Is Your Website Keeping Pace With Your Business?

As your business grows and evolves, so should your website. The site you put up 5 or even 2 years ago may not reflect what you’re company is doing today.

When I first began building websites, I was keen on a static page that would look and feel like a print piece. But unlike print pieces, websites are around for a long time. And if you aren’t a large company with a full time web team, it might be difficult to keep your website on pace without spending a lot of money. Today I forgo traditional website building tools for web platforms like WordPress and Ning, that let companies add and delete features easily and seamlessly as business requires, saving them both time and money.

Don’t know if your website is keeping pace? If you don’t know, it probably isn’t. Take this quiz to see if you need to update your website:

Does your content reflect the products or services your business offers?

Are you utilizing tools that let you keep in touch with and engage your customers?

Are the images current and fresh?

Do your graphics reflect the tastes of your target customer or client?

Can potential customers find your site via Google and other major search engines?

If you answered no to any of these questions, then it’s time to get current with your website. At Shimmin Design, we can help you move your site to a platform that will keep pace and evolve as both technology and your company evolves. We can integrate tools that will help you stay in touch with clients and potential customers, show off your latest accomplishments, share media, and so much more. Contact us today for a free estimate, or to get started.

What is SEO and Why Should I Care?

I often get clients who want a website built and when I start talking to them about SEO, they glaze over. They just want a website. And from it, more business.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and simply put, it’s what gets your website found on Google, Yahoo, Bing and the like. If you want your customers to find you online, you need it.

SEO is part art, part science. Search engines are continuously cataloging the internet. Each has its own unique algorithm that places emphasis on different parts of your website to best serve up what their users are looking for. Knowing what’s important to search engines, what’s important to your potential clients and the language to express it is key to good SEO.

Building in SEO

There are many elements that go into creating good SEO. This is by no means a complete list, but the basics include:

  • Your URL
  • Site title
  • Page title
  • Headings, used in descending order
  • Links in and out
  • Image titles, descriptions and alternate text
  • Size of your website
  • Unique content
  • Content freshness
  • Keywords and meta data

Some of your SEO is buried in your code, but most of it is visible to the viewer. When creating good SEO you need to think like your potential customer.

For example, if your company is called Persnickety Painters and someone keys Persnickety Painters into Google, your website is going to come up on top. But what if someone who’s never heard of you wants to find a top quality painter in San Francisco, CA? They’re going to key in ‘house painter in San Francisco, CA’ or some such phrase. Your job is to anticipate what your customer is going to key in, and have a page ready that meets their search requirements.

That means your site title might be San Francisco’s Top Quality House Painter: Persnickety Painters. And your home page might include a testimony by a client stating that Persnickety Painters offered the best quality house painting for the price on their home in San Francisco.

Next, as the owner of Persnickety Painters, you would create a Facebook page and a Twitter account for the business with links to that page.

To keep content fresh, you’d include a blog and post regularly about the latest homes you painted in San Francisco, CA.

And so on…

Choosing the right language and expressing it throughout your site is key to creating good SEO. It’s what brings you new business. And isn’t that what every business owner wants?

Need SEO help? Shimmin Design offers basic SEO with your website design and partners with SEO experts when in-depth SEO is required.

9 Essential Elements of a Corporate Identity

I probably should have started with this entry, as it now appears that I seem to favor writing ass-backwards. In reality, I prefer nice, organized stories. <sigh> I cannot go back in time and post this at the beginning…There are 9 essential elements that contribute to the building of your corporate identity. Each carry weight. Each add to the nuance and depth to your image as a whole. Consider each when building your brand. They should all support and add to your identity as a whole.

They are:

1. Name
2. Logo
3. Tagline
4. Color Palette
5. Fonts
6. Voice
7. Graphic Elements
8. Imagery
9. Brand or Identity Vehicles

You’ll find links to entries on the subjects I’ve touched upon thus far below:
What’s in a Name?
Creating a Killer Logo
Tag, You’re It!
Using Fonts to Extend Your Identity
Your Voice as Your Corporate Identity

Need help with your identity? Contact Melissa Shimmin.

Your Voice as your Corporate Identity

Your company’s ‘voice’ is an integral part of you company’s identity. Just as color or fonts give the viewer a feeling about who your company is, so does the writing of your copy.

If you’re a small company, particularly a sole proprietorship, you may be doing your own copy writing and your voice may well be your company’s voice.

On the other hand, if you’re a 50-year-old tax attorney launching a social networking site for tweens as a side business, you might not speak your target audience’s language. Hiring a professional copywriter is probably a good idea.

Whatever your business, your voice should align with your audience. A company with an older, more conservative target customer should ‘speak’ in proper English, triple checking grammar and punctuation.

A young, hip, urban company, on the other hand, might choose a casual, conversational tone peppered with current slang.

Design your voice, just as you design your imagery and align the two for a stronger, more memorable identity.

Set the Tone

When beginning the journey of developing a corporate identity, consider the tone you’ll be creating. I always like to visualize the voice of the company. Is it male or female? Young or old? Hip or stodgy? Traditional or edgy?

Once I can ‘hear’ that voice, everything spills out from it.

For example, if that voice is young, edgy and female, I might choose hot colors and modern fonts that speak to that ‘person’. The logo might have an icon in an ‘on trend’ illustration style. Marketing collateral (if there was any) might have a unique shape or format or use a funky paper stock. The website and online marketing would likely take center stage and extend these ideas. And so on.

A traditional company in turn might stick to subdued color and serif fonts. Classic formats for marketing materials would probably be retained. Etc.

Essentially, think of your company as a person, then dress him or her in the appropriate ‘outfit’. The person is your identity. The outfit is your look and feel.

Using fonts to extend your identity

Fonts are an integral part of your identity. Selecting the right typefaces goes beyond the font or fonts used in your logo.

Where to Start

Consider where text is to ge used. Adverttising? Brochures? Posters? Signage? Website? A combination? You’ll need fonts that work in all your media.

Web vs. Print

Is your business primarily web-based with little print visibility? Choose fonts that are html friendly like Arial, Helvetica, or Times Roman.

If your marketing will be primarily in print, your font options are considerably wider. An equal mix of web and print? Some companies have two sets of fonts – one for the web and one for print.

How much is too much?

Too many different fonts distract from your message. While it’s possible to create strong designs with a multitude of fonts, it generally takes an especially gifted designer to do it well. Limit yourself to 2 font families – one for the bulk of your text, and one for headlines, subheads and pops.

A font family is all the styles of a particular font. For example, Helvetica Regular, Helvetica Bold, Helvetica Oblique, Helvetica Bold Oblique, etc. You might even limit yourself to a single font if it has a particularly extensive family.

What style?

Coordinate with your logo, but don’t get too matchy-matchy. For example, if your logo uses Frutiger Ultra Bold, consider Frutiger Regular for your text. Alternately, contrast your text font to your logo (or headline) font. Use a serif font for text and a sans serif font for your headline, or vice versa.

So You Want to Hire a Designer: The Design Process

I recently started working with two new clients, both of whom had never worked with a graphic designer, design firm or ad agency before. In working with them, I’m finding a need to educate them on the design process.

So I thought I’d outline that process for entrepreneurs and small business owners so that they’d know what to expect if and when they needed to hire a designer. Note that this is a general outline, and every designer/agency will have its own process for completing projects.

Once you’ve selected a designer, determined the scope of your project and negotiated a contract and schedule (how to do that in a future blog), you’ll start by downloading your ideas to the designer (or account exec).

Typically this is a face-to-face meeting, but sometimes for smaller projects, or if you’ve been working with the designer for a while it could be over the phone or via email.

This is the time to get everything on the table – every idea you have for the project, every expectation, your target customer, your goals, etc. If you like blue and hate orange, make it known. If you love what the competition’s doing, let them know. The more information your designer has at the beginning, the more likely you’re going to get a design solution that’s on target, on schedule, and on budget. Not to mention one that you love.

This is also the time to provide the designer with any materials you might have for the project including digital versions of your logo, any photography or illustration you want incorporated into the project, copy, and any previously produced projects that the new project might need to coordinate with.

After the download, the designer will head ‘to the drawing board’ and begin creating ‘thumbnails’ or initial concepts. (Back in the day before computers, designers would sketch out rough ideas for clients to approve before creating mock-ups. Now that nearly everything is digital, only the terminology remains.) This typically takes between 2 days and 2 weeks, depending on the scope of the project and the schedule previously negotiated.

Once complete, the designer will present the initial concepts to the client. At this time the client will make comments, green light a project, or send it back to the designer for revisions, which could be major or minor. Again, allow between 2 days and 2 weeks for turnaround.

The designer will then incorporate the client’s comments, flesh out the design or concept and present the client with a finished concept or concepts. At this point the client may make edits and changes before sending the project into production. Typically these are minor, but sometimes the scope of the project changes or the company’s business needs change and it may be necessary to go back to the concept stage at this phase. Keep in mind that major changes at this stage may incur large surcharges.

Next, the project goes into production. Outside illustrators or photographers get hired, stock images may be purchased, and digital files are created. This will take anywhere between 2 days and 3 weeks.

Once initial production is complete, final files are sent to the client for review. At this stage the client should only have minor copy edits, or may want to swap out photographs. Keep in mind that any major changes at this stage (“I’d like all the products shot on red backgrounds instead of blue”) will likely be prohibitively expensive.

The client will then sign off on the project with any comments or edits they may have, and the designer will then implement all final edits. (This typically takes between 1 day to 1 week.)

The client will then have one more opportunity to check to see that all the changes that were requested were made before the project goes to press (print projects) or live (web projects).

Sometimes for print projects the client will also go to press checks, including ‘blue line’ (where the client gets to check that what was sent in digital format is what’s going on press, as well as checking that binding, folds and cutting are correct) and 1st and second ‘color’ (where, rather obviously, you proof for color).

Finally, the project gets delivered to the client. If the client is purchasing their own printing, the project may be delivered in digital format to the client, or directly to the printer. If the client has the designer purchase printing, the final printed pieces will be delivered. Likewise for web design – files may be delivered to the client for posting, or the designer may upload them to the server for the client.