Web Design and SEO Blog

Oct20174

Google Search Console Updates

by Mira Brody in Google, Industry News, Optimization, Social Media, Tools & Tips


Google Search Console (formally known as Google Webmaster Tools) is where you measure your website’s performance, identify any issues, edit the content you want indexed, monitor links and see how visitors are arriving at your site. Its is a valuable tool for website owners and digital marketers who help monitor this data for businesses. We’d like to keep you updated on a few improvements Google has made to the Insights, Workflow and Feedback sections of Search Console and how they will help you.

Insights
Insights is a tool that monitors issues that occur while Google is crawling your site. This update has the intelligence to determine the root cause of any issues that were discovered and presents suggestions of how to identify and fix them.

Workflow
It is now possible to share SEO problems with your team members, improving communication within a multi-person marketing team. You can pick up a task to fix an issue and assign it to a team member. For example, if the crawling issue has to do with the website’s code, you can quickly identify the solution, and send the task over to a developer to fix.

Feedback Loops
After fixes are applied to a site, it takes about 48 hours for Google to re-crawl your site and determine if the solution was successful or not. With the improvement of feedback loops, there is still a wait time, but you get a preview of the change in action so that you can tell right away whether the change worked or not without having to wait until the re-crawl is complete.

Future Updates
In the near future, Google hopes to further eliminate lag time after crawling your site, making data available in real-time. Currently in BETA is a new feature called the Index Coverage report, where you will be able to view data about indexed pages, your sitemap submission progress and if any issues occur. If your website was developed with AMP (accelerated mobile pages), Fixing Flow is another feature in BETA that will help you identify abnormalities in the HTML Google uses to quickly load pages on mobile devices.

Conclusion
Google is consistently working to improve Search Console, offering more and more tools to monitor your online business so that you can improve your visibility in search results as well as fix issues as soon as they occur. If you need any help monitoring your website analytics, contact us — we have a skilled digital marketing team ready to help you apply SEO tools that will allow your online business to thrive.
Oct20172

Image Optimization in Advanced Web Development

by Mira Brody in Content, Design, Development, Imagery, Optimization, Tools & Tips, UX

Properly optimizing imagery improves our websites’ page load time and the quality of the images delivered to screens of all sizes. This makes for better, faster sites that use less bandwidth to serve and can even help in Search Engine Optimization.

Web-quality imagery is always a balancing act between using the smallest possible file size while providing good image quality. Embedding a photo straight off your DSLR may look nice, but it will slow your website’s load to a crawl, while an over-compressed image may improve the speed of your site yet discredit the design and overall aesthetic. For the two types of image assets we predominantly deal with — photos and icons/illustrations — we perform a mixture of image quality checks and compression techniques that work well in most case scenarios.

File types and when to use them.
There are three image file types we use when building websites: .jpg .png and .svg.

JPGs are best used for photos such as landscapes, scenery or people. For imagery in content, such as a blog article image, we aim for 20-70kb. Larger background photos can get up to 500kb, but 200kb is a good average. JPGs are lossy (they recompress and degrade the image quality each time you export), and they don’t manage gradients very well. If you have a gradient in an image, sometimes you can separate the image into two cuts so that you can render the gradient in a separate background using CSS gradients instead.

PNGs are best for assets such as logos and icons because they support transparency and because logo and icons often use a more limited color palette — since PNGs achieve compression through a reduction in the number of colors. A PNG can be lossy, but we typically use lossless, meaning every pixel is saved exactly without degrading the color palette, resulting in a higher-quality image.

SVGs have the best quality of all and are used for vector art due to their scalability. We often use them with logos, however, SVGs do create more work for the browser to render and can create sluggishness as the page loads, so the quality of your image should always be balanced against its complexity.

As an example of when we use PNGs and SVGs, compare the logos for Silver Screen Insider and Bozeman Websites. For the former, we used an SVG. For Bozeman Websites, because of the complexity introduced with CSS animation when a user scrolls down, we chose to use PNGs instead so as not to compromise browser performance. Sometimes the best solution is a combination of both: for the logo on JTech’s website, the “JT” component is a PNG, but the “Celebrating 20 Years” is an SVG in order for it to retain its quality in all viewport sizes.

Optimization techniques.
In order to get the best possible results, it is important to optimize your images. To do so, we utilize three programs: ImageOptim (for JPGs and PNGs), ImageAlpha (for PNGs) and Scour (for SVGs).

Optimizing JPGs
ImageOptim reduces the file size of JPGs and PNGs. For large images, such as the ones we use for background panels, we cap dimensions at 1600x1200px. For content photos such as an image inserted in a blog article, we cap dimensions between 200-800px wide. After resizing to its final resolution, the image is output in Photoshop using the best quality available. Each time we compress the image it loses some fidelity, so we prefer to rely solely ImageOptim for compression rather than having Photoshop do a pass. Photoshop is noticeably less efficient: its “save for web” at quality 65 produces an image of equal file size but poorer fidelity than ImageOptim’s quality 85.

Retina JPGs
When targeting retina or other high-density displays, we've found it works best to save a single JPG at twice the resolution, but use higher compression, around 50-60 in ImageOptim, which can produce a high-quality image that looks good on both retina and standard, lower-density displays. This technique allows us to use a single asset for retina and standard displays rather than cutting and loading multiple versions and without quadrupling the size of our images.

Optimizing PNGs
For PNGs, we output from Photoshop using PNG 24 in their “save for web” option, then run it through ImageOptim. If it detects that the image is using fewer than 256 colors, ImageOptim will losslessly convert the image to a PNG 8, a simpler file format that can produce very light-weight files. With ImageOptim, our final output of an image without too many complexities (minimal color, simple shapes, and resolution less than 200x200px) can range in size from 15kb down to under 1kb.

Optimizing larger PNGs
For more complex images, if we can’t produce a file between 15kb and 50kb with ImageOptim, we use ImageAlpha. ImageAlpha is used to process PNGs from a PNG 24 (millions of colors) to a PNG 8 (256 colors maximum), changing the image from lossless to lossy, ultimately aiming for the one with the smallest number of colors. Lossiness in this format primarily means strategic refinement of the color palette, eliminating the least-noticeable colors to produce an image that still looks great while reducing its complexity.

After exporting from ImageAlpha, we run it through ImageOptim so it can be optimized further.

Optimizing SVGs
When it comes to SVGs, we reduce as much complexity as possible before we export the image from Illustrator. An often tedious process due to their size, we first try to reduce the number of layers to a minimum while still accurately displaying the artwork. It is then saved as an SVG in Illustrator and optimized with a program called Scour. We use this automator script to make it a bit easier to use in macOS, allowing you to right-click an SVG file in the Finder and optimize the SVG through the Services menu. We often use font files for vector graphics that are single-color with a program called Glyphs, a topic covered more thoroughly here.

Conclusion
Properly optimizing imagery is just another way we can improve the performance of our websites, prevent browser bloat, reduce server and bandwidth resource usage, hasten page load time, keep the development infrastructure clean and provide a much more desirable experience for the end-user. We hope this exploration of our experience with JPG, PNG and SVG file types, image compression and quality tools are a resource for you as we continually refine our own process to produce websites of high caliber.
Sep201729

Using Google Posts to Boost Visibility

by Mira Brody in Google, Industry News, Optimization, Social Media, Tools & Tips

Creating your Google Post
Creating your Google Post
Google Posts is a new feature from Google that can provide you with increased visibility in search results by allowing you to make specified content visible in both Google search and map results.

Some ideas for how to use Google Posts:
  • Announce promotions or a new product.
  • Post about upcoming events.
  • Share an article.
  • Make reservations.
  • Make a call-to-action visible to those searching for your products or services.

Google Posts can easily be integrated into your business’s content marketing strategy to drive people to your site directly from Google results and increase your clickthrough rates.

JTech's Google Post
JTech's Google Post
A few tips for creating your first Google Post:
  • Add an image for increased visibility.
  • Write a captivating title for your post.
  • The body text of posts can be up to 1,500 words but we recommend you keep them between 100-300 words.
  • Add a call to action button from the available options: “learn more,” “reserve,” “buy,” “sign up,” or “get offer.”

Depending on the nature of the query and content of the post, it will now appear in Google universal and map results when customers search for your products and services. Keep in mind, these are meant to attract attention and convert a user to browse your site so they can learn specific information directly from you.

Google Posts is great and low-cost way to boost brand visibility. If you are interested in using Google Posts to its full potential but are unsure where to start, give us a call — we are here to help!
Sep201727

Safari Browser to Block Videos from Automatically Playing

by Mira Brody in Announcements, Industry News


As a part of their newest browser version that includes security enhancements, Tracking Prevention and additional features, Safari is now blocking videos that automatically play on websites. Aside from being annoying, videos that autoplay when you visit a website drain bandwidth and data.

This new Safari feature keeps all videos on pause until you choose to play them, allowing the user to have control over their experience. Because video ads are a huge source of revenue, many publishers are up in arms about this change — when videos play automatically, even those not watching are included in audience numbers, providing these publishers with skewed numbers to use to sell more ads on their site. No matter your stance, it is clear Safari is targeting two things in order to benefit users: intrusive advertising methods, and negative mobile experiences.
Sep201725

New Marketing Intern: Nick Jensen

by Mira Brody in Announcements

Please join us in welcoming our new intern — Nick Jensen! Nick will join our digital marketing team, helping our clients to grow and improve their marketing efforts. Nick is a Senior at Montana State, double majoring in Marketing and Management with a minor in Entrepreneurship and hopes to expand his SEO and digital marketing skillset during his time at JTech.

When he's not working or in class, Nick enjoys exploring Bozeman’s many eateries, music shows and community events. He also creates instrumentals for local recording artists and helps his brother operate a music studio here in town.

We are excited to have Nick on our team!
Sep201719

Big Spring Water is Live

by Mira Brody in Announcements, Design, Development

Big Spring Water is a water bottling and distribution company owned by Lehrkinds in Lewistown, MT. They bottle fresh water from the Big Snowy Mountains and distribute it in five gallon jugs and small bottles throughout the state of Montana. They also offer private labeling for special events, home and business delivery and water cooler cleaning and maintenance.

Big Spring Water needed an updated website that would adequately display their various products and educate their customers about their pristine, mineral-infused spring water. The website displays photography of their product and its source in Montana. From the site, customers can place orders and reach the company via a contact form. We invite you to take a look at their new website here.
Sep201714

Automate Everyday Business Tasks With an Advanced Website

by Mira Brody in Announcements, Development, Tools & Tips

Many industries deal with reoccurring customers’ credit card billing. A few examples are:
  • Wholesalers who sell products by automatic reorder
  • Monthly gym membership dues
  • Amazon Prime’s annual fee
  • Auto-pay through a rental management company
  • FastTrak pass for paying bridge or road tolls

The accounting work required for reoccurring charges such as those listed can pile up, especially if you have a lot of clients. Luckily automation of repetitive tasks is exactly the type of problem our team at JTech excels at solving! Here are two projects we’ve worked on recently that deal with reoccurring payment processing.

Silver Screen Insider: membership subscription.

Silver Screen Insider
Silver Screen Insider
Silver Screen Insider is a robust entertainment database utilized by movie lovers as well as independent movie theater owners. The site is host to marketing materials, movie trailers, a digital publication of the exclusive ShowTime Magazine, games and much more. Sections of this site are available by signing up to be either a free member (a “Fan”) or a paid member (an “Insider”). Insider members have the option of being billed monthly or annually. We’ve streamlined SSI’s payment processing by building them an advanced website which processes reoccurring payments automatically. Features include:
  • Automatic billing reminder emails to members.
  • Secure retrieval of payment details via integration with a payment gateway.
  • Automatically charging members when their annual or monthly fee is due.

This site has greatly reduced the manpower and paperwork SSI staff have to process, and will save their business a substantial sum of money.

Domain Management: a feature in My JTech.

Domain Management
Domain Management
We recently added Domain Management to our custom content management system, My JTech. Seamless management of domain names involves auto-renewing domains for clients before they expire. In addition to searching for domain availability, purchasing new domains and transferring existing ones, this new system can:
  • Save preferred payment methods via payment gateway integration.
  • Send email reminders for expired cards on file.
  • Send email reminders for upcoming automatic payments.
  • Automatically process a payment when it is due.

Aside from our consistent security monitoring, all of this is done with minimal staff involvement, ensuring our clients always have the domains they use to do business online without the stress and risk of remembering when to renew.

Automate your administrative tasks.

If you feel you are wasting administrative power on a task that could be automated, come talk to us. We have the technical skill to tackle any business problem, such as automating payments, and are here to save you money and free up time so you can focus on the important stuff — like growing your business and securing your long-term success.
Sep201711

Are Facebook Canvas Ads Right for Your Business?

by Mira Brody in Design, Industry News, Social Media, Tools & Tips, UX

Facebook Canvas advertisements
Facebook Canvas advertisements
It’s no secret that mobile ads are a pain. They are very often intrusive, impossible to exit, auto play music and suck up valuable data. Google, Apple and many other tech companies have been joining the fight against poor advertising, and now Facebook is joining in, changing the way businesses are able to present their products.

What is a Canvas ad? Canvas ads are an advertisement option by Facebook which allows you to design an ad optimized for user interaction on mobile devices. It presents businesses with the ability to better reach their audience by presenting them with a beautiful user experience. It forces advertisers to really think about what will get their audience interested and hold their attention instead of continually shoving poorly-designed ads in their face.

As you can see from the diagram provided by Facebook, Canvas provides a variety of options, including scrolling, a carousel of cards, panoramic photos, and other engaging animations, all optimized for tablets and phone breakpoints.

Why do they work so well? Canvas ads have so far been successful. Average view time is up to 31 seconds and big names such as Lowe’s, Coca-Cola and Wendy’s have all utilized this new feature. Here are a few reasons why.

Interactive — These ads are designed as a journey, guiding users through your products using attractive visuals and allowing them to have control over their experience.

Non-intrusive — These ads appear only after a user clicks on the initial advertisement post on their newsfeed. This keeps them unobtrusive and keeps them in the Facebook application instead of sending them offsite.

Fully-customizable — Facebook offers a variety of tools so that every ad is unique. Whether a portfolio of images, a panoramic landscape or a video, you can build a journey based on what best represents your business. Everyone loves a good story; it’s how we engage users. Instead of relying on a flat billboard ad, Canvas ads allow a business to tell their story — no design, development or marketing experience necessary.

Mobile-friendly — Canvas ads are specifically optimized for mobile screens and are loaded in the Facebook app, making it 10 times faster than if it were loaded in a traditional browser and salvaging data use.

Should your business use Canvas? The good news is that Canvas is adaptable to almost any industry. It will be especially useful for those who with a storyline or attractive imagery of products to display. The real draw here is the dawn of a better world for mobile advertisements, and possibly advertisements as a whole. If you really want to reach your audience, accessing more information about your products and services should not be a negative experience, but should reward the user.

If you are interested in Canvas advertisements but are unsure how to get stated, our digital marketing team would be happy to help you decide how to best display your business and reach your audience on Facebook.
Sep20177

Google to Start Notifying Publishers with Annoying Ads

by Mira Brody in Google, Industry News

For the last month, Google has been collecting data about negative user experiences related to advertisements. According to a survey conducted by Google, 69% of people who install adblockers do so because of intrusive ads that prevent them from easily accessing content. These come in the form of popups, ads that consist of sound or video that auto-plays, or that obscure a large amount of screen space, particularly on mobile devices.

Based on guidelines set forth by the Coalition for Better Ads, Google has been collecting a list of publishers who host non-compliant advertisements on their site and recording videos and screen caps of these unacceptable ad types as evidence. If a site is considered “failing,” the publishers are sent an Ad Experience Report, information about the Better Ads Standards and how to stay in compliance. They are also educated on how these issues may be impacting their business.

Although it is unclear yet how publishers will be punished, if at all, according to Scott Spencer, Product Management Director at Google, Google’s actions are driven by their continued efforts to help publishers maintain a sustainable online business with advertising that is tolerable by its readers.