Category Archives: Websites

8 Key Features for Websites in the Education Sector

college website

One of the most challenging types of websites to design and deploy are those of education institutions.

Students, prospective students, faculty, administrators, graduates, and alumni all have specific needs. And unlike websites of other big organizations, these user groups have few overlapping needs.

education website

Which is why so many educational websites feel behind the curve.

Fortunately, there are plenty of best practices out there to help bring these hulking websites firmly into 2017. Here are our top 8.

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6 Key Features for a Professional Association Website

man on tablet

Your professional association’s website is the centrepiece of your customer communication. First impressions will be based on it. Having one that reflects your brand in a refined and designed way is an absolute must.

Here are six features to implement in order to get the most from your digital dollars.

 

1. Mobile optimized

BILD Mobile

In 2015, around 36% of traffic to websites came from mobile devices.

Since then, that number has increased to 46%.

Some other staggering mobile statistics are:

  • 80% of users own a smartphone (Smart Insights)
  • 61% of people are unlikely to return to your site if you have a bad mobile experience (McKinsey & Co)
  • Conversion rates on smartphones are up 64% compared to desktop conversion rates (socPub)

The conclusion is clear – a good mobile experience is no longer optional.

Fortunately, just as the demand for high quality mobile experiences has increased, so too has the technology to provide them.

Companies can now choose from responsive web design for maximum flexibility and minimum fuss, native mobile apps for the best possible experience, or mobile sites for content specific to customers on the go.

 

2. Clear, simple navigation

RCDSO navigation

Professional association websites are usually chock full of information, so navigation is a key issue. Generally, simple options are better for main menus, with sub-menus where necessary for additional information.

As with navigation for other websites, make button labels consistent with:

  • Audience expectations (for example, ‘news’, ‘tools’, ‘events and more’)
  • Each other – consistent menus and page layouts confirm audience expectations
  • Other websites – users have become accosted to a way that websites work. The more you comply with existing norms, the better your website will be.

It’s also a good idea to include quick links for your most requested web services, either on the home page or available no matter where visitors are on your site.

 

3. Powerful SEO

SEO

There’s no point in having an amazing website if no one can find it.

Simple SEO practices like using target keywords for posts and ensuring you have readable, friendly URLs will help you make yourself easy to find for your target audience. Even if your users are motivated to get to your specific website, most will probably type the organization name into Google to get there.

You need to make sure that you’re at the top of page one.

 

4. Strong call to action (CTA)

RCDSO website on tablet

For any website, even professional associations, driving users to specific actions is critical to a great experience.

You need to make it clear what you want users to do and easy for them to do it.

It’s a good idea to include an audience funnel on your homepage as well. This will prevent visitors from getting lost and makes them more likely to stay around.

 

5. Images and video

Chicago Fund iMac

Humans are fundamentally visual creatures. We can process information in a picture of video at a phenomenal speed compared to reading. What’s more, video and images are increasingly popular mediums – and ones that you should be considering as part of your core messaging strategy.

 

6. Use a content management tool (CMS)

CMS

We tend to focus on what visitors see when we talk about websites.

But the back end of your site is just as important.

The most active professional associations are always releasing new content:

  • It reinforces their leadership position within the industry
  • Drives organizational value and encourages user sign up

A CMS makes the processes around content production and organization easy. You can create and publish content to your digital properties quickly and efficiency, without needing to contact webmasters every time you write a blog post.

 

When it comes to web design and functionality, we could go on forever. But we won’t. Use the features above as a starting point for creating an exciting, dynamic web presence that your visitors and association members will love and new prospects can’t wait to check out.

5 Things to Make Users Love Your Website

mobile website

Providing a robust, designed user experience is hard. It’s an iterative process requiring lots of tweaking and detailing, testing and retesting to continually improve.

And while not every company has the time/resources to pour into it, these five guidelines can help improve virtually any website.

 

1. Get rid of drop-down menus

drop down menu

Holding a mouse over menus that keep disappearing is a surefire way to drive your users crazy.

Just stop doing it.

What’s more, the Nielsen Norman Group recommends using them sparingly because “Drop-down menus are often more trouble than they are worth.”

Here’s why:

  • They hide information and make discovering your site harder.
  • They take up too much screen space when expanded.
  • There are other alternatives that work better (e.g. endless scroll on mobile).
  • Hovering over menu after menu only to lose the whole structure at the end is outrageously frustrating.

Of course, these can’t always be avoided. In some cases, large websites are are simply too complex for drop-down menus to be avoided, and can even warrant a ‘mega menu’.

But if you can, make your users happy, and use drop down only sparingly.

 

2. Refine your design

Luum Textiles

Image source: Luum Textiles

Almost every single website has one or two design elements that don’t add much, but the designer/developer/approval committee/stakeholders absolutely loved. A big part of making a great site is paring back elements that don’t add much at all, so the ones that do can really shine.

A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t explain why something is on a page, then it shouldn’t be included on that page.

For example, imagine you’re designing a features page, and you want an icon at the top because it looks nice.

While it might look nice, that’s not a specific function (unless, of course, your target audience doesn’t know what features are but understands intricate iconography. Then, by all means.)

Which means it should be cut.

This sort of ruthless element assassination keeps your site lean, fast, and easy to understand – no fluff, no nonsense.

 

3. Hone your copy to add value

copywriting

If you really want to get your users to love your website, you need to refine what you say so they’re getting the most bang for their time.

Remember: your users are people. And as a rule, people don’t have a lot of spare time. They’re busy with all sorts of other things. That’s why if you look at a graph of load time vs visitor retention, there’s a huge drop off after three seconds – people will move on to something else.

Which means your copy needs to convey exactly why they should give you the time of day, right at the very start.

Take, for example, the headline for Trello, a project management tool:

Trello headline

Trello lets you work more collaboratively and get more done.

Instantly, they tell the user:

  • What they do
  • How they do it
  • What the benefit is

All your website copy should aim to be as focused, concise, and as user-orientated as Trello’s headline.

 

4. Give content away for free

moveable online resources

The value of a blog is well documented. But that’s not the only content stream you have available to you to reach your users and give them what they what.

Value-add or protected content, where you get your users to give up something (usually contact information) to access it, is usually seen as a marketing trick.

And one that users tolerate, but don’t love.

The key to getting your users to love your site is to create content (even protected content) that’s so useful they’re lining up to get it. 

For example, if you produce an amazing, long, and detailed guide to solving a precise and technical problem, your users will be so grateful they’ll love your site forever, regardless of the fact they’re on your email list now.

 

5. Make your processes easy

Finally, the best possible thing you can do for your users is make your processes easy.

It’s as simple as that.

Whether it’s an onboarding process, an inbound sales process, or finding contact information so they can give you a call, make it easy for your users.

That’s what unites incredible user experiences and sets them apart from mediocre ones: they’re easy.

For example, if you have some value-add content, focus on what you’re asking for in exchange. How much value does it really add to ask who people work for? If it doesn’t offer much for your purposes, that’s a field you can get rid of.

This sort of micro-optimization will make your overall site easier to use, and thus, your users happier overall.

 

Conclusion

You don’t have to be Apple, or have a team of UX/UI designers on staff, to make your users love your site.

Just be refining, streamlining, and optimizing and testing over time, you can build a website that is simple, elegant, and great at what it does.

If you do that, your users are sure to love it. Guaranteed.

Have you got a thorny website that your users just can’t seem to get behind? Get in touch! We might be able to help.

The Best 6 Tools for New Website Owners

new website tools

Are you a the owner of a new website, and not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered.

Here are the best (mostly free) tools for you to get your site off on the right foot.

 

1. Who.is

who.is

Every new website owner knows the pain of trying to get the domain that they want. It can be frustrating to enter option after option into your hosting provider’s search bar but having all of your preferred domains rejected because someone else owns it.

With Whois.net, you can save yourself a lot of that pain. It lets you know immediately if a domain is available and, more importantly, who owns it if it’s not. You might not want to shell out for the perfect .com domain, but with Whois, at least it’s an option.

 

2. Screaming Frog SEO

screaming frog

One of the biggest challenges for new website owners is getting your site ranked and found in organic search.

Screaming Frog SEO can help. Their free tool, SEO Spider, gives you incredible insight into any website (including your own). Essentially, it lets you see what Google’s web crawlers see, which lets you identify your SEO weaknesses and iterate on your strengths to propel yourself to the top of the Google rankings.

 

3. Google AdWords

keyword planner

Even if you’re not running any PPC campaigns, you can still reap major benefits from using AdWords as a prospecting tool.

With plenty of campaign explorer and design tools, it’s a great way to get a snapshot of what people are searching for around your business, which keywords have the most competition, and where there might be opportunity for you.

If you’re launching a new site, you’re unlikely to rank for competitive keywords. But by looking at high volume, low cost keywords in AdWords, you can find holes in the market to fill.

 

4. Google Trends

Another free tool from Google, Trends lets you look at search volume changes over time and compare different terms. For more established companies and websites, it’s a good way to identify how people are engaging with your brand.

But for new website owners, there are two core functions.

1. Identifying new opportunities

Using Google trends, you can look for search terms and ideas and how their search volume has changed over time. This gives you amazing insight into what trends on the up and up and what’s declining.

For example, if we look at search volumes of responsive design over five years:

responsive design google trend

You can see that there was a peak and now there’s declining interest.

But when we look at the search term native app, we see the opposite trend:

native app google trend

So we can deduce that in recent years, people have become much more interested in mobile apps than in responsive design, so that’s what we should be talking about.

This sort of research can help you narrow your website content strategy early so you’re always talking about rising trends, not falling one.

2. Finding related topics/keyword ideas

Using the related terms function, you can get ideas for where your customers’ heads are at. Running searches on key competitors, ideas, keywords, and industry-specific trending topics will give you lots of insight into what connections and being made. Then, you can tailor your website to exploit them.

 

5. Stripe

stripe

If you’re running an ecommerce website, choosing how you’re going to accept payments is one of the biggest decisions you’re going to make. A lot goes into it, like user experience, your own experience, what metrics you can generate, functionality, and of course, cost.

And one that should be on your shortlist? Stripe.

With an awesome interface and super easy implementation, you can start accepting payments right away. And with a focus on design and user flows, you can drive more profit from your site with less drop off and abandonment.

 

6. Asana

asana

Finally, as a new website owner you’re going to quickly run into the problem of lots to do and no time to do it.

Asana is a free project management tool that can help you keep a handle on your towering workstack. And as you realize you’re not equipped to do everything you need to, it’s easy to add freelancers and keep everyone on the website project on the same page.

Turning your fledging website or ecommerce store into the next unicorn might not be easy (or, frankly, very realistic). But with these six tools, the path towards runaway success is a whole lot easier to trod down.

Have you got a favourite website tool that we missed? Let us know in the comments!

7 Best Features For Financial Websites

CBA

Financial institutions (“FI”) are not often early adopters of technology.

However, they are quick followers. And with digital transformation the latest trend hitting FIs, there’s plenty to be excited about going forward.

As consumers continue to demand better digital experiences from their banks, we’re seeing serious investment to improve the customer experience.

Here are 7 major trends and features we can expected to see firmly take hold of FIs in the next few years.

 

1. Improved security

security documents

More transactions are going digital. Mortgages, savings, retirement, pensions – there are even banks that are completely digital now.

This was inconceivable even 10 years ago.

The flipside, however, is that security is even more important for the simple reason banks have more to protect. Protecting against both intrusion (SQL injection) and interruption (DDoS attack) requires protection at both the server and application level.

And since 2016, there’s been a spotlight on institutional security at a consumer and regulatory level.

FIs will need to keep their websites and their institutions protected using new technologies like blockchain to garner and keep consumer trust.

 

2. Chatbot customer service

financial chatbot

Robotics and automation have both come a long way in the last few years, and FIs are not immune. Early adopters have started strategic partnerships with incubators and startups to automate customer service functionality.

This makes a lot of sense for banks.

While finances are complicated, most customer support is going to be the same questions. Unlike other industries which might change the situation creating the customer confusion, FIs are often restricted by regulation and their own legacy systems from doing so, creating a clear niche for chatbots.

 

3. Mobile apps

cibc mobile app

Most major banks now have mobile apps. We can expect to see a continued investment in this web tool for banks in the form of:

  • Expanded in-app functionality
  • Improved app experiences
  • Greater personalization

But it’s not just banks. Fintech services now offer financial services like budgeting, investment, stocks, retirement plans, and savings through apps. Digital-only banks are increasingly common, and app-based banks are not far away.

The takeaway is that the financial industry is increasingly one that can existing entirely within an app infrastructure, and increasingly, that’s the preferred mechanism for user engagement.

 

4. Digital first Digital only

wealth simple

As we’ve mentioned, digital first has come and gone for banks. And other FIs are soon following. For some perspective on this, the fintech industry was worth a reported $20 billion in 2015, up 66% from the previous year.

The message is clear: digital and money go together like bagels and cream cheese.

So what’s next?

Digital only.

mobile banking

via Tangerine

Already, products and services are cutting their costs by moving more and more things to the digital side. But increasingly, companies are opting for digital only. Apps are the most popular example of this, but there are plenty of robust product offerings like Alliant, a credit union without any physical branches, or Tangerine, Scotiabank’s newly acquired digital-only bank aimed at millennials.

 

5. Consumer tools

TD Self serve

via TD

The evolution of consumer tools hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been driven for a few years now by two key factors:

  1. Consumer desire for self service
  2. Consumer impatience with jargon-filled, technical forms.

Combined, these have created dozens of digital tools to help consumers better understand what they’re buying (or borrowing), where their money goes, and when bills are due.

Even if it’s just a starting point, they give users a chance to inform themselves before they talk to an expert.

Automated processes are being deployed to supplement expert advice. More of the buying cycle for something like a mortgage is being handled by consumers and computers than by consumers and experts.

With that in mind, tools are no longer simple conversion mechanisms.

Instead, they’re doing real work to help consumers through the buying cycle.

As this trend persists, we can expect to see big integrations with complex data structures and these tools becoming smarter, more accurate, and a more integral part of the buying process.

Over time, we’ll see the consumer/expert relationship take up less and less time as tools like this work better and better.

 

6. Gamification of services

acorns

via Acorns

 

Games and fun are not really the first things that leap to mind when you think about financial services.

But FIs are starting to use these techniques to drive customer engagement. Acorns, for example, is an app that automatically rounds off your transactions to the nearest dollar and saves that money for you. There’s plenty of classic gamification techniques like goal setting present throughout the app to drive positive user behavior.

save time mint

via Mint

And Acorns is hardly alone.

Apps like Mint and plenty of banks have begun to build in savings rewards programs, progress trackers, and even push notifications to their apps to gamify saving for the future.

 

7. Less information per page

banking questions

via CBA

Finally, one web trend that we can expect to see transfer over to FIs in a big way is putting less information on every page.

Currently, financial services websites are dense with information, relying on ageing navigation and search principles to help users find their way.

But the real solution is to simply streamline the content itself.

We can expect fewer navigation menus and less content per page to encourage a positive mobile experience and keep users laser focused on what they need. And as apps and other digital journey tools continue to be developed, FIs will simply need less content to serve their customer – something their groaning information architecture is sure to be thankful for.

Do you see another major design or development innovation in banking and technology that you think is on the horizon? Let us know in the comments below!

7 Key Features for Healthcare Websites in 2017

digital healthcare

The complexity, regulatory restrictions, conservative nature of the healthcare industry, and a truly staggering diversity in needs and capabilities of organizations and patients has made healthcare slow to undergo digital transformation.

Yet these very same challenges make healthcare one of the industries that can benefit the most from digital processes.

And nowhere is this more relevant than websites.

Below are seven key features for making sure a healthcare website stays healthy in 2017.

 

1. User Experience is critical to a healthy website

holland bloorview website cross device

It’s easy to forget that most patients are only patients a tiny fraction of the time.

The rest of the time they’re just people – and they use apps like Facebook, websites like Amazon, book Ubers and get food delivered from their smartphone.

These companies have spent years curating great user experiences.  Whether we like it or not, that’s the standard we’re all held to.

That’s why a positive UX is so important for healthcare institutions: at this point, it’s expected from all of our digital touch-points. And people are unwilling to compromise on UX. They’ll either avoid using the service at all, or take their business elsewhere.

 

2. Make your website mobile friendly

Holland Bloorview mobile site

This can be wrapped up under user experience, but it’s so important it’s worth calling out.

Four in five Americans have a smartphone now. If anything, that ratio is even higher in Canada.

While laptops and desktops might be used to make complex purchases, an increasing number of user journeys are starting on a phone or tablet.

Essentially, the mobile device is the new gatekeeper. If you want your patients, potential patients, and staff to use your website, it must be easy to use on the smallest screen available.

Fortunately, with responsive designs and content management systems that automatically render beautifully on mobile devices, providing a good mobile experience without increasing IT workload isn’t difficult.

 

3. Create a wide range of content for patients and other healthcare end users

mylan health coach

The wave of self-service that has swept through other industries is hitting healthcare. We live in an increasingly patient-centric world, where self-service and patient involvement is a key component to the overall healthcare system.

And your website is the sharp edge of this transformation.

That’s why creating content specifically for patients is critical:

  • There’s already demand for it. People want to learn more about their healthcare from a reputable source they trust
  • The more informed the consumer, the lower the overall cost of healthcare. With burgeoning expenses, cost reductions that don’t cut care are essential

Second, your website is for healthcare professionals as well. Whether you have a separate portal, a subdomain, or just a separate section, you need to be creating and providing content for them as well.

 

4. Personalize your website experience

Personalization is the standard in website marketing now. Amazon, for example, highlights items you’ve previously looked at and items you might like on their homepage.

An example of personalization from Amazon

These types of recommendations could translate well for healthcare websites, provided it complies with HIPAA and PIPEDA, and the patient opts in to it. Particularly for organizations that have patients log into a customer portal, that sort of customization is something to be considered.

For example, imagine you ran a small practice with a customer portal. A patient who is trying to quit smoking logs in to make a regular appointment. That could be an opportunity to serve them content about smoking cessation from within your system.

Using data to drive behavior change is old news. But personalizing to the individual level is one of the best ways to connect with patients online.

 

5. Systems integration

healthcare systems integration

Healthcare systems are notoriously complex. Part of this is a requirement – it’s a highly specific system and a highly specific use-case. Plus, there are multiple security, privacy, and ethical concerns over data sharing and transparency.

Regardless, the benefit of having data all in one place are too good to pass up.

Not only would this make back-end systems smoother, faster, and cheaper to run, but it would facilitate developments like:

  • Process automation
  • More accurate resource allocation
  • Better diagnoses
  • Faster patient processing

With costs a constant discussion and the healthcare field increasingly populated with disparate organizations, any website design or redesign needs to consider how it’s going to talk to legacy systems.

 

6. Avoid designing by committee

holland bloorview desktop

Whatever their size, hospitals are run by committees. Between the board of directors, shareholders, benefactors and community engagement managers, trying to appease every agenda and mission can result in a bad website experience.

The solution is to design by community, not committee.

Focus on your current and future patients and their families first and foremost.

Let the patient narratives lead the way to create a more authentic user experience – user retention and satisfaction will follow.

 

7. Develop secure communication channels

healthcare secure communication

Private enterprises, particularly service providers, have moved beyond simple phone support to include other channels like ticketing systems, live chat, chatbots, and social media-powered help.

Healthcare providers will need to do the same.

Whether it’s a secure system routed through a third party like Twitter or Messenger or it’s a custom-built solution, customers are going to be confused on your site – it’s inevitable.

But, if you can provide timely support in a channel the customer wants (which, incidentally, is a lot cheaper per contact), you can make huge improvements to overall patient satisfaction.

Executing the Teknion Site

executing the site

This post is part of a series covering how we helped our client, Teknion, transform its web presence into customer-centric digital experience.

*In an earlier article in this series*, we discussed how we planned the Teknion site build, starting with broad requirements gathering and finishing with a firm list of objectives and deliverables *(you can read more about it here)*.

The final step in completing the Teknion transformation was to actually execute the transformation.

Here’s how we built Teknion’s new site:

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The Best Online Annual Reports of 2016

The annual report is both a tradition and, for many public companies and institutions, a legal requirement. But with the shift to online annual reports, they’ve also become incredible sources of creativity.

We have a longstanding history helping clients bring their annual reports online, and every year, we take a minute to appreciate some of the best of the best for digital annual reports.

So sit back and relax while we bring you the top 5 annual reports from 2016.

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Planning the Teknion Transition

planning concept

We’re big proponents of thorough project planning. Not only does sound planning save time and money, but it’s essential for a positive project outcome.

When we worked with the Teknion team on their organization’s digital transformation, we spent time understanding their challenges, breaking those broad challenges into specific problems, and then planning how to solve them.

Here’s what that process looked like from the beginning.

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