responsive web design welcome future business

The late/great Albert Einstein once said “I never think about the future, it comes soon enough.” True enough for some, Al, but when it comes to web design and business, we think it’s smart and necessary to think about the future in order to succeed. As we all know, change happens fast, and in the worlds of web design, business and technology, it happens even faster. To be good web designers and business operators, we need to stay on trend and stay current. To be excellent at what we do, it’s necessary to identify trends before they hit.  MobileSitesx6+600dpi

With the advance in mobile technology in the last few years, it’s no surprise that more and more people are using their mobile devices to access the Internet. How is it then that the vast majority of businesses are still not mobile user-friendly? Can I be frank? If you’re a business owner and you don’t have an online presence that is accessible via mobile you’re missing out on major business opportunities. There’s nothing complex about having a mobile presence. The answer is so simple:Responsive Web Design. So, what is it exactly?

Responsive web design is a web design style that crafts websites with the aim of providing an optimal viewing experience. These websites are easy to read and even easier to navigate across a wide range of devices by being coded in a way that uses a minimum of resizing, panning and scrolling, thus making it a very user-friendly style. Happy users are happy customers and happy customers spend more money. This is what we call conversion. So, how do you get the most out of your responsive design?

Ring! Ring!

When it comes to creating a mobile website, you have two options: Responsive Design and Mobile Templates. Responsive design is easier in that it requires only one website that is coded in order to adapt to all screen sizes and therefore accessible through multiple devices. Mobile templates aren’t as friendly. They require an entirely separate mobile-only website. You can see why this is a problem! It’s more work, more money and more hassle.

Consider this:

  • More people are using their mobiles for Google searches
  • 25% of Internet users access it on a mobile device
  • 25% of all emails are opened on mobile phones
  • 61% of people have a better opinion of brands when they offer a good mobile experience

Keeping customers happy is paramount to a successful business so providing a positive user experience should be a top priority. If someone lands on your mobile website and doesn’t find what they’re looking for easily they’re likely to leave your site for your competitor. A positive experience on mobile devices can translate into more profits as the customer is 67% more likely to purchase your services or products if it’s fast and easy to do so.

Keeping Google Happy

It’s a well-known fact that Google prefers responsive web design over mobile templates. Just like your customers, Google wants to be able to navigate your site and organise the content with ease. With responsive design your site has one URL and the same HTML across any device making it easier for users to share and engage with the content compared to sites with different pages for mobile and desktop users. Google knows that unhappy customers will go to other sites which then results in an increase in bounce rates and lower ranking on mobile searches. Beware: Google’s external link algorithm then gets cranky and this can have serious consequences for your SEO.

Back to the Future

One of the best characteristics of responsive design is that the size of the template is designed based on screen size and not specific devices. Technology is in a state of flux at all times. New devices are dreamed up and created faster than you can say “Eight Track Player”. Your responsive website won’t be made obsolete with the advent of new technology. It will stay current and beautiful which saves you money because you won’t need to tweak it. Speaking of money…

Responsive Design: How Much Does It Cost?

Depending on your current website, changing it to a responsive design may cost a few hundred dollars or a few thousand. That’s assuming the existing design lends itself to becoming responsive. If you haven’t redesigned your website in the last several years it’s quite probable that you’ll need to go through a complete redesign process. As designers we know that the cost depends on how much work you want to get done.  If you’re interested in converting your existing site to responsive design, we can help. Just get in touch with one of our designers and they can talk you through the process. If you’re looking to stay competitive in the marketplace, you’re going to have to make the leap to responsive design.

Call me: The Future Is Mobile

Going ‘responsive’ can present challenges for website owners but without a mobile-friendly website the future of your online presence is bleak. If you’re not providing a mobile-friendly experience for your customers, they’ll bounce off your website and go to your competitor whose website is easier to use. Haven’t you ever done that before yourself? I know I have. The future, as we all know, is mobile. People prefer their mobile devices over desktop and laptop computers. Consider this fun fact: by 2017 5 billion people will use mobile phones. Can you afford to stay in the Dark Ages of web design? Nope.

There are, however, some exceptions to the rule:

  1. Your business doesn’t depend on your website to operate. (Lucky you!)
  2. Your business has absolutely no competitors in the marketplace. (Um, really?!)
  3. You’re totally familiar with responsive design, you know that it’s not the right fit for your business and you have an alternative mobile strategy. (Fair enough.)

If any of these 3 points resonate with you, then you have nothing to worry about. If not, get in touch. We’re here and we’re ready to update your website to be responsive. Welcome to the future.

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Posted in Responsive Design

Three Ways Small Businesses Can Grow With Social Media

Social media is one of the most powerful tools on the entire web to get more exposure and credibility. Some small businesses have used it to go from having no audience to havingsocial_media hundreds of thousands of followers. However, there are many small businesses that are struggling to grow their social media audiences. Some small business owners are putting in hours of work but getting little results from their social media efforts. These three tips for small businesses trying to grow on social media are aimed to stop stagnancy and spread your message to a larger audience.

  1. Interact with your followers. There are so many people who are focused on growing that they forget to interact with the followers they already have. Some of the people I have interacted with on my social networks have become returning customers who frequently buy my books and leave reviews. In addition, as you connect with more people, you will get more opportunities. I have been able to write for numerous guest blogs because some of the connections I made on social media wanted my content on their sites. Here are some tips you can use to start more conversations.
  2. Identify your targeted audience. There are three types of followers. There is the fake follower (which you don’t want at all), the real follower (which is okay), and the targeted follower (the one you want). Your targeted audience is the audience that will help you be successful. In order to identify your targeted audience, ask yourself two questions. What do I do? Who would benefit from it?
  3. Go after the people in your targeted audience. You want to follow and interact with as many people in your targeted audience as possible. Targeted followers are more likely to share your content and buy your products and services than any other type of follower. Interacting with these followers and gradually building your audience (a targeted audience in particular) will allow you to grow on social media.

Those are the three ways small businesses can grow with social media. It all comes down to identifying your targeted audience, growing that audience, and interacting with the people in your audience. Then, you will be able to grow on social media.

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Posted in Social Media

Why your email should use your personal domain not a generic provider address

Using your domain for your email address is professional and, equally important, allows your more flexibility in choosing where and with who your host your email accounts.

Do not underestimate a simple email address for it’s power of reflection on you and your personal or business brand.

Your email address is usually used everywhere; listed on your website and email signature, and probably all your printed marketing material as well including business cards and letterheads. Your email address may also be included on sign writing; which could be car signage, signage on your building, or any signs or banners you use for business expos, etc.

email_imageryYour email address will either make a good impression of you as a well rounded business, or cause people to wonder why you have a professional business but an outdated, sometimes untrusted email provider. Possibly you are even using a personal address such as (, which will reflect badly on your business. You would be surprised how may job applications are dismissed because they use a similar personal email address when applying for a serious position. Consider this a valuable tip for anyone applying for a job - if you have a portfolio website, setup an email address using your portfolio website’s domain. Don’t use a personal, unprofessional email address if you're serious about making a professional impression and getting the job.

An domain email address advertises your website address.

Another reason for using a domain email address is to direct people to your website. Most people will know when they receive an email from, for example: ( that Tony's website can be found at: Another handy hint is if you’re selling on a site such as Trademe, use your email address as your identification. On Trademe you cannot advertise yourself by including your website address, but if Tony’s username is (, then viewers will know that he has a website and can see what the domain name is from his email address which uses his domain.

Your email address establishes credibility.

A professional email address will go a long way to establishing credibility in your industry. For example, Tom has a car towing business. He uses the email address: ( His website is He would be far better to use a domain email such as: (, or (, rather then the yahoo address. As another example, Anne runs an accounting business. Her email address is ( Annes website is Anne would be much wiser to use an email address such as; (, or (

A domain email gives you freedom to choose your email provider and to move providers (or "clients") without having to change email address.

With whichever email provider you currently use, whether it’s Hotmail, Yahoo! or even Gmail, there is the possibility that you may not want to stay with them in future. They may close down, they may merge with another provider, they may start charging more than you’re prepared to pay for their service, there may be something better. Whatever the case if you want to move, you usually can’t. Unfortunately if you have an email address such as ( you won’t be able to move that account, it’s locked with yahoo. It IS yahoo.

email_options_smartphoneWhat you should have is an email address that is as mobile as your cellphone number, meaning you can keep your same number but change providers as you choose. With a default email account that’s simply not possible, with an email account using your personal domain, it is.

Sure, some of these services may be accessible using other email clients (or ‘programs’) but you have a lot more options for importing and forwarding when you control your own domain. And you never have to email everyone to tell them to change your email address - ever again!

With the new .NZ domains, your email address can be even simpler!

Now that .NZ domains are available, your email address can be even simpler. Why have a .CO.NZ domain when you can just have a .NZ? One of the reasons that we now have .NZ domains is for more representative domain names, ie. many people have a .CO.NZ domain name even though they are not a business. You can have both or either, there is no limit to the number of domain names you can register.

Have you ever thought your email address might be a bit long? I have advised many of our clients who registered a domain name with us, to register an additional shorter domain name to use specifically for emails. For example (and yes, I’m making these examples up), Nicki at Mountain Climbing Guided Tours could register the domain: ( That domain is going to create a huge email address, but it’s a must-have domain because it tells people exactly what her business is. Nicki could also register ( and/or ( as shorter options. That last domain will make email accounts a breeze. Nicki can now have as her email address. What happens here if she owns two domains is that Nicki’s website address can still be (, with the additional domain ( also pointing to the same website. We can setup an email forwarder so if she is emailed at ( or ( these emails will go to the same inbox. Simple right?

Email and technical support, email hosting, troubleshooting and peace of mind.

Here at Activate Design we can host your domain email account on our secure, New Zealand-based server. If you have a website hosted with us, then email hosting using the same domain becomes complimentary. How easy is that? Keep your website, emails and domain management all in one place and we have friendly, knowledgable staff here to help with setup, queries, ongoing support and assistance to ensure your brand is supported by secure, professional hosting services.

Visit for email setup and support.

We have a excellent support website providing assistance with email setups for a variety of email clients, including outlook, mac mail, webmail and more. Our support site also has guides on troubleshooting and how to use our website content management system, with which you can update your own website content and images independently.

Visit our ActiveHost Support Site for more information on website hosting and costs, to contact us for assistance, or if you’re an existing customer you can login to view and pay your hosting invoices, renew your domain names with credit card or internet banking, send support tickets for your website, and order new hosting or domain services.

If you have any queries about setting up a new email address, purchasing a new or shorter domain or a new .NZ domain, or anything other ID queries, we'd love to hear from you.

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Posted in Branding

Important Things to Look for in the Best SEO Company

There are many companies out there that offer SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), so many infact, that the market is flooded with them. The blanket email spam sent out from these companies can become very frustrating, believe me - I know. For myself, I get multiple emails every single day from companies and individuals both in New Zealand and overseas (mainly India) offering SEO services for our Activate Design website.

Many of these emails start with: “I have viewed your website and believe I can improve your rankings by the following methods...” Another may say: “I have conducted a thorough analysis of your site and believe we can give you #1 rankings by …”

white hat seoMy first issue here is that if indeed these companies had actually viewed our website as they say they have, they would have seen that we ourselves offer a full SEO service. We also offer mobile sites, responsive websites, full website design, development and more. What I mean to say is; there’s no use offering window cleaning to a window cleaner right?

So I must conclude that these emails are spam being sent out without any real research having been done.

My second issue is are these companies using good "white hat" seo techniques, or agressive "black hat" techniques that rarely obey search engine guidelines and put your website at risk.

Is there any way to tell? My advice would simply be to use a well reputed provider of SEO. A good bet would be a company such as ourselves who don't soley offer SEO, but specialise in a host of other website related services.

My other advice would be to choose an SEO specialist in your country, that way if something goes wrong you know you can reach them easily to discuss and are not limited by electronic communication and time differences.


As a recent example, we were contacted by one of our Clients who had been intrigued by an offer of SEO that seemed too good to be true, yet also seemed quite legitimate. Black Hat SEO TechniquesThis initial email offer outlined a lot of points that appealed to our Client and the third party company seemed to know their stuff. Our Client had then spoken with this unknown company, (a wise step), although the company was not based in New Zealand, and decided to proceed with the service.

When they contacted us it was to forward an email requesting top-level access to their website to be passed on to the third party company. Our client had been informed that code would be added to their to site increase rankings. Without knowledge of SEO techniques themselves, our Client would have no idea what was being added to their site, and what could be hidden in the code that they would never find out about.


The answer, in fact, is none. If you do decide to take a risk on an unknown search engine optimisation company either based in New Zealand or overseas, they should not need access to the background workings of your website if it is just some code they are adding to your site. As we suggested to our Client, they would be wise to have us check and add the code into their website for them, ensuring it is 100% legitimate and that their website, which is such a large marketing investment, is kept safe.

In this particular case, once our client contacted the company to inform them to send the code to be added independently, they never heard from that company again. Rather suspicious don’t you think? That code could have contained any number of things from links to other sites or improper and outdated SEO practices that would have had a detrimental effect on rankings.


There are many, and I’m not scaremongering here - I genuinely believe that a website is such an asset that we are more than happy to ensure it's continued security. After all, we take pride in our websites and want to ensure the optimum effectiveness of the websites we create for every business, individual or organisation.

The dangers you face of using an unknown SEO company are that your website could be made vulnerable, hacked, deleted, or simply undermined. What I mean by undermined is that there are many, many methods of SEO to increase your rankings, and the effectiveness of these methods changes constantly. SEO techniques change as search engines get smarter, for example, Meta tags were once extremely effective but are rarely used anymore.

An HTML Meta Tag is a form of data tag that is not visible on the site itself, yet still communicates to search engines about your web page. Meta tags were popularly used to convey information like page title, description and keywords. What occurred to change this was that dishonest websites were adding keywords to their meta tags that did not in any way relate to their website content, effectively luring people in to their website through dishonest means. Thankfully, search engine technology is constantly evolving and once it was determined that Meta tags could be manipulated to gain undeserved rankings this technique became less used if not completely redundant. A good SEO provider must be constantly updating his or her skills using "white hat" techniques to stay ahead of trends and avoid penalisation for using outdated techniques.


What should I do if an SEO provider damages my rankings or results in my site being banned through "black hat" seo techniques?

If your site does not improve in rankings or actually goes down in rankings, there may be things we can undo to reverse the downward spiral and restore your website’s integrity. Contact us immediately!

If you website is banned from Search Engines, which happens more than you realise, we can re-create your website, making it much improved and more effective by employing good SEO techniques right from the start.

We work with SEO specialists who keep up to date with all the latest SEO techniques and developments to ensure any SEO results in a growth in rankings, not penalisation of rankings due to dishonest or outdated practices.


Give us a call. If you have one of our websites then unless you have given someone access to your website background, your site will be very secure. Our CMS (content management system) is unique in that it has been developed by us. Most websites that are hacked are created in open-source Content Management Systems, such as Wordpress and Magento. Open-source cms are available for anyone to use, so unfortunately there are more people working on ways to compromise them.

If your website has been compromised then in most cases we can repair it for you and get it working again with minimum down-time. If your website has been created in an open-source CMS we have a lot of experience with a range of issues that can occur, and on several occasions when the corruption is too wide-spread, we have re-created complete websites in our more secure CMS.

I think it’s important to note that with our CMS you can still host the site where you like. We do not lock you into hosting with us as some other companies do. Having freedom of choice is for your simple peace of mind.

Our unique CMS was created in response to the fact that most CMS available were created for programmers to use, not people (not that er, programmers aren’t people…). So our CMS is very, very simple and straightforward to use, giving you greater control over your content and images, and allowing you to add, hide or remove pages, add links and much more.

So if you’re thinking of SEO services to improve website rankings, or if you’re have concerns about the ongoing security of your website - do feel welcome to contact our team at Activate Design. We have designers, developers, service support technicians, and just friendly helpful people like myself here to assist you whenever needed.

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Posted in Graphic Design

Top Trending Website Design Inspirations

As professional web designers and developers, you’re visiting probably well over a thousand websites a month in order to stay up to date with trendy design and to generate ideas for your own projects. With the design landscape changing so frequently and fast, how do we stay current, and more importantly, how do we stay motivated to create the best websites possible? Better yet, how do we find the time?!

Web design is the so hot right now and the web is constantly expanding, growing and flourishing. This is due to the fact that people are genuinely interested in getting involved with the development of the web. And this makes us…happy. That’s right, we’re happy that the web is growing and evolving at a rapid rate because it means that we’re Responsive Designconstantly seeing new design trends. We’re hoping that this will eventually result in a web that is based solely on excellent design rather than just function or purpose. The revolution may not happen yet, but we believe it’s in the works…

We’re been trawling the web looking for the most inspiring design trends so you won’t have to! Have a look, take some notes and get ready to revamp your web design style!

  1. Keep on Scrolling: When you combine storytelling with user experience it often gets you a long page narrative. Websites will keep on experimenting with this more and more in the future. Clicking is so early 2000. This new scrolling is called long scrolling and it means is that all of your website’s pages can be viewed by vertically scrolling up or down. Boom. Easy. People have less and less time these days and getting lost navigating your pages is the last thing they want to do. One page websites are the new things. Keep an eye out for parallax scrolling too, which is a special scrolling technique where the background images move by the camera slower than foreground images, thus creating an illusion of depth and adding to the immersion experience.
  2. Make it Personal: People don’t want their only reactions to be with machines. Writing personal content is the best way to make your customers trust you. Good content is the only way for you to connect with your online audience, so write it like a human would, not a Cyborg. It’s no big secret that people perceive and process information easier when it’s delivered with graphic aids. Big content blocks are also great both for responsive web design and storytelling. The blocks focus readers’ attention on one statement at a time and become even more powerful when combined with bold web fonts, lots of whitespace, separated with colours, and matched with strong images.
  3. Responsive Design!: This web design approach is aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience for customers. The easy reading, navigation, panning, and scrolling across a wide range of devices like mobile phones to desktop computer monitors is quickly becoming the standard for business, and if you don’t comply, your Google ranking is going to suffer. Responsive design makes set website design look archaic.  Get on board if you want to stay up to date.
  4. Simple Design!: Simple design is a misnomer. It’s not implying that it’s easy to do, but rather it refers to the use of the best practices so site visitors get what they need without complication. Simple design embraces powerful images and meaningful content. It showcases purposeful navigation. Remember that ol’ saying: Keep It Simple, Stupid. This applies to the following:
  • Simple Animations: The one other trend that has taken off after the release of iOS7 is the use of simple animations. These are subtle animations that give affordance and personality to the design that you see on websites and apps. You can see it in gestures, for example when you move up and down the chat bubbles in Messages where the bubbles bump against one another.
  • Simple Colours: Over the last year, bold and bright colours have been making a name for themselves but light and subtle colour combinations are on trend now.

Psst…Pantone colours to watch out for:

Placid Blue: This is the ultimate light blue pastel shade. Associated with peace and serenity, this dreamy blue goes well with any pastel shades and classic bolds.

Violet Tulip: If you haven’t guessed by the name, this is a lavender shade. It’s a very romantic and vintage hue that pairs well with bolds.

Hemlock: This is a light green, almost pistachio, with a hint of the orient. It differs much from the trendy mint and emerald hues with its tenderness. All three of these shades perfectly combine with each other and with brighter colours.

  1. Tell Me a Story: Storytelling Design is similar to writing good content but I want to take it further. Storytelling design tells a story through concise, compelling copy coupled with strong imagery as users scroll down the page. It’s the best way companies can get their customers to connect with them. You’re telling a brand story now! You’re not just creating a website that brags how great your services are. The marketplace is saturated with businesses just like yours. But your story can make you stand out. So tell it well.
  2. Hey Flatty: Flat UI is a mix of fun and smooth colours, combined with complete and total simplicity, which brings websites and web applications to life. Giants like Apple and Microsoft are getting on board, so it’s time for you to embrace it too. Flat design focuses on simplicity and clarity and helps websites get rid of their excess clutter. Users can then focus on the content and overall the user experience becomes more enjoyable. Flat UI just going to keep growing so take the time to study it.
  3. Video Killed the Radio Star: There are only so many great copy writers out there and you don’t want your customers reading all day. Change things up by creating videos that get your message across. You can get creative and even cheeky with video. The right videos can go viral, so it’s worth considering if you’re looking for potential word of mouth advertising. Video content is becoming easier and cheaper to produce and crisp HD photos can easily make your website look professional, attractive while getting your message across. We’re social animals and there’s no better tool than a good video for storytelling. Videos can stir our emotions and create a closer connection better than just well written text. Watching a video can entice your users to linger longer on your page, thus allowing them to get to know your brand better.
  4. Don’t Believe the Type: Make a name for your brand with personalised fonts. Fonts have evolved in the last few years, with services like Google Fonts offering hundreds of free fonts to choose from. There is a definite potential to create something more memorable with branded fonts to get your message across. The websites using these fonts say that they’re independent, trailblazing and downright sassy.  It’s a strong message that works. In addition to this, big chunky font is trending.
  5. Take a Ride: Fixed Navigation is the new way to go. Websites that integrate social media, search and even purchase options within their fixed ‘navbars’ make the user experience more accessible and continuous. We’ll be seeing plenty of changes in this area in the years to come. The main purpose of the fixed technique is to keep the navigation bar constantly visible for the users as they scroll down which makes it easier for them and makes the experience more enjoyable.  Stripped-down navigation is a trend that looks set to grow in popularity and we’re going to see a lot more focus on icons, roll-downs, and navigation that shrinks as you start to scroll down the page.
  6. Blurred Lines: Since the release of iOS 7 last summer, designers have been using blurred backgrounds as a source of inspiration like crazy. You essentially overlay interfaces, creating a “shower door” type look with these multiple blurred backgrounds. It actually creates pretty attractive nonlinear gradients which can make your website stand out.

And there you have it, some of the best trends coming your way in 2014. Just remember that a decent design should serve both practical and aesthetic purposes. The best design comes from designing for the user’s needs by applying best practices. Don’t follow trends for the sake of it – if you don’t like a certain trend then use a different technique that suits your style.

Now, if we could just a drumroll so we can say a proper goodbye to the following trends that have assaulted our eyes for too long…

  • Overused stock photos
  • Auto-play videos and music
  • Automated popups
  • Advertising sidebars
  • Inane blog posts
  • Loading and Reloading pages
  • Modal windows with hidden or tiny close commands
  • Small, impossible to read font sizes
  • Long shadows: why?! WHY?!!
  • Hipster icons and logos

Goodbye and good riddance!

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Posted in Trending Design

What are the Advantages and Disdavantages of Using Flat Design

How many times have you come across websites touting the benefits of Flat Design lately? While the flat web design trend has been emerging in recent years, its popularity has exploded thanks to large companies and organizations changing their design aesthetic and embracing flat design.

So, where the heck did flat design come from? And why are we seeing it everywhere on the Web? As with anything and everything, knowing where a style or technique’s origins can help you make more educated decisions when it comes to the use of that particular design aesthetic.

Let’s take a thorough look at what flat design is and why it’s so popular today.


Flat Design: What It Is and What It Ain’t

FLATDESIGNFor those of you who have been living under a rock and haven’t heard of the term, “flat design” is the term given to a style of design where elements lose any type of stylistic characters that make them appear as though they lift off the page. What?! This means stylistic characters like drop shadows, gradients and textures are removed so that they lose the three-dimensional element. Modern designers gravitate toward flat design because it feels clean and crisp, it’s easy to use and it allows designers to focus on the most important aspects of good web design: the content and the message they’re trying to put across.

By removing design styles that can easily date these savvy designers are essentially future-proofing their designs so that they stay relevant for longer periods of time. To put it simply: flat design seems to be taking out the trash. It’s a more efficient and effective way to design and you should probably stop what you’re doing right now and get on board.

Perhaps I should first school on design that isn’t flat design. In web terms, the opposite of flat design is rich design. Rich design is like your tacky grandmother from your father’s side. She comes with all the ornaments such as bevels, reflections, drop shadows and gradients. These tropes are often employed to make elements seem more tactile but often the only effect they generate is one of out-dated, gaudy design.

Flat web design favours clean edges, solid colours, engaging palettes, flat/two-dimensional images and multi-browser compatible icons and fonts. In essence, if a design element serves no functional purpose, it’s considered detrimental to the user experience, hence the minimalistic nature of flat design.

Creation Myth: Where Did Flat Design Come From?

Most of what we see on the web has origins from fine art. While it may be difficult to determine the exact start of flat design or where it came from exactly, we can look at a few periods of design and art that flat design takes inspiration from.

Swiss Style of Design

The Swiss style of design, also known as the International Typographic Style, is the main period of design that comes to mind when considering the history of flat design. This minimalist style was the dominant throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s and mainly focused on the use of grids, sans-serif typography, and the clean hierarchy of content and layout.

Typography was a major element in Swiss design and soon our much loved Helvetica typeface was created in Switzerland in 1957. Thank you Switzerland!

Minimalist Design

Flat design has also been influenced by Minimalism. The term “minimalism” is sometimes used interchangeably with today’s flat design, but minimalism was a popular art technique decades before the web was developed. Minimalism has history in architecture, visual art, whereas flat design takes its influence from the design and visual art expressions of minimalism. Minimalism embraces efficiency. When you employ a minimalist aesthetic, you leave just the necessary elements. Geometric shapes, bright colours, and clean lines dominate both old and modern minimalism style design.

Who’s Your Daddy?

Microsoft and Apple have had the most impact on making flat design popular in the last decade. While Microsoft was working on its flat design style, Apple was working on something similar. Apple started hinting at moving away from its use of skeuomorphism, and then completely abandoned it in favour of a flat design with the release of iOS 7 in the summer of 2013. The design of iOS 7 seemed to have made flat design even more popular than it was before practically overnight.

Apple carries a lot of clout when it comes to trendsetting styles and people tend to follow its design aesthetic because it feels more modern and on trend. So when Apple switched to flat design everything else seemed outdated and people began to redesign with this new, flatter design. This is most evident in the different apps that have been updated to work well with iOS 7.

Ring! Ring! Hello Responsive Design!

It’s important to note that the main reason flat design has become so popular in recent years is because of  the development of responsive design. As more and more devices are connecting to the web, with various screen sizes and browser restrictions, designers are finding that their tried-and-true design styles don’t translate as well when you have to shrink those designs into smaller viewports.

Flat design allows for efficient web. Without the extra design elements in the way, clutter up the space, websites can load much faster and are easier to resize to smartphones and tablets. It’s much easier to display crisp boxes and typography than it is to make several different images to accommodate all the various devices and features out there.

Back to The Future… of Flat Design

Considering how fast the web changes these days, it’s easy to say that flat design will eventually run its course in due time. It’s not the perfect design and there are obvious flaws but as designers experiment, test, and learn, flat design will evolve and eventually a new style will emerge in its wake. Perhaps it’s just a matter of being able to incorporate it with other styles the way Google does. They take the best of both worlds…hmmm!

While flat design may seem new and exciting, and is a popular trend, it isn’t revolutionising the web. Flat website design creates a dividing line between technology and tactile objects encouraging a user-friendly and functional approach to ‘design’, with an emphasis on ease of operation. It makes surfing the web via your smartphone and tablet easier, but it’s nothing ground breaking, is it?! Well, its user centric foundations have seen it replace the old-school skeumorphic design with a more simplified, universally recognised aesthetic.

Flat design empowers the UI of all modern Apple, Android and Windows devices. To adopt its approaches is to inherit its reach. It’s a style consumers expect and trust these days, and its introduction within the framework of your website could be the difference between online success & failure.

Flat UI designs, using brighter colours and flat visual effects with negligible or even nil gradients and graphical illustration, became popular because of the outrageous demand of something new and minimalistic. They follow a minimalist, responsive approach that is user friendly, eye- catching, and works on any kind of website that exists.

Lost and Found

Have I lost you yet? This is a lot of information, but I’m going to give you some links to some more. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you better understand flat design and can advise you on how to use it on your own personal and professional projects.

There are literally hundreds of other websites that will offer you all kinds of flat design UI kits. If flat design isn’t your aesthetic, then don’t adopt it as your design mantra. There are ways for you to stay true to your natural style and incorporate elements of flat design in order to stay up to date and contemporary.

The beauty of flat design is that it’s clear-cut and clean. The sharpness and varied features result in a design that’s modern and tidy. If it’s too simple it may be unable to put across a complex visual communication. Some experts feel that this simplicity may be a disadvantage, but who can say for sure? At the end of the day, good design is all about usability and functionality. No one design can fit all web sites and it’s up to you what kind of style you want to embrace. Right now, flat design is in fashion, so we feel it’s best to stay current and keep up with the trend.

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Posted in Flat Design


It's the first time that 'second level' domain names are going to be available, and it's happening NOW. CONTACT US TO PRE-REGISTER YOUR .NZ DOMAIN NAME TODAY, at the same annual domain registration cost as your domain.

Several reasons why .NZ domain names are now available:

  1. The first reason is simply that there will be more choice with .nz domain names!
  2. Another reason is a more representative domain name for you as an individual. A lot of people have domain names and they're not businesses, so having just the .nz domain could be a better option for many. However, I would recommend registering the as well, to avoid confusion for people trying to find your website, at least initially.
  3. A .NZ domain name also offers you a shorter option for your website address. This is also handy if you want to use your domain name for your email address, for example you could email me at:, rather than the longer
  4. With the launch of available .NZ domain names New Zealand also align ourselves with other countries that have already have made this change. Other second level domains have already become available, such as .co and .org, where you can register, for example: and

stake_your_claim_856Pre-register your .NZ domain on a first-come first-served basis!

All domains will have a status level, that will let you know whether the domain name is available, conflicted, or if you have PRR status. Click here to do a Domain Status Check.

  • Available to register!
  • Conflicted : meaning that it has likely been registered in at least two second levels - e.g. someone holds ( and someone else holds ( There is a simple online conflict process that you can undertake to try to get your .NZ domain name.
  • PRR Status : "Preferential Registration or Reservation status". If your domain has PRR status you have until 1pm, 30th of March to register, or your .NZ domain will become publicly available.


4th September 2014 - Pre-Register your domain. From the 4th of this month you can pre-register available and eligible PRR (Preferential Registration or Reservation) domain names. CONTACT US to pre-register your .nz domain name today!

30th September 2014 - Register your domain. From the 30th you can register available .nz domains on a first-come, first-served basis. If you have a PRR domain name (ie. you already own the or similar) you'll be able to register it, or reserve it for free for up to two years.

30th March 2015 - PRR Domains Available for General Registration If, before 30th March 2015, you have not registered your company's domain name (ie. you own, but have not registered then your .nz domain will become available for general registration to the public.

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Posted in Graphic Design

How To Build a Great Web Design Team

Solving jigsaw puzzleBuilding The A Team: The Top Attributes of a Great Web Team

The other day I found myself sitting with my workmates over morning tea and I thought to myself that we’re pretty lucky to have a strong team of clever and creative people that get along with each other. Some other teams might not be so lucky and so I got to thinking about what key characteristics make for a valuable in-house web design team. What makes some web design teams better than others? We all know that the best web design teams are based on a strong creative and strategic foundation. But on top of the creativity there needs to be an understanding of a greater, common goal. Good teams have a strong understanding of their client’s needs and the ability to transform good concepts into reality.

I guess for us at Activate Design, constructing our solid web design team is based on how we identify talent in an individual and whether or not they can fit in with our style. With so many new graduates eager for a job, how do you identify who is worth considering?

The number one thing I consider is what I’m looking for. But in terms of tangible requirements, I look at the following:

  1. Portfolio: For me, a web designer’s portfolio should not only look great but it should be informative. I want to know exactly the role the person played in the project. I want to see a high level of creativity but a diverse level of skill is also paramount.
  1. Blog: So many people underestimate the power of the blog to showcase their work. When a designer has a blog that is frequently updated, this shows me that they’re passionate about their craft so much so that they’re willing to spend unpaid time writing about it. A blog is also an excellent way to view a person’s communication skills.
  1. Presence: I look for someone who has done a bit of high profile work, who has perhaps published articles, or has even written books. These are all good signs of a talented and dedicated professional, but they’re not the most important aspect. This kind of work shows me that this person is driven and ambitious which are traits that I admire.

After someone has passed these first tests, I need to figure out whether they’re going to be a good fit in our already established team.  Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to determine whether or not someone is going to fit in your team on the first or second meeting. Often, you can only get a full read on these things until you actually work together, but there are some things to consider in your first few conversations.

  1. Professionalism. This is simply mindboggling. Some people have shown up late for meetings or have failed to turn up at all. Calls go missed and unreturned or cell phones go off during the interview. You’d be surprised how far a little bit of professionalism can take you when you’re looking for a job.
  1. Eager to Learn. I take notes of the questions the web designer asks me during an interview. If they don’t have any questions at all, this raises a red flag for me. When someone asks me how we do things it shows me that they want to understand and collaborate. It shows me that they want to learn, too. I like someone with confidence but when you come in pretending to know everything about web design, it just makes me cringe.
  1. Logistics. I tend to ask future collaborators about their working hours and availability. I’m very open to working with people from all over the world, but I’m aware of time zone restrictions. We’ll look at “Fluid Teams” a little later on.

Eyes Wide Open

At Activate Design, we’ve established a strong team with a clear vision and core values. Doing so establishes a high-performing in-house team with a focus. It also gives any internal and external team contributors good insight into how we manage our team. Developing this particular characteristic takes much more work than just writing down a statement and some bullet points. This kind of dedication takes focused planning and collaboration from all members of the team so don’t expect to have a clear vision for your team overnight.

We believe there should be a team leader that sets the vision and core values and helps to implement them in the work space. This leader must also train and mentor team members whose poor performance could possibly affect the overall health of the entire team. The best place to start is by developing a keen understanding of your agency’s purpose and strategic business goals. The vision and values you develop should be something that everyone on your team contributes to so that each individual feels like they are a part of the decision, instead of just following along.

Talent Quest

In order to create the best team you’ve got to hire talented contributors with defined roles and accountabilities. We know that finding people who are creative, versatile, passionate and strategic is like looking for the Holy Grail sometimes. We find that the best people possess an entrepreneurial spirit where they own their role and they hold themselves accountable for the work they produce. Acquiring top talent can be tough and even the best firms make mistakes hiring people who look great on paper but are terrible in a team environment. All I can advise you to do is careful research on your candidates and be honest about the level of work you expect and the level of quality you expect the person to maintain, before you hire them.

It’s not Lip Service but…

It is vital that you communicate each member’s value. Create an environment where each member of your team feels like they’re included and that their opinions matter to the business. Not only will this breed shared trust, passion and loyalty, but you’re more likely to hold onto valuable team members by showing them some appreciation. Implementing performance appraisals is a great way to offer constructive feedback and to receive some yourself!

Talk to Me

I’d say that no matter how much talent a web designer has, if they don’t have the ability to communicate, that talent is worth much to me. Every in-house team is going to encounter speed bumps that require individual contributors to work together in working past them. With creative people, there will be times when your team face major roadblocks, but knowing how to effectively communicate through these issues will help make your team stronger.

These bumps and blocks are simply little miscommunications and conflicts that occur within corporate environments and creative groups the world over. It’s completely natural to experience them. Some conflicts can be good! Trust me! Good conflicts are resolutions from bad conflicts that help grow a team and get them thinking in new, innovative ways.

A lot of communication within a team is either unheard or misinterpreted. These types of miscommunications arise when people don’t have clearly defined roles, so we recommend instilling a soft hierarchy within your team so people know where they stand.

Water, Water, Everywhere…

As I mentioned before, with the globalisation of business, more and more design firms are turning to Fluid Teams. Basically, fluid teams are groups of experts that reshuffle regularly. These groups assemble and disintegrate with ease, and the individuals involved can either be in the same country or dispersed across the globe. These teams are also known as ‘distributed teams’ which are teams that don’t share a physical workspace.

Whether or not you have a Fluid Team or an in-house team, all of the factors I’ve described above apply to both. We believe that the best thing you can do to create the best team for your business is to assign the right people to the right role. This is what’s known as the “One Thing Concept”. You want to be able to get to your team members’ core competencies. Most designers see themselves as good at a variety of jobs; it’s true, to be a good designer you must be a bit of a Jack of All Trades. But you need to find the one thing that they excel at. The one task that they kick ass at. Once you determine the magic power of every single member of your team you’ll have a greater idea of what you can accomplish.

Do As I Say and As I Do

I think the ultimate way to design the best web design team you’re after is to lead by example. If your team members or employees see you working hard and putting all of your effort into your projects, they’re going to the same. When people are surrounded by others who are dedicated and passionate they tend to subscribe to the same mentality. So give it your all and your team will too!

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Posted in Branding

How Do Recent Graduates Of Web Design Actually Get A Job In The Industry

Mo’ Money: How do Graduates of Web Design Actually Get Paid?

Hey smarty pants, you’ve just graduated college and you’re ready to enter the real world and start earning some even ‘realer’ cash. How will you find a job? Some methods are better than others, especially when in the design industry. Conducting proper research isHow do recent graduates of web design actually get a job in the industry essential when it comes to job hunting for designers, as is the knowledge of how to create a good resume and portfolio. Here are some handy hints to help you secure a job quickly and hopefully with as little stress as possible.

You’re lacking in experience, but don’t let this hold you back. These days, all your skills are transferable: you just need to be able to communicate this effectively. What skills did you learn at that café that can be carried over to your new design career? If you’ve had any leadership or team-driven positions, it can look great on your resume, even if you were just a team leader at your local Mitre 10.

If you still have gaping holes in your resume, go into more detail about the particular courses you took at school. Be sure to highlight your academic successes, projects you completed, awards you won, and any travel you’ve done. Potential employers want to engage with your human side, so showcase your personality, not just your work experience and education.

You Are the Brand

In order to land your creative design dream-job, you’ve got to have a solid portfolio that demonstrates the high quality of design creativity you possess. Your resume and portfolio are essentially advertisements for your brand, which is YOU.

You can’t just send out mass emails with the same resume to every potential employer. You should tailor your resume and portfolio to each prospective employer, studying their design work and tailoring your content to reflect what it is they may be looking for. You’re clever, you’re talented and you need to prove it.

It’s the Little Things that Count

Reading full job descriptions and following the instructions exactly is imperative when applying for your first web design job. Employers do this to weed out the people who don’t follow instructions properly. Don’t wait for them to ask for a link to your portfolio, supply it immediately. If you don’t follow these precise instructions, you’re running the risk of being auto-deleted. Keep in mind that there may be hundreds of other designers vying for the same job, designers who may be more qualified than you. Give yourself at least a chance to be considered by not makings silly, avoidable, and embarrassing mistakes.

Web design job descriptions can be very vague and some terms can be misinterpreted for a completely different position. Front-end development, HTML, and CSS are all very different things and you may not know them all inside-out. Understanding what skills are appropriate for the job you’re applying for is very important. Time is money and you don’t want to waste it. That said, even if you don’t have all of the proper qualification, there’s no harm in taking a leap and applying for a position that is beyond your skill set. If your personality is spot-on and you’ve got the right attitude, a company just may take you on board with the intention of training you up properly and reaping the rewards with years of commitment.

Trade Me Jobs vs. Everything Else

The only place to start looking for a job is Trade Me Jobs, right? While it’s convenient to have Trade Me at your fingertips on your mobile or laptop, make sure you’re thinking out of the box. Yes, most businesses advertise on Trade Me first, but while there are oodles of jobs available, there are also hundreds of applicants pursuing the same position. Be sure to check out SEEK and be so bold as to check out the websites of the design firms and companies that you admire. Sometimes they may post listings on their sites. Check frequently. Even if you don’t hear a response back right away, some agencies will keep your information on file and contact you later on when they’re looking for someone. It’s an excellent idea to make yourself known to the agencies in your city, even if they don’t seem to be actively looking for a designer.

It’s a Popularity Contest

Using social media platforms as a medium to connect with others is a great way to create and develop professional relationships. Many designers hear about jobs through friends before a position has even been advertised publicly. Keep your mind and options open by seeing potential in everyone that you meet online and offline. New Zealand is small and you never know who you might meet and what opportunities they can provide for you. Start building up your personal network and don’t be afraid to ask if your fellow designers know of any jobs available. Your best chance of landing a design position may be through the personal connections you make.

Use Your Brains

Finding the right job after graduating may take several weeks to several months and that’s why you’ve got to keep track of the agencies you’ve already contacted and who you should follow up with. Create a simple Google Doc with a chart of the company name and a brief description, the name of your primary contact for the job and the date that you applied. This will help you see your job hunting progress all in one place, instead of your e-mail inbox.

If you’re not hearing back from any of the companies you’ve applied to, it may be time to try a different approach with your resume and portfolio and see if you get any better results. If you haven’t heard back from a company within a week, sending a polite follow-up note to remind them about your application is good way to proceed. But, don’t be too aggressive as they might just be overwhelmed with too many applications.

If you haven’t heard back in a month’s time, don’t barrage them with e-mails. Instead, put that lead on hold for now and pursue some others. Certain companies are too busy to let you know whether or not you’ve made it to the next round in the application process. Don’t take it personally and don’t get discouraged. You need to be pro-active. You make your own opportunities!

Let’s Break It Down:

  1. When it comes to your resume and portfolio, create something that will get a Creative Director to really notice you. It’s all about impact. You’re a brand and you need to be remembered. Create a portfolio that defines what you stand for. Create a talking point about you. Don’t let the fact that you stay less than a year at any given job be the only talking point. If you’ve moved around too much, be ready to answer some tough questions about reliability and commitment.

  1. So, you’re a brand and not the Ultimate God of Design. Let your work speak for you.  Don’t tell your potential employers how amazing you are. Remember, you just graduated, so while you’re fresh, you’ve also inexperienced and you don’t want to come off looking arrogant and deluded. The design firm that hires you is doing it because you’re cheap, you work hard, and you’re showcasing your potential.

  1. With so many books the same, your portfolio needs to be different. A lot of design schools churn out factory farmed students with the same work. It takes Creative Directors less than 15 seconds to determine whether a portfolio warrants further inspection. Great agencies look for a certain amount of professionalism and depth. If you really want to stand out, your portfolio needs to be stunning.

  1. Be ready to work hard. Studying graphic design is a luxury and while you’ve been doing work and learning over the last few years, there hasn’t been much pressure. You’re entering the real world now and you need to work harder, faster, and all-hours. You need an excellent sense of time management and you need to have a good sense of process. How do you approach your work? Where do you go for inspiration? How do you know when an idea is good?

  1. At the heart of it all, people are the most important assets in any design firm. You need to be able to engage future employees with your kindness, your attention and your eagerness to learn. Don’t go into an interview cocky and arrogant: you need them more than they need you. Employers are scrutinising your portfolio, resume AND your personality. Are you easy to get along with? Can you work efficiently with others and independently? You don’t need to be the best of friends with your work colleagues, but you need to be able to maintain an open and healthy dialogue. Good web designers are thoughtful, considerate, and not overly wrapped up in their own egos. Our designers at Activate Design embody all of this and more.

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Posted in development graphic design

Effective SEO Techniques to Boost Your Ranking

The FYI of SEO in Web Design

SEO is everywhere on the internet and there are a lot of “experts” giving plenty of advice on how to do it right, but how do web designers use it effectively? It’s a subject thatHow to use SEO effectively in web design https designers think they understand, but opinions and facts can easily get entangled, making itconfusing the business owners who need to understand it the most. I’m going to tell you what you all you need to know about SEO.

With SEO Everything IS Black and White…

But the only techniques worth using are White-hat SEO.

These are the safe and long term result producing techniques that the major league search engines recommend as part of good web design. Here are a few of what we think are the main White-hat SEO techniques:

  1. Content is KING

There’s no point in having a website with bad content. A search engine is like a nightmare editor: it will catch you out on poorly written work. The best way to optimise your site for search engines is to produce excellent writing. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft endorse websites that are the most appropriate for any given search.

  1. Mark Up Matters

Semantically structure your mark up to help search engines understand the content of your webpage. Make it simple, stupid! Search engines like proper heading and titles. Use CSS to separate design elements from your content to make it easier for the search engines to find what they’re looking for. If your titles are declaring certain content, make sure you deliver.

  1. Keyword is Key

You’ve got to create your website with well researched keywords and phrases in mind that you think your customers may use to find your particular site. Keep in mind that single words are not the most effective. Instead, try multi-word phrases that are much more specific to your product/service and use them effectively throughout your website.

  1. Make the Link

The rule here is Quality over Quantity. You want links from other web pages that are regarded highly by search engines and relevant to the content of your page. The amount of quality inbound links to your site has an effect on how high up the search engine your site is placed.

White-hat SEO’s evil twin, Black-hat SEO, uses techniques that are disliked by search engines. Unfortunately, websites that employ these techniques can suffer a number of punishments ranging from ranking penalties to complete removal from the index. Some websites can be banned. For the love of Google, do not do the following:

  1. Hide-and-go-Seek

Hidden content is the sneaky, underhanded content hiding within the code for a site that is stuffed with keywords. It can also be hidden from users by using CSS, ridiculously small text or coloured text on the same colour background. If search engines catch a whiff of this, your website will be penalised or banned altogether. You’ve been warned.

  1. Stuffing is for Turkeys

There are two main Meta tags that are used to inform search engines of the content on the page and when they’re used incorrectly they serve as an alarm to search engines that you’re using spam techniques to improve your ranking. Don’t stuff your site with Meta keywords. Google is smart, don’t take the risk trying to fool it.

  1. Doorway to Destruction

Doorway pages are designed for search engines and not for your customers. These fake pages are stuffed with content and highly optimised for 1 or 2 keywords that link to a target or landing page. Search engine spiders/crawlers are able to detect these pages, alerting the powers that be, and this can result in being flagged and banned.

  1. Farming Saga

The temptation to link all kinds of crazy things to your website to increase traffic is understandable. But, it has the opposite effect. Link farms or free for all (FFA) pages list links of unrelated websites. This is unhelpful! Trust me when I say they won’t provide your sire with any increase in traffic. The only thing you can be sure of is the risk of having your site banned for participating in this scam.

The Internet is a Beast

SEO is important because it’s all about ranking. Obviously, a higher ranking is going to result in more customers, which is imperative for companies who make most of their money online. Good SEO can help these companies improve their organic traffic significantly. As you’ve seen, it’s not about the stuffing. You need an excellent game plan when it comes to SEO, and this is where we can help. We know a lot about how search engines work.

The internet is unfathomably large. Without search engines to help us navigate through the approximately 50 billion indexed web pages, we’d be lost in all the disorder. Search engines help find order amongst the chaos by creating an index that directs you to the most relevant website for your search query. Life is moving fast and this index changes with it. Every day new websites are added, existing pages are redesigned and new content is uploaded. The internet is fluid, dynamic. And search engines need to stay up to date. Enter the crawlers.

Creepy Crawlers

Search engines uses crawlers to create search engine result pages by finding your website via a link from another website or via the Add URL page. Google only follows href and src links. The crawlers then process this information and index it. When a person enters a query, the search engine analyses their index and generates results of the most relevant websites. In order to do this effectively, search engines use a ranking system. There are numerous factors that are taken into consideration and your SEO success depends on your understanding.

Ranking Factors

So, relevancy is determined by over 200 elements. And I’m going to list them all right here. No, no I’m not. Because it’s literally impossible to discuss them all with you right now. We can, however, look at a few of the main ones.

  • Links: When I’m talking about links, I’m referring to PageRank which is the link analysis algorithm used by Google. It takes the quantities of links into account and essentially translates every link to a website as a vote for that particular website. Essentially, the more links you get, the higher you will rank, which is why some people lean towards farm linking. Remember when I told you that quality comes before quantity? Well, not all links are created the same. Links from authoritative websites will have more influence than links from less prevalent websites. Keep your links relevant, or suffer the consequences…

  • Keywords: The keyword distribution on your page is extremely important as Google checks how often the search query can be found on it. If the search query appears in your domain, url, and content for example, your page will be considered more relevant and will thus rank higher. Just don’t over-do it.

  • Site Age: Is it just Google who honours the knowledge that comes with age?! Google perceives older websites to be more authoritative than new websites. Take that you young whippersnappers.

  • Fresh is Best: Frequently updating your website is a good idea. It keeps you on Google’s mind. Adding new pages and deleting old ones indicates that your website is still alive and kicking.

  • Algorithm Updates: Beware the Penguin and the Panda. Google is pretty damn smart and over the last few years they have made a number of algorithm updates. These updates increase the quality of search results and help to fish out the phonies. Their two most recent updates, Panda and Penguin, have made the biggest impact. The Panda update went into effect in February 2011 and it affected almost 12 % of all search results. The Penguin update was announced in April 2012 and affected approximately 3.1% of search queries. When I say affected I mean that a sudden drop in traffic has been caused by a change in the ranking algorithm. Penguins and Pandas are super cute animals, but in the land of SEO, they are vicious and you need to be aware of them.

If you want your website to achieve greater success on search engines, you’ve got to get your SEO just right. Doing it the wrong way can seriously mess with your reputation and your business. At Activate Design, we can help. Get in touch.

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Posted in Graphic Design