10 Free Must-Have Design, Video, Email, Accessibility Tools and Plug-Ins

The best  web development and Internet tools are easy to use, save us time, provide valuable information in terms we understand and free. Here are some favorites:

1. Web Developer Extension for Chrome is a must-have.

2. Google Page Speed Insights

3. WP Accessibility . WP Accessibility provides fixes for common accessibility issues in your WordPress site. Learn more about the importance of WP Accessibility from its developer.

4. WP Post Styling. This plugin provides a custom field on your WordPress interface where you can add custom styles to be applied only on that page or post. Useful for being able to publish articles with a unique look.

5. Http Status Code Checker. Here are more free webmaster tools.

6. Cre8asiteforms Web Page Size Lookup

7. Create your own Favicon with the Cre8asiteforums Favicon Tool

8. Mobile emulator tool by Keynote MITE. This robust, free tool provides access to hundreds (free), thousands (enterprise) mobile devices for performance testing.

9. The free Color Contrast Comparison is a strong favorite for checking color contrasts during web design.

10. This one is three bonus recommendations.

PakWired’s 3 UX Design Tips Startups Can Implement Today

I like to use the same concept throughout my designs: display what you need to display, don’t leave out anything important, focus attention on places you want your users to be drawn to, without spamming them with ads and “buy” buttons.

3 of Deborah’s Favorite Obscure {but valuable!} Free Video Resources

For those of us in the video industry, finding resources can be addicting. I love tools. I love ebooks. I shouldn’t tell you this, but basically if it has the word “Video” in it, I’m pulling out the credit card. In my quest, I always welcome freebies, as well. Today I’m going to share three resources, two of which do not have nearly the buzz they deserve, when compared to the value of their resources.

and

Smarter Outreach: 3 Tools to See Who’s Behind Each Email

Today’s social networking world is overwhelming: You meet people online, talk to them, lose them for a month or two, then find them again. There should be better ways to keep up than trying to remember everything!

Our Web Site is Perfectly Fine

“I would not want Kim’s job,” a Cre8asiteforums member wrote. After 14 years in the usability field, I am ready to quit because I work in a field that demands proof before it is believed in.

form to sign Even when the proof is obvious, such as asking us to sign up before we have been granted access to the website, or the inability to read text on a page or understanding where  to go next on a site, the chances of hiring a usability professional to recommend repairs is as painful to site owners as getting a root canal. And at least you get relief for the pain at the dentist.

The usability (UX) industry has exploded and with it, salaries in excess of $100, 00 US to design web sites and software applications that are easy to use. However, just because a user experience designer is hired does not automatically mean they know anything about information architecture, accessibility, functional testing, and human factors. The amount of education needed to do the job properly, let alone using the right tools, is not something companies like to invest in.

Online marketers are the last to understand usability and where it fits into their methodology. During one of my talks at a marketing conference, a member of the audience argued with me about making links visible. For SEO’s who spend their time optimizing for algorithms, the suggestion to design for people is clearly too much for them to bear.

Discussions in Cre8asiteforums describe the main reason web site owners will not invest in usability testing or building usable websites. It boils down to wanting proof that UX is needed. Every site owner believes their web site is perfectly fine and they don’t want to know if it is not. If their Google Analytics or click tracking software signals conversions issues, they pounce on their online marketer to fix the problem – never thinking that their web design is the trouble.

Test Web Sites from the Start

sketch of homepageUser experience design starts from the white board stage and continues after the site goes live. Design changes never end. User experience includes usability heuristics, business and site requirements for everything from devices to targeted user behavior. Usability includes accessibility compliance, information architecture and persuasive design. Readability, understandability, and functionality are part of usability. You can’t possibly know how your site will perform before it has a chance to be used, but a trained usability professional can plan for the best possible outcomes that only require minor tweaks after roll-out.

Believing that a site design is a once and done deal is a huge mistake.

When was the last time you had a favorite site to buy shoes and suddenly a competitor came out with better prices, easier navigation and the ability to order from their mobile device? That competitor is testing. What are you doing? That competitor knew who to design for. They tested their wireframes. They tested their mobile application. They checked their analytics, logs, conversions results and made adjustments for improvements. They reacted. They never stopped designing, studying and looking for new opportunities.

Are you testing your website? Do you know how it is being used? Despite all the questions a site owner may have, hiring a usability professional to conduct a site audit is nearly always out of the question because there is no money to spend on something that may or may not help.

And there is apparently nothing I can write or say to convince site owners otherwise.

Here is proof:

Why Do Companies Invest In Marketing Rather Than Web Design?

As a webdev I could blend in whatever holistic optimisation I believed in; a specialist, i.e. Kim::UI/X, is selling a component – at best, an extra – at worst. It is much easer, to use a fast food example, to sell ‘a meal’ than it is to sell a burger and a fries and a drink. It is also harder to ‘supersize’ an order especially without an attached apparent super value.


Step 1: Get real examples of successes of the actions you recommend, so you can have them in your ready-made, ready-to-show, portfolio.
Step 2: Create big dramatic, colorful graphs that highlight those successes.
Step 3: Tell Mr. Prospect he’s missing out on a crapload of money, but you’d be happy to hand it to him in buckets.
Step 4: Show him how you handed buckets of cash to previous clients.
Step 5: Tell him if he signs the contract now, you can get started immediately, but if not, he’ll go to the back of the long waiting line.


I wouldn’t want to be in the market of strictly focusing on UX, so kudos to you, Kim, for pushing for people to learn more.


Every SEO hired to market a web site is like a person alone on a remote island somewhere, with a stick in the sand writing “SOS” on the beach in the hopes their island will be seen and their paradise will be found. The word “SOS” is a universal phrase for help. It will be understood by a pilot flying over the island, but will not be seen by the ship quietly gliding past the island miles out to sea. The island natives don’t speak or understand the human language. The SEO is going to need to understand something more about search and predicting not only what words to use, and who will see them, but how, where, why, when and in what format they are found.

 

This is why every SEO needs UX.

I Can Prove Your Web Site is Not Converting (Said the Invisible UX Fairy)

This has been my mantra for a long time and I feel like I am a tiny little fairy with a whisper of a voice screaming into flowers with huge egos who think usability testing is not important.

fairyPeriodically, I seem to go on a wild tear about the value of a working website.  It appears to be a foreign concept or at least one not worthy of investing in.

The other day my husband was trying to enter information into a website.  I could hear him grunting and sighing and then he said, “Don’t let my wife see this site”, before continuing on with his task.  The brand new site was built to work in only one browser – one we do not use.  I was unable to stomach this, which is why he was doing this annoying task.

I am a tolerant person with a forgiving nature – when it comes to people.  When the thing I have to deal with is a website, however, I suddenly channel one of those people like you see on the stage of the Jerry Springer TV Show.

In fact, here are my episodes: (Based on this month’s TV show topics.)

You Can’t Make Me Click You

Penalized, Ugly Design and Dumped

Future Episode Ideas:

Do you want to confront the usability analyst who failed your web site?

Are you in an SEO/Usability/Social Media love triangle?

Is it your fantasy to have a web site that sucks?

Featured Show

I’m Psychic and Your Web Site Doesn’t Convert – Kim says that she’s positive her client, Website From Mars, is ignoring  her usability recommendations. How can she be so sure? She’s a third-generation psychic and she’s seen visions of….

In all seriousness, I have a friend who does long distance healing and messaged me on Facebook a few days ago to tell me that I am not smiling inside.

Jerry springer titles

Why would you not trust me to conduct usability audits for your web site? What could possibly be more crazy than hiring someone with a dozen years of usability testing experience, topped by two decades in the search engine marketing industry doing stuff like speaking at conferences on web site conversions and who teaches usability at the Search Engine College.

As one Cre8asiteforums member put it, while addressing my questions about being the invisible usability fairy,

You have to be tough…and you have to be persistent and smart and you have to let rejection roll off you like water off a duck.

If you want to participate in the recent discussions on usability, testing, conversions and what it means to get a usability audit, here are some of the great links to check out:

Questions On Usability, Conversions, Persuasive Design

Why Do Companies Invest In Marketing Rather Than Web Design?

Drunk Usability Video

When To Request a Web Site Usability Audit

You Have to See This: The Secret To Search Engines and Internet Marketing


Photo credit – Dark Fairy

Is a Hand Coded HTML Web Site Ancient History?

Back in the day, the worst thing anyone could say to me was “Did you use Frontpage to make that website?” I could not stand any WYSIWYG software. Any website builder with integrity did.

Building with blocksWell, not really. Some loved it. Besides, you could still handcode HTML with it but Frontpage included many shortcuts. I was a fan of Hotdog, which was how I made all my websites. It came out before Frontpage and other software like it. With Hotdog, I had the benefit of two window panes, one for handcoding and the other to see how it rendered. If I made a mistake, the puppy would yelp.

The true sign of a handcoding pro was the ability to use Notepad. When Dreamweaver came out, everyone seemed to accept it, including stubborn handcoders. I use it still, handcoding to my heart’s delight. For as many years as I’ve used Dreamweaver, I never learned how to use all the shortcuts it has. It was easier for me to code from scratch. I even miss tables.

WordPress and Content Management Systems

Blogging and PHP changed the web design landscape. And then CSS shot the arrow through the heart of those of us who lived and breathed cellpadding and HTML lines of code with redundant directions. WordPress software, and the various themes that erupted onto the scene, made putting up a website something anyone could do. To customize themes, though, still meant knowing CSS and HTML.

The owner of a small local business went shopping around for a web designer and every local company she spoke with uses pre-paid themes that they simply customize based on client needs. Larger companies with an IT staff can design and build their own custom website. They have the programmers, user interface engineers and graphic artists, as well as content writers and search engine marketers who contribute to the end product. Many companies build their own shopping carts and software applications from the ground up or purchase software to customize and adapt to their requirements. These options are not affordable or feasible to many local small businesses or startups.

Opinions vary on the best way to make a website. A discussion inside the forums, called Html Vs Cms? in the Rookie Rooom shows the range of feelings.

What a bear to maintain, especially, if they don’t know HTML. There may be a handful of good reasons to still do this, but it’s not something I’d recommend for 99.9999% of sites. And if you want to sell the site at some point, the value of it won’t be as high simply because you’ll have fewer potential buyers (they want easy).

It was noted that a handcoded HTML site is more expensive and possibly impractical these days. Yet, handcoders are still out there.

I still do a few static HTML sites every year – they tend to be one or two page one-off sites. Stand-alone domains for an e-book, or an upcoming conference or seminar, or something like that. It seems silly to install wordpress, create or edit a complex compatible template, and then fill in the content when I can just take a design or create one and wrap it around the content and get it all working.

Experience makes a difference. Entire web design businesses exist that have never built a website from scratch. As one member concluded,

There are no longer designers. Just installers.

Which one are you?

Share your opinions.


Image courtesy of “Arrange Bricks” by renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What’s a Fat Footer and Is It Important?

The appearance of wider footers stuffed with a variety of links, forms, and social icons has led to discussions on their usage, purpose and possible hazards.

Back in 2008, the Thesis theme for WordPress introduced “Fat” footers and since then they have become popular for all websites.  The beauty of these larger footers was the use of columns used to display content in an organized layout.  Today, some themes come with footer widgets that can be used together or separately using the blocked column idea.

Fat baby feetThe footer began as a a place to put a copyright date and policy links.  Then, it was where text links were placed that repeated global navigation in the header.  Before CSS, some navigation was image based or image maps were used.  Since search engines couldn’t “see” images, the links were invisible too.  Special needs users also need text to move around web pages.  Text links in the footer and a sitemap with just text links was a popular solution, but not very user friendly.

The use of links for SEO as additional ways to insert keywords mucked up the user experience for fat footers by using different terms in the anchor text that led to the same page.  For example, “Contact”, “Contact Us”, and “Send us Feedback” would all lead to the same Contact page.

In August 2012, Jakob Nielsen wrote this in SEO and Usability 

As another example, fat footers can greatly increase usability for people who arrive at the end of a page without finding what they want. Fat footers also strengthen structural SEO by guiding link juice to the site’s best pages about each key topic. (snip)

Sadly, some people can’t let a good thing alone, and we’ve started seeing obese footers that stuff every link known to humankind into the page bottoms. The theory? It’s good for SEO to feed the search engines an abundance of keyword-rich links. The reality? It’s bad for users when you offer a link collection so big that it’s impossible to scan quickly.

Since that time, fat footers have been become more useful and sometimes even creative.

We already know from user behavior studies that we tend to get used to web page elements being placed in common areas.  So we know, for instance, to look for policies and terms in a footer. Today we often find several columns displaying the top level categories of the site with a few chosen sub-page links. The idea is to supply just enough to show the overall site architecture and lead visitors to the most popular and needed pages within the site.

The fat footer is also where we can locate a newsletter sign-up form, feeds, social links, payment information, and Trustmarks for security. These various tasks and information are less likely to be important higher up on pages or the header, but when site visitors want this information, they appreciate knowing where they can be confident they will find it.

Even with a purpose and its generous role in site support, many people dislike fat footers or abuse them. There’s certainly enough confusion about fat footers to inspire debate and that’s what’s happening now inside the forums.

Share your thoughts and experience, and ask questions too in Usability Considerations For A Site Footer