Improving User Experience (UX) Through Accessibility

Improving User Experience (UX) Through Accessibility

Note: We’re marketers — not lawyers. If you have specific questions concerning ADA compliance and how to avoid legal issues therein, please consult a licensed legal expert.

When it comes to user experience (UX), we tend to think of the things that are immediately noticeable upon visiting a site.

Can I easily find what I’m looking for? How long does the site take to load? Can I navigate through pages on my phone?

But a crucial aspect of UX design involves things that many visitors won’t ever see: accessibility features.

For people living with disabilities that might affect how they navigate the web, these accessibility features are critical to their own user experience, and websites must take into account ways to accommodate their time on site.

And it’s not just best practices to do so — you could end up in legal trouble if you don’t. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed in the early days of the internet, but the courts have set a clear precedent in the last decade that shows just how liable website owners can be if they fail to make their site accessible.

So how can you make sure your site remains a good experience for everyone who visits it? We’ve put together a beginner’s list to website accessibility, which should help you get started towards improving access for every visitor.

1. Unplug Your Mouse

A truly accessible website should be navigable without the use of your mouse. Try unplugging or disabling yours to see if you can get around using the “tab” keys on your keyboard. Not only does this give you a good idea of how well laid out your site flow is, but it also allows you to experience the site from a device-independent mindset.

Cutting a computer mouse cord website accessibility

You could just, like, un-plug it, dude.

Use your “Tab” key to bounce from link to link (use Shift + Tab to navigate backwards) and see how easily you can access the main portions of your site. If you find yourself getting stuck at a particular point or unable to click on a specific portion of the site, make a note to fix that. 

2. Disable “Styles”

We know you’ve probably put a lot of work into making your site look pretty, but when it comes to accessibility, the more important concern is how navigable your site is. To figure that out, you’ll need to disable the CSS stylings that turn your black-and-white code into vivid colors and images. 

If you’re using Google Chrome, here’s how to do that:

  1. Download a web developer Chrome extension
  2. Open the extension, open the CSS options and disable “All Styles”

Now you’ll see your site laid out in all its glorious basic-ness. From here, you can investigate whether there’s a coherent flow to your sitemap and pages. If you’re able to logically follow from one section to another without the aid of images or animations, that means it will be more accessible and navigable overall.

3. Use a Screen Reader

This is another chance to walk a mile in someone else’s proverbial shoes, navigating the web the way someone with limited or no sight might. Your computer should come stocked with a screen reading option under your Accessibility settings, but a quick Google search should help you find alternatives if not.

Much like with disabling styles, a screen reader provides a very basic understanding of what your sitemap feels like without the benefit of visuals. If you find yourself having difficulty finding what you need without the use of visual explainers, you might consider finding ways to bolster the copy on your site. 

For instance, if you’re not already using alt-text on images (which you should be doing from an SEO perspective), a screen reader will highlight the gaps in your site where descriptive text can be given to images.

4. Evaluate Your Color & Font Choices

If your website was designed by a professional web developer, there is less chance that you’ll run into issues with color contrast and font sizes. But if you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person and put together your site internally, you’ll want to take a closer look at the decisions you made 

For example, certain color choices that might look great when paired on furniture or home stylings simply make it more difficult to read text on a screen. Though not all your color choices have to pass this contrast litmus test, anything you’re using for fonts should. If anyone with average vision has difficulty in parsing some words, imagine how it might look to the more visually-impaired.

Some examples of how color choice affects readability.

Additionally, it’s a good rule of thumb to stick to fonts no smaller than 14pt. That way, no one has to squint or increase their browser size to read your handy work. That has become increasingly important for mobile responsiveness, as well, where fonts will naturally look smaller on a phone than when viewed on a desktop.

While these are just a few recommendations to get you started, it’s important for any brand to undergo a serious evaluation of Accessibility on your site. Not only will it ensure a smooth, enjoyable user experience no matter who is visiting, it can help keep you ahead of costly legal troubles, too.

The 5 Pillars of a Successful Digital Ecosystem

The 5 Pillars of a Successful Digital Ecosystem

The breakneck growth of digital technology over the past two decades has forever changed the marketing and advertising world. And while many traditional tactics like out-of-home advertising and print publications still have a viable place for many clients, there’s no denying that very few brands can get away without having a stable digital presence.

So let’s take a look at the 4 key pillars of what we’re calling your “digital ecosystem.” These individual elements are often treated as related yet separate tactics, occasionally overlapping but often being thought of as distinct from one another. We believe that they must be taken holistically to be truly successful, and we’ll tell you why.

1. Your Website

This is ground zero for all your digital activity. Without a robust website, there is almost no justification for investment in other digital tactics (email, social media, etc.). That’s because you need to have an owned-and-operated platform from which to do things like sell products, convey key brand messages and collect information from interested customers. You can do many of those things on social media platforms or third party e-Commerce websites, but you will always be “renting” those distribution channels from other companies.

2. Content

Outside of the baseline information that makes up your website, you’ll want to invest in an ongoing content strategy as part of any digital efforts. This is particularly important for any B2B efforts, as without a physical consumer product to sell, content will be one of the ways you “sell” your brand and position yourself as a trustworthy, instructive partner for your customer. Content can run the gamut from as simple as a weekly blog post on industry news to in-depth instructional videos and tutorials. Some pieces of content will be easier and more affordable to produce regularly, while others you’ll want to plan for as part of a bigger strategy. Content will also help improve your SEO rankings, by populating your website with content that features your target keywords.

3. Email Campaigns

One of the oldest forms of digital communication has had a love-hate relationship with marketers over the years. With the rise of spam and less sophisticated marketing campaigns, it fell out of favor, but as social media is now being scrutinized more closely than ever, marketers are falling in love with email again. For starters, email campaigns still allow for direct, personalized communication with your audience. And unlike social media — which can also allow for those kinds of relationships — you will always “own” your email list.

4. Social Media

To use the parlance of the largest social media platform on the planet, our relationship status with this marketing tactic is “Complicated.” What was once dismissed as a passing fad has grown into a cultural phenomenon. It went from widely derided to widely adopted — and we’re starting to come full circle again. But that doesn’t mean social media shouldn’t still be a part of your digital ecosystem. In fact, the platforms themselves remain as powerful as ever, you just have to reorient how you’re thinking about them.

5. PPC: Pay-Per-Click Advertising

The final puzzle piece in your digital ecosystem is PPC advertising. As the paid complement to SEO, this tactic primarily revolves around Google Ads. Here’s how you’ll work to be the first result when someone searches for keywords or phrases related to your brand. Depending on how specific or broad your services or products are, this will be a very obtainable goal or one you’ll have to work very hard at.

So How Does This All Work?

Think of these five pillars as a kind of virtuous cycle. Each tactic feeds the other, working in harmony to help you meet your goals. For example, you can have a Facebook campaign that drives new visitors to your website, where you then offer them a free eBook download, who you later target on Google Ads with a more hands-on piece of content. Or, you can use an email campaign to drive webinar signups, and then send reminder Facebook ads to everyone who converted on your website. Whatever you do, make sure you take your campaign into consideration holistically, not just tactically.

In the process of writing this blog post, we realized we had a lot more to say about building a successful “digital ecosystem.” Stay tuned for a forthcoming Quick Look white paper that features more details, tips and insights. If you want to learn more in the meantime, simply give us a shout below.

Case Study: The New Madison Brand Audit & Website Redesign

Case Study: The New Madison Brand Audit & Website Redesign

Background

Core Realty Holdings is a full-service real estate investment and advisory company based in Newport Beach, CA. They are a national brand, with properties in 5 states, including 4 properties in the Greensboro area of North Carolina.

We were approached by CRH to assist them in both a brand audit and creative refresh of one particular property, The New Madison at Adams Farm. We began by taking a deep look into their existing brand standing, including the advantages and challenges they had, before we engaged our Creative team to help with any aesthetic updates.

 

The Challenge

Our first task was to understand where The New Madison sat in the crowded landscape of Greensboro’s apartment rental scene. Without getting a feel for both how current tenants viewed the property as well as how its competitors were positioning themselves, we’d be unequipped to make meaningful creative recommendations.

As such, we engaged in an extensive research project, speaking with current residents, management and staff, as well as tenants who had recently left the property. We also conducted “secret shopper” interviews at 3 other competitor properties to gain a sense of what their positioning was and how they stacked up to our client.

We sought to emphasize the green, natural beauty of The New Madison.

Through that research, we found that The Madison was indeed in need of a digital refresher, as the new amenities and upgrades to the property were not adequately conveyed on their website or social media platforms. We also learned just how important customer service plays a role in the success of a property/tenant relationship, and realized how helping the team revamp their social media presence would play a role in that process.

We also spent that time figuring out how to talk about The Madison in a way that was both engaging, enticing and true to the spirit of the property. Words like “secluded,” “peaceful” and “green” came up a lot in our conversations, so those kinds of feelings and descriptions formed the basis of our recommended messaging.

New amenities like their Dog Park would need to be shown in a fun, relatable way.

 

The Execution

Once we finished our brand audit and presented the results to our client, we began to work together to establish what items should be handled in what order. The first item on the agenda, clearly, would be to redevelop their digital presence — particularly in light of all the new and forthcoming amenities and upgrades we learned about during our brand audit.

This meant investing heavily in great visuals for The New Madison. We assembled a group of local talent and spent several days photographing and shooting high-quality video assets that would help tell the story of what life at the property was like. Once we completed those shoots, we began the work of figuring out what their new website would look like.

 

Any brand with a digital presence knows how important it is to keep their look and feel updated periodically. However, those brands also understand just how time-consuming and expensive that process can be. By taking advantage of a website and marketing platform built specifically for use in the real estate industry, The New Madison’s website could be easily managed without the burden of a full-scale developer.

However, while that management platform makes it easy to perform updates, it also makes it easy for sites to become generic or similar in look and feel. This is where our Creative team came in and found a way to work within the confines of the platform, choosing an updated, modern template that put our new photo and video assets front-and-center.

 

The New Madison’s homepage

Whereas the older website conveyed all the necessary information, it did not convey the story we wanted to tell. The new website would utilize the messaging developed during the brand audit to convey what life for potential tenants would be like and distinguish it from local competitors.

We also applied the same messaging and creative assets to The New Madison’s Facebook and Instagram channels, making sure that any online research of the property would ensure the same experience no matter where the property was discovered.

 

Showing off some of The New Madison’s amenities.

The result is a much more modern, inviting look into the property. The green and earth tones of the property are emphasized in the design, and the use of people in the photos—versus just architectural photos—help prospective tenants visualize themselves in the property.

 

 

3 Easy SEO Tactics You Can Implement Today

3 Easy SEO Tactics You Can Implement Today

There is a lot about SEO that will always remain a mystery. Even for the most advanced SEO experts, a portion of what makes search engines tick will always be an educated guess. That’s because search engines like Google will never reveal the exact minutiae of how their algorithms work. But have no fear: there is still a lot you can do to improve your site’s overall SEO game. In fact, there are three easy SEO tactics you could implement right now.

1. Always Use Alt Text

If you know one thing about SEO, it’s probably that keywords within your website help search engine “spiders” find and index your pages for others to discover. And while this is true, your site’s copy isn’t the only way to sprinkle those choice keywords throughout.

For every image on your website, there is a piece of code known as the “alt text.” This code helps a browser or email client describe what image is being shown should it fail to load. For example, the alt text for the image below might be “responsive mobile web design layout.”

responsive mobile web design layout

But the alt text is also quite useful if you’re working to attract hunters of specific keywords to your website. Say, for example, you’re a full-service marketing agency always on the lookout for its next great client. If your site features images with those keywords as alt text, it could help a potential client locate your site. It can be a lengthy process if you’ve got a particularly deep website. But if not, you could more than likely knock out all your alt text in an afternoon.

2. Don’t Forget Your Metadata

When building out new pages or posts on your website, it’s crucial that you provide search engines with the right information to display your content properly. Without that “metadata,” your site pages may end up looking incorrect or unprofessional in search results. Without getting too far into the weeds, you typically need coding ability to set those parameters, depending on your website’s CMS. If you’re using a site built on WordPress, for example, there are a number of plugins that help you set metadata quite easily.

We recommend looking into Yoast, which is one of the most highly-rated SEO plugins. It allows you to customize your post titles, meta descriptions and featured images. It also allows you to plug in the keyword(s) you’re basing your posts on and will actually “score” you on how well you’re optimizing for those terms.

QUICK TIP: Yoast’s “Premium” features help you customize how your posts look when they’re shared on Facebook and Twitter. These platforms provide a useful way of building site traffic (and, thus, credibility) for your website—so it’s important your content looks its best.

3. Secure Your Site

Have you ever wondered about the difference between a website starting with “https” versus “http”? That “s” stands for secure, which means the website has what’s referred to as an SSL Certificate. In addition to that little extra character on a web address, you can also tell whether a website is secure or not through a small lock icon in the top left of your browser bar.

ssl connection secure website

For a long time, websites tended to only purchase an SSL certificate when they offered e-commerce or other transactions involving sensitive material like passwords or payment information. But in recent years, Google has begun prioritizing websites that offer secure browsing experiences over those that do not. Consequently, if your site does not have an SSL certificate, you could be getting penalized on the search results page.

Many common web hosts (like GoDaddy, for example) offer a managed SSL Certificate service, meaning you don’t have to get into the nitty gritty of all that goes into implementing that change. If you want to manage that transition on your own, more power to you — but whatever options you’ve got through your hosting company might be worth any added costs.

Note that you might not need to prioritize this step if your other marketing efforts already have you placing favorably in organic search results. We know just how important it is to prioritize your time and tactics, so keep that in mind when thinking about undergoing this change.

So there you have it: 3 easy SEO tactics you could implement today. Once completed, these three mini projects will help strengthen your structural SEO and begin to improve your organic search results. But remember: SEO is a long game, so you won’t notice an immediate bump. But as you continue to refine your site and add more keyword-targeted content, you’ll no doubt notice a long-term overall trend towards higher results on search results pages.

3 Ways to Improve Your Website Navigation

3 Ways to Improve Your Website Navigation

How many clicks before you give up on a website where it’s hard to find what you’re looking for? The goal of any website is to provide information to current and prospective customers, but if they can’t find it on your website, they’ll go elsewhere. So how can you help deliver the info they need with minimal, intuitive effort? Here are three tips to improve your website navigation.

1. User Experience Comes First

First, think about what your customers might need from your website—don’t ignore their needs in favor of new customers only. Are there one or two quick links (like a login or product guide) you can pin to the top or bottom of your site that will help them jump straight to what they’re looking for? Make note of these early on in your site development plan and don’t forget them.

Next, consider the journey of a new or prospective customer. When they land on your site, they need to be able to find their next stop easily, regardless of where they came from.

If they’re just casually your site, they might scroll through your homepage without any set agenda. This is an opportunity to communicate solutions to the problems these prospective customers may have.

Quick tip: Keep bounce rates low and time-on-website pages high for improved SEO ranking.

It’s also an opportunity to highlight some of your best solutions you want new or returning customers to know about without making them to dig through all of your product pages to find them.

“Sticky” navigation (nav) bars that follow you down the page are a great way to make sure your menu is there the moment a visitor decides to explore your site further.

If your new customer is on a mission for a particular product, however, your menus need to be easy to navigate, otherwise you risk page abandonment. If you only offer a few products or services (like a medical office), you want to make sure your navigation has clearly labeled navigation links like Medical Staff and How to Prepare for Your Visit. But if you offer dozens or hundreds of products, you might consider the “mega menu”:

The “mega menu” allows you to see every category and what’s contained in it at once.

2. Pursue Best Practices, Not Trendy Tactics

The newest, hottest thing might be an exciting idea, but it may not be right for your customers yet. Take the great “hamburger” menu debate of the 2010s: the little three bar icon caused much controversy in the web design world for hiding all of the navigation behind a button that didn’t really communicate what it was for.

However, many sites used it anyway for two main reasons: it was the easiest way to deal with the emerging world of mobile website navigation (more below) and people started seeing it “everywhere.” So it must be the current best practice, right?

Ah, the much-debated “hamburger” menu.

By now, it’s been around long enough that most users will recognize it right away. But how much traffic was lost in the meantime? It’s easy to get pulled in to the new and exciting trends because “everyone” is doing it. But with every new emerging trend you must ask yourself: Is it right for your customers and your brand?

The savviest brands will find a way to adopt but adapt, like including the word “menu” near the hamburger menu. Or like embracing Google’s love of deep, content-filled websites with a deep-scroll design that also incorporates a sticky nav menu or “back to top” button. With these tweaks, you’re staying at the forefront of design trends without sacrificing the user experience.

3. Mobile Navigation is Key

As we’ve been hinting, the last tip is likely the most important: consider your mobile design first. 2017 saw mobile devices account for 63% of all web traffic—a number that is sure to only get larger every year. This changing landscape practically demands that websites plan for their mobile experience at least at the same time as their desktop experience (if not first and foremost).

Quick tip: “TL;DR” is internet language for “Too long; didn’t read.” Readers will often look for content summaries or highlights so they can skim at their own pace.

One important distinction between mobile and desktop design is that mobile users will be navigating with their fingers and not a mouse. Your site buttons will need to be easily clickable but difficult to click by accident. Clicking the wrong link can be frustrating, and it might even cause visitors to abandon your site. Make sure your links are not in graphic buttons, but rather text that resizes within a colored shape.

As far as the mobile navigation structure is concerned, you’ll do well to pare things down to just your key pages. Then simply make sure you have links within pages to related content, as well as a robust search function on your site.

Nowadays, most websites should be designed from a mobile perspective first—not reconfigured later.

Sites with smaller page counts don’t need to worry about this strategy as much, but if you have a deep site, it’ll need to be well indexed for internal and external search engines.

Quick Tip: If you have a few related pages, consider consolidating them and adding a table of contents so visitors can jump to the section they’re interested in (think Wikipedia).

 

TL;DR

  • Keep your navigation as clear and simple as possible, especially for mobile.
  • Know your customers and how tech-savvy they are.
  • Keep up-to-date on what search engines (Google) are looking for.
  • Take the time to map out your site pages and then group and consolidate them.
  • If you structure your site well from the beginning, then you’ll only have to “re-skin” the design elements when it starts to look old—not rebuild it.
5 Landing Page Best Practices to Maximize Conversions

5 Landing Page Best Practices to Maximize Conversions

The key to any successful digital ad campaign is a thoughtful, tailored landing page. Without it, all the energy and ad dollars spent on attracting customers to your ad and enticing them to click is wasted. It’s like setting out mousetraps without any cheese: how can you expect to capture that mouse without a delicious offer? (Ed: For the record, we don’t think of our clients like mice in a trap). Unless you’re going for simple brand awareness, you need to have a way to convert those ad impressions and clicks into leads. A great landing page is the crucial home stretch of that process, so let’s dig into 5 best practices that will keep your landing pages humming.

1. Use a Clear, Concise, Action-Oriented Headline

Like a great subject line, your landing page’s headline gives a visitor a quick, compelling overview of the subject matter at hand. In just a few words, your headline should set up expectations with clear, concise, action-oriented language. This is not the time for coy, clever wording. You need to spell out why your visitor can benefit from the offer on your landing page in no uncertain terms.

Headlines like “Crush Your Competition with Our Social Conquesting Guide” make it clear how someone could benefit from filling out your form. Taking a less direct tact with something like “Would you like to be more competitive in your industry?” might work on an initial ad, but it’s too vague and open-ended for a landing page.

2. Use Numbers, Bullets and Bold Text to Emphasize Key Points

The window a marketer has to close the deal from ad impression to new lead is very short. The last thing you want to do is slow down a visitor’s comprehension of your services with lengthy paragraphs and dense text.

Using numbered lists, bullet points and bold text allows you to highlight the meat of your offer without it getting bogged down in details. Not only do they allow for quick understanding, but they also visually help break up your page and train a visitor’s eye to the most important info.

3. Remove Your Website’s Standard Site Navigation

The key here is focus! You don’t want someone becoming distracted by your blog or product pages: you need them to stay on the landing page and fill out that form. So, it’s common for the best landing pages to remove all trace of the larger site navigation entirely, making it so that there’s no way to navigate away from the form to other parts of your site. It also keeps those potential leads focused on what they came to your landing page for in the first place!

Again, your goal here is to convey value propositions quickly and effectively in a way that gets your visitor to take the action you desire—not spend time browsing your website. By taking away the ability to navigate to other areas of your website, you keep the focus where it needs to be.

4. Your Form Length Should Mirror Your Offer

When it comes to the length of your contact form, you need to consider what you’re giving away in exchange for that information.

If you’re giving away a 20+ page eBook that provides invaluable information in a visually engaging layout for a potential customer, it makes sense that you’d ask for additional information like Industry, Company Size, Role/Position, Buying Behavior, etc. But if you’re simply looking to add more email addresses to your contact list, it’s best to keep things nice and simple.

Ideally, your team would create landing pages for every stage of the marketing funnel. You don’t want brand-new prospects to reach the same landing pages that a hot lead would see: both are in different stages of the buyer’s journey and therefore would likely have different levels of information they’re willing to give you.

Also consider how many chances you have to lose someone once they reach your landing page. You don’t want to miss out on a great lead because your form took 5 minutes to fill out!

5. Get Visual with Illustrative Images & Video

Remember point number 2? People’s attention spans these days are lightning-short. An eye-catching visual or engaging video can keep people trained on your offer, whereas a straight-text page will likely end up feeling like a chore to read.

Whether you’re pulling design from the eBook you’re offering or adding context to your offer with an illustrative image, breaking up your landing page with visual elements can help create a more immersive, engaging experience.

Curious to learn more? Dive into the world of Pay-Per-Click campaigns—where landing pages play an integral role—with our Quick Look series!

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