Give Your Website the Finger

We have been saying for quite some time that the shift toward mobile devices is absolutely revolutionary across all online channels. It is no less than a tectonic movement, and is one that is shaking up the internet. Earlier this year, the number of searches on mobile devices surpassed PCs for the first time. In a world where many businesses are still struggling to comprehend the importance of mobile use, 1.75 billion consumers worldwide used smartphones in 2014.

Mobile friendly website example

Example of search result on smartphone

As you read this, Google has fully implemented the  new “mobile-friendly” label as part of its mobile search results. To qualify for this label, the GoogleBot must detect the following criteria on your website:

  • Site avoids the use of software that is not common on mobile devices, i.e. Flash or Java
  • Site uses text that is readable without manually zooming in and out
  • Site sizes its content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll
  • Site places links far enough apart so that each may be tapped easily

In a nutshell, what does this mean to design for mobile?

How would you design your website if it ONLY would appear on mobile phones?

Google also recently announced a new feature for Google Webmaster Tools that tracks common usability issues on mobile devices. The tool alerts you to problems with the criteria listed above. Google would not introduce a tool like this without the implication that, in the near future, these elements will become part of Google’s ranking algorithm. You can test your site’s “friendliness” at Mobile-Friendly Test. The test even shows you an example of how your site looks on a smartphone.

mobile friendly smartphone view

Smartphone view

When developing a website to be seen on a mobile device, simplicity is crucial. The interface must  be clean, without extraneous text, graphics or video.  These types of add-ons will only serve to      slow down your load time.  Short and sweet content, the use of conventional mobile icons, images  that are optimized for responsiveness, all of these elements are going to make the user experience  far more positive on your mobile site. And don’t forget fat fingers! Those buttons need to  accommodate ALL finger sizes, not just those that are “piano fingers.”

Also, don’t forget that one of the best features of mobile devices is that a potential customer may  simply call you or get GPS directions to you directly from your website as they are viewing it. That  is IF they can find your phone number and address!  Placement, font size and color of your basic  information should always be taken into consideration for mobile use.

With all of this in mind, the time has come to consider implementing mobile responsive design at  the beginning of the creation process instead of going back later to enhance a site’s mobile-ability  Simply resizing a website to fit on a small screen or assuming that the customer will pinch or  zoom the view on their device is not enough to satisfy those who may never view your website any  other way.

Stop resisting. The future and the present IS mobile. Start your design with this in mind this and you will have a clean, simple and responsive site that looks great and is easy to use, no matter what size the screen, or finger. You’ll be glad that you did.

DIY: 3 Great Website Tools to Check the Speed and Health of Your Pages

With the dawn of the mobile revolution, it has become more critical than ever to have a website that is not only responsive by design for multiple devices, but also fast and mobile friendly.  Statistics show that in the hospitality world 30-40% of users are increasingly using mobile devices to research and book vacation rentals.  It is clear that Google rewards websites in both organic and paid search placements with higher rankings when a user does not use the back button after getting to a landing page.  While this is only one small factor in consideration, it makes a big difference from a usability standpoint when a customer is using a phone or tablet to open a website over a cellular network.  Gone are the days of testing page speed with your desktop computer as T1, T3, Cable, and Fiber connections are much more commonplace in urban areas.  So how can I really tell if my website will open fast for all my users?  How do I isolate the cause of those problems?

If I were you, I would not rely on just one tool to test my website.  Keep in mind, you will get varying results depending on server locations, bandwidth being used, time of day, etc.  So make sure to test a couple of times and get an average.  As well, in this example we will only test the homepage of a website.  I strongly encourage you to test new landing pages used for your AdWords campaigns as well as any that may have extra functionality, forms, widgets, or just a lot of pictures…All of these below are free tools!

1.  WEBSITE OPTIMIZATION For many years, I have referenced this tool as a starting point to get a quick glimpse of how the different objects on my webpage are being seen by crawlers.  http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/

The 2 main things I look at are:

dowload-times

page-analysis

Check out the red highlights in the analysis tool then ask your webmaster how they will address these items.

2. Pingdom Pingdom is great in many ways as you can sign up to get alerts when your website goes down via email or text message.  I use tools.pingdom.com to get even more in-depth with what objects are slowing my website down in addition to THE ORDER that they load.  Sometimes just having some objects load at the end allows a user to see the important stuff and gives time for the other secondary style sheets and .js calls to load.  You can drill down to see specifics, get a “performance grade” and it will also keep a history so you can see how well you have improved over time.

http://tools.pingdom.com/

performance-grade

 3.  Google Page Insights - Lastly, I will check Google’s Page insights to see what score they provide.  It is out if 100 and theoretically the higher the better.  The nice thing about Insights is that they break down all the links, server calls, and objects and let you know where your biggest opportunities are for optimizing for page speed.

https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/

google-pagespeed

Remember, most times you can tackle 2 or 3 biggies – usually image size, caching, and order in which objects load to make a dramatic difference in your website’s page speed time.  In the end, the effort is worth it because it will result in a lower bounce rate, higher rankings, and a better overall user experience.  Many have said for years…you only have 8 seconds to make that first impression!  Now go OPTIMIZE!

Where to Stick that Nav: Best Practices in Website Navigation

Confession: my colleague Julia and I are left-leaning web designers.

That’s not a political statement; it’s a best practice in design that acknowledges what scientific research has learned about how readers view your website.

fpattern

This hotspot map shows the F-shaped eye movement pattern. The color is generated by heat – where people looked longest, the color is hottest. The pink hot spots are concentrated in the top left-hand corner of the page. Image courtesy of usability.gov, a US government website devoted to internet usability research.

Eye tracking research has revealed that visitors scan your website in an F-shaped pattern like the one shown at right. That’s not surprising, considering that since the time of Gutenberg, publishers have laid out their text moving from top to bottom and left to right. (Nay, it was earlier! The monks who hand-transcribed English, Germanic and Romance language scripts during the Dark Ages were following this already-established cultural pattern.)

What is surprising is how fast readers’ eyes track through these patterns. The majority of people leave a web page after about 10-20 seconds. Given that people read about 250 words a minute, or four words a second, that means that you are going to be able to communicate only 40-80 words.

If you’re trying to make sales, they had better be good words, and they had better be in the right place. So what’s the right place? Eye-scan research by the Nielsen Norman Group found out that:

  • Web users spend 69% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 30% viewing the right half.
  • Only 1% of viewing time was spent on content to the right beyond the initially-visible 1,024 pixels on a standard monitor.

As designers for Blizzard Internet Marketing, we design with these findings mind. We use best practices such as those below to keep visitors on your website longer, communicate better, and ultimately, improve your website as a sales tool.

Best Practices for Locating Navigation

  • Locate your main navigation horizontally, near the top of the page.
  • Avoid horizontal scrolling. Keep the type big enough to read (at least 14 pixels high) and not more than 980 pixels wide.
  • If you need secondary navigation — or insist on having your main navigation in a vertical orientation — place it on the left side of the page.

Best Practices for Locating Content

  • Keep the main content near the left, indented from the main navigation.
  • Showcase your most important content between one-third and halfway across the page. This is where readers focus most.
  • Keep important content “above the fold” – high enough on the page so that people don’t have to scroll down to see it.
  • Have a clear center of attention. (If you try to make everything important, nothing will be.)
  • Place less important content to the right.
Telluride Rentals website by Blizzard Internet Marketing

Best practices of navigation and content are applied in Blizzard-designed websites such as the one shown above for Telluride Rentals. Although the website is “responsive” and resizes to fit huge monitors, as well as tablets and smart phones, the main navigation is about 980 pixels wide. The main navigation and secondary navigation form the F scan pattern, and the important quick search button is located on the viewer-preferred left side of the page.

 

Microsites for Vacation Rental Managers – A Warning

I regularly get asked by vacation rental managers about starting a second or third website to promote their business.  It seems they usually want to be told it is a good idea and that it will help them in Google.  Typically microsites are a dangerous distraction and should be approached carefully.

There are two reasons why a microsite may not be a good idea:

  1. Google  doesn’t want you to create multiple websites selling the same stuff.  Many of their algorithm changes over the last few years have been targeted and penalizing websites that are not unique and valuable.
  2. Most VRMs struggle to make their primary website perform at a high level.  Why spread yourself even thinner and create a second website?  Focus on making your primary website better optimized, more user friendly and more content rich!

What is a a Microsite in the Vacation Rental Manager’s World?  It could run the gamut of large to small, but here are the general ones I hear about: [Read more…]

Is Your Website Mobile Friendly?

If you haven’t noticed, people really like to use their cell phones.

Whether it’s emailing, video chatting, finding directions, or wording with friends, there are very few things that you can’t do on a cell phone and very few people who could live without it.  (Is there a support group for that? I should probably find one.)

As cell phones have become more advanced surfing online has become easier to do as well.  Consequently there has been large and steady increase in mobile users visiting websites.

In July and August, 2011, the average lodging website received 10% of its traffic via a mobile device, and during the same months in 2010 that was only 4%.

Here is a chart from BlizzardTracker showing this growth in mobile visitors over the past year:

During August, 2011, the average lodging website (based on 190 websites) received:

  • 4,759 visits from mobile users
  • Over 13,000 page views
  • A length of visit of nearly 4 minutes

Whether you do or not, people are searching on their phone for lodging options. If your site doesn’t work well on a mobile browser, visitors will get annoyed and go to your competitor’s site.

You don’t necessarily need a full functioning site, but you do need something to satisfy 10% of your traffic.

Have you checked your site lately? 

How well does it work in a mobile browser?

 

Best of Online Marketing from VRMA

This post began as a presentation given at two recent Vacation Rental Manager Association conferences.

The goal was to create a list of great online marketing examples to help other vacation rental managers plan their next great website or marketing effort.

So without further ado…

A  Showcase of our favorite Online Marketing examples by VRMA Members

Your Website matters, especially your booking engine.

We looked at 10 vacation rental websites and found that 73.4% of the guest’s website interaction happened  in the booking engine (measured by pageviews).

Certainly it is worth it for the average VR manager to pay close attention to the usability and overall effectiveness of their booking engine.

Next we used BlizzardTracker to determine that in March 2011, 68 vacation rental manager websites averaged a 36% bounce rate:

Of those websites, 29 were engaged in eCommerce with a .42% conversion rate on average.  In other words, they got 1 online booking for every 233 visitors to their website.

Anything you can do to get that bounce rate down and that conversion rate UP is good.

Here is a sample sales funnel where you can see, for this particular VRM, a .68% conversion rate, with the sales funnels starting at the property page.  (At bottom of the chart it shows a .63% funnel, but that is starting from the search results page, which was cropped from this image.) [Read more…]

Form Formalities – Are You Making Your Website Forms Too Complicated?

I’m a huge fan of Anne Holland’s “Which Test Won” blog, where you can vote on which version of an A/B Test performed better and was declared a winner.

Today’s offering was all about forms, and how to make them more profitable for your business: Which Test Won:  Required vs. All-Optional Form Fields – Which Version Got A 31% Lift In Lead Gen Form Submissions

Many of you have online booking capabilities, but require forms for contact us pages, or RFPs for meetings and events.  Sometimes, these forms get monstrous and look like job applications.  The general rule is – the more information you ask for, the less likely you are to have someone fill out the form.

[Read more…]