What Interior Design Teaches Us About Web Design

Curvine Web Solutions is constantly evolving and learning, and we like to pass our knowledge on to our clients. But sometimes it’s our clients that do the teaching. Recently, we’ve worked on Web sites for a number of interior design firms. And true to form, we’re passing along the lessons we’ve learned from them to you.

Start with good bones. Every structure has to start with a solid foundation, sound walls and roof. Before you approach a Web site designer, understand your own approach to interior design and finding clients. You should be able to explain your vision easily. This understanding will help direct the designer in selecting colors, creating a unique framework, and even the font resulting in a site that successfully promotes your business.

Show your work. There may be many nice stock photos that fit within your own design aesthetic that you could use on your Web site. Don’t use them. Your portfolio is surely filled with fantastic examples of your own unique style and vision. If you don’t have enough high-quality pictures, invest in a better camera or hire a professional. The amount of money you spend will be balanced out by having examples of the great work you do. Plus, you’ll never have to explain in a face-to-face meeting why none of the pretty pictures on your site are actually in your portfolio.

Let your own talent be in the spotlight. Your clients want to discover what you can do and understand your sense of style to decide if working with you is a good fit. No one needs the distraction of seeing what you didn’t do (the before pictures). By using pictures of your own work, you allow your talent to truly shine.

Accessorize. Think of your Web site as your favorite room. Some things stay the same, like your favorite chair and coffee table. But, the accessories should change frequently to keep you interested and engaged. The photos and images on your site are the accessories; by updating them frequently, you’ll keep customers coming back and hold their interest. Change your photos at least once a season. And if you have an accomplished design that you’re especially proud of before the season changes, don’t wait! Show off your work like you’d show off the latest designer find to a favorite client or friend.

Edit. Take a good look at your finished Web site and inspect it like you would right before you show off your finished project to the client. Does the artwork set the right tone? Are the colors too brash, or are they spot-on? Will the design last, or be outdated by the next season? Are you forgetting anything? The most commonly overlooked aspect of a good Web site is the copy.

Your Web site needs well-written text. In order not to detract from the main focus of the site, the copy on your site must be used sparingly, yet pack an emotional punch. It needs to fill in the blanks your pictures, images, and artwork leave behind, completing the overall impression.

For this important task, consider trusting a professional. Hire a copywriter if you’re unsure of how to express yourself in a few short sentences. If you know exactly what to say, you should still hire an editor. A copyeditor will ensure that you didn’t make any grammatical mistakes, and that the tone of your copy matches the tone and feel of your Web site.

Keep up with the trends, don’t be a slave to them. Your Web site needs to highlight your unique talent, not the talent of your Web site designer. While it’s tempting to use all the available technology to show that you’re in touch with today’s world, using too many bells and whistles may drown out your own personality.

Ask questions of your Web site designer. Together, you should be able to examine the latest technology trends and understand the best application of each trend. Some of them will work with your vision, some of them may not. Be sure that you’re comfortable with how they will impact your client’s experience on your Web site.

In summary, a good Web site design is like a well-appointed room. A good Web site stays current without being trendy, sets a clear tone and vision of the owner, and puts the visitor at ease. Adopt the idea that your Web site is merely an extension of your own business and treat it with the proper respect, attention and care that it deserves.

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Restaurant’s Web Site

Don’t let the headline fool you – the suggestions in this article can be applied to a wide variety of industries, not just restaurants. As for any business, you should be concerned that your Web site accurately represents who you are, what you do, the quality of your clientele, and offers the most important information in a format that’s easy to find and access. Read on, and discover how you can apply these suggestions to your own company today.

Spend the money on professional photography. As the adage goes, in the restaurant business the eyes taste first. Your photographs tell a story – at a minimum you should hire a professional to take pictures of the most important assets of your business. A good place to start is with quality photos of your location(s), inside the dining and bar areas, and of your signature dishes. Even if you’re just a no-frills, mom-and-pop restaurant, the photographs should make your potential patrons appreciate what is best about your establishment. They should feel like they’ll be eating in a comforting, warm and inviting environment – the best thing next to their own mother’s kitchen table.

Make certain that your Web site is an extension of your customer service and the eating experience. There is nothing worse than providing an online ordering option that isn’t suitably tended to by your staff – because it was never properly implemented into the restaurant’s day-to-day operations. When you change your menu, update it online as well; if your menu changes daily, then it must also change daily online.

Serving Food
And as a side note, here are a couple more tips about your online menu. It should be accessed on your Web site as an ordinary page – not as a PDF. PDFs take too long to load, and give the impression that you’re lazy or taking short-cuts, which could be an indication of how you’ll prepare the food. The menu items should also be accompanied by a short description of each dish – your online viewers want to know what to expect in your establishment. These descriptions (or lack thereof) can often make, or break, your first impression to potential patrons.

Your Web site should also reflect the character of your business. You can use the colors painted on your walls as inspiration for your Web site’s colors. Let your staff’s collective personality direct the tone of the written copy. And accurately portray your patronage. If you own a sports-bar, don’t let your site reflect a swanky fine-dining experience. Instead, play up the fun atmosphere and good-humored competitive nature of your bar patrons.

Be sure to feature online ordering and gift card purchasing prominently on your site. If these services are offered by your restaurant, don’t hide them – flaunt them. This isn’t as common a feature as one might think, so if you offer them, make certain your customers know about it.

You’re on your local dining Web site and Better Business Bureau, but do know about your local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau? If your restaurant is in or near a large town or city, chances are that there’s a CVB serving the public. For what’s usually a nominal membership fee, your restaurant can be added to a short list of places to eat for out-of-town visitors looking for a taste of local cuisine. There are many other benefits to belonging to a CVB, and they’re all aimed at making local businesses stand out among the crowd.

So to summarize, make certain your Web site successfully portrays your business. Think about your potential clients’ experience both with your establishment, and online – they should be nearly equal in customer service. And, check out slightly unusual membership organizations that are geared to marketing your business to the public.

Improve Your Web Marketing in 5 Easy Steps

 

At Curvine, we’re sometimes asked how to create an Internet Marketing budget. How do I figure out how much money I should spend? Where should I spend it? We’ve come up with an easy, five-step process to help you out – complete with a ready-to-use spreadsheet. Please read on.

1. Determine Your Marketing Budget

One way to determine your overall marketing budget is to look at the last six months – where did you spend your money? Look at the cost of advertising in the yellow pages, newspaper, direct mailings, and even the cost of Web site maintenance. Now, are you satisfied with the amount you spent? Should you spend a little more, or stay the same? Try not to be too conservative in your final dollar amount. Instead, think in terms of a comparison ratio – if your business makes thousands of dollars in profit every month, you can afford more than just $50 a month on marketing.
 
2. Get into the Mind of Your Audience
Who are your clients? Are they less likely, or more likely, to be Web-savvy? Keep in mind that those older than the Baby Boomer generation are less likely to search for your business over the Internet. Based on your understanding of your client demographic, estimate what percentage of your client base uses the Internet, and use that percentage to determine how much of your overall marketing budget should be spent on Internet marketing. If 50 percent of your clients use the Web, then 50 percent of your marketing budget should be spent on Web marketing.
 
3. Spend Your Web Marketing Budget
This sounds like common sense, but you really do need to spend money in order to make money. It isn’t enough to depend on your Web site as your only Web presence. Split your Web advertising budget among at least 2 vendors. Give Google and Dex a chance, for instance. Or, advertise with your local better business bureau, convention and visitor’s bureau, or industry-specific sites.
 
4. Evaluate Your Efforts
You’ll need to determine a way to evaluate the results of your advertising dollars. If you place an ad with Google, or another search engine, they should provide you with a tracking report. Ask your clients how they found you. If you own a business where this isn’t practical, create a way you can see what sort of traffic your site, or advertising is getting – ask online customers to sign-up for your newsletter (the more sign-ups, the more successful your efforts). Or, create a coupon that’s only available online.
 
5. Experiment / Tweak
After you’ve evaluated your success, decide if you want to experiment with something entirely new, or just slightly tweak a resoundingly successful program. Don’t be lulled by your success – there is always room for improvement. You do not, however, want to experiment with the amount of money you’re spending. Remember, it’s all about the ratio – you want to spend money where your clients will find you.
 
As a special service just for our blog readers, we have provided a downloadable spreadsheet for you to track your success. To review and utilize this free spreadsheet, click here

What’s Your Internet Security Risk?

Internet security is a big issue for everyone, whether you’d like to think so or not. If your Web site does any e-commerce, or collects any data about your clients, you should take steps to protect your site. Even if your site doesn’t ask for information from users, you should still be aware of potential security risks. This article is neither meant as comprehensive advice, nor as a scare tactic. We’d just like you to start thinking about the kind of data your Web site displays and stores.
A cross-site scripting attack is a type of hacking that occurs when a malicious user is allowed to enter/insert a JavaScript command into an HTML form on your Web site and gain access to the back-end of your site. By exploiting vulnerabilities in your Web site, the hacker could embed malicious script into your site for your clients to unknowingly download. This type of hacking can result in gaining unauthorized access or stealing of sensitive information. For those who don’t know, JavaScript is a coding language that allows you to take full advantage of the functionality of any given Web site. You could turn off JavaScript on your Internet browser, but that would prevent you from utilizing the full capacity of the Internet as nearly every site uses JavaScript in some way. 

- Security -
 
JavaScript is not the only programming language that poses Internet security issues. Web sites communicate with database tables through a language called structured query language, or SQL. One common way that SQL can be turned to malicious purposes is through a SQL injection attack. If your site has a search function, or a text box to input information, a malicious user can type in any combination of letters and numbers in an attempt to receive an error message. This combination of letters and numbers, or string, may result in a specific type of error message that reveals pertinent information about your database tables. A malicious user can use the revealed information to hack into the back-end of your Web site and retrieve or remove data, and alter or delete entire database tables.
 
The above examples aren’t meant to spur you into taking any drastic action. Instead, start by taking a look at the kinds of information shown on your Web site and how it is stored. Here are a few basic questions you should be able to answer:

  • What information do your error messages display?
  • Where is your online data being stored?
  • Is your data encrypted?
  • How simple are your passwords and user names? How often are these changed?
  • If you have a change in personnel, do you immediately change your passwords?
By knowing this information, it is easier for you to speak knowledgeably to your key employees and contracted workforce. Talk to your IT department and Web developer about the information displayed in your Web site’s error messages. Speak to your billing department about how payment information is retrieved, stored, and safeguarded. Develop a system with your human resources staff to methodically address access to significant information when you have a change in personnel.
 
While security is not an absolute – unfortunately, no one can completely protect their Web site or computer system – there are significant precautions you can take to reduce the likelihood of your data being accessed by the wrong person. Simply being aware of your company’s weaknesses can go a long way in helping your Web site developer and IT personnel tackle a large portion of your company’s security risk.

Visual Trends in Web Site Design

As a Web site development company, it’s our job to keep on top of the latest trends and determine what is worth passing on to our clients, or what may be simply a fad. Advances in technology have increased the color palette, made it easier to incorporate flash effects, and made links and buttons more appealing to use. Below, we’ll discuss some of the more worthwhile trends.

Site Margins
Seven to 10 years ago, Web sites were flush left in the browser window. About five years ago, the trend moved sites to the center. Now, we’re seeing more and more Web sites that take up the entire average-sized browser window. Called fluid design, in some cases these sites even scale up or down to the size of the window automatically.

If your site is still justified all the way to the left, you should at least move it to center. Better yet, consider creating a fluid design so that it fits the full size of the browser window.

 

Background
Background colors have also changed from the trends seen seven to 10 years ago. In place of solid navy, blue, black, and dark green, we’re seeing softer and lighter colors, even white. The color palette has become more sophisticated, more varied.     

For those sites that still use dark background, gradient color seems to be popular right now. Gradients make use of both light and dark shades of the same color. Gradient color can make objects and images three-dimensional instead of the usual flat, or two-dimensional, perspective.

Background images have also become quite popular. Some images are tiled, or repeated, throughout the entire background. Other sites have a single, large image in the background; many are so subtle, that at first glance you hardly notice them, but they can lend depth to an ordinarily simple Web site design.

Flash
Flash is definitely one of the hottest trends to-date. Advances in technology have made the use of flash more commonplace, as it’s now easier to create and experience. Designers are adding more videos, animation, and interactive components than ever before. Flash can make a simple site seem more dynamic, and add complexity to what may have previously seemed mundane.


MNM Theater Before

Before (HTML)

MNM Theater After
 
After  (Flash and HTML)

Rollover Effects
Rollover is a visual effect that, when a user’s mouse moves over an image, will switch between the original image and another. Created either in flash or HTML, rollover effects are used as links, images or buttons. There are a few types of rollover effects commonly used (which we won’t go into great detail about here), but the use of rollover can create animation-like effects that will focus a user’s attention and grant a more interactive experience.

Links and Buttons
Links to other sites, or other sections within the same site, were once underlined blue text. These dark blue, often bolded font, text links riddled sites as an unsightly distraction. Today, the trend is to change those unattractive links into photo images or illustrated graphics.

Buttons are also another big trend for linking users to one page from another. With the use of gradient color and highlighting effects, these buttons can look three-dimensional — almost as if your mouse could physically depress an actual button.

All of these trends can be easily incorporated into an existing site. If you like the look and functionality of your site, but want your site to stay current, call Curvine Web Solutions today. We can easily assist you in incorporating a few of the above trends to keep your site looking fresh and up-to-date.

Design Don’ts

Ever wonder if your Web site is cutting-edge or outdated? We at Curvine Web Solutions still see design trends that should have fallen by the wayside years ago. For customers who frequently shop online, these outdated trends may signal a company out of touch, apathetic, and unprofesstional. Below, are just a few such things to be aware of.
 
A “welcome” message on your homepage is the good way to turn away customers. The standard rule is this: if visitors can’t tell what your site is selling, it’s time to redesign the Web site. The site design – including the main body content and images – should sell the story of your business all on in one glance.
 
The next feature we’ll discuss is scrolling text. Since people tend to associate this feature with news broadcasts, it isn’t usually a good idea to incorporate this into your design. Unless your industry is fast-changing and news-worthy, using this feature probably won’t enhance the overall design and functionality of your site.


 
Those flashing, color-changing, bolded words in the middle of a site’s main body text are distracting at best. But, in reality it brings to mind walking onto a used car lot where there are huge, garish signs everywhere encouraging you to buy now or pay for it later. If you have to resort to such matters, then the service you’re selling probably isn’t worth the money – or at least, that’s the impression visitors will get.
 
Speaking of visitors, it’s also a good idea not to include visitor counters on your site. Although we usually see these on personal Web sites rather than business sites, we thought it worthy of mention. Publicly-viewed visitor counters are unprofessional, and frankly, useless. There are far better ways to keep track of that information; if you really want to know how many people are visiting your site, use a site analytics program. Google’s program is free and gives a lot more helpful information that just how many people have clicked on your homepage. (Check out our February 2008 issue for more information.)
 
If your site contains any of the above design faux pas, you may wish to consider disposing of them. Sometimes just a few simple changes, or even deletions, to a Web site can make your design look fresh and new. If you need some assistance in sprucing up your site, contact Curvine Web Solutions today.

Choosing the Right Shopping Cart

If you sell anything to the general public, chances are you will want to add a shopping cart functionality to your Web site. But, how do you choose the software you need? There are three basic options:
 
Hosted shopping carts are ideal for small-scale straight retail. Shopping carts of this type will charge your company a monthly fee in exchange for hosting, live help, and free updates to their software. Many hosted shopping carts offer features such as inventory control, live order tracking, real-time credit card processing, and automatic shipping and tax calculations, plus many more. To find a review of the top ten shopping cart software in the industry, click here.  

Purchasing shopping cart software and customizing it is a flexible and cost-effective option for products that fall just outside the norm of typical retail. By purchasing the software, your company gains the right to modify the program to suit your needs. This takes less time and money than building a shopping cart from scratch, but the downside is that any updates that the software company produces will also have to be purchased and integrated periodically. Such updates could include postal and zip code amendments. Your Web site developer can help you choose which software to purchase.
 
Building a shopping cart from scratch is the most time-consuming and expensive option, but may be the only choice if your company gives multiple discounts, or offers an unusual product. The upside to having your shopping cart completely customized is that you are assured that there are no glitches due to your specific needs.
 
Understanding your company’s needs is crucial to choosing the right option. Examine your products. Do your products have many options in purchasing? Do you offer multiple discounts?  Knowing how similar items are sold can also help you in determining how you will sell your own. Once you know how you want to sell your products, you’ll then be able to determine which of the above options will serve your company best.

Intellectual Property Rights

Though it’s most often associated with term papers, the old concept of plagiarism applies to the much more serious crimes against intellectual property rights. As you plan to build, or rebuild, your Web site, you must make certain that every aspect of it is either your own or properly documented as someone else’s.
 
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is dedicated to addressing issues of intellectual property rights on an international scale. Below, are some of their tips on how you can protect your business from violating global intellectual property rights.  

  • Does your company own its Web site design, content, and “every aspect of [intellectual property] in it”? When working with a Web site development company, or other third party, be certain you understand what you own and what you have rights to use.
  • When using databases, e-commerce systems, and other internet tools on your site, make sure your company is licensed, or has written permission, to use them.
  • Do not display any logo, trademark, images or video from another site without prior written permission.
  • Do not circulate content on your Web site from another site without the express written permission to do so.
  • Do not use large portions of another Web site in a way that looks like it’s your own without written permission.

What does this all really mean to you? Don’t “borrow” another’s ideas, content, design, or images, unless you have permission from the proper owner. For the parts of your Web site that didn’t originate with you or your company (stock photographs, video, software, etc.) that permission should be in written form. 

Why should you care? Because intellectual property theft – or even the perception of it – could potentially cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, to resolve.
 
How do you protect your own company from intellectual property theft? Visit the WIPO Web site at: www.wipo.int to find out what you can do.
 
To read the article referenced above: “IP Issues When You Design and Build Your Web Site”
click here.

Choosing Digital Images

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what are the images on your Web site saying about your business? We’ve all seen Web sites with grainy pictures, or images that aren’t the best representation of what a particular business does. Here are a couple of tips to help you in finding the right images for your business.
 
Pictures should be of the highest quality – clear, high-resolution, professional-looking images are crucial. Of course we know that beautiful images come at a price. Can you afford it? Don’t sell yourself short! You can find high-quality generic photos from a stock photography business for far less money than it would take to hire a professional. For images that are unique to your business, however – your building and its offices or your staff, for instance – hire a local photographer. Keep in mind that one photographer rarely does it all. If you need pictures of your staff, find someone who specializes in portraits; for your building and offices, hire a photographer who likes to do architectural photographs. And, don’t be afraid to barter – some photographers are willing to trade services with their local businesses. By utilizing a combination of generic and specific photographs, you’ll save money in the long run. 


Office   

 
But, how do you know what images you’ll need? Don’t: choose the images and graphics you think you need, and then attempt to figure out where they go on the site, or create a site around the images. Do: craft your Web site copy first, and then find images that illustrate your message.
 
Curvine Web Solutions is adept at recommending which pictures to use on your site, in just the right place. If you’re looking to spruce up your existing site with fresh and innovative images, or perhaps wondering where to begin for a brand new site, give us a call. We’ll help you find the right pictures to tell your story.