How to Target Your Audience through Web Design

By Jessica Ann
February 11, 2014

Your website is often the first way people recognize you or your brand. When it’s prototyped in the right way, you can actually save time with the right web design.

Visitors should be able to instantly identify that it’s you or your company. Your logo should appear on every page, and be prominent without being distracting (not always an easy feat). The key is to design something that’s recognizable yet unobtrusive. This often means more than just plastering your logo everywhere, or forcing every visitor to watch an elaborate introductory video.

Magazine Cutouts

It means targeting your audience through your web design in a simple, elegant way. Here are a few ideas:

Color

Color will set the tone for all aspects of your website, from the font to the background to the images. In other words, your brand colors are for more than just your logo. Your site should incorporate your company colors in graphics as well as in CSS elements like links, borders and secondary backgrounds. This is one of the many reasons why simplicity is important for web design. It requires consistency and subtlety. Light touches integrated into all of your site’s pages and sections will result in a cohesive style people will always recognize as yours – and yours alone.

The overall “feel” of your site should also correspond to your audience and what you are providing for them. A retail site with a corporate feel won’t be very inviting to would-be customers. And a bright, bubbly feel won’t be right for a corporate home page. In other words, if you’re selling flowers, your site should use bright and festive colors. But if you’re marketing consulting services, a more streamlined and muted look may be more appropriate. Don’t be afraid to find inspiration for your web design in unlikely places.

Typography and Fonts

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of any site is the typography. Most sites use the same default fonts that came with their original template. They’re usually bland and cookie-cutter. While the font you choose can make or break your site’s readability, it also adds or subtracts a great deal from the character of your site.

For example, a website designed to provide recipes may want to use a light, casual font that doesn’t make the text look like it’s from a corporate brochure. And just because you’re running a corporate home page doesn’t mean you should use something like Times New Roman or Arial. Slab serif fonts, which typically use horizontal lines at the end points, can lend a professional look to text as well as add a bit of unique style lacking on many web pages.

Spend serious time selecting the fonts you use on your site, and use them to differentiate between main content, sidebars, menus and other elements. But it’s also important to keep it simple, usually with no more than two or three fonts on any given site. Any more and you risk upsetting the cohesive look you’re trying to create.

Design a website that focuses on your audience and keeps your ultimate goal in mind. Don’t hesitate to talk to members of your audience as you reach milestones in your design process, especially if your goal is to create a community from your website. If you’ve selected colors and fonts, run them by some of your customers to see what they think. Ask your designer to make a mock-up or a demo site so that you can share and get feedback.

Targeting your audience through web design is a combination of being consistent in how you present yourself and placing yourself in the shoes of your audience. If you do this, you’ll be on your way to an effective and engaging website.

How Social Media Optimization Differs from SEO

By Jessica Ann
February 6, 2014

Social Media Optimization (SMO) is only one letter different from SEO (Search Engine Optimization) but it’s changing the way we think about SEO. Let’s start with understanding SEO first.

Search engine optimization is making websites as search-engine friendly as possible, both in terms of content and design. The goal of good SEO is to make your website appear higher in the search results for queries relevant to your industry. When it’s done right, it’s the difference between appearing on the first page and the second page of search results, and that can sometimes make the difference between a website that builds trust and a digital ghost town.

Website Marketing Concept Blackboard

But what is social media optimization, and how is it different from SEO?

While SEO focuses on relevance (which is still incredibly important), social media optimization focuses on the ease of sharing your content across a variety of social networking platforms, and its accessibility.

Shareability Tools

Strong websites and blogs usually include sharing widgets where their visitors can share content to their social media networks. AddThis is one tool (among many) that allows users to engage with your content more easily.

You’ll also want to make sure that your links are shareable. Use services like bitly or buffer which shortens links so that they’re more presentable. Another more expensive (yet worthy) link shortener service is Sprout Social. When used right you can actually use it to do less work. The other bonus to using link shortener services is that they have detailed analytics, so you can get data on how many people actually click your links. This helps to assess and evolve your social media strategy.

Whichever widget or link shortener service you choose, you’ll want to make it easy for your customers to share your articles. Craft solid, share-worthy headlines, and even give your readers the exact words that you’d like them to tweet. Services like click to tweet allow you to work “tweetables” directly into your articles. Tweet this: Breaking down your content into micro-content builds traction for your articles.

Social. Media.

Make sure you’re not only sharing your own content. Focus on the “social” part of social media. Social media should not be viewed as another media channel that advertises your business. Share other relevant content that’s related to your industry to be more social, less “media.”

Simplicity on Social Networks

Facebook and Twitter are the standard networks to include in your sharing platforms. And depending on your social media strategy (and where your customers are hanging out), you may also want to consider LinkedIn, Pinterest, and you don’t want to forget about Google+ (especially because of the importance of Google Authorship for SMO).

If you’re technically inclined or you have code-savvy colleagues or friends, markup tools such as Open Graph, Twitter Card tags and rich snippets are ways to make your content more robust. These tools control what headlines, descriptions, images and other components of your website look like when someone shares them on social networks. Incorporating these systems (while it can be complex and confusing to implement) creates simplicity within your web design, and facilitates the sharing of your content.

SMO-friendly markup is a great way to ensure the clarity and appeal of your content. This sort of control, and simplicity ensures your content is as presentable as possible when it gets shared.

While SEO focuses on getting your website seen in search, SMO integrates the various social media networks and sharing tools. Take it one step at a time, and go where your customers are hanging out. Everything is integrating at a rapid rate. But when you incorporate both SEO and SMO, you can evolve into a truly social business and reap the rewards.

The Top 5 Traits for Good Web Design

By Jessica Ann
February 3, 2014

Good web design is a combination of factors, all of which need equal attention if you’re going to build the best site for your business. Those include usability, visuals, clarity, trust and search engine optimization. If you pay careful attention to each of these traits as you design your website, you’ll find your end result is organized, visually engaging and genuinely useful to your visitors. And you might even save time with your web design in the long run.

Article10

Let’s break down the top 5 traits:

1. Usability

Usability is the measure of how easy it is for visitors to understand and accomplish what your site is intended to do for them. It means designing your blog with your visitors first and placing your own preferences in the backseat, at least to the extent they conflict with those of your visitors. Whether that means teaching your customers, converting them to customers, or having a responsive web design, usability is key to a successful design. It means planning your content, target audience and purpose, and designing with an eye toward making those three things work together as a cohesive whole. In many ways, a truly usable design is the cornerstone of a great website, and everything else in this list follows from that.

2. Visuals

Websites are a visual medium. Whether they’re built for communicating, reading, shopping or marketing purposes, websites rely on visuals to both delight and convey meaning. Illustrations and using the right photographs for your website provide visitors with an instant signal as to what your site is meant to do for them. Visuals can establish your brand, making your site instantly recognizable. They also allow your guest posts, social media accounts and other non-homepage presence to remain unified. In addition, good visuals are a stunning way to keep users on your site, whether by drawing attention to your mailing list, keeping users engaged with an article or drawing them to your “About” page where they can find out who the people are behind your business.

3. Clarity

A business website is always meant to convey information, convert new customers, or both. The only way to accomplish either one of those goals is with clear, consistent messaging. That means copywriting that leaves no room for ambiguity.

It also means bringing together the design and visual elements of your site so users always know where they are and how to get where they want to go next. The Internet is full of confusing and poorly designed sites that do little to point users in the right direction while they’re browsing. Clarity will keep people on your site and make them more likely to return.

4.Trust

You’ll want to create a website that builds trust. Trust, simply put, is everything. In a way, your website and all your social media efforts are aimed at one purpose: building well-placed trust in your brand in the hearts and minds of customers and prospects.

What does this mean in terms of design? Well, it means that everything does what it looks like it does. It means never sharing user information with third parties without disclosing it clearly somewhere users can’t miss. It also means making crystal clear what is an advertisement and what is not. The first time someone clicks a link thinking it goes to another page on your site and finds the link leads somewhere else? That’s the last time they’ll visit your website. While trust is perhaps the most intangible aspect of grey web design, ignoring it is a very big mistake. So you’ll want to think seriously about how to be up front and honest with your visitors.

5. Search Engine Optimized

This is probably the most behind-the-scenes trait of a solid web design. It involves using the right HTML tags for your page titles, headings and links. You should also implement Google Authorship to further assist in surfacing your content in search results.

Finally, one of the best ways to keep your site looking fresh to the search engines is to publish original content on a consistent basis. This is why it’s a good idea for any business to at least try a blog. Whether it’s focused on new products, new hires, or just general industry news, an active blog helps any business develop authority in its field and gives people a reason to link to your site, driving better search performer. That doesn’t mean 10 posts a day, but just a consistent and reasonably frequent schedule.

You probably noticed these traits all have some overlap. That’s because the best web design is a cohesive mixture of these characteristics. If you spend time building on each of them, your website will possess the top five traits of good web design. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Are Guest Authors On Your Blog A Good Idea?

By Jessica Ann
January 31, 2014

Allowing guest authors on your website has many benefits. It’s a win/win in the sense that it can help to create a community for your readers, while allowing the authors to create awareness of their business through their useful content. Allowing guest bloggers on your blog is also one way to boost your inbound traffic.

Welcome carpet

So then, why did the guardian of Google’s search results just declare the practice of guest blogging dead and buried?

Matt Cutts Article3 Matt Cutts is the head of web spam at Google, tasked with keeping “black hat” underhanded search engine optimization tactics from being effective. He also evangelizes best practices for those who want to appear in search results because they’re consistently producing original, valuable content relevant to those keywords. Recently, he wrote a post called The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO on his own blog. At least as far as Google’s SERPs go, Cutts has the final word, and he originally came across pretty straightforward about his verdict:

“I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.”

This could read like he’s killing guest blogging altogether. He’s not. And instead he gives us a hint about how we can maintain the practice of guest blogging without setting off link spam alarms inside the Googlesphere: trust your guest blogger. In other words, be sure the authenticity of your connection to the guest blogger is clear and unassailable. Would you introduce this person to your colleagues? Your customers? Your family?

If the answer is yes, you’re probably safe trading guest posts with that person. Cutts clarified even further, as published in this article by Search Engine Land:

“There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future.

Aaahh, clarity. The clarification continues on this issue, and it should comfort you. Unless you’re a super-automated spam-writing link-grabbing SEO bot from the darkest depths of he__. Well, you get it. Marketing Land added their own words of comfort to the mix, pointing out that this isn’t really a change for Google at all. The company still wants “to reward sites that have ‘earned’ links, rather than sites that have gained links without any real effort.”

So, are guest authors on your blog a good idea? Yes, as long as they’re people you know, at least in the we-talk-a-lot-on-Twitter-and-share-a-worldview sort of way.

The key questions to ask if you’re thinking about publishing a guest author on your site are:

Does this add value to my site?

Will my readers find this valuable?

Would I read the article if I came across it by accident?

If your answer is “yes” to these questions, it’s probably safe to publish the author’s guest post on your site. And it’ll be a bonus that you won’t have to look over your shoulder for Matt Cutts, and his spam-ignoring algorithms.

Why Usability is Important for Web Design

By Jessica Ann
January 29, 2014

Any new web design is an opportunity to start fresh. It’s the perfect time to re-evaluate your goals and what your site is truly supposed to do. Many businesses have an established brand, and those who don’t are keen to develop one so they’re instantly recognizable to clients and prospects alike. It may be easy then, in the rush to make your mark on the Internet, to rely on your own aesthetic judgment, inspiration and ideas for web design trends in 2014.

Usability concept in tag cloud

But web design should never be based primarily on the preferences of the designer or the business. Those can and should play an important role, but the true star of the show should be usability.

Usability is so important, in fact, that even the government has gotten in on the discussion. Over at Usability.gov you will find in-depth, research-based resources for learning and implementing usability on your site.

So, then, what the heck is “usability” in the world of web design?

Usability refers to the ease with which an intended visitor can learn what your site is about and make use of it for its intended purpose. It’s important because every website has a purpose, and a frustrated visitor is going to leave and probably isn’t going to come back. So the easier it is to discover your site’s purpose and use your site for that purpose, the happier your visitors.

Many of the tips and tricks you’ll find about usability in web design boil down to one very simple requirement:

Be Crystal Clear.

Simplicity is what you might call the “Golden Rule” of usability in web design. It means your users should have an enjoyable and productive experience, whether that means learning something, converting to a customer or just getting to know your brand. And, as it turns out, following that rule will also make your site prepared for success on a number of other fronts, as well.

For example, building a usable site forces you to decide the nature of your content, the focus of your topics and whom exactly you are hoping to reach with your site. These are all vital aspects of building a business and a website. But they are often overlooked in the rush to launch a site. Dedication to usability will keep you on the path to building the most effective website not only from a design perspective, but from a content development and target audience perspective, as well.

Also, sites designed with usability in mind employ headings, menus, topic-specific pages to get their message across to visitors. It just so happens that these things also help your site look more attractive to search engines. As search engines scour the web for original, engaging content, they keep an eye out for big-picture indicators like headings because they signal an organized, well thought out website.

In addition, designing with usability front and center also makes it easier to produce an accessible website. Accessibility is the measure of how easy it is for people with certain motor and sensory impairments to use your website. That includes keeping in mind visitors with vision impairments, those unable to use a mouse, and many other limitations on how someone can interact with a website.  The intersection of usability and accessibility is well-known and because the two topics are related, you can maximize your potential audience by referring to both concepts as you design your site.

So there you have it: usability is important for web design because users who have a great experience will convert, and help you build that ever-important brand.

What questions do you have about usability? Please comment below.

 

 

 

 

How to Save Time With Your Web Design

By Jessica Ann
January 6, 2014

Web design is a process. It has a beginning, middle and an end, and skipping a step or cutting a corner will always show in the finished product. At the same time, the digital world never stops, and we could all use a little more time. Your site is meant to bring you potential customers, or to service current clients, so the sooner it’s ready to publish, the better. It’s a question of efficiency: how can you build the best possible website without spending months and months preparing it for launch?

Article8

There are a myriad of techniques and tools for making your work more efficient and keeping track of what you’ve done, what you’re working on and what comes next. But there are definitely a few tips and tricks that stand out above the rest.

Brainstorming

While you’re in the beginning stages of the design process, you want to collect as much inspiration as you can find. One great way to do that brainstorming is to use an app like Evernote to collect examples of inspiration as you search the web. Evernote is free and lets you “clip” text and images, or even whole web pages. It’s a great way to collect the ideas you want to adapt for your own site, or articles on design (like this one!) you want to save for later reading or reference. It’s also very easy to share notes from Evernote, by clicking the little arrow at the top of a note to get a link. You can even share an entire notebook, allowing you to collaborate on your brainstorming if you’re part of a team.

Planning

There are more to-do lists and project tracking programs out there than anyone could ever possibly write about in one article, but designers, whether amateur or professional, have requirements many such tools simply can’t fill. However, there’s one that we find stands out above the rest in terms of organizing your workflow for extremely visual projects like designing your website. It’s called Trello.

Trello’s linear, image-friendly layout is a great way to track the progress of your web design project all in one place. Sure, it does to-do lists, but it also allows image cards, deadlines, team collaboration, commenting, and more. Unlike other task managers, it has great image integration, making it ideal for keep track of your web design efforts, and best of all, it’s free.

Mock-ups

Mock-ups are superficial examples of your design, similar to prototypes except mock-ups are the finished design you chose above all the others. They are very useful in comparing different sections of your site to ensure cohesion. You can also use them to decide what assets, like copy, code snippets and graphics you have and which ones you’ll have to build or hire out. Finally, mock-ups are a great way to collect feedback from users on layout, readability and other aspects of your site that become more and more important as you move forward in implementing your design of choice.

You can read a good overview of mock-up software choices, some of which are free, at Mashable. Whatever tool you choose, the best way to find problems or inconsistencies in your design is to produce a no-frills, low-effort mock-up, so get to it!

These tools are great ways to make your web design work more manageable, saving time without sacrificing organization or quality in your final product.

Top 10 Web Design Trends for 2014

By Jessica Ann
December 26, 2013

Every year brings new progress and ideas that fuel web design. Whether it’s learning from previous mistakes, borrowing best practices from other industries, or taking massive leaps of faith on new techniques, trends always emerge as the year draws to a close. This year was no different, so let’s take a look at the top ten web design trends as we head into 2014.

New Year Clock

1. Web apps

The concept of a “web app” used to be something only geeks really understood, and most people didn’t know or care what the word meant. But those days are gone. Google’s Chrome App Launcher is taking web apps mainstream by allowing developers to use web technologies to build “apps” that live on the internet but allow users to store information offline as well. This trend will likely continue to dominate into 2014 as web designers, app developers and UX principles from mobile phones, high-resolution displays like Apple’s retina-devices and high-speed processors allow for ever-richer web app experiences.

2. HTML5

Okay, at first this one may seem like cheating. After all, HTML5 provides much of the power behinds web apps. But the latest update to the 23-year-old (!) hypertext markup language, used to render basic text, images and links on the web, packs a punch. Its focus on consistency, predictability, ease of coding and the use of rich multimedia are a perfect fit for the modern web. Learn more about how to incorporate it into your web design at W3Schools.

3. Responsive design

It used to be you had to view the same version of a web page on all devices, from 27-inch Apple monitors to 4.5-inch dumbphone screens. Those days are long gone, tough. And while responsive design isn’t exactly new, it really came into its own in 2013. Many popular sites are moving toward it, and platforms like WordPress, Tumblr and Squarespace offer a ton of great responsive themes right out of the box. The proliferation of tablets and smartphones not just in the United States but throughout the world are making it all the more important to put together a web design that looks great everywhere, not only to give the reader the best possible experience, but to save you from having to design several versions of the same website.

4. BIG photos!

This one might not be as obvious as some of the others, but as internet connections get faster and more ubiquitous, and high-resolution screens like Apple’s retina displays find their way into more homes, finding the right high-quality photos for your website are what will make your website stand out from the competition. Take for example the new publishing platform Medium, by one of the Twitter co-founders. Medium encourages large images like this one (it also happens to be a great article on web design tools) to take advantage of the resolution and screen real estate available these days. Low-quality, smaller images will look even cheaper and less professional as 2014 gets rolling.

5. The infinitely scrolling webpage

This one is a testament to our increasingly content-hungry culture. Why make your visitors click “Next” for more blog posts when, like WordPress, Tumblr and other platforms, you can offer publishers a setting to auto-load the next set of posts when the reader gets to the bottom of the first batch? While this isn’t always the best design decision, it’s undoubtedly something we’ll see more in 2014.

6.  Single-page layouts

These clever layouts include content you’d typically find spread out across multiple pages on a large, sprawling site. But instead of slapping a bunch of links at the top of the page and making you click your way through the site looking for what you need, they lay everything out on the main page in an intuitive and informative stream of information. Design consultancy YOURSITE.sg is a great example of this, and they even include some engaging animations. Which brings us to…

7. CSS animations

CSS animations are a simple but powerful way to add some flare to a web page without having to resort to large Flash downloads or potentially processor-hogging Javascript implementations. They’re relatively easy to get started with and they can be used to produce some very impressive effects. Now that so many designers are comfortable with responsive design, CSS animations may get the opportunity to take cent stage in 2014 for those looking to add a bit of differentiation to their site without a lot of overhead.

8. Social media embeds

This one isn’t as obvious as the rest of the list, but everyone from Twitter to Facebook is experimenting or has already implemented ways for you to embed profiles, timelines or other bits of their main site onto web pages across the internet. Social media embeds will leave designers with a choice: support the embeds in your site or theme, or go your own way by rolling your own display solution for popular social networks. Many are phasing out RSS, making it increasingly difficult to display content from those sites without using their proprietary embeds. This is one to watch in 2014.

9. Infographics

Sites like Visua.ly have made the infographic into a powerhouse of web information display. While this may not be strictly web design since infographics are in some ways more like posters, easily-shared image-based visualizations of complex issues are a great way to control brand messaging and get some exposure all while showing off your design skills. It’s a win-win-win, just ask ChartGirl.

10. flat

Once the internet was full of bubbly, skeumorphic design concepts that mimicked real-world textures and objects. It was a strange place, where a website often looked like what it was about. No more! Every site linked to in this article (except that last one) will be a great example of the trend toward flat design. That trend embraces broader trends on mobile and the more common use of usability studies to determine the optimal user experience. The truth is that a website laid out like an actual desktop was never very efficient or enjoyable from a visitor’s perspective, and a flat design aesthetic places the emphasis firmly back on the content, whether that’s text, images or video.

There are undoubtedly other trends ahead in 2014, but these are the top ten web design concepts we expect you’ll see a whole lot of in the new year. 

How to Select the Right CMS

By Jessica Ann
December 20, 2013

The presentation of your website involves a smorgasbord of branding, content marketing, driving conversions and connecting with your audience. All of this is truly important, but it’s easy to lose sight of how the magic happens behind the curtain. After all, behind every great looking website is a content management system (CMS). Here are some tips on how to select the right CMS.

Server room in datacenter

Start at the bottom: What’s a server and why does it matter?

Before you even set up your CMS you’ll need to decide on a web host. Web hosts are companies where you can store your website. The most important thing about your web host is stability. Nothing is worse than building the perfect website, finding the right audience, and then getting emails that your site is down. There’s not much magic going on when that happens.

Companies like FatCow usually have several different levels of service, ranging from extremely affordable monthly subscriptions that allow you to store your site on a shared server with others at that subscription level to pricier, worth-every-penny dedicated servers where your site is the only one on that computer. And in case you’re wondering, a server is simply a computer that “serves” web pages to the Internet.

Shared hosting is very affordable while dedicated hosting can be more reliable and flexible because you have total control over how the server is set up. Whatever level you choose, a snappy web host will make your website load fast and that’s more important than it may seem.

The faster a website loads, the more comfortable users can get clicking around to see what you have to offer. On the other hand, a slow site will make your audience impatient and you may lose potential customers.

What makes a good content management system?

The most important thing about choosing a content management system is ease of use. That’s why so many beginners find themselves trying WordPress. The massive community of WordPress users has provided the developers with so much feedback that WordPress is extremely beginner-friendly. Menus are clear and organized, and the processes for building new web pages and publishing blog posts are very similar, reducing the learning curve even further.

Another important thing to consider when deciding on a content management system is community. WordPress, Blogger, and more all-purpose systems like Drupal and Joomla have communities varying sizes, full of users who have all faced the same issues and had the same questions you will have when you start.

Theme selection is also an important consideration. You don’t want to spend time and money building out a theme for your site. WordPress once again is a powerful contender in the theme arena because it has such a large amount of professional, artistic, and personal website templates you can easily customize with your logo and colors.

Most content management systems have some selection, so you’ll want to decide what kind of look before you start prototyping and exploring different content management systems. Finding inspiration for your web design always helps.

SimpleScripts installs your CMS for you

Many web hosts offer SimpleScripts, which can automate the installation, updating, and uninstallation of many content management systems like WordPress. Make sure whatever web host you choose provides SimpleScripts. The more you can automate, the better.

SimpleScripts lets you install your content management system but it also helps administer more than 50 other tools such as help centers, live chat, email, e-commerce and more.

FatCow, WordPress, and SimpleScripts do very different things, but they are all meant to allow you to focus on the content. Bookmark this article as a starting point and go find the perfect web host, content management system, and other SimpleScripts tools to enable your website’s success – and to allow the most magic to happen behind the curtain.

How to Find the Right Photos for Your Website

By Jessica Ann
December 18, 2013

Once upon a time, the Internet consisted only of simple web pages full of text and links. It was a sparse, largely colorless landscape meant to convey information in the smallest possible file sizes. You may or may not remember how slow Internet connections were. Dial-up, anyone?

But that was then, and this is now. Today, connections are often lightning-fast and web surfers demand a rich, colorful and responsive web design experience from the websites they visit. Mere text and links no longer suffice if you want to keep people coming back to your website. It can seem overwhelming if you’re a business owner just getting started. But if you strive for simplicity for your website, you’ll be more focused.

Photographer on the high mountain

I’m not a photographer. Where can I find quality photos?

There are many options for finding high quality photos to use on your site. There are two basic options for obtaining photos, and they’re similar to the options for everything else in life: free and paid.

Free: Creative Commons and public domain

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a licensing structure photographers can use to make their photos available on the Internet for certain uses. Some allow you to use their photos on your site in return for credit, others let you do anything you want with their photos as long as your use is noncommercial, and some require you to use the photo as-is, without any significant editing. Some sites with robust Creative Commons catalogs include:

Remember that each site and each photo have different licensing requirements. Flickr, Wikimedia and PhotoPin make it easy to figure out how you should credit the photos you use, so follow their directions and you’ll be fine.

Public Domain

Public domain photos are best defined as photos for which there are absolutely no licensing requirements or copyright burdens. They are the freest of all choices, both legally and financially, but they’re listed second here because, well, often you get what you pay for. It can be difficult to find the perfect photo for a blog post in a public domain collection. But here are some great sites to get you started:

Paid Stock Photo Providers

Some of you may have the budget for a paid service, and many times you’ll find a larger library with more choices in such services. Some popular paid stock photo providers are:

Photos bring your website to life

Wherever you decide to get your photos, you want to make sure you’re always using something relevant to what you’re writing or selling. Unrelated photos just for the sake of having photos will confuse and annoy your visitors. And worse, they don’t build trust with your customers.

Instead, focus on bright, in-focus images that related directly to your headlines, or at least to your first paragraph. You want people to look at the photo, look at the headline or opening paragraph, look back at the photo, and say “Ah yes, that makes sense.”

Photos are also an immediate indication that you’ve updated your site. When people come back and see a big new photo, it signals that you’re active and your site is somewhere they can expect to find fresh new content. This will help you stand out in a sea of competitors with bland, unchanging pages.

The importance of high quality images

People love to share images. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and other social sites are full of millions of photos and links to sites with beautiful images. If you want your site to be sharable, you need photos people want to share. This means bright, in-focus and relevant to your content and your audience. Think about it: when is the last time you saw a boring piece of clipart being shared on Pinterest?

You also want to avoid small, pixelated, low-quality images for purely aesthetic reasons. They make your site look cheap and possibly spammy. With so many free and affordable options out there, there’s no excuse to use a piece of clipart anymore.

Just as consistently updating your site with new content and images will make you stand out among competitors, using low quality images, no matter how frequently you update, will make you look like an amateur.

Higher quality means you can edit if necessary without degrading the image’s appearance. Sites like Pixlr.com are easy to use and can help you crop photos, so they span the width of your blog posts, for example, as well as do more advanced editing like color tweaks and filters. Higher quality means more data, and more data means you can do more without risking that professional look.

Relevant, high quality photos give your website a competitive advantage

There really isn’t much more to it than that: the Internet is a visual place. And it’s meant to be consumed with your eyes. Websites with nothing except tons of text will never be as immersive and engaging as sites that use images to help convey their message. Well, what are you waiting for? Go find the right photos for your website. 

How to Design Your Own Blog

By Jessica Ann
December 16, 2013

Now that you’ve read how to prototype your website, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the real work of building something. It can be daunting if you’ve never done it before, but it’s nothing to worry about. There are plenty of tools out there for newbie web designers, so let’s take a look at your options.

Concept of web design

Software choices

You have several choices at FatCow when it comes to the software you’ll use to build your site, so be sure to have a look at all of them and make an informed decision about which one fits your comfort and skill level.

Here’s a hint: if you open it up and whisper “what the…?” to yourself, try another one. The more comfortable you are with your tools, the more you can focus on what you’re here to do: build a delightful, useful website that will keep people coming back.

  • SiteDelux: SiteDelux is a simple, visual way to build your website and it saves a ton of time by letting you build your site with a “what you see is what you get” interface. There’s no code to learn, and no additional software to configure. Check out this quick introductory video to get a sense of what SiteDelux can do.
  • Microsoft FrontPage: If you haven’t used it in the past, there’s no need to start now. FatCow will let you upload sites designed in FrontPage, but the company encourages users to find something a bit…less old…for their first web development project.
  • Website Creator by CM4All: Website Creator, like SiteDelux, is a browser-based way to make your blog or website. Check out more details in our knowledge base or visit the CM4All website to learn more.
  • Text Editor / FTP: Geek alert! Just kidding. Well, not really. Geeks are great. It’s just that using a text editor to make your blog or website is as close to The Matrix as you’ll ever get without plugging your neck into a server in some dystopian wasteland. But seriously, if code is your thing, go for it! Writing your own code is the most flexible way to build a website. But because it also requires the most skills – and is time-intensive, it’s the road less traveled.

Clear my what?

Whatever software you decide to use, you’ll have to visit the Set Site Editor page to, well, set your site editor. It may not be the most creative title. But sometimes, the most obvious name is the best.

You also have to remember to clear your browser cache after every change you make. Otherwise you may not see the updates even though other people will. And you won’t be able to confirm everything is fine and dandy.

Don’t know what the heck “clear your browser cache” means? Don’t worry. It’s not an insult. Here’s a handy article explaining what it means and how to do it.

Content is King!

The web isn’t nearly as confusing as Game of Thrones: there is only one king, and that’s content. Your website had better look good and be easy to navigate. But the most important part of a blog is what you write. Your creative copy should be informative, engaging, and relevant to your audience. And don’t forget the importance of high-quality images. Here are some great places to find photos for your site. Just remember to give credit where it’s due:

Free, with credit:

Paid stock photos: