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Getting Your Website Ready For 2014


Posted in Internet by on February 4th, 2014

The start of the year is always a great time to take stock of your website and see what improvements and updates need to be made. The web is an ever-changing place, it can be easy to get left behind just by allowing your website to merely pass in terms of functionality. To ensure everything is up to date, here are some important areas to check and revise for 2014.

Dates and Times – Remember to go through and update the year on all the disclaimers and contracts contained on your website. Though this is not always strictly crucial from a legal perspective, failing to do so can present an unprofessional impression to viewers. It’s even more important for those who have a booking form on their website, so check this as soon as possible.

Plugins – Many websites these days use WordPress as a base, which provides great functionality in the form of plugins. These are created by users, who are also responsible for maintaining them and troubleshooting. They often release new versions with added features and functionality, however you need to go through and get these updates for yourself. Be warned however that updating plugins can cause conflicts and issues, so be prepared to spend some time tweaking to get everything working in harmony.

Content – There’s always room for improvement when it comes to the content of your website. If it’s been a while since you’ve read through it thoroughly, now’s the perfect time to see if there are any words you can cut back on, paragraphs that could be thinned out, items that could be turned into lists, etc. The aim is to get it as slim and efficient as possible while still conveying all the necessary information.

Now’s the time to check that your site is all up to date and ready to face the new year, as well as make any upgrades and changes that have been sorely overdue.

To Update Or Not To Update


Posted in Internet by on January 16th, 2014

The start of the new year brings a host of new updates to established software and firmware. With the prevalence of downloadable content (DLC) it’s now par for the course that whatever you buy or use will continue to be updated for free, whether it’s for tablet, computer or smartphone. However some would argue that not all updates are actually an improvement – in fact, sometimes the developers are so eager to add new features and gimmicks that it actually slows down the program, causes other areas to not work or simply makes an absolutely pointless addition. One infamous example is the iOS7, and although it has been largely fixed now, at the time it led many to complain about reduced functions and increased crashes. Many who didn’t update immediately soon found themselves holding off until initial bugs were fixed.

So how do you know if it’s worth updating your software or not? The easiest way is to simply wait a few days and let other people do the testing for you. In most cases software and firmware updates are a one-way street; once they’ve been updated, it can be difficult or even impossible to revert to an earlier version without completely erasing and reinstalling. However any major issues will rapidly become apparent, so it’s simply a matter of waiting for the blogosphere to post their findings.

However doing this can sometimes prove how updates can be a mixed bag – a new version might add a new feature you really want, but also decrease loading time and overall usability. In these cases it’s up to you whether or not you want to make the compromise. It can also be worth waiting to skip an update – browsers such as Firefox and Chrome update very frequently, so it won’t be long before a new version is out.

Although most of the time you’ll be asked whether you want to upgrade to the latest version or not, one thing to be wary of is automatic updates. Chrome is one example of software that simply updates itself whenever a new version becomes available, and while this is handy in most cases, there have been some versions that cause issues with the Youtube player. If you want full control over your updates, simply turn off the automatic service in the preferences.

Most of the time updates will improve the functionality and efficiency of your software, but there are also cases where it does just the opposite. If in doubt, do research before making a major upgrade.

Top Firefox Add-ons For 2013


Posted in Internet by on December 20th, 2013

The Firefox browser is exceptionally popular, and one of the reasons is its friendliness for developers and coders. As a result there’s a huge range of Add-ons designed to add functionality, improve performance or simply make the browser a little bit nicer to use. Every year a huge number of new additions are released, but only a few are absolute necessities. Here’s a quick rundown of the top Add-ons you should consider trying out.

Instapaper – Often times you’ll come across an article or blog post that looks interesting, but better suited to reading on a different device such as Kindle, smartphone or tablet. Instapaper uses a bookmarklet in your browser to tag content you want to read later, and syncs it to apps on a range of devices to make it easy to bring up later on the go. One of the best “read later” systems around.

Readability – Blogs and article sites like to try and capitalise on readers by constantly providing new links and advertisements surrounding the content that’s being focused on. If you find this very distracting and detracting from the reading experience, an Add-on like Readability is the solution. It removes excess clutter from the webpage, leaving just the main text. It also has options for storing the text to read later on your Kindle.

Lazarus – Saving Word documents comes second nature to most people, but saving text entered into forms on your browser is usually impossible. Lazarus, however, automatically backs up as you type, allowing recovery in case you accidentally close your window. It may not seem like an application you’ll use every day, but it’s one you’ll be glad to have when the need arises.

Adblock Plus – Adblock Plus isn’t a new release of 2013, but its continued support and updates make it an essential download for anyone who hasn’t started using it yet.

Stylish – If you’re tired of the standard interfaces of many major sites such as Facebook, Youtube and Tumblr, giving them a facelift is a breeze with Stylish. Download the Add-on then browse for user-created themes and codes that change how pages are displayed. Some themes also have functional benefits as well, such as removing or rearranging design elements.

Add-ons are a great way to improve the functionality of the Firefox browser, and can even extend beyond that by providing new ways to store and consume media.

Creating An Online Portfolio


Posted in Internet by on December 4th, 2013

For businesses  or individuals offering a service online, a portfolio is a valuable advertising tool and an important addition to their website. Presenting your previous experience in a clear and professional way is essential to inspiring confidence, and hosting it online means that potential clients from across the globe can be exposed to your body of work. Web and graphic design, illustration, photography and product design are just some of the industries and services that can benefit from having a portfolio online.

However, it’s essential to display your work properly, or it will reflect poorly on you and have the opposite of the intended effect. Here are some tips to ensure you are putting your best face to potential clients:

  • Choose the right samples. No doubt you will have an extensive body of work, and while it can be tempting to show as much as possible, it’s really better to pick and choose the top pieces from your collection. Try to cover as many bases as possible, showing your range and ability to accommodate a range of clients. It’s also a good idea to talk a little about each sample so that visitors get a real impression of how well you understand your trade and, even better, how passionate you are about it.
  • High quality samples. If you have a physical product, it may be a good idea to invest in a professional photographer to take high quality photographs for you. Poor quality images look careless and slack, and will be associated with the level of the finished product.
  • Choosing a theme. A WordPress site can easily be used a portfolio either by utilising a dedicated theme or by integrating a plug-in, depending on whether you want to use your website for other purposes or not. Some gallery plugins include NextGen Gallery and Gallery.
  • Keeping it up to date. Once you set up a portfolio it’s essential to keep it up to date to ensure visitors are seeing your latest and greatest works. It also gives the impression that you and your business are active and continuing to progress and improve. Including a date with your work is a good way to mark older work and make sure your visitors know which of your pieces are most recent and reflect the work you’ll do for them.

Some examples of a great online portfolio include:

An online portfolio is an essential addition for many businesses, and provides an insight into the products and services you offer to clients.

Maximise Your Mobile Data Allowances


Posted in Internet by on August 3rd, 2013

Most smartphone users in New Zealand will have a monthly data allowance of somewhere between 500MB and 1GB depending on your phone plan. This can go a long way in terms of basic email and search functions, but most of us would like to be able to have a bit more fun and enjoy the diverse range of services and information the internet and applications provide. Learning how to make the most of your mobile data is a practical skill, particularly if you don’t want to end up paying extra or running out of data before your billing period is up.

To give some perspective, here are some average figures for different online activities and how much data they consume.

  500MB corresponds to…
Basic webpages (mainly text) 5,000
Rich webpages (with multimedia, e.g. BBC) 1,500
Basic e-mails 500,000
Rich e-mails (with attachments) 1,000
Downloading/streaming music 100 songs
Downloading/streaming video 1 hour
Listening to online radio 8 hours

With this we can see that when it comes to usual web browsing, there’s plenty of leeway. Light webpages (and many sites will have mobile versions that are purposefully low on pictures and media) use very little data. However as soon as rich media is added, the usage plummets. Just an hour of video will chew through your entire allowance. There are some ways to minimise the amount of data you use for various tasks however, giving you more bandwidth to play with.

The first and best way is to use apps rather than webpages. By downloading an app, you keep a package of images, text and other media files stored on your phone so that they don’t have to be loaded each time you visit the page. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Gmail all have an official application that will mean you only need to load necessary stream data each time.

Furthermore, be careful with email. Some clients will download each email to your phone as soon as it comes in, rather than just when you choose to open it. This can be a huge waste of data if you receive large files.

In fact, many applications have automatic downloads set to default. This means it may be downloading without your knowledge and end up rapidly wasting your bandwidth. Every time you get a new app, go into the settings and change it to only download when connected to wifi or not at all.

Although you still may not be able to watch entire videos over your mobile connection, these tips will help leave you with a bit of extra bandwidth each month.

Call To Action Buttons


Posted in Internet by on July 29th, 2013

Every website needs what is known as a call to action – something that helps to convert your web audience from passive viewer to active consumer. Many times this is a button or link that directs them to where they can purchase a product or service, but it can be more subtle and simply point them to the next step in the process. It’s all about being eye-catching, easily understood and inviting. There are many different strategies for call to action buttons and it’s worth experimenting using split testing to find out which one works best for your website. Even minor changes can make a difference to your conversion rate.

Positioning

Positioning the call to action button in the right place is one of the most important elements of any page. Don’t make the mistake of being too aggressive; shady websites use this tactic, so it has become somewhat shady by association. Think about the flow of the page and where the viewer’s eye will naturally travel. What do they read first? Where do they end up? It should still be visible within the first loading of the page (i.e. doesn’t require scrolling) but allow them to notice other important information as well.

Appearance

Experiment with colour, size and exact wording to find the best match for your website. Red, yellow and orange are colours that express urgency, but they may not necessarily fit with your website. You can use contrasting illustration and graphics to make it stand out from the rest of the page without making it jarring. Size can be tricky, as you don’t want it to be overlooked but big icons can be an eyesore. This is one of the best areas to try split testing with, as it’s easy to interchange designs and record results.

Direction

This is where you need to consider your overall conversion strategy and website structure – is it better to try and direct users straight to the purchase page, or do you get better results by sending them to a page with more information about the product first? Use Analytics’ ability to track funnels to find out which channels and paths are most effective.

Call to action buttons are an essential part of the conversion strategy of any website and the only way to truly get them right is through testing and experimentation.

Tools To Manage Social Media Accounts


Posted in Marketing by on May 28th, 2013

Most of us can handle a Facebook or Twitter account, but what about five? For many internet marketers, managing several if not dozens of social media accounts is the reality of their job. Keeping consistent updates, striking the right tone and voice, replying to interactions and encouraging shares across multiple profiles is a tricky business, but luckily there are some tools now on offer that make the task much easier.

1. TweetDeck. Sometimes you want to put out the same message across all your different mediums, and this is where TweetDeck can help. From one easy interface you can choose to send an update to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, MySpace and more, and it also compiles all the updates and feeds you receive into one place.

2. SpredFast. For measuring social media data, HootSuite is one of the most comprehensive tools available. Finding out who saw your status, who passed it on and which status updates were most popular is vital information to conducting a successful social media campaign.

3. HootSuite. Got more than one person in charge of social media? HootSuite is perfect for keeping feeds and profiles nicely separated to avoid confusion, and with separate follower lists it allows you to grow a closer connection with your audience and focus on followers who could yield further connections down the track. It’s even functional with WordPress, making it perfect for website/social media combos.

4. Tweepi. Managing a Twitter following can become tedious – cleaning up unfollowers, reciprocating follows and optimising Tweets can take a lot of time and effort. Tweepi makes it easier.

With these tools you’ll find your task load much lighter when it comes to social media management, and they also offer great insights to improve your reach and maximise your strategy.

Construct Your Own News Feed With RSS Readers


Posted in Internet by on May 28th, 2013

RSS has been around for a while – so long in fact that to some it’s considered “old tech”. It’s a way of subscribing to different content feeds such as blogs, Twitters and websites and compiling all the updates into one easy place, usually provided by an RSS reader. This makes it perfect for those who are avid readers with dozens of websites to check each day, and yet to many it still remains largely unknown. Building an RSS feed is a great way to save time and get only the content you want on your smart phone, computer or tablet. Read on to find out how to create an RSS Feed.

1. Download Feedly. After the Google Reader was discontinued a number of RSS readers popped up to take its place, and one of the most successful so far seems to be Feedly. It’s compatible with both iPhones and Androids as well as the Firefox browser, making it one of the most versatile apps available.

2. Search via name for blogs. Feedly has a fairly accurate search function that will allow you to find many of your favourite blogs quickly and easily. Anything hosted on the Blogger or Tumblr websites will automatically have an RSS feed that you can add to Feedly.

3. Search via topic for blogs. Sometimes you don’t have a specific blog in mind, you just want to read more on a certain topic. For this, you can browse by category or tag and check the most recent posts from each blog to see whether it’s something you might like.

4. Press the “+” symbol to add it to your feed. The posts will then show up automatically whenever they are added, and will be marked as read once you’ve seen them. Log into the Feedly homepage for more comprehensive customisation options, including being able to organise your feed into different categories for easy reading.

If you do a lot of online reading and need to keep informed on specialist topics, an application such as Feedly is the way to go. RSS is a great way to manage content and save some time each day.

Mini Mobile Browsers


Posted in Internet by on April 9th, 2013

Although many have moved on to smartphones, there is still a loyal contingent of feature phone users who find the old-style handsets meet all of their current needs. However, with most phone plans now offering some kind of data allowance, one smartphone-esque feature that many older mobiles can still use is mini web browsing. On small screens, this requires a special browser to shrink websites down to size and make them easier and quicker to navigate. The following are some popular choices:

Opera Mini – This is the most popular miniature browser, and for good reason. It has all the right features to make mini web browsing possible – speed, efficiency, a great compression tool and tabbed browsing. It is able to play online videos and can have different skins to suit your phone.

Teashark – Another popular browser, TeaShark has one major advantage up its sleeve – it works on every modern mobile phone. This means every phone can access tabbed browsing, bookmarks and full-screen browsing. It’s feature rich while being slim and free.

Skyfire – For those on a bigger data plan, Skyfire allows you to open Flash based files and websites as well as play video. Excellent for enjoying a full-featured web experience.

These browsers breathe new life into older generation phones, and give you the power to surf the web on the go – just make sure you have the data plan to support it.

Chrome Now The King of NZ Browsers


Posted in Internet by on April 6th, 2013

Since the internet began, web browser dominance has almost exclusively belonged to Internet Explorer. It makes a lot of sense, seeing as it comes pre-packaged with the Windows operating system and many computer users don’t realise there are other options available and simply use it as the default. However, over time challengers have emerged such as Mozilla-made Firefox and Google’s Chrome, and in May 2012 Chrome overtook IE as the most used browser worldwide.

As is often the case, New Zealand was fashionably late to the technology party. Finally in September 2012, IE was knocked off the top spot, again by the light and customisable Chrome. Of course there are far more choices than just these two out there, and with Microsoft launching Internet Explorer 10 in October 2012 even the race between the top two competitors is set to continue. Although “browser wars” are common on forums and comment sections, most people will choose their browser based on personal preference. And although Chrome and Firefox have a huge number of handy plug-ins available such as AdBlock Plus that improve the browsing experience, these take a little time and technical knowledge to implement, meaning that Internet Explorer is likely to remain a default choice for many entry-level users.

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