemented over the next month. Once you get started with WordPress 4.0 feel free to send us a note on your thoughts and any questions.

How to Use Landing Pages to Maximize Your Business Exposure

An effective Landing Page Design can be a crucial part to the financial success of any online presence. A landing page is essentially a stand alone website separate from the main website often designed for a single purpose.   A landing page is often creatively designed to solicit traffic in huge numbers in the hopes of click through rates.  However, simply getting a lot of hits on the website is not going to put money in your pocket.  An expertly crafted landing page is going to be the determining factor that actually converts this traffic to dollars.

Common Misconceptions

According to recent research provided by MarketingSherpa, nearly 44% of all first time visitors to online properties are immediately directed to the website’s homepage rather than to a specific and appropriate landing page.  And if the website happens to implement this marketing method at all, the landing page design is either unfocused or links to worthless or inappropriate promotional offers entirely.  The landing page and the home page are not the same.  They are two very different and unique webpages with vastly different purposes.

 

Lead Generation

Landing pages can be very effective for commercial websites that offer a variety services since there may be different marketing strategies and promotions involved with each area.   Each product or service could  have its own creatively worded landing page design in order to engage the reader to respond instantly to the previously read “Call to Action” from your email, social media, or other marketing methods.  If the prospect is directed to a rather vague home page that requires them to hunt and search for the originally intended product or service, then they will be far more likely to click off the site entirely and move on.

 

Boost your Contacts List

Most potential consumers rarely purchase from your website on the first visit.  If they do, then great!  Most people want to think it over before making an emotional purchase that they may later regret.  Effective landing page design allows for immediate interaction by means of their contact information instead of a monetary payment.  This information is like money in the bank.  You can now keep in touch with these prospects, sending them little reminders, additional promotions, and free giveaways as a method of nurturing the professional relationship.

 

Better Understand your Demographics

The optimum landing page design will also solicit other types of specific information from the potential customers that will help the successful online marketer to better understand if the current marketing strategies are actually reaching the intended target audience.  Every time someone makes a purchase, still more information is collected, allowing the business to better distinguish between who is only visiting the site vs. who is actually buying.

 

Creating these landing pages is an art form all to its own.  The headline is critical.  It should be catchy and interesting.  Images and video must be used creatively but without filling the site with too many “bells and whistles”.  The Call to Action must be unmistakably visible, and the benefits of your products and services must be clearly defined.  In short, landing page design can be the single, most important determining factor in the overall financial success of the online property.

eCommerce Case Studies

Shopping cart applications have become more and more popular for small business owners. Gone are the days when the idea of an eCommerce site was only reserved for “big” corporations. Smaller businesses can implement shopping cart components into their websites at a reasonable cost with a back-end that makes managing products a breeze. Online shopping continues to grow at a staggering rate. The 2013 holiday shopping season once again confirmed this trend. Black Friday 2013 was the first billion-dollar-plus online shopping day, with total online sales for the day reaching $1.2 billion, up 15% over 2012.

 

At 540 we have implemented a number of online shopping components for clients from simple registration forms with online payment processing to complete online mobile ready stores. The majority of this eCommerce functionality is built right into an existing website to reduce the cost of building a new eCommerce site. In this article we will take a look at 2 client sites that contain shopping cart features, one built with a simple Paypal plugin and another with a full eCommerce store featuring 100+ products and user account management.

 

Simple Online Shopping Components

 

JKFlashy is a premier makeup services company in Westchester County, NY. Although their primary business is makeup application they started developing their own line makeup products and needed a simple solution to start selling products online.  Since a full online store was not required we used the Paypal API to setup a products and add-to-cart buttons directly onto a  page within the website. The advantages of this Paypal approach includes:

 

  1. Lower Cost- Uses existing Paypal functionality reducing the cost to implement full eCommerce into the website.
  2. Transactions processed outside of the client website- although the shopping is done within the site, the transaction is completed through the Paypal server, eliminating the need to incorporate secure SSL functionality on the website.

 

JKFlashy Online Store Image

With this solution you are taking existing code from Paypal to implement into the website and Paypal will handle the secure credit card processing. It’s a cost effective approach but does have some limitations mainly in customization and the fact that the customer will leave your website to process the payment through Paypal.

 

Complete eCommerce Solution

North American Wireless Solutions (NAWSNY) is a national wholesale distributor of cell phones and related merchandise for the Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin brands. They contacted 540 to build a complete eCommerce solution with custom shopping cart functionality that allowed for orders to be processed directly through their warehouse.

 

The NAWSNY website was built on WordPress with a customized version of the WooCommerce plugin. WooCommerce straight out of the box  is an extremely powerful eCommerce solution for complete online store functionality with customer account management.

 

nawsnySome of the highlights on typical client eCommerce builds includes:

  • Easy to use dashboard with order summaries and various types of reporting on sales, customers and stock
  • Shipping & tax settings
  • Customer login and account management
  • Product & inventory management
  • Promotions including the ability to add coupons
  • Payment gateway integration

 

 

I have been using WooCommerce extensively and find with a good knowledge of CSS and WordPress coding it can be highly customized to meet the client’s requirements.

 

If you are considering an online store option for your website please send us an email to see how one of these solutions or other eCommerce options can be implemented into your website.

Writing Effective Content for Your Websites

There may be nothing worse than taking great pains to create a fantastic looking website, only to find that no-one is coming to visit. The only thing that may top that is having lots of people stop by the site, but having them leave in seconds, never to return again. If you are experiencing either of those problems, the issue may not be with your web design, but with the content that fills the pages. Visitors to websites want more than just a pretty face, which means there has to be content on there that is both informative and interesting if you wish to keep them engaged.

 

Even more importantly, you need content that will appeal to the search engines, giving your website a real chance to rank high when a search term is used that pertains to your chosen niche. The question then becomes to create content that will make the visitor to your site and the search engines happy. There are a few steps you can take, and it all begins with developing a killer title for your content. A great title can help pull the reader in and make them want to read more, and it can also contain a relevant keyword or phrase that will tell the search engines what the subject is about. For example, if you have a site devoted to golf, which title seems more appealing: “Great Golf Balls,” or “How to Choose Golf Balls That Will Add Length to Your Drive.”
The latter of the two titles gives more detail about the subject of the content and will make them more likely to want to read more. It also helps that the content being delivered is answering a common question or concern that the reader is looking to have addressed. When you build a website, you want to separate yourself from your competitors by showing that you are an authority on your chosen niche. Great content will help you do that.

 

Getting back to the search engines for a moment, the best way to get your site discovered is through search engine optimization (SEO), which means creating content that contains relevant keywords. That doesn’t meaning stuffing as many words as possible into your piece, but rather including them in a way that sounds natural to the reader. A good way to do this is to break up the content into several pieces, using headers and sub-headers that clearly show what you are going to talk about in each section. This makes it incredibly easy for the reader to pinpoint what they are looking for, especially in longer articles. A well-written piece of content will end with a summary that recaps what the reader has just read. This may be done by using bullet points or simply a brief summary of the content.

 

As you can see, there are a number of simple steps that you can take to make sure your content is fresh ad entertaining to the reader. Bring them in with a great headline, and then deliver keyword rich content that informs and comes across as appealing to the search engines. Do that and your visitors are sure to come back for more.