Thank You, Increased Bandwidth

Web design ideas that were once not under consideration because of slow page load times are now web trends because increased bandwidth and data compression means users won’t bounce from your site because of a dragging load time.

Here are two examples.

The trend to using more streamlined and minimal designs allow typefaces to be more dramatic – and perhaps less recognizable or complex. We don’t think of typefaces as bandwidth hogs, but it really is the lighter design trend that  allows for those typefaces.

Another trend that relies on better bandwidth is using background videos and animations. Of course, they can also be a distraction if used poorly. Moderation is key here.

This would seem a quite natural design element for a video or film company.

A lighter animation is a hover animation. Most users intuitively hover their cursor or finger over items, especially if they want more information.

And on this lightly animated home page for Spotify , we see the web trend of using carousels.

spotify

 

This simple but extensive use of video backgrounds comes from a company with a very simple URL http://y.co/, a luxury yacht company with large video footage as its background.

 

yacht

 

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Carousels, Parallax and Hamburger Menus

 

Two trends that I see this year in web design have to do with layout and scrolling. One is the carousel scroll that goes right to left rather than up and down. This makes most or all of the site “above the fold” (to use an old newspaper term) so that the viewer doesn’t need to scroll down – not that scrolling left is so much easier.

The second trend gives us some very long pages that endlessly scroll where “pages” overlap each other and no clicking to other pages is necessary.

The parallax site allows the foreground and background content to scroll at different speeds, so there is sometimes an illusion of depth. It is a nice effect, but both of these trends have drawbacks. For example, parallax can be bad for you search engine optimization since they appear to search bots as being made up of one page and not all the content can be crawled by the search engines. This is exacerbated when text is embedded in graphics.

There are other trends becoming more prevalent this year, such as that series of short lines that have become known as a “hamburger” being used to indicate that a menu is linked there. This has become popular as the popularity of mobile devices grew and designers started simplifying navigation.

You can read more about these and other trends and some of the plusses and minuses of these design trends.

Web and Social Media Analytics

Google AnalyticsAnalytics are important is every business and organization. They always have been. Today’s world of “big data” has made them more important and has certainly given them wider use and more visibility.

With websites and social media accounts, the numbers (statistics, metrics, measures) you always hear about are hits, follows, likes, shares and reposts.  Every person using social media has become a part of others’ analytics – and probably follows their own numbers.

I don’t know of anyone who has a website or blog that doesn’t take a look at their hit counter and whatever data is being gathered. If you use WordPress, you get a suite of stats and analytics. But many users use other tools in addition. Google Analytics is another popular method of analyzing site traffic. I use WordPress.com and use their stats, and I use Google Analytics. Most of the time the numbers don’t agree. It’s not a small variation either. Have you heard the saying “A man with two watches never knows the correct time”?

I have read a number of explanations. For example, JavaScript based analytical tools, like Google Analytics, can never be completely accurate because many people have JavaScript blockers installed in their browsers. Some tools allow hits by the owner to be counted and some do not. I know that when I’m working on a site, updating and viewing it, that can amount to a few dozen “hits.”  That is why analytics will also sometime break out visitors versus unique visitors. The former is always bigger because the latter means that if I visit a site (or a site’s pages) 25 times today, that is one visitor.  Unique visitors may sound more accurate, but in some cases you would certainly want to know that your visitors are returning throughout the day (think of Facebook, Twitter or a news site) and visiting multiple pages.

That is why you’ll find articles with titles like “Is Your Social Media Content as Popular as You Think?

One of the buzziest terms out there now is “engagement.” Not a new word, just new to this new arena. Engagement means capturing and holding attention. As a teacher, I want to engage students and have interaction with them. I also want that to occur with this post and all my blogs and websites.

When we are talking about a business and profits, engagement changes. To Amazon.com, hits are good but engagement means all the things that lead to conversion and sales. Some critics of the aggressive online marketing we see now say that where engagement was once the journey, now it is the goal.

I am not a marketer, but I need to be aware of what is happening in the field, so I look at things like the content marketing goals in places such as the Content Marketing Institute reports.

“Likes” don’t necessarily mean a conversion or sale and thousands of views don’t mean a positive ROI. And yet, you still need to follow the numbers.

What did it mean that Twitter removed share counts from its widgets, buttons, and API? Are they telling us that the share count didn’t mean much? It didn’t count replies, quote tweets, variants of your URLs, or reflect that some people tweeting these URLs might have many more followers than others, so the share count was never an accurate measure of social engagement with your content.

Remember that analytics is not statistics, but what you do and learn from those statistics

YouTube only counts a view after approximately 30 seconds. That’s so that accidental views or bounces don’t get into the stats. You might also say that if 25% of your views were under 30 seconds that it is because your videos aren’t interesting – or at least they are not engaging in those first 30 seconds. YouTube analytics will tell you if someone watched 1, 2, 3, or all 4 minutes of your video and that is important to your analysis and further action.

Many of the “pro” tools are for a price and so is hiring someone to handle your analytics and marketing, but there are good free analytic tools to measure content effectiveness.

Social Media For Authors

It’s rare to find any published writers that don’t have their own website. Publishers usually create some kind of pages for their authors, but you really need your own place to promote yourself, your writing, your readings, workshops and appearances, and probably to share some samples of your work.

coben

Mystery writer Harlan Coben has a very good author site that is obviously professionally maintained. He has his own Facebook account, plus one for the books. He is on Twitter and he uses Instagram.  Harlan is a friend and former student of mine and I know that he does much of his own social media. His website points you to all his social media (including an old-fashioned email newsletter – know your audience – not all of them are on social media) and the social media points you to the website.

We are past the time of having to explain why a website is important, and are now pretty deep into the time when any writer – novelist, non-fiction writer or poet – also needs a social media presence.

You don’t necessarily need to be on all the social networks. In fact, even though it is advisable to take possession of your name real estate in all the big networks before someone else does, you probably can’t put out enough content to make all of them seem active unless you have help.

Besides having a truly personal account, having a closed or open Facebook group is a good way to share information, events, photos, reviews and press. Depending on target audience, the chances are much better that readers will check their Facebook – or other social networks – more frequently than your website. Those social posts may drive readers to more in-depth material on the website such as a book preview.

Instagram is the visual place to be, though some treat it in the same way as Twitter (which has also become more visual from its early days) with hashtags and short messages.

Of course, there’s also LinkedIn and Pinterest and plenty of others out there and on the horizon. But again, don’t over extend yourself. LinkedIn is a purely professional, yet still social network, and you would think a professional writer should be there. Yes, have a profile, but that’s not where your readers expect to find you. You would be spending you time better by being in GoodReads which is populated with readers and allows you to do things like offer free book giveaway promotions.

All of this might be handled by someone else – a publisher, agent, publicist – but for the majority of writers reading this, it’s all up to you.

I am still a believer that most social media needs to point to a website where more significant content is found.

My own predilection is for poetry, so I look at a lot of poet sites, both as a reader of their work and as a designer of websites. They range tremendously from simple, homegrown, self-maintained sites, to slickly designed sites. The latter type is often infrequently updated, which is not a good thing. A good test is to check their page for readings and other events.

I checked 7 poet sites in my bookmarks to see what’s new or updated.

Marie Howe‘s site is nicely designed, but hasn’t been updated in 3 years.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan‘s website has up-to-date book information and a complete bio for others to use. Her event updates are on a complementary blog that is updated at least once a week with readings, workshops or her poetry.  (I know that because I’m the one who maintains the site and blog.)

Laura Kasischke has a good basic site, and Laura Boss has a simple, but clean and updated website.

taylormali.com has a very nice site but shows no “gigs” upcoming or in the recent past.

kevinyoungpoetry.com is a good, modern site and up to date in content, and so is the site for robertpinskypoet.com. The fact that their URLs are not kevinyoung.com and robertpinsky.com means someone else grabbed that very important piece of their identity real estate. That is often done as a business venture with the aim to resell it to the author or celebrity. A domain/URL will usually cost $15-25 a year, but resales frequently go for $5000 and up. Get it while you can…

Robert Hass has only a site done by his agent barclayagency.com/hass.html but no personal site – but roberthass.com is owned by someone – probably not the poet Robert Hass.

Web Accessibilty

accessibility iconsThe Americans with Disability Act (ADA), was passed in 1990 “to [eliminate] discrimination against people with disabilities.” Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web in 1989 and developing in 1990 both the first web server, and the first web browser, called WorldWideWeb and later renamed Nexus.

The Internet and the WWW provided both new opportunities for those with disabilities and new challenges.

Making things accessible to all in a digital environment takes extra thought and effort and, unfortunately, that is still not being done in all case. I am sensitive and aware of many of these issues but willing to admit that I don’t always run every check on webpages or add relevant alt tags to every image.

I have worked on a number of online projects that required focus groups and user testing, but those tests did not usually include people with disabilities or specifically address all the issues of accessibility testing.

using a touchscreen with a head dauber

A voter with a manual dexterity disability is making choices on a touchscreen with a head dauber

There have been design jobs I have done that required accessible checks because they were government sites or grant-funded by government agencies. The website for the Poetry Center at PCCC is an example of a site that because of its funding support

There are now free tools that will check many, but not all, of the most important accessibility issues on your website. WAVE Toolbar is an extension originally designed for the Firefox browser but now available in Chrome. It’s an interesting example because if you view it using Firefox you get the message: “The WAVE Firefox Toolbar is no longer available. It is no longer compatible with new Firefox versions and the Mozilla add-on developer environment no longer supports the functionality required for toolbar evaluation. We recommend that you install the updated WAVE Chrome extension.” Even accessibility tools aren’t always accessible.

Each of these tools requires interpretation in the same way that using a spellchecker or grammar checker or plagiarism-detecting tool require user interpretation. On the Poetry Center website, I will get “errors” that say “Heading markup should be used if this content is intended as a heading” but the noted line of code is not intended as a heading, so I can dismiss the error.

This post itself will produce dozens of errors in a check and some of them are out of my control because they are built into the WordPress theme I am using and I don’t have complete control over things like built-in anchors and semantic tags. Still, it is still worth running the checks to see if there are things I can address, such as images without tags (descriptions for visually-impaired users) or tables that will not present the information intended correctly to someone using a screen reader.

Do I always run a check on every page I produce. No. I am guilty of doing general checking when I first produce a site and then getting lazy as I add pages (especially true for blogs). Did I run a check on this post because it is about accessibility? Yes.

A more customizable and detailed tool (perhaps harder to use and interpret for some) is HTML_CodeSniffer which is a bookmarklet that works with most browsers.

Do you ever view your site in all the current browsers? Though you might dismiss Internet Explorer as old school, if 35% of your site visitors are using it, you can’t dismiss it.

Is your site mobile-friendly and more than just friendly to phone and tablet users?

Another tool is Tota11y which is described as “an accessibility visualization toolkit…a single JavaScript file that inserts a small button in the bottom corner of your document.” When you click on the button, you see where your web page has accessibility problems.

Good places to start are probably not with the tools as much as with some sites with information about accessibility in general. The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative provides both. They have a Web Evaluation Tools List and also information such as “How People with Disabilities Use the Web.

WebAIM is another source offering “Considering the User Perspective: A Summary of Design Issues,” and information on the “Principles of Accessible Design” as part of its “Introduction to Web Accessibility.

A search will also provide many simple articles, such as “25 Ways to Make Your Website Accessible,” that can get you started as a designer with making your designs more accessible.

The first step is simply being aware that there are always potential problems for some users when you present information in a digital environment. For example, will someone using a screen reader know that I put “aware” in italics in the previous sentence, and how important is my use of italics, bold and especially colors to the meaning of the information? What is left when all of that is stripped away?

Current Trends for Designing Your Website

If you are designing or redesigning your website now, you should look at some of the current design trends.

Responsive and flat design have both been trendy in the past year, but plenty of older sites have never upgraded. If these terms are unknown to you, that might be a reason to hire a designer! But put simply, flat design is a style with minimum use of  elements meant to give the illusion of three dimensions. That means not using drop shadows, gradients or textures, and employing simple typography and flat colors. Designers like flat design because it allows interface designs to be more streamlined and efficient.  The current version of  the CondeNast.com site is a nice example of flat design. (More on responsive design)

Lack of updating is also a cause for not having a real mobile alternative for your site. That doesn’t mean just that your site can be viewed on a mobile device – any site can be viewed, but does it work efficiently on that platform? This requires a completely different view of the site.

This graphic from Coastal Creative shows 8 trends they expect to influence designs this year. Not every one works for your site. For example, the “cards” design is very popular, but it’s not for all applications.

 

 

Source: 8 Design Trends You Can Expect to See in 2016 | Red Website Design Blog