Our Laws of Attraction: Design Tips to Keep Users Drawn to Your Website

Chalk drawing of a hand holding a magnet collecting different social media icons

People around the world would have a different opinion on what the perfect website should look like, and that’s because a website’s design is based on people’s experience and perspective. One look may be liked by many, but it might not be by others. I tried going by the name Eugene for a bit and some people in the office actually started calling me that (and liked it for a bit), but ultimately, I think Cedric suited me best because that’s just who I am. I also thought I’d look good with a shaved head, but ask me again after I’ve had a pint of Guinness.

There are many factors that contribute to successful web design. That’s why our team of well-rounded and knowledgeable designers and I compiled a bunch of tips to help you keep your website looking snappy and running smooth.

Continue reading “Our Laws of Attraction: Design Tips to Keep Users Drawn to Your Website”

Why You Should Treat Your Site’s Navigation Like You Would Your Showroom

Businessman in the middle of the maze. Concepts of finding a solution, problem solving, challenge etc. 3D illustration

Let’s start off with a quick anecdote, shall we? Let’s suppose that you go into your local luxury car dealership to find a brand new sedan. The first thing you notice as you step into the showroom are 30 sedans from the last three decades, all in seemingly new condition. Intrigued by this, you make your way through the maze of vehicles searching for a  salesperson.

Eventually you find a huge, wall mounted-TV screen which you assume will have information that will aid you. At first glance, the TV seems to be displaying the weather, but after staring at the screen for 10 minutes you realize that’s the extent of the information on the TV. Excellent, you are now caught up on the weather–but you still have no information on sedans (or an answer as to why there are multiple vehicles spanning multiple decades). At this moment, you (the customer) are faced with more questions than when you originally came into the dealership. Continue reading “Why You Should Treat Your Site’s Navigation Like You Would Your Showroom”

Good Design is a Lot Like a Good Marriage…

happy couple cheering because they got married!

Something that I learned after being married, is that communication is key. If you have a good line of communication then your relationship will do great!  Expressing your likes and dislikes will help you to improve your relationship and better yourself. I call it companionship inventory. The way companionship inventory works best, is by utilizing the “hamburger method”. The buns are the compliments and the criticism is the stuff in the middle–you may have heard it referred to in another, not-as-delicious type of sandwich. Continue reading “Good Design is a Lot Like a Good Marriage…”

A Note on Importance

Orange and white text reading if everything is important then nothing is important.

I don’t know about you, but I loved watching the Pixar movie The Incredibles when I was growing up. It’s a movie about how, in a fantastical world of superpowers, you lose sight of the regular, everyday people. At least that’s how I see it. When the villain’s plan is revealed, it comes with a line that’s stuck with me for the last fourteen years:

“When everyone is super, no one will be.”

Continue reading “A Note on Importance”

Improving User Experience

some designs on paper, beside a laptop

A day rarely goes by at the Strathcom office where I (or one of my design team) don’t receive a request to change/edit/add/remove/update the design or layout elements on our websites. The intent of the request is usually to draw more attention to a piece of a client’s website or to increase conversions. However, sometimes these requests unintentionally do the opposite and negatively impact the usability of the website and, can potentially result in a lost user (and ultimately a lost sale). All because they neglect one crucial element: user experience. Continue reading “Improving User Experience”

A Modest Request…

child dressed up as retro business man

In the wonderful world of web, we as consumers are exposed to subliminal messages and overbearing marketing lists that have become second nature. And while automotive dealers have a plethora of knowledge, having seen the industry progress firsthand, some of the marketing ploys they ask for get lost in translation due to the stimulus-overload we are already in the midst of. Simply put, there are too many features available on websites, and everytime we add a new feature something gets lost in the shuffle. We, as designers, are often tasked with creating carousel slides to catch the eye while there are better tools available. If you read my last blog, about trusting your designer, then you’ll remember that sharing your vision and goals is an important part of the process — but letting us help guide you with our professional knowledge is just as important. After all the main goal is to improve the communication from Dealership to Marketing Manager to Designer, culminating in getting the message through to the customer loud and clear. And as a former dealership employee, marketing manager, designer, and customer, I can tell you with all honesty that these lanes of communication could be improved. Continue reading “A Modest Request…”

Trust Me, I’m an Expert!

Closeup side view of group of late 20's multi ethnic team of web designers working on a project. They are divided into small groups, some working on a computer and some testing mobile platforms on digital tablets and smartphones.

 

Web Designer (noun)

a person who plans, designs, creates, and often maintains websites.

By definition, the title of web designer seems simple. Someone who makes and maintains websites. However, it seems like even the most expert of designers spend much of their time trying to predict what a client wants instead of creating beautiful pieces of art. What caused this? Continue reading “Trust Me, I’m an Expert!”

4 Ways to Make Your Mobile Site Better, According to Google Best Practices

In the latest article from  Google Best Practices, Google gave 4 Tips for a Frictionless Mobile Experience. Not all of their tips necessarily apply to the automotive industry, but these are 4 simple ways to make your mobile site better.

Woman using tablet at night, visiting a mobile site

Make it Responsive

Continue reading “4 Ways to Make Your Mobile Site Better, According to Google Best Practices”

Mobile Site Speed Matters. Are you up to speed?

Consumers and search engines have a certain level of expectation for mobile site speed and performance. If your site has problems that go unchecked, it can have a big impact. We have all visited a mobile site that has taken too long to load, got impatient, and left. Continue reading “Mobile Site Speed Matters. Are you up to speed?”

Homepage Elements with the Highest Conversion Rates

Conversion Optimization: probably the most important topic imaginable for building car dealership websites, and a topic we’d like to shed some light on. Here’s what we at Strathcom discovered during our tests for conversion rates!Print

A Call to Action is Like Asking for the Sale

You train your Salespeople to close the deal, and the same kind of logic behind that also applies online. There’s no denying the insane importance of a Call to Action (CTA), and knowing just when and where to ask for the sale is just as important. In our tests, we excluded clicks from top-level menus. Here are the stats:

The Most Clicked-on Webpages

  • New/Used Inventory – people like to browse, so let’s suggest taking a test drive, for example
  • Specials – let’s load this page up with incentives; that’s the idea here anyways, right?
  • Service Appointment

Highest-Performing Design

Button-style CTAs outperformed “image + text” CTAs. Main CTA buttons account on average for almost half of the clicks on a webpage, making them by far the most important CTAs to include.

Best Placement

The higher above the fold, the higher the conversions.

iStock_000070576867_Medium

A Convenient Quick-Search Bar

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Users want to find what they’re looking for right away and if they don’t, they’ll go somewhere else. The stats:

Usage

One of the top-performing homepage elements to encourage conversions – we found in our tests that quick-search bars average around 20% of all site clicks.

Placement

  • Placement on the homepage doesn’t matter, as it’s consistently used wherever we put it – it’s just a matter of making it accessible
  • When placed lower on a page, users will actively scroll down to use it

A Ton of Links

One paragraph on the homepage could contain links to just about every other section of the site, giving readers an easy way of searching for and finding what they need. Stats:

Most Clicked-on Links

  • Contact Info/Location/Directions/Hours – some users are customers already, and they just want to find out where and when they can drop by, so let’s be sure they can find out easily
  • Book Service Appointment
  • View New/Used Inventory

Highest-Performing Design

Links with button styles, but ONLY when used sparingly – let’s be smart about how we use buttons.

For our testing purposes, “conversions” was defined as clicks which took a user to an internal webpage. We tested using heat maps, click maps, and Google Analytics data, and our tests were done over multiple sites with differing designs.

The Mobile Search Universe Changes on April 21st: Will Your Site Survive or Suffer?

change-noticeLine ’em up. If you haven’t already, it’s time to get your mobile ducks in a row.

You shouldn’t be hearing this for the first time now. If you’ve attended an automotive conference, followed this blog, or tried looking up information on your smartphone over the past few years, you have already been bombarded with this message: you need to deliver a great mobile experience to remain relevant online.

Continue reading “The Mobile Search Universe Changes on April 21st: Will Your Site Survive or Suffer?”

"Mobile-Friendly": Does Your Site Have This Important New Badge from Google?

With Canadians picking up tablets and mobile phones in droves to do everything from find a restaurant to buy a car, the online landscape has seen major changes. Google has been there every step of the way to guide this great migration from desktop to hand-held.

Now they’ve once again updated their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) to make it easier for users to find the best mobile experiences possible. Their most recent innovation? The “Mobile-friendly” label.

 

Now available on a search engine near you!

“Mobile-friendly” labels make it as plain as possible for users to identify within search results which sites have been responsively designed for ease of use on mobile devices. When faced with a results page, you should now be able to recognize at a glance which websites will make for a more fluid and frustration-free experience.

Here’s a glimpse of what mobile users will see.

 

 

Google determines if a website is mobile-friendly through a number of parameters, the three most important being…

1. Whether a user needs to zoom in to see content

Having lots of content is most often a good thing for your organic rankings. Just make sure that it shows up legibly on the small screen, including your image files. Even with today’s newest generation of big battery, tablet-esque smart phones, people can only squint for so long before they’ll move on in frustration. Find the happy medium between condensed and readable.

 

2. Whether links and objects are placed far enough apart that a user won’t mistakenly click the wrong thing

You shouldn’t need to combine maximum zooming in and the finest point of your fingertip to ensure you access the right link or entry field. Make sure that page design is thoughtfully executed, or prepare to be overlooked by Google.

 

3. Whether the site uses common software normally found on mobile devices

A dazzling image or a video with a high production valuable are meaningless to your mobile customers if your content relies on software that is unsupported or incompatible with their smart phones or tablets. Unplayable content can arise from many different reasons: unsupported Flash players, license constraints, out-of-date program files. Be sure to test each of your pages and media files on multiple mobile devices before launching any new pages.

 

Why does this matter for your dealership?

Unless you want to annoy or alienate a good part of your customer base, you should already have a responsive website. Make your first impressions count. “Mobile-Friendly” is your chance to do just that.

Imagine this: Someone searches on their tablet for “GMC Sierra in Edmonton,” or “Toronto Toyota Corolla.” Two nearby dealerships appear prominently in the SERPs. One has the “Mobile-Friendly” tag tucked under its site link, but the other doesn’t. Who do you think will get the first shot at that new lead?

It’s promotion for your dealership that isn’t self-promotion!

 

Find out in seconds whether your website passes the test

You can test your website with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. If you currently have a website with Strathcom Media, you are already covered and will see the “Mobile-friendly” label appear in the search results. If not, give the professionals at Strathcom a call at 1 (888) 914-1444, or email us at info@strathcom.com.

Web Design from the 90's to the year 2013.

We’ve come a long way baby!

Have you ever browsed your Facebook timeline, right back to the beginning, and looked at some of your old posts? If you’ve been on Facebook for a while, then you’ll probably find some pretty embarrassing material – things that your wiser and older self would never be caught saying to the general public. Well, the Internet archive is a bit like Facebook’s timeline & the WayBack Machine takes snapshots of what your website looked like in the past. That’s right — nothing is ever completely deleted once it’s posted online. We thought we’d take a look at Strathcom’s website way back when we got started and oh, the fossils we dug up. Don’t hold it against us – we were all young and naïve once just like the Internet! But let’s just say some of our early designs might remind you of your teenager’s Facebook timeline!

The Beginning – 1998 Web Design

In the beginning, there was Netscape 3.0 (and Internet Explorer): brace yourself for state-of-the art web browsing technology! Here’s a snapshot of what Strathcom.com looked like in June, 1998:

Strathcom as of June, 1998

Notes:

  • Minimal text and an a-typical navigation were a product of the times. Back in 1998, websites didn’t have much consideration for SEO or usability; all that mattered was having a presence on the web.
  • Unlike many other sites at the time, we did have important SEO keywords in our title and description. Even today, 15 years later, many people don’t even know what Search Engine Optimization is.
  • That being said, we have been in the SEO industry for 15 years. Not many web design or even SEO agencies can say that!

Strathcom at the Speed of Flash – Web Design in the year 2000

The year was 2000, and the millennium bug was still in people’s minds. So was the idea that a Flash-powered website was the bee’s knees. While 2000 passed without a hiccup, Flash websites are definitely still around. Strathcom has since advanced to a more effective and faster web design, leaving old flash websites in the dust. Strathcom Media in 2000Notes:

  • At the time, Flash had only been around for a few years (it was first adopted by MSN in 1996) and it was still one of the best ways to deliver a rich web experience across platforms. In many cases, Flash is now being replaced by HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.
  • Once again, the primary purpose of our website was to establish our online presence. Not much was taken into consideration when it came to SEO; as long as we had a website explaining what we did, it was just dandy.
  • As not everyone had Flash installed, we had to inform our visitors how the website was built and in what resolution, as well as provide a no-flash portal.

The Elevator Music Blues – Web Design in the year 2003

What would make our website really cool? I know – let’s add soothing background music and a blue background so our visitors can chill out to our subliminal tones. Elevator music: it’s what all the cool kids are listening to these days! Here’s our site in 2003 (the bars in the lower right move – neat, right?). Oh – that speech bubble – I might have added that.

Strathcom Media in 2003

Notes:

  • Boy oh boy was music a fad at one point! Now canned music tends to annoy anyone surfing the internet.
  • On top of animated graphics and a stylized image of Edmonton, we also incorporated a more modern navigation layout which has a page to match each of our concepts.
  • When you visit the one-click-deep pages, you can see that there still isn’t much unique text written for SEO purposes.

It’s Psychedelic Baby! – Web design in 2004

It might not have been the 60s, but our intro video in 2004 looks like a real flashback. Detractors might describe it as a combination between a techno dance party and what happens when you give a squirrel a caffeine tablet and tell it to make a music video. But it does tell something else: the internet is moving quickly, and Strathcom has been there to help you catch up with the trend. Speed (the attribute, not the drug!) is something you need to successfully adapt online. Oh, and doesn’t the music scream “this is the future”! Notes:

  • In 2004 we were still pushing strong to convince businesses to start marketing on the internet, as many companies still hadn’t jumped on board yet.
  • That was too bad, because the longer your domain name has been live on the internet, the more authority your website has, and the better its rankings in search engines. Strathcom already had a well-established domain name by this time.
  • This year we also switched to a side navigation. Although it might not look as pleasing to the eye, it did leave more room for the main attraction: the flashing techno dance party!

A Step in a New Direction – Web design in 2005

The year 2005 ushered in a new look for Strathcom. Gone was the background music, and in was a new streamlined look. If you look close, you can see our lot management tool being displayed on a state-of-the-art Palm handheld. You won’t see those around anymore.

Strathcom Media in 2005

Notes:

  • In 2005 we were really getting serious about the automotive industry. We started focusing just on the online automotive industry and moving away from building websites for any type of business.
  • We finally introduced a modern page navigation that actually looks like what one would see on a modern, optimized website.  We also included a “testimonials” and “news” section to keep users interested.

The EasyLoaderMobile Revolution – Web design in 2007

In 2007, we focused our website on our offering of the Easy Loader VMS, or Vehicle Management System, a tool that remains an essential part of our business. Our innovative Mobile Lot management system was also available for PDA devices.

Strathcom Media in 2007

Notes:

  • Who else can say that they were focusing on mobile in 2007? Even in the  year 2013, mobile is still a new idea for many businesses.
  • By now our website had a lot more unique content for SEO purposes, as well as some great calls-to-action. All of our services are structured out into individual pages for usability and SEO purposes.
  • By 2007, web design wasn’t about just having a web page up and available anymore. There was much more to creating a website that worked for your users, and usability became an important consideration.

Where We Are Today: Web Design in 2013

If you’ve been to our homepage you’ve probably noticed that Strathcom has a new look. It’s a change that we’ve made to reflect our new ownership, and our vision of where we are going in the future. While not every single one of our website designs through history has been fantastic, we have been growing step-by-step to where we are today. We were one of the pioneers in automotive website design when we started, and we continue to be to this day. The web has changed, and so have we. Google was founded in 1998. Facebook was launched in 2004. Just think how far the web universe has come in the past ten to fifteen years. You can see why a website isn’t a one-time investment. It’s an ongoing process that will evolve as the web environment and your business changes. And over time you will be able to take advantage all of the new features that technology has to offer.

— Michael Fisher & Samantha Goettel

Form Creation: Avoid Frustration for You and Your Customers

If you’ve ever had to fill out a form online, you’ve probably run into some of the problems that arise with them. When you don’t put care and consideration into creating a form, they can easily become frustrating for both the customer filling them out and the company receiving them. There are many ways to simplify the process, from label awareness to simple design considerations. Setting up your form right in the first place will keep a customer from getting scared away when first visiting the page or while filling out the form.

Give Yourself Some Space

One of the huge advantages to online forms is that they are not limited to the size of the paper they are printed on. Increased padding and space between sections can make the form easier to read and fill out. Separating sections distinctly with background colours or borders can make it easy for a customer to skim the document and double check individual sections.

Seperating your fields into sections simplifies a form.

Labels

Labels can make or break a form’s functionality – literally, in some cases. Keep labels as simple as possible for easy skimming, and make sure they are clear and concise. Placing labels within a larger titled section can shorten them: for example, skip writing “Your” in front of every single contact information label by putting the entire section under a “Personal Information” header. You can also make labels more functional than simple text. If you assign a “for” property to a label, you can assign a matching id to the corresponding input field. This makes the label clickable and automatically places the typing cursor in the text field, increasing the area a customer can click to start typing. Neat! You can make this feature even more obvious by adding label{cursor: pointer} to your css. For checkbox or radio fields, labels can also increase clickability and ease-of-use. Wrap your entire checkbox field and text description in a label to make the entire area clickable. Adding a “for” label and matching id to your form fields also allows blind or sighted customers using a screen reader to easily identify form fields.

Clickable labels increase usability.

Tab Order

Depending on how you’ve set up your layout, tabbing through a form might not produce the desired results. Tabbing can make form completion very quick, for those used to using it. To assign a custom tab order to your form, use the tabindex property on your input fields. The default tab order of a form is the order they have been placed within the html. To aid a customer tabbing through a form, instead set your fields to tab from left to right, in reading order. Start your tabindex at one for the first field, and work your way down!

Keep the height and number of fields down to keep your customer on the page.

Minimize Form Fields and Required Fields

Nothing is more daunting than an online form with a tiny scrollbar and dozens of fields. To keep your customer on the page, minimize the number of fields wherever possible. If the information is not absolutely required or not immediately useful – skip it! Generic email contact forms should be reduced to Name, Email, Message, and an optional phone number. Keeping the number of required fields down will also help a customer feel more comfortable filling out the form, especially if they are only asking a simple question about the product and don’t want to fill out their entire address to do so.

Responsive Fields

Another advantage of online forms is the ability to control what options are shown to the customer. You can minimize your form fields and reduce confusion by hiding options that are not available to the customer. For example, if you have a Yes/No question asking if the customer currently owns a car, you can hide the fields asking about the vehicle if they select no, and show them when they select yes. This can be done using a simple jQuery onchange statement.

Concise, simple, and clean are the rules to follow for form design.

A Clean Form is a Happy Form

Combining the tips above with traditional design rules will give a good first impression to a customer visiting your form. It will also increase their ability to fill out your form quickly and easily. Combine these tips with proper client-side validation and you’ll end up with a form that both your customers and your company find simple to use and understand.

Calls to Action: Getting a Customer Past the Homepage

There are hundreds of ways to get customers to your site, from excellent SEO to interactive social marketing. The next step to get your conversion rates up is to show your customers exactly what they can do on your site straight from the homepage.

The most effective way to lead a customer deeper into your site is by using calls to action. There are quite a few ways to work calls to action into your site, from prominent buttons to subtle embedded links within the copy text.

Calls to Action

Calls to action are short phrases written to sound like a personal request made to the customer. They should be short and sweet, and easily found and read when scanning a page. A call to action should lead a customer to a page where they can either commit an action (often filling out a form) or access important information.

Some of the common calls to action we use on our auto sites include:

  • Find a Car
  • Book a Service
  • Apply for Financing
  • Get a Quote
  • Appraise Your Trade-In
  • Request More Information
  • Book a Test Drive

Sliders are a highly graphical call to action.

Sliders

They’re big, bold and in-your-facesliders are here to stay. Modern sliders take advantage of fast loading speeds and large screen real-estate by providing an animated rotation of images or text. They are often used to display photos of the product, but since the slider is often the first thing a customer will see on the site, it’s the ideal place for a call to action. A slider can contain multiple calls to action, each slide displaying a different prompt.

Call to action buttons should stand out – there’s no such thing as too big or too bold!

Call to Action Buttons

It can be easy to get lost on a homepage because it is usually one of the most text-rich pages on an entire site. If a customer can’t easily get to what they want, or simply don’t know where to go next, there’s a good chance they’ll simply leave.

One of the ways of preventing this is by providing prominent call to action buttons. These buttons should stand out highly from the copy text, the main menu, and any imagery on the site. A large site might have 4-5 call to action buttons, but the best option is to draw the customer’s focus to a single, featured call to action.

With and without a call to action.

View More Buttons

If you’re supplying teaser information about a product or an article, show the user that they can actually click the image to get to the full item by adding a “view more” call-to-action button to the teaser.

Call to action links are simple way to interconnect the pages of your site.

Embedded Links

A subtle way to allow a user to navigate your site is by providing them with simple links embedded within the copy text. If the user comes across one on a topic they are interested in, it saves them the step of having to search for the page in the main navigation.

Simple, Prominent & Compelling

Keeping things simple with your calls to action is the easiest way to catch your customer’s attention, especially on a large or crowded site. Use a lot of whitespace around buttons, large, simplified text for your copy and make sure your calls never get overwhelmed by the rest of the content on your site. Once you’ve set up your calls to action, make sure to start tracking them in Google Analytics to see just how effective they can be!

Victoria Gramlich

Mobile Friendly Websites for Car Dealers

Google Mobile Search Mobile browsing is the way of the future. Between 2009 and 2011 we saw a 1000% increase in the worldwide browsing activity on smartphones and other mobile devices, and that is only the beginning. As we previously mentioned, over 33% of shoppers already use mobile devices during their buying cycle, with 27% searching for a dealer specifically and 33% using click to call to get in touch with a dealer. Those numbers are nothing to scoff at, seeing that every view you receive on your website is a potential lead. That’s why it’s important to optimize your website to be mobile-friendly. In the fast-paced online environment, customers want access to the information they need right away. It’s easier to click somewhere else and leave a web page than slog through a difficult-to-view website or deal with long waiting times to access content. Recent Google research shows that 61% of customers using a mobile device would quickly move to another site if they didn’t find what they were looking for quickly. On another note, 67% of buyers said that they would be more willing to buy from a mobile friendly site. If you have a mobile-friendly site, that’s great news for you. If not, then that’s great news for your competition. Here are some more statistics from Google on mobile users:

  • 96% of consumers say they’ve encountered websites that were not optimized for mobile viewing.
  • 74% of users said that they would be more likely to return to a mobile-friendly site
  • 67% of users said they would be more likely to buy a product or service from a mobile-friendly site.
  • 48% of users were frustrated and annoyed by a non-mobile friendly site.
  • 52% of users said that an experience with a non-mobile friendly site made them less likely to engage with a company.

These are all reasons to implement a mobile website solution  and stay one step ahead of the competition.

Mobile Browsing and SEO

One of the largest factors affecting mobile browsing is screen size and resolution. Despite continual advances in mobile technology, portable screens are still small. What that means for you is an even smaller space to capture a potential customer’s interest. It also affects how users will see mobile search results. Mobile and desktop search results are not the same. There are variations in ranking for the majority (about 87%) of smartphone search results when compared to searches from a desktop. Factors affecting these search results include a higher ranking of local results in mobile devices (Google Places results will list higher), Android Market or iTunes results for searches including keywords like “download” or “app,” as well as other differences like the position of vertical results. All of these differences can be used to maximize the impact of your Pay Per Click/Keyword advertising campaign  by targeting mobile devices.