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Photos Matter: 7 Tips for Sharper Website Images and Design

Man holding a photo of trees


Marketers spend a lot of time talking about content as a kind of end result — meaning the whole of the story that's being told, the message that a brand delivers. Within that end product, however, in every example of compelling content, there are key components. And one of those components is the photo.

The images we use to illustrate, enhance and even generate the core ideas of our websites demand at least as much attention as the writing and calls to action that can drive conversions. Miss out on the chance to make your online visual landscape the best that it can be, and you're missing opportunities to engage your audience.

Luckily, getting to a better-looking site is a task with which designers and site owners are engaging all the time. Reaching out to them, we've culled seven steps toward sharp image-based design. Read on, and start thinking about your own approaches to photos and layout.

  • Size for the user's reality. File size can be paramount, especially when everyone's point-and-shoot is able to take 3,000-by-2,000-px, 3–5MB photos and an increasing amount of website traffic is mobile. "Most of the time your viewers don't want or need to view a photo that large," said Raymond Selzer, co-owner of Interslice Designs, a firm that helps develop brands. "The average computer user has a monitor around 1,400-px wide, larger monitors average around 1,920-px. With this in mind you can save a lot of file size by resizing your photos to a maximum 1,900–2,000-px wide." If you still insist on offering the full resolution image, provide an extra download link, so at least the high resolution image doesn't load automatically for every user.
  • Strike the balance between quality and file size. "Often photos are saved at their original resolution and quality which is unnecessary," said Gerald D. Vinci, owner and author at Vinci Designs. "Using a photo-editing program you can usually set the quality to around 70% of the original 100%. This will still give you a clear and crisp photo but will greatly reduce [load times]. Photoshop for example, in the save-for-web settings, allows you to play with the quality and see the file-size results right in the save window."
  • Never 'size up'! As a newspaper designer once told your humble blogger — you can't add information to the image. A .jpg file (and a .png, for that matter) is rasterized, meaning that it has only so many pixels of information per inch. Enlarging it will create a fuzzy effect: pixelation sets in. Bottom line is, you can size and image down but not up.
  • Arrange images with equilibrium in mind. "Image placement within websites should be about balance and equilibrium," said Leon Roy, graphic designer at Bring Digital, a marketing agency. For example, try three images in a row with equal spacing between them. "Or just two," Roy suggested, "again with equal spacing and the equivalent amount of text in the third position, where the photo would be."
  • Your photos and text can create interactive context. If you want to draw attention to something on your website, use visual cues by having the subjects in your images positioned so that they’re looking or pointing towards the most important detail on the page. "Humans naturally follow sight lines of others, even in images," noted Kim Herrington, founder of Bear & Beagle Creative, "and this can help direct viewers’ attention to where you want it to go."
  • Keep stock photos to a minimum. "I know it's easy, you can just buy them on the fly and they look great, but they also look incredibly fake," said Gael Breton, co-founder of Authority Hacker (a consultancy helping owners to build expert-level content on their websites). And, he adds: "Nobody thinks people in your company are that good looking."
  • Approach visuals differently, desktop to mobile. Finally, remember that the mobile experience can be more sensitive to load times than that of the desktop. Don't burden your potential customer's device with too many images — it can lead to a slowdown, which leads to a bounce, and that's an anti-conversion kind of event.

And so, go forth and bone-up on your photo work and layouts, getting your pages into fantastic visual shape. When you think you've got your site just right, send us some examples. We'll include the best submissions in a future best-of article — showcasing stellar designs, images, and content that your site interweaves.

Managing your business is hard enough. Managing your website should be easy. Slab offers high quality, custom designed, easy to edit websites. Talk to us about building your site, one that you can update yourself with ease. E-mail [email protected], or call us at 617.566.3433.

So, What is a Responsive Website, Anyway? (Good Design, and Why You Should Care)

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Whether you're an artist or an artisan, a small-business entrepreneur or a self-employed writer, you've likely heard what is by now an adage: make your website mobile-friendly.

The reason for prioritizing mobile is clear: according to TechCrunch, this month, mobile web surfing accounts for 52% of consumers' time spent with digital media. And every time your customer bounces from your slow-loading mobile site, you lose a potential conversion. Conversely, if their experience on a tablet or phone is comparable to most desktops — that is, snappy — you stand a better chance of making that next sale.

Bottom line, mobile-friendly experiences protect — even boost — your business.

In the designer's world, one approach to this is to build responsive sites — essentially, web pages that respond to the size of the screen on which they're viewed. That is, they're not an entirely separate, mobile version of your desktop address — your responsive site doesn't have its own address — rather it's a differently arranged version of your existing URL.

But, if you're thinking about responsive design, what strategies should come into play? The following are five key considerations for designing your business' responsive site — helpful tips for making it work the right way for every device.

  1. Plan your design for mobile early in the process. Advantages to this approach include not "baking in" unneeded desktop-related code that mobile devices end up loading, regardless. That loading time can slow down performance, even put you in the dreaded bounce category — which is what you're trying to avoid in the first place.
  2. Don't design for desktop last, however. Here's an initial challenge: while mobile is clearly ascendant, a recent comScore report shows that desktop digital-media consumption is still the primary avenue for 40% of web users. That's potentially 4 out of 10 of your customers! With that in mind, you don't want your mobile design to dictate a ho-hum desktop site. You might need to implement two designs (which leads into our next point).
  3. Keep it dynamic. Custom responsive options are the new normal, if you ask the designers at Slab. Don't feel confined to a one-size-fits-all box. If you know there should be differences within your responsive ecosystem, insist on them. You understand your customers best and your designer is there to enact your vision, not enforce his or her own.
  4. Deploy size-appropriate calls to action. As your available screen real estate changes, your calls to action become subject to that dynamic. "On a full-size resolution you might fit in a phone number, a tagline, a contact form, and a call-to-action button," said Damon Burton, president of SEO National. "On a 320-by-480 phone you might only be able to fit a phone number and one of the other items." How can designers strike the best balance between desktop and mobile in a responsive system? Turn to research, Burton suggested. "Data doesn't lie," he said. "Look at analytics and understand which call-to-actions perform better [in which environment] and where to include them."
  5. Watch your art! Visuals are great, but when your 480-pixel-wide screen is groaning under a 1920-pixel load, you've created just the kind of slowdown your responsive site are supposed to avoid. Ensure that your picture inventory is delivering appropriately sized content to each device.

Finally, a key takeaway is to know your customers.

"If your mobile visitors are likely to spend time with your site with the goal of understanding details of your products and services and engaging with your content, you will likely want a responsive site that presents your entire web presence," said Angela Kujava, director of innovation at Logic Solutions.

On the other hand, she said, "if your mobile visitors are performing on-the-go activities, such as quickly finding your contact information, physical location, or performing a specified task, you will want to create a [responsive] experience that is catered to those exact needs, rather than expecting visitors to wade through content."

All right, owners and designers, have you figured out responsive-design approaches that work well for you? Drop us a note here at Slab and we'll consider them in a future look at responsive-site strategies.

Managing your business is hard enough. Managing your website should be easy. Slab offers high quality, custom designed, easy to edit websites. Talk to us about building your site, one that you can update yourself with ease. E-mail [email protected], or call us at 617.566.3433.

The Right Message: Craft Your Company's E-mail Campaign (and Keep It on Track)

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You're in the businesses of reaching out to customers, and a well-run e-mail campaign allows you, the owner, to interact in a personal way with your consumer base. What's more, you can almost always anticipate a positive reception, when it comes to the messages you send, because the recipients have already opted in — they've given you consent and expect you to pitch them.

Still, the conditions under which this happy scenario operates require every owner to approach e-mail campaigns with a measure of care. Here's the upshot of the relationship, from one owner who understands it.

"E-mail marketing is all about permission and trust, building long-term relationships with prospects and customers," said Jeff Kear, owner of Planning Pod. And what builds those relationships? What keeps them solid? Well-timed content, delivered in a consistent and wisely paced way.

With that in mind, let's turn to some best practices that owners like Kear have made their own. The goal is a smart e-mail marketing effort, one that cares for your customers and gives them the kind of sustained and wanted contact they expect from your brand.

  1. A strong campaign starts with solid content. "You should focus on educational content that resonates with your target audience," said Kear. Meaning, tips, strategies, and case studies— all of this is the kind of material your list is likely to welcome. But don't neglect whimsy and inspiration. And remember that a fantastic photo of your brand at work can compel your readers to click through in ways that paragraphs of even the best writing sometimes can't. Point is, content is a kind of conversation and it can vary in terms of type and tone.
  2. Remember that your e-mail is a launch pad. In other words, don't give away all of your content in the e-mail itself. Build your missives so that they prompt a visit to your website, and then make certain they lead to a call to action — all of this aimed, of course, at conversions.
  3. Think about the big picture, write for the single reader. Approximately every day, Jon Rimmerman, founder of Garagiste, sends out a mass e-mail to his company's e-mail list subscribers. In them, he expounds upon the the small-batch wines that Garigiste sells. His messages are well-known for their nature: flush with humor, passion, and a profound sense of Rimmerman's voice. Most importantly, they read like a personal note. That's your goal, too.
  4. Consistency is crucial to e-mail marketing. You'll lose a lot if you fail to keep up momentum. "Many SMBs get on a roll and then get tired of sending out campaigns just when they are taking root," said Zan Jones, a marketing consultant. "In my experience, it takes 9–12 months to start seeing tangible results. Whether you send out weekly, twice a month, or monthly - stay consistent. It's okay to recycle content that is more than a year old — as long as you update it with a current story and repurpose it."
  5. Don't over-deploy! Your customers like to know your brand is there, but they probably don't want to be prompted all the time. "Don't stalk your customers and prospects," said Andrew Marino, founder of MorningStar Media. "Treat your contact list like a mature, responsible adult — with respect and with a message that pertains to them — and accept that your contacts will only get back to you on their timelines." Easy does it, that's a mantra for e-mail marketing.

All five of these points dovetail with numerous other e-mail marketing advice brands should also keep in mind: make your e-mail mobile friendly, A/B test content and approaches before sending en masse, learn your customers from the standpoint of optimal timing for the send.

Starting with these steps, you're focusing on content, consistency, and an integration of message and method. It's an excellent way to begin. Good luck with your campaigns, and keep those subscribers happy!

Slab's Newsletter 2.0 is now released for Slab version 2.3.4 and above! Contact us to find out how you can implement it into your Slab site!

Managing your business is hard enough. Managing your website should be easy. Slab offers high quality, custom designed, easy to edit websites. Talk to us about building your site, one that you can update yourself with ease. E-mail [email protected], or call us at 617.566.3433.

Response Rules: 5 Ways Your Business Can React Properly to Social-Media Comments

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to negative feedback online, small businesses don't have to experience a Robin-Thicke level Twitter debacle to grasp the power of the socialmedia critic. Even a single negative comment can be a big deal.

And while most SMBs never have to worry about mass disapproval, they will inevitably encounter a dissatisfied customer or two. And that's a customer to be taken seriously. The trick to dealing with online comments? It comes down to supplying the right response, at the right time, in the right way.

To get to that goal, let's turn to some experts who've dealt with negative (and positive) comments online, and whose tips and advice should help chart your business's social-media course when the time comes to respond.

Moments of Opportunity: Talking to Online Critics

Part of the price of doing business in a digital world is inviting the voices of its digital denizens. Sometimes they're happy with your business, but the unhappy commenter is important, too. You can bet that future customers are paying attention to how you deal with them.

"When was the last time you worked with a business and didn’t look at the bad reviews first?" said Johnathan Grzybowski, marketing director at Dino Enterprise. "Knowing that we all aren’t perfect, we need to understand that it's not about what happens, its more about how you react to it."

And when you react to the social-media critic? "You should comment and show understanding,"Grzybowski said.

What follow are some expert approaches that will help you do just that.

  1. Respond quickly (but not instantly). As a business owner, your pride and reputation are on the line, but your first thoughts aren't always your best response, especially when it comes to a displeased customer. "After exhaling, reread the review objectively and understand what the poster wants or what is their mindset," said Ann Marie van den Hurk, principal at Mind The Gap Public Relations. "Take time to research the situation. Is it a valid review from an actual customer? Who is the customer?" Once you've assessed the situation, you're ready to take the next step.
  2. Engage publicly, but then privately. Splitting the difference between public and private is key to your response strategy. "The best technique is to address it with an apologetic reply, and then take further dialogue to private messaging," said Jonathan Sharpe, digital marketing specialist at DMG Bluegill. "An example response would be 'We’re very sorry to hear about your unpleasant experience. If you’ll send us a message with contact information, we promise to remedy this unfortunate situation.'" In this way, your audience witnesses your responsiveness, but then you're preventing further back-and-forth from muddying the waters of your social space.
  3. Don't argue. In the conversation that follows, online or private, protect your business while projecting the idea that you're open to your customer's experience. "Even if the complaint is untrue or exaggerated, try to make the customer feel heard by acknowledging their disappointment — without affirming the complaint itself," said Brittany Carey, digital account manager at 30 Lines. Try to get the customer to a place where they're no longer frustrated. Not every commenter will go there, but those that do are more likely to add a new note to their original complaint — one indicating that you've successfully solved their problem. And that's a key goal, when it comes to what you can gain from your responses.
  4. Let off-the-wall comments alone. Your impulse might be to delete comments that appear to be nothing more than trolling — or just plain old bad-mouthing. "As strange as this seems, the best plan is to let it be," said Sharpe. "Your social pages should have enough goodwill and positive interaction to make this commenter’s attack insignificant. When your page is engaging and fun for followers, those comments don’t hold much weight." Plus, you gain additional credibility when you show a tendency toward online transparency.
  5. Respond to positive comments. While negativity might be the initial concern of the SMB owner, don't neglect the good things your social-media audience has to say about you. This requires a balanced approach, too. Turns out love-fests don't work as well as a tiered system. "Replying to every positive comment takes away from the personal touch," Sharpe said. "The first move should be a 'like' or a 'favorite', depending on the medium," and then, "comments that go above and beyond should earn a response from the company."

It's about respecting your critic's right to speak up, but also addressing — and adjusting — the circumstances of their stated experience so that, in the public arena that your SMB now occupies, you've the chance to show off the best side of your business.

Following the above five steps can get you right up to a certain threshold with your customers. Reaching through that doorway and pulling an online poster over (or back over) to your side of the conversation? That takes a commitment to opening dialogues. Making the best out of whatever scenario has gone wrong is in your hands, one comment at a time.

SMBs and the Social Equation: Which SocialMedia Sites Work Best for Businesses? 

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There's little question that small-business owners understand the power of social media and its importance to their bottom line. As of 2013, some 92% of polled SMBs (Small - Medium Businesses) said their social profiles were effective tools for their marketing and brand-building push.

"We use social media as a means to not only attract new people to our website and online community but also as a tool to nurture relationships with customers who choose to friend or follow the company," said Stephanie Ciccarelli, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Voices.com, an online voice-over marketplace.

"Sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have given our already social brand another outlet to shine and connect regularly and freely with our customers," she continued. "When someone follows you via a social channel, they are also granting you the opportunity to enter their world, as in permission marketing."

But what platforms are out front, which ones are SMBs turning to most often? To help illuminate some answers to that question, Slabmedia conducted an informal survey of 35 small businesses. Let's look at what they had to say.

SMB Survey: Social Media and Brands Like Us

Chances are, you haven't got a multi-million dollar advertising budget. If you own an SMB, and your line item for marketing is still a modest amount, you likely already work with social media to help fill the brand-growth gap.

One national survey of 2,292 small-business owners revealed that 88% of SMBs with social profiles list Facebook as a top social-media channel for business outreach, followed by LinkedIn (39%); Twitter (31%); Google+ (22%); Pinterest (20%); and YouTube (17%).

But how do the national stats square with what Slabmedia found, in its survey? Our results, based on the responses of 35 SMBs to the question "what are your business's top 3 social-media platforms", were as follows.

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And so, we see Twitter with lead by a 6% margin over Facebook. LinkedIn comes through in third place, and then Google+ and Instagram round out the top five. The category of "other" — accounting for 11% of the voting — includes Tumblr, YouTube, Foursquare, Vimeo, Yelp, Scoop.it, SlideShare, Quora, and Flickr, all of which garnered 2% or less among the platforms cited by our polled owners.

The Blog: Still a Place for Brands and Customers

Among the respondents, another message came through as well: blogs still matter.

Chris Cooper, co-owner of Active Movement and Performance, a personal training studio, said that his company's emphasis on Facebook and Instagram goes hand in hand with the way the business's blog allows staff to elaborate on services and topics of interest.

It's a key point to make, and it's backed by stats. That is, 95% of small businesses in a recent e-Strategy Trends report said blogging is also part of their effective marketing toolkit."Our blog gives a bigger area to discuss what is going on in the news relating to health, fitness, and nutrition," Cooper said. "Our blog also enables us to educate our clients — and really any readers — on what to do. We also provide weekly motivational posts to kickstart the week."

Blending the blog with the shorter-form environments of social-media platforms is good advice for SMBs. If the overall strategy is outreach, and finding your customers where they go to chat, then bringing them into your sales funnel from those location means drawing them back to a website where calls to action can lead to that one important result — not just the fostering of interest and loyalty, but an actual conversion at the end of the conversation.

Retrocraft Design: Crafting a Custom E-Commerce Solution

Retrocraft Design Crafting a Custom ECommerce Solution

Here's the problem, when you're an up-and-coming seller of uniquely restored classic and mid-century furniture: you have this incredible inventory but it's incredibly difficult to ship. Still, you still want your web-savvy clientele to shop your wares online and be able to buy from you.

"It's just way expensive and way complicated," said Lisa Berland, co-owner of Retrocraft Design, regarding her company's experiences of packing and mailing its pieces of often-delicate furniture. "There's so many things that can go wrong with shipping. And they do."

Retrocraft Design has been making its brand of reclaimed, restored — and at times rediscovered — furniture-treasures since 2010. Berland and her sister, who co-owns Retrocraft as well, come from backgrounds in art. Four years ago they set up shop in Concord, Massachusetts. Since then, the company has grown: they moved to a bigger studio, in 2012, and further expanded that space, this year.

While they don't neccessarily want to ship the unique pieces they create, Berland said Retrocraft still very much wants online shoppers to to find, buy, and acquire what they make. So, she's crafted a clever workaround to the e-commerce puzzle that her furniture shop faced.

Show-rooming in Reverse

Retailers know about show-rooming. It's when consumers visit a brick-and-mortar shop, price inventory — even test it out and get a sense for it, in the real world — and then go home to buy the goods from whatever seller they can find who's got it for the cheapest price, online.

In a sense, Retrocraft Design has reversed that process. Wary of shipping nightmares, Berland maintains the studio's inventory in a categorized and often-updated virtual collection showroom. Visitors can click on one of the many well-made photos of Retrocraft's items, see additional details and images of it, price it — even pin it to their Pinterest page — and then buy it via PayPal. The customer gets a PayPal invoice by e-mail, completes the transaction, and Retrocraft sets the piece aside for pickup.

"From the very beginning we knew that we couldn't afford a retail space," Berland said. "So, we just decided that we're going to do this. The whole point of this exercise is to drive people to our website, and then to drive them from our website to us — to physically come to us."

And it seems to be working. Retrocraft Design has experienced a 50% increase in sales, year over year, since 2010.

On the Grow: Retrocraft Looks Forward

Next steps for the company? According to Berland, it'll be a slight increase to their in-studio staffing and then a possible partnership with decorators who'd tap Retrocraft for pieces to include in a given project.

Also, don't rule out Brooklyn. "A lot of our market seems to be the kind you find in Brooklyn," Berland said. "We're always getting inquires from there, people saying 'don't you ever come down to New York?'"

A pop-up shop in Williamsburg would be just the thing, wouldn't it?