3 Ways to Make Your Website Load Faster

By | Design, Technical | No Comments

Speed is starting to become increasingly important in an increasingly mobile world. A slow website ruins the user experience. A lot of people will just leave if a site loads too slowly. While we do live in a world where internet speeds of getting increasingly faster (see Google Fiber), mobile connections haven’t exactly caught up yet.

What makes a website slow?

Let’s throttle a web page and see what takes forever to load, a real-life example. But real fast let’s go over what I’m talking about:

The Lingo:

What is throttling?: When you purposefully slow down a connection. This could be to reduce internet usage or to test page speed like what we’re doing here.

How is this being measured?: Feel like following along? Go to a website and right click the page and click “Inspect”. From there you want to click the “Network” tab. Inside of the network tab you will see several options. You are going to want to click “Disable Cache” and then to the right of that you want to select the “Fast 3G” option and refresh the page. The page will be running as if it were on a fast 3G connection, essentially you’re simulating being someone with slow internet. You’ll notice a significantly slower loading page and all of the files that are being loaded for it to be used.

Onto our test:

We’re going to use a commonly known website like Facebook in this example. What we’re going to run a test similar to what is described in the “How is this measured?” question. We are using a “Fast 3G” network with a disabled cache on Google Chrome.

The Results:

As with most blogs or websites, the most time-consuming things to load were images and JavaScript files. We had 1 image alone take 14 seconds alone that was a PNG and a Javascript file that took 12 seconds for time. The page overall took 31.77 seconds, which is way too long to wait for a website. Another kicker for sites that I’m surprised didn’t come up for Facebook’s case is CSS files. Some CSS files are absolutely massive and a lot of the time you don’t even end up using everything inside it so it becomes wasted space because it has to transfer the whole file over for the pieces that it will use.

What You Can Do:

1: Optimize Image Files:

This can be done either through Photoshop or through Jpegoptim for Jpegs and optiPNG for PNG images if you’re comfortable with your host’s terminal. There are also several free online tools available that you can use to optimize the different types of images you might have. It’s also worth noting that you should probably use the proper image type for its use case. For example, if you have an image on your website that is a PNG but doesn’t have any transparency on it, convert it into a Jpeg to help load times. Let’s say you have a graphic on your website that has only so many colors, a GIF image type might be right for that particular graphic.

2: Use G-Zip Compression:

G-Zip is a way to compress your site before its sent to your user. Hence reducing the overall file size. Heres a general idea on how it works.

Think of Gzip compression like the compressed .zip and .rar files you have on your computer, but the type your server uses to make your site load quickly for your visitors.

Gzip is another thing you would need to have your host likely enable and setup for you if you’re unfamiliar with your terminal.

3: Minify CSS & JavaScript

This is a big one… Massive CSS and Javascript files can have their file sizes reduced significantly with minification. What is minification you might ask? Its when you go to remove all unnecessary characters from your code. Like unneeded spaces or comments. Basically, you put all of your code on one line. Heres an example:

The above example uses CSS and JavaScript. While one is much more human readable than the other, they both provide the same results. But the minified file is smaller because unneeded characters are gone.

Keep your users happy, optimize your websites and web applications.

Know some more ways you could optimize a site to load faster? Feel free to discuss below!

Our Dive Into Linux

By | Business, Technical

A lot of people have never actually heard of what Linux is so let me define it real quick. Linux is a operating system, like macOS built upon a base called Unix. It is free and open source for anybody to download, use, modify, and improve. We have decided to make all of the computers in our office run a variation of Linux; particularly the Linux Mint distribution on our work stations, which is free to download. Streamlining our web design process.

Over the course of several months the switch has been amazing in terms of system stability, speed, and security. Not only that but we now have access to a wide range of free open source tools that ease collaboration across web design projects. The switch also gave us full control and customization over the computers we have. While there were several awesome benefits that come from doing a full switch to Linux, there were a couple downsides.

Lack of Support From Vendors:

One of the biggest banes of Linux would be the lack of support from large vendors such as Adobe and Microsoft. For example, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator do not have Linux variations available for them. However, both of these have free open source alternatives such as Gimp and Inkscape. Skype on Linux is also severely outdated, and it seems that Microsoft had abandoned support for it all-together. Likely due to the lack of popularity of Linux on desktop environments. Although the market share of Linux on desktop environments is at an all-time high which we think is awesome, and we hope that growth like that helps in future software support.

Complexity for the Average Bear:

OK, so the Linux Mint community has done a great job for making the user experience for less tech savvy users significantly better than it was ages ago. Though its still not there yet. Most people are terrified to use a terminal to install software from a remote repository. Anything without a graphical user interface typically scares people away. While people like computer engineers and software developers love Linux because it is no where near as bloated as other operating systems; the average person would have trouble even installing it. However with a little bit of tech savvy it can be accomplished.

Why Its Awesome for Web Design & Development

While the Linux market share is low compared to Windows or macOS on desktop environments, Linux is holding its own in terms of server market share simply because its free and light weight and you can install it on just about anything. This helps us out a lot because our servers are running some sort of distribution of Linux. Not only that but we are developers who can utilize the very powerful Linux terminal. Even better, we can easily spin up personal development servers right off our laptops easier than you would on other operating systems. Another critical element here is the compatibility between all of the machines. To put it in very simple terms, all of the machines are speaking the same language. Making everything significantly easier and far more streamlined when we do web design projects.

“I’m Not A Web Designer, Should I Use It?”

I honestly encourage everyone to learn about Linux and try it for themselves. I would recommend the Ubuntu distribution for anyone first starting off. Especially if you’re coming from Windows. However if you’re coming from macOS, Elementary OS may be more your taste. Another thing to take into consideration if you want to make the switch is software compatibility for apps that you use everyday. You would want to find out if your vendors support Linux. If you’re just doing general computing, use web apps, you could go right ahead and install Linux. We encourage everyone to go open source and support the developers who contribute to open source projects, be it monetarily or by using the software. We see a big future ahead for Linux, and we love using the bleeding edge of technology.

5 Terrible Web Design Trends That Need To Die

By | Design | No Comments

Working in web design and development in Iowa I get to see a lot of interesting things when it comes to websites that need serious work. A lot of which are just dated websites with dated layouts, and terrible user experiences due to something just outright annoying. So here a few web design trends that need to die.

1: Autoplaying Music & Video

 

Nothing screams “leave this website” like a sound suddenly blasting through your speakers as you begin to load a page. Whenever something like this is asked about, I often recommend that you do not do it. Think of it this way, say it’s very late at night and you’re in bed with your significant other. You can’t sleep so you’re browsing the web on your phone or laptop looking for something. You begin to load a web page and lo and behold you have your volume turned up all the way and suddenly the web page is blasting music or auto-playing a video. You hit the back button faster than the flash but it’s too late, you have woken up aforementioned significant other. If you want media on your site; you should instead give your users the option to play it if they would like. This will keep your bounce rates low and keep you from causing an awkward situation when you’re browsing in a quiet place.

2: Websites Laid Out With Tables

I am actually surprised I still run into these; usually on really old websites or sites that were built on an old platform. Tables are meant to do one thing and one thing only: Organize data! Someone out of their mind decided that they should make it so the tables would have the ability to have an invisible border, and this spawned the to use tables as a tool for layouts. The reason why this is a horrible idea is typically these sites are not mobile-friendly and therefore mobile users are likely to just leave the site. You need to have a website that provides a great experience to mobile users (responsive design should be standard these days). In fact, this is so important that its worth mentioning mobile internet users surpassed desktops. That is very important fact, which brings me onto my next point.

 

3: Websites That Were Designed In Flash

This is another one that is related to mobile but also is as old as dust. It’s worth mentioning that most smartphones these days do not run flash. Not only that but Adobe themselves announced that they will no longer be supporting it. Hence it will become deprecated. The reason being is because modern web technologies like HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript are replacing it. Yes, Flash used to be awesome for displaying cool animations but these days it’s dated and easier to replace with lightweight alternatives. Another painful reality about Flash is the fact that many dated websites are still vulnerable to attack from a security hole Adobe patched years ago. Reason being is these Flash sites are probably still Flash sites because they have yet to be updated.

4: Way Too Many Gifs

 

 

Ok, gifs are awesome when you need to describe what you have to say on social media, and they are really making a comeback. However, a million animated gifs on one page is a terrible idea. Not only does it look horrible, but it distracts the visitors from the main content on the website. Assuming they didn’t smash the back button already. You can already assume that this can hurt the effectiveness of the site. Yes, websites like this do still, unfortunately, exist.

 

 

5: Sites With Separate Mobile Versions

Alright so you guys might burn me at the stake for this but I think we should evolve past having 2 separate websites. Us programmers have a few acronyms for when we do work. Some of them are KISS (Keep it simple stupid), YAGNI (You Ain’t Gonna Need It), and finally, DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself). Why would you have two versions of a website if you could just simply make a single mobile-friendly version? There is no point in developing what is essentially two websites. I consider it to be inefficient and of course, breaks the DRY principle. You are indeed, repeating yourself with two sites.

Overall when you go to make a site you need to keep a few things in mind. User experience, design, and effectiveness. Those are the basics. Not all sites are future proof and many go neglected. Don’t let your site be one of those. Take care of your site with one of our care plans.

 

How Often Should I Redesign My Website

By | Design | No Comments

A mistake a lot of businesses make is that they see a website as one big project and say “Ok we have one! That’s done, whats next?” However, it should be noted that just having a site does not mean it will be stable, maintained, and stylish forever. Which means that you should have it reworked every few years so then you can adapt to the design trends of the future and keep up with modern security standards. In fact, we redesigned our website around four times. This is what the original GearSite website looked like:

 

 

But this is to be expected for an internet marketing company that does web design and development. How often should a regular business (not a web design company) update their site? If you want a quick answer, I would personally say update your site layout and function every 2-3 years. There are so many businesses out there that have websites that have not been updated in five, six, even ten years! This bothers me. It ruins the buying experience for many customers who would like to contact this business through their website, resulting in a high bounce rate. These high bounce rates are particularly present in mobile users because these sites aren’t usually new enough to be mobile friendly. A website that lacks a responsive design would definitely need a redesign to even be remotely up to today’s standards.

Lack of maintenance from web designers kills websites:

There is a point where technology on the server side, which is likely maintained by a system administrator or a team of system administrators, out paces the technology on the website. This causes the code on the site to become deprecated and eventually obsolete. This happens due to the continuous advancement of technology. If you wait long enough, the site will likely fall apart all-together depending on the technology that it’s built upon. A good way to tell if your website has gone stagnant is if it has broken forms, images not showing up, lack of responsive/mobile friendly design, functionality breaking. A stagnant site also increases the risk of viruses.

Proper website function should be tested frequently by your web designer. It should always be noted that websites are never a one-time deal and they should always be maintained. It is also recommended that you have the site backed up by your web host frequently. By doing that, it is possible to revert back to the backup should something happen that results in a site-wide failure.

Good maintenance should keep your site from needing a redesign

Like vehicles and homes, proper maintenance now can reduce the cost later. The lack of maintenance on a website and/or a cultural shift in design are what eventually leads to the requirement for a complete redesign. For example, if your website was built with flash, it is important that you contact a web design agency. Sites built with flash do not work on mobile and are very unappealing to potential customers. Making a site mobile friendly would also require a redesign. However, if you keep in touch with your web designer or agency and request updates when necessary, a full on redesign should almost never be necessary.

Why web design is important

We live in a digital age and a consumer’s trust is critical to lead generation on a website. That’s why a modern and functional design that has a good user experience is critical to online success. You don’t want the business of your customers to be turned away to a competitor because they represented their company better than you did. An appealing design coupled with excellent SEO creates a nearly unstoppable online presence that actively works to present your business in the best possible light.

 

In short, you would want your website to be reworked every two to three years. You could reduce the expense by having your web designer or web design agency do maintenance involves modernization over the months. This should help with the price when it comes to a major overhaul which your site will likely need down the road.

Where to Get Free to Use Media

By | Business, Design, Marketing | No Comments

A challenge many businesses face is finding media that they can use for free. It’s good to understand that you can’t just grab images off of Google. The reason being is because copyright laws and Licensing can get in the way, along with possibly get you in trouble. So I’m going to be writing this article telling you where you can find free to use images that you don’t need a to attribute credit to (CC0). Even images that you’re allowed to use commercially, and if you wanted to you could modify the images as well. Not only will I tell you where to find images, but I’ll also tell you where you can find things like icons and videos that you can use on your website or other media like print and social.

Free to Use Images:

Pixabay:


Pixabay is my go-to website when it comes down to free to use images that I do not need to attribute for. They have a very large selection of images on the web that photographers around the world contribute to. Not only that but they also have several vector graphics on there as well help convey a message to your customers. You can freely use modify and distribute these images. The only stipulation is that if an identifiable person is placed in a bad light or in a way that people may find offensive you cannot do that unless they give their consent. Meaning you cannot use them for something pornographic, unlawful, or immoral. Pixabay is an amazing resource when it comes to free to use images. I encourage donating to the authors whose images that you download the most. You can do this by clicking the coffee button under the profile picture of the author when viewing an image.

Pexels:


Pexels is another great website that has free to use images that have optional attribution. Pexels of course also says that the pictures are free for personal and even commercial use. The restrictions again are similar to that of Pixabay where you cannot represent the person that may be identifiable in the image in a bad light. They even encourage you to contribute your own images if they are high quality. You also have the option to donate to them which supports free to use images on the web. The button is at the bottom of their about us page.

Unsplash:


Unsplash is another website that you can use to download even more free to use images. According to their Manifesto, the concept was born from the pain that they as the creators had in finding great usable imagery. Just from looking through their library I can tell you that a lot of the images that they offer are high-resolution meaning that they’re very good quality. And like Pixabay and Pexels they offer a Creative Commons Zero license.

What you can’t do with any of these images:

You cannot portray recognizable people in photos in a bad light without their permission. If there are any trademarks, logos, brands, or anything else related to a different company depicted in the images (Like a Coca-Cola sign), that does not mean you could suddenly go about using that company’s logo. You will first need to ask for permission from the company.

Videos:

Pexels Videos:


This is another awesome place for you to find videos that you might need for your website or blog. If you’re just stitching a video together and you need some sort of HD stock footage or you’re looking for something to be a buffer between your different scenes Pexels Videos might be the place for you. This is actually where we got the video background for our homepage. The videos have the same rules as the pictures stated above and are also under a CC0 license.

Pixabay Video Filter:

free to use video by pixabay
If you go to Pixabay’s website and you look at their search bar you’ll see that they have a video filter. You could use this video filter to find other free to use CC0 videos. Those of course, with the same rules that I mentioned above, do not require attribution. Also, like Pexels, Pixabay provides HD video that you can use for your projects.

Icon Fonts:

Icon fonts are typically used by web developers and designers to give websites and web apps a better user experience. Could you imagine a world without icons?

Font Awesome:

font awesome - free to use icon fonts

Font awesome is a massive icon pack along with a web designers best friend. We use them quite often for many of the websites that we design along with web applications that we develop. What an icon is able to do is provide a better user experience along with conveying a message better.

Fontello:

fontello - free to use icon fonts
Fontello has a huge collection of icons on their website that could be integrated into your site or a web app. They give you the ability to choose whichever one that you want along with download your selection. Fontello does not also require attribution.

Why does it matter if media is “free to use”?:

It is technically stealing if you go to Google images and download an image that you end up using for a commercial purpose. This is called piracy. The reason why it’s illegal is that the original artist who created the image did not give you permission to go and take it off of whatever resource you took it from. That’s because the author is the original copyright holder even if there is no copyright symbol on the image. When you visit these different websites that I talked about the media that they offer is free to use on your own site. With attribution being recommended but not required. Using these sites keeps you away from hefty copyright fines that can cripple most small businesses. Decreasing risk and liability significantly, that’s why it matters. You can learn more about the CC0 license here.

How do we use These Resources?:

As a web solution company, these resources offer savings that get passed down to the customers who would no longer have to purchase images or other forms of content. These sites are often used for our web design service and you can find many traces of us using these resources on our own site (Reverse image search). By using Google Images.

Google My Business

Getting your Business on Google

By | Business, Marketing

Everyone knows Google, everyone loves it. It’s the world’s favorite search engine. You can tell because I don’t even have to source that, because it’s common knowledge! And if there’s one thing that Google is good at, it’s business. People who search for your business are going to be searching for it on Google. So it’s up to you to make sure your information is readily available when they search.

Google: My Business

Google My Business offers a great way to offer your information to customers. With My Business, you can choose the information your potential customers see when they look up your business. Verifying your  information with Google makes you seem more trustworthy as a business. You can also set your hours and address so customers can find out where you are and choose just when to drop by. Using My Business also allows you to put other information out to potential customers, such as a phone number and your website. If a customer were to leave a reply or rating, you could respond to it any clear up any questions anyone may have. It is also possible to post pictures of your business, which also make potential customers much more likely to stop by. You can see the demographics, such as location, of the users searching for your site, and how they searched for it. Oh, and did I mention, it’s free.

Using Google My Business is sort of like free SEO. You’d have to be crazy not to take advantage of it. With this tool you can decide how your business is represented on the largest and most popular search engine. That really means something. As a business owner, any way to better promote your business and interact with your customers is beneficial. Make sure you’re taking advantage of anything that can get you a leg up.

online presence

5 Ways to Boost your Online Presence

By | Marketing

Boosting your websites presence is critical to your success on the web. With more and more people searching for products and services online; how your company is portrayed is becoming increasingly important to potential customers or clients.

What is considered an online presence?:

I would honestly say that “online presence” has multiple definitions. But let’s go over a few of the important ones. I think the three most important things within your online presence it would be SEO, User Experience, and Branding. You want SEO so then people can find your site in general and user experience so then when they do find your site, they don’t hate it. Then you would want branding to remain consistent to the print materials you hand out or the colors that you use. Making people more familiar and trusting with what you do. So let’s go more in depth with these three main points in online presence.

search engine optimization Back Links:

Yes, backlinks are still important in 2017. As searchmetrics.com defines it, “Backlinks are incoming links that refer to all links from other websites referencing the website in question.” Basically,, its other websites linking to your site. Reputable backlinks to your site that are related to your topic are considered to be stronger backlinks. Another great source of backlinks would be from reputable media companies. This is especially important for businesses who serve a local area. A lot of local media businesses offer segments that are just for smaller local businesses. I would personally recommend contacting one of these media companies to do a report on your business along with possibly see if they could include your website in said report. That way you get the necessary links to your site.

print marketing
Print Marketing & Popularity:

When you get a website developed and you don’t tell anybody about it, you pointlessly got a website developed. It’s important to include your finished website on print materials so then you advertise it yourself. In highschool, there was a popularity contest. Who were the cool kids, the smart kids, etc. Well, Google is like high school in the sense that their rankings are a popularity contest as well. Google likes to put what is popular on top. It makes sense. If a lot of people like it it’s probably what the person searching is actually looking for, right? Basically what this means is if you have a talent or you do something, make sure that you are screaming it to the world through the web and through your print.

Avoiding Black Hat SEO:

Black hat SEO is something you may or may not have heard of. There are many companies out there who promise to get you to the #1 spot on Google for extremely cheap but be warned, their methods are likely to be unethical. No SEO company can guarantee a number one spot on Google as the field of SEO fluctuates so much. Know that one of these companies could potentially get your website blacklisted by Google, and once it’s blacklisted; it’s over. It’s difficult to get your site to be removed from Google’s blacklist. So when you go to hire a company to do your search engine optimization, make sure that they are a reputable company. Also, make sure that there is actually a way to measure your results. Be it Google Analytics or another functionality that keeps track of visitors on your website.

user experience design Amazing User Experience:

Nothing screams well-designed website more than a website with an awesome user experience. When leads or potential customers go to visit your website you’re going to want to have it be easy to use along with easy to either contact you for your services or purchase your products. Driving profitable sales right to your doorstep. If you have good SEO coupled with amazing user experience then you have a profitable website. Assuming someone out there wants what you’re selling. (Though a properly optimized site should attract your target market.)

Brand Consistency:

Brand consistency, in my opinion, is a given, though it’s often overlooked. You might have a website that follows one style and some print materials like business cards or brochures that follow another style. Which isn’t a very good idea when it comes to building trust with your customers. Which is why we go through the process of asking about color schemes and other design restrictions when we initially go to build your website. Everything should follow a design guide that was preferably created by a designer that would include things like colors, fonts, number conventions, address conventions, etc to keep everything consistent. That way people begin to familiarize themselves with your company when you begin to build consistency.

So when someone asks for a recommendation related to the product or service that you offer, guess whose company is going to be in mind because they have built a trust? Yours hopefully. Or your competitors depending on who keeps more in touch with their customers and builds trust better.

Overall all of these things should help you improve your online presence. From building your SEO and having an amazing user experience, to keeping in touch with your customers in person with print and other forms of communication. All of the suggestions with a little bit of work should do nothing but benefit your business.

I appreciate you taking the time out to read this awesome article on boosting your online presence!

Ervin out.

Good Use of Image

It’s All About Image

By | Design | No Comments

Everyone can appreciate a good image. Supposedly an image can speak a thousand words. I disagree. I think that images are better used with words. As developers, its easy to see how an image can be used to make a clearer point, or to add extra flair to a web page.

Proper Image Context

Being selective with images is key. You never want to use an image out of context. In other words, you wouldn’t use a picture of the Mona Lisa when discussing the differences in dog food brands, just because you think the Mona Lisa is pretty. It’s okay to get picky when deciding on images for a site. You want to find an image that properly conveys your purpose. Take GearSite for example. We used plenty of pictures in our site, but we made sure they all made sense in context. We mainly used pictures that show our design process, our staff, and our location. These all help to better illustrate our points. Using images related to your business or topic of conversation are crucial to an exceptional site.

File Size

Balancing quality and load time is also important when selecting an image. We all know that the higher quality an image is, the better it will look, especially when displayed on larger devices. But you have to offset that quality with file size. Making file sizes to large can cause several problems. Using large images can slow down your load speeds, making it annoying or frustrating for your customers. Large load times can turn customers away from your site, costing you sales. The larger the file sizes the more space your site takes up on a server. The last thing a system administrator needs to deal with is a lack of space and the last thing you want is to be griped at by said administrator.

Images are incredibly important, especially in websites. A visual can help convey a complicated topic, or it can serve to make your site a little more decorated. Either way, selecting the proper images, and balancing the quality with the file size are integral for building and maintaining a successful, and profitable site.

Friendly and Happy Coworkers

Team Cohesion and Happy Employees

By | Business | No Comments

We can probably all agree that getting along with your employees and/or your coworkers is a good thing. Happy workers tend to be more productive, and more productive workers means more money for everyone. Having a staff that gets along is imperative for any business, but that’s only the beginning. A company should be welcoming and friendly, while remaining professional and productive.

We all like to have a bit of separation between our personal life and our work life. However, that doesn’t mean that they cant bleed a little bit into each other. It has been proven that employees who were more engaged with their coworkers were happier than their less engaged counterparts (Davis 2017). As an employer, it is important to provide positive feedback to your employees. Remember to socialize with them, so they see you as a leader, rather than someone they are in opposition against. Being able to feel comfortable around fellow coworkers is important to the well-being of any employee.

There is a limit to these interactions, however. As coworkers become friends, they begin to find common interests and share with one another more and more. This office “gossip” and “chit-chat” can be unproductive, and productivity is vital to any business. As an employer, setting specific times, such as lunch hour, can give your employees the time they need to socialize. Note that by forcing employees to completely cut off non-essential communication, their engagement with others is lowered and they can become unhappy and unsatisfied with their jobs. Everyone needs a break sometimes. As an employee, you can work to keep conversations with colleagues, during working hours, brief, possibly using them as a sort of reward for a completion of a task.

A social employee is a happy employee, and a happy employee is a productive employee. Remember to allow your employees to socialize and join in on the conversations. Talk to your coworkers and get to know them, you may have more in common than you think.

 

Sources:

Davis, Sadie “Increasing Happiness in the Workplace,” The Kabod 3. 3 (2017) Article 3. Liberty University Digital Commons. Web. [19 May 2017].