A quick note about a project launch that was a little closer to home. When these New Malden based surveyors approached me a couple of months ago looking for a website for their new business, I didn’t realise I’d be working with a company operating just a mile from where I grew up!
We built a WordPress based website – allowing the customer full control over their content and images; the site is responsive so it looks well on mobile devices as well as more traditional desktop computers.
They’re a RICS approved surveyor in Wimbledon, and operating throughout Greater London – Wimbledon, Raynes Park, New Malden, Weybridge and surrounding areas. So, if you’re moving home … give them a call!
This is a nice looking site (if I say so myself!), and a fun project to be involved in. Direct Vintage sell vintage style furniture online … it’s actually a joint venture I’m involved in. TickTockDesign are providing marketing services for the site – as well as all the web design and development, so a useful experience for me to do some more marketing – whether that’s social media, email marketing, or paid advertising through google ads.
Good stuff. The site is fully responsive – looks great on a mobile phone – and built on WordPress using the shopping plugin: Woocommerce. Check it out: Direct Vintage – vintage furniture online.
Sometimes, a responsive web design is not the most appropriate way to develop a company’s mobile presence. There, I said it. Recently, all the talk is about responsive design – justifiably for the most part; it is a genuinely significant change for a lot of clients who now need to consider how and where their websites are viewed, beyond the desktop. And for web designers it’s probably the most significant change in development practices since we all decided that HTML and CSS were a better way to build sites than Flash. But it’s not always appropriate.
A recent case in point is the work I’ve been doing for Momentum Events. It’s a big WordPress site with a lot of custom plugins, a lot of content, a lot of assets (PDF downloads, etc.), a lot of traffic, and a good number of mobile users.
We took the decision to design & develop separate desktop and mobile sites. In this way, we would serve up code bases that were substantively different from each other (something made straightforward with WordPress and the addition of the excellent ‘Any Mobile Theme Switcher Pro‘ plugin) and provide tailored user experiences as a result.
But why? Why didn’t we do the same thing – but with a responsive design?
Well, okay, we could have. Mostly. But here’s the thing: pages are big, and mobiles are slow. The home page for Momentum has 22 images on it … most of them are ‘lazily loaded’ so they don’t exert a page weight immediately – i.e. they don’t impact download time of the page – but still, on a mobile device, that’s going to slow the site down considerably. (A common mistake when developing for mobile is assuming that everyone everywhere has a decent connection. Well, I’m in rural Ireland, my client is in Manhattan … I can tell you this: we have very different expectations of our mobile network speeds!)
Additionally, the home page connects to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus. That’s a lot of external connections that we don’t have control over. Again, these will be loaded in such a way as to not impact the download of the home page – but on a mobile device, they’ll potentially create a ‘stuttering’ experience whilst the connections are made.
A page size of a few Mb’s is not ideal on a desktop browser … but on a mobile browser it becomes downright irresponsible. As Brad Frost points out:
One of the biggest challenges of creating responsive web designs is the balancing act of delivering a full experience while still maintaining a snappy user experience across the board
Across the board, only 3% of small screen versions of websites are significantly lighter than their desktop equivalents. That’s not good.
But yes, we could have developed our site to be within that 3% (and given ourselves shiny apples and gold stars as reward). But still – we chose a dedicated site.
For us, it came down to context and relevance in the end. Our feeling was that – for business users looking to find out about business conferences – we wanted to present different information – information that was more relevant – in a mobile context. So, the home page of the site for the desktop version talks about ‘big picture’ things (mission statements, business partners, company brochure) as well as the events themselves … but the mobile version of the home page – that’s all about the events. Just a simple list of events that makes it super easy to get right into the guts of the content.
A dedicated event page of the desktop version – again, that has a richer experience for the user: speaker photos, connection information, twitter stream, LinkedIn Group information, and so on. The mobile version of the same page is much much lighter – and arguably more focussed.
However, if you want to serve up substantively different content to different devices then perhaps a dedicated mobile site is the way to go after all. You can achieve it quite readily, without a lot of the attendant headaches you may get when attempting the same effect responsively.
I first watched this a while ago – maybe 6 months – and I still chuckle when I think of it. Shawn Achor talks about happiness. This is particularly interesting to me at the moment, having had a conversation with my 9 year old son about why I don’t watch the news any more. (The reason I don’t watch the news any more is because it obviously only reports a tiny percentage of what happens in the world – and obviously always the bad stuff. It’s not representative and it’s a pretty shoddy lens through which to develop a world view).
Anyway, this Ted Talk is great – I think you’ll like it too:
I tend to have a lot of tabs open when I’m browsing – often, upwards of 20. I also like to listen to music while I work – I have the sound turned up on my laptop, or I have iTunes going from my main computer through my lovely JBL speakers. So few things annoy me more than when one of my swiftly opened tabs starts automatically playing audio.
Whether it’s a YouTube video set to auto play, or an obnoxious website that provides it’s own backing music – I want rid of it. Currently, there are no easy ways for me to identify which tabs is playing the audio – so I have to trawl through them all looking to see which ones have a video running, or might have their own soundtrack, or whatever. It’s a hugely invasive pain in the butt.
But for how much longer?
Google Chrome (my browser of choice) appears to be working towards tab level indicators for audio. Hooray! It’s currently available in Canary (which is kind of like a beta-Chrome you can download if you want to access the latest bleeding edge browsing features – but more stable than Chromium – their nightly build of Chrome). This little video shows it in action:
It’s not often that Google introduces modifications that genuinely improve the way I work. Sure – plenty that are nice to haves (I just played with the latest version of Google Maps – and it looked and worked great – but a bit unnecessary since I had no problem with the old Google Maps, it did everything I needed it to do pretty well), but few that are a genuine improvement.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I first had a play around with the new Gmail interface.
In short, they’ve added automatic filtering for different types of messages: primary (typically emails from real people – stuff that could be expected to require an action or a response), social (updates from Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever), promotions (all my email newsletters go in here, promotions from suppliers who I have a relationship with, and so on), updates (has my Amazon order shipped yet?) and forums (I’m active in a few online forums – and they all go in here).
Nice. Of course, the most surprising thing about it is that it works – I’ve not had to shift any messages from one box to another (although I could easily if I needed to, and the act of doing it once should ensure that Gmail learns for next time) and all the groupings so far seem sensible and relevant.
It’s even happy on my Android phone. The split into inboxes hasn’t been disruptive at all, it works as I would expect. My only complaint so far is that sometimes the message counts aren’t right in the mobile app – but that used to happen before. Hopefully it’s a bug that’ll get iron out.
What all of this means is that I can process emails in batches more easily. I know that I can leave my ‘social’, ‘forums’, ‘updates’ boxes alone all day (all week) if I wanted to – I’m not distracted by a bloated ‘unread count’ – and only deal with emails in my priority inbox.
The people behind it were looking for $65,000 on Kickstarter to help fund their project. They raised $484,013. Those that backed them on Kickstarter are going to be getting seeds to plant their own glowing plants. How cool is that? Back them up to $90 and you’d have received a book on how to grow your own glowing plant!
Good stuff – and if, one day, street lamps are replaced by glowing plants and trees I think that would be great. A little creepy. But great.
(They’ve a website here)
Probably not. Not that much anyway.
Since Google became the best place to get reliable search results on the web (what, 10 years ago?), they (and I) have been preaching that a well structured page with well written content containing a good balance of keyword information and useful information to the potential viewer, is the best way to get your page naturally noticed by google. But I’m not sure it is any more.
Increasingly, the Google search results page is being taken over purely by Google products, with natural search results being pushed further and further down the page. The screenshot below shows the results of a search for ‘Solar panels Northern Ireland’ (was wondering how to make the most from this great weather!)
It’s a screenshot that was taken from my 13″ MacBook Pro and shows the full screen as I saw it. And there isn’t a single organic search result on there. You’ve got the top left of the page taken up with adverts from googles AdWord product – as well as more ads on the right hand side. You’ve got a map generated by google map which lists some local businesses – which conincides with the businesses listed beneath the ads in the main column, in that they’ve all set up Google+ pages in order to get their presence boosted.
So, if you’re looking to promote a business and are thinking that search is a good way to do so, you probably have other factors to consider first. Like it or not, your website will become part of Google’s environment and to succeed you’ll need to be in that environment. Screen real estate is at a premium – particularly on mobile devices, and Google is eating up more and more of it. Organic search is still important – particularly if your business isn’t looking locally for the bulk of it’s customers – but it’s competing with more and more google products, and there’s only going to be one winner there.
At the beginning of last month I wrote a post about custom dashboards in google analytics and I promised at the time I’d come back and write a companion post about setting up goals and funnels in google analytics.
There is going to be a cross over in some of the subject matter on these two blogs – but for now, the rule of thumb will be: things I find interesting in the day to day of running my business (cool tips & techniques I find online, great gadgets I need to save up for, etc.) or current interests (like productivity, or the mobile web) will be featured here.
For Website Owners will deal more specifically with the challenges facing business owners who are now also website owners – how they should go about promoting their business online, getting more customers through their website, or just getting a handle on their social media efforts. And you can check it out here.