website development Tag

Code in two minutes: The internet is yours

I’ve been doing a night course on HTML and CSS coding through Friends of Design for the last few weeks. I’m doing it becuase I want better control of the websites we build and to be able make precise tweaks and changes to them. At Pomegranite, we build websites on WordPress which allows us to create slick, professional sites that are affordable for the client. Ninety-nine percent of the time, clients don’t need complex, custom-coded websites. And if they do, we hand them over to trusted agencies who can provide that service.

Self-hosted WordPress essentially comprises of two systems: the first is a content management system which acts as an interface between you and the website, saving your images and posts and giving you the tools to edit the website. The second is a theme or template which is like a ‘skin’ for your website and manages its design. This is where it’s handy to have some coding knowledge to manipulate these themes.

Learning to code (I say this with a pinch of salt because hardcore coders study for years) has been a pretty mind-blowing experience. For most people, the internet is another world, created and controlled by others, that we can only make a mark on through social media, which is itself contained separately within the greater world-wide-web. When I started editing the code of WordPress themes, Sarah and I referred to it as “entering the Matrix” and rejoiced when I did something and the site didn’t explode.

But the truth is, the internet is made by people, creating code. To scratch beneath the surface, all you have to do is right click and select “inspect element” to see the code that props up the site you’re viewing.

Coding is becoming more and more accessible to people other than nerdy hackers. Just check out organisations like Code for Cape Town which runs a three week holiday programme that introduces grade 10 and 11 girls to the world of web development for social impact. What’s also great is that you don’t have to wait for someone to teach you to code. There are tons of resources online to get you started.

Codecadamy is the one I started with. It’s super simple, fun and effective at teaching you code. They use a system where you’re walked through the code on one side of the screen and it shows the effect on the other side of the screen. So not only do you never feel lost, but you see instant results.

codecadamy

It’s free, it’s fun, you can login with Facebook and Gmail.

So go ahead, give it a go!

[Feature image source.]

Five things lately

So let’s start with this: in exactly one month it will be Christmas. ONE. MONTH. I’m not really sure how that even happened. It’s been one hell of a year, in so many ways. And not just because we now have a fancy system that basically does all our invoicing for us.

Because Liz gave you a very informative, business-y post last week about that very same invoicing system (if you missed it, please feel free to absorb the wisdom here. Also – there are cat pictures.), I thought I’d share five random things that I’ve learnt/experienced lately.

1. Owning your own business sometimes means late nights and stressing about finances. And sometimes it means bikini shopping on a Wednesday afternoon.

2. When your client sees her new website for the first time and is so completely chuffed that she struggles to make words – that right there is the stuff. The reason we do what we do. Sure, paying rent is awesome. But moments like that – they are my affirmation.

3. Tax. Oh ALL-THE-EXPLETIVES-ALL-OF-THEM. Liz reckons that this is how we feel about tax:

cat 2

[Source]

For me, it’s more like this I think:

panic

[Source]

I can now tell you that I know the difference between PAYE and provisional tax. The provisional tax deadline is in January 2015. The PAYE deadline is NOT. Failing to understand this means a FULL-on panic when you realise that your actual deadline is tomorrow. It also means paying the wonderful people who come to your rescue in snapdragons (boys – those are flowers) and beer.

4. Being able to advise friends on how to start or grow their own businesses – because you’ve been there and you’re still working it out – is pretty great. It’s a wonderful thing seeing so much potential in people you admire, and being able to see ways in which you can help them take off. Even if it’s just telling them how amazing they are over a beer.

5. The more I see of the business world, the more I really think that we are all just faking it ‘til we make it. Especially when you start your own thing. The amazing thing is to get to a point when you see how well your projects are doing and how far you’ve come – when you hear the words that you are making as you sit in a meeting and you think: “Holy s@#%, we really do know what we are doing. That was some great advice I just gave. I would hire us.”

Why people leave your website

You’re in a crowded exhibition hall meeting lots of new people in your industry. What draws you to a person only to decide it might be a better idea to fake a bathroom break? What gets you hooked, makes you want to take a card, and place an order there and then?

Think of your website as one of these people in this room. In a sales environment, the aim is to attract attention to a product, generate interest and make a sale. Your website is your flyer, your yellow pages entry, your marketing pitch, your brochure, your voice online. The aims are similar. There are aspects of our websites that attract users but also aspects that repel them. It’s important to be aware of both.

Getting a user to your site is only the first step. Creating a site that makes them want to explore further is the next challenge – and the final goal? Converting that view into an interaction. The longer someone is on your site, the more likely they are to move further through the sale process.

There might be elements of your website that put users off and click that ‘x’ that you might not even be aware of. This handy infographic from the lovely folks at KISS metrics highlights some key points about what makes users leave a website.

Click to enlarge the infographic.

leave a website infographic

 

WordCamp 2014: A summary

Going to WordCamp was a bit of a last minute decision – but one I’m so glad we made.

Having worked on WordPress for about a year and a half now, we feel fairly comfortable with the platform, but we liked the idea of broadening our WordPress horizons somewhat and seeing what the frontrunners in our industry are up to. So we registered and went along not really knowing what to expect.

First impression: So many guys. So many guys in one room – in Cape Town. Seriously, I kept marvelling at the sheer number of them throughout the day. It was weird. But not entirely unpleasant. Let’s just say there is a reason they call it “bro-gramming”.

Coming from a words background, it really drove home the fact that we approach website creation so differently. We start with the story – how are you different from the competition? What picture do you want to paint of who you are and what you do in a way that sets you apart?

It was interesting to see that, while we are comfortable with WordPress, the hardcore coding side of things is not our strongpoint – and that’s ok. Because we have something to offer that is a lot less common in the “bro-gramming” scene: writing and communication skills. Having chatted to a few developers and speakers from the conference, it was exciting to see how we fit into this world and the role we would like to carve out for ourselves.

We found the talks really interesting and entertaining (nerd humour included), and, being women, felt the need to talk-all-about-it-and-how-inspired-we-felt after each one.

We took so much from the talks, in fact, that we’ll be running a series of blog posts over the next little while, as there is just too much to communicate all at once.

But we left the conference full of ideas and chuffed at the networking opportunities the day afforded us.

For now, here is a brief summary:

Organisation: Great – Liz especially loved the goodie bag and struggled to play it cool in the beginning. Thanks WooThemes!

Speakers: Awesome – especially Tomaž Zaman, Founder / CTO, Head of Product Development at Codeable.

MCs: Hilarious. Derick Watts & The Sunday Blues – you guys definitely added another dimension to the standard conference vibe.

Catering: Delicious. Sarah particularly loved the doughnuts. And popcorn. And muffins. And chicken kebabs.

Thanks WordCamp – I’m sure we’ll be seeing you again in 2015!

To see all the tweets from the conference and the nuggets of wisdom people took home, check out #wcct.

Liz and her hipster briefcase at the awesome venue - Greenpoint Stadium

Liz and her hipster briefcase at the awesome venue – Greenpoint Stadium

What happens when a brand collaborates with its Instagram followers

There’s nothing quite like a hopping on a bike and feeling the breeze in your hair on a sunset bike ride along the picturesque Sea Point promenade. Childhood memories of riding with “no hands” for the first time, the flying sensation of high speeds, near-collisions and scraped knees come flooding back. You can’t help testing your bell – brrrrrring brrrrrrrring – for safety purposes, of course.

But how do you communicate that experience on a website? Having been long-time customers of UpCycles, we got chatting about their website and before we know it, that question was ours to answer. So we checked out UpCycle’s social media presence and found that people had such a blast that they LOVED taking photos of their joyrides. And you can see the what a good time they’re having. So we let them tell the story of what it’s like to rent an UpCycles bicycle by collaborating with them on the UpCycles website.

Here’s a taster of what Instagram users happily contributed to the Upcycles website:

The result?

We used a grid design because we were working with generally square pictures of a relatively low quality (having been shot on the fly with phones most of the time). We used a small slider on the homepage and built links to important pages around it. We got across the important information as succinctly as possible with maps and clearly listed rates and contact details. We also incorporated their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds to show off their online communities.

We had a lot of fun developing this site on a tight timeline and budget – and even more fun hearing how thrilled Jared and Shannon from Up Cycles were when we showed them the end product.

Upcycles website

Five reasons why we use WordPress

Website building platforms are constantly evolving to keep up with the needs of developers. We keep an eye on the CMS options available to us but have always come back to WordPress. Here are five reasons why:

  1. It’s versatile

WordPress helps us build a site that’s as simple or as expansive as you like. The functionality at our fingertips allows us to build sites from a clean, informative portfolio or an evocative website, complete with galleries and blog to an e-commerce site that makes you money while you sleep. Our job is understanding what you need and making that happen.

  1. It’s affordable and efficient

With the themes and plugins available in WordPress, there’s no need to build from scratch. This makes the website more affordable for the client and the process more efficient for us. There are thousands of WordPress themes available – by far the best selection online – and the best news? They’re built to be responsive and ready to work on any device.

  1. It’s SEO-friendly

The number one reason businesses want to be online is to be found. Tip-top search engine optimisation is crucial for any website and WordPress is inherently SEO-friendly, giving developers the opportunity to use keywords in URLs, headings, site descriptions ,etc. There are also plenty of great plugins that instil SEO discipline, ensuring you’re on top of your game.

  1. The WordPress culture

There are no nasty surprises like having to pay a monthly fee for a custom domain or conditions urging you to upgrade. Once you’ve sorted your hosting, you’re on your way and you always feel in control of any premium themes and plugins that you might want to use.

Because so many people use WordPress, their resources are always growing. Updates are constantly improving the experience and if you do run into a problem, they have impressive support.

Another advantage of its popularity is that there is a huge community of WordPress users who offer free advice and tutorials so support extends well beyond the WordPress team.

  1. It’s accessible

Once a site is up, the WordPress dashboard is accessible enough that we can easily teach clients how to maintain their sites in a workshop. This is a popular option as they can be in control and easily update photos, post news and edit information. In short, they keep their site feeling fresh and if there are any problems, we’re always there to help.

When things come full circle

You never know where life is going to take you – and the ripple effect of tiny actions can lead you to people who you are just supposed to meet.

Four years ago, when I was in Korea, I ran down a flight of stairs too quickly in the dark of the early morning, and tumbled. Four years, two surgeries, so many doctors, physios, x-rays, MRIs and about nine collective months on crutches later, I was starting to lose hope about ever having a functioning ankle that wasn’t sore all the time.

And then I met Helene.

Physio extraordinaire and owner of the Sports Injury Centre at UCT, Helene has magically gentle hands and is an ankle genius. I do not use that word lightly – she truly is phenomenal. I trusted her the moment she first examined my foot in her thoughtful way, before proceeding to “unlock” it. It was quite an experience.

It was hard work, but with Helene’s reassurance and encouragement, and lots of rehab, things started to get better.

I emailed Helene a few days ago with this question: Could I run the 21km Gun Run in a couple months? (Answer: No – but use the 10km as part of your training you can run another 21 the following month. HA!)

Which just goes to show – find the right person to help you, and you can do the impossible.

What made this whole experience even more rewarding was that I got to help Helene and the SIC build a brand new website, which they loved straight away. We never really share client testimonials on this blog, but this one is quite special.

I had the privileged to meet a lovely patient about a year ago, who against all odds, persisted to work at her rehabilitation. We spoke from time to time about her career and how her (and her partner’s) new business was evolving. When I decided that it was time to update our logo and corporate identity (as Sarah advised me) as well as updating our website, I contacted her for a discussion.

Sarah was attentive to what we wanted, and she quickly formulated a strategy for us to follow. She patiently tweaked my writings and ideas. Even more patiently, coached the team into submitting their profiles for the website, and then demonstrated even more patience in dealing with our decision making about the logo, colours of the logo and the layout etc. We are small team, but every opinion is important. Not once did we feel that we were being coerced into deciding something we were not satisfied with. Yet, the process continued to move ahead at a rapid pace and sooner than later, our project reached completion.

We are very impressed with the speed (yet patient manner) this process took. Most of all, once the website was uploaded, there were no problems / hitches! We asked for a few photos changes which was dealt with immediately, and before we know it, it was done! Painless, on target/ budget and a very pleasing result! Thank you to Sarah and Liz. You will go far and we will recommend your services gladly.”

You can explore the new SIC website here. And if you ever happen to hurt your ankle – you know who to see!

SIC screenshot

SEO and misspelled words: Not as much of a problem as you think

I have always enjoyed words. Spelling tests at school were particularly satisfying for me. While I did once write my gran a letter with the catchy title “Tiptoe through the choolips with me”, I haven’t often had much trouble with spelling.

Since I entered the world of website creation and SEO has become a thing in my life, spelling has taken on a bit of a new spin.

Clients sometimes ask: “How can I be sure that someone will find my website if they don’t spell our company name correctly?”

The answer (as in many cases in life) is: “Because Google is a genius.”

All major search engines (in case you use something other than Google – although I’m not really sure who you are then cos I have never met you) will offer you an alternative word if you present it with a spelling error. The website you were intending to find should therefore be among your search results due to this very clever programming.

Case in point: We recently built a website for a beautiful little eco retreat on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It has the tricky name of “Svendsen’s Beach”, which, apparently, only the smallest handful of people manage to spell correctly.

The owners of the eco retreat were concerned that, because people struggled to spell the name correctly, they would battle to find the website if the SEO did not account for all the spelling variations (and there were A LOT).

So Liz and I put Google to the test, using every misspelling of the word “Svendsens” that we could think of. And the result? Google is indeed a little genius, and presented us with the right website every single time. Even when we tried a variation like “Svendensens”.

Svendsen's Beach

When it comes to SEO, misspellings are not as much of a problem as they once were. What’s more important is producing interesting, regular content with key words that people are likely to include in their searches.

So, for example, if you search for “luxury eco retreat, Great Keppel Island”, the first result that pops up is none other than the (very lovely) Svendsen’s Beach.

School websites: What story do you want to tell?

I read something somewhere on the internet (could I be more vague? No.) that has stuck with me. It said something to this effect:

“Ask yourself how you are different from your competition – and tell that story.”

In the last couple months, Pomegranite has built new websites for three different schools. On the surface, these schools could appear quite similar: they are all reasonably small, private schools within short distances of one another in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

Yet, walking into each school, you notice a distinct vibe unique to each institution. The ethos of each school is different – and you can feel it.

The trick is translating this into their respective websites. I am a words person, so, for me, this distinctive storytelling happens predominantly through the content of each site. However, some people are more visual creatures, so it’s equally important that the look and feel of each website paints a picture of the character of each school. Sometimes it’s the functionality that sets a site apart – like image animation, online application forms or online payment facilities. But mostly it’s about understanding the story behind each school, what’s important to them and why – and integrating that into each element of the website.

A school’s online presence is hugely important – particularly these days, when the first thing that new parents (a generation with an affinity with the digital world) are likely to do when considering sending their children to a certain school is to look at that school’s website.

When we started building these websites we explored the online presences of a number of schools in South Africa – and abroad, but, let’s stick to our own shores for now. It seemed to be a general trend that schools created their websites years ago when they first recognised the need to be represented online, and they haven’t given their websites a whole lot of thought since then.

Your website is one of your most – if not the most – important marketing tools. It’s time to start thinking again about the impression that your school website creates. What is the user experience like? Does it accurately convey the level of excellence your school cultivates?

What story would you like your website to tell?

ridge school screenshot
st katharines screenshot
apps screenshot

Feature image source

Five things I love about doing work that’s worthwhile

We’ve recently built three different websites for an NGO called STEPS. STEPS does amazing work treating kids in southern Africa who are born with clubfeet. It was started by Karen Moss, whose son was born with clubfoot when the only treatment option in South Africa was surgery. She did some research online, found an amazing doctor in the States who could correct her son’s feet without surgery, and flew all the way over there to meet him and have him treat her son.

She was so impressed at the results of this gentle method of treatment that she wanted all children in southern Africa to have access to the same treatment. And so, she brought it to them.

Inspiring right?

The work she has done since she founded STEPS in 2005 is quite amazing, and we have loved being a part of the process of telling the story of STEPS through their websites: www.steps.org.za (focused on the charity and the work they do), www.clubfoot.co.za (more medical info), and www.ponseti.co.za, which is still in the final stages of being built (where parents can buy specialised products for the treatment of clubfoot).

So, now that you have the background, here are five things that I have loved about being part of such a worthwhile project:

1. Helping to frame a story that is so uplifting is good for the soul. It just is.
2. Working with people who spend their days improving the lives of others is good for you.
3. Perspective – reading stories about the struggles of mothers whose children are born in rural areas with no access to medical treatment will put your trivial “problems” in perspective pretty quickly.
4. Unforeseen extra work – which is pretty standard with any project – somehow doesn’t bother you.
5. It’s wonderful being a part of the creation of something really meaningful. You know that feeling you get when it’s cold and rainy outside and you’re sitting on the couch with a cup of tea and fuzzy socks on your feet? It’s kind of like that.

steps