A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory
google_tricks

How Search Can Improve Your Website: 6 Google Hacks

I’m notoriously bad with song lyrics. But I can type a few words from the song’s chorus into Google, and bam- every word is right there in the first result. The trick is to use an asterisk in place of the words you don’t know.

There are actually tons of tricks like this that you can use in your Google search query. They’re great when you don’t exactly know what you want. And they’re great when you’re looking for ways to improve your website.

 

1) You can Google an image. Not the keywords of an image. An actual image.

This is probably the coolest Google hack that nobody knows about. You can search for an image by clicking on the camera icon in the search box on Google Images. Then you use the image’s URL or upload an image from your computer. The results will show you the sites that also use that exact same picture and show you “visually similar images” from around the web.

This hack could be particularly useful for finding other sites that use some of the same visual elements of your site. Wondering what other sites may be using that infographic that your design team created?

You can also use this tool for inspiration. Upload an image you like and click through the results to find some fresh ideas for visuals.
 
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Join our team! Fall Internship at Brick Factory

Do you want an internship that sets you up to succeed in the digital space? Are you looking to leave your next internship with a serious set of skills? Do you want to work with some pretty awesome people? You’ve come to the right place.

The Brick Factory plans and executes world-class digital campaigns for non-profits, trade associations, advocacy groups and brands. We believe in simple solutions, setting clear goals and objectives, and providing great service to our clients. We believe a good website or campaign is never done and the launch of a website is the beginning, not the end.

The Brick Factory interns will be responsible for supporting our Strategists in the conception, implementation and analysis of many digital initiatives. This includes website, social media, email, mobile and other digital marketing efforts that support new business, our products and client campaigns. This position calls for an individual with strong communication skills, analytic skills and creative thinking ability. This position requires a highly resourceful individual who can think on their feet and can focus under pressure.

What you’ll do:

  • Assist in running our clients’ digital programs. This involves an active engagement that is beyond management, ensuring that our projects ship on time, goals are set, tracked and met, and our clients are provided with clear, high level recommendations that help them succeed in the digital space.
  • Work in a small team environment. You’ll wear multiple hats, provide input and solutions, and work on multiple projects at one time.
  • Contribute to our blog. Brick by Brick is our soapbox to spread the thoughts and opinions of The Brick Factory. Once settled, you’ll be expected to develop new post ideas and contribute innovative content regularly.
  • Aid in new business and marketing efforts. At The Brick Factory everyone is involved in selling new work. Our interns have a large role in managing advertising and marketing campaigns. You will also be constantly looking to expand the work in our existing client portfolio while reaching out to new business prospects.
  • Make yourself and the company better. Meaning that you aren’t ever satisfied with the status quo and are constantly looking to improve yourself, the company and our clients.
  • Something you are interested in. We encourage our interns to tackle a self-driven project from conceptualization to launch during their time with us.

What you bring to the table:

  • You’re a fun person to be around.
  • You have a passion for work in the digital industry and are excited to learn new things.
  • You’re a problem solver. You would rather figure out the best solution than be told how to do it.
  • You’re organized. You can manage multiple projects at once and are dedicated to hitting deadlines.
  • You’re detail-oriented and you double check your work. Whether it’s making sure a document has standard formatting or looking through your code for typos, you know a project isn’t done unless it’s done well.
  • You have some experience with HTML, marketing and sales research, and analytics tools. A big plus if you have experience with CSS and JavaScript as well.
  • You have a strong writing background. Your communication skills are exceptional and you have experience creating and editing content for clients.
  • Have used or are willing to learn Adobe products such as InDesign, Dreamweaver and Photoshop.

What you can expect from us:

  • A metro accessible office in downtown Washington, DC.
  • A great work environment, with plenty of opportunity to learn.
  • Training and professional development opportunities.
  • Compensation during the extent of your internship.
  • A fun team of enthusiastic and talented people.
  • Occasional work activities, lunches, and happy hours.
  • Additional random perks and benefits.

The Details:
Dates: September 2015 through December 2015 (can be flexible for the right candidate)
20-25 hours a week in the office

Sound interesting? Take a look around our website, blog, Facebook and Twitter. If you think we’d be a good fit please send a resume and cover letter to analystjobs@thebrickfactory.com.

Twenty Great 404 Error Pages

Human being are fallible creatures, so when surfing the web it is inevitable that they will occasionally mistype a URL or try to access a page that no longer exists.  When this happens visitors hit a site’s 404 error page which tells users and search engines that the page they are looking for can’t be found.

On most sites the 404 page is a throw away.  It is the last thing that web developers put together and not a lot of thought is put into it.  This 404 page from the Washington Post is an example of the sort of soulless 404 page you typically run into.

However some sites go the extra mile and use their 404 pages as an opportunity to connect with visitors by highlighting key content and/or showing some personality.  Here are twenty sites, presented in no particular order, that have taken the time to put together outstanding 404 pages.

(1) Hillary Clinton

On her Presidential campaign website Hillary Clinton uses her 404 pages to show her playful side.

 

hillary-clinton-404

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ecommerce

E-Commerce 101

So you’ve decided to start selling your products online but you already have a website. You want it to look great, you want to give your users a great experience, and you don’t want to break the bank.

When deciding the best way to integrate ecommerce into your site, you have a few options.
You could:

  1. Purchase an add-on to your current content management system;
  2. Build your store on an ecommerce platform and integrate it with your current site as best you can; or
  3. Take this as an opportunity to rebuild your site, integrating ecommerce at ground level.

Below, we explore some of your options for e-commerce integration. This list is by no means exhaustive, but rather an overview meant to introduce you to the e-commerce landscape.


Add-ons (Plugins, Modules & Extensions)

The Basics:

Add-Ons integrate with the Content Management System  (i.e. WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.) of your current website. Once purchased, they introduce some, often limited, e-commerce functionality. Depending on the CMS, these may be referred to as Plug-ins, Modules, or Extensions. Because the transaction occurs on your existing site, organizations that utilize add-ons are responsible for hosting and security.

Popular add-ons include Cart 66 and WooCommerce for WordPress, Eshop and Joomcommerce for Joomla, and Drupal Commerce for Drupal.

Why you might choose an add-on:

  • You’ve already invested in custom design. Add-ons allow you to work within the design options of your CMS. This often gives an organization the ability to skin the add-on to match the existing design (whereas users of other e-commerce products are usually confined to limited themes).
  • You’re working within a limited budget. Add-ons are often the most affordable ways to integrate ecommerce into your site, but the price discrepancy between an add-on and integrating with a platform could be quite small, so do your research.

 

Third-Party Platforms

The Basics:

Platforms are software technologies that provide the suite of services needed to set up an online shop.

There are countless platforms available, and most fall into two distinct categories: commercial products and open-source softwares. Commercial products are ideal for small businesses just getting started with ecommerce, especially if your growth plans are limited or unclear. Open-source softwares provide greater flexibility (almost unlimited customization) but absolutely require development skills to successfully implement, making them a good fit for businesses with lofty growth goals, internal development teams, and large, complicated inventories.

Popular platforms include the commercial products offered by Shopify and Magento, an open-source software and community.

The biggest benefit of third-party platforms is functionality. Regardless of whether you choose an open-source or a commercial product, the feature offering is going to be far more robust than that of an add-on.

Why you might choose a third-party platform:

  • You have a very large product catalog. Your inventory might be too unwieldy to manage using an add-on.
  • You want a wide variety of purchase/shipping options.
  • You want worry-free security. The platform is responsible for ensuring secure transactions
  • You are looking for other special features like sorting, inventory, or hosting.

When choosing a platform, consider:

  • Cost: every platform has a unique pricing structure, often dependent upon product number, storage, and features. Carefully compare the pricing to choose what makes the most sense for your organization.
  • Design Options: While some platforms are famous for their themes, some offer more limited options.
  • User Interface: Some platforms are more user-friendly than others.
  • Development complexity: Some platforms are plug-and play, others require a breadth of development knowledge to operate. Make sure you have the skills needed to both setup and manage your store.

 

Rebuild Your Site

The Basics:

If you envision a seamless ecommerce integration, now could be your opportunity to start with a blank slate. Chances are, if you’re integrating e-commerce, the user journey of your site is about to change dramatically. Redoing the site will give you the opportunity to organically weave shopping into both the UX and the design. This could potentially include the use of add-ons or third-party platforms, or it might involve a custom approach. There are several ways to add ecommerce without redoing the site, but it’s never going to have the same seamlessness in experience and aesthetics as a complete refresh.

Why you may want to consider rebuilding:

  • Your site is outdated – it was designed and developed 2+ years ago.
  • You expect e-commerce to be a priority for your users – they will spend most of their time on the site shopping.
  • You have relatively flexible timeline and budget.

We strongly recommend considering a full rebuild first – it will give you the most options for design and integration, will result in the most polished and user-friendly product, and in many cases will not be dramatically more expensive than utilizing add-ons or platforms to your current site.

Takeaway

Like many aspects of the web development process, the “best” solution will be the one that is the best fit for your budget, goals, timeline, web development skill, business plan, and priorities. Depending on these factors, any of the three options outlined above could be the right choice for you and your organization, so do your research and consult with your web development provider before proceeding.

webby

2015 Webby Award Winners: Going Beyond Consumer Brands

When it comes to noteworthy design and innovative functionality, consumer brands usually get the most recognition. Luckily, The Webby Awards, the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet, categorizes its web submissions so that nonprofit organizations aren’t competing directly with the Volkswagens and Samsungs of the world.

In choosing winners, the Webby committee judges websites on the following merits: content, structure & navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. In 2015, the Webbys honored superior web achievements in over 60 categories.

Here, we examine winners in four categories that go beyond the consumer brand: Education, Nonprofits, Associations, and Activism.





2015 Education Winner

sunni6

Infoguide: The Sunni-Shia Divide
Council on Foreign Relations
cfr.org/peace-conflict-and-human-rights/sunni-shia-divide

When designing this Infoguide about the Sunni-Shia Divide in the Middle East, the Council on Foreign Relations was faced with a challenge: somber, academic subject matter and a ton of it.

They deployed multiple tactics to divide and present the content, most of which were very successful. The result is a digestible and navigable reading experience.

What We Love:

  • Use of infographics to highlight important information and break up content sections.

  • Interactive Visuals. Upon closer inspection, graphical section breaks include an interactive timeline and map in which the user can customize their exploration of the content.

What We Might Have Done Differently:

  • Fixed top navigation. We found the fixed menu a bit distracting for such a long-form piece, but acknowledge the importance of keeping the dense content navigable. We might suggest a ‘hide on scroll down, show on scroll up’ approach, or making the navigation accessible through a button like on many mobile sites.

Also Noteworthy:

  • The site is built using Angular JS and utilizes tools like Timeline JS for the interactive elements.

Sunni3

 


2015 Nonprofits Winner

costume3

More than a Costume Ebola Campaign landing page
Doctors of the World
morethanacostume.com

There is a growing movement in the web design community toward a clean and simple aesthetic. Not necessarily toward sparseness – although without great care that could easily be the result – but rather the stripping away of information and design elements that could be considered extraneous. This site does just that, leaving the user with a clear, uncluttered journey.

Created as a piece of the integrated More than a Costume campaign, this donation site was built to give potential donors an easy portal through which to donate to Doctors of the World’s efforts to combat the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.

What We Love:

  • Clean Design. As mentioned above mentioned, this site is an excellent example of a pared down approach to design.
  • Easy Donation Interface. Donations are powered by Stripe.js – It’s simple, easy to set up, and appears seamless and straightforward when integrated.

What We Might Have Done Differently:

  • Kick the story up a notch. Simple design can let copy and calls to action really sing. As straightforward as the campaign is, we might have provided a bit more explanation and urgency to the narrative. This could have included an introduction to the cause and an appeal to donate.

Also Noteworthy:

  • The site uses Foundation, a very advanced and complex responsive front-end framework, which is a bit surprising due to the simplicity of the content and the one-page layout.

 


2015 Association Winner

cali1

Visit California
California Travel & Tourism Commission
visitcalifornia.com

For 2015, the California Travel & Tourism Commission set out to create a digital home for their “Dream Big” brand marketing platform.

Created in Drupal, the site emphasizes beautiful photography and conveys a light, airy feel – an excellent fit for the subject matter. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is the top navigation style. The site was almost certainly designed mobile/tablet first, and the designers made the bold choice of keeping a mobile-style navigation even on the desktop version.

What We Love:

  • Interesting Functionality. The only content featured in the top nav is an interactive California map. Clicking a region unveils background information and clickable content.

cali2

  • User Experience on Mobile & Tablet. Designed with these users in mind, the site is suitable and intuitive on smaller devices.

cali5

What We Might Have Done Differently:

  • The mobile-style navigation is slightly problematic here. The navigation is both the gateway to the content and the only way for the user to filter what otherwise feels like an infinite scroll of information. It would have been beneficial to customize the navigation for desktop users.

Also Noteworthy:

 


2015 Activism Winner

ivory1

Last Days’ End Ivory Funded Terrorism campaign page
WildAid
lastdaysofivory.com

When Oscar-Winning director Kathryn Bigelow partnered with WildAid to create a short animated film exposing the connection between elephant poaching and terrorism, they also decided to create an online home for the campaign.

What We Love:

  • It’s all about the art. This site relies heavily on the visual to do the talking. The hero area features clips from the film, and the motif (which manages to strike the very difficult balance of somber, but not depressing) is carried consistently throughout the site.
  • The Story. Kept crisp and persuasive, the copy informs and complements the video.

What We Might Have Done Differently:

  • Organize the Calls to Action. After digesting the information and enjoying the beautiful art, there are a whopping six ways for a user to take action. Presented in a tile format near the bottom of the page, the result is slightly overwhelming. We might have prioritized or focused this section to give the casual user a bit of direction.

ivory2

Also Noteworthy:

  • No CMS. The site appears to have been created without using a Content Management System. For one-off sites with only a few pages, it’s sometimes easier to do away with the CMS.

 


Learning from the Best: Key Takeaways

Nonprofit, education, activism, and associations can be tricky subject matter to translate to web. Design, UX, and programming need to be customized to address industry-specific challenges such as long-form content, serious subject matter, potentially limited budget, creative restrictions, and more.

But these challenges also provide ample opportunity for deploying of-the-moment trends to great effect. Here’s some learnings from this batch of Webby winners:

  • Simplicity is good but don’t go overboard. Make sure your content is accessible and your story is being told.
  • Unsurprisingly, excellent artwork will turn heads. But exercising restraint, giving it a branded and uncluttered home in which to shine is just as important.
  • If you have a ton of content, break it up and allow the user to easily filter through it.
  • Interactive tools, from the most simple to the most complex, can be utilized to keep the user engaged and attentive.

With the right strategy, a website in any industry can be beautiful, functional, and intuitive. If your curiosity has been piqued, have a look at the Webby winners in other categories here.