Chances are your website isn’t perfect. Nothing against you or your website. But, to be honest, our website isn’t perfect either. With tools and needs changing so quickly, a website that functioned perfectly when it was first launched, probably needs a few tweaks and updates just a couple months later.
When we are approached by a new client, reviewing their current website is the first thing on our to-do list. If their current site functions fine, then we know that it’s editing the design to make it more user-friendly and accessible. When we are getting ready to draft a proposal, these are the steps we take to assess where our expertise will be most beneficial and how to effectively implement those changes.
There are two main areas that I look for when doing a website test:
Before looking at a site, I grab a sheet of paper, browse to the site, and scroll through the homepage for no more than 5 seconds. I close the window and jot down what I think the organization does.
A well-structured homepage makes your business goals clear. No one should have to search to figure out what you do.
You might ask yourself, “how can someone not know what I do? They searched a term linked to my business and landed on my website. There shouldn’t be a lot of ambiguity.” And, you’re right. There shouldn’t be, but there is. Let’s consider three businesses: Blue Apron, Instacart, and Epicurious
All three are food prep related, but in different ways.
Instacart makes it clear that they will just deliver your groceries. They provide you with no plan for those groceries, but you get what you ask for. While Blue Apron, lets you order their recipes. This is a little ambiguous at first, but as you scroll down, you figure out that they send you the ingredients with the recipes as part of their meal subscription service. Lastly, Epicurious allows you to search recipes. Since it is just a recipe site, it’s up to the user to figure out how to get the food into their homes to prepare the meal.
When I am first looking at a website, if I can’t get a pretty good idea of what the company does, then the content and the calls-to-action need to be worked on during the design phase of the website project.
Once we have an idea of what your business does, the next thing we check on is how your calls-to-action (CTAs) are structured. Here are the questions I want to answer.
This is important so that as people navigate your site, they are met with consistent styling triggering the same response. Ghost buttons don’t elicit the same urgency as buttons that are filled in with a solid color. This is also a place where the classic color mood rules apply. Reds and oranges are great for energizing and engaging customers while blues and greens will provide a calming response.
If your CTA doesn’t compel people to act, then they aren’t doing their job! Make sure they the CTAs are answering the customer’s tacit question.
If they are looking at a product “ADD TO CART” is the obvious CTA. It answers the question, “How do I get it?” If they are looking at a service you provide “GET A QUOTE” or “CONTACT US TODAY” is the first step to get them to purchase your service.
There are certain phrases that work better than others, so try some out and see which works best for you. I look to see if the CTAs are compelling me to take action.
If your product is multistep, providing customers with a peak into the process can help alleviate some of their concerns. If all they see is “contact us today” you are giving them no information and no peace of mind. While some people are ready to jump in with both feet just from the homepage, others may need some handholding to get them to take action. Answering some basic questions about a service’s process, or a product’s features, or a return policy will help someone who is more tentative to take action.
The next thing I look at is to make sure that the website functions correctly across different platforms. Responsive design is common now, but older sites can still have issues. Since 2014, mobile traffic has overtaken desktop traffic, but since most sites are designed at a computer, it’s still worth a second look.
The most common problems are with image size, headers not displaying correctly, and menus that are difficult to navigate. These are all easy fixes, you just have to work with the right team.
Checking that your website has an SSL certificate is quick. On most browsers, when you look in the address bar you will see a lock (?) icon. If you don’t see that lock, it’s time to get your SSL certificate. Having a certificate will let your users know that when they land on your website, it is actually your website and not a similar site, that is imitating your website. It allows them to feel secure in any purchases they make or any personal information that they may put into your site.
Another reason to get one is that Google likes them and will improve your ranking if you have the certificate. A lot of hosting providers partners partner with Let’s Encrypt where you can get a free certificate.
Making sure your links work is critical. Whether they external links or links to other pages on your site, finding links that don’t function as a user expects and fixing them will improve the user experience. Since you can’t always control what other people do on their sites, I check to see what we can control on your site and how to fix it.
First, I like to make sure that any external links open in a new tab or window. This ensures that if they are redirected to a page that no longer exists, they have an easy way to get back to you and don’t have to re-navigate.
Next, I check to see with links on your site are broken. Using a tool like Ahref’s Broken Link Checker will help to identify any problem links and where to find and fix them.
A slow website makes for a bad user experience. You might think that your site loads quickly and there isn’t a problem. And it may, for you. But, I challenge to you clear your cache or use a private browsing window and open it again. Since you probably visit your site a lot, it will load quicker for you than for most people.
Checking site speed lets me know if your files and images are web ready or what changes need to be made. By using a service like Pingdom, I can get a list of all files being included on the website and how long they take to load. This helps me to identify what problems need to be solved and helps me to solve them quickly.
Checking to see if you have Google Analytics installed on your site is more for your benefit than the customers. It’s free and will let you see how customers are finding and engaging with your site. You will be able to see which pages have the most traffic and capitalize on that by adding CTAs to those pages.
Here’s a real life example: I was working with a client who wanted to improve his business as a speaker. The page that was getting the most traffic was not his contact page, it was actually a page that just discussed his past speaking events. This meant that the page people were landing on didn’t have a call-to-action. This was a great opportunity to utilize the information and help people get the product that they wanted, in this case a speaker, by prompting the action that needed to be taken (“Contact Me For Your Next Event”).
Another thing you can do within Google which will help is making sure that your sitemap has been submitted. If you haven’t don’t this, you are missing a lot of traffic. This is an easy task to take on, and essential to helping large search engines index your sitemap for searching.
Another thing I look for is how your website ranks for relevant search terms. Using the tool Uber Suggest, I can see who ranks above (or below) your site for specific terms. Using this, we can improve your website’s content and help you rank higher for terms that your competition may not be using.
I was working with a client recently who was having a difficult time trying to get their website being the featured snippet on Google. Customers were searching for “John’s Restaurant menu” but site that collects menus from all different restaurants was showing up higher in Google than them. We dove into the data and found out the the “menu aggregator” site pulls in tens of thousands of page views per day, while John’s Restaurant only pulls in a meager thousand. Google views the “menu aggregator” as more authoritative and therefore shows it higher in the list of results.
Outpacing a large, national company, when you’re small or local can be hard, but knowing what powers are at play helps you improve your results over time.
Visual search is on the rise. You can benefit from it by including alt tags in your images. This will help improve your sites SEO by creating more information that can be indexed and searched by Google and other search engines.
These website reviews don’t take a lot of time, typically under an hour, but doing them helps me to provide customers with a structured game-plan for their business. If I look at a site and an overhaul is obvious, then I can pretend they don’t have a site at all and suggest a build-from-scratch approach. However, sometimes it takes some digging to see where our services can provide the most impact.
We get asked a lot of questions about web hosting. It seems like the part of the process that is most complicated because it’s not directly related to the design or development of the website. There are a few different paths to take when deciding on where to host your website. Let’s dive into some of the top questions we get about hosting and break down the answers.
Good question! Most of the time when you are creating a new website, the place you end up getting your domain name is the same place you use for hosting. SquareSpace, GoDaddy, Host Gator, etc. provide you with the option to get a website domain and launch your site all at once.
However, you can take it with you!
Your domain name is a separate from your hosting provider even if you got them together. As your business grows and your site demands more, moving to a new provider that allows you to manage the traffic you are getting is critical. And, when you decide to make that move, your domain name can move with you.
If you have a WordPress site, an easy way to get started is to buy your domain name from Name Cheap and purchasing a cheap GoDaddy WordPress hosting plan. That way, you can customize your site with WordPress while using your own domain name. Given WordPress’ status as the go-to source for content management by web users of all skill levels and talents, Reclaim is a sensible place to begin. Site hosts such as GoDaddy and BlueHost also offer platforms tailored to a WordPress site.
A brief explanation of how the internet works: A computer has its own IP address and they can pick between the vast network of wires that make up the Internet to find a specific site. The IP address is exactly that – an address. The numbers help your computer navigate correctly to a site, but the domain name is what you use to get it there.
All websites have a string of numbers that make up the IP address, but instead of typing “126.96.36.199,” just type “classiccity.com” in your browser’s search bar. That’s it, and it’s easy to remember, because you’re calling the Classic City website.
A website’s IP address actually points to the physical server (or computer) of your web host. Every site needs a host, and companies exist to provide website file storage and operational services. Based on your industry, specialty, or the purpose of your website, many hosting companies offer various plans at different price points, each including its own benefits and features.
By now, we understand the difference between a domain name and a web host. So…what makes a good hosting provider?
When looking for a web host, consider factors such as site performance, security, and load time. Using managed hosting for your website, for example, means enhanced security at the server level as well as daily backups from your site. You don’t want to lose your digital identity.
Fortunately, this is easy enough with WordPress. Almost a third of websites run on WordPress, and there are managed hosting system tailored specifically to WordPress. While you get to focus on the upfront and public elements of running your site – such as operating your business, drawing in customers, and optimizing your site for search engine results – using managed hosting entails having all of the back-end parts of your site – such as storage and site operations – taken care of.
This means your site is supported, quick, and easy to use. It also means your site is secure.
The most cited reason for a site’s failure does not come from a security breach, but rather the domain’s owner failing to update all elements of the WordPress site. Managed hosting not only takes care of regular updates, but also warns the site owner of malicious plugins and themes and prevents harmful attacks.
To this end, it might not be an outside attack that causes you to lose content. Having a managed host not only protects your site from outside harassment, but also provides regular backups – often daily – for your website. Should something detrimental happen to your site, all it takes is one click to restore your site from the most recent archive.
Caching is no longer a manual process, either. Instead of installing an additional plugin, a managed host makes your site faster and easier for users through its own caching system. It takes advantage of reverse proxy that does not change even as you update your content or alter your theme.
Managed hosting means everything is automatic and in one place. Why make it complicated when it can be simple?
Google cares about its users, and they want you to care about your customers. If your site does not already have an SSL certificate, Google will flag your site. Getting an SSL certificate is necessary for everyone, but is particularly important if your site is tied to e-commerce.
The two main contingents rely on your site setup. If your site takes any sort of data – such as password logins, search results, or contact forms – or if your site uses HTTP://, be sure to implement SSL.
If you don’t, visitors to your site will receive a warning that your site is not secure.
An SSL certificate – or secure sockets layer – ensures an encrypted link between a web server and browser. Without the certificate, that connection cannot be securely established. It provides the name of its holder, a serial number and expiration date, a copy of the certificate holder’s public key, and a digital signature of the authority who issued the certificate.
Users’ valuable and sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers are protected under SSL. Information is still passed between a computer and a server, but only the server can read it.
SSL also protects you from criminal activity.
With cyber crime on the rise, protecting your site means protecting your visitors’ information. Because an SSL certificate protects data in transit, not data stored in a server, it is designed to keep valuable information hidden. If your site processes payments, rather than redirecting visitors to PayPal, for example, you are required to be SSL certified.
For that reason, the SSL certificate builds trust with your site’s visitors. It is becoming second nature for most web users to look to the address bar and see “HTTPS” with a padlock – highlighted in green when making a financial transaction – to ensure their protection. As the web continues to become more dynamic, certain outlets also become more vulnerable. As a site owner, take steps to keep the worst from happening.
A staging site is a copy of your live site that you can edit and then take it live when all your changes are complete.
Though it can get technical, using a managed hosting provider (such as WPEngine), you can set up a 1-click staging site to preview any changes you plan to make to your existing, sans actually making those changes in real time.
Be sure to avoid some plugins (such as those with automated posts) and be mindful of proper domain direction when copying 1-click staging from your existing website.
Let’s focus in on WPEngine’s hosting platform for now. From your WordPress dashboard, simply click on the “WP Engine” logo on the side bar’s top-left corner, selecting the “Staging” tab, and click “Copy site from LIVE to STAGING.” After a bit, your site is copied to a staging environment.
Accessing your staging site’s server is exactly the same as accessing the server for your live site, just with a different name. Simply create a new SFTP account on your server and set the environment to “Staging.”
Feel free to make all the design and copy edits you want.
Once you ready to take your staging site live, all it takes is a few clicks on the WordPress dashboard. After logging in, return to the “WP Engine” logo on the top-left of the sidebar. Under the “Staging” tab, click the red button marked “Deploy site from STAGING to LIVE.” Select the degree to which you want your site overwritten via the dropdown menu, and your updated site is live.
Website hosting has its challenges. You and your team will run into issues regardless of skill level and experience…and that makes sense.
What separates the seasoned WordPress user from the novice is the support system they’ve established.
This is one area in which it’s really not okay to skimp on quality. Don’t be fooled by the cheap cost-effective services out there that offer email-only communication. That’s basically snail mail when you’re trying to run your business and your site is down. Look for support services that have technical specialists on live chat or are available by phone to help when things go wrong. Such a feature is a marker of an above-and-beyond level of support, and sites that offer that kind of contact are likely to also feature improved security, regular theme updates, performance optimization, and repair broken links.
When choosing a support system, be thorough. Ask in-depth questions about what features they offer beyond support, response time, and – of course – cost. A good way to decide on a WordPress support system is customer feedback.
That’s why part of our business is hosting sites. Classic City Consulting has a partner with built-in support, so that we don’t have to charge our customers small fees for every single technical issue. Having an integrated support service ensures a better experience not only for you and your business, but also for your customers.
Consider everyone when designing your experience.
Just like managed hosting, shared hosting comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. A part of the myriad of options you get for web hosting these days, shared hosting is exactly as it sounds: multiple sites sharing a single server. These other sites are unknown to you, and that’s okay because each customer is limited by their hosting plan.
To that end, shared hosting is the most cost-effective sort of hosting available, with plans ranging from $2.99-$9.99 a month (That $5.99 hosting you’ve heard so much about? It’s shared hosting.) Part of that plan also includes technical maintenance coverage as well as a cPanel for personalized site maintenance. However, using a shared hosting plan means your site isn’t quite as customizable as you might have liked, and there’s also the possibility of your site running slowly with increased traffic.
In short, shared hosting is ideal for those just getting started with WordPress. As your skill improves and your business grows, it might be a good idea to upgrade to managed or dedicated hosting, which is possible given that you aren’t locked into a standard plan.
Whatever route you choose to take with your hosting, you need to make sure that your site is with a stable and secure service. Your business requires a certain web presence, and the back-end of your site is the core of how it works. Be specific with your web hosting needs. There are options tailored to exactly what you need and what you can do. Remember, how your site functions is a reflection of your business, and it starts with what goes on behind the scenes.
Remember the phrase “There’s an app for that”? In WordPress, it might as well be there’s a plugin for that. With more than 50,000 plugins to assist with everything from social media to spam blockers, it’s easier now than ever customized your site with just a quick click and download. But, with so many options, where should you start? We work with dozens of small businesses around the country. While they are all different, here are a few that seem to benefit everyone regardless of business type.
Google Analytics provides a way to understand the visitors to your site with insights like demographics, how they behaved on your site, and if they returned at a later date. Once you know what interested someone enough to get them to your site, you know how to make their experience better.
Figuring out how someone lands on your website is important for developing your marketing strategies. Knowing what actions or search terms were used before someone found your website will help you strategize how to get other people to your site. It could have been a simple search for a related term or they could have found you if another website linked to yours. You may not be the first or last stop in someone search history. Where they’re from and where they’re going is information you can use to strengthen your own web presence. Finding topics that resonate with your audience means you have a chance to create a valuable relationship.
For e-commerce businesses, Google Analytics allows you to track your site metrics. It’s essentially a revenue report showing the number of visitors, duration of visitor, sales made, and revenue. A key aspect of the plugin is devoted strictly to business results
Yoast SEO is the original WordPress plugin for search engine optimization. Yoast provides information not only for site visitors but also for search engine spiders seeking to provide information for autofill the next time you search.
Its key purpose is to provide information for writing SEO-friendly content. Relative to your site the Yoast SEO plugin is another form of creativity. You can learn more about what attracts customers and terminology to enhance their experience.
Yoast helps you get technical about your writing style.
While Google Analytics is about learning your customer base to build the ideal web experience, Yoast is about tailoring your web content. Keeping the editing process in mind, Yoast offers a live preview feature for search results. The same is true for the ever-important canon of improving your social media.
From there, you can take it a step further: Yoast Premium.
An enhanced version of the standard Yoast SEO experience, consider the premium edition to get even better at managing your SEO. Premium offers assets such as content insights to reveal the five key phrases most used on your page, writing suggestions for links to other pages in real time, and unlimited support from a support team, not merely a list of FAQs and forum posts. Even better, Yoast Premium has a redirect manager, meaning that a changed URL or an updated version of your site will not deter visitors, instead of the dreaded 404 error message.
A site’s usability is as much about content readability as it is about the actual framework of the site. Visitors should not have to root around endlessly to find what they need, and the ideal site is the first stop on a search engine. You can’t be on page one without an optimized site. Getting there starts with understanding what users want.
Ninja Forms offers a way to build mailing lists, manage and edit user submissions, and receive data such as users’ email and phone contacts with embedded forms. The intuitive drag-and-drop interface and extensions for expanding your contact base, such as MailChimp and Constant Contact. Each builds on the idea of simplicity while also offering an unlimited amount of signup forms, creative form presentation, and sorting users based on their preferences and responses.
In the age of bots, there is truth to the argument that chatbots could eradicate preferred contact forms. However, plenty of sites still do not offer immediate action interfaces for collecting data, and the bots themselves are still considered somewhat stop-gap in their usability. To that end, whether contact forms are going away in two years or ten, your customers have to get in contact with you and Ninja Forms offers an ideal, seamless integration for doing so.
Combining the three pieces above means learning why people visit your site, how to gather more visitors, and how to optimize their experience. There’s a reason WordPress is the most popular content management system, with a seemingly endless gamut of support systems, customizable add-ons, and styles.
However, it’s important to note that not all WordPress plugins are created equal. It’s easy to download and activate a plugin for your site, but give the plugin a quick review before you install it. Pay attention to how many active installations are running and read reviews on the most recent version. It also helps to scroll through support forums and consider what issues might others have had and decide whether those would be your issues too. A larger, more vetted plugin has less of a chance of being problematic and more of a chance of enhancing your site.
As far as e-commerce platforms go, Shopify is easy to use, cost-effective, and (somewhat) SEO friendly. All things considered, users get great value out of Shopify themes, widgets, and cross-channel capabilities. However, Shopify does leave something to be desired for some more code-savvy online retailers. Decide if this tool is right for your e-commerce store by weighing out the pros and cons.
There’s no denying that Shopify has some of the best theme templates available. It offers something for every business model, ensuring every ecommerce site looks stylish and on-brand.
Shopify’s variety of applications make vamping up your website a simple task. Want to feature new products on your homepage? Consider it done. Need your items specially categorized? No problem, there’s a widget for that.
Although Shopify customers can upgrade to a paid version, the free templates are usually all business owners need. There are over 100 to choose from, so before signing up for paid services which may require specialty coding, explore the functions and aesthetics of free themes.
Between Shopify’s customizable themes and applications, business owners often have everything they need to design their online stores. Plus, customer service is always available to help clients problem solve and achieve desired functions when necessary. Even if you make a catastrophic mistake, representatives are there to help.
Social posts provide authentic examples of customers and influencers using your products in their everyday lives. For many ecommerce stores, social media channels drive traffic and lead to final purchases, so Shopify has invested heavily into its seamless social integration. Site headers and footers offer links to store channels, and blog posts allow for easy sharing to personal pages.
Although Shopify customers can upgrade to a paid version, the free templates are usually all business owners need. There are over 100 to choose from, so before signing up for paid services which may require specialty coding, explore the functions and aesthetics of free themes.
According to Nchannel, 20% of online shoppers would be likely to make a purchase from Facebook,” and analysts only expect this trend to grow. That’s why connecting your stores Facebook and Instagram accounts to your ecommerce store is crucial! Luckily Shopify makes it easy to link your store products to Facebook and Instagram posts. The best part is, all sales on these channels are captured through Shopify, meaning you won’t have to hassle with multiple platforms to manage order logistics. Just be sure you review Facebook/ Instagram’s lengthy policies for prohibited content to avoid posting listings that may be flagged or removed.
Being your own boss is thrilling, but it keeps you busy juggling a lot of responsibilities. Installing Shopify’s Instafeed plugin takes just minutes and saves you hours of future time. It syncs your ecommerce store and social media accounts, so your website automatically refreshes as you add new posts to Facebook or Instagram. Most importantly, Instafeed is SEO friendly and uses proper rel-canonical tags which keep web crawlers from classifying your feeds as duplicate content.
Statistics show that mobile traffic has finally exceeded desktop; today 52% of all online users are browsing the internet via cell phones and tablets, so it’s time to change the way we design ecommerce sites. In fact, if a business owner chooses not to embrace mobile compatibility, his sites search engine rank is likely to plummet. As of 2018, Google’s search algorithms have implemented “Mobile First Indexing” to prioritize pages optimized for mobile performance. Luckily if you choose Shopify you can rest assured that your website will be mobile responsive! Just about every Shopify theme was built with mobile in mind, and as an added bonus, Shopify sites tend to fall on the leaner end of page speed loading speeds.
As the proud founder of an ecommerce site, your goal is to sell products, and Shopify recognizes that doing so means taking advantage of multiple sales channels such as ebay and Amazon. The company states, “It shouldn’t be complicated to expand your reach,” and it makes cross-channel integration a breeze.
Lastly, the Shopify platform is simplistic. The easy setup is unparalleled! Because clients aren’t building custom sites from scratch, many are able to build out fully operational ecommerce stores within just 5-8 hours of creating their accounts.
Creating a store on Shopify is often described as building a house on a pre-laid foundation. It’s nice because you don’t have to start from square one, but you are forced to follow someone else’s floor plan, so to speak. For most stores, the themes aesthetics may vary to some degree, but process and content will be largely the same for every store.
Despite everything Shopify does so well, the platforms biggest drawback lies in its lack of checkout page customization. All Shopify ecommerce sites, excluding those using the high-priced Shopify Plus, default to essentially the same checkout process with few features that can be altered for better performance.
Here are the categories which you can edit in the checkout process:
Shopify sites implement a 2-phase checkout system. Why don’t they allow more customization? Shopify claims the standard 2-phase checkout helps to increase sales. Frankly, we don’t buy it, and neither does the company’s client community.
While it may be the case that in general a 2-phase system works better than a 1-page checkout or 3 or more-page system, this is not always true for store in every industry. Some industries and products do better with more pages in their checkout flow. In fact QuickSprout published a popular article a while back which demonstrated a 3-page checkout outperforming a 2-page checkout.
Having the same cookie-cutter checkout page capabilities may not be a big deal for most basic ecommerce sites, but if you’re a vendor who depends on up-charging based on upgraded product features, you may want to take your business elsewhere.
Reason being, you will find it very difficult to give customers the option to add more profitable features to their products at the point of final sale. Of course, you can experiment with Shopify Plus, but that will cost you $2,000+ per month.
As an owner of an ecommerce marketing agency that specializes in SEO, this one hits a little close to home. My biggest qualm with Shopify as a CMS might lie in their lack of customization of URL structures.
In addition to limiting customization at checkout, Shopify also gives ecommerce clients minimal options when it comes to changing their URL structures on product, blog, and general pages.
This causes problems because it unnecessarily lengthens URLs and places web assets in parent pages which are unrelated. A perfect example is that Shopify places all general pages as a child of ‘/pages’ (i.e. ‘www.domain.com/page/[URL]’). Not only does this practice clutter URLs, but it also hinders SEO.
According to Search Engine Journal, Avoid Superfluous Words & Characters. They explain that URLs should use as few words as possible to make sure they have a high impact. Ecommerce stores often need to get creative with their parent-child structure to effectively rank to help Google understand site structure; however, keeping URLs tidy can be very difficult on Shopify.
Having explored some pros and cons of using Shopify for your ecommerce store, note that in general the Tekli team are big believers in the platform. Lack of checkout and URL customization is our biggest issue with the platform, but there are plenty of opportunities to launch a flourishing online business with Shopify.
It’s cost effective, easy to use, and awesome in terms of cross-channel and social media integration. If you’ve been toying with the idea of building an ecommerce store, setup your account today to get started.
Classic City Consulted was named one of the top web designers in Atlanta by Clutch and one of the top 20 design agencies in the city by The Manifest. We are excited that our dedication to quality work and our commitment to client satisfaction has recently earned us these recognitions.
Through their extensive evaluation of companies’ data, D.C. based sister companies Clutch and The Manifest rank businesses and provide insight on industry trends. From client interviews to assessments of market presence, they review and compare small and mid-market businesses based on their performance, work, and customer satisfaction.
We enjoy building great products with great people, and our devotion to those we work with is demonstrated through open dialog and transparency in the design process. The feedback and support that we’ve received from clients, from our community, and from our industry peers is humbling. Whether we are working on web development, rebranding, marketing strategy, or software consulting, Classic City enjoys building partnerships. We thank Clutch and The Manifest for recognizing our dedication to the quality of our work.
Over the last 3 weeks, we have discussed the importance of a video strategy, how to develop that strategy, and what tools you will need to execute the strategy. Now that you are an expert on all of those topics, let’s talk about something incredibly important: creating great content.
I’ll be honest: this topic goes far beyond the scope of this post. As you spend more time in your video strategy, you will inevitably spend time researching how to improve the quality of your content. For now, let’s start with some basics:
You can have the greatest looking and sounding video in the history of the universe, but no one will care if it is not interesting or helpful. How do I know? Look at the number of low quality videos that have millions of views on YouTube. Content is king. If your content stinks, then it doesn’t matter if it stinks in full HD.
If people have a hard time hearing what is going on in the video, then they won’t watch it. Can the person speaking be heard clearly? Was there other noise when it was recorded? Is background music too loud? Most of the issues can only be addressed when you actually shoot the video. As much as you can, make sure that there is no background noise when recording. And make sure the person speaking is clearly heard at the time of the recording. Yes, you can fix those problems in editing, but you won’t be completely happy with the results. Spend extra time before you record to get it right, and editing will be much easier. You will also like the final product more, too.
Can people hear? Great! But can they see what is going on? Does the person talking have a shadow on one side of their face? Does it look like they have a neck beard because there is a shadow on their neck? These issues are all related to lighting. If you bought a kit, spend some time adjusting it before recording. If you are outside or do have a kit, move the person around until they are in a place where there face is clearly seen and there aren’t any distracting shadows.
Framed is a somewhat technical term in photography and videography. Basically, it deals with how a person or scene looks in the shot. Is it centered, or to one side? Is the person looking at the camera, or off to the side? Is the camera moving, or is it still?
One of the more well-known theories in this subject it the rule of thirds. This rule says that a video or photo is more interesting if the person or scene is either one-third of the screen or two-thirds of the screen. This goes against the tendency to put everything in the middle of the screen, but it can produce more interesting shots.
All of these questions presume you know how to use your camera. Since each brand is different, we can’t discuss those things here. But knowing how to actually operate the gear you bought is a big deal. When in doubt, look it up on YouTube.
Congratulations! If you read all of the posts in this series, then you are officially a video strategy expert! Ok, maybe that puts a little too much pressure on you, but you get the idea. Hopefully this series generated some great discussion and creativity among your team and armed you with the right information to produce great video content for your business.
So now that you have a strategy, go serve the world with great videos.
So far in our series on video content, we have discussed why you need a strategy and how to develop a strategy. These posts are important for today’s post. If you haven’t read them yet, please do so now.
Why am I asking you to read the first 2 posts before this one? Simple: you need to know how you think about video before making it happen. If you are truly going to develop great focus in your strategy, you must think rightly before finding the tools you need. Plus, thinking rightly will help you avoid costly mistakes.
There are roughly 3 levels when it comes to the tools necessary for developing video content:
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, your smartphone has an incredible camera (unless you haven’t upgraded since the last presidential election). The quality of most smartphone cameras rivals other cameras on the market. Why spend money on something when you already have what you need in your pocket?
The one thing you need to buy at this level is a microphone. Rode makes a great mic for smartphones that can easily clip onto your shirt. This is the best and most inexpensive way to have great audio (In next week’s post, we will talk about some technical issues to make sure your content is great. Clear audio is incredibly important, so don’t skip this part).
Another mic option is the Rode VideoMic. Unlike the mic above, this one is great for capturing multiple people at one time.
With these 2 tools and an idea worth filming, you will be able to create a lot of high quality content.
This setup is for those who are ready to make the plunge into a more serious set up. You will get better looking results than you can on a smartphone.
Let’s start with the camera. Get a DLSR (those big looking cameras your wedding photographer used). If someone on your team already owns a DSLR, then I suggest going with the brand they own. Why? Because you already have someone in your office that is an expert on that brand.
There are a range of options in each brand, so go for what your budget allows. Also, the lenses that usually come with new cameras aren’t the best for video, so get an additional lens. I suggest getting one with a low mm. range The lower the number, the closer the camera can get to the person you are filming.
Next, you need a good shotgun microphone, like the Rode Shotgun mic Most DLSR cameras don’t record audio well, so I suggest getting an audio recorder like the Zoom H4N. You can combine the audio and video when you edit. It’s much easier than you think.
If you plan on shooting videos in a consistent space, then plan on getting a basic lighting kit. A soft box light is great for lighting the faces of whoever is on the video, and 2 smaller lights can help eliminate any shadows. Once you purchase the lights, a quick YouTube search will show you how to best set them up.
A side benefit of a great DSLR camera for video work: you will own a camera that will take fantastic still images. This can be a huge asset to your website, social media channels, and print design.
At this level, you are ready to run with the big boys. Yes, the DSLR cameras are fantastic. That’s why so many filmmakers and TV producers use them. So if you are serious about great video content, then invest in a high end DSLR model like the Canon 5D mark iii or Sony a7R II.
Perhaps the biggest drawbacks with most DLSR cameras is their time limit. Most of them are limited to 12-20 minute clips. If you plan on recording longer segments (like an event), then you need a big kid camera.
When I say prosumer camera, I mean that these cameras are almost as good as some of the incredibly expensive models used on TV shows and movie sets. Models like the Canon XA25 are great options. Cameras like these are probably the exception for the content you are creating.
Another benefit of prosumer cameras is that the audio recording is much better. At this level, I suggest investing in a great shotgun mic and 2 wireless lapel mics. Unlike the lapel mic in the Entry Level, these are wireless. This setup is great for doing interviews.
If you are at this level with equipment, then you need to be ready to invest in a great editing software. Probably the best one is Adobe Premiere Pro. With the Creative Cloud subscription, you pay $19.99 per month to always have the latest version.
By now your head is probably spinning. But that’s OK. Take some time to decide what setup is best for you and your team. Come back next week to learn how to make videos that don’t suck. Because too many of those already exist in the world.
Your website is arguably the most important piece of your business. You want to make sure you not only have one that functions, but that it’s also up to date, and easy for customers to navigate. Here are five warnings signs that reveal if your website needs an expert redesign:
If you notice that the traffic to your site has decreased, this might signify a problem. The main goal of your website is to bring in as many visitors as possible and to have them make their visit worthwhile, buying your product, signing up for a service, or even just leaving a name and email. If people aren’t visiting, they certainly aren’t buying.
In order to combat this, you have several options. Try integrating your social media with your website, and pushing your business on those outlets. In addition, you may want to invest in an advertising campaign. Try talking with a professional about search engine optimization (SEO) and how they can help you drive traffic to your site through ad-words and other means of advertising.
The technology market has steadily been moving towards the rise of mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets. If your website is unable to be viewed properly on these devices, you will lose visitors and potential customers. With a redesign plan, be sure to talk with a designer who has experience in this flexible design (also called responsive design.) This will ensure that your website will be able to be viewed across all devices and all browsers.
Does your website take forever to load? In today’s busy and stressful society, this could mean the downfall of your business. Overdramatic it may seem, but many people will not wait around for a site to load. They will simply move on to another, faster loading site to do their business. In order to make your site load faster, an update is highly recommended. Many older websites are very image and link heavy, making the site slower. Any designer worth anything will be able to change this, among other things, and will allow your site to run smoother and faster.
Sometimes the popularity of your website will have nothing to do with the product or service you’re selling. There is constant competition between rival businesses about which site looks better, runs faster, and is considered “trendier.” You might be surprised at how much appearance counts for in the website business. Try visiting a competing website and going through the process to buy something. See if there is anything you might be able to improve on your own website.
Have you updated your website since it’s launch? If the answer to that question is no, then you may need to evaluate your design. Even if your site has only been around for a year or two, trends in the industry seem to change everyday. By paying attention to these ever shifting trends, you can be sure that your website is up to date and utilizing all possible advantages technology has to offer. Be willing to make these changes and you’ll be rewarded with an increase in traffic and more business.
As is evidenced above, a possible update and redesign for your website can be quite important. If your website does not take full advantage of every person that visits, then it’s wasting precious potential. Guarantee your website is up to date, and you will see your business increase.
In many ways, operating a startup business is a lot like running a marathon. Both require lots of time, training, and planning, as well as self-discipline and flexibility. In this blog post, we will break this down and explore some of the best practices to efficiently run your startup.
During a marathon, you rarely see people take off at a flat out sprint in the very beginning. Instead, professional runners set a pace and know when to start pushing themselves. This is critical to a startup company. You must know the market and know when to start pushing your product. If the market is flooded with similar items, you may need to wait in order for your business to take off.
Another important key to the timing of your startup is to make sure you are moving quickly and decisively. Once you start making moves towards your business plan, act with a purpose! These are some of the most important steps in the life of your business. Too many startups have gotten bogged down at the very beginning because they simply dragged their feet getting off the ground.
Most marathon athletes have a network of support. This support group is usually made up of friends, family, and other marathon runners who constantly strive to improve and encourage the athlete. In business, this is also important. Make sure you have people in place in your business who will be with you for the long haul. Most startups won’t get off the ground in six months, some not even in a year, so make sure you hire people who are committed and who desire to improve your business. These people will be the cornerstones of your startup.
On a more personal note, try to involve your friends and family in this process. Not only will they be there to help you through the tough times, but they will also be there to celebrate with you in the good times. Sometimes we all need a little encouragement. Or a call from our mother reminding us to get some sleep.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of any undertaking is self-discipline. In reference to running a marathon, serious runners must have the self-discipline of a monk. They adhere to rigid training regimes, nutrition plans, and practice schedules. In order to have a successful startup, you must adopt this attitude as well. That means setting forth a budget and then sticking to it – not a single penny over. Perhaps you can afford to go over your budget, but in the end, it’s the principle of the matter. If you go over your first budget, what will keep you from going over it for the rest of the life of your business?
In addition, it is recommended that you set forth a schedule for yourself concerning when you want to get certain things done. That way you can see your schedule days, weeks, and even months in advance, and know what you need to get done. It should be well known to anyone reading this article that startups require more time and nurturing than an established business. You should be prepared to spend as much time as needed on your project.
A flexible runner is a good runner. If you run while you’re stiff, you will inevitably hurt yourself. Any runner, marathon or not, knows stretching before a race is invaluable. You loosen up your muscles and give your body a chance to enjoy a wider range of motion and to recover faster after the race. Being flexible with your startup is equally important. Things can change in almost any aspect of your business and they might require tweaking. Sure, your company might be your baby and you might have everything perfectly in order. However, what if things change and initial testing of your product shows you need to alter your course? Given that your product has never been tested in the marketplace until your first round of testing, you do not know whether or not your idea is one that will stick. Therefore, it is vital to have the flexibility to adapt and change as new factors arise.
After all the training and all the preparation, don’t chicken out. Put your feet to the pavement and just go. All the tips and helpful hints are worth nothing if you don’t have the perseverance or knowledge to just get out and do it. This goes for marathons, startup businesses and anything else that might require any great effort. At the end of the day, make sure you know how to do what you need to do rather than what needs to be done. Don’t come to the end of things and be afraid of getting your hands dirty. You’ve come too far to quit now. Follow through.