It’s that time of year again when you kids are going back to school or college.  It’s also a good time to go “Back to School” when it comes to your website.  We thought it might be helpful if we provided you with a quick “Website 101” list of guidelines that will help you see if your website is making the grade.

  1. Can people find you?
    So, you have a website – but can people find you? It’s important that people can also find you on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.  There are some simple things you can do if you are just starting out.  Make sure that each page includes title tags with key words, meta tags that describe the content on each page, heading tags that highlighting important info, internal and external links, alt text on images so they are searchable and make sure your content contains a good number of keywords.
  2. How engaging is your homepage?
    You only have a few seconds to capture the attention of your audience…make sure they’re seeing something important.  What is the “eye trail”?  In other words, where do your eyes go first? Try and format your design elements so that you lead the visitors eye to the most important elements first such as your logo, the navigation, how to subscribe, etc.
  3. Can visitors quickly understand what you’re about?
    Again, you only have a few seconds to communicate your unique value, so be clear and compelling.  Can visitors quickly understand your value?  What makes your business unique?  Sell yourself, but don’t go over the top. Highlight benefits more than features.
  4. Is your primary information “above the fold”?
    Above the fold is generally considered to be within the first 500-600 pixels of your site design.  Your goal is to have visitors see the most important information without having to scroll down the page.  Make sure your logo, opt-in forms and unique selling propositions are available without having to scroll down the page.
  5. Is there a clear call to action?
    If they like what they see, prospects need to know what to do next. It can be to buy now, start a free trial, or simply download a free report.  Make it easy for people to contact you – providing a contact us form instead of a static page is especially good for lead capturing.  You can also integrate these leads into your CRM system such as Sales Force.
  6. Are you personally connecting with your prospects?
    Consumers want to buy from people, not machines. Connect with your prospects by being honest, straightforward, and using a conversational style.  Keep your website content updated and fresh – give them a reason to return to your site.  You know your audience best; add content that will best serve their needs.   The goal is that your visitors keep you “top of mind” and think of you as the industry expert.  Post new content, photos, videos, portfolio of work or whatever the site was built to present.  Adding a blog is a great way to keep a site updated. Add posts on any topic and length related to your site.
  7. Do you have a thoughtful user interface?
    Is there a consistent look and feel from page to page? Is the navigation consistent and intuitive? Make sure that you use the space efficiently and content is logically organized.  People should be able to get to the information they want within a few clicks. Don’t overwhelm people by trying to add to much information on the page.
  8. Is your branding consistent?
    When a user lands on your webpage does it look like your company? Make sure you include consistent branding such as your logo, color palette and design features that are consistent with your other marketing materials that ultimately help people recognize it’s your company.
  9. Does your website load quickly?
    People do not like to wait… if the site takes more than a few seconds to load you will lose visitors.  Make sure your images are in compressed format at 72dpi, so they retain quality but still allow quicker download time. Using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is another way to improve load speed.  If most of your pages share the same style information, the CSS keeps the style in an external file that allows the site to load the style once.  Then, all of the subsequent pages will load more quickly.
  10. Do you have links to social media?
    Many people want to do a little more research before buying. Linking to social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) gives your potential customers another glimpse into your company.  Visitors can read testimonials from your happy customers and will help build credibility and entice people to want to learn more.  With the right approach, you can get pretty decent results with a few hours per week on social media sites.  Why not leverage your existing traffic to draw even more visitors?

So, how did you do?  Does your website make the grade?  These are definitely some basics that will get your site on the right track.  You only get one chance to create a good first impression, so try and make it count.  A clean, professional, and fast-loading site can ensure that your first impression will be a good one.

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Take a look at Amazon Cloud. It is a large set of tools like Relational Database Service (RDS) and MySQL Database. These are only two of the many features that Amazon provides, but these are the two I am going to talk about today.

RDS can be used with Oracle, MySQL and multiple other types of database servers already at your fingertips. Personally, my favorite parts of RDS are the features it provides, like scalability and the ability to restore an instance almost immediately, compared to trying to restore or fix a server that crashed.

Let’s say your dedicated server crashes, and you can no longer access your site. For a dedicated server, you have to hope that you have a backup. Otherwise, you’re stuck trying to restore the server in hopes that you can keep your data. With RDS, Amazon will automatically backup your database based on the retention period you set. So if you RDS server crashes, you can just launch a new RDS instance with your last backup. Your site will quickly be up again and serving web pages.

Scalability is usually another concern of any application that is growing. Databases are almost always the bottleneck of any application. To attempt to overcome this issue, you have to either purchase more computers or scale out your database. That isn’t easy, and it takes time. But with RDS, you can do this just by changing a few settings. You can easily increase the space needed to store your data. In addition, you can change how much processing power and memory your application needs. As a result this task, can go from weeks of work to 30 minutes of clicking.

Overall, these types of features in Amazon Cloud give it an advantage over other comparable services. In my next post, I’ll cover a few more benefits that Amazon Cloud provides.

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Online marketing broadly describes the business of marketing products and/or services over the Internet. While most people think of online marketing only as a means to driving traffic to their websites in order to make money, it can also be used effectively for public relations initiatives, online reputation management and, as we’ve seen in recent years, political campaigns.

The umbrella of online marketing covers a wide range of services, each of which can play an important role in achieving a company’s different marketing goals.

Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing is a popular method of buying online traffic. PPC advertisements are typically placed alongside search results on search engines like Bing and Google, though ads can also show up on web pages featuring topics related to the ads. For instance, if you sell “coat hangers,” you can purchase ads that link directly to your company’s website when anyone searches for that phrase in Google or when articles about coat hangers appear on different websites. A big advantage to PPC, as opposed to traditional marketing, is that you only have to pay when a visitor clicks on your ad.

Visitors who come to websites through PPC ads are more likely to turn into customers, mainly because they already have an interest in the product. In fact, PPC marketing frequently provides companies with a much higher conversion rate than billboards, newspapers, radio or television, since a smartly-run PPC campaign will only show ads to interested visitors. Since PPC is intertwined with the search engines, some companies often refer to it as search engine marketing (SEM), although this phrase is also used as an umbrella term to describe PPC, SEO and social media advertising.

Search Engine Optimization
A close relative of PPC, search engine optimization (SEO) requires making changes to a website so it can get ranked in the search engine results. Google, Bing and Yahoo make up the major search engines on which businesses want their websites to be found.

Unlike PPC ads, the “natural” or “organic” rankings targeted by SEO do not require that a company pay every time a user clicks on its website. Companies consider high rankings in these results very valuable, since Internet users often trust these results more than PPC listings. In fact, about 70% of searchers click on organic listings instead of the PPC results.

With SEO, the two main challenges are getting your website found by the search engines and getting it to show up on the first page of results. The majority of search engine users find what they are looking for on the first page, so companies who want to drive traffic through SEO need to implement (or pay someone to implement) SEO techniques.

Local Online Advertising
If you own a business that serves a specific local market, the reach of the search engines may seem too vast to be effective for your company. However, that’s not the case. With both SEO and PPC, geotargeting offers you a way to focus on your specific consumer group.

In PPC, geotargeting involves specifying the exact geographic areas where you want your ads to show (or not to show). While you can always go after keywords that include the names of cities where you do business, geotargeting also lets you use general terms, like “taxi company” or “flower delivery” and still have results that only show up for people in your vicinity.

Apart from geotargeting with PPC, the search engines also let you create a directory listing for your company. Google Places is one example of these directories, while Bing Business Portal is another. Both are free services. Once businesses are listed in these directories, they can appear within the organic search results when people search for related services within a specific area. If you haven’t already created a listing for your company, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to be seen by potential customers.

Banner Ads
During the 1990s, banner advertisements (square or rectangular ads on websites) dominated as one of the main sources of revenue on the Internet. Unfortunately, many of these ads were not targeted to the websites’ audiences, which contributed to the burst of the “Internet bubble” when companies stopped buying these ads. Today, banner ads have come a long way and can be shown on specific websites that target specific groups of people. Banner ads are now more interactive than they were in the past, often including animated or video elements that grab the visitors’ attention.

Email Marketing
If done correctly, email marketing can be a great way to reach out to a target audience. In many cases, the best recipients for email marketing endeavors are existing customers or individuals who “opt in” to receive emails from your company.

If your company already sends regular online newsletters or holiday greetings, it’s a simple step to include coupon codes, special promotions, sales events or product upgrade notices. However, it’s important to create a balance of sending emails with special offers and ones that just provide useful information to the consumer, as you don’t want your customers to feel they are constantly being pushed to make a purchase.

If you work with a company such as Digital Dogs for your email marketing efforts, you should receive reports to find out what email marketing campaigns are the most successful and brought in the most revenue with your target group of customers.

Social Media
While social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, weren’t originally created for the purpose of online marketing, businesses have quickly adapted them to such a purpose. Social media websites have become great places for businesses to interact with customers, often just by providing answers to common questions, while at the same time building customer confidence and loyalty to their brands. In addition to the platform to converse with customers, some social media channels, such as Facebook, also offer a service similar to PPC that allows companies to show ads to this Internet audience.

Video Marketing
More and more, smart video marketing is becoming a core part of online marketing for many businesses. Creative, informative videos can be an effective way to communicate a message to your target audience, especially if your company is looking to attract younger generations who respond more to visual, rather than textual, information. Good video marketing often dovetails into a strong social media strategy.

Even if your company doesn’t have the budget to produce videos on a regular basis, you can still jump onboard this growing marketing platform. Similar to television, many videos allow businesses to place ads either before, during or after the video, allowing your company an easy way to reach out to an increasingly visual-focused market.

How have you used online marketing to improve your business? Please leave a comment and share any tips that you’ve found to be successful.

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Digital Dogs is excited to announce the launch of our new website design. We created the new design to better communicate all of the services Digital Dogs now offers our client base. In addition to the custom web design and development services that we have been providing for the past 14 years, we’re proud to roll out several new services. These services include application development, search marketing and social media services.

Digital Dogs’ core purpose is to contribute to our customers’ success by leveraging technologies to design and develop unique online solutions that creatively address the individual client needs. We are focused on developing the client relationship. It is our goal to become an extension of each client’s business.

Our blog, a new addition to our website, will be focused on sharing our online experiences and knowledge with you. Whether it’s about web design, SEO or social media, we will do our best to keep you informed of the latest technologies and trends that may affect your Internet experience. Keep an eye out for weekly posts with the latest news in the industry and tips on how you can keep your company at the lead of the pack.

Digital Dogs, Unleashing the Internet!

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