Website ADA Compliance: Should You Be Worried?

Understanding website accessibility

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation. Established in 1990, the ADA lays out detailed standards for public accommodation for the disabled, among other things. As the digital world began to evolve, a new question began to arise: Does the ADA apply to websites, too? In this post, we explain where that question lies today, and discuss why website ADA compliance is a great idea for many businesses.

Background: A brief overview of the ADA

When the ADA was created, the Internet was something that was only used by the very avant-garde. Therefore, the question of whether or not the law applies to websites was unintentionally left open to interpretation.

In the mid-2000s, the Department of Justice hinted that the ADA may indeed be applicable to websites, but did not lay out any specific regulations. In 2008, the tech community, in an effort to protect itself from potential future litigation, created a set of guidelines known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are still used to influence design and development projects today. However, the DOJ has never officially adopted the guidelines, or issued any legislation pertaining to them.

ADA compliance for websites: An uncertain case

Many individual cases pertaining to this issue have moved through the US court system, but there has yet to be an official consensus. So far, the courts have been nearly split, with the 1st, 3rd, and 7th Circuits ruling that the ADA does apply to websites, while the 6th, 9th, and 11th have ruled that it doesn’t. As of this writing, it is uncertain whether the DOJ will fully adopt the WCAG standards for all websites, although they have been adopted for all federal websites.

However, website ADA compliance is still a good idea.

So, you may ask, if the courts are divided and the DOJ does not currently have any set standards, why should you worry about website ADA compliance? The fact remains that even though no official regulations have been issued, the lack of consensus leaves businesses open to litigation. Organizations have been sued because their websites are inaccessible to disabled persons, and until there is an official consensus, you could be, too.

There are many other great reasons to make your website ADA compliant, including:

1. It’s good for business.

Pragmatically speaking, it simply makes good business sense for your website to be as accessible as possible for as many people as possible. If your website is illegible or unusable for certain people, you won’t be able to reach them, and you’ll miss out on valuable impressions, clicks, and sales.

2. Accommodation casts your brand in a positive light.

Accessibility communicates that your company cares about the disabled and does its best to serve all sorts of people. This is a powerful brand message that will elevate your company in the eyes of your clients, your peers, and your community.

3. Be good for goodness’ sake.

Of course, the most important reason to consider website ADA compliance is because it’s the right thing to do! It isn’t very difficult or expensive to ensure that your font size, site colors, and other factors are visible and legible to all, but it could make a world of difference for someone who needs to resolve a problem through your products and services. That’s why you started your company in the first place, isn’t it?

4. Get ahead of the game.

We don’t yet know when regulations will arrive, but in an increasingly socially-aware society, it is likely that they will. If you construct your website with ADA compliance in mind, it will already be up to standard when compliance regulations eventually arrive. Since re-building an entire website with disability accommodations can cost thousands or even tens of thousands, you’ll be saving yourself a significant amount of time, money, and worry.

“The internet has opened a world of information and opportunity to the blind and other people with disabilities that was previously closed, and making websites more accessible to them allows businesses to capitalize on that opportunity. In the long-run, making websites accessible is not only good for the reduction of legal risk, it is also smart business.” –Elizabeth Troutman, lawyer at Brooks Pierce

The bottom line: Yes, you should be concerned with ADA compliance.

As our lives become more and more internet-centered, individual users of all abilities will expect and demand that your site be clear, easy to use, and accessible to all. Building an ADA-compliant website is a win-win-win situation: you’ll be protected against litigation; you’ll be branding yourself in a positive light; and you’ll be ahead of competitors who may lag behind.

7 Website Mistakes that can Hurt Your Business

We get a lot of new clients whose first request is that we do something about their website.

They don’t like it any more. (Or they hated it from day one.) As we get started on transforming their site, we often discover common website mistakes that can hurt businesses.

If we were obnoxious snarksters, we’d tell clients “We wouldn’t have done that.” Fortunately, we’re not jerks, so we don’t say that. We know how hard it is to make dozens of decisions as you’re building a site. We know that even good decisions can become “mistakes” as the internet evolves faster than fruit flies.

Here are a few of the most common website mistakes. Think of this brief overview as a table of contents for future posts that will dig deeper into each topic. You might spot a problem your site suffers from—and maybe get someone to fix it. (Doesn’t have to be us—although, you know, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Many recommend us, including us.)

WEBSITE MISTAKE #1: THE STRATEGY THAT ISN’T THERE.

Some questions are so obvious that it’s easy to forget to even ask them. What is the purpose of your site? What do you want visitors to do once they get there? Any plans to measure results and adapt the site in response?

MISTAKE #2: THE NAVIGATION TO NOWHERE.

We’re not just talking about broken links. (That is a common problem, but one that can be addressed with a modest site maintenance effort.) We’re talking about (for example) navigation categories that are too clever for their own good. Or mega-menus so large they are verging on being just another website on top of the first one.

MISTAKE #3: ALL FROSTING, NO CAKE.

It’s important that your site be visually attractive, but don’t make the mistake of stopping there. True, some visitors are dazzled and converted by a beautiful surface alone. But cast a wider net by including meaty content, performing link optimization, and other traffic-generating methods.

MISTAKE #4: THE FUNNEL THAT’S ACTUALLY A CONE.

Poor conversion doesn’t necessarily mean your visitors never even entered the sales funnel. They might have dived right in but gotten stuck—perhaps because your funnel isn’t the frictionless ride it should be.

MISTAKE #5: PAGE LOADS THAT .  .   .

…take too long. And by “too long,” we mean “longer than a few milliseconds.” Yes, in the digital age, we have all become frantic toddlers. Keeping load times zippy is hugely important, and should drive decisions during the build phase. Once the site is up, clocking page load times and performing maintenance tasks should be second nature.

MISTAKE #6: FORMS THAT ARE BORING—EVEN FOR FORMS.

Nobody expects to be captivated by a form. They just want the chore of filling fields to be over with. Make it as easy as possible by keeping the number of required fields to the absolute minimum. And don’t be nosy—if you really want to know your prospect’s birthday or eye color, save it for after you’ve made a connection.

MISTAKE #7: THE DEAD STARES OF THE PHONY STOCK PEOPLE

Don’t get us wrong—we are not dead-set against stock photos. We’re dead-set against dead stock photos. The ones with people that are WAY TOO HAPPY about looking at a laptop screen with four of their friends looking over their shoulder, also ecstatic about the screen. We’re not fooled by the smiles, people!

Avoid making these website mistakes. Call Red Letter Marketing.

If your site is suffering from any of these digital maladies, you’ll be happy to know that they are all solvable. We suggest not dilly-dallying — a lot rides on the perception your website creates. If you want to fix your website mistakes, give us a call.

Watch Out for “The Guy”

“So, who’s managing the back end of your web site?” “Oh, we got a guy.”

And thus strike the gongs of doom. More often than we’d like, clients come to us because they used “A guy.” It conjures images of a self-taught, one-man shop working out of his basement to make websites on the cheap. He got hired because his price was way lower than other proposals. Turns out, there are reasons for that, and the client got what they paid for: too little. In this post, we discuss why low-cost web development isn’t really low-cost at all.

RLM’s experience with low-cost web development

One company asked us to fix their new website. It was less than 3 months old, but it didn’t provide a user experience that enabled them to get leads. After analysis to understand their business needs and how the site needed to deliver, it was clear the site could not be salvaged. They had to have a new one built from scratch, the way it should have been done the first time.

Another client opted for low-cost web development. A year later, the developer had disappeared, along with the access information.

Yet another client had their site hacked, and their data held for ransom, because the developer was hosting the site on their own servers, which were not as secure as they should be. But his price was really low.

See a pattern here?

We don’t like seeing businesses suffer the consequences of shoddy website development or maintenance.

It reflects poorly on our profession. We’d much rather spend our time helping clients grow their business instead of fixing problems that should not have happened in the first place.

That’s not to say there aren’t some terrific one-man or one-woman shops out there who are highly qualified and professional. But they are not doing it on the cheap. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Imagine your company has outgrown its offices and the board has agreed it’s time to build new headquarters that will better serve the business. Do you cast about for Some Guy who says he can build it cheaply, or do you consult with architects who are experienced in designing buildings of just the type you need? Do you hire the cheapest construction company, or the one that will do the best job within parameters of cost, time and quality?

Websites are complex.

Behind even the simplest appearance is an extensive design process and array of code and plugins that are hard to imagine. Additionally, there are changes on the internet almost daily that can affect your site, requiring disciplined monitoring and ongoing updates. Good sites are not inexpensive. The only thing more expensive is a poor site built on the cheap.

When To Use Professional Photography?

Amazingly, some stock photography doesn’t suck.
So why hire a pro for professional photography shots?

There was a time when every single stock photograph in the whole universe was an embarrassment to the very idea of imagery.

I am still haunted by the memory of disturbingly phony models posing stiffly, their unnaturally white teeth glaring like the fangs of deranged wolves. We have come a long way since then–it is now possible to buy quality stock photos at low cost. Many talented photographers sell their work to stock houses. When companies like Red Letter buy those images, the license often allows unlimited use on websites, brochures and any other form of commercial communication including blimps and tattoos. However, professional photography is still worth the investment. Here’s why.

Startups and small businesses love stock—and who can blame them? 

These companies scrutinize every expenditure. When Red Letter proposes to a cash-strapped client that we hire a pro to shoot custom photos for their website or sales kit, it is so tempting for them to say, “You mean I can pay $25 per shot for stock but you’re suggesting I should I pay much more for new pictures? [Pause] Have you seen my office? Do I look like the Queen of England?” (None of our clients have stated the case in exactly those words but we have heard similar expressions of sensible budget stewardship.)

We totally get that.

And we use stock photography for our clients all the time. Not just because some companies simply can’t afford professional photography, but also because, hey—if you’ve got persistence and a discerning eye, you can find some excellent stock photos.

So should we just tell pro photographers to learn a new skill, like quilting? 

Um, no. Partly because quilting pays squat, and partly because there is still a vast gulf between even the best stock photography and professional photography conceived and executed by a talented expert. A pro is engaged by the client company and its marketing partner to lend his or her vision to the illumination of a unique brand that no other company owns.

A top-notch pro brings more than just technical expertise and visual flair.

They bring an irreplaceable understanding of what they are there to convey. It is literally impossible for a stock photographer to have this awareness, regardless of their talent. They don’t know how their images are going to be used.

Even competently-executed stock shots often exude phoniness. 

Did you see the movie Unfinished Business? Neither did I. But I heard about it. It was a major release in 2015 and starred Vince Vaughan as the head of a sales team. The promotional campaign for the movie featured images of the cast in blatant parodies of the stock photos we see all around us.

The producers knew that we would recognize the sheer vacuousness of so many business-themed stock photos. They trusted us to look at these fake pictures of office workers and think “Yeah, there is something creepy about these people. For one thing, who could possibly be that happy about typing?”

There are so many clues that give stock-ness away. 

Is there a team of suited businesspeople arranged in a “V” formation, with the Head Honcho front and center, arms crossed, glaring confidently at the camera? Is there a transparent attempt in a group shot to represent all ethnicities, with bonus points for models that could pass for two or three? Any handshakes going on? Are there mini-blinds everywhere? (Check out Huffington Post’s This Week in Ridiculous Stock Photos for more fun.)

And another thing: the good stock photos wind up all over the place. 

Good designers see a good shot, and they buy it. If they buy exclusive rights, it is now off the market. But if they just buy the image and use it, there’s a chance your audience will view your marketing materials and realize they’ve seen the pictures before.

Professional photography

 

I’m not making that up. It happened to us. 

We were designing a brochure for a client, and we did suggest professional photography, but it wasn’t in the cards for this project. So we sifted through the available stock images (we needed pictures of trucks) and after looking at 999 bad ones, we found a really good one and placed it in the layout. Everybody loved it, but just when we were getting ready to send the files to the printer, we discovered that one of our client’s competitors used the same image in their brochure! We thank the gods of marketing that we caught that in the nick of time.

Later, that same client decided to bite the bullet. 

We hired a talented pro for two days of shooting. I was there with our client, a smart guy who perhaps still wondered whether the expenditure was going to be worth it. After the first few shots I turned to him and began a question: “Do you see—“ He interrupted me: “Yes!” He has never looked back. We’ll be using that portfolio of awesome pictures for years—in brochures, trade show booths, websites and more.

Your company is unlike any other company. It deserves its own authentic imagery. 

If your small business needs a new HVAC system and you’ve got to choose—sure, get the air conditioning and use stock for now (with the help of an experienced designer to find the good ones). But recognize the value of professional photography that represents your company authentically and put it on your “someday soon” list.

You’ve Been Hacked!

You’ve Been Hacked!

A financial services company provides a website portal for their clients to access their investment accounts. Clients visit frequently to review their accounts and browse the company’s rich library of helpful information about saving and investing. One afternoon, while the company president is at lunch with a client, he receives a panicked message from his IT manager: the site has been hacked and an ISIS banner is prominently displayed on the home page. After the initial clean up and damage control, the president vows that they will never again risk such an event, and demands that marketing and IT do whatever it takes to make the site 100% secure.

It is not uncommon for business websites to get hacked, and vowing airtight security begs a host of questions:

  • How secure can any site really be?
  • What are the best practices for sites requiring strong security?
  • What are the additional costs of building a site with maximum security? Is there a point of diminishing returns?

 How Secure Can Any Site Really Be?

“The first thing I…tell website owners is that security is about risk reduction, not risk elimination. You must get your head around this simple fact…there is no such thing as a 100% solution to staying secure.”
-Tony Perez, Sucuri

Website attacks generally fall into two categories: an automated attack of opportunity (by far the most common type), or a targeted attack (the type more likely to occur on larger entities or governmental organizations). To be frank, at some point one of these will likely happen to your site. It’s not so much a matter of if a site will be attacked, but when. However, taking well-planned and reasonable tactics to prevent hacks puts the odds in your favor. Many of the horror stories we hear about, like the 2013 Target hack, are the result of human failure, not because of the software or applications themselves. Most commonly, people fail to follow processes and best practices in IT management, website maintenance, and updating.

What are the generally accepted best practices for sites requiring high security?

It begins with experienced developers who understand the current applications and best practices when building a site. They should know the most likely points of vulnerability, and how to write code that allows desired data to pass, but blocks potentially harmful data. They also should  understand how to plan and build for enterprise-level security, as well as hosting applications that can help manage security risks.

Once a site is built, it’s chiefly about who gets access. There are basic security precautions (e.g., making sure access information is not obvious, and is regularly refreshed) that should be implemented, and the site should be properly maintained as new software patches and updates become available. It’s also important to have the right hosting setup, and applications to monitor for security risk. Lastly, have a response plan for how to handle such threats, and worst case, a malicious hack. This includes having a separate backup to get your site immediately up to speed again.

There are costs to maximizing security when building the site. Is there a point of diminishing returns?

One can make the case that a more secure site is one that is custom built from the ground up. However, significant liabilities come with a custom built CMS (Content Management System), compared to off-the-shelf CMSs like WordPress or Joomla:

  • It’s much more time consuming, and thus more costly, to build
  • If your developer or IT person goes away, so does the one repository of the knowledge of your CMS and how it was built. Code can be as individual as people, so bringing in another developer would be time consuming and expensive
  • A home-grown system does not guarantee security. In fact, even if built perfectly, they are notoriously unreliable over time because owners fail to keep them updated

The advantage of going with an existing content management system (CMS) solution vs. custom development is the availability of the functionality that makes content management easier and less costly to implement and to keep updated. These systems are constantly improving because they are open source platforms. (Open source software is software whose source code is available for modification and distribution by anyone.) The White House, the FBI and the CIA all use open source software for their websites, rather than custom, built from scratch code. The core features to look for in decent Content Management Systems include:

  • Strong security
  • Theming functionality
  • Page templates
  • Menu systems
  • Blocks/widgets
  • User/role base authentication and access control
  • Revision control
  • Regular updates

Along with these core features, a CMS should have the capability to support modules, plugins, and extensions. There are various prominent open source and third party licensed extensions that bring enhanced functionality to a CMS. These enhancements include search engine optimization, tools for analytics, social network integration, etc. Of course, all should be added with the understanding that security is a priority.

The most widely used CMS platform is WordPress, and with proper development and maintenance, businesses experience minimal security problems. The New York Times, CNN, Sony, UPS and IBM all use WordPress. For companies with extreme security concerns, there are other CMS platforms, such as Drupal, that are solid candidates for consideration. Drupal has strong coding standards and a rigorous community code review process that gives it security and stability.

“Security is hands down the biggest differentiator between WordPress or Drupal. Drupal has enterprise level security and site scale. Numerous government websites are built with Drupal, with the most famous being Whitehouse.gov.”
Adam Hermsdorfer, Big Tuna Interactive

Currently The Economist, Cisco, Voya Financial (formerly ING U.S. Inc.), Novartis, GE, Pfizer, U.S. Department of Transportation, The White House, and many more entities are using Drupal.

Ultimately, there is no 100% secure system. A mature CMS with a proven track record provides the best return on investment, due to the amount of existing development that can be leveraged. Following the best practices for maintenance and updates is a practical and effective way to keep your site secure, without having to re-invent the wheel in an effort to maintain full ownership of the codebase. In addition to the CMS platform, there are content delivery networks (CDNs) that can be placed in front of your site to reduce the workload, as well act as a website firewall. (But that’s another blog.)

The best website security is proactive prevention.

Hire the right experts to help you implement best practices, including the initial site development, proper hosting, and ongoing maintenance. Have a smart access and content management process, and make sure your team has an action plan in place to manage a security emergency. Follow these tips to reduce your risk of being hacked.

Does your site have the proper security built in? Do you need to learn more about proactive maintenance to minimize risks? Just click the button below.