How‌ ‌to‌ ‌Pick‌ ‌a‌ ‌Banner‌ ‌Image‌

There are quite a few considerations when choosing a banner image for your website.  That statement might set an ominous tone, but I assure you- it’s fairly easy and painless.  Think of it like following a recipe. Before we delve into the thick of it let’s take a moment to define what we mean by “banner image”.

A banner image is one that is placed on your webpage in a manner that serves to set the tone for the page, often housing the page title and/or menu of the site.  It is both an important design and functionality element.  Many times, (whether the banner is placed horizontally at the top or vertically on the side), the ratio of the space would be considered panoramic in nature.  That is to say that one side of the rectangle is going to be substantially larger than another side. Whether you have a different banner image on every page, or utilize the same image and/or element throughout the site, it is imperative that the banner image be selected with thought and purpose.  No good will come from just placing any image in the banner location to fill the space.  I can not stress this enough- ideally you will create images for your banner spots.  If budget or time do not allow, then and only then should you delve into your image library.

As for all imagery on your site- your banner image should only be utilized if it is a net positive in its use.  These 5 questions will dramatically improve the quality of your banner images.

1. Does the content of the image lend itself to the unique (panoramic) format of the space? 

This is the big one folks.  This is where most banner images go wrong right from the start.  You may have what you think is a dynamic and compelling photograph. Often the moment you pop it in as a banner image, the unique crop removes all of the elements that made it such a wonderful picture in the first place, and you are instead left with an image which looks anywhere from blah to downright ridiculous as a banner image.  To avoid this, your banner image needs to be one with no important elements cut off from the crop.  More than that, the unique banner ratio should be utilized in the image creation (or selection).  It is important that all the traditional compositional rules still apply even in this unique format. 

Example (Image 1a): The image itself would be an appropriate image to place within a site, as is.  However, when you place it in the more constrained ratio of a banner image- it is unusable. (Image 1b)

 

2. Are my banner images technically acceptable enough to blend in and compliment both the rest of the page and the header?  

What I mean here, is fairly simple.  There should be no blown out highlights, no loss of detail in the darks.  The color correction should be in the realm of believable.  If there are people in the image, facial expressions should be pleasing and believable.  Absolutely no camera shake, blurriness, or lack of focus of any kind.  (The caveat of course, unless you are utilizing depth of field as an artistic choice.)  Lastly, but certainly not least important of the technical considerations- was this image taken with enough quality to either make adjustments for use, or with enough resolution to allow for smooth up or downsizing as necessary?  When going through potential banner images, it’s best to from the start, simply disregard any image that does not meet the technical standards.  This banner image will set the tone for the rest of your site.  It would be a shame to spend so much time, energy and resources on a fantastic and functional site, only to cheapen it with bad imagery choices.

Example (Image 2a): This image is the correct format and orientation but the color correction and exposure are distractingly bad. (Image 2b) Demonstrates proper color correction and exposure.  Additionally, this image can be used in full color or at a lower opacity, lending itself both to adding pop or blending in, depending on website needs.

 

3. Are there competing elements within the image that make menu functions difficult to read and/or use? 

The biggest offender here are images which are just too busy in the background.  Sometimes this means images with a lot of detail and contrast.  Other times this just means images which do not allow for any negative space.  (See image 3a for an example of a background which is too busy as a banner image.) Which brings us to…

 

4. Does the image have built in negative space to allow for text or other elements to be placed over the banner? 

Ultimately, the banner image is a supporting image.  It should never be so distracting that the site suffers a loss of function.  Negative space in a banner image also provides an important function of versatility in cropping and design.   (See image 4a and 4b for an example of a banner image which utilizes negative space effectively.)

 

5. Does this image have a purpose and/or tell a story?  

Specifically- are you looking for something to provide a dynamic pop to the site?  Does this image do that?  Or are you instead looking for an image to serve a support role on the page, and not distract from other elements and text?  *(It is imperative to know which type of image you want and need before creating and/or selecting your banner images.)  Another category of image, which should be used sparingly as large banner images, are what I call “story images”.  If you are trying to tell a simple story, and you have an image which does that successfully- use it.  If you have an image that you think is in the sort of realm of the theme, story or idea you would like to project- skip it.  Use story images as banner images only when they are simple, compelling, to the point and very clear.  

See image 5a for an example of a simple concept banner, as well as image 5b for an example of a storytelling banner.

A last thought on banner images.  If you are going to create images specifically for your banners, (which I highly recommend that you do), you will be so much happier utilizing a professional photographer for this process.  These are things that they will already know and be thinking about when they CREATE your image.  This is very different from just “taking a picture”.  If you need pointers on how to hire and what to look for in a photographer, please feel free to utilize our “What to look for in a Photographer” Guide.

 

*Image 1a

Image 1b

 

Image 2a

Image 2b

Image 3a

Image 4a

Image 4b

Image 5a

Image 5b

COVID-19 Website Updates Needed?

We hope this message finds you healthy. Amidst the current climate of our country, we want to make sure we are offering the utmost support to you. We are offering services to help you maintain your websites with COVID-19 related updates, alerts, and information.

These are the following things we have been working on over the last few days to help our customers handle the COVID-19 related issues:

● Created an alert section on the homepage to display COVID-19 related alert messages/announcements (For multiple clients including a transit operator and a convention center website).
● Created a new page with details on procedures and precautions for vendors/clients (multiple clients including a large Construction company).
● Updated meeting & agenda module to allow adding of Conference call details to committee meetings (for multiple municipal organizations).
● Created a new page with COVID-19 information for cities and links to important announcements (for a municipal organization).
● Created a new section on the internet to share COVID-19 related messages/information with employees (for a large Corporate organization).
● Updated the bus schedules and maps using GTFS data (For a transit operator using our GTFS+ functionality).
● Activated online Donation pages to raise funds (for a Non-profit organization).
● Reorganized the E-commerce shop menu and category pages (For an online store due to products getting sold out).
● Updated operating hours and online ordering/delivery instructions on Restaurant pages (for a nationwide Restaurant operator).
● In the process of creating a clickable map showing California regions and details of cities impacted (for a municipal organization).

If there is a specific update you would like to add to your current website, please let us know and we would be happy to help. We hope you are staying well during this time of uncertainty.

Coronavirus Update From Planeteria

Dear valued client,

With so much uncertainty at this time, we wanted to assure you of continuity with our services. As a company, we are taking measures to keep our employees and their families healthy and safe. Planeteria is uniquely set up to handle remote and virtual meetings because of the multiple geographic locations of our staff. Did you know our offices are split between California, Oregon, and Colorado, and on most business days, more than 50% of our employees already work from home!

We understand that while not much changes in the Planeteria communication methods, a lot has changed for you.

Existing Projects: We have processes and tools in place that allow ALL existing projects to continue as planned and with regularly scheduled online meetings. If you have been asked or chosen to stay home, you can access all your project documents using Basecamp and attend all meetings virtually using Zoom video conferencing.

On-Going Technical Support: We will continue to provide our exceptional on-going customer support. As normal, support tickets should be submitted as normal to our support email address.

We are encouraging healthy habits and following the advice of public health officials.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your Planeteria representative.

Sincerely,

Planeteria Staff

Social Strategy for Municipal Organizations

With the wide reach and instant communication afforded through channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, social media is of growing interest for local governments as they search for new and better ways to promote transparency, enhance engagement, and foster collaboration.

WHAT CAN SOCIAL MEDIA DO FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT?

  • General Outreach and Greater Community Engagement – Share information regularly and efficiently
  • Improved Communication – Keep the public better informed with these direct channels
  • Establishing Leadership – Transparency inspires trust and confidence in your municipality
  • Economic Benefits – Social media use can result in cost savings and revenue generation.

SOCIAL MEDIA SERVICES

Facebook – The largest social media site, geared toward connecting you with people you know or with whom you share common interests.

Twitter – A microblogging service, which allows messages of 140 or fewer characters to be transmitted quickly to followers.

YouTube – Video messages from municipalities, highlights of activities, and image-building are potential subjects for such videos.

Instagram – A photo sharing platform can be used to share a different side of your organization.

DEVELOPING A CONTENT CALENDAR

Use this desk calendar to facilitate social content creation. This calendar has over 365 daily content ideas. Your organization likely has a abundance of unique content that is also worth of social content. Fill in this calendar with your unique dates.

Pro Tips:

  • Plan in advance – spend one day a week creating your social content  for the next week and schedule your content to automatically post to your social calendars
  • Photography/Imagery – When possible always use original photography
  • Crowdsource – Repost relevant content provided by your audience
  • Engagement – Ask your audience to engage and share your content AND interact with your audience
  • Follow – Follow other municipalities in your region

Mobile Design

WHAT IS A RESPONSIVE WEBSITE:

A single site that reacts to the size of a user’s device—with one URL and one content source. A responsive website has a fluid and flexible layout which adjusts according to screen size including:
  • Readable text without requiring zoom
  • Adequate space for tap targets
  • No horizontal scrolling

FACTS ABOUT MOBILE DESIGN:

  1. As of July 2019, Google Search’s mobile-first indexing is enabled by default for all new websites
  2. Mobile viewing has now surpassed desktop web traffic with 60% of searches online now come from a mobile device.
  3. By the end of 2019, the number of mobile phone users is forecast to reach over 4.68 billion.

MOBILE DESIGN TIPS:

  • Design: Web page design should factor in the variety of mobile devices used to view your site from the beginning of initial planning.
  • Speed: Faster loading content is both helpful for both mobile and desktop devices. Use of appropriate image sizes and the use of caching can help in increasing your overall site speed.
  • Structure: Organize both your page content and your url structures with a logical hierarchy. This provides for more accurate search indexing & results.
  • Video & animation: Use HTML5 standard tags. Using flash or other license constrained media may provide a poor mobile experience.

Training

CLIENT TRAINING;

WHY CLIENT TRAINING IS IMPORTANT:

Keeping your website current with the most current information and content is critical. Now that you have an organized and functional website, make sure your staff has good understanding of how to make any necessary updates to that website. Avoid mistakes and wasted time with a training plan.

MAKING A TRAINING PLAN:

  • Who will the administrators be of your website?
  • What are those primary tasks needing to be done?
  • What kind of and level of training will be required?
  • Will supplemental training be needed beyond initial launch?
  • Are there already members on team with relevant experience?
  • Would you prefer to have content updated by external team?

TOPICS TO CONSIDER:

Admin area (Dashboard)
How to create a new page or post
How to add an image or video
How to organize content and categories

TOOLS FOR CLIENT EDUCATION:

  • Meeting: (physical or virtual) for site overview to answer any questions
  • Video Recordings: with tutorials for clients to reference at any time
  • Written Documentation: can be provided to clarify any technical details
  • Instructional Emails: can be provided at client request for any topic
  • Contextual Help: within admin area can provide guidance on topics

Basic Website Security

BASIC WEBSITE SECURITY

Help keep your website safe by following these common security tips.

  1.  Use an SSL certificate (HTTPS):
    Using an SSL certificate on your website and forcing its use as mandatory ensures that the data between the website and your users are encrypted.
  2.  Update your content management system (CMS) and plugins regularly:
    If your website uses a CMS such as WordPress or Drupal, make sure to keep them as up-to-date as possible to ensure you are able to take advantage of the latest security patches.
  3. Use a secure server:
    Host your website in a hosting environment that is regular updated for security patches, and follows best-practice configurations for security.
  4. Use strong passwords:
    Require users to have secure passwords of sufficient length that include a mix of upper and lower-case letters, punctuation, and special characters.  Dictionary words should be avoided.
  5. Use a web application firewall (WAP)
    A WAP can help provide protection by acting as an intermediary between the website and its users and inspecting traffic for attempts to exploit security vulnerabilities.
  6. Maintain regular automated backups:
    If all else fails and your website is compromised, you will want to have readily available backups of the website to minimize the amount of downtime when trying to rectify the issues

Open Source CMS Options

WordPress

  • It was initially developed in 2003 as a blogging tool and is the #1 CMS in the world.
  • WordPress has grown and expanded over the last 15 years, and has become the world’s most popular content management system with over 62 million installs.
  • Over 30% of the Internet is now powered by WordPress.
  • WordPress has made significant gains with municipal organizations and political leaders, Whitehouse.gov and 20 of the 22 democratic candidates for the 2020 Presidential election all use WordPress.
Drupal 
  • It provides a back-end framework for at least 2.3% of all web sites worldwide ranging from personal blogs to corporate, political, government sites and is the #1 platform for enterprise CMS’s.
  • The Drupal community is composed of more than 1.3 million members, including 109,000 users actively contributing, resulting in more than 39,000 free modules that extend and customize Drupal functionality and over 2,500 free themes that change the website look and feel.

Choosing the right CMS matters: Open Source Vs Proprietary

A proprietary CMS is a software that is the legal property of an organization, group, or individual that created it. The rights holder to the CMS will usually not release the source code to the public, and often only those who have purchased a special license key may use it. Examples: Kentico, SiteCore, Adobe Experience Manager and CivicEngageAn open-source CMS also has features exactly as the name implies: a source code open to the public eye and free to use by anyone. This can spawn a developer community, where programmers come together to develop the software and provide support to users. Examples: WordPress, Drupal and Joomla

The advantages of a proprietary CMS is the complete control of the source code by the organization, group, or individual behind it. If you don’t want the source code tampered with, this is the alternative to choose.

The disadvantages of a proprietary CMS is that you are locked in as the customer. Even though your developers can have trials or demos, the fact remains that a proprietary CMS is more closed to general development and is solely dependent on the legal owner and creator of the platform.

The advantages of an open-source CMS is the continual testing and development of the product by engaged programmers. This way the CMS will unlikely stay at a standstill, because it will always be improved.

The disadvantages of an open-source CMS may appear to be a lack of control, but the organization controlling the repository where the code lives can decide who can commit changes.

Digital Marketing

Municipal marketing encompasses a wide range advertising activities, many of which are now revolving around digital technologies. Here is a breakdown to be on top of your municipal marketing in the digital age.

Social Media Marketing

This is one of the biggest opportunities brands have at the moment. Much of the brand awareness that can be boosted via social media is free, with the exception of Facebook ads and sponsored posts. There are lots of things you can do to create buzz. First, find the most relevant social networks for your location and target audience. For many, the top 3 will be Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Municipal organizations have a huge advantage in this category. Many people are going to be cities and almost everyone is armed with cellphones with cameras. That’s a lot of people who have the ability to share their experiences with your cities and municipal facilities on social media.Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization helps potential users find your brand a lot easier when searching. This is important for many reasons. Of course it’s pretty easy to be found when someone Googles your company name. But how often do you come up when they’re searching for related search terms that don’t include your company. Say someone was looking for “great parks Bend Oregon”. The top entries will most likely be publications, as their SEO rating is incredibly high due to the volume of content they produce. That being said, if the municipal organization is focusing enough efforts on SEO, they should place fairly high. The Bend Parks and Recreation Department is the 5th Google listing when searching for “great parks Bend Oregon.”

E-mail Marketing

E-mail marketing is still being touted as one of the most effective digital marketing strategies. It is one of the most effective, yet least difficult things to manage. An intelligently designed email can do wonders for keeping your audience engaged. One thing to be careful about is to email your members too frequently. People get tired of emails pretty quickly. Some great ideas for municipal organizations are monthly or weekly emails focused on “things to do”, events, news, and “pro tips”.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is huge because you want to give people a reason to keep coming back to your website. If you only post about your facilities and what goes on, it gives only your community members reason to visit. However, if you are consistently putting up valuable, high-quality content on your blog and social media channels, you will attract many different people to keep visiting your site.

SEO for Municipalities

SEO For Municipalities

Pro Tips

Own Your Google Listings – Google listings aren’t just for businesses.  Having your various campus and department hours along with a photo of the building is very helpful to the public and a common channel they are used to using to get that information.  Street view images are especially helpful for nondescript buildings that are hard to find.
Make Sure Page Titles And Metas Are Accurate & Succinct – Titles and descriptions are what shows on google results, so they should very quickly describe what public need is addressed on that page.  If you have a content management system that lets you edit page titles and meta descriptions, make sure they are both accurate and succinct.  Meta descriptions for departments for example, should really just list out what that department does.
Put A Robust Search Feature On Your Site – Lots of people aren’t interested in reading / researching and just want a search tool to immediately enter their inquiry.  A robust search tool on your site can help citizens to ask their questions and find their answers.

Why SEO Is Important For Municipalities

People Use Google – Often people Google an issue before they ever come to (or find) your site.
Saves A Phone Call – When your information on Google is accurate that often saves a phone call.
Reinforces Your Authority – When your meta data is accurate and clear it helps your pages show up before other pages / sites that may not be where you’d like citizens go for information.