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Web Design and SEO

Month: March 2010

Sketching – The Forgotten and Most Important Step in the Design Process

Although I have been doing SEO since 2001, I was a web designer first. I just read a really good post on whether to sketch or not to sketch in your design process. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the designers block that so often accompanies the non-sketching option or to take up the pen and paper against the seas of frustration and just get those ideas down on paper and out of your head.

I thought I would give our readers some details on how it works for me.  Keep in mind, this is an individualized process and you should tweak it to suit you.  This is just how I do it.

First I start out with thumbnails.  The idea with thumbnails is to get design ideas onto paper.  I use blank paper, sometimes graph paper, never ordinary lined paper.  When I have a bad idea come into my mind I can’t seem to keep it from effecting my others ideas until I get it on paper.  Once the idea is on paper I can move on without worrying about the previous ideas, good or bad.  I try to keep the sketching for each thumbnail under 10 seconds.  I also try to keep them smaller than 2 inches sqare. This doesn’t leave time or room to make them detailed or fancy but then, that’s the whole point.  Usually I find that I don’t find the idea that ends up being the final design until I have been sketching thumbnails for 20 to 30 minutes.  Not that the first ideas are bad, I may even come back to them and use them on a future project.

Of course there are the times when I can already visualize the perfect design in my mind before I sit down at the computer or to sketch. I still sketch anyway because even from one single idea, I get 5 to 10 very different sketches.  And even if I end up keeping my original idea, the sketching makes it much stronger than it would have been without it.

Sometimes I know it the second I finish the thumbnail. Sometimes I have to weigh the options and use the ol’ calculatus ellimatus to narrow down which ones are worthy of exploring further.

That’s right, thumbnails is just the beginning of the sketching process.  Next I move on to create roughs of the ideas that show potential.  Sometimes there’s 4 to explore, sometimes there’s 20.  I will try to get at least 4 roughs on an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper.  I spend a little more time on them but not that much.  The idea here is to add some detail and explore options within the idea. From each thumbnail I’ll sketch 2 to 10 roughs, depending on the current flow of the creative juices.

Once I feel like I’m done with the roughs, I go over them all and mark the things I like. One, two, or even three stars.  Usually if I give something three stars, I have found my final concept.

From there I go to a full sheet of paper. I take all the ideas I liked and see what works well together. I might even break out the colored pencils if I am feeling it.  Most of the time I can visualize the right colors with a simple B&W sketch in front of me but if you are going to show it to someone (a client maybe) the colors can help a lot. *NOTE Sketches are not usually for clients. But there may be some that you know will respond well and understand the design process.  These clients are usually recognized by their budget. Clients that pay more are usually much easier to work with.

Once I have found my final concept, the PhotoShopping goes quickly.  There’s little exploration on the screen and there doesn’t need to be. I know how I want it to look and I know how I don’t want it to look.  From there it’s a matter of picking the right font and images to accompany the design. But that’s probably better left for another post.

Why Should I Hire an SEO Firm?

Even though everyone knows that Google has some big secrets when it comes to search ranking formulas they have been surprisingly open about a number of things.  In fact, most of what is considered common knowledge in the SEO world is just information that Google has chosen to give away.  Matt Cutts, one of Google’s many official bloggers, has just released a post responding to EU claims that Google isn’t transparent enough.  In a relatively short post, he provides links to a wealth of information that is critical to website owners.  I would start with reading the formula and background for the pagerank algorithm.

This information is the foundation of SEO.  And it’s all there for free.  Wait, free? If it’s free, why should I pay an SEO firm to do stuff that I can learn how to do for free?

Good question. Why pay someone to do something that you can do for free?

Here’s another question for you: how much time do you have?  Do you have the time it would take to really understand all the ins and outs of SEO?  How about the time to keep up with trends and changes in all the search engines.  OK, maybe not ALL of them but at least the big 3.  Do you have the time and freedom to try out experiments on a number of sites at the same time? Do you have the time to attend 3 or 4 search conferences each year?  I have that kind of time.  But then, this is what I do for a living.  What do you do?

I also recently discovered that just about all the information needed to become a lawyer is freely available on the Internet.  I still pay an attorney.  And I pay him a lot more per hour than I pay myself.  Why? because I want to make sure my legal affairs are done right and I don’t have that much time to spend on legal stuff.  That’s not what I do. I do SEO.

I’m willing to bet that you have a pretty full schedule. And I’m also willing to bet that it’s taking care of your core business.  So I guess the question here is if your would like to increase your search ranking and web traffic.  If so, let’s talk.  That’s what I do all day long.

The Page Footer – an Indespensible Tool for SEO and/or Conversion Rate

There’s some fantastic information in a recent article on WebDesignerDepot.  I was just discussing this concept with a  client the other day.  The subject at hand was “How do you get the most mileage out of your footer?”

The footer of your site is one of the most critical and overlooked parts of the site.  The article at WebDesignerDepot offers many good points from a design perspective but I prefer a good combination of SEO and user-centric features.  Examples like the White House and Apple are what most SEO firms will recommend.  They’ll tell you to make sure you have links there to all your important pages and make sure you load your keywords into them.  That’s all good for the search engines but don’t forget about the user.  Mail Chimp takes the space in the footer and uses it to repeat its sales pitch. Chances are, if someone has read all the way to the bottom of a page, they are predictably going to be more interested in what you are doing/selling on your website than people that never make it to the footer.  But Mail Chimp also loses some SEO value.  So which is the right strategy?

At this point I would say take a step back and look at your analytics.  What are your users doing with your current footer.  Maybe it’s time to try some A-B testing with your footer and see if adding the sales pitch without the links makes a difference in your conversion rate.  I’m betting it will.  But every website is different.  It could be that you lose a couple spots in your rankings and the difference in traffic isn’t worth the gain in conversion rate. But then again, maybe it will be.

There’s also pretty good odds that you are using social media in your marketing.  You are right? You should be.  Social media icons and links could fit very well into your footer strategy.  But again, consult your analytics and do some testing.

Above all, remember the first rule of SEO.  If it’s useful for real users, the search engines have figured it out or will figure it out. Eventually