Squarespace and the Future of Web Design Companies

As Bruce Springsteen would say…”Big Man, I got a problem.” No, it’s not about a girl named Mona. It’s about the future of web design and where companies like Altera Web fit in.

We started as a one-person company back in 1999, officially launched Altera Web in 2005 and have survived/excelled in the 12 years since.

How? We have always adapted to the progressive and ever-changing nature of the web. Back in the early 2000’s, we hand-coded every website in HTML, CSS and JavaScript (with a little PHP/ASP thrown in at times). And we had to adjust our code for both Internet Explorer and Netscape, who tended to display your code in very different (and frustrating) ways.

When Flash came along and promised to be the next big thing, we jumped on board the train and built several completely Flash websites. Considering most people were still on a dial-up internet connection, it posed quite the challenge to build something that was effective, yet still quick to load.

Then we moved along to content management systems, started with Joomla, and eventually settled with WordPress as our CMS of choice (the right call by the way).

Next came responsive design, making sure every site was optimally viewed on all devices.

All of the items above have one thing in common: The client needed Altera Web (or one of our many wonderful competitors) to do the actual work. They did not have the design skills, the technical skills, nor the time to created their own website.

Enter Squarespace (or Wix or Weebly…though Squarespace stands above the crowd), a do-it-yourself website builder. Now companies like Go Daddy and Network Solutions have had their own proprietary website builders in the past, but they were clunky, produced below average websites and were not remotely user-friendly. So when Squarespace came out, our original reaction was muted.

Looking back, this was most likely not the best reaction for our business. Squarespace has shaken the web industry up. Although we have personally used it and don’t find it as intuitive as expected, you cannot argue with the results. They currently have 3 locations (NYC, Portland and Dublin) and claim their system has been used to create millions of websites. That’s millions of websites that once would have had to be outsourced or built from scratch internally.

Has this put a dent in our business? Yes
Are we throwing our hats into the ring and calling it a good run? Yes. Just kidding…heck no.

This is not a WordPress vs Squarespace battle. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, depending on the customer’s needs.

This is more of a what do we do now, moving forward?

The response, like always, is we adapt to the changing times. While Altera Web will still remain as is, helping clients who need our skills and require much more than Squarespace can offer, we will also be launching a new service in the coming months that offers a solution that falls between “do-it-yourself” and “do-it-for-me”.

That solution is called 3 Page Plus.

We’re calling it a hybrid, but it goes much deeper than that. It puts the customer in control of his or her own website, but they are not on their own. We will partner with them every step of the way, from building the site, launching it, helping them market it, assisting in SEO and keeping everything running smoothly. And seeing that you only pay for what you want to use, it is a very cost-friendly solution.

We can’t share more than that at this time, but suffice it to say, we are beyond excited about it. If you’d like to be kept up to date, please just leave your email address here and we’ll send you the occasional email as to our progress and launch date.

Here’s to the future!

wordpress vs squarespace

The Beauty of Responsive Design

Ahhh…responsive design.

Even the name is soothing.

The technology is even better.

No more building multiple websites for web and mobile.

No more having to put on your reading glasses to view a website on a phone.

A solution for the masses.

Following is an example of a site we recently completed that has a wonderful responsive design.

Here is how the website is viewed in a standard browser:

responsive design in browser

And here is the exact same page as viewed on a mobile device:

mobile websites pa

Philadelphia Web Design Company Creates New Website for Global Company

A professional, high-end website? Check.

An e-commerce platform? Check.

A members only section with chat rooms and live webinars? Check.

A site with multiple language translations? Check.

The Institute for Global Student Success has recently hired Altera Web, a Philadephia-based web design company, to build the ideal solution for their new venture.

We couldn’t be more excited. We love being part of start-ups and get totally revved up by being a part of their success.

We take it as a personal victory as well and even do a victory dance around our office.

We will be adding functionality to the site as the summer months go on.

An Ecommerce Website Built by this Philadelphia Web Agency

There is only one reason why we haven’t blogged in six months. Holy moly, have we been busy!

We have been working on such an interesting range of products. From an inventory management system, to an event management system, to a plethora of websites, we have been cranking out work in 2014. Yes, we love being busy.

Today, I’d like to introduce a site we’ve been working on for several months. It’s a full ecommerce site, based in WordPress, utilizing a fully customized WooCommerce plugin. Jennifer’s Way Bakery is a small, amazing retail bakery in New York City. But they are going big time by opening a 13,000 square food facility so they can ship their goodies nationwide.

And they called on Altera Web to create their online presence.

They have been wonderful to work with and I wish them all of the success in the world.

Building a Customized PDF Product Catalog

In 2014, we landed a very exciting project. The company was one of the largest food packaging companies in the world and they needed their website rebuilt.

As part of the rebuild, they requested a very interesting feature. They wanted their customers to be able to come online, search through their 500+ products and then create a PDF catalog of the products that were selected. Previously, the customer could only download their full catalog. But what if they were only interested in bowls or glassware or silverware?

That’s where we came in. At Altera Web, we love nothing more than a challenge and if I don’t say so myself, we absolutely nailed it.

Step 1: Customer comes to site and using multiple filters we set up, selects the products and categories they are interested in.

customized PDF

Step 2: Customer adds desired products to catalog.

how to customize a pdf catalog

Step 3: Customer reviews the catalog items before printing.

woocommerce customized catalog

Step 4: Customer adds their company name and creates the catalog. A PDF is created. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Click here to view an example of the customized PDF catalog.

This is a win-win for everybody. The customer has a beautiful catalog and the client hopefully has happy customer and increased sales.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact us.

If I Pay $97 for Your Product, It Should Work

wordpress-membership-plugin

So here’s the story. About a month ago, Altera Web was hired by a professional pianist to create a website where the user can sign up for online piano lessons. We knew we wanted to build the site in WordPress but we also knew that we needed a reliable, awesome WordPress membership plugin.

After what we thought was a lot of due diligence, we decided on WishList Member, which cost $97.

I’m a big believer that for most “free” items, you get what you pay for, so I am more than happy to pony up some dough, with the assumption that you get a rocking product in return, along with great customer service.

Now the site was pretty basic (not dull mind you…but not too complex): three membership levels and the only payment option we’d be offering would be PayPal.

I cannot begin to tell you how complex WishList Member was to implement. Way too many settings, many of which seemed to both repeat and contradict themselves at the same time. And their support consisted of videos (in no order whatsoever), PDFs (sketchy in detail and based on an old version of PayPal), and a Support Forum.

But after two day…TWO DAYS…we finally completed the implementation. We ran it thru testing. It connected to PayPal. It processed the payment. But the redirect back to our website would not work.

I looked up the issue online and it seems it’s been a problem for a LONG TIME. I reached out to customer service who had me do a few things, all to no avail.

If Apple has taught us one thing, it’s this: simple is better. It’s all about making your product easy to use. I should have known once I started playing with the plugin that it wouldn’t go well. It was just too complex.

To their credit, they refunded my money but the project is now a few days behind schedule as we try to implement a new solution.

Believe it or not, we found a free plugin. Yes, I know what I said above. But this came very highly reviewed. It’s call S2Member.

It was a piece of cake to implement.

Will it work like it’s supposed to?

I’ll let you know in a few days when we go live.

What is Responsive Design?

what is responsive design

More people are accessing the internet on their mobile devices than ever before. Whether you have a website or a WordPress blog (or both), it is absolutely vital in this day and age that your site looks consistent (and fantastic) on all devices.

Responsive Design is a relatively new concept that refers to building a website so it provides the most optimal user experience on various screen sizes, devices and orientations.

Think about how important this is. You have no idea where your next potential customer is going to be viewing your site. Will he be in his office on a 21 inch monitor? Will she be laying in bed with her 10 inch tablet? Or will he be on the road with his cell phone?

No matter where they are or what device they are looking at, your site must come across consistently, professional and easy to use.

Still not clear about responsive design? View our site and all devices and you’ll get it.

Is your site optimized for all devices? If not, just give us a shout and we’ll be glad to help.

Why WordPress is Better

new jersey wordpress company

No…this is not going to be another post comparing the features of WordPress, Joomla and Drupal with fancy charts and graphs, as we spew our expertise on all things CMS.

The web is already littered with those posts.

But I will say this. At Altera Web, a New Jersey web design company, we’ve worked with all three content management systems. And from a development point of view, the learning curve is much, much steeper with Joomla and Drupal.

Which would be fine if the benefits far outweighed those of WordPress. But for 95% of our clients, WordPress is more than sufficient.

It is not only more than sufficient, it rocks!

It has come a far way in the past few years, from a blogging only platform to a full-fledged CMS.

Are there things that can be improved with WordPress?

Absolutely.

The WordPress editor could be much better.

You should easily be allowed to use whatever widget you want on whatever page you want without digging too deep into the PHP code.

But all in all, it delivers what we need without the unnecessary complexity of other CMS’.

And this simplicity is passed along to our customers.

Everybody wins. Isn’t that nice?

So You Want to be a Web Designer?

bucks county web designer

You’re young. You’re recently out of college. Your job prospects look bleak. You’re getting frustrated.

And then one day, you say “I think I’ll be a web designer“.

Hey…it can happen. My path is somewhat similar.

So my question to you is: What makes you think you can be a great web designer?

And if you’re not going to be great, don’t bother entering the field. It’s too competitive and already saturated with top talent.

But if you think you can indeed be great, here are the skills I would focus on:

  • Design: I know that sounds obvious. But you need to have a phenomenal sense of what works and what doesn’t. Especially when it comes to web design. Do I think you need a four year degree from a top design school? No. But you better be able to recognize and produce exceptional designs.
  • HTML: At the end of the day, browsers display HTML code. It may start as PHP or .NET or some other server side language. But you better know HTML really, really well.
  • CSS: This keeps the design separate from the content and is where you can get very creative.
  • PHP: I would focus on PHP over .NET to start. It’s more commonly used. You  do not need to be an expert coder, but you should be able to recognize what the code is doing.
  • Javascript: Same as PHP. Understand the syntax of the language.
  • Photoshop: You and Photoshop will be best friends as you spend your days together. Learn it.
  • WordPress: Clients these days want the ability to update their own sites. WordPress is the most popular CMS on the market today.
  • Customer Service: This is how you can stand apart from your competition. You better service the heck out of your clients or they will go some place else.

So…do you still want to be a web designer?