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Google Penguin (Webspam) Update UK

Published on May 4, 2012
Tags: SEO

Say what you will about Google, but they know how to come up with quirky names for their algorithm updates. Previously, we have discussed the Panda update and the Venice update. Today we turn our attention to the latest update to gain significant attention from web designers and SEO specialists – the Google Penguin update (this was originally known as the webspam update).

While it isn’t yet entirely clear what the update will do, it seems certain to say that it is targeted at quality – or rather, weeding out sites that are in violation of Google’s quality guidelines in order to help sites that utilise good SEO techniques get better page rankings. The Google post outlining the upcoming Penguin algorithm change offers a couple of examples of the kind of pages that might be affected by the change.

That post also offers a useful explanation of what Google perceives to be the difference between good and bad SEO. The terms it uses for this are “white hat” SEO and “black hat webspam”. In brief, white hat SEO is defined as SEO that helps to improve a user’s experience of a website. It is to do with good content as well as good marketing techniques in order to build the profile of a site, according to Google.

By contrast, black hat webspam is defined as SEO techniques that don’t actually benefit users. For example, sites that include keyword links that aren’t actually relevant to the content in question, or keyword stuffing on a site that has got generally poor-quality content.

Google also helpfully offers some information to give us an idea of the number of searches that are likely to be affected by the Penguin update. It isn’t expected to have as significant an impact as the previous Panda update that helped to promote good quality sites, but it should still make a difference. It’s thought that just over 3% of English searches will be impacted.

So, even though most sites should be perfectly fine following the Google Penguin update and could even receive a boost as poor quality sites are weeded out, it still makes sense to review your web content to ensure it falls within the quality guidelines. There are a few different areas you can look at to make sure your site is properly promoted with white hat SEO.

For example, ensuring you don’t have duplicate content on your site is an issue we’ve looked at before as a result of previous Google updates, but if you still have any content that could be considered as duplicate, it could be worth reviewing this. In theory, duplicate content doesn’t automatically get you a search penalty unless it can be proved that you were trying to manipulate the search rankings, but generally speaking, it isn’t worth taking the chance.

Keyword stuffing is another issue that Google mentions in its blogpost on the update, so this something else you might want to look at to ensure your site falls within the quality guidelines. This isn’t just about ensuring your visible content utilises keywords properly; any hidden text on your website also matters and could lead to you being penalised in the search rankings if you have engaged in any keyword stuffing. If your site has been loaded with keywords for the express purpose of doing well in the search rankings even though the user experience isn’t as good as it could be, now is a very good time to review that practice.

Google also mentions links in its Penguin algorithm post. In its guidelines, it warns against linking to webspammers or what it refers to as ‘bad neighbourhoods’, so this is something to watch out for on your site. The examples given in the post linked above include that of an article ostensibly about getting fit but with keyword links for payday loans. This might seem like an obvious no-no, but it’s clearly something to be careful about as this sort of technique can be much more subtle.

Overall, the message from Google clearly seems to be that good content will be prioritised and that those websites utilising white hat SEO should not be pushed out or penalised by sites attempting to manipulate the search rankings. While most sites should have nothing to fear from the Penguin update, it’s still a timely reminder that it’s worth reviewing our content from time to time to ensure it is still as high quality and beneficial to our users as we initially intended it to be.

By Chelsey Evans

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Before you Begin The Importance of Planning in Web Design

Published on April 26, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

A lot of the focus in the world of web design is often on the process of design – and with good reason. Poor design can easily ruin the very best of intentions, which is why it is so important that we take the utmost care over every single site we create. However, not quite as much attention is paid to the bit that comes before the actual web design stage – the planning. This is the part that is generally the responsibility of the company in need of the website, and it’s important to get it right as this can have just as much effect on the outcome of your website as the design itself.

Let’s have a look at five key stages that give us an insight into the importance of planning in website design.

What is its purpose?

This first point is something that is likely to sound obvious to a lot of people, but – what is your website for? Without a good answer to this question, it is unlikely that your site will be as focused as it could be and it will make the rest of your planning more difficult, as well as making it harder to create a compelling design to go along with the plan.

For example, your site could be to raise awareness of an issue or a business, or it could be to entertain or inform, or it might be that you want to focus on ecommerce. It might also involve a combination of purposes, which is fine – the main aim of this exercise is to determine what they are.

Who is it for?

Then we come onto the issue of the audience, which in many ways is wrapped up in the above point. You need to know who your website is going to be aimed at – will they be stakeholders, customers or someone else? What age are they likely to be? What do they typically use your company for? What are they looking for in a website from you?

This stage of the planning process can involve a bit of research, such as surveying your target market or having a look at competitors’ websites to see how they have targeted their information. This can help you get a better idea of the kind of information you will need to include.

What information will you need?

This brings us on to the next stage of planning – the content. What information will you need to include on your website? How are you going to put this across? It’s perhaps inevitable that your website will end up including a mixture of written content, graphics and interactivity, but you need to decide exactly how this is going to be broken down and the part that each piece of content is going to play.

The navigation of your website is also linked to this; it needs to be easy for web users to get around your website, so when you are planning what content you are going to include, make sure you have a good, simple plan that makes it easy for people to work out where everything is.

What should it look like?

Of course, you also shouldn’t neglect the look of your site, and you can have quite a lot of fun deciding what you want it to look like. For example, you could choose to include your existing company branding to ensure continuity and make sure your site is instantly recognisable to the people who use it.

You might also like to give some thought to the kind of feel you’d like your website to invoke, such as whether you’re going for a clean and professional look, or something a little funkier.

What’s your long term strategy?

Finally, as well as your initial website plan, don’t forget to engage in a little bit of blue sky thinking and develop a strategy for the longer term. It’s extremely likely that there will come a point when you’re website needs an upgrade or even a complete overhaul, so you might want to think about how you might manage this. What is your goal for the site? How will it need to adapt over time to deal with this?

Even simple things, such as deciding who will be updating your blog or news section should be considered so you have a clear plan for delivery, and so you’ll be able to get straight down to business once your new web design has been completed.

 

By Chelsey Evans

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4 Reasons to Care About Mobile Web Design

Published on April 20, 2012
Tags: Web Design London, Mobile Application Development

We all know that mobile devices are now more important than ever before when it comes to surfing the web, and that more and more people are using devices such as smartphones and tablet computers in order to access the internet. But what does this mean for your business? Mobile web design requires specialist attention and often takes time to adapt from your main website – but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bother. In short, why should your company care about mobile web design?

It’s growing – and so are devices

Recently, Ian Carrington, who is Google’s director of mobile and social advertising strategy, said that a huge amount of Google queries in the UK are made through mobile devices. In particular, 20% of YouTube views are made through mobiles and the same proportion of searches made about entertainment and travel topics are also made on mobiles. Also, 12% of the UK population now own a tablet and when you consider that even just a couple of years ago, no one had one, this is a significant growth market.

This illustrates that both the mobile web and the range of mobile devices are growing. More than 1 billion people worldwide are now able to connect to the internet through their phones. This astonishing statistic is clearly something that businesses need to take notice of if they haven’t already.

Take your small business global

In a way, this is linked to the above point – Ian Carrington also makes the point that people all around the world are connected to the internet, which means that businesses now have more scope than ever before to go global. At the start of the century, it would have sounded slightly ambitious to say that a small business based in the UK could have a global reach, but now it is entirely possible. As many businesses are moving away from set physical locations and adopting a predominantly internet-based approach, this is becoming more and more important.

At the same time, there is also more scope for businesses to enhance their local profiles thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices. A significant proportion of mobile searches are about local-specific issues. Plus, you may have recently seen our article on the Google Venice update, which is designed to enhance local search results, making them more specific to where web users are based. With any luck, this is something that will be able to benefit smartphone users as well, meaning that it’s definitely worth taking note of.

Adapting is getting easier

Also, even though mobile web design undoubtedly requires extra time and effort that used to put some companies off investing in it, it is now getting easier to adapt sites for mobile devices. You may have read about responsive web design, which helps to make it easier for sites to display well across a range of different devices. This is something that can definitely help the mobile web trend.

Of course, we still have to remember that when people access the internet through their phones, they are often looking for slightly different information or a different experience to the one they get on a desktop or laptop. A lot of this is for practical reasons, such as mobile screens being considerably smaller and operated differently to a traditional computer. This is arguably something that savvy businesses can make the most of, being careful to give mobile web users what they’re looking for so that they’ll be more likely to find your services relevant, useful and appealing.

Access your data wherever you are

Finally, if your business is predominantly based on the internet as so many are these days, it makes to make sure your potential customers can access your information no matter where they are. This is another excellent reason to care about mobile web design, as you never know where someone might be when they suddenly decide that they need to look up your company or start making use of your services. This is all about access and making sure that you can be found by your target market – in a world where information is increasingly available in a whole range of different mediums, it pays to make sure you can be found in as many of those mediums as you possibly can.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google Venice Update: UK SEO and Website Advice

Published on April 13, 2012
Tags: SEO, Web Design London

Something all web designers and SEO specialists need to be aware of is the Google Venice update. This is an update that was included in a series of algorithm changes that Google announced towards the end of February 2012, but the effects of it are just starting to become clear. You can read the full list of algorithm changes that make up the update here.

Google Venice itself is actually number 26 on that list of around 40 algorithm changes and the idea behind it is to improve the rankings of local search results. This is the explanation that is offered by Google:

“Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.”

This basically means that if you search for something, the results you get off Google will be much more personalised to your location. For example, if you search for ‘web designers’, you should hopefully see results from web designers that are local to you (e.g. ‘web designers london’), because Google is now utilising IP addresses to work out where you are and provide you with results accordingly.

This has several implications for businesses that we need to be aware of. First of all, this has the potential to benefit local businesses that have previously been disadvantaged by larger firms in terms of their SEO. If local businesses are able to optimise their sites for local search terms, they could potentially do quite well out of Google Venice.

However, as well as the benefits, it also throws up a couple of challenges. For instance, businesses that are based in one location but who carry out work in lots of locations will face a dilemma as to what they should optimise and how. As an example, as a web design firm, we can often just as easily design a website for a company in Scotland as we can in London because we’re able to work virtually. Does this mean we need to optimise separate pages for every location we work in?

The full impact of Google Venice is yet to be determined, but for such a significant update it hasn’t actually yet been analysed that extensively.

One issue that does seem to have come up, though, is that if you live in a place that shares its name with somewhere else (Birmingham UK and Birmingham Alabama, for instance), there is a chance that Google will pick the wrong place because even though websites are based in different countries, they’re optimised for the same place names. This doesn’t seem to be an extensive problem, but it’s something that many businesses will need to be aware of.

What is clear from the Google Venice update is that local search is now really entering its own and every business needs to start developing a plan to deal with it to make sure they stay properly optimised and take advantages of the opportunities the algorithm change has to offer. For example, developing localised page content or local landing pages can help firms to optimise the areas they want to target. You’ll only be able to make use of the Google Places feature if you actually have a physical address in a certain place, but if you are based in one place yet work in many, there’s nothing to stop you optimising your site in other ways.

Websites might also need to rejig their site architecture to make sure it is properly optimised for local pages. For instance, take a look at your homepage. Is it currently optimised for local search? If not, then you might well need to make some updates to ensure it still continues to rank for relevant search terms, an also to micro-format your address (if you don’t know what this is, please do ask us).

Also, just because Google has a significant new update out, don’t forget about the old ones. You may think that one of the easiest ways to optimise for local search might be to simply use the same or similar content on multiple pages and just change the keywords. However, this could end with you falling foul of last year’s Google Panda/Farmer update that punishes low quality or duplicate content. Making the extra effort to properly optimise your site for Google Venice is definitely worth it. 

Local link building might also help, although it’s not yet clear how the recent updates have impacted on how links are included in determining search rankings. Some suggest that they have become less important, but you still shouldn’t ignore this area, particularly if you’re trying to cement your local profile.

And, despite what you might think, you don’t even need inbound links to your site to improve your local rankings. Google uses NAP data (Name, Address, Postcode) to identify your business and gets this information from various sources on the web. So, search Google for your postcode, then your company name, and try to make sure the information found is consistent with the NAP on your site, to your Google Places listing, to anywhere else where your NAP is listed (including where you might be listed without there even being a link to you site). Consistency, and relevancy, are key – if you can get NAP listings on sites that also service the same area you are based (so, for example, we might look to get NAP listings on London-centric sites) that will be more relevant than having a NAP listing on a global web site, or a site that’s focussed on content on the other side of the world.

Overall, Google Venice might be able to be explained in just a couple of sentences, but its potential impact could be really significant. Taking action now to ensure your site continues to rank well should definitely be on all of our ‘to do’ lists.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google+ Gets a Facelift

Published on April 13, 2012
Tags: Usability, Web Design London

Google’s contribution to the world of social networking sites, Google+, has gone through something of a facelift. We’ve seen before how this social networking site got off to something of a shaky start, with complaints from some users including the fact that the site required them to sign up using their own names rather than an internet pseudonym. The site is also still trailing the social media giants in terms of the number of users it has, but has this latest development done enough to allow Google+ to play with the big(ger) hitters?

There are certainly some interesting features as part of the redesigned site. In a blog post, Google announced that more than 170 million people have upgraded to Google+ in the past ten months since the site was first launched. They also say that over the past 30 days, 100 million people have ‘engaged’ with it. 50 million apparently ‘engaged’ every day. When we compare this with Facebook, which at the end of 2011 had around 250 million users who used the service every day, there is clearly some way for Google+ to go – but it still seems to be growing steadily.

The redesigned site offers more options for things like videos and photographs – you can include full sized photographs now. Google says it has also made it easier for people to join in discussions and see what’s going on in the different Google+ communities. There are also interesting new navigation tools, one of which Google calls a ‘dynamic ribbon of applications’. The idea behind this is to allow users to do things such as drag apps up or down, hide or show apps, and hover over them to display information. This is a contrast to the static icons that used to be at the top of the page.

The Google+ ‘Hangout’ option has now been updated, too. The idea behind this is to give people more chances to connect, such as by making it easier for people to access hangouts, offering tips and a ‘rotating billboard of popular hangouts’.

Google admits in the above mentioned blog post that it still has some way to go, but it sees this redesign of Google+ as an important step. So, will it make much of a difference? It’s perhaps a bit too soon to tell, but we can safely see that the social networking site has been growing well lately. One of the reasons for this is that since the start of 2012, when users have signed up for another Google service, they have also been required to set up a Google+ account. One estimate from Search Engine Watch says that this has added 80 million people in the past three months.

However, when compared with other social networking sites, Google+ is still falling behind in terms of both user numbers and how long people spend on the website. ComScore did a survey that found people spent 18% of their time online on Facebook during January. They spent a total of just 3 minutes on Google+. Other social networking sites also did considerably better than Google’s offering.

Plus, we can arguably see aspects of other social networking sites in the Google+ redesign. For instance, Twitter’s web developers are likely to have taken keen notice of the inclusion of a trending topics feature on the Google site, something that Twitter has been using itself for the past couple of years. There’s also a new cover photo feature on Google+ that is somewhat similar to the cover photo feature on Facebook that was rolled out recently as part of its ‘timeline’ redesign. Twitter in particular has previously expressed concern at actions taken by Google, such as the search giant’s move at the start of this year to integrate Google+ into its search results.

Another concern from some users is that, unlike Facebook and Twitter that users are able to update through apps and other means, Google+ requires people to log in before they can take any action – something that some people say inflates the user numbers.

So it seems that the debate over Google+ rumbles on. Is it good or isn’t it? It seems that people have very set, divided opinions over the issue, but Google is determined that Google+ will be a success. They say that one of the aims of the site update is to make ‘sharing more awesome’. Time will tell if that turns out to be the case.

By Chelsey Evans

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