Choosing The Right Platform For Your Website

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There are a number of Website Builder products on the market. They make claims like;

“Getting online has never been easier”

“No coding skills needed”

“Quick and easy. You will be online in minutes”

Are they all that they claim to be? Recently, we have been contacted by people who have had problems with different services. Issues include the lack of support and the inability to migrate to another web host.

A website builder can help you get online quick and easily with no coding skills but before you do ask the following questions;

  • If I have a problem, what support is available?
  • Will it be able to grow with my business? For example, if I need to add e-commerce at later date, is this possible?
  • If I am unable with the web host, how easy is it to migrate to another platform?

At Lens Digital, we use WordPress to build our websites. WordPress is independent of any web host so if you are unhappy with them, you can move your website. For web hosting, we recommend Vidahost but have built websites on a number of different hosts.

The other advantage of WordPress is that it is used to power 29% of the web. This means that there is lots of support available; both free and paid.

Before you start to build your website, it is always worth doing the research and seeking advice. We are always happy to have a no-obligation chat about the various options. We can be contacted via our Contact page.

Should You Host Your Own Blog?

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When we started Lens Digital, one of the things we knew we wanted to do was to have a blog. The main purpose of it would be to share our thoughts on Web Design, Social Media and a splash of Project Management. Secondary to this was the fact that we wanted to improve our SEO and bring in new clients.

The first choice for hosting the blog was Medium. It is a great platform; simple to use, clean design and host to one of our favourite blogs – Signal vs Noise – so that is where we set up our blog. We still displayed the content on our website through a WordPress plugin called Display Medium Posts. After a while, we had a look at the stats on Medium. Unfortunately, they were not getting the reads that we expected and nobody was clicking through to our website.

In hindsight, Medium was not the best platform for our blog. Firstly, our intended initial client base are sole traders and small businesses based in our local area. Given that niche, the likelihood of them reading our articles is quite slim. The second reason is that we are missing out on traffic as you can only read the articles on Medium. The initial goal of improving our SEO wasn’t being achieved due to this.

We have now decided that we are going to host the blog ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, we love Medium and will still be publishing some of the articles there so that we can reach a wider audience but it will not be our primary platform (for the moment).

Your customers are talking to you but are you listening?

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Recently, I needed a couple of plumbing jobs done in my house. One was a small relatively urgent maintenance job and the other was a much larger upgrade with a slightly longer lead time.

For the first job, I found a local plumber who could come out on the day I contacted him and give me a quote. A couple of days later, the quote came through via email. It seemed like a reasonable price so I emailed back asking them to go ahead with the work and for them to let me know when they could schedule it in. The response — absolutely nothing.

The second job was a boiler upgrade. This one was going to take time. It needed someone to come out, inspect the current system, talk through the options and then send me the quote. The work itself would take a couple of days so would have a longish lead time to schedule it in.

For this job, I wanted to get the opinion of a plumber who lived in the same street as me. I visited his website and he had a “Request An Appointment” page. Perfect, just what I needed. I filled in my details, information about the job, selected my preferred time for the visit and clicked “Submit”. The response — “script not found”.

In both cases, I was trying to give these two companies some work. One of them even came out to give me a quote. However, I couldn’t get in touch with either of them. I could have rung them but given that one had contacted me electronically and the other had a “Request An Appointment” form, it seemed logical that these were their preferred method of communication.

This teaches us two simple lessons. If you are trying to have an online presence for your business, make sure that you check for any messages and that your communication channels actually work.

Where does the User Experience (UX) start?

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User experience design (UX, UXD, UED or XD) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.

I recently came across two examples of bad UX and in both cases, these occurred without me even using the product.

The first case was whilst visiting a local hospital. A poster gave details of how to contact the Helpdesk. The URL given was;

http://sql0/intranet/apps/fhd/FHD2.asp?xlm=99

Now the likelihood of someone remembering the URL from the poster is zero. They would have to write it down or photograph it on their phone. Before the user has even accessed the site, they have been presented with an unnecessarily complex URL. Why didn’t the Web Team create a more user-friendly web address of, for example, http://helpdesk. Easy to remember and helps to get the UX journey off to a positive start.

The second case was a note home from my daughter’s school. It concerning a website for doing her maths homework and came with the following warning;

If no links are working, it may be that you are using a Pop Up Blocker. You will need to allow ***** to use Pop Ups and we suggest that you add www.*****.com to your list of trusted sites.

If you are having trouble accessing content, it may be that you need to activate Flash in your browser.

Before I have accessed the website, I have given expectations that there may be issues with it. Not a great way for me to start my UX experience. Remember this website was designed for children to do their homework. Why not just remove the requirements for pop-ups and Flash?

User Experience begins before the user starts to use the website. Don’t get your users off to a bad start.

Three Essential WordPress Plugins

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At Lens Digital, WordPress is our go-to platform for building websites. We aim to keep each installation as light as possible. However, we have a number of plugins that we install by default. Whilst these do not necessarily enhance the front-end user experience, they are important to ensure the smooth operation of the website.

So without further ado, here are our top 3 WordPress plugins;

UpdraftPlus — Backup/Restore

Backup, backup, backup — rule number 1 in computing. Rule number 2 is regularly test your backups. There is no point in having backups only to find out that at a critical point, for whatever reason, it is unusable. These are lessons that we have learnt and don’t plan to learn them again.

This plugin enables us to do offsite backups either to our own FTP servers or into the cloud with a provider such as DropBox. The settings allow you to set the frequency and the retention of backups.

Yoast SEO

What is the point of a website if you can’t find it? This plugin makes SEO easy. You can either use the configuration wizard and take the defaults or enable the advanced settings and optimize the SEO of each page.

WP Super Cache

WordPress adds an overhead to a standard HTML website. Our preferred web host, Vidahost, recommends the use of WP Super Cache to improve performance.

There are other WordPress caching plugins available. It is always advisable to talk to your web host to see which one they recommend.

An honourable mention for;

Contact Form 7

Although we don’t always install this plugin. If the website build needs a contact form, then this plugin is the one we use. Simple to create a form and a breeze to implement.

Which plugins do you use when building a website? Is there any missing from our list?

Project Management for Small Businesses

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At Lens Digital, we help small businesses to get online. When we are running projects, the last thing we want to do is to overload our clients with a mass of project documentation. As most of our clients are Solopreneurs, we wanted to keep the paperwork to a minimum; enough that it was clear what was being delivered but not too much so that it wouldn’t be read.

For that purpose, we use a Statement of Work. One simple document that covers the whole of the project.

The SOW has the following sections;

Summary — An introduction to what the project is and what is included in the SOW.

Project Scope — In this section, we list the activities that will make up the deliverables.

Deliverables — What the client is going to get at the end of the project. Generally, a website plus training and a handover document.

Schedule — Timescales for the delivery of the project. Again, kept simple by using simple milestones.

Exclusions — What is not in the project. This is as important as the project scope.

Price — Needs no explaining.

Key Assumptions — A few simple statements listing what assumptions have been made, generally around the information given by the client.

Acceptance — If the client is happy with the SOW, they sign and return the document.

For most projects, this document is no more than a couple of pages. It is nice and simple so that it can be understood without overwhelming the reader.

Use Your Fans To Build Your Audience

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I was recently part of the audience for a circus show in a theatre. At the start of the show, there was an announcement about photography.

Normally, in these circumstances the announcement, “Please turn off all phones. Photography is not permitted.”

Not for this show, the announcement went something like “This is an interactive show. Please feel free to take as many photos as you want and share them on social media. Photos are for personal use only.”

Such a simple idea, allow your fans to take photos and share them. The only people that will do this are the ones that enjoyed the show. Therefore allowing the fans of the show to help build future audiences. And all for zero marketing cost.

The cast of the show also help by resharing some of the photos on social media.

What other easy ways do you know to grow your audience?

The Risks of Automated Instagram Tools

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There is an increasing number of automation tools that will help you to grow your Instagram followers. They generally work by monitoring certain hashtags then commenting and liking photographs with that hashtag and following the associated account.

An easy way to increase your Instagram audience, right.

Sort of. The problem with this kind of tool is that it cannot know what sort of photo it is commenting on and liking.

I recently experienced this when someone commented “ Simply gorgeous :-)” on one of my photographs. Now, this photograph was far from gorgeous. It was a photograph of an overzealous security guard at a public event. This Instagram user had set up the automation tool to find a specific hashtag and then to comment. It didn’t matter that the comment was not relevant to the photograph, the tool had done its job.

Now, will I follow this person back, No. They haven’t shown interest in my account. My account is just another number to them.

Growing social media accounts takes time and effort. Post engaging content with the appropriate hashtags and your audience will grow organically. After all, what would you rather have 100 engaged followers and 1000 non-engaged followers?

What I Did Wrong On Social Media

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With one simple reply to a tweet, I discovered what I was doing wrong on Social Media.

I wasn’t interacting, I was just posting.

I won’t go into the details of the tweet but I just simply replied to it. These are the statistics for that reply;

The lesson I learned was so simple. Don’t just post on Social Media sites, interact. Engage with people, reply to other peoples’ posts, answer questions. This will all help to build your brand both as a person and as a business.

A Facebook Business Pages Is Not Perfect

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Lots of small businesses use a Facebook Page as a way to establish their business online. There is nothing wrong with that as it is simple, quick and cheap (in terms of financial cost).

But is it a good idea only to have a Facebook Page for your business? Let have a look at some of the numbers.

Facebook Numbers

Some basic numbers;

  • 87.9% of adults in the UK have used the internet in the last 3 months.
  • This equates to 45.9 million people.
  • Women aged 75 and over has seen the largest rise. Up 169% since 2011.
  • There are 32 million Facebook user accounts in the UK.
  • 70% of online adults in the UK have a Facebook account.
  • 92% of 18–29 years old use Facebook.
  • 66% of 65+ year old use Facebook.

Conclusions

Restricting your business to just Facebook means that you are missing out on a large percentage of your target audience. In raw numbers, that is nearly 14 million people.

If your target audience is “Silver Surfers”, you could be losing out on a third of your market.

There is nothing wrong with having a Facebook Business Page as it helps to create an engaged community for your business. However, where it fails is as a shop window to your business as not everyone can see in.

Your Facebook page needs to exist as part of your online profile. At the top is your website alongside it sits your various social media profile.

Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook basket.