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IT for Donuts: where to get web design inspiration

May 19, 2015 by John McGarvey

Web design inspiration{{}}IT for Donuts is our regular feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

If you're redesigning your website, you need some inspiration. And if you're working with a web designer or agency, they're likely to ask what sort of sites you like.

To help you get ideas, here are five sources of web design inspiration:

1. Behance

If you're a web designer, you'll already know that this is one of the obvious candidates. Behance is a giant portfolio website, full of work from web designers all over the world. You can spend hours exploring it, using powerful search tools to find ideas of interest.

Visit Behance >

2. Little Big Details

Little Big Details is all about the little touches and subtle polish that help make a website truly engaging and memorable. It showcases animations that make you chuckle, messages that make things easier for users, and other little details that contribute to the overall experience of a website.

Visit Little Big Details >

3. GoodUI

GoodUI is a little different from the other sites in this list. It's not really about how your website looks, but is full of great ideas that can make your website easier to use and more successful. If you want to increase your conversion rate, there are loads of ideas here.

Visit GoodUI >

4. Media Queries

Sorry to get technical, but media queries are a way of using cascading style sheets (CSS) to make your website look different on different screen sizes.

You probably don't need to know how all that works. However, the knowledge may help you understand why the Media Queries website is full of examples of sites that use responsive web design to adapt to different screen sizes.

Visit Media Queries >

5. siteInspire

siteInspire is a showcase of great web and interactive design. The site claims to contain over 2,500 searchable examples of beautiful, clever and usable websites. It's certainly a great place to look for the inspiration for your own site.

Visit siteInspire >

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Five things to do when your website goes down

May 11, 2015 by IT Donut contributor

Error – website not found{{}}Has your website ever crashed? When it happens (and it happens to every website, at some point), it's a crisis because you can't do any online business. So, here's what to do when your website goes down

If you've planned ahead and set up website monitoring, you should get notified quickly if your site goes down. Alternatively, you might notice yourself or get a message from a potential customer. But no matter how you find out, it's important to ask these five questions.

Is it down for everyone?

Let's eliminate the obvious first. Make sure you own internet connection is ok.

See if you can get onto Google, the BBC, or another popular website. You can also use a service like Down for everyone, or just me? to be sure that your website is actually down.

What have we changed recently?

Have you recently changed or updated your website?

If your web browser seems to load something but displays a blank page (rather than showing 'waiting' or 'connecting'), it could be an issue with your coding or website software.

See if you can roll back to an earlier version of the site. Does this fix it?

Can we spot the problem?

If you've got a little technical knowledge, you might be able to identify the problem yourself. If not, skip this one!

Open up Command Prompt on Windows or Terminal on Mac and send a ping to your website address to pinpoint any server issues.

If you get a response like 'unknown host' then there's likely to be a problem with your website domain. If the message says 'timed out' then it's more likely to be a problem with your server or network.

Who do we call?

It's probably time to call your IT people. Make sure you keep their direct numbers handy for occasions like this.

Hopefully, you'll have a good relationship with the people who build and manage your website. A quick phone call should reassure you that things will be fixed in no time.

Who else should we tell?

By this stage, you've probably realised you're facing a website issue that isn't going to be solved in a few minutes. But you still don't need to worry. Instead, start communicating.

If you have social media accounts for your business, use them! Customers understand that technical problems happen, and will be more patient if they know you're working to fix things.

If your website or online app is particularly critical to your customers, you can also provide more detailed updates via a service like StatusPage.io.

Copyright © Nick Pinson is director at iWeb Solutions.

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Could cloud CRM connect you with your customers?

May 06, 2015 by IT Donut contributor

Heart – CRM software{{}}

Customer relationships are central to your business success. No matter whether your company is a giant corporation or a one-person micro-business, you must give your customers the care, understanding and attention they deserve

Customer relationship management (CRM) software has been around since the 80s, helping businesses provide better experiences for their customers.

CRM software gives you a hub to track and manage interactions with customers. It helps you get organised by saving contact details and logging communications in one place.

Without a good CRM system, many companies would feel overwhelmed trying to keep up with the needs of their customers. This can lead to lost business due to poor customer care.

CRM is for smaller companies, too

CRM software used to be the preserve of bigger businesses. The time, effort and budget required to set up CRM meant it simply wasn't practical for small companies.

Today, this stigma persists, even though the rise of cloud computing has brought CRM within reach of much smaller firms.

While traditional CRM software had to be installed on a server in your business, cloud CRM packages work online. You sign in to a website in order to access the software, view customer details, log calls and so on.

Cloud CRM software offers all the typical benefits of cloud computing. For instance:

  • Costs are generally more manageable, because you pay a monthly fee instead of having to invest a big lump sum upfront.
  • You can usually add and remove users as and when you need to, only ever paying for the number of users you actually have.
  • It's easy to work away from the office, because cloud computing services can be accessed via any internet-connected computer.
  • Cloud CRM providers usually provide support and updates, so you don't need a degree in Computer Science to manage the software

With most cloud CRM providers offering free trials, even the smallest businesses can test CRM software with minimal commitment.

Cloud CRM can be faster

Traditional CRM software would take hours to install on a server. You might also need serious training to get to grips with the feature-heavy package. But with cloud CRM, you simply have to sign in online and you're ready to go.

Well, ok, it's usually a little more involved than that. You still have to invest time in choosing your preferences, uploading or entering customer details and learning how to use your CRM system.

However, cloud packages usually prioritise ease of setup and use over feature complexity. That means you'll often find them to be fairly intuitive. Most also offer wizards, tutorials and walkthroughs to help you get started.

Add-ons and customisation

CRM software is no longer a one-size-fits-all game. Most cloud packages offer several feature levels. You can either pick the one that suits your company best, or start with the most basic package and then upgrade if you need to.

Often, these packages can also be customised in other ways. Because they run online, you may be able to connect other cloud services, add-ons or extras.

These enable you to access extra functions, or perhaps connect your CRM software to another business system. For instance, you might be able to connect your CRM software to your cloud telephone system, so a customer's details appear on the screen automatically when they call you.

With so many possibilities available, it's clear that customer relationship management software is no longer limited to big businesses. Are you ready to give it a try?

Blog ©2015 DMC Software

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IT for Donuts: easily check where your username is available

April 29, 2015 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts: easily check where your username is available{{}}IT for Donuts is our regular feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT

When you’re creating business profiles on social networks and other websites, it’s a good idea to use a consistent username.

This makes it easier for people to find you on different social networks (like Facebook and Twitter), ensures your brand is consistent – and helps you keep track of your presence on these sites.

Is your username available?

However, some popular social networks have millions of users. Others – like Facebook – have billions. That means it can be hard to find a username that’s available everywhere.

What’s more, checking each of these websites individually is a hassle. Lucky, then, that there’s a service to make it easier.

Check everywhere at once

Step forward, NameChk. This brilliant website is definitely one to add to your bookmarks.

Just tap your desired username into the box at the top of the screen. NameChk will check whether that username is available across a whole host of websites, from well-known social networks to niche platforms.

In just a few seconds, you’ll know if your first choice username is viable, or if you need to get your thinking cap on.

Visit NameChk now >

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Is Apple losing its way? (And what can this teach you?)

April 27, 2015 by IT Donut contributor

New Apple MacBook{{}}For years, Apple has represented innovation done right. What sets the tech giant apart from the rest is that its innovation was designed on the basis of user experience

Steve Jobs was famous for this quote about his design approach: "You've got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where to sell it."

That approach has delivered success for Apple time and time again. But now, I think Apple might be messing with this tried and tested formula.

Where’s the charger gone?

Apple recently released its new MacBook. As usual, the company had lofty ambitions when designing this new bit of kit, claiming it ‘set out to do the impossible’.

But I think this latest MacBook innovates for the sake of innovation.

For instance, a ground-breaking feature used on other Apple laptops is the MagSafe charger. This magnetic connector was used to hook the charger up to your laptop.

Because MagSafe uses magnetism to hold the charging cable in position, it pulls out of the socket relatively easily if tugged. And that means if someone trips over your cable, your laptop is less likely to end up crashing to the floor.

I believe there are two questions to ask here: did Apple need to remove the magnetic charger? And if so, why?

Always thinner, always lighter

Apple wanted its new MacBook to be thinner and lighter. It appears to have removed the MagSafe connector because it was too big.

But why does the MacBook need to be thinner? Doesn’t the MacBook Air already do a good job as an ultra-light, ultra-thin computer?

With the loss of its MagSafe connector, Apple has innovated for the sake of innovation. It’s become obsessed with size and weight, rather than staying focused on the overall customer experience

And this leads us to the lessons we need to learn as business owners. Innovation for the sake of innovation has toppled many businesses at their peak. Here are three examples.

1. The new Coke

In 1985 Coca-Cola was trying to win the Coke-Pepsi war.

Its bright idea? Change the much-loved Coca-Cola formula and replace it with the ‘new Coke’. Cue an enormously negative consumer reaction and a firestorm of protest.

Coke’s original formula was rebranded as ‘Coca-Cola Classic’ and reintroduced less than three months later. New Coke hung around until 2002, but only accounted for a tiny proportion of the company’s sales.

Quite simply, Coca-Cola failed to understand what the drink meant to its customers.

The company focused on taste, smell, design and branding, but failed to understand that Coca-Cola meant far more to people. Coca-Cola was an experience.

Still, the company realised when it had made a mistake and learnt the lesson. Today, you’ll notice that Coke marketing often focuses on the experience of drinking Coca-Cola.

2. Windows Vista

Many of us had first-hand experience of the widely-despised Windows Vista.

Microsoft trumpeted it as a revolutionary new operative system, but it received poor reviews. InfoWorld rated it number two in tech’s all-time 25 flops.

Vista probably helped to drive PC users towards Apple computers. Indeed, Apple capitalised on the opportunity with its 'I'm a Mac' advertising campaign.

Microsoft has since begun to learn that customers look for an experience over features or 'innovation'. For instance, one video that heralds the release of Windows 10 uses the word ‘experience’ over 20 times.

The proof will be in the pudding, with Windows 10 due later this year. It could be Microsoft’s opportunity to bounce back, hitting Apple where it hurts.

3. Samsung and the Galaxy 6

The Samsung Galaxy 6 smart phone is new, but has Samsung made a mistake?

Previously, Samsung and its customers would brag to Apple users about the ability to add hardware features to their smartphones – something you cannot easily do with Apple products.

Samsung customers are proud that they can easily add memory and replace the batteries in their handsets.

Yet for some reason, Samsung has removed these features from its new Samsung Galaxy 6. Its created a ‘static’ phone, like the Apple iPhone. This creates two problems:

  1. Some loyal Samsung customers are moving away from the brand, seeking alternative smart phones with upgradeable memory and replaceable batteries.
  2. Apple customers don’t generally stick with Apple because of the hardware features. They love the software features, choosing to stay with Apple because they love how simple and easy to use the iPhone is.

If Samsung customers desert the company in greater numbers, the company could find itself losing market share as well as loyal fans.

From peak to average

Many great companies have become average at the peak of their success.

Confident and buoyed by success, they decided to innovate for the sake of innovating, rather than staying focused on customer experience.

Every business owner, big or small, should learn from the mistakes of these giants. If they can suffer from ‘over innovation’ then imagine what it could do to your business.

Whenever you think about launching a new product or updating an existing service, think about your customers. What do they want? What is the experience like for them?

Will the new MacBook herald the decline of Apple? In time, we’ll see - but in my opinion, it could. You read it here first!

Dominic Kitchin is director and founder of Saxonbury & Kent.

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Don't panic about Google's mobile changes

April 20, 2015 by John McGarvey

As you might have heard, tomorrow Google is making some changes to how it ranks websites. The headline is that mobile-friendliness is now an important ranking factor

That means when you search from a mobile device, Google will generally show mobile-friendly websites higher up the list.

Unusually, the search engine provided advance warning of the change. As a result, some website owners have spent the last few weeks panicking about the effect on their site traffic.

Now, we’re not saying you don’t need to worry. It is really important that your website works well on mobile devices and you shouldn’t undertake any significant redesign without thinking about the mobile experience.

But at the same time, don’t panic. Rushing through poorly-planned changes could do more harm than good by confusing visitors who are used to the status quo.

If you’re not sure what to do about these changes, here are four questions to ask yourself.

1. Does your site get many mobile visitors?

The change only affects results when you search from mobile devices, like smart phones or tablets. If you get lots of mobile visitors, you’ll be hit harder than if you only receive a few.

Check your web analytics to see what proportion of visitors arrive from mobile devices. Google Analytics lets you split out mobile users. Just choose Audience > Mobile > Overview.

If the proportion of mobile visitors is relatively low (say 10%) then this change isn’t going to spell disaster. Conversely, if 40% or more of visitors come from mobile devices, it might be wise to get your skates on.

2. How does your site look on a smart phone?

Depending on how your website is built, you might be pleasantly surprised at how it works on mobile devices. Even sites that haven’t been designed with mobile in mind can look ok.

Additionally, some template-based website builders have added mobile features in recent months. Simply updating your templates might be enough to improve the mobile experience.

Helpfully, Google provides a mobile-friendly test that reveals how mobile-friendly your website is. Enter your website address to see a breakdown of elements like font size, link proximity, page width and more.

Again, if the test says your site isn’t mobile friendly this isn’t a disaster. But that knowledge should help you prioritise work to make it mobile friendly.

3. How are your competitors doing?

The competitive landscape will influence how this change affects your website traffic. If none of your competitors have mobile-friendly websites then you’ll all be penalised, so the upshot is not much will change.

Of course, your biggest competitor could be about to unveil an amazing website that adapts to different screen sizes beautifully. But if the market is behind as a whole then you don’t need to worry quite so much.

4. How does your site currently rank on mobile?

Try searching for some of your target keywords from your smart phone.

Frankly, if your website is outside the top ten results then being demoted further isn’t likely to have a vast effect on traffic levels.

You’ll probably want to change that, of course. But you need to think seriously about your search strategy, rather than rushing to put together some half-baked mobile solution.

Don’t panic, but do start thinking

As we said earlier, mobile devices form an increasing proportion of internet traffic. Even if you don’t get many mobile users at the moment, that is likely to change.

But it’s vital you think through how you’re going to cater for these people. If you plan to move to a responsive design (which adapts to different screen sizes), it’s important to make sure your content still makes sense for all your visitors.

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