Category Archives: Websites

How a CMS Can Help Your Business Be More Effective

cms statistics

There are a plenty of advantages to using a CMS to run your website. A better experience, easier process to upload content, you may get access to a wide range of plugins and features – these are the things people usually mention.

But there’s a broader benefit of using a CMS for your website – it will help your business become much more effective.

Here are our top four reasons how.

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5 Free Tools Every Content Manager Should Bookmark

hand with laptop in cafe

This article is part of a series on tips, tricks, and tools to help businesses better manage their content online and get the most from their content marketing strategies. Click here to view other articles on CMS Tips


In this article, we’re going to look at five tools that will help you publish better content faster than ever.

 

1. Grammarly

While we all know content like quizzes, videos, and photos all do REALLY well for audience engagement, the backbone of all content is going to be words. And with Grammarly, it’s easier than ever to find the right ones.

It’s a tool that runs either as a plugin through your browser or as a standalone web or desktop app, and checks your spelling and grammar for anything you’re writing.

grammarly

Whether you’re posting a Facebook post through Hootsuite or uploading a blog entry through WordPress, Grammarly will interact with it and catch all your ugly typos and misspellings.

And that’s just the free version.

For the paid version ($11.66 per month, if you pay annually), you’ll get access to some nice features that look at your sentence structure, writing style, and vocabulary, making helpful suggestions as you type.

Even for the Hemingways out there, Grammarly is a key tool to keep in your arsenal. Partially, it means that you won’t embarrass yourself by using the wrong ‘your’. But more importantly, it means you can write much quicker, with less need for that second set of eyes before you hit ‘publish’. And when you’re staring down the barrel of a packed content calendar, you need every bit of speed you can grab.

And speaking of scheduling…

 

2. CoSchedule

coschedule demo

CoSchedule is a piece of software that makes scheduling and managing a content calendar easy.

Like Grammarly, CoSchedule works hard to integrate with as much of your existing software as possible, and especially WordPress.

So, what is it?

It’s basically a calendar app. But a really, really good one.

  • It can help you manage your content with a drag and drop calendar view (a bit like Trello cards)
  • It integrates with social media as well, so you can run your blog and social media calendars all in one place
  • You can assign tasks, set deadlines, create workflows, and build checklists for each piece of content
  • It lets you schedule and re-schedule content automatically (so you can promote something you wrote last week again)

Small teams might benefit less with the current entry price point and feature list, but where CoSchedule can add tremendous value is for teams working with several content managers, especially when contractors or freelancers are involved. The ability to share a view of what’s coming up and track multiple pieces at the same time saves oodles of project manager time and keeps your writers on track.

 

3. Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO is the number one SEO plugin for WordPress. Put simply, is excellent at what it does.

Yoast SEO is a plugin that overlays your standard publishing view in WordPress and automatically ‘grades’ you on your SEO for each and every thing you publish.

Yoast seo

If you set a focus keyword, it will check if you’re using it often enough and if you’re going to rank. It also helps you create an SEO-friendly title and meta-description, and includes a snippet box so you can actually see what your post will look like in a Google SERP.

But where Yoast really shines is its readability checks. It will provide a red, amber, green indicator to let you know the status for each piece of copy, letting you know how easy it is to read. Now it’s not perfect and shouldn’t be relied on completely, but it will give you a general indication of whether what you wrote is any good, or if it’s completely terrible.

Finally, Yoast SEO will help with other more mundane (but important!) on-page SEO factors like breadcrumbs, canonical tags, whether you want to set a no-follow tag, and XML sitemaps. Plus, all this is free!

You can buy the Premium version for $69 per site, which will get you more keyword help, help with internal linking, and better support, but frankly, the free version gets you a lot of the way there.

 

4. Gyazo

If you’ve ever tried to explain how to use a computer over the phone, you know how valuable a screengrab can be.

Gyazo is a piece of software that makes taking and keeping screengrabs quick and easy.

gyazo

All you do is install the software (totally free) and you’re all set to go. Just click and capture, then you’re provided with a link that you can drop in and share wherever you want. You can even do video grabs and save them as gifs, so you can show how a button works, what a screen transition is like, or what an expanding menu will look like when it expands.

Plus, they have a Chrome extension, so you can quickly snap screenshots online as you go. There’s also an image categorization system, so you can quickly find the screenshot that you’re looking for when you want it.

 

5. Unsplash

Finally, we have Unsplash. Unlike these other tools, Unsplash isn’t a piece of software. It’s just a simple database of beautiful, totally searchable, free stock imagery.

surfer

via unsplash

 

You can use it all without violating copyright rules (although you may have to provide credit on some images) and the pictures they curate are 100% amazing. They tend to focus on big sky drone images at the moment, but their selection will change over time with changing photography trends.

For easy access to amazing stock images, bookmark this site!

 

Think we missed a great tool for content managers? Let us know in the comments below!

2017 Web Trends: What to be Prepared For

web design

Every January, we gaze into our crystal ball and share our insight into what the year ahead will hold for the every-changing world of web design.

Here are our predictions for what 2017 has in store.

 

1. Flat design will erode even more

flat design

Flat design has faced its share of criticism over the last year, with designers arguing that it’s taken the soul out of design. Frankly, we think this is a little overblown. But a consequence of this is that we think there will start to be a backlash against the flat motif.

While we don’t expect the trend to swing back to full-on skeuomorphism, we do anticipate some shift away from completely flat websites. Whether this follows in Google’s Material Design or a move in an even less flat direction remains to be seen, but we think we’re moving inexorably towards a more textured world.

Don’t worry though — sans serif is sure to stick around for a while yet.

 

2. Websites will shift from ‘design first’ to ‘content first’

content first

Design teams no longer have to fight quite so hard to get a seat at the table in website planning, and this early engagement has led to an improved average experience across the internet.

The next step, we think, will be a move towards ‘content first’, with the content strategy developed first and foremost and then the website ‘container’ built around it. With content an increasingly important Google ranking factor with every passing year, the necessity of good content strategy for the bottom line isn’t lost on major companies and brands.

 

3. What content your ads are next to will be more important

The presidential election saw the proliferation of fake news on an unprecedented scale, triggering responses from both Facebook and Google to crack down on fake news advertising revenues. What’s more, Google has redoubled their efforts against online piracy with another Pirate update to further restrict illegally streaming and downloading sites by throttling their revenue streams.

With the ad networks starting to pay more attention to what ad space they’re selling, it stands to reason that brands and companies will start to pay more attention to where their ads are appearing, to ensure they’re not tainted with the same fake news brush as the content they’re sitting next to.

 

4. Vivid colours continue to rise

colour selection

With flat design has come a relatively flat colour palette. But over the last year or so, we’ve started to see the high-end creative sector of the web (agency sites, designer portfolios, etc.)  move towards bright, primary colours and harsh, graphic designs.

With that in mind, we think 2017 is going to see the mainstream catch up with the trendsetters, filling websites with stronger, more vibrant colour palettes – which will look great on high end phone screens and monitors.

 

5. Cards and grids continue

grid web design

The last trend we see coming down the pipe is a continuation of cards and grids. Progressing in tandem with the focus on making the container work for the content, grids and cards remain one of the best ways to present disparate pieces of information to an audience.

There’s a reason the design of newspapers hasn’t changed in almost 400 years – the format works.

 

Conclusion

The world is a mysterious place, and only time will tell if we’ve read the fortunes of internet trends correctly. Even if not, it’s always fun to give it a shot.

 

Think we missed a major trend for 2017? Let us know in the comments below!

The Most Important Digital Investment to Make in 2017

digital 2017

Last year, we talked about how the most important web investment for companies to make in 2016 was mobile. Since then, mobile has become the primary device for many people to browse the web and continued to play a bigger and bigger role in eCommerce.

Which naturally got us thinking: if it is not mobile anymore, what is the most important digital investment you can make in 2017?

 

Why 2017 is the year of process automation

Process automation is not necessarily as flashy or sexy as creating a responsive site or building a mobile app, but it is critically important. In 2017, we expect to see the importance of function grow and lead to a renewed focus on how efficiently things work. We see a few of reasons for this:

 

Increased capabilities

Over the last couple of years, the ability for companies of all sizes to automate their processes has grown. There’s been many new SaaS providers focused on translating conventional analog processes into the digital world. One example is in the field service management industry which as been one of the early beneficiaries of process automation, is set to see opportunities for process automation increase to $5.11 billion in 2020.

We know that just within one market, the huge number of possibilities that exist to automate processes. We believe this is also an indicator how many of the tasks people do day-to-day are outdated and ready for automation.

 

Lower cost

Going hand in hand with the growth in the number of providers and interest in process automation is the decrease in cost. Part of this is caused by the increased competition in the market, but also because of the shift from software licensing to cloud-based subscription software service providers.

With cloud-based systems on a monthly fee, smaller companies can more efficiently manage the investment to try these new technologies. Without the traditionally significant upfront investment. This model also saves businesses time and money by shifting the responsibility for updates and maintenance to the service provider.

Cloud-based subscription models have made it easier for companies of all sizes to start optimizing their processes with technology, which we believe will lead to continued growth in 2017.

 

Increased need

Finally, over the last ten years, we’ve seen digitalization accelerate. More and more services are available online, some exclusively so. Libraries, banks, government forms, taxes, immigration – one by one they have all shifted some part of their consumer-facing and internal processes online. With that transition to digital becoming more pervasive, organizations are now looking for more ways to maximize productivity with digital tools, which we believe will inevitably lead to process automation.

 

What this means for you

If you are looking for a way to reduce costs or increase productivity, it can be an easy avenue to pursue. Here are a few ways you can start approaching process automation:

 

Identify processes you can automate

The first step in process automation is (it sounds silly) to identify processes that are ripe for automation. There’s no need to take on the biggest, most cumbersome process first, rather we suggest you focus on something small that:

  • Is repeated regularly
  • Has little or no room for error
  • Is done the same way each time

A common example is a monthly expenses report.

Once you’ve identified your process and successfully automated it, you can apply the same identification methodology to bigger processes, before moving on to solving these problems.

 

Leverage your CMS

advantage cis

Your CMS can do more than just publish content online. You can use it to manage templates, workflows, collaboration, and required approvals. For example, most organizations have one (or several) gatekeepers who need to sign off on things. Instead of using an inelegant email chain, you can use your CMS to quickly solicit approvals and edits from a broad range of stakeholders, in a central location.

 

Use project management or automation software

There are plenty out there – Trello (now Atlassian), Basecamp, Wrike, Agiloft, KiSSFLOW. All these tools do variations on the same thing: provide a clear view of a project, help people know what’s happening (and what they need to do), and when everything needs to be done. It means that there’s a clear understanding by everyone of everything, so fewer things are liable to fall between the cracks.

Other tools like Zapier and IFTTT let you automate and amalgamate your digital tools with a basic ‘if this then that’ type logic, which can achieve quick wins for process automation.

 

Conclusion

Business process automation is going to be an increasingly important topic as business look to do more with less in 2017. And with the advances in AI, in new SaaS providers, and with CMS features and functionality, there’s never been a better time to get started with automating your business process.

If you want to stay competitive, the best thing you can do is get automating.

Ready to get started with your business process automation? Get in touch today to see how we can help you!

Your 2017 Digital Checklist

With 2016 now behind us, it’s a new year with a fresh budget to spend.

Here are 5 areas where we think you should be focusing your digital investment for the coming year.

 

1. Mobile apps – get one


Until recently, companion apps have been the exclusive purview of big chains. Irrespective of the perceived user benefits, smaller companies have seen them as just too much investment:

  • They don’t have the initial capital to build them
  • They don’t want to put up the money to maintain them
  • They don’t have the additional marketing budget needed to effectively drive downloads, making earlier investment less valuable.

Subway, Staples, Home Depot, banks – these are the types of enterprises who were getting apps for their stores – not Dave’s Groceries down the road.

But in 2017, we think this is going to change.

For starters, this trend is already underway – Small Business Trends reported that 50% of small businesses will get an app or be working towards that objective by 2017.

Second, the standard for user experience constantly increases. Pressure on all companies is higher than ever and will only be turned up in 2017. One way to stay competitive on mobile devices is with mobile app development.

Finally, mobile is increasingly the device of choice for people. Whether it’s the superfast processors in the latest smartphone or using a keyboard with your iPad Pro, the traditional computer (let alone the desktop) is becoming less important for work and play.

If you don’t have a mobile app yet, we think it is a worthwhile time to start thinking about one.

 

2. Start delving into location-based communication


Beacons and GPS, geo-fencing, and NFC are all examples of ways companies can use physical location to link the user to a digital experience. While these innovations have been on the books since around 2014 (especially for retail stores), the cost continues to drop, and they get easier to implement.

Currently, location-based signals are one of the best ways to provide a cross-channel experience, taking users from your brick-and-mortar locations to your online properties and back offline again.

For example, you might use geofencing technology to identify customers in your physical stores, and then be able to retarget them with email broadcasts or push notifications with new offers or messages, seamlessly blending your different marketing channels and identifying your highest value targets.

 

3. Optimise for AI

For the past year, there have been countless conversations about the role AI will play in our lives in the next 5-10 years. And in 2017, some brands are already rolling out ambitious AI projects. But for most companies, what we can expect is greater chatbot integration across a broad range of industries. Basically, people have become accustomed to using Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant as an interface to engage with products and services online.

Now, it’s up to companies to meet that expectation.

To do that, there’s going to have to be a twofold investment. First, in building out back-end systems to literally talk to Siri and her friends, making your service easier for your customers to use automatically.

Second, there will have to be increased investment in content that can be optimized to pull an answer when users ask a question into Google. For example, a robust FAQ about your industry with common questions and answers, all tagged as structured data, will help users find what they want faster than ever.

 

4. Security

2016 saw extremely high profile hacking incidents – including for both political camps during the US election, as well as Yahoo’s massive data breach. Collectively, these events have raised consumer awareness of IT risk to new heights. We’ve reached a point now where security is a zero-sum game for online producers.

Even one hacking incident could have significant repercussions on a business, to both its economics and reputation. The new normal will have companies balancing the security of their digital properties with an effective user experience.

 

5. Augmented and virtual reality


Finally, augmented and virtual reality. So far, we’ve focused on things that are actionable tomorrow – most companies can turn around and start building an app or conducting a security audit right away, should they want to.

Augmented reality and VR are a bit different. Yes, the hardware appears to be mainstream enough now with multiple providers on the market. And yes, the lesson learned from Pokemon Go was that augmented reality is a whole new platform for brands to reach consumers with. We wanted to mention it because, frankly, everyone else is predicting that 2017 is the year of mass deployment for an industry that is projected to be worth $120 billion in 2020.

But there are a few things to consider before you invest a portion of your budget into VR headsets.

First, most of the early applications focus on gaming. Yes, there are some token efforts outside of gaming and digital optimists are all screeching about the various other applications, but for now the focus remains on gaming.

As for augmented reality, yes it is a new channel to reach customers. But Pokemon Go is perhaps an inaccurate predictor of future success. After all, Pokemon Go had the distinct advantage of being first to market. Plus, it was a game.

So for 2017, we think that VR and AR will see big strides. But unless you’re a gaming company, you can probably hold off investing in 2017, and instead focus on honing existing channels of communication. It will also give you time to truly think about how your business can properly leverage AR/VR in a year or two, when the technology is more commonplace and can demonstrate true value, as opposed to simply appearing as a gimmick for early adopters.

 

Conclusion

2017 is looking to be a great year for companies to refine their digital products and services, helping consumers by forging stronger cross-channel experiences, improving mobile experiences, and interacting with customers with AI in a simple, customized way.

We’re pretty excited about it.

Do you think we missed something that should be on the radar for 2017? Let us know in the comments!

What is CMS Maintenance and why it is Important?

cms maintenance

We tend to think differently about our stuff in the real world and that in the digital world.

For things we own in the real world, maintenance and upkeep are an obvious part of sustaining the investment we’ve made in them. We do maintenance on our houses and cars, not because we necessarily like it, but because when we don’t the results are obvious.

However, for some reason, we tend to forget that digital assets like websites, apps, and your CMS, need maintenance for the same reasons. A long neglected website is just as obvious to users, and says just as much about its owner, as a long neglected yard does to passers-by.

To try to help change this habit, we take a look at what we mean when we talk about CMS maintenance, and the different kinds of upkeep these digital assets need.

 

What is CMS maintenance?

CMS maintenance can be seen as a common collection of simple activities that keep your site stable and running smoothly. They include:

 

Keeping your software up to date

CMS securityThis reduces the likelihood that your site is vulnerable to viruses or malware (especially if you’re on an open source CMS like WordPress).

This doesn’t just mean the core CMS, but also your plugins and integrations. This can be scheduled to happen automatically, but it is also worth checking to understand what the updates include and ensure it’s happening for all parts of your CMS.

 

Keeping your site backed up

When your site fails or goes down without a backup, it will cause you some serious headaches, varying from annoying to unmanageable. Scheduling regular automatic backups, and double-checking your backup files will help prevent disaster – or at least mitigate the impact.

 

Compatibility checks

You never know when a change is going to cause problems with a specific aspect of your site. Something as simple as updating software, changing layouts, or even just adding fresh content can interact in a unique and bizarre way, and perhaps produce an effect that’s not quite what you wanted. This can be caused by any number of issues including discontinued plugins not incompatible with the newest version of the CMS, changes to a third-party API requiring reintegration, or changes to templates by the publisher.

It’s important to check regularly to make sure there are not any compatibility problems, from both a user perspective (poor experience viewing/navigating the site) and from an internal team (e.g. two plugins not playing nicely, causing an error that requires troubleshooting and reducing productivity).

 

Link checking

link chain

A simple, but surprisingly common cause of frustration for users is being sent to a non-existent or expired page – aka the 404 error. Doing this to your visitors is not the quickest way to have them bounce from your site, but it’s up there.

Routinely checking your site’s outgoing links to make sure they all work is pretty simple. Services like Screaming Frog can help you so you don’t need to go trawling through all your content.

 

Why CMS maintenance is important

First, it will improve the security and stability of your digital platform. For open source content management systems like WordPress, there is a constant crush of hackers trying to crack sites and access what they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, one of the main challenges with the big open source distributors is that once an exploit is discovered in one site, or for one version of the CMS, it can usually be rolled out much quicker to other sites.

This is why WordPress and other open-source sites are updated frequently — to respond to the growing number of issues, issue fixes and help keep their sites secure.

Simply, an out of date CMS is a higher security risk. And this isn’t just open source websites, the same applies to proprietary CMS software — there’s a constant attempt to crack into your goodies, and keeping your CMS up to date makes that harder.

Second, customer experience.

Things like plugins not working correctly, poor display due to a new device or new OS, and broken links, are probably not mission-critical.

But they do have an impact. They:

  • Lower the caliber of your site
  • Impact sales due to a poor experience
  • Increase user frustration and decrease engagement metrics

An unmaintained CMS probably won’t cost you your business, but it might have a substantial negative impact on your sales and your brand. Although it might not be immediately obvious, our experience is the opportunity cost of not maintaining your website is far more than dollars required to do it.

 

Wrap up

Keeping your CMS and digital assets up-to-date, when done regularly, it’s a small job. But, the work accumulates in magnitudes the longer you leave it – requiring a bigger investment to bring it up to date while costing you opportunities in the interim.

Our advice? Spend 30 minutes every other week to make sure your CMS is up to date and running smoothly from both an administrator and user perspective – it’ll be one of the most valuable hours you spend each month.

 

Unhappy with your current CMS, or just want to focus on managing your content not your technology? Get in touch with us to see if our managed hosting service is right for you!