My Favorite Web Design Tools of 2015

Hotrod

I’ve been building websites for small businesses for over 15 years and am always optimizing my tool belt. My goal is to analyze the users/customers and build a website using best practices for visitor engagement and conversion. There’s no reason for complex setup and technical issues when building a standard website in this modern age of the internet. The market is full of cheap (usually free) website technologies that just work, and they let you get back to what matters—providing a great product or service.

Here’s a short list of website tools for optimal performance that I have used on almost every website in 2015.

Technical

WPEngine – $29/mo. – website hosting with automatic backup and a staging environment for previewing site changes.

Website owners will eventually have issues with their websites being down if they are on a cheaper (usually shared) hosting service. WPEngine (in Austin, TX) was chosen by me and much of the WordPress developer community as the best choice in hosting. Here’s why:

  • Your website will load fast—very fast—and Google delivers more visitors to faster loading sites.
  • Your website will be backed up automatically every night. If something breaks your site, you can restore it to a previous day.
  • There’s an easy-to-use staging environment that allows your website designer to make changes in a private area, preview your changes first, then push the changes live when you’re ready.

WPEngine

Note: Migrating your site to WPEngine can be time consuming and challenging. Fantasktic will migrate any website to WordPress WPEngine for great price.

Google Apps for Work – $5 – Email.

Since WPEngine only focuses on hosting, you’ll need an email service. I recommend Google Apps for Work because of the reliability of Google and the ease of use of Gmail. Get an email address like “yourname@yourwebsite.com” and access it just like Gmail, or use any other email program you’re familiar with. It’s fairly easy to setup, but if you’re not technical at all, try using Rackspace to setup and manage it for you.

Google Apps for Work-Gmail

Website Foundation and Layout

Themes by StudioPress – $99 (included for my clients) – WordPress framework and responsive themes.

A WordPress template or “theme” is a great way for a business to get a modern, good looking website up quickly. Themes by StudioPress have been a reliable go-to for many years now because they have best practices already built in. Here are the main benefits:

  • Built on the Genesis framework, which provides security and speed for a solid foundation
  • Search Engine Optimization, so your site appears in Google searches
  • Responsive design, so your site displays properly on mobile screens
  • Dozens of clean- and modern-looking website templates/themes
  • Reliable updates from the vendor to ensure your site will always stay optimized

Note: I own the entire library of StudioPress themes, so my clients save on the cost of a new website or migrating to a StudioPress theme.

StudioPress

Analytics and Visitor Measurement  

Google Analytics – FREE – analytics tracking of website visitors and their behavior.

This is a free must-have for any website that is planning growth and optimization. Google Analytics tracks dozens of important metrics, including number of visitors, where they came from, what words they use to find you, what they clicked on and many more important data points to help you understand your customer. It’s important to set up conversion tracking to separately study the visitors who become customers.

Google-Analytics

Inspectlet – FREE – user session recording.

This service allows you to watch your visitors as they read, scroll and click through your website. You can learn valuable things about your visitors and about major pitfalls in your site design. Learn where potential customers are getting hung up. It also creates heatmaps that show where people click and how far down the page they scroll.

Inspectlet

Marketing

Yoast WordPress SEO – FREE – more control for searching engine optimization.

This is the must-have SEO plugin for WordPress that most WordPress gurus and marketers insist on using. After the easy install, it guides you through making high-priority SEO settings. It also gives you granular control to make each page targeted to rank on specific keywords.

Yoast-SEO

SumoMe – FREE – Email capture popup, share buttons and more.

This easy-to-install script adds lots of effective marketing tools, but there are two I use all the time. The share buttons are nice looking and very effective, allowing your visitors to share your web pages on Facebook or any other social media platform, and even via email. I also recommend using the email capture popup. Out-of-the-box it uses best practices and automatic timing calculation to ask your visitors for their email addresses at the right moment. It even integrates with the MailChimp email management system.

SumoMe

MailChimp – FREE – email list management and email marketing newsletter system.

If you’re not collecting the email addresses of customers and fans, then you’re missing out on the most important technique in digital marketing. MailChimp allows you to collect a list of email addresses from customers who have opted in and want to hear from you more. It provides a signup form you can place anywhere. It also allows you to design and send marketing or newsletter-style emails to your list.

Mailchimp

Social Media Marketing Automation

Social media marketing can be an effective form of acquiring new customers or visitors. But it can be time consuming and not something business owners want to do every day. Here are a few tools that will allow you to do your social media marketing efforts in one sitting and to schedule your updates to publish throughout the future weeks or months.

Hootsuite – FREE –  scheduler for Facebook, Twitter, Google+.

This service will allow you to write dozens of updates for Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn and schedule them to publish at the time you set. I use this program to write about 3 months worth of updates at a time so that my social media accounts are active even when I’m too busy to attend to them.

ScheduGram – $20/mo. – scheduler for Instagram.

This allows you to bulk upload images and set a date to publish them on Instagram. Again, I prepare and schedule about 3 months of posts in one sitting.

SocialMatterz – Free Private Demo – auto follow and IM to gain followers.

This automatically acquires new relevant followers on Twitter. Once you choose some hashtags to follow, it will follow people who use that hashtag. If they follow you back, it will message a conversation starter to them directly. Although it’s in private beta as of this writing, I’m using the demo now and recommend trying it if it’s available.

Need Assistance Setting All This Up?

I’ve created this list to share my favorite website technologies for best practices in web design and marketing. If you’re a website owner and want these applied to your site, feel free to reach out and send me a message.

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