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Thoughts & Articles

Developing or improving your brand identity

slab
Jim Infantino
Wooden crate with Arbuckels Coffee Brand next to barrels

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo: https://www.pexels.com/photo/arbuckles-roasted-coffees-175747/

Understanding your project or organization is a key step in the development of your presence online and everywhere. Any web design project must begin with a deep understanding of your existing identity materials such as logo, mission statement, unique proposition, so that your online identity is in line with who you are and what you represent.

Most people think of this process as simply logo design. In reality it goes deeper than just your logo. Your logo is an immediate visual representation of your core principles. To design your logo effectively requires a comprehensive understanding of your values, offerings, culture, and philosophy. Sometimes, all that is required is a representation of your name in the right typeface. Often it requires a symbol that distills your uniqueness down to an icon.

Modern branding was evidenced in marketplaces during the 19th century with a literal branding iron that would burn a name on a barrel of goods. The practice actually goes back over 5000 years to early farmers laying claim to their cattle, and early vendors painting signs at fairs and markets to symbolically represent the nature of their wares to a mostly illiterate populace.

In the digital universe, your brand identity is represented in your social media posts, in your website’s browser tab, and of course, in the header of your website. The design of your digital and print materials flows from your branding. Your choice of typeface, color use, contrast, shape and informational architecture is based on the understanding of your identity and your branding materials. A change in the design of your logo, or a deeper change in your organization’s values or mission should be reflected in all your internally and externally facing materials, especially your website.

Here is a quick talk by Philip Dubrow of Marshall Strategy on Organizational Identity which shows the importance of understanding your company or organization, which is invaluable in developing the materials that will set you apart.

So, how is your organization identity? Is it optimally reflected on your webste? Here at Slabmedia, we are eager to help you align your web presence with the best representation of your identity. It’s enriching work we love to do.

When is “good enough” not good enough?

slab
Jim Infantino
a rack of sweaters

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

We all know the process. We think we are moving in the right direction, gathering the right tools to finish the job and when we see the results we think, “it’s okay. It’s good enough.”

Too many times, this is how some people approach web design.

Perhaps the platform you chose promised the fabled combination of fast-cheap-good, perhaps you saw a template that looked exactly right when you saw the demo but less than great when you put it together. Perhaps you hired someone who promised that the results would be customized to your standards, but spent most of their time managing your expectations. This is the promise of cheap and quick website building.

The truth is, you can either accept these limitations or you can up your game.

Your project is worth going the extra mile. Your brand deserves more. Your website should represent your best ideals and represent your unique offerings. Your website should be the optimal expression of who you are what what you do.

Templates are always going to center around an average. Often they are over-engineered with bulky code to provide limited customization. They offer good design, but it may not be the right design for you.

The template you choose may seem good at the time, but when your site is completed, it probably isn’t good enough.

This is why we build the way we build. We start with a blank slate and design in harmony with your brand from the ground up. We work until we get it right.

We encourage you not to settle for good enough. Instead, let’s build something great.

SEO basics

slab
Jim Infantino

If you're new to search engines or just want to make sure your website is competitive in search, you need to understand a few basic ideas about content and meta information for your pages.

First: What is a page?

For the purposes of search engine optimization, a page is what shows up for each url on your website. That may sound self-explanatory, but each page on your website might be made up of multiple entries. Your homepage may contain a few different entries or articles, but to a search engine the homepage is always just https://yourdomain.com/ with or without a slash at the end. Each url is indexed seperately by the search engines, so it's important to be mindful of your meta information (see below) for each unique url on your website.

Second: What is content?

a. Volume

What you write on each page is critical to search. There are no shortcuts to quality, unique and authoritative content. Content is any text and/or images on each page (see above). Search engines like google like to see unique and complete content on each page. This can be a problem for pages that are just a few lines of text, like your contact page, where long content may not be very helpful to a human visitor. Search engines like to see at least 300 words on a page to have enough data to determine what the page is about. That doesn't mean you should stuff every page with useless information. Remember, it's not worth optimizing for search engines if you sacrifice intelligabililty for your visitors. If you so that, people might be able to find your website easier, but once they are there, they might browse away too quickly.

b. Relevence

The copy on each page should be informative and have agreement with your meta information (see below). Search engines have complex algorithms to determine whether your page is an authoritative source. The more the search engines see you as an authoritative source for the information you provide, the higher your score will be and the further up in search results for relevant searches you will place.

c. Accessibility

This is becoming a big issue of late. It's important that your website is easy to read for people who have trouble seeing. In the website design phase, your Slab website should have standardized font-sizing and color contrast to work well for people who have trouble seeing. Our websites are increasing accessible to people who rely on tabbed-based brwosing as well. However, the one thing we encourage you to do is to add ALT-TEXT to ALL of your images. This is in a short text field next to the image upload when you create a new entry on your website. ALT-TEXT should be a simple description of the image you added. If it's a picture of a cup of coffee, it might read "cup of black coffee on a table." Imagine if you couldn't see the page, and you needed someone to tell you about the images on the page. Simpler is better. Do not try to stuff search terms into your image alt-text unless it's directly relevant to what is in the image.

Third: What is meta-information?

If you have our new SEO tool installed you will see an orange tab on each page of your website on the left-hand side, above the SLAB MENU. If not, you can find a meta information button in the controlbar or in the SLAB MENU. There are a few important things to pay attention to the fields in this tool.

a. Meta Title

This is the description of the page that you see in the browser tab. Sometimes it's obscured, but if you hover over it, you will see it there. More importantly, this is the text that shows up at the top of a search result for your website. A good meta title should be unique to the website between 40 and 60 characters long. If your meta title is too long, search engines will rank that page down. Here is a decent example of a meta title:

SEO Basics | Help with Meta Tags | Guidelines | Slabmedia

Notice that the name of our company is at the end. In all likelyhood, getting found for the name of your company is going to be easy, but that doesn't help you win the search wars for terms that people who don't already know about you are searching for. It's good to have your company name in your meta titles on some or most of your pages, but the other text is the priority. This meta title is 57 characters, which is good. You don't want to get to 60 every time. That might actually count against you in the algorithms that run search engines. Getting close is better. This is what will get someone to click on your link in the search results. Make sure your meta titles are relevant to the content on the page and contain phrases that people might actually search for. Determining the optimal search terms is the job of SEO professionals, but it's fine to guess.

b. Meta Description

This is a short description of what is readable on your page. It should be a pithy description of what the page is about. You can pick some content that's already on the page if that content is compelling and descriptive. The guidelines are that these descriptions should be between 150 and 160 characters but you don't need to be exact about that number. You can go a little over, but it's best not to go below 120 or over 220. Using search terms in your description is recommended, but it's unclear if it has a direct effect on your search position. A decent meta description for this page might be:

If you want to make sure your website is competitive in search, here are a few basic ideas about content structure and meta information to keep in mind.

This is (hopefullly) an enticing bit of information that might increase the likelyhood a searcher will click on your link. One last thing to keep in mind is that search engines do not want to see duplicate meta descriptions on your site. Each description, like each site-title should be unique.

c. Meta Image

This is not used for search engines, but they are useful for social media. When you post a url on twitter or some other social platform, it pulls the image from this value. In our SEO tools we allow you to choose an image from the content of your page or related content from the same section to set the meta image.

Are we done?

Those are the basics, according to us. Remember, the algorithms are constantly changing, and SEO is highly competitive. We believe you should be able to take control of your own organic search profile, which includes all of the above points. You may, however, decide that you need more help with your position in search. If so, we have a number of professional SEO packages that can help you when you are ready to invest in better results.

Contact us to find out more.

Ideas for our musician clients during this national COVID19 emergency

slab
Jim Infantino
image of a band performing in a rehearsal space

Photo credit: Harrison Haines from Pexels

Hi to all of our Slabmedia musician and performer clients,


We know that with the current COVID-19 emergency, touring may be harder than ever before, if not prohibitive. We wanted to share some solutions other musicians are using so you have some ideas about options.

Recently, the site I used for live streaming of Jim's Big Ego concerts, concertwindow has closed down but there are some other options for online concerts you should check out:


Your fans want to support you, even in hard times.
patreon.com is a good way to get subscribers that look for your new material. You can post individual songs, home shows, etc.

Two of our artists have made good use of this.
Ellis Paul
Catie Curtis

I have my own, less successful Patreon account patreon.com/jiminfantino - what I would share from my experience is that it's important to plan your tiers well, and make sure you keep adding new material for your fans to stream, read, view, or download.

Those are the ideas I have right now. It might also make sense to think about live outdoor shows when the weather gets better. Outdoor gatherings are risky, but less so. We shall see how that shakes out when the weather gets warmer.

We are wishing you all the best in this emergency. Alexander and I work in two remote offices, so we will be available to help you with your online presence.

best wishes,

Jim Infantino

Bug at Let’s Encrypt Secure Certificates caused problems for some, but not our clients.

slab
Jim Infantino
Beetle close up

Photo by Alan Emery on Unsplash

We are always on the lookout for issues that might affect our clients’ websites and we spotted this one yesterday that described a problem with Let’s Encrypt Certificates. Let’s Encrypt are in use with many of our clients’ websites so we checked in with our server company to be sure nothing would impact our sites.

The problem seems to be that for some users who were applying a single certificate to multiple websites. A breif summary of the above article is that LE was disabling some certificates which were applied to multiple domains for security reasons. None of our clients’ websites were affected thanks to the fact that we employ a superior host company: Pair.com for all of our services.

You can read the full article below:

Upcoming changes to Google Chrome's User Agent String handling

xander
Alexander
mashup of camera and chrome logo

Google recently announced plans to change a longstanding component of their Chrome web browser, the User Agent String, which is a fundamental feature of the browser used to announce to visited websites various information about the end user's browser and device configuration. Present in every major web browser, if not in every single web browser available as well as in non-browser software which connects to the internet, the User Agent String has been a persistent characteristic of internet enabled devices for most of Internet History. So, what is a User Agent String, and why does Google want to change it?

What Is a User Agent String (UAS)?

At its most fundamental, the UAS is a piece of text sent from the browser to an internet server in conjunction with a request for content. The UAS announces various information about the site visitor so that receiving computer can most effectively serve the request. Here is an example of a UAS:

Mozilla/5.0 (iPad; U; CPU OS 3_2_1 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/531.21.10 (KHTML, like Gecko) Mobile/7B405

As you can see, various information about the type of device connecting to the server is sent in the UAS, including, according to Wikipedia, "Mozilla/[version] ([system and browser information]) [platform] ([platform details]) [extensions]."

For servers automatically reviewing the UAS, the information in these announcements has become very valuable. For example, when a server is able to recognize that a visitor is browsing from a Windows computer, it can supress messages related to Mac computers, to, say, show only software downloads that are compatible with the visitor's computer. Likewise, if a UAS indicates an older or non-compatible browser version, the server can display an error page or other upgrade instructions for the end user.

Why does Google want to change the UAS? In a word, privacy.

Google's plan is to freeze the UAS around September of 2020, such all Chrome browsers show the same UAS regardless of the device on which they're running. (With the exception that desktop and mobile browsers will still be differentiated). All other information will be standardized in the UAS such that further identification of browser version, operating system, and other details will be uniform. Why would they want to do this?

The move to essentially deprecate the UAS comes as part of Google's "Privacy Sandbox" initative. As you can already see, the existing UAS automatically gives the receiving server *lots* of information about the end user's browser and device configuration, and this information is being exploited to fingerprint individual end users and groups of users to track their web usage for advertising purposes. Google intends to replace the UAS with a new feature set called User Agent Client Hints, which yields much the same information as the traditional UAS but will allow for user customizations to the amount of data chosen to be shared. In essence, the new standard will allow for end users to block components of the UAS which are otherwise unblockable under the current scheme.

The proposed change would appear to be a win for end user privacy. Given that Google is an advertising company, there's an open question as to why it would want to limit user fingerprinting, which presumably would be useful for it to generate more targeted advertising. However, migrating the information provided by the UAS to a user-configurable set of options is a move in the right direction for privacy, regardless.