Author: Pixel Kicks

Owner of Pixel Kicks, Crossfit obsessive and family dude. Fan of Android, crypto currencies and all things tech.

Pixel Kicks represented at the Simplyhealth Great Manchester 10k

manchester 10k

We are fast approaching the Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run, and we are delighted to say that Chris, Aaron and Andy will all be flying down Bridgewater Way in aid of their chosen charities.

Chris and Aaron are running to support Forever Manchester while Andy is raising money for The Christie Charitable Fund.

The 10km run starts just off Oxford Road on Portland Street, and continues down onto the A56 towards Old Trafford and then back towards Deansgate. The finish line is at Great Bridgewater Street.

great manchester run 10k route map

Forever Manchester raise money to fund and support community activity across Greater Manchester. They believe that everyone should have the opportunity to be happy and they work with local people in communities across the city to inspire and encourage grassroots projects.

You can sponsor Chris here and Aaron here.

The Christie Charitable Fund raises money for a wide range of projects and initiatives within the hospital. Donations from supporters means they can provide enhanced services over and above what the NHS can.

You can sponsor Andy here.

You can enter either race by creating an account on the Great Run website. To enter the half marathon you must aged 17 or older, and 15 or older for the 10k. More information on the charities involved can be found here.

Is Less More? More or Less: A History Lesson in Marketing

Is Less More? More or Less

Robert Browning‘s “less is more” quote is one of those advertising clichés, a stock phrase often taken at face value across the creative industries. Of course, when developing a product from scratch, there is always the hazard of overcomplicating things. One can easily overload the product with ‘value-adding’ elements and features that compromise its core consumption benefits. But surely, simplicity beyond a certain degree can also be a pitfall leading to the erosion of product integrity. How do we as marketers pinpoint the equilibrium? How do we know how much is enough? A glimpse into the past may help us answer that. After all, history repeats itself as do product life cycles.

When it comes to technological advancements, sliced bread will always be my all-time front runner. In the 1950s however, there was an innovation that cast a shadow over my perennial favourite and redefined baking – the instant mix cake. A cake that is very easy to make. All you needed to do was add water and voilà… a cake would appear out of the blue. Magic. It must have revolutionised that product category you would think. Well, not quite, at least not at first. Despite its unprecedented simplicity and time-saving, after the instant mix cake was launched, demand was considerably lower than projected. In search for a cause, market researchers discovered that the primary target consumer group: housewives felt that it was a form of cheating.

Marketing - Pillsbury Cake Mixes Advert

You see, they were of the opinion that instant mix cake undermined their responsibilities in the kitchen. By oversimplifying the baking process, marketers made cake simple enough to prepare by practically anyone. And in turn, housewives were discontent to pass on their responsibility onto say… their husbands for instance. It was too simple. To alleviate this concern, marketers adjusted product complexity a notch. They made cake preparation a bit harder. Now you had to add water… and an egg. Yes, and an egg. The results were ‘cracking’. Sales skyrocketed. One extra ingredient made all the difference.

Key Takeaway: As famously put by Albert Einstein: “everything must be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler”.

Another more recent case in point I recall from the FMCG sector. Shreddies, a breakfast cereal made from lattices of wholegrain wheat. A brand that’s been in production since 1939. In January 2008, following sales stagnation, and insufficient marketing spend for traditional advertising, Shreddies’ marketing team were cornered into digital advertising. The company launched a “brand new” brand: ‘Diamond Shreddies’ and presented the original square Shreddies, rotated by 45 degrees on the packaging. As a result, the tongue-in-cheek campaign helped boost sales by 18% in the first year alone. Whereby the campaign won the 2008 Grand Clio Award for Best Integrated Campaign (i.e. a campaign via multiple media).

Kraft Foods Canada - Diamond Shreddies Old (Boring) and New (Exciting), 45 Degree Flip

Key Takeaway: As stated by Minh D. Tran: “great design is eliminating all unnecessary details”, or on this occasion, tweak it a bit… by 45 degrees to be exact.

While the above are two notable and amusing historical accounts of marketing turnarounds, such experimentation post-product launch is by no means a thing of the past. Today, about 80% of newly-launched fast-moving consumer goods fail or don’t live up to sales expectations. Hundreds of millions are estimated to be lost annually throughout product development, a particularly pricey trial and error exercise. And that estimate doesn’t factor in the opportunity cost of what otherwise could have been a successful product launch.

So is less more? As marketers, our job is to accommodate buyer demand at profit. Success is predicated on how persuasive our value proposition is on the marketplace. But how can we know the way our market would react to our product? The best way to know is to ask the market, as we’ve learned from the above, that can prove more cost-effective.

Outside the context of marketing this may well be a philosophical debate. In the context of marketing, the correct answer can only be provided by our target audience. While we as marketers can offer our professional opinion, at times it is tantamount to an educated guess. Whether less is more or not is up for the customer to determine. But that’s just my professional opinion.


Pixel Kicks is a full Google Partner and Manchester’s highest-rated digital agency. Find out more about our Paid Advertising services.

Google Analytics in 2018: 3 Quick Wins to Truly Harness Its Power

Harness the Power of Google Analytics in 2018

In 2018, Google Analytics will remain the most powerful web analytics tool on the internet.

Following its acquisition of Urchin in November 2005, Google launched Google Analytics, a web analytics tool soon to become the most widely used of its kind, currently boasting between 30 to 50 million website users worldwide. Today, Google Analytics is often marketers’ first port of call when looking to gauge traffic online and draw meaningful insights. With the New Year knocking at our door, here are three low-hanging fruits that can yield exponential results in 2018, relative to the little set-up time required.

Google Analytics in 2018

Few, if any other freemium services, can crunch large data sets as efficiently as Google Analytics. Its smart cloud infrastructure, tidy layout and user-friendly features enable novices and experts alike to make detailed observations and data-informed business decisions. Analytics can provide an in-depth overview of the buyer journey from the moment user interest is acquired, to how users engage and transact. Such audience insights can help you better understand client profiles and preferences, measure the effectiveness of your promotional efforts, or signal website weak points for instance.

But surely, harnessing Analytics’ full power would require a thorough understanding of its mechanics? Correct. A good starting point is Google Analytics for Beginners, a free course by Google Analytics Academy. As a proponent of incremental learning, I advocate dedicating as little as half an hour a day to go through Google’s courses and you’d be an Analytics expert in no time!

Enough with the intros, get to the point… Fair, as promised here are your quick wins below:

1. Understand Dimensions and Metrics

Your ability to understand ‘what’s really going on’ in Analytics is reliant on your understanding of dimensions and metrics. Think of dimensions and metrics as the building blocks of your reports in Google Analytics.

Dimensions: These are visitor attributes such as gender, age, city, source/medium, browser, device category and operating system. An example being: a woman, age 29, from Manchester, who arrived on your site via an organic Google listing, found through the search query ‘bacon butty‘. She browsed your site using Mozilla Firefox on her desktop PC running on Windows.

Metrics: These are the numbers used to measure one of the characteristics of a dimension. Think of metrics as answering, “how many” or “how long,” as in “how many visits” or “how long a visitor was on the site”. Examples of metrics are: Sessions, % New Sessions, New Users, Bounce Rate, Page / Session and more. In fact, many more. It turns out there are more than four hundred different metrics… explore away at Google’s Dimensions and Metrics Explorer and get back to me next year. Just kidding, worry not, you won’t need to learn that many from the off, but you could do with understanding the most basic ones. See below:

Key Acquisition Metrics:

Pertaining to how user attention is captured.

Traffic: a fundamental measurement of site reach and growth.

Sessions & Users: show how effective your marketing is in generating traffic.

% New Sessions: measure how many of your website visits have come from first-time visitors and how many have come from returning visitors.

Channels: the paths or processes that led a visitor to your site.

Page Views: self-explanatory, the number of views for each page.

Entrances: occur when a visitor enters your site and starts a new session.

Key Behaviour Metrics

Pertaining to how the user behaves on your site.

Bounces: The number of visits to your site that contain a single image request.

Pages per Session: gives you an indication of users’ degree of engagement with your content.

Average Session Duration: the length of time users spend on your site in hours, minutes and seconds.

% Exit: (number of exits) / (number of pageviews) for the page or set of pages. It indicates how often users exit from that page or set of pages when they view the page(s).

Key Conversion Metrics

Pertaining to how users have completed a goal.

Goal Conversion Rate: shows the % of visits that resulted in a conversion defined by the goal.

Goal Completions: the number of visitors who have completed all elements defined for a given goal.

Goal Value: allows to measure the economic worth of each conversion.

Let’s delve a bit more into one metric so you get the gist. ‘Bounce Rate’ designates the number of visitors to your site who have navigated away from it after viewing one page only. Not to be confused with ‘Exit Rate’ which denotes the number of times a page was the last one in the session. Regardless of whether the session started on that page or another. You can explore the difference in a bit more detail here. Surely, any session ends somewhere, and in an ideal scenario you would like it to end on a particular page that advances your commercial goals. For example, at checkout completion for an ecommerce site, or at the ‘Thank You’ page after a form submission.

A high Bounce Rate is often a sure sign that the page fails to capture user interest. See average bounce rates for different site types. The Bounce Rate is generally a function of site speed and usability, layout, design and/or the clarity of your message. But it could also be a consequence of the type of traffic you are attracting, the sources of traffic and the pages visitors are landing on. Spotting a problem is the first step to its resolution and each metric allows you to explore different phenomena. If you are unsure what a given metric implies, hover over the question mark icon next to the title and an annotation will pop up explaining in brief. If still unclear, there will be a link with a more detailed explanation. Quite useful.

Some metrics may be of high relevance to your business aims and objectives, and some may be of no relevance at all. Understanding dimensions and metrics would allow you to attribute meaning to every number shown, and determine which matter to you the most. Watch the video below for a quick walk through of dimensions and metrics:

2. Set Up Goals

After learning what dimensions and metrics stand for, you are well equipped to understand what Google Analytics is showing you. Now let’s optimise Analytics to work for your business. Goals are one of the most essential tools in Analytics as they allow you to measure conversions on your site. A goal represents a completed activity that contributes to the success of your business, often referred to as a conversion. Examples can be user engagement through a form, a subscription to your newsletter, a downloaded file, a completed purchase and so forth.

Defining goals allows Analytics to then show you important information such as the number of conversions, the conversion rate on your website, and the ability to see which marketing campaigns result in the highest number of conversions for your business. By tracking such actions, you can uncover which ads, keywords and campaigns have the highest ROI (return on investment), and invest more wisely in future. After all, how can you evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns without defining your desired outcome?

Google Analytics 2018 - Dimensions & Metrics, Goals and Custom Dashboards

In Analytics, goals are divided into two types – macro and micro goals. Macro goals correspond to the primary aim of your website. For an ecommerce site, a macro goal will be to sell online. Micro goals correspond to the secondary activities users frequently complete prior to purchasing. Micro goals can be viewed as important relationship-building activities that lead up to the primary site aim e.g. selling online.

By defining macro and micro goals, you would be able to measure the value of your site and its performance based on other means. Conversion rates help you compare how users interact with different platforms and demographics, as well as marketing channels. Moreover, you’d be able to see multichannel funnels and goal flow data i.e. the path the visitor took across multiple visits to your site towards conversion. Conversion path data is generated by each goal conversion and transaction recorded by Google Analytics. The goal flow report can help you visualise and pinpoint where visitors might have issues with a key step throughout a given process. For example, a glitch at the checkout stage that leads to unusually high drop-off rates. Identifying issues and rectifying them can help increase conversions for that goal.

At Pixel Kicks, we recommend setting up goals for the important activities on your site and evaluate how effectively your site contributes to the success of your business. Irregardless of the industry you’re in, I advise defining at least three goals, although the larger your organisation, the likelier you are to have more goals of relevance to your company performance. Watch the video below to learn how to set up goals in Analytics:

Additionally, here are written instructions on how to set up goals in Google Analytics.

3. Create Your Custom Dashboard

Every Google Analytics account comes with its default dashboard that may well suffice. Still, dashboards in Analytics are really meant to be created and customised to best serve your purposes. A dashboard tailored to your needs and liking would allow you to easily access and view the data you want, depicted in the manner you want, all in one place. The gains being the convenience and time saved by not having to manually collate every metric you deem important whenever the need arises. Instead, take the time to set it up once and reap rewards from that point onward. Of course, there’s always the benefit of an over complicated chart comprised of vanity metrics no one understands, to ‘impress’ your colleagues. Until your boss asks you what that is…

You can have up to twelve widgets per dashboard. Here are the types of widgets you can include in your dashboard:

Metric: displays a simple numeric representation of a single selected metric.

Timeline: displays a graph of the selected metric over time. You can compare this to a secondary metric.

Geomap: displays a map of the selected region, with the specified metric plotted on the map. Hover over the map to see the actual metric values.

Table: displays up to two metrics describing the selected dimension, laid out in tabular format.

Pie: displays a pie chart of the selected metric grouped by a dimension. Mouse over a slice to see the specific metric values.

Bar: displays a bar chart of the selected metric grouped by up to two dimensions. Mouse over a bar to see the specific metric values.

Watch the video below to learn how to customise dashboards in Analytics: 

Additionally, here are written instructions on how to create and customise dashboards in Google Analytics.

Conclusion

Without a tracking platform such as Google Analytics in place to scrutinise your web traffic, it can be difficult to know what digital marketing strategies and tactics are working, and which aren’t. This is especially true on the individual page level. By being able to assess how each micro goal performs, you can make nuanced tweaks to improve your strategy and tactics to reach your macro goals. The whole purpose of understanding your traffic is to make informed business decisions. Not acting on your discoveries in Analytics compromises your time spent on the platform. To quote business author Beth Kanter: “Data without action is trivia“!

Bonus Quick Win: Filter Out Irrelevant Traffic

Oh, what the heck, it’s Christmas, here’s a bonus one… To enhance the quality of your analyses, it’s advisable that you filter out data stemming from internal sessions i.e. traffic from your own IP address. This is especially important if a significant percentage of your total traffic is in fact internal company traffic. This can skew reports and paint an inaccurate picture of your web performance. You can add a filter to exclude any traffic from your IP address. To find out your public IP address, just Google search: “what is my IP address?”.

Additionally, you can filter out spam to keep your data accurate. Roughly 4% of traffic on the worldwide web is said to be spam. Seemingly a small percentage, over time this can result in quite a few irrelevant page views. You may have implemented tools to block spammers already, but adding a filter to sieve quality traffic from spam will be worthwhile in the long run. To do this, simply apply the segment to eliminate spam referrals by Analytics Edge. Watch the video below to learn how to set up basic filters in Analytics: 

Additionally, here are written instructions on how to create and manage view filters in Google Analytics.


Pixel Kicks is a full Google Partner and Manchester’s highest-rated digital agency. Find out more about our Paid Advertising services.

The Top Search Engine Ranking Factors in 2016

Google headquarters

An overview of all key factors that determine your SEO ranking.

Having just finished reading a white paper by Searchmetrics on Search Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations, I thought I’d extract the main takeaways of this 78-page “big rock” and systematise them into a succinct overview below. This post outlines all key factors that go into search engine ranking at this point in time.

Please take note of the publishing date. Аs we’re well aware, Google algorithms change continuously and so do ranking factors and their importance.

______________________________________________________________________

The Top SEO Ranking Factors structured in five categories:

1. User Experience:

  • Number of internal links
  • Number of images
  • Video integration
  • Responsive design
  • Mean font size
  • Interactive elements
  • Presence of unordered lists
  • Max bullets in list
  • Adlinks/Adsense
  • Click-through rate
  • Time on site
  • Bounce rate

Notes:

While the number of images posted on websites has grown as opposed to last year, the number of video integrations has fallen. This is largely associated with Google’s decision to only play video thumbnails in the SERPs for large video portals as of July 2014.

The percentage of websites in the top 30 rankings that integrate Google AdSense adverts has declined compared the previous year.

The content of higher ranking pages is better structured, contains more interactive elements and is thus more comprehensible and interpretable for both users as well as the bot.

The top positions were dominated by response sites and those which did not use Flash.

User signals are essential for your content and rankings. The reaction of users offers search engines direct feedback about user satisfaction with your content.

2. Technical:

  • Existence of description
  • Existence of H1
  • Existence of H2
  • Keyword in domain
  • HTTPS
  • Search volume of domain name
  • Domain SEO visibility
  • Ratio of homepages
  • Ratio of subdomains
  • Ratio of subdirectories
  • Domain is .com
  • File size
  • FLASH
  • Site speed
  • URL Length

Notes:

Technical factors remain a significant prerequisite for attaining higher rankings with good content and this is unlikely to change.

The importance of the factor “keyword” continues to decline heavily across most sectors.

An ever-increasing number of pages are highly optimised and feature a meta description along components such as H-tags. This entails improved crawlability for search engine bots and an enhanced user experience.

While page documents are generally becoming larger, interestingly the average loading time of the top 30 has fallen.

Domains with a high SEO visibility also have higher rankings with their URLs.

3. Content:

  • Word count
  • Keyword in description
  • Keywords in body
  • Keyword in internal links
  • Keyword in external links
  •  Flesch readability (sentence length and number of syllables per word in an equation to calculate reading ease)
  • Proof terms
  • Relevant terms

Notes:

Top 30-page content has become substantially more extensive; the average text length has increased yet again by roughly 25% in comparison to the previous year.

Likewise, the content has become more holistic. While the popularity of proof terms has remained unchanged at a high level, the percentage of pages that use relevant terms has increased.

Beside longer and more holistic content, the complexity of the content has decreased; according to the results of the Flesch readability analysis the texts are somewhat less demanding to read.

The significance of keywords in internal and external links has decreased.

Pages with the most relevant content for a search query are very likely to rank better.

Keywords are a natural part of content but are unimportant without relevant content and a logical context.

Relevance and text length often go hand in hand. Longer texts tend to perform better, whereby the sub-topics mentioned must also stay relevant.

4. Social Signals:

  • Facebook total
  • Google+
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest

Notes:

As expected, the correlations are still high.

The average number of signals per URL and position has increased considerably.

Nevertheless, the question about the actual impact of social signals on rankings remains. It is probable that social signals are one of several signals to show search engines where and what new and relevant content is.

5. Backlinks:

  • Number of backlinks
  • Referring domains
  • Backlinks with keyword in anchor text
  • Domain name in anchor text
  • Backlinks from news sites
  • Backlink age
  • Ratio links to homepage
  • No-follow backlink ratio

Notes:

Statistically, despite a decline, backlinks are still associated with higher search rankings. The correlations between the respective ranking factors are correspondingly high.

It is expected that the relevance of links will decline in favour of other factors in future. Even now links should be viewed in the context of social signals – a ranking signal but also to some degree more of a consequence of good rankings instead of their cause.

In the anchor text of the backlink, the domain name increasingly occurs instead of the keyword. At the same time, fewer backlinks have the homepage as the link target and increasingly refer to deep link URLs.

These changes may be related to the attempts by Google to combat “unnatural” link formation – such as penalties against link networks and their customers as well as the rollout of Penguin 3.0. • The proportion of no-follow backlinks has increased strongly compared to the previous year

______________________________________________________________________

Conclusion

Create relevant content based on the search intention and type of the user, i.e. query type (transactional/informational etc.) and end device (desktop/mobile/tablet).

Think beyond keywords. The searches of users are varied, even if they may ultimately have similar intentions.

Structure topics in clusters of closely related terms and decided on an individual basis which topics belong together on a landing page, and which should have their own page. Working with mind maps and topic clouds is recommended as opposed to just lists.

Offer your content to readers/viewers at the highest possible technical specifications. Your content should be optimised for readability and ease of interpretation and should offer an optimal user experience by means of semiotics.

Job Vacancy: Junior Front-end Web Developer

Junior front-end web developer wanted in Manchester

We’re on the hunt for a talented junior front-end web developer to come and work for us.

Due to a growing portfolio and subsequent company expansion, we need a junior web developer to join the team. Working from our Ancoats based office, you’ll be joining an existing group of tight-knit designers and developers.

We’re looking for a person with talent, a passion to learn and continually improve, and someone who wants to fit into our agency way of life. You’ll need to have an excellent appreciation of modern responsive websites and though the job description says web developer, you’ll stand out from the crowd if you possess a good eye for design.

Join us, and you’ll have every opportunity to establish yourself at a small but very experienced agency – moulding your role as we grow. You’ll need to fit in to a team but also be able to work independently, thinking on your own. Think this is you? Read on.

Junior Front-End Web Developer, Ancoats, Manchester

The successful applicant must have the following skills, and be able to show examples of their work.

Essential:

  • HTML5, CSS3, SASS, jQuery & related JS libraries
  • PHP
  • Clean coding
  • Good knowledge of modern frameworks such as Bootstrap and Foundation
  • Good knowledge of WordPress & Woocommerce, with a high level grasp of WP functions and overall structure
  • Experience with solving cross‐browser compatibility issues and responsive testing on multiple devices

Beneficial:

  • MySQL
  • GIT
  • Photoshop / Graphic skills
  • Illustrator
  • Experience with Adwords
  • Understanding of SEO
  • Understanding of domains and hosting
  • Experience with Google Analytics / Google Adwords

You’ll also need to:

  • Communicate regularly with other team members
  • Have strong organisational effectiveness and time management
  • Good written and verbal communication skills
  • Have an outstanding attention to detail

This role needs someone with a real passion to continually enhance their knowledge, and the applicant must be hard-working and punctual, with the ability to fit into a small team. Competitive salary paid.

Perks of working at Pixel Kicks

  • Plush city centre office on the corner of Ancoats & the Northern Quarter
  • XBox with lunchtime team tournaments and latest game releases
  • Relaxed working environment
  • Dual monitor, high spec PC setup
  • Balcony terrace for when you need to get a breather for 5/10 minutes
  • Private kitchen with all mod-cons and smoothie maker
  • Staff discount at Kettlebell Kitchen
  • Opportunity for growth and promotion within our growing company
  • Annual salary reviews in line with own & company performance

This is a great opening for the right person to start a career at a well respected and growing web design company, based on the corner of Ancoats and the Northern Quarter in Manchester city centre. Please complete the form below to apply.

STRICTLY NO RECRUITMENT AGENCIES

Careers

  • Apply

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Working for a top Manchester digital agency – 5 key takeaways

Working for a top Manchester digital agency - key takeaways


I’ve always thought there was a hint of mystery about how a digital agency operates and what it’s like to work at one. More importantly, what it really takes to become a top agency grade developer or designer. Having left my agency job in UAE after 5 years and joining the Pixel Kicks team has given me a unique perspective into the agency culture in an entirely different country. Some of them new, some not. 

Getting the job has been roughly the same as getting any other job really. However, what matters is who you get interviewed by, and whether they can relate to the expertise required to do the job. I was lucky in that regard because Chris, founder and MD of Pixel Kicks had been running this company from day one. You want to be interviewed by people who actually know what they’re talking about. I was a little nervous nevertheless.

The nervousness, particularly comes from the fact that technology is moving at such a fast pace that it’s really hard to decipher what an agency is asking of you from the job spec. On the other hand, it’s not really possible to list all the specific skills and knowledge an agency job requires either. And there’s a reason for that, the whole point of a digital agency is to deliver products that are too expensive for companies in the way that they would have to hire a set of people only to get this particular project done, or too new or unknown to be explored on company time without guaranteed results.

This is where the agency comes in. When they say in a job ad that no week is the same and that everyday is more exciting than the previous, what they mean is that you have to deal with things you didn’t know the last week and learn how to do something today to be able to apply it tomorrow. Every project you take on is probably going to be somehow different than the last one. As long as you know the basics, and preferably have got some experience, you’re a “good” candidate. What makes a good candidate “great” though, is their ability to use their accumulated knowledge to quickly grasp new concepts and make sense of new platforms and frameworks. That’s what’s new and exciting about the job, and that’s the challenge.

My job at Pixel Kicks in short is a web designer, in length however, I’m a front-end developer who designs company branding, websites, apps and more, and then develops them using standard technology such as HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP. However that’s just the beginning. The internet is a fast place, and everyday there’s a new idea, every month there’s a new trend.

Here are the a few things I’ve picked up since I’ve joined Pixel Kicks which, in my humble opinion, transcend countries and applies to any digital agency jobs regardless of the location.

 

1. Agile Development:

There’s a lot of buzz word surrounding the phrase Agile development. The problem is this – we’ve got “Agile” which is a methodology in the context of software development. Then there’s “agile” development, using the word “agile” in a literal sense. Here’s the thing, Agile methodology doesn’t sit well with design agencies, mainly because of the size they usually come in and because they have to work with fixed budgets and on not very well defined projects. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s another story. I’ll list a few links below if you want to read up on Agile development.

When I use the word agile, it simply means being agile, being able to quickly adapt to the needs and challenges to complete the project. Being able to set up a non-linear workflow which can go back and forth and side to side to accommodate new changes and challenges. That’s what it really is, not a method but a mindset of managing and developing a project that can deal with the unforeseeable. Requirements change, the platforms we use gets updated, ideas develop as the project progress; there is no works-for-all solution.

There’s no we”ll start with this template based on this platform and we’ll use such and such language to develop particular functions and interactions. You may have started with the idea that you’ll use WordPress and jQuery but halfway through the project you might be forced to use Angular to put it all together, it’s just how it works. It’s a fast paced world. It doesn’t happen all the time mind you, but the point is you have to be prepared for when it does.

Here at Pixel Kicks, when we start working on a project, more often than not, the features may not be well defined and we’ll have to come up with new ones, suggest them to clients, work on discovery and concept designs all at the same time. This can be good at times because it allows us to experiment with features and options, and get creative. However, it does require being able to face rejection and sometimes, failure and going back to the drawing board. We make sure that a tremendous amount of focus goes into understanding the vision and goals a client is aiming for. It’s what reduces conflict of interest and bias down the line.

Sometimes there’s no set theme unless it’s an established brand, so the process of branding, concept design, user experience must be kept in line with the features and functionalities we’re hoping to implement. We usually don’t separate design from development anymore, both are so intertwined, especially because of our WordPress expertise, that design and development happen in parallel, not one after another.

Personally, to be honest, unless the project is medium or large, I’m not partial to doing design/wireframe iterations and then moving on to the development phase. In a lot of cases, once the concept designs have been approved, I personally like to work with a design language or theme when I develop rather than a complete set of designs.  It enables me to create a more modular design that can be scaled up and down, making it future-proof. I know it’s probably not the best solution but which one is really.

Note: I’m consciously avoiding “Agile” terminologies such as Sprints and Scrums and so on because it’s a mess really when you try to go into explaining how it relates to web projects. However the goal remains the same, delivering a working product as efficiently and as quickly as possible. Fact of the matter is, a single project development methodology simply isn’t going to work for projects of vastly varied complexity.

Something interesting to look into is Spotify Engineering Culture which is sort of a mixture of Agile and Spotify’s own thing. It’s not just Spotify who uses it anymore, last I heard Sky Digital is using the same methodology to manage their products and teams.


2. Problem solving:

This is very obvious but just as important. Problem solving is a life skill that comes in handy regardless of what industry you work in; especially so in a digital agency environment. When you’re beta testing a website before launch, a single problem or bug might turn out to be a whole series of problems. It’s very important to be able to sift through your own code. find the culprit and fix it.

Sometimes it might seem like a huge task because you’re days away from launch and time’s running out – but that’s ok,  as long as you know how to break the problem into smaller pieces and fix them one by one, it’s not really a huge task at all. Trying to tackle a massive problem in one go is inefficient, it wears people out and makes them take unnecessary breaks.  Always try to find the simplest solution, define the problem first, check if it actually exists or it’s simply an unrelated problem. Until you actually define a problem, you might be treating only symptoms rather than the disease itself.

At Pixel Kicks for example, if we receive client feedback stating something isn’t working when they go to a website on their iPhone. The first thing we do is try to recreate the problem on a couple of our own devices before looking into the coding. That eliminates chasing a problem that might have been caused by an unrelated issue on a single iPhone. That’s just a simple example, but it applies to major problems as well. The bigger the problem, the complex the solution. The quicker we find the root cause of the problem, the sooner we fix it.

 

3. Common template:

Different agencies have different workflow but you must have your own as well and align it with the agency you work for. As soon as a contract is signed and you’re put on the job, there needs to be a set process as to how you approach the project. It gives you a sense of control and grasp on the situation because otherwise it might seem too alien or too complicated sometimes. This boosts confidence and calms you down. Let”s take the web development projects I work on for example, as soon as I’m on the job, I start off by setting up the workflow that I use for all other web development projects – you set up the folders, you set up the version control, set up your task runner and go from there because fundamentally, these steps are going to be roughly the same regardless of the size or scope of the project.

Get started, there’s no point worrying and moaning about it, it’s your job.

At Pixel Kicks, we use Grunt to do the usual task running for us, things like compiling SASS, combining and compressing files and whole host of other small things that adds up to save quite a bit of time. We develop our websites on a local server but we’re using Git, BitBucket and SourceTree to keep the files on cloud and preserve version control in the process. Which ultimately helps us with staging and deploying as well. It’s just a common template here, we get a project, we set everything up, Git, Grunt and the rest of it. I like that.

 

4. Collective knowledge:

Here’s another reason why hiring an agency rather than an individual pays off in the long term – a digital agency can make use of the collective knowledge of more than one person. There are people in the company who are dedicated to digital marketing, SEO, ecommerce or marketplaces even. It’s easier and more efficient to simply ask for an expert’s opinion instead of scouring the internet and taking a blind shot only to regret in the long run.  If you’re working on a project, whatever it maybe, having an office-wide discussion can lead to really unique ideas. Your knowledge on something could be biased, incomplete or simply outdated. A simple meeting could lead to a lot of money saved in time and in resources. I’m no sales expert but I suspect this is what perspective clients count on too.

It’s also very important to be very upfront about what aspect of the project you think is going to get tricky for you. If you think implementing a feature is going to be difficult or if you don’t know anything about certain aspect of a platform or a programming language, you discuss it with the team instead of simply going along and hoping for the best. A digital agency usually doesn’t hire someone because they know every single platform, scripts and languages out there, they hire someone because of their problem solving skills and to some degree, character. If you’re upfront, the team might come up with an alternative and easier way of achieving the same goals. If you don’t apply it in practice, you’d still be an individual working by yourself and missing out a whole host of knowledge available to you.

At Pixel Kicks, we’re quite confident about each other’s abilities which usually puts us into autopilot when it comes to distributing workload. However that doesn’t mean we don’t get stuck and whenever we are, being upfront about it gives us the ability to have at least another mind working on the same problem or at the very least, have someone suggest an alternative solution or point to a site or forum thread that might help. Having SEO experts and ecommerce experts under the same roof means that an answer might be just a single Slack message away.

 

Erik, Chris, Matt and the Pixel Kicks team discussing a website project

 

5. Optimisation:

This is probably the most overlooked aspect of a project when you’re on a deadline. However, this may well be what sets an agency apart from the rest. If a successful launch is not ranking well on Google, it might not be so successful after all. This could happen either because of optimisation issues or SEO. Although the latter is a whole other service but the former is the sole responsibility of the design and dev team. Simply put, all other factors being equal, if a website doesn’t load fast enough, Google will list faster websites first. Of course there’s the keyword business amongst many other factors, but Google will rank the faster loading site above the slow loading one, especially when it comes to mobile web. Google rewards user experience.

There are a few ways we at Pixel Kicks, make sure that sites are well optimised and score well on Google Pagespeed Insights or GTMetrix.

Pagespeed Insights itself will give you tips and clues about improving the score, whilst GTMetrix provides more detailed analysis and might come in even more handy if Pagespeed is confusing you. There’s a fine line between optimised and bad user experience though. We try our best to make sure it’s a compromise between user experience and pagespeed score. Whatever the score may be, at the end of the day our focus is to deliver a product that is fast and usable by base consumers. I recently made a post about optimising WordPress websites, which might come in handy if anyone’s trying to improve their pagespeed score.

Here’s a few useful resources:

 

Thanks for reading.

How to optimise and speed up WordPress like a pro

Being in the business of making the best possible WordPress websites, the loading speed of a website is an integral part of web design and development. Now more than ever actually, given how much Google cares about page speed and optimisation.

Although WordPress is by far and away the most versatile CMS I know of, it’s not the most optimised one one by today’s standard. But there are a few key things that can be done to speed things up.

 

1. Minify CSS and JS

This is probably the easiest and least technical of the processes on the list. Usually when developing a WordPress website or theme, it becomes essential to use plugins and external javascript libraries. Unfortunately, this means loading more and more JS and CSS files. Minifying scarcely used JS and CSS files (think JS libraries such as a slider and it’s CSS files) can really help improving the loading time. I personally use SASS and Grunt to take care of the minifying on fly, but there are other tools that can do the job just as well.

CSS: http://cssminifier.com/
JS: http://jscompress.com/
Or Refresh-SF http://refresh-sf.com/ which does CSS, JS and HTML

Tip: Better WordPress Minify Wordpress plugin could be a great alternative if the above isn’t an option. Best thing about this plugin is that it uses native WordPress enqueueing system, which means it’s more integrated with the system and doesn’t interfere with the order of your scripts and files.

Note: W3 Total Cache plugin minifies and combines all your CSS and JS files on the fly. It does require fiddling with the settings and a period of trial and error but it’s well worth looking into. Read on to learn more about W3 Total Cache.

 

2. Concatenate/Combine static CSS and JS

Another quick and easy of of optimising a site is to combine less used CSS and Javascript files. For example if you’ve got a main CSS file and a custom Javascript file then you could simply put all the other JS and CSS files in two single files. I personally use Grunt to take care of it but it’s not difficult to take the simpler way around. Copy and paste the minified CSS and Javascript into two new files, save them and enqueue them in your functions.php or save them in the original files. Don’t forget to comment out or remove the lines that point to the original files.

Note: W3 Total Cache plugin minifies and combines all your CSS and JS files on the fly. It does require fiddling with the settings and a period of trial and error but it’s well worth looking into. Read on to learn more about W3 Total Cache.

 

3. Move JS files to footer

Another quick but essential way to speed up a WordPress website is to move all Javascript to the footer instead of keeping them in the header. Javascript, by nature usually has to wait till the content of a website has finished loading in order to manipulate them, which in turn blocks the site from rendering till the JS files are fully loaded. Sometimes a JS file might break the site completely if it throws an error while the site is still being loaded. WordPress makes it very easy to force JS files to load after content. If you’re enqueueing JS files in functions.php, use the following format to load them.

wp_enqueue_script ( $handle, $src, array $deps, $ver, $in_footer )

For example, if you’re enqueueing your custom.js file and you want to move it to the footer then do the following

wp_enqueue_script('Custom', get_template_directory_uri() . '/js/main.js', false, '', true);

The last bit of the line where it says “true” is what makes WordPress load your JS files in the footer. It’s a well backed consensus that you should always enqueue JS files using wp_enqueue_script function in the theme functions.php file instead of directly hardcoding them into the header or footer file.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that you might want to take a look at wp_register_script() function if you want to register a script and use it later in a switch statement for example.

 

4. Leverage browser caching

This is one of the more advanced ways of speeding up a website but essential nevertheless. It’s not unusual for a site to serve a lot of the same images and files over and over as a visitor reloads a site. Caching the static files can significantly improve loading time. This however, requires editing the .htaccess file. Find the .htaccess file in the root of your website/Wordpress installation (Apache only) and copy/paste the following lines at the start or after all the other sections you might have in the file.

 

<IfModule mod_expires.c>
ExpiresActive On
ExpiresByType image/jpg "access 1 year"
ExpiresByType image/jpeg "access 1 year"
ExpiresByType image/gif "access 1 year"
ExpiresByType image/png "access 1 year"
ExpiresByType text/css "access 1 month"
ExpiresByType text/html "access 1 month"
ExpiresByType application/pdf "access 1 month"
ExpiresByType text/x-javascript "access 1 month"
ExpiresByType application/x-shockwave-flash "access 1 month"
ExpiresByType image/x-icon "access 1 year"
ExpiresDefault "access 1 month"
</IfModule>

 

This is what I’m using for a site at the moment. You can customise the length of time you want to cache a file type based on your requirements.

Note: Do note that this requires the Apache mod_expires module turned on. To check if it’s enabled just create a new PHP file with the line <?php phpinfo(); ?>, upload it to your host, run it in a browser and it should give you a list of Apache modules enabled on your account under the “Loaded modules” section. It’s usually enabled on all Linux hosting accounts, if it’s not then you might have to get in touch with your hosting provider.

 

5. Enable Gzip/DEFLATE Compression

Enabling compression is another way to speed up a website, whether it’s WordPress or not. The reasoning is simple, a compressed version of your site loads faster in a browser than an uncompressed version. When a browser requests a website, if compression is enabled on your host/server, the browser will load the compressed version.

There are two ways of enabling compression, Gzip and Deflate, I personally use DEFLATE because I run an Apache server and that’s what google recommends. If you’re using Nginx then you could use ngx_http_gzip_module or Configure HTTP Compression if you’re on IIS.

To enable DEFLATE compression on your website, open up your .htaccess file again and add the following code:

 

<IfModule mod_deflate.c>
 AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html text/plain text/xml application/xml text/css application/javascript image/svg+xml font/eot font/opentype font/ttf

 BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4 gzip-only-text/html
 BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4\.0[678] no-gzip
 BrowserMatch \bMSIE !no-gzip !gzip-only-text/html
</IfModule>

 

This is what I normally use. The last three lines are there to deal with browser specific bug fixes and are optional. It’s up to you to keep or remove them based on your own test results. The first line is what enables compression of specific file types. If you want to target a specific file type, just Google “mod_deflate .xxx compression” where .xxx is the file extension.

Note: This require mod_deflate Apache module enabled. Use the method I mentioned above to check if it’s enabled. If not, contact your hosting provider.

Tip: On WordPress, you could also use GZip Ninja Speed Compression to enable Gzip compression quickly. It’s worth mentioning that this only works on Apache WordPress installations.

 

6. WordPress Cache plugin

Caching content with a WordPress plugin can really boost load time in conjunction with browser caching mentioned above. What a caching plugin does is simply cache dynamic content till you publish/update something. There are quite a few very good cache plugins available at the moment, I personally prefer WP Super Cache for small websites simply because it’s easy to setup. You could use W3 Total Cache if you like fiddling with settings and want to fine tune your output. W3 Total Cache also supports CDN which makes it the best candidate for people who are using a CDN service.

Caution: Please do note that if you’ve just started developing for WordPress, it’s best to read up on W3 Total Cache before installing. It can be overwhelming if you don’t know your way around WordPress. If you’re really inclined to test W3 Total Cache on a website, I’d suggest doing a fresh install of WordPress in a sub-directory just to make sure nothing is compromised in case something goes wrong.

Note: W3 Total Cache let’s you enable Gzip compression on the fly. It’s under the Performance/Browser Cache menu.

 

7. Bonus tip: Using Cloudflare free service

It’s up for debate whether using Cloudflare to reduce loading time even further actually works, but it’s certainly deserves a mention. Although I have found the improvements to be negligible, it’s fun to to try new tricks out. I won’t go through the whole process here since Cloudflare themselves have published the process of integrating Cloudfare with WordPress at https://support.cloudflare.com/hc/en-us/articles/201717894-Using-CloudFlare-and-WordPress-Five-Easy-First-Steps and it’s dead simple to follow.

They’ve also written about how to integrate Cloudflare with W3 Total Cache at https://support.cloudflare.com/hc/en-us/articles/200169546-What-fields-do-I-need-to-enter-in-W3TC-W3-Total-Cache-settings-

Stunningly effective SEO campaigns – now with 10% off during November

Stunningly effective SEO campaigns

We’re celebrating our 3rd birthday at the end of the month and to mark the occasion we’re offering 10% off all new SEO campaigns purchased during November.

If you’ve been holding off any SEO work for the last year, now might just be the perfect time to do it. Our results are proven and we offer a no-nonsense, common-sense approach that simply works.

Our talented team will take your internet marketing to the next level, and deliver more traffic and more customers to your website. Your rankings will go through the roof!

* This offer is only valid during November for all new 12 month contracts, and we’re limiting it to the first 10 customers only, so call us now on 0161 713 1700 or drop us an email at offers@pixelkicks.co.uk to reserve your brand new SEO campaign.

Find out more about our search engine optimisation services.

New Pixel Kicks website launched, hurrah! #MuchResponsive #VeryWow

New Pixel Kicks website, November 2014

After what seems like an eternity, we finally got round to launching our brand new website, on November 1st, 2014.

New Pixel Kicks website, November 2014

The new site, which had been in development for the last 3 months brings us into the world of modern web design, with a fully responsive design that looks perfect whether viewing on desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile. You might ask why it’s taken us so long, and our honest answer is that we’ve just been so busy working on our wonderful clients’ sites that we’ve not had much time for our own 😉

Our refined branding is present on the site, with a bold and contrasting colour scheme cut with smooth fonts, geometric shapes and simple yet satisfying loading effects.

We like it, and we hope you do too.

With the new design comes a new blog too, the first post of which you’re reading right now. Thank you kind readers! We’ll be posting regularly articles here on all aspects of Pixel Kicks life, be it our daily routine at Manchester’s Sharp Project, our latest website designs, opinions and comments from the team, or technical stuff from our developers.

During 2015 we’re going to be expanding the team, so keep an eye out for introductions to our latest staff members, as well as seeing the new stuff we’ll be getting up to.