News & Articles

Maximize your website with analytics

4 Basic Steps to Better Website Performance - A beginner's guide to understanding website analytics and key performance indicators (KPIs).

We’re getting married!

Wedding BellsI’m excited to announce a new partnership with Out of a Jam Solutions (OOAJ), with whom SWS has had a long term (business) relationship that has been so successful that we’ve decided to tie the knot. Serving Palmer, Wasilla, Anchorage and beyond, OOAJ has provided down-to-earth service in Apple IT, technology consulting and web design since 1999.

Brady bunch style, this marriage expands our core team to eight awesome people. Together, we are able to offer our clients (you) a greater level of service, including:

You may have already noticed a few changes, such as our new main office address in Palmer. For accounting and inquiries, this is the place to call. If you have an opinion on anything, good or bad, let us know!

Thanks for reading,

Heidi

 

Wagilé Lecture: Mobile Web Design & Agile

AIGA AlaskaThis past weekend I attended an informative and fun AIGA lecture/workshop that shared big agency approaches to mobile web design (aka responsive design), mobile app design, user experience and bringing it all together with super iterative Agile project management techniques. Presenter Aaron Shurts, President of AIGA Seattle and  Associate Creative Director at Deloitte Digital, talked about his experience in developing mobile apps for clients Nike, Alaska Airlines and ShowTime. Here are some of my top takeaways:

Agile Project Management

Agile Project Management Flow ChartCreate a better user experience, and thus a better product, by developing chunks of your project in short intervals called sprints. The development team breaks down project requirements into user stories and the client’s representative (the product owner) prioritizes them. Based on priority, user stories developed in iterations of just a week or two, which includes user experience, user interface and programming, sometimes in the form of rapid prototypes or sometimes as fully functional elements, always within context of how they will be used.

For more info, check out Agile Project Management for Dummies. 

Agile PM: Style Tiles

Instead of developing the graphic design of an entire project before sharing with the client for approval,  style tiles show the key graphic elements that serve as the basic ingredients for developing individual chunks of a project using Agile project management. Colors, fonts, symbols, button functionality, etc, can be included here. Clients can then approve styles and overall feelings, instead of pixel-exact large scale designs.

Mobile Web Design

Rapid Prototyping (image courtesy of http://snowdesign.com/05_snaptax_web.htm)As responsive web design (i.e. sites that have code and graphics designed to adapt to different devices) has quickly become the standard for mobile web design, developers have had to rethink their web building techniques. They now need to design website features with fluidity and touch screen interactivity in mind, led by questions like “How will this look at 320, 768, 1024 pixels?” and “How far apart should link areas be for iPad, iPhone, Android, etc.?”. By using digital tools like FieldTest or back-of-the-napkin rapid prototyping, designers create interactive mini mockups that walk the user through the layout and functionality of a feature, providing valuable feedback in the early stages of development and, thus, preventing a lot of potential backtracking later on.

 

And that’s just a quick summary of my favorite thoughts from Aaron’s awesome lecture. Thanks AIGA Alaska for bringing him to Alaska!

Power Up Your Website With SEO

SEO for AlaskaI hope this lovely fall season finds you well. As we are all buttoning up our coats and preparing to spend a LOT more time inside, we wanted to share some useful information on how to get more from your website with SEO.

 

What is SEO? 

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the process of improving a website’s visibility in search engines results, i.e. showing up on the first page of Google. This can be done either by modifying your website and other online profiles (organic SEO) or by purchasing advertising (paid SEO). It’s easy to see in Google where paid and organic search results appear (see graphic).

 

 

What can SEO do for my Business?

SEO has the power to increase your business volume. The higher you show up in search results, the more likely you will be landing new clients.

 

How SEO can improve the return from a website?

SEO can enhance the ROI (Return on Investment) by driving more clients towards your website.

For example, If you are in Anchorage and want to find a Sushi Restaurant.  You might search in Google for “Best Sushi in Anchorage”. “Best Sushi in Anchorage” is your “keyword phrase”, and the results that come up on the FIRST PAGE of the search results that Google considers to be the ones most likely to satisfy your specific needs.

Now, if you are the owner of a Japanese restaurant in Anchorage and want to keep business steady, having your website appear at the top of search results is key. A well-optimized website will be fundamental in this.

If you are not using SEO correctly, then it’s likely that potential clients won’t find you, possibly ever.  So it’s vitally important for your website that you are high on the first page of the search results, or those competitors who are there will get lots of what could have been your business.

 

How do I improve SEO for my site?

Writing keyword rich content is fundamental to SEO, but there are also many other ways to optimize your site: strategic backlinking, increasing keyword density, clarifying your website’s structure, modifying URLs, etc. You can learn more with this SEO Starter Guide by Google.

Link to SEO Starter Guide by Google:

SWS also offers SEO Plans  that will take care of all of the complicated stuff and give your website a boost!

 

Design your own web site, in Homer, Alaska!

A web design workshop WordPress Web Design class in lovely Homer, Alaska!coming to a town near you… Homer!

Join us this coming weekend in lovely Homer, Alaska, for a DIY workshop on building and maintaining your own website with WordPress. Geared towards artists, non-profits, small business owners and those who maintain other people’s websites, this class will lay a solid foundation of technical and experiential knowledge. We’ll show you how to:

  • Define your website goals
  • Determine the best layout and content flow for your purpose
  • Get an online home for your website (hosting & domain)
  • Install WordPress
  • Set up your own theme
  • Customize your design
  • Add awesome functionality (online forms, videos, FaceBook,
  • Add content (and keep it beautiful!)
  • Create and manage menus
  • And much more!

 

For a full outline of the two day course, or to sign up, visit our partner website, Out of a Jam Solutions or call (907) 841-7368 to speak with Michael.

WordPress Website Workshop

September 14th and 15th
Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies,
708 Smokey Bay Way,
Homer, Alaska

Hands-on WordPress Seminar, 4/12/13 – 4/13/13

wordpressSWS is co-teaching another WordPress seminar in April here in Anchorage! Learn how to design, build & maintain your own website. We walk you through each step of the process, giving you personalized attention and making sure your questions are answered along the way.

Great for non-profits and DIYers! Check out Out of a Jam Solutions for more details. The last one was a big hit!

 

April 12 & 13th
8:00 AM – 5:00 PMWestmark Hotel
720 W 5th Ave, Kenai Room
Anchorage, AK, 99501

 

Register Now

The SWS Difference – Why we’re among the best web designers in Alaska.

Why choose Sound Web Solutions for the best website design for your business?

1. SWS is your web support team: responsive and committed.

Time and time again new clients tell us that they were unhappy with their previous web developer because of a lack of responsiveness to requests for website updates. Our goal is to develop long term relationships so that we can continue to help you make the most of your website post-launch. We aim to provide you with the support necessary to navigate the waters of branding and websites as your business grows and we are proud to say that we experience a high percentage of repeat business.

2. We understand great web development AND great graphic design.

Building the best website design possible requires a range of skills, many of which demands great talent or many years of study to master. Like drawing, graphic and user interface design are extremely easy to “do” but whether or not something  will fulfill your business goals in the best possible way, however, is another question. For website graphics to be truly unique and, at the same time, usable, calls for expertise in design specifically  for websites. SWS understands and excels in combining great graphics with cutting-edge functionality. Take a look at TriJet Precision and see for yourself.

3. SWS does high-end work at affordable prices.

It’s vitally important to us that our finished websites shine. Our favorite projects are those in which we use our creativity and expertise to create sites that are among the best in the state of Alaska. We’re happy to be able to say that, at that level, however, our prices are not among the highest, which turns out to be a great deal for our clients!

4. We’re in Alaska!

Getting Started with WordPress: PrePlanning

Website Planning Basics for your WordPress Site

wordpressBuilding your own website doesn’t have to be an overwhelming endeavor. Even if you’re technologically challenged, you can learn to put together a decent custom website using WordPress,  an extremely popular and easy-to-use CMS (content management system). WordPress will not only give you much greater flexibility than most DIY website services but will allow for future growth without requiring you to completely rebuild your site.

Where do I start?

There’s a lot of planning that goes into creating a professional website. It’s important to ask yourself some fundamental questions about your business before you even begin to think about WordPress. For example:

  1. What is the purpose of my website? – Is your website meant to simply be an online business card with contact information? Will it be an online database of information? Or should it sell products or enhance customer service?
  2. What will my website look like? – What is the personality and vision of your business? How will your site communicate this visually?
  3. How does my website tie into the rest of my business?  – How will it be used in day-to-day operations? What features does it need to have in order to fulfill these needs?
  4. How will people know I have  a website? – How will you market the site? Social media, print, Groupon, etc?
  5. Who is my target audience? – What is their demographic? How tech savvy are they? What kind of graphic design speaks to them? What will they be doing on your site?

Next Steps

Content

Now it’s time to decide what text and photos will go into the site and how they will relate to one another. The content needs to speak clearly about it’s topic, using words that your target audience will understand and the most likely key words that Google will use in searches. Make it short, too. Except for specific cases, a wall of web text will only serve to drive your users away.

Photos MUST be of professional quality. This means excellent lighting, no distracting backgrounds and, most of all, the photo must clearly relate to the content that it is displayed with otherwise it will detract from your overall message.

Layout & Design

Screen shot 2013-01-21 at 12.48.42 PMNow that you’ve figured out the cotent, the next step is to imagine it on the page. It helps to do some quick sketches (by hand can be fun) showing what goes where. It’s usually best to stick to familiar layouts like the one shown here because they are tried and true. Fancy designs can get in the way of your user accomplishing her tasks. The goal of design is to facilitate, not inhibit user action.

Domain & Hosting

Your website needs a home to call its own. The domain (which is kind of like a house address) should preferably use key words that describe your business, not necessarily your business name, to ensure that Google gives you maximum return in its search results. For example, “www.alaskacardetailing.com” is more likely to show higher in Google than “www.cleancarsbychris.com” because most people will be doing general searches for “car detailing anchorage”. The hosting (which is the land your house is built on) should be a well known name that offers DIY WordPress installations. Many small and local companies are not equipped to upkeep WordPress adequate servers or provide support. You can avoid hours of needless headache by simply choosing a well known provider. (Psst..We offer GoDaddy domain and hosting through our website.)

Our next step will be to take a peek at the guts of WordPress!

Also, stay tuned for our next two day Hands-On WordPress Seminar, in partnership with Out of a Jam Solutions.

So, you’ve got a great idea for a business. You’ve invested many long nights in developing the perfect business plan, which helped you get the big loan you needed to purchase the space and equipment required.  You have an accomplished manager on board, you’ve contracted a bookeeper and you’re ready to start hunting for employees. You figure it’s time to go ahead and print up some business cards and start thinking about a website, so you drive over to the local XYZ 24-Hour Fast Printer, pay them 500 Ben Franklins and, one week later, “ta-dah”, you have $500 worth of self-promotional material that makes you look exactly like every other small business in town.

“So what?”, you might say… “Who cares if my business card looks exactly like Joe Shmoe’s on the other side of town?”. Well, good question!

Design, like any other aspect of your business, is an investment. And, like investing in equipment, the more you invest in design, the more return you get (there are always unhappy exceptions, of course). In an ideal world, design should be the visual expression of the vision, personality and customer experience that you define in your business plan. This is also known as branding.

Branding helps you reach your target market, as it makes sure that your business looks and communicates in a way that your customers enjoy. It helps identify the unique attributes of your business clearly, setting you apart from competitors so that you can more easily carve out a comfortable niche.  Investing in entry level branding design will give you a great logo, snappy business cards, a beautiful and functional website and a mobile app that is truly useful to your target market.

Branding cat

Should you wish to craft a more complete customer experience of your business, a complete branding package can help you know what color your staff uniforms should be, how your logo should be used, how you sign your name in an email, what you write about in your company blog and even if it wouldn’t be a good idea for you to bring your cat into work a few days a week.

Here in Alaska, where good design is a relatively new concept for small businesses, it is easier to stand apart from the competition simply by making a small investment in your branding. For anyone familiar with downtown Anchorage, the restaurant/lounge Ginger is a a great example of good branding at work.

What do you think about design for small businesses in Alaska?

How to keep your website up-to-date

Schedule your updates!

Keeping your small business website alive and valuable means that, as a business owner, you will need to continue to regularly feed your investment. Finding the extra time can be tough but with a little bit of planning and these helpful tips, your website will be well fed!

1. Make a schedule

Monthly updates are a great starting point. Schedule a meeting with yourself (and anyone who will be helping you) for a specific day of each month. Go ahead and mark it in your agenda!  Give  yourself a few hours so that you can do a brief evaluation of your website’s current status and still have plenty of time to write about recent events, which could include:

  • Notes on recent projects
  • New product launches
  • Holiday specials
  • Industry news
  • Internal happenings (new staff, new offices)
  • Recent conferences, books, news items, etc

If you are really enthusiastic, you can also devote an hour or two per week to updates. Just schedule yourself for a meeting and be sure to show up on time.

2. Automate with Feeds

If your business is already using social media like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or YouTube, you can set your website up to automatically display your social media content by using feeds. That way you can update your content in one place, without wasting time logging in, copying, pasting,  rewriting, etc. Depending on your website configuration, this is usually achieved by using plugins, embed code or doing some simple custom programming.  The reverse is also true. If your website has a RSS feed, then some social media sites can use this feed to display your website updates.

3. Ask for testimonials

Get other people to write about your business! Ask for testimonials from your customers. You can create a testimonials section on your website that clients can fill out and publish. Or  you can ask for comments via Facebook or even BuyAlaska.com (if you’re an Alaskan business owner).

4. Hire a professional

Sometimes, a little help is all it takes to get things done. A web professional can post new photos, add updates to your website, maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts and even generate fresh, new content. Not to mention make regular backups of your site and make sure that the files are up-to-date with the latest security fixes.

 

I hope you’ve found this article useful. Check out our other article for more info on the life span of a website.