In Focus: Town and Gown 10k Website

Design of Town and Gown website by Optix Solutions.One project in particular which has been close to our heart this year is townandgown10k.com, a microsite for the annual races which support the Muscular Dystrophy campaign. The Town and Gown 10k races take place in Oxford and Cambridge and each event sees thousands of people turn up, taking over the University towns with their trademark orange t-shirts. Runners can choose between courses or, if they’re feeling energetic, enter both races to help raise money for the charity. The aim of the website is to not only encourage people to sign up, but also help them raise as much sponsorship money as possible. It also offers information on the individual events and ways to get involved, even for those that aren't running. We were honoured to be given the task of creating the site as it’s such a worthy cause. Several team members recently lost a dear friend to Muscular Dystrophy, so it is especially rewarding that the site has proven to be such a success. The website is a great example of what we feel we do so well, creating sites that turn visitors into customers, or in this case contributors to a great cause. A few key features include:

  • A clear link to the race registration form
  • Blog integration on the home page
  • A clean, user-friendly design which reflects the charity’s branding
  • Links to their social networking accounts and social networking buttons

All these elements combine to make a great user experience which anyone looking to increase visitor engagement on their site should pay attention to. While the significant increase in registration figures speaks for itself, a quick look at the blog reveals an active feed of information which its readers are responding to, and in a positive way. The blog entries contain a mix of updates on the races, personal stories of people who have run them and links to other sites which are covering the events. A clear navigation structure makes it easy for visitors to the site to find out what the races are about and what to expect, in addition to tips for fundraisers. There are more subtle ways it offers information to visitors as well, each time the homepage is refreshed a new tip is displayed for fundraising and training. It also encourages visitors to spread the word, with clear links to social networking pages at the top of the site as well as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ buttons below its content. What did Muscular Dystrophy have to say about working with us? “Optix Solutions have been a pleasure to work with. They are a friendly and professional team that are prompt in answering queries and supporting the charity’s needs. We are delighted with the website itself and since launching in January, we have seen our registration figures almost double in comparison to previous years” said Toya Champ, Challenge Events Manager. If you feel your site could be more engaging and dynamic like townandgown10k.com then it’s worth giving us a call. The Town and Gown 10k project is a prime example of how effective a well-executed website can be in helping a brand to grow. In this particular case it not only fulfilled the client’s expectations but exceeded them as well.

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NEW MICROSITE LAUNCHED FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF EXETER, ARTS AND CULTURE

Earlier this year, the University of Exeter, Arts & Culture came to us with a brief to redesign and redevelop their website. The main objective of the site was to combine the different departments which reside under the Arts & Culture banner and integrate them so that their events could be promoted using one central tool.

At the time, the University approached several companies with a brief, but after a provisional conversation with Kevin Price and Dom Jinks, they decided that Optix Solutions were most suited to the project. The University chose Optix not only because we could see the potential in the brief they offered us, but also because we were a web agency that could offer them a full range of in-house services, including social media strategy and search engine optimisation (SEO). This was important as the project itself would take 5-7 years to be fully implemented; therefore the University required a company that was ready to develop a long term relationship with them.

To understand the complexity of the project, we carried out three days (totalling 10 meetings) of consultancy that examined how the elements of each department fitted within Arts & Culture. This enabled us to produce a detailed report explaining how we recommended the project moving forward.

Our consultancy determined that it was essential to build the site around the Research Excellence Framework (REF); a system that has been put in place by the British government to assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). One of the criteria of the assessment is that the University are judged on their ability to impact on the wider community, therefore with this in mind it was vital that the site showcased the skills and abilities of the performers, drawing in the general public as well as the students and staff at the University.

The University are proud of their students and wanted the site to not only showcase their brand, which represents elements of unity, integration and culture, but also capture the interest of their students. Since the new website is not due to go live until 2013, it was decided that a microsite should be built in time for the new term so that students could become familiar with the brand and have a central place where they could view what significant events were taking place. You can view the microsite by visiting www.artsandcultureexeter.co.uk.

Our consultancy gave us a thorough understanding of what the University required and enabled us to provide a solution that was completely bespoke to the University’s needs. The microsite only represents part of that solution as we continue to take our understanding and apply it to the build of the main website that is due to go live in 2013. For more information on our consultancy call us on 01392 667766.

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SEO and “Ads Above the Fold”

We recently helped a friend of the company with some information about one of Google’s Algorithm (Algo) changes/updates. The Advertisements Above the Fold factor.

This is what we had to say:

Any Google update is designed to prevent low quality websites ranking (or rather rank high quality websites first). The “advertisements above the fold” layout Algo is an example of a use of block level analysis which we have known about for a long time. The Algo can see what is a side bar and what is main content so that it can discount useless stuff and rank you for the main content. See below

Block level page anlysis

Now what Google says is that if you have too much space above the fold (a term from newspapers meaning what you can see when the paper is folded) full of adverts or useless items that they are not going to rank you as well.

If you are worried about having too many ads above the fold, put your URL in here and see how much content you can see compared to ads. If you wanted to be ultra careful I would say both 1st party and 3rd party banners/ads should be included in your assessments. So even your own internal ads may be a negative factor should they dominate your page above the fold. http://browsersize.googlelabs.com/

Here is a screen grab of our site in the test:

Consider this: what should YOU have more of on the screen when you open the site? Content? Navigation? Ads? What percentage seems right to you?

As for our customers? We tend not to design a site with ads built into the layout too prominently as a design factor rather than an SEO one, but we do have a few sites that use internal linking banners (or 1st party ads) heavily on their site and we have seen no significant drop in traffic for those sites. However even those ads are designed to sit well below secondary navigation and other side bar features, and we are always beating the drum for original content and quality pages which helps our customers in search engines.

To worry about ‘ads above the fold’ for SEO reasons should be secondary to worrying about why there ads above the fold for user reasons, and taking up valuable site content real estate in the first place. Ask yourself is what you have really what a user wants to see? Is that really how you want your business perceived. If the first thing someone sees when they visit your website is a mass of advertising and banner ads, would you be pleased?

“This algorithmic change does not affect sites who place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree, but affects sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page.”

Google

This page layout update only deals with one out of hundreds of SEO factors which go into determining a page’s rank, if you want to talk SEO we are in Exeter and happy to talk.

Our advice to designers is just keep putting content and users first and you will be fine. Consider moving ads further down the page, and increasing the size of the main content area.

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Google Instant Preview and how to capitalise on it

Google has launched its instant preview feature which shows a small visual preview of websites in the search results, as below;

Google Instant Preview Example

This latest development moves search engine marketing into an area that it would not normally encompass, the art and design world!

Sites will now not only be compared on search position but also in visual terms. My recommendations having thought on the topic for a few minutes are simple …

Look at your competitor’s sites

Who looks better? And just as importantly, who looks more relevant?

People are going to click on the result that looks the best match to their perceived needs. As a result you need to make sure the pages you design give off a very clear message about what the page contains. By using large, bold lettering your message will still be visible when the site image is reduced to a preview size. This will help entice more visitors to choose your site.

Because people are looking for sites relevant to their industry, sites that are plain and generic in design are likely to become a thing of the past. Sites which have a more focused theme, based on the industry or sector they exist within will perform better.

Use large bold and clear headings at the top of your page

Google Instant Preview give you a 302 pixel wide box to strutt your stuff. Using large text on the page to show relevance and generate calls to action in the small previews, will help people understand what your site is about and the types of things you can and should do on the page. Treat this as an opportunity to say something to the user before they even click your link. It you have large text on the page it will still be readable in the 302px wide preview image.

Make your page long in Google Instant Preview

Longer pages have bigger previews, these may make the user feel there is more info available on the page and a lot of people think (rightly or wrongly) that bigger/more is better.

If you are a known Brand use your logo

Use your existing brand to maximum effect by making your logo clear on the previews.

Google Instant Preview dimensions

Some people might find some of the site preview image dimensions for Google instant preview useful.

The dimensions for Google instant previews are 302 px wide and 585 px high.

 

We can help you get the best out of Google preview with our Search Engine Optimisation service.

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Do you understand your brand?

Creating and establishing your own unique brand is a very particular and complex challenge for business.

A brand is much more than a logo. A brand is made up of multiple strands and layers, from products and packaging to customer service, and it is sometimes difficult to work out if your own understanding of your own brand bears any resemblance to that of your audience.

As your brand is all about an external perception of who you are, what you do and how you do it, you yourself are often too close to it, too embroiled in its detail, and it can help to bring someone in from outside to examine and work on it, offering a perspective that you, as the brand creator, can’t see.

At Optix Solutions we are great believers in creating industry networks and sourcing expertise from the most innovative local companies, working in areas that compliment our own.

Alder and Alder founder Jonathan Alder says: “With a new brand you start with a blank piece of paper, but with an existing brand it is often a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle; all the pieces may be there but some help is needed to put them together in the right order.

“We have four basic touch points that form the basis of brand; communications, products and services, the people who shape the organisation and the location and environment you work in.

“For an online business the website is not only about how it communicates but it is also the location. The website has to reflect the personality of the business, be easy for the visitor to find their way around, find what they want and get the help they need.

“Social media now allows even the biggest businesses not to be faceless, but to engage in a more personal way with their customers and build loyalty and brand awareness.”

Once a brand is established Optix Solutions specialise in tailoring websites for its clients that reflect the brand, particularly in the case of a new company or product, make the website itself an integral part of the brand.

“It takes a lot of experience to successfully translate a brand into a website, the first essential being to get a feel for and understanding of the business and its customers by talking to and meeting them,” says Optix Solutions director James Dawkins.

“When you design a site there are conventions and usability considerations that have to be adhered to make it work properly. You wouldn’t put the steering wheel of a car on the roof, but beyond that everything stems from the brand, so we have to develop a really thorough understanding of what that is.”

“It’s a creative process incorporating basic elements such as matching imagery, colours and fonts, making the site as easy as possible to use and including lots of trigger and contact points.”

“But it is also about building relationships, presenting information and knowledge and selling the positive benefits of the company or the product to people genuinely interested in what they do.”

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Devon’s Wildlife on the Web

When you’re charged with celebrating and informing people about the outstanding natural environment of the country’s second biggest county, taking in moorland to coast, the creation of a comprehensive and creative website was needed to do it justice.

Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) recently brought Optix Solutions in to completely overhaul the charity’s six-year-old web presence, and create a resource that covered not just DWT’s extensive work in the county, but also offered a wealth of information on the flora and fauna that make up Devon’s unique habitats and the current issues affecting them.

Optix Solutions has a strong track record in working with local organisations and charities, providing engaging and simple to navigate websites allied to specifically tailored online solutions, designed to attract more visitors, increase visibility and generate volunteer interest and donations.

A particularly eye-catching and useful tool, designed and developed by the Optix team, is an alphabetical plant and animal search service which provides the visitor with pictures, species information and a guide to where and when to see it in the county.

Visitors can also now read a regular blog offering current snapshots of Devon’s wildlife, get wildlife questions answered through a new helpdesk area and find plenty of well-signposted information on how people can support the charity, from becoming a volunteer to leaving a legacy for future generations.

David Ireland, DWT’s Communications Officer, said ”It’s great to finally have a new website we can be proud of and which gives people interested in the wildlife on their doorstep a wonderful resource.”

“The way the website has been set up will give us much more flexibility to go on building the site in the future months and years, with much simpler navigation people will be able to find what they want quicker and easier than before.”

To have a look at the new website visit http://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/

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