WordPress Is Still the Champ

ct-wordpress-websitesAmong my most-often-asked questions: Why WordPress? Are there better systems out there for website platforms? No. I'm a little biased of course, because WordPress is our platform of choice... But there are solid, exciting reasons:
  1. User friendly! Other CMS (Content Management Systems) have a way for non-coders to edit their website content, but none is as easy to use as WordPress. We have clients that use the competitor platforms, and in many cases looking in the admin area for something as simple as editing a line of text on the homepage is daunting. WordPress just makes this stuff easy: log in, go to the page you want, click edit, edit, click update, done!
  2. LOTS of possibilities! Because WordPress programming is all Open Source - built by a huge community of volunteers - there are many, many thousands of plugins available to make your website do all sorts of things, from the simplest news feeds up to full-feature online sales. Yes, it is best to work with a pro for this kind of thing, but things that would have taken us months of programming in the past are now already done.
  3. Safe! Once again, due to the Open Source nature of WordPress, the community of programmers is always aware of ongoing security threats. New versions of the WordPress software are released regularly to address new compromises as outside hackers get better and better at finding ways in. No site is 100% safe, but WordPress is a pretty sure bet for staying as secure as you can.
  4. It's Fun! Every new update of WordPress makes it easier to use, provides newer, cooler features in the back-end admin. Even as I write this post, I enjoy working in this new and fresh-looking environment.
If WordPress is new to you, and you're considering changes to your website, maybe it's time to make the jump. Contact us for a free consultation - we love talking about WordPress!

Is Customer Service Dead?

ct-web-design-customer-serviceJoe, a colleague of mine, recently mentioned that his industry was going to shift its focus to customer service.  His response was, understandably, "Really?" (Here's Joe's full article: Focus on Customer Service) It truly amazes me that customer service has fallen so low on the priority list for so many people, companies, even whole industries. Remember when we could count on emails being returned, phone calls being answered, people being respectful? Customer service, however, is not dead, because a few holdouts like me (and Joe), make it our top priority. And because like attracts like, we surround ourselves with people with similar values. In my case, yes, we build powerful websites. But that is secondary to listening to the needs of our clients and really responding to them. It's not just that we solve their problems. It's that we want to solve their problems. And because our focus is on people, we have fun learning about them, becoming virtual business partners with them, and learning together how to improve our respective businesses. Our tagline "Your Trusted Web Advisor" goes way beyond trusting me and my staff - it is about the "like attracts like" network that I have built over the years.  You can call us when you need help with web marketing, SEO, photography, your mortgage, car repair, credit card processing, insurance, and many, many other things, because we have built a huge network of people that make the customer our first priority. And, we love talking about customer service, because it is at the center of good business! We're here to help... Feel free to be in touch at any time.

Promote your blog? Here’s how.

ct wordpress web designLike most business people, I know and love the benefits of blogging, and even like to write for mine. In fact, making blogging a regular part of my life - by carving out some time each week to do it - has had huge benefits that aren't obvious on the surface: Writing about business keeps me engaged in thinking about my business in full, not just about client needs or sales. Writing about other topics keeps my learning going. And what other reason is there to own a business other than learning new things? Oh, yeah - I guess making money would be one. So, now what? You've got a good habit of posting your blog, but it feels like nobody is reading it. That's because nobody is... unless you've taken some steps to promote it. Thanks to social media, we have many ways to get it out there, and there are good tools to make that easy.  This great article outlines many different tools and ways by seasoned pros: www.clambr.com/how-to-promote-your-blog Here's my routine:
  • Before writing my post, I make sure my WordPress blog is ready for it. Using a great plugin called Jetpack, I have my blog configured to automatically email each new post to my subscribers, and automatically post it on my Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ business pages.
  • Next, I schedule my blog post to be released at an optimum time. Analysis of my blog statistics has shown that the best time for me to post is early in the day, mid-week (either Wednesday or Thursday). You're business will be different. Try a few different times, and watch the stats in your dashboard (provided by Jetpack) to see when more people see your article.
  • After the post is released, I re-post it in a few Facebook and LinkedIn Groups that are appropriate for the topic at hand. For instance, the post you are reading now will get re-posted in some business network types of groups, and some about WordPress. I do about one per day, so it doesn't take much time.  These groups are great places to start discussions and get comments from others, which builds your reputation as a blogger.
  • Finally, I send out an email newsletter monthly containing my 4 blog posts as articles.  This presents the content in a different format, and reaches a different audience.
You can do it, too! Don't be shy about getting your info into the hands of others. If you have the guts to run a business, you have something relevant to say. Own it, and say it! Oh, and don't forget: If you need help with any of this, we can help. Don't hesitate to be in touch for a free consultation. (Photo courtesy Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net)

What is Responsive Mobile Design, and why do I need it?

Is your website responsive? In other words, does it respond to the shape of the screen on which it is being displayed? With the use of mobile devices - tablets and hand-held phones - for website viewing now exceeding the use of desktop computers, it is critical to consider how your website looks and functions on all platforms. A couple of years ago, it was OK to just have a "mobile version" of your website to cover the iPhone and Android phones that would display full web pages. Now, practically all devices display websites, and display them accurately, and look at the number of screen sizes and shapes that are out there! Big tablets, small tablets, phones that look like you're holding a TV up to your head....  It's a daunting prospect for web developers to match our sites up to all of those options. Enter the responsive design... and the best way to describe it is to show you. This blog is a responsive site, and depending on where you're reading this you'll see a couple of hallmarks:
  • Layout: This is a two-column site, with a content area and sidebar. You're reading the content area right now, and the sidebar is over on the right on a computer. In a small device, the sidebar jumps to the bottom, so you can scroll to read it.  This is the most important feature of responsive design - the text scales to be comfortably read in all devices.
  • Menu: If you are on a computer, the menu is on the top right, and shows a few items and drop-down sub menus. This is often hard to navigate in a mobile device. When viewing on a smaller device, the menu converts to a single button that opens out into easy to touch menu items.
If you are reading on your computer, you can see these changes actually happen by grabbing the right side of the browser window and slowly dragging it to the left, essentially squeezing your site into a column. It's pretty cool to watch it adjust itself! Check out some images below, a Connecticut custom responsive WordPress site that we built and maintain. And... are you ready to make the jump to responsive, and want to learn more? Contact us for details - advice is on the house! Click to enlarge:

Social Media and SEO

CT Social Media ExplainedI bet I got your attention with just mentioning those two things, didn't I? These two topics, Social Media and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), are the most loved and hated necessities of the small business... We know they work for us, they bring us more business, but how do we make it all work? How do we use these tools to bring in more business without breaking the bank or devoting all of our time to them? In my experience, there is a wide range between I Do It All Myself and I Hire Someone to Do All This among small business owners. Even here at North Forty, we fall somewhere in the middle - performing some SEO and content tasks ourselves (for instance, this Connecticut Web Blog is primarily done by me, because I love writing and communication. It's not for everyone.), and other things are better left for trusted professionals who have far greater knowledge. The good news is that if you happen to be one of our clients, we can be sure you are working with someone you can trust, and will deliver results. Our newest colleague, Tim Dugan, turned me on to how SEO and Social Media are now one thing. That's right, they are both necessary, and they all work in concert to drive more traffic to your site. Here is a cool infographic he created to easily describe the various social "engines" and how they communicate: www.webservicesct.com/blog/social-media-ct. Even more confused? Yeah, I know. We all need help with this stuff! However, that doesn't make it any less important. Please be in touch with us today, and we'll put together a plan to get your business recognized online in a way that you can trust.

You will be awesome in 2014!

2014 CT Web DesignerHow did it go? Wish to erase 2013 from the Great Calendar of Life? Or, was it a banner year you'd like to repeat? I'd be lying if I said that 2013 didn't have challenges. Significant challenges. Massive hurdles, actually. But, today, I'm looking back and seeing those hurdles as learning experiences that have made my business (and yes, me) better in the long haul. Here's a quick look back, and ahead.

Accomplished in 2013

We expanded our team. With the addition of Stephen (lead developer) and Jacob (my assistant and WordPress development ninja), and our newest strategic partner Mike (video production and online marketing), we have been able to expand offerings and push the boundaries of design and functionality in our WordPress websites. We got better at what we do. The collaborative efforts of Shane (designer) and Stephen have led us to create awesome-looking WordPress sites for our clients that are responsive (scale perfectly to all sizes of devices). Our content writers really help clients make their businesses "come alive" with awesome text. New methods of online marketing, especially videos combined with YouTube promotion, are giving site owners websites that actually work - bringing in new clients and more money. We love what we do. The more I get out there and network, the more I learn about cool businesses that are brand new to me. This is the fun part for us! The unique challenges of your business can become unique opportunities, and we get to show you how. Check out some of our successes here: NFR Portfolio. We built a whole lot of websites. We completed 25 or so projects of varying sizes in 2013, and continue to help those clients with their online presence. The North Forty Road family continues to expand!

Plans for 2014

Continue providing great service. Our clients love our work, but they also love our team. "Shane was awesome!" is a an email message I've received more than once! We have fun together, and I plan to discover more ways to keep that fun going. A happy team is a great team for you. Expand our offerings. We're getting started on a very large WordPress-based online store that I'm very excited about. We've done e-commerce before, but never on this scale. It's an awesome challenge, and both the client and my team can't wait to sink our teeth into it. More opportunities for online marketing (social, video, blogging, newsletters) are developing every day as well, so a package offering for small businesses will be rolling out soon. Reach out more. Networking, phone calls, lunch meetings. Listening to each person's business challenges and ideas. Connecting people that have like minds. Providing what advice I can. These are all fundamental to my work, and are the fun part. This year, I will be starting group devoted to Abundance thinking as well. Gratitude. None of this could happen without the team, without my amazing clients, or without you. Thanks for being part of the NFR family, whether as a client, friend, or polite onlooker. You're the center of all of this! So there it is... where we are, and where we're going. I hope you have found some inspiration in this brief look back and ahead, and I'd love to hear your own story! (Photo courtesy gubgib, freedigitalphotos.net)

What’s SEO got to do with me?

CT Web SEOIf you're a business owner, you've heard this term SEO hundreds of times. And, even for me, a web guy, the term honestly brings on some significant tension. Let's talk about it, because SEO is something you need in order to grow, and perhaps we can even make it fun... a little. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and not too many years ago it was only mildly complicated. We web designers would help you write text for your website that had certain key phrases included that were terms people might type into Google, like "Central CT Web Design." The pros would then optimize the site by adding code that magnified the visibility of those phrases, hoping that Google would see them and rank the website higher. "Hoping" is the key word here... Never has there been a simple way to know how Google ranks web pages. How it really happens is a closely guarded secret, and one that changes daily. Add to that the fact that the internet grows exponentially every day (estimates say the internet is in the process of quadrupling in size from 2010 to 2015), and it seems like an impossible task. So what do we do as business owners? SEO has evolved into a wide range of things, and each on its own contributes to visibility both on and off of your website. These include:
  • Traditional SEO, as mentioned above.
  • Back linking (adding links to your website from other websites in a thoughtful, meaningful way).
  • Content marketing (blogging, e-newsletters, and other methods of adding quality text to your website regularly).
  • Social Marketing (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.).
  • Video Marketing (Produce regular videos for YouTube and your website).
Got that pit in your stomach yet? Yes, it is overwhelming. However, you can be excited about the results, because when combined in a regular marketing plan, these efforts outshine all other forms of marketing, except the best one of all - word of mouth. The best advice to offer is to surround yourself with folks you can trust, and invest some regular time and money into online marketing. Please contact us today, as my firm has built a strong network of trusted providers in each of these areas, and we're here to help. (Photo courtesy kromkathog, freedigitalphotos.net)

New Site Release: Hus Furniture

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 12.45.04 PMNeeding a great, visually-strong WordPress website to help grow their business, we were approached by Chris Paulhus to create a new website for Hus Furniture, in New Britain, CT.  A work in progress, the WordPress editing capabilities make it possible for the website to expand as the business does, and for Chris to add new images as newer installations happen.  Hus Furniture has the distinction of being one of a very few American companies that still make tile-top tables, and their quality is first-rate. Check out the newest member of the North Forty Road family, www.husfurniture.com!

Yep, you need one.

ID-10094928The question continues to be asked: "Do I need a website for a small business?"  Even with social media grabbing more and more attention, the answer is the same as it was 15 years ago: "YES, you need a website!" Here are a few things to consider:
  • Your website is open 24-7. Even when you are making sales visits, helping clients, eating or sleeping, your website is open for business and selling your product or service.
  • Your website is your identity. Those "yellow" books that list businesses are a thing of the past.  People who are looking for what you do will Google you. Period.
  • Online advertising reaches more people and is cheaper. Compare the ongoing costs of a website (especially one you can edit on your own) to print ads, television, billboards, etc. And who looks at those?
  • Reach further. Remember, it is the WORLD wide web... your reach is only limited by what you offer.
  • Be relevant.  With blogs and editable websites, you can have your most current info in front of potential customers, today!
  • Stand out! With a well-designed website, potential customers see that you take your business seriously, and will then seriously consider you.
In an age where more and more social sites compete for our attention, the standard website is still the expected .com location for all serious businesses. This article (a little dated, but still so true) sheds some more light on the importance of a good website for your business: Why You Need a Website. And, don't forget to contact us to discuss your own website needs.  It's what we do! (Photo courtesy rajcreationzs, freedigitalphotos.net)