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Website Design and Development: Optimizing Your Firm’s Online Presence

Too often, companies see their websites as strictly another way for potential customers to access information about their firms. While this is important, it leaves out innumerable nuances that can ultimately mean the difference between landing a client and lamenting the one that got away.

Pre 21st century, the word “encyclopedia” could loosely be defined as follows, “A book, or set of books, that divulge a large array of information in the form of alphabetically arranged subjects.” Today, the term can be expressed more simply as, “What people used to find information before the advent of the Internet.” For your business, this means that the days of potential customers sifting through Yellow Pages or their local newspapers to find providers of desired products are over. The hard reality is that if your firm’s website fails to appear on the first page provided by an Internet search engine, such as Google or Bing, you will lose out on a tremendous number of customers. Fortunately, there are a plethora of things that even the most technically inept can accomplish that will help their firm’s website rise to the top and, once there, display information in a way that will put their firm in a position to succeed, and stay there.

A Millennial by happenstance, I am obligated to know all there is when it comes to optimal website design and development and increasing online presence, as well as all other things technology. More earnestly, as somebody who has led the renovation of their firm’s website from the analysis of the old website’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, through the design phase, all the way to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) review and the website’s relaunch, I feel my suggestions can truly help your firm navigate through today’s online medium.

Website Design and Development

Like with any other form of general communication, determining your target audience is the first step to take when designing, renovating, or adding content to a website. Largely, this will consist of your existing clientele, potential customers, and future employees. For example, if you run a law firm, the overall aura of your website should be professional, strong, and timeless, as those looking for your services want a lawyer that has experience, acts professionally, and will ultimately win on their behalf. When a user browses through your firm’s website, it should be as if they are being taken on a tour of your corporate headquarters. This is likely the first time the user will have an interaction with your firm, and you want to be sure to leave a positive first impression.

When it comes to websites, this first impression is more important than the popular idiom might indicate. A wealth of statistics show that if a website fails to properly load within a couple of seconds, the majority of people will exit the page. The following are several steps that can be taken to simplify your site and increase its speed:

  • Use multimedia in moderation: While images, videos, and other moving parts can be powerful marketing tools, too many can hinder your site’s loading speed. The same can be said for images and videos with large file sizes.
  • Utilize plugins, but be aware of their implications: Plugins are add-ons that increase the functionality of websites. However, too many can be a detriment to site speed.
  • Implement a caching tool (cache plugin): When somebody accesses a website that has a caching tool, data will automatically be saved for when that user returns
  • Reduce HTTP requests: HTTP requests consist of anything that the browser and server must communicate to one another in order to load a site. This includes things like images, scripts, videos, etc.

Though the above suggestions will help to decrease your website’s loading time, it is equally important to note that developing the ideal tradeoff between your site’s interactivity and speed is something that will take time to determine. Once your site is live, be sure to run regular performance tests in order to continually improve this ratio. There are a variety of free tools online to accomplish this.

To establish a practical navigational layout, there is a simple question that can be asked to help you and your design team properly structure your firm’s website. First, think of the person, or people, you know whom have the most difficulty when it comes to using computers (in my case, my parents). Could they use this? If the answer is “no”, then work to simplify the overall structure and navigational properties of your website. Browsing through the websites of those in your industry, or related industries, can help with this. Looking at the websites of your direct competitors can also be useful, as they will almost always have strengths and weaknesses that differ from your own site’s.

Lastly, your website should be configured in a way that is mobile friendly. Studies have consistently shown that a large portion of website views come from mobile devices, regardless of industry. This means that your firm’s website should be able to load quickly and display information cleanly on a mobile device.

Search Engine Optimization Standards (SEOs)

As your development team incorporates increased functionality into your firm’s website, as well as additional content, a top concern should be hitting on what are called Search Engine Optimization Standards (SEOs). The significance of SEOs cannot be exaggerated, as they are how many users will find your firm’s website. As alluded to in the opening, the ability of your firm’s website to match up with SEOs put in place by Internet search engines will determine your website’s page ranking when users search for specific terms. For example, if I type “legal assistance” into Google, SEOs will decide if your law firm’s website appears on the first or fifth page. There are many ways to go about improving your website’s SEOs, but it is important to note that these standards change from time to time. Despite this, there are several criterion that will likely remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

Before we get started on improving the SEOs of your firm’s website, it is first important to understand how search engines analyze your website. The way search engines gather data is by using “spiders” or “crawlers”. Essentially, a search engine will “crawl” through the various pages on your website using accessible links in order to gather an assortment of information. This includes through the main pages and from sub-page to sub-page where available. That being said, primary navigation that makes sense, as well as a variety of internal links back and forth between pages, is beneficial for users and improving SEOs. Additionally, broken links should be searched for and eliminated, as this will cause frustration for users, and could potentially hurt your SEOs.

Utilizing keywords and popular search terms throughout your firm’s website is typically one of the most important factors in developing a sound strategy for your SEOs. The first step in this regard is to perform an analysis to see which terms are used most often in your industry as a whole, by the current iteration of your own website, and by the websites of your direct competitors. Changing headers, sub-headers, and content on your website to match these terms is highly recommended, but this is only the beginning. Terms with a high ranking should also be placed within URLs of specific Web pages. This will help users and crawlers know what the page in question is about. In addition, they should be embedded within the ALT tags of images, as crawlers are unable to “see” images if there is no information attached to it on the back end. The titles that appear in search engine results, and the meta-descriptions that appear beneath them, should contain valuable, but relevant, terms as well, and they should remain concise. The overall logic behind SEOs is to reward websites for making sense to the general user and to display pertinent material based upon what is searched for.

Overall Online Presence

A common misperception about generating a wide online presence is that it can be achieved by simply creating social media accounts. On the contrary, creating accounts is not a be-all and end-all. While utilizing specific types of social media based upon your firm’s target market is a wise move, there is much more to it if your intention is to grow your online presence. Various social media accounts should be used to drive a variety of traffic to your website, as different social media websites attract difference users. Additionally, like your website itself, these accounts must be active in order for them to be beneficial. Used correctly, your firm will be in a better position to grow its overall online presence. As a bonus, linking these accounts to and from your website is positive in terms of SEOs.

Other ways in which firms increase their online presence is by posting jobs on job boards, publishing articles in industry magazines, and taking other proactive measures to simply remain “in the news.” In the end, the best way to increase your overall online presence, regardless of the forum, is to remain active.

Going Forward

Going forward, your firm must remain proactive. This is true in regard to all aspects of online resource utilization. In order to capitalize on your website work, an analytics tool (such as Google Analytics) should be used to see how many people are accessing your site, where they are looking, and how long they are staying, among other metrics. This is the only way to see, in real time, if your marketing campaigns are effective, your SEOs are optimized, your social media efforts are worthwhile, etc.

The importance of a strategic website in today’s digital age cannot be overstated. If your firm follows these tips, you will be in a better position to not only grow your online presence, but your consumer base as well.

*This article was originally published by Forefront Magazine in their 2016 Q3 issue.

Quote of the Week

“If the human mind can understand the universe, it means the human mind is fundamentally of the same order as the divine mind. If the human mind is of the same order as the divine mind, then everything that appeared rational to God as he constructed the universe, it’s “geometry,” can also be made to appear rational to the human understanding, and so if we search and think hard enough, we can find a rational explanation and underpinning for everything. This is the fundamental proposition of science.”

Author of The Case for Mars and Founder of The Mars Society

– Dr. Robert Zubrin

Freedom Isn’t Free

240 years ago, a small gathering of men came together to declare the birth of a new nation. It was to be a nation where all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This weekend, let us remember the sacrifices of those men, and the thousands more whom died to secure our independence. Our victory then was not guaranteed, just as a secure future for us is not. We live in an age where the current administration refuses to acknowledge that we are at war, one presumptive nominee for a major political party is being investigated by the FBI for criminal wrongdoing, and the other manages to sneak back into the news cycle by spouting continual nonsense.

George Washington claimed that America’s victory in the Revolutionary War was little short of a standing miracle. We as a people cannot sit idly by and let that miracle go to waste.

Freedom isn’t free.

SpaceX set for Falcon 9 dual satellite launch | NASASpaceFlight.com

SpaceX will launch its sixth mission of the year Wednesday, with a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a pair of communications satellites – Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS-2A.

(You can view the webcast here)

Source: SpaceX set for Falcon 9 dual satellite launch | NASASpaceFlight.com

To view the mission press kit, which includes the mission overview, information about the payload, the mission timeline, information about the launch facility, and other resources, click here.

Hubble’s Latest Discovery

The Hubble Space Telescope has contributed yet again to our understanding of the cosmos. This most recent find, as described by the study’s leader and Nobel Laureate Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, “…may be an important clue to understanding those mysterious parts of the universe that make up 95% of everything and don’t emit light, such as dark energy, dark matter, and dark radiation.” The results will appear in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The discovery reduces the current uncertainty of the Universe’s expansion rate to 2.4%. The team achieved this by studying galaxies with both Cepheid stars and Type Ia supernovae. Without getting into too much detail, the team measured about 2,400 Cepheid stars in 19 galaxies and compared the observed brightness of both types of stars. This allowed them to accurately measure their true brightness and calculate distances to roughly 300 Type Ia supernovae in far-flung galaxies. The team then compared these distances with the expansion of space as measured by the stretching of light from receding galaxies. They used these two values to calculate how fast the universe expands with time (AKA The Hubble Constant). Yes, I lied when I said, “Without getting into too much detail”.

Artist's illustration of the three steps to the new Hubble constant

Continuing with getting into too much detail, the enhanced Hubble Constant value is 45.5 miles per second per megaparsec (Or 73.2 kilometers per second per megaparsec). A megaparsec is 3.26 million light-years. One parsec is 3.26 light-years, but this is not to be confused with Han Solo parsecs. The improved value means that the distance between cosmic objects will double in another 9.8 billion years. This is about the same time frame for when the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series (You can’t believe everything you see in movies).

Back to the purpose of this post, the find is unexpected because it does not corroborate with predictions based off of the trajectory seen shortly after the Big Bang. The excess speed could be caused by dark energy pushing galaxies away from one another with greater, or growing, strength. Another possibility is that the early universe contained a new subatomic particle that traveled near the speed of light. These kinds of particles are known as “dark radiation” and include particles such as neutrinos. More energy from additional dark radiation could be the culprit throwing off our best efforts to predict the Universe’s current expansion rate based off of its post-Big Bang trajectory. The increased acceleration could also mean that dark matter possesses unexpected characteristics. Finally, it may simply be that there is more to the theory of gravity that we have yet to piece together.

The team’s current goal is to bring the uncertainty of the Hubble Constant to 1% or less. In the meantime, let’s sit back and enjoy some classic Hubble photos:

“The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons.” – Edwin Powell Hubble

St. Louis

Hi St. Louis,

This is my first attempt at a travel entry, so bear with me here. This week, I’ll be staying in St. Louis, MO, home of the Gateway to the West, Cardinals’ baseball, Thugs’ hockey (The Blues), and the Ra…maybe I shouldn’t go there. For full disclosure, I’ve been here before, but never for more than a day at a time. Additionally, I am a Cardinals fan, but also a Blackhawks fan. This will be an interesting week. Nevertheless, after looking up things to do, the second item I saw was Pokemon: Symphonic Revolutions (Essentially, the St. Louis Symphony will be dedicating a night to Pokemon’s greatest hits; check out their awesome logo here), and I knew then that this place couldn’t be that bad. Without further ado, what follows will be a day by day record of notable and not so notable activities that I manage to take part in away from work (Let’s be honest here, it will likely be more of the latter).

St. Louis
The View from My Hotel Window – St. Louis, MO

Day 1:

Perhaps it would be best to run through this quickly…I landed at around 2:00pm, took an Uber to my hotel (Sheraton Clayton Plaza Hotel), investigated the hotel’s gym/pool, called a local gym for information, typed this, ironed my clothes, and prepared for work on Monday. For dinner, I went the way of the basic white girl and had Chipotle. After that, I sniffed out a gym for the morning, foraged for a grocery store for the following day’s breakfast, and hummed Dixie all the while.

Day 2:

On this day, I rose at the magical time of 5:00am and headed to the gym. It was an interesting journey, as I met all sorts of mystical St. Louis wildlife in the morning’s rain, such as this thing (I’ll call it a baritelephant for “baritone-elephant”):

St. Louis Sculpture
A Baritelephant Riding a Tricycle

Fortunately, the beast was petrified in my presence, and I escaped. I’m still not quite sure if the whole experience was a dream or not…oh well. After my majestic trek, I pushed things for a while before seeking out the grocery store mentioned prior. Not knowing when the next time I would have the opportunity to eat would be, I ate the equivalent of what would typically feed a small family. I then worked until dinner time, ate at my hotel, did what I could to make my day sound entertaining, and prepared for my 9:00pm bed time.

Day 3:

On Tuesday, I woke up a little bit later and “worked out” in the hotel’s “gym”. Let’s just say that I probably would have had a better workout if I were to drink a couple of bottles of water before bed. Nonetheless, I continued my day with breakfast at the hotel, which was pretty good, and another walk through the rain to work. It was here that I made a discovery. Evidently, the St. Louis Arch was properly dedicated to the United States’ westward expansion. As someone who is luckily well traveled, I can state with confidence that everything in the west is pretty thoroughly spread out. It turns out that even individual cities in the west are spread out.

St. Louis Distance
The View from My “St. Louis” Office

Overall, it was a good day, as things began to make sense. The creatures I saw on Monday, such as the baritelephant, must naturally inhabit the forest between parts of St. Louis. After work, I had a light dinner, wrote this week’s science article, over-told a bad joke in this entry, and headed to bed.


The remainder of this post will be cut short, as I was bogged down with work for a while and neglected updating my week. I’ll tell some bad jokes, show some pictures, and wrap things up.

Day 4:

Wednesday marked the first day that I saw the sun since landing on Sunday. Things were going well, and I lifted at the Center of Clayton once more. ‘Tis a part of a high school in the area. The sculpture below is in front of the entrance to their fitness facilities.

St. Louis
St. Louisans Really Enjoy their Horn Sculptures

Day 5:

I’ll keep Thursday brief because, let’s be honest, Thursday’s only purpose is to get us to Friday. I did not take any pictures on Thursday, but here is another sculpture near the high school mentioned above. Your guess is as good as mine in regard to what it might be…A lightsail? A homage to lily pads?! Either way, I looked at it, took a picture, and moved on.

St. Louis Art
St. Louis Art

Day 6:

As I conclude, it is important to note that I am actually typing this on Memorial Day. I came across a World War I monument while in St. Louis, and I thought it would be proper to share it here. It reads:

In Memoriam

In grateful memory of those who paid the supreme sacrifice while in military service during the World War of 1917-1918

(Lists the names of who I presume are St. Louisan soldiers that died in WWI)

Women who died in the service of their country

(Lists the names of several women who died in the war)

They gave the last full measure of devotion

St. Louis WWI

 

On this Memorial Day, let us remember all whom died in the defense of the freedom of those in the United States and around the world. Thank you.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” — John F. Kennedy

New Characteristics of Light

A team of researchers from Trinity College Dublin have discovered light acting in a new way. It involves the angular moment of light, which is defined (Literature professors, please look away now) by Google/Wikipedia as, “A vector quantity that expresses the amount of dynamical rotation present in the electromagnetic field of the light. Indeed, a beam of light, while traveling approximately in a straight line, can also be rotating (or ‘spinning’, or ‘twisting’) around its own axis.” Or you can simply look at this cool picture and move on:

Read more here

To understand the significance of the new find, one must understand Planck’s Constant, and no, we’re not talking about this plank (Let’s assume he’s reading along with us). Planck’s Constant is “a constant that gives the unvarying ratio of energy of a quantum of radiation to its frequency” and that has an approximate value of 6.626070040(81) x 10-34 J•s. To simplify…h.

Until now, it has been thought that light’s angular momentum could only equal a whole-numbered multiple of Planck’s Constant. However, this new finding suggests that it is possible for photons to have half-integer values of angular momentum (I say “suggests” and not “shows” because I have not seen any duplicate studies performed by other parties to verify the results since the time of this writing on May 18, 2016).

Nevertheless, it is new findings such as this that are what propel our understanding of the universe forward, and help us develop a future to look forward to. Truly, we should all give thanks to the researchers that dedicate their lives to advancing human knowledge. To close, I would like to quote Sir Issac Newton:

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”