Monday, January 15, 2007

5 Reasons To Redesign Your Website With CSS

By Linda Bustos

Many small business owners have a hard time seeing the value of a website redesign. They believe “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And this is understandable. Unless you are eating, breathing and sleeping technology and staying up to date with the moving target of Internet business, you’re not likely to know intuitively if your site needs a redesign.

And as a small business owner, you may be concerned about the up-front costs of a website redesign. But once you understand how a redesign can help you drive traffic to your site, convert more users and even save money, you’ll feel more positive about making the investment in your business.

Old School Web Design – Tables-Based HTML

Not long ago, fax machines were the best way to deliver business documents fast. But now it’s so easy to scan and email documents, and even capture digital signatures through email, the fax machine is quickly going the way of the typewriter. With email, recipients can choose to read and archive the message online, or print it out themselves on their own desktop printer. No need for individual telephone lines for the fax machine, taking up desk space, replacing toner, uncurling fax paper and listening to screeching fax machine tones!

Tables-based HTML websites are like the fax machine. At one time tables were the best way to render information on the Web. But like curled paper and fading ink, tables left something to be desired. Designers were constrained by tables that allowed data to be rendered only in tabular form. The clean, professional and creative layouts today’s best designers create with Cascading Style Sheets could never be achieved with tables-based HTML.

New School Web Design – Cascading Style Sheets

Cascading Style Sheets separate the presentation elements of a website (code) from its content (words). CSS allows web designers and developers to format the layout and style (fonts, spacing, text size, colors and so on) of multiple Web pages using one file, rather than entering the code to each individual page. Making changes to styles and layouts is much quicker and easier with CSS as well, as updating one file “cascades” the changes to every page on the site. There is less room for error, and the website maintains a professional consistency.

But web designers and developers are not the only ones who benefit from CSS. You as a business owner benefit even more. How?

5 Solid Reasons To Redesign Your Website With CSS

1. Branding and Aesthetics

Consumer behavior experts tell us that, presented with many similar product or service options, and little prior knowledge and experience with these brands or companies, consumers will rely on mental shortcuts to make purchase decisions. The way your website looks compared to your competitors has a large influence on how a visitor perceives your company’s professionalism and goodwill. If your website looks modern, crisp and clean, you leave a positive impression on your visitors about your company.

2. Better Usability

CSS also reduces the amount of HTML code a website requires. Tables and extra tags for fonts and colors cause pages to load slowly. The longer it takes for your page to load, the more likely a visitor will hit the back button. Even though the majority of people use a broadband connection, many are still using dialup. And others may be using a high speed wireless network which, depending on how many others are sharing the same wireless channel, may experience fast or slow connections.

3. Accessibility

Rapid advances in wireless communications have made it easy to surf the ‘Net using PDA’s and cell phones. Tabular page layouts simply don’t display properly on small screens. A business that wants to be accessible to anyone, anywhere now and in the future needs to have a website that can be viewed on mobile devices.

CSS design also greatly improves the user experience for the visually impaired, as they cause fewer problems for screen readers and Braille programs.

4. Search Engine Benefits

It has been estimated that up to 80% of all purchases online begin with a search engine. And an entire industry is dedicated to helping businesses rank highly for specific search terms to take advantage of the power of search engines.

Although the relevance of a webpage to a search term is determined by HTML elements like title tags and heading tags, content is still “king” because visitors are looking for content, not code. When you have a high code-to-content ratio, your keyword density (the relative frequency of your targeted keywords on your page) is diluted by HTML instructions for how tables, fonts, styles and colors should be rendered. With CSS, there are no tables, and formatting information is contained in one style sheet. So search engines see more keywords and less code.

Search engines are more likely to index deeper pages of your site and send you more referral traffic.

5. Bandwidth

Cascading Style Sheets can save you money and increase the number of eyeballs that see your page in other ways. “Bandwidth” refers to how much website traffic your hosting company will allow you to have each month. Because every time a user lands on your site, he or she must load your pages in his or her browser. Not only visitors, but search engine spiders consume bandwidth too. The more code your pages have, the more bandwidth you use.

If you exceed bandwidth usage your site will be suspend until you buy more bandwidth or reach end of the month. Suppose your site receives a sudden surge of traffic shortly after a popular magazine features your company. That would be the worst possible time for your website to go offline! CSS makes for a more efficient use of bandwidth, and reduces the chances of such problems.

So Are Tables Taboo?

Absolutely not. There are bona fide reasons to use tables to display certain types of content. The beauty about CSS is that you still can use tables when you need to, but you don’t need to use tables for everything which significantly reduces your “code load.”

How Do I Know If I’m Already Using CSS?

A quick test to see if your site is using CSS is to load your website in your browser (any page will do). Right click anywhere in the window, and a menu box will appear. Click “View Page Source.” You should see keywords like rel=”stylesheet” or type=”text/css” near the top of the window that pops up to view your source code.

If you’re already using CSS, there may be other ways your business could benefit from a website redesign. Driving traffic, improving the customer experience, making your website more accessible to users and saving time and money on webmaster updates make it well worth the investment. Whether you choose to redesign now or in the future, make sure that your web designer and developer are skilled in CSS.

About the Author:

This article is courtesy of Image X Media, a Vancouver web design company specializing in tableless CSS design and content management systems.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More about I Am Designs Philosophy

I Am Designs has adopted an Organic Synergy model - a way of combining the energy of individuals into a system that is mutually beneficial to all. (see definitions below)

Pronunciation: or-'ga-nik
Function: adjective
4 a : forming an integral element of a whole : FUNDAMENTAL
b : having systematic coordination of parts : ORGANIZED
c : having the characteristics of an organism : developing in the manner of a living plant or animal

Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural-gies Etymology: New Latin synergia, from Greek synergos working together
1 : SYNERGISM; broadly : combined action or operation
2 : a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements (as resources or efforts)

What's In It For Me?
A business based on the Organic Synergy model fits with the philosophy of sustainable living and voluntary simplicity. Together, we can create something greater than we could achieve alone. Each of the members of the team is a trained, certified and knowledgeable professional and together we have over 20 years of combined experience to offer. By organizing this way we can more effectively share resources, and have a team to brainstorm, network, and market with.
What does that mean to me?

It means you have one place to serve all your needs. I Am Designs now offers an expanded range of professional IT services for the same affordable rates you’ve come to expect. It means guaranteed, high quality work. Each team member is dedicated to developing and maintaining their particular skills and is very proficient at what they do. Because each person focuses on one area, s/he has the time and interest to keep up-to-date on the newest techniques and information available in their respective fields.It means that you will have great customer service. The success of our businesses depends on the satisfaction of our clients. There is no “middle-man”, you will always be dealing with the person who has the power to make decisions. We want you to tell your friends about us, so we’ll make sure you’re happy.

How are you able to charge such affordable rates?
The underlying philosophy of I Am Designs is to live sustainably, and practice voluntary simplicity. We don't define success by money alone; our triple bottom line philosophy includes People, Planet AND Profit. Because we don't need a huge disposable income, we are better able to focus on your needs (as opposed to your ability to pay big bucks), and help you meet them affordably and sustainably. We understand the Entrepreneurial need to pursue a living doing what you love; that is precisely what we are doing everyday. It’s hard to do a poor job of something you love.

At the same time I started the company, I was introduced to 2 concepts that changed my life. They are voluntary simplicity and sustainable living. These inter-twined concepts have changed my idea of how a career “looks” and have influenced how I chose to run my business. An explanation of the two concepts follows.

Voluntary Simplicity
Duane Elgin popularized the term “Voluntary Simplicity” in 1981. The term refers to adopting a simpler life-style by reducing our consumption in order to help conserve the earth's dwindling resources. Many feel that the simple life is less stressful and more fulfilling -- it's a way to reduce the number of hours spent working for pay and increase the time spent with children, friends, family or contributing to the community.

Some other ways to describe it are:
A way of life that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich. It is about evaluating how you spend your time, money and life energy, learning about what is “enough” for you and finding a balance. It’s about decreasing stress, clutter and busy-ness and focusing on what is really important and fulfilling. It’s about doing what you “want” to do, not what you “have” to do.

It’s about freedom to discover your life purpose and time to work towards it. Simple living is about living deliberately. Simple living is not about austerity, or frugality, or income level. It's about being fully aware of why you are living your particular life, and knowing that life is one you have chosen thoughtfully. Simple living is about designing our lives to coincide with our ideals. Simplicity means taking charge of a life that is too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented. An uncluttered simplicity means cutting back on trivial distractions, both material and non-material, and focusing on the essentials -- whatever those may be for each of our unique lives.

Sustainable Living
A sustainable society is one which satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations. ---Lester Brown, Founder and President, Worldwatch InstituteOur personal lives are sustainable when we have time for rest, loving, and laughing. Our work lives are sustainable when we have adequate time and energy to do our tasks, be creative, make a live-able income, and contribute positively to the world around us. Our working and living are sustainable when we don't harm the Earth or other people through our daily actions. Living a sustainable life, then, means working and living in ways that are "life-giving." One way we do this is to learn how the natural systems of the Earth and other species work. By understanding that we are part of a larger life web that can teach us about sustainability, we can find new methods for transforming the ways we live and work.

Why would you want to incorporate these concepts into a business?
In my opinion, structuring a company as a single-person, home-based business allows one to live a simpler and more fulfilling life.

Have more, with less. you can reduce expenses if you no longer need to earn the money to pay for business clothes, hairdressers, makeup, transportation, parking and lunches. With lower expenses, you don’t need to earn as much money. Therefore you can charge less, and spend fewer hours working.

Have more free time. with a flexible schedule, you can spend more time with your family, or pursuing hobbies and doing community work. Go on a vacation when you want to, not when you are allowed time off. Participate in workshops and courses that fall in odd times of the day.

Be healthier. Many people have very high stress levels because of all the "things" they have to do. The amount of "busy-ness" also causes people to eat in ways that they know are not healthy, or have no time to exercise or get enough sleep. This can lead to frequent occurences of ailments like headaches, stomach aches or colds. It can also lead to more serious problems like high blood pressure and cholesterol which lead to a whole series of more serious problems. When you make your schedule you can decide to include time to take care of yourself and practice a healthier lifestyle.

Have better relationships having more freedom allows you to prioritize quality time with family, friends and yourself. When you take time to understand what you want and need, you are better prepared to be helpful to others. You can communicate better because you have time to listen. A flexible schedule also lets you be there when you are needed, for example during an illness or for a school play.

I would like to share some of the resources that have had an impact on me, and I think you’ll find them interesting. Have a look at the links on the side.