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The Latest Research for Web Designers, March 2020

While it’s important to know about the latest research and surveys impacting web design, I think it’s just as important to stay informed about news that may affect your work as a designer.

As such, this roundup of the latest research for web designers includes a mix of reports along with some news and facts about something that people are talking about all around the world: the coronavirus.

 

A Better Lemonade Stand Analyzes the Best Remote Working Locations

With the help of Nomad List, A Better Lemonade Stand has aggregated a list of the 20 best places to work remotely.

While finding a place to live can be a very subjective matter (for instance, some people prefer colder locales or warm ones), this list takes into account factors that can have a serious impact on the work of a freelancer. For example, this is why Auckland, New Zealand ended up taking the #1 spot for remote work:

Latest Research for Web Designers - Nomad List ranking for Auckland New Zealand

The other cities to round out the top 10 are:

  • Bengaluru, India
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Lisbon, Portugal

I’d argue that it’s high scores on factors like the following that make them the best spots to work remotely from:

  • Cost
  • Internet speed
  • Free wifi in the city
  • Places to work from
  • Walkability
  • Happiness score
  • Quality of life

If you’ve been considering a move and you want it to not only be a place you love but that’s good for your business, one of these nomad-friendly spots might fit the bill.

 

Hubspot Gives Us a Comprehensive Look at the State of Marketing

As always, there’s almost too much information to digest in Hubspot’s annual State of Marketing report. But that’s not going to stop me from highlighting the points you can use to bring more money into your business:

Website Upgrades Needed

According to the survey, 63% of respondents are looking to upgrade their websites in 2020. If you have experience in and enjoy doing website redesigns, hop on this opportunity as soon as you can.

Maintenance Pros Wanted

Sometimes it’s not the design that needs to be tweaked. Rather your clients would benefit from a technical tune-up along with ongoing maintenance.

When asked which tactics have been the most beneficial for improving a website’s performance and search ranking, here’s what respondents had to say:

Hubspot State of Marketing - Website Fixes

You could easily create a recurring revenue stream around these maintenance tasks.

Visual-Heavy Content Marketing is a Must

Marketers use a wide variety of content in their marketing strategies:

Hubspot State of Marketing - Content Types

If you’re in the business of building websites, you should also be helping your clients create graphics for the media above. For instance, you could provide ongoing design services for:

  • Blog (and promotional social media) graphics
  • Videos or just video cover images
  • Infographics
  • Templates for case studies, ebooks, and white papers

Just because your job is primarily to build high-converting websites for clients doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking for other ways to serve them.

 

The Coronavirus’s Impact on Freelancers

With so much news about the coronavirus out there, it’s hard to know what to focus your attention. If you’re a freelancer, then these are the statistics and research you should focus on:

Conferences Around the World Are Being Cancelled

Business Insider and the LA Times rounded up lists of conferences that have been cancelled, rescheduled, or restructured because of the coronavirus:

  • Adobe Summit (it’ll be online instead)
  • Facebook’s F8
  • Facebook’s Global Marketing Summit
  • EmTech Asia
  • Shopify Developer Conference
  • Google I/O
  • Google Cloud Next ‘20 (rescheduled as an online event)

And for those of you who work with WordPress, WordCamp Asia was cancelled.

WordCamp Asia Cancelled - Coronavirus

Considering how expensive and time-consuming professional design conferences can be to attend, these cancellations might not be as big of a disappointment to the freelance community. In fact, it might bring a change to the professional conference landscape, with more of them hosted virtually so that it becomes cheaper, more practical, and now safer to attend.

Some Freelance Gigs Are Drying Up

In particular, it’s Singapore’s population of freelancers that are feeling the effects of the coronavirus, according to a report from Vice.

It makes sense. As businesses close down their offices or their operations altogether, the contract workforce who works behind the scenes for them is going to be impacted as well. This is especially problematic for those who build ecommerce and retail websites. With many products manufactured in China (31.3% of all apparel and 37.6% of textiles are manufactured there, for instance), inventories are waning and many retailers are having to wait out the virus to resume operations. 

The Singapore government recently announced plans for its 2020 budget, which included contributing SG$800 million towards curbing the effects of the virus on the country. Additional support is to be given to industries the most severely affected by it as well.

While the country’s budget doesn’t account for freelancers (as I’m sure will be the case in other countries), the freelance community itself is stepping up.

Nicholas Chee, who runs a video production company in Singapore, started a Facebook group for freelancers who’ve been dealing with lost gigs as a result of the coronavirus. It’s called SG COVID-19 Creative/Cultural Professionals & Freelancers Support Group and is giving the freelance community a way to support each other through this crisis.

Web Designers May Be Able To Help Stop The Spread of Coronavirus

It’s not just Facebook groups that are going to help freelancers get through the coronavirus crisis in one piece. According to Dr. Stephanie Evergreen, web designers might actually be able to help slow down or stop the spread of the virus itself.

In an article she wrote for Fast Company, Dr. Evergreen, a data visualization specialist, demonstrates how more eye-catching graphics can better educate the public on what’s going on and what they can do.

For instance, she shares this graphic from the World Health Organization:

World Health Organization - MERS Cases Charts

While it more effectively lays out this data than a wall of text would, it’s not going to do much to capture anyone’s attention.

It’s more important than ever for public health agencies to use data visualization to communicate with the masses, as the public is bombarded with more information each day and in need of a way for the most pressing issues to cut through the noise.

Quantifiable data, instead, should be presented like this graphic from the Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health - Influenza Activity map and data

It does both a good job of capturing attention and informing the public of what’s going on.

Bottom line: if your website is tasked with communicating critical data to the public, see if there’s a way you can lend your design skills to it. While a writer can clearly communicate what’s going on, graphics are more likely to grab and hold their attention.

 

Wrap-Up

While annual “State of” reports always tend to wind down around February/March, we still have a wealth of data coming in that not only affects your design strategy but your business strategy too.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next edition of the latest research for web designers as we’re sure to see the first quarterly reports come out for design, marketing, SEO, and more.



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The Latest Research for Web Designers Feb 2020

One of the most valuable resources you have as a web designer is data. Data informs a lot of what you do for clients, so why shouldn’t it do the same for your own business?

In the following roundup of the latest research for web designers, I’ve included reports and surveys that shed light on: The battle between mobile and desktop, Why so many websites keep getting hacked, What’s keeping ecommerce business owners awake at night, and What Google is now saying about mobile-first indexing.

 

Hootsuite Puts a Spotlight on Mobile

Although Hootsuite is a social media marketing tool, its Digital 2020 report (created in conjunction with We Are Social) reveals much more about the state of marketing as a whole than just social media.

As of January 2020, the total number of users has reached 4.5 billion. That’s a 7% growth from the same period in 2019.

A huge contributor of that growth is the increased adoption of Internet-connected devices all around the world:

Hootsuite Digital 2020 - Global Growth

This graphic alone demonstrates why it’s crucial for websites to be able to cater to a global user base and not just those in developed nations.

Another telling statistic from this report shows how much more Internet users are coming to rely on their mobile phones:

Hootsuite Digital 2020 - Web Traffic Device

Between December 2018 and December 2019, there was an 8.6% leap in the amount of mobile web traffic. Laptops and desktops shrunk in popularity during that same timeframe as did tablets, which saw a massive dip in usage.

It’s not just the amount of traffic on mobile vs. web that’s seen changes either. It’s the amount of time users spend on those devices. As a whole, consumers spend 6 hours and 43 minutes online every day; 3 hours and 22 minutes of which is from their mobile devices.

Key Takeaway

If you’re not already building progressive web apps for clients, 2020 may be the perfect time to learn how to do so. Not only do they provide a superior experience for mobile users, but they also are capable of serving users who may not have the best Internet connectivity or live in close proximity to your web servers.

 

Sucuri Reveals What Was Going on with Hacked Sites in 2019

The Sucuri Hacked Website Threat Report just came out with some interesting data on the state of web security.

Let’s start by looking at the integrity of the content management systems web designers commonly use:

Sucuri Report - Outdated Infected CMS

Out of all the infected websites Sucuri found last year, 56% of them had an outdated CMS. As you can see above, some users do a better job of protecting their core by updating their CMS technology. Others… not so much.

It’s not just content management systems that users are failing to update either. More than two-thirds have websites using PHP versions that are no longer supported (i.e. 5.x and 7.0).

Sucuri - PHP Versions

Then, there’s the fact that websites with vulnerabilities weren’t just found to have one vulnerability. 44% of vulnerable websites had at least two vulnerable components and 10% had four or more.

Considering this, it’s no surprise that once-infected websites have a tendency to be reinfected.

Key Takeaways

On average, Sucuri cleaned up 147 files and 232 database entries for every malware infection detected. Even if those numbers are improvements from previous years, think about how costly the cleanup is going to be for your clients if or when that happens to them.

So, rather than focus strictly on web design or development in the coming years, start thinking about how you can weave website security into the mix. Whether you want to provide maintenance services for live websites or you want to build security measures into a websites in development, it’s up to you.

But something needs to be done to fix this systemic issue.

 

A Better Lemonade Stand Shares Results from eCommerce Survey

For those of you working with ecommerce clients (or who want to), this survey from A Better Lemonade Stand is one to pay close attention to.

Right off the bat, the survey reveals that 62.1% of people who want to start an ecommerce business have yet to do so. As for why they haven’t, there are a variety of reasons given:

A Better Lemonade Stand - Why Not Start

Pay close attention to these reasons as you can use them to sell your ecommerce design services as a solution:

  • The monetary investment
  • A lack of know-how
  • A lack of time to do so

You can also use survey data from current ecommerce owners to better position your business before prospective clients:

A Better Lemonade Stand - eCommerce Struggles

Here you can see what ecommerce business owners report as their biggest struggles. Five of the top ten you can easily help them out with:

  • Getting traffic
  • Conversion optimization
  • Strategy & analytics
  • Branding & design
  • Operations & customer service (through the website, at least)

Key Takeaway

You can present ecommerce business owners in the making with a cost-effective done-for-you option as well as proof of how quickly you can get them an ROI (like with a case study) if they’re really worried about cost. They need to see how your expertise will save them time and make them more money in the long run.

The same goes for clients with existing businesses. You now know what their top concerns are. If you see a flailing ecommerce site, use this knowledge to get the conversation started and to pose your own solution. Again, just make sure you have proof to back up what you promise to do.

 

Google Updates Mobile-First Indexing Best Practices

Think you know all that you need to know to design a mobile-first website? Well, Google just updated its mobile-first indexing best practices.

Here’s a high-level overview of what the new best practices state:

  • If you’re using the robots metatag, make sure it’s the same for mobile and desktop.
  • Use the same URLs for your mobile and desktop sites.
  • Use the same content on mobile as you do on desktop. If you think there should be less content on mobile, just make sure that whatever is desktop-only isn’t critical for Google or visitors to know about as it won’t factor into indexing at all.

In other words, Google is strictly using mobile for the purposes of indexing. If you do anything that compromises what Google can scan on your mobile website, your rank will suffer as a result.

By keeping things consistent between mobile and desktop, you can reduce the chance of any issues arising.

Be sure to check out the full report for all of Google’s new recommendations. There’s information in there about what kinds of image and video formats to use along with information on lazy loading.

Key Takeaway

If you were adhering to Google’s former guidelines, it’s a good time to check back in with what it’s currently recommending. You may need to reconnect with old clients to let them know about the changes and to provide them with an update strategy.

 

Wrap-Up

There’s always new industry or consumer research that can help you do better work for your clients and make more money in the process. It’s just not always easy to keep your eyes peeled for it when you’re trying to focus on your job.

If you stay tuned to WebDesigner Depot each month, though, you’ll get a roundup of the latest research for web designers to give you a hand.

 

Featured image via Unsplash.



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Can Best Practice Replace Design Research?

Tempting it may be to skip the consultation process, but a ‘first principles’ approach is not going to cut it with the majority of your clients. The principles of design exist for a reason, but knowing when and how to break them is what separates great designers from good ones.

Heart-warming or not, co-creation with a client—the utopian ideal of shared vision—has its drawbacks. There are only so many times you can hear the words “brand strategy” before actually chewing your own face off. In the age of WordPress, Drupal and, dare I say it, Wix, it’s never been more tempting to pay lip-service to research and consultation. Instead of building a principles framework from scratch, why not roll out something from a template in a fraction of the time?

Well, in fact, there probably are situations where a simple WordPress-type approach will work really well. The trick is knowing when.

 

What Is “Best Practice” Anyway?

Well, exactly.

Even if you slept through design school, or didn’t go at all, you probably know the fundamentals already. And it’s true. If you stick to first principles, you won’t go far wrong. Here are some examples:

  • Color and Contrast: 2-3 colors maximum, use contrast to highlight important elements;
  • White Space: Use plenty of it, be consistent with proportions above and below;
  • Layout: Symmetric Grid. Err…Always. Work ‘above the fold’;
  • Typography: No more than 2-3 typefaces;
  • Logo: Long, top left, always;
  • Compexity vs Simplicity: Look for balance and visual interest;
  • Visual Hierarchy: Use color, contrast, size and complexity to highlight important elements;
  • Consistency: With all of the above, whatever you decide, be consistent;
  • And so on…

One size, though, doesn’t fit all. By bending and even breaking the rules sometimes, you’ll create designs that stand out and, more importantly, meet the real requirements of the brief.

 

The One Unbreakable Rule

It’s pretty hard to find a “Best Practice” that really works in every situation, but here’s one:

No matter what you’re doing, make sure you know why you’re doing it.

And, just in case you were wondering, “err…because it looks pretty?” and “because it’s easier than what I probably ought to do instead…” aren’t really reasons.

There are clearly situations where a client—whatever they may think—is best served by a simple off-the-shelf approach. Particularly if their budget is more Scrooge than Soros. The thing is, you probably still need to go through a research process to find out whether that’s the case or not.

 

When And How To Go Off Piste

Before or just after accepting the job, you’ll likely need to do some research with the client. This process should focus on (you guessed it) brand strategy.

Ideally, in the first instance, you’ll build a design principles framework. Whatever decisions you make after that (whether you’re going to stick to the rules or break them) should be justified with reference to the framework.

Here are some examples of situations where you might consider deviating from “best practice”:

You Want to Send a Particular Message

Take this site for a children’s fitness company, for example.

fitnessfinders

It clearly breaks all the rules about color and typeface, and a few more besides, but overall gives a sense of vibrance and playfulness, which of course is ideal for this market.

You Want to Draw Attention to Something

By ignoring the imperative to “work above the fold” and putting product and logo front and centre, candle manufacturer Waxxy draws the eye directly to their “product centred” philosophy and creates a sense of light and space:

waxxy

Natale’s Clothing uses additional fonts and a broken grid layout to emphasise content and create a sense of being “out of the ordinary”.

natales

 

You Want to Keep Things Clean

Legend has it, if you “put everything on the homepage” it’s good for SEO and easier for users. These days, though, there’s often a lot of information, and we prefer to have more space, even if it means a bit more browsing.

toke

If you visit Toke’s site here, you’ll see that they break the animation taboo in a subtle and effective way as well.

These are just a few examples, there are many more. In each case the key questions to ask are:

  1. How does it meet the brief?
  2. How does it help brand strategy?

 

When To Stick To The Script

A big consideration here will likely be the client’s budget. With the best will in the world, you’re going to struggle to create a logo, design a custom typeface, and build a multi-page site from scratch on $800. If that’s what the client’s asking for, and can’t understand the limitations, maybe consider saying no!

If, on the other hand, there’s scope to negotiate, where budgets are small and, in situations where, for example, the client has a small number of products and/or services, a single page WordPress site will often be exactly what they need. Here it’s not a question of “doing the bare minimum” but rather “not doing too much”. Even so, there will probably be bespoke elements that you can change to better fit the strategy.

Another important moment to check yourself, is whenever you’re not sure if an idea works. If you can’t justify a decision with reference to your design principles framework—or at least with reference to the client’s brand strategy—then it’s probably best to err on the side of caution.

 

Research or Best Practice?

In a word, both.

There are definitely situations where a “first principles” approach will be exactly what the client needs. Particularly if their budget is small and their needs are simple. Even in this case, though, a great designer will take the time to understand (or help to develop) the brand strategy, and add whatever tweaks are necessary. Each client and each brand is unique, and a designer’s job, if you think about it, is to reflect just that.

When using a bespoke approach, breaking with convention can, as we’ve seen, produce interesting and stylish results. It’s important, though, that each decision makes sense, and can be linked back to the brand strategy. If it can’t, it probably shouldn’t be in the design.

And whatever you do, don’t chew your face off.

 

Featured image via Unsplash.



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Keyword Research 101: Everything You Need To Know

Keyword research is a critical part of any SEO strategy. If you get it right, then you’ll bring high volumes of relevant traffic to your site. In this article, we are going to look at what keywords are, and why you need to research them.

Keywords are essentially the bridge between a website and a search engine. They are what helps a search engine identify what your site is about, and how relevant it is when a certain term or phrase is searched for by the user. A search engine keeps a database of websites which they have filed away under the appropriate tags/topics to be able to produce fast results. 

You can make sure you have a much stronger chance of appearing in the SERPs by optimising your website for the right keywords.

However…

There can be hundreds of options when it comes to keywords. So how do you know which ones you should optimise for?

Keyword research.

The general rule of thumb is to look for keywords which have a high search volume (meaning your website will have more opportunities in the SERPs) but on the lower scale of competition (meaning you won’t be fighting multiple large companies for a piece of the pie). We will look at how you can do this a little later in the article. First, let’s take a look at what we mean by keyword optimization…

 

Keyword Optimisation Tips

Now when you think of keyword optimisation, you may be tempted to stuff your chosen keyword into your content as many times as possible. This may have worked a few years back, but now, keyword stuffing is a huge no-no!

When adding your keyword, it needs to be as natural as possible. But there are a few places that you want to ensure this happens. The three most important places to optimize are:

  • At the beginning of your title tag;
  • Your meta description;
  • The first 50 to 100 words in your content.

And there are still some other ways to optimize your keywords that will help when it comes to ranking your website:

  • Your image alt tags (preferably the first image on the page);
  • In the page’s URL;
  • In at least one of your subheadings;
  • 2-3 times (or more depending on your word count) throughout the content.

As you can see there is plenty you can do to fully optimize for a keyword whilst keeping your content natural.

 

Types of Keyword

The types of keyword that you decide to use on your website determine whether you bring in visitors who can offer you the most value. There are seven keyword types you should learn about:

1. Generic Keywords (aka Short-Tail)

Generic keywords will isolate a topic, but you won’t get any further detail. Usually known as ‘short-tail’ keywords. For example: “Shoes,” “Vacuum Cleaner,” or “Book.”

You should stay away from these types of keywords as the competition is usually very high and you have no idea around the search intent so conversions are generally pretty low.

2. Brand Keywords

Brand Keywords are pretty self-explanatory. They include a keyword relating to the brand of the product, for example: “Adidas shoes,” “Dyson vacuum cleaner,” “Harry Potter book.”

They are a step up from a generic keyword but it is still unclear what the intent behind the search is.

3. Broad Keywords

Broad keywords are more promising. They provide good levels of traffic and have much less competition.

Usually, the searcher has decided what they are looking for but may only have an approximate idea. For example: “Running shoes,” “Upright vacuum cleaner,” “Children’s books.”

These are still open to a little interpretation but the search is more specific.

4. Exact Keywords

Exact keywords show that the searcher knows exactly what they are trying to find.

This type of keyword is good to optimize for because they usually convert very well and have high search volumes. For example: “Best running shoes,” “Vacuum cleaner reviews,” “Recommended children’s books.”

There is a problem with exact keywords though: they have a lot of competition.

5. Long-Tail Keywords

In my opinion, long-tail keywords are the best type of keyword to focus on.

They generally have lower search volume, meaning they have less competition but they have a really high conversion level. For example: “Which running shoes are the best for marathons,” “Upright vacuum cleaner with retractable cord,” “Which children’s books are best for ages 8-10.”

Long-tail keywords have the right balance between competition, conversion, and traffic.

6. Buyer Keywords

Buyer keywords will have a word attached that signals the searcher is ready to part with their cash. For example: “Buy Adidas running shoes,” “Dyson vacuum cleaner discount,” “Children’s books coupons.”

If this fits with your business model, then optimising for buyer keywords can be a really smart move.

7. Tyre Kicker Keywords

Tyre kicker keywords usually indicate that the user isn’t one that’s going to benefit you in anyway (unless this aligns with your business strategy.) For example: “Free running shoes,” “Dyson vacuum cleaner exchange,” “Download children’s books.”

There is usually a word attached to the keyword which shows the are not looking to spend money.

 

Wrapping Up

In this article, we have reviewed what keywords are, why they are important and how keyword research is crucial for the success of your website.

We looked at the best places to optimise your keywords on your website without resorting to keyword stuffing. And you now know the seven types of keywords used, meaning you can make a decision which type is best for your business.



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What Iconic Children’s Toy Started Life In A Military Research Lab?

A black slinky, fanned open, on a white table top
Poof-Slinky, Inc.

Answer: The Slinky

The Slinky has been in production for over seventy years and shows no signs of vanishing from toy store shelves. It’s a classic children’s toy; it’s simple, inexpensive, and the novelty of playing with a wiggly, wobbly, walks-down-the-stairs spring hasn’t waned much over the decades. While most people have a childhood memory or two involving a Slinky and likely even went on to buy one as a gift, very few people know that the toy came to life in a military lab.

In 1943, a young naval mechanical engineer by the name of Richard James was working on designing a system of springs that could support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard naval ships in rough seas. During the course of his research, James accidentally knocked a coiled spring off of a shelf in his lab at the William Cramp & Sons shipyards in Philadelphia. The spring went tumbling, landed on a pile of books, flipped over itself, and then proceeded to “walk” itself down the books, flop onto a table, onto the floor, and then coil itself back up into a neat stack.

James was so enamored by the antics of the spring that he went home and told his wife how he thought he could tweak the composition of the spring to consistently walk about in the fashion he had witnessed in the lab. He experimented with different steels and spring lengths over the next year, and the couple ultimately formed a small company to market the spring toy. James and Betty had a very difficult time selling the toy until November of 1945 when they were granted permission to set up a ramp in the toy section of Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia. When children were afforded the opportunity to play with the Slinkys, they proved to be irresistible. The first run of 400 Slinky units sold out in less than two hours.

The Slinky has remained a consistent seller over the years with over 300 million units sold since its introduction in 1945.





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