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Web Design 2011 A Review of the Year

Published on December 16, 2011
Tags: Web Design London

As another year draws to a close and the Christmas party season starts to warm up, we thought now would be a good time to pause and take stock of the year before everyone heads off for mulled wine and mince pies. Specifically, let’s have a look at some of the key themes that have impacted on web designers during 2011 to see if they can give us any indication of where we might be heading throughout 2012.

Diversification of platforms

A few years ago, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had by far the biggest share of the internet browser market. It’s still at the top of the pack – but not by as wide a margin. Also, Google’s Chrome has recently overtaken Firefox as the number 2 browser for the first time, continuing the rapid expansion of the Chrome browser and neatly reflecting wider changes that are going on in how we use the web. Recent figures suggest that Chrome has now got a 25.69% share of the browser market (up from 4.66% two years ago), compared with IE’s 40.63%.

As well as more of a split between the browsers being used, people are also going online in increasing numbers of ways. Notably, 2011 has largely been about mobile web design and working out how web designers can cater their sites to the rapidly growing smartphone market. Elsewhere, this has bought us developments such as the QR code, as well as new challenges to cater for an increasingly broad range of platforms.

Google keeps us up at night

One of the most influential web design factors of 2011 has got to be Google. Looking back, we’ve written quite a few blog posts about it, covering topics from changes to Analytics impacting on how we access data to wondering whether the Google Plus business pages can compete with Facebook. One Google-related event, however, stands out above all the rest.

Google Panda/Farmer. This was the algorithm update that was first released in the US back in the first quarter of 2011 and has since been rolled out elsewhere and also received a few updates since. Almost as soon as this update was released, it had an impact on around 12% of searches in the US, showing just how powerful and influential such changes can be in the world of web design and SEO.

The aim of Google Farmer was to weed out low quality content sites in order to promote the search rankings of sites filled with high quality content. It seems as though it has certainly succeeded in having an impact, although some sites have had to make significant changes in order to ‘beat’ the Farmer effect. 

Privacy versus analytics

2011 has also seen many issues to do with privacy coming to the fore. Staying with Google for a moment, they recently upgraded their encrypted search feature, which secures the searches of those users logged in to a Google platform (such as Gmail). This is designed to protect the data of users, but it has also had an impact on web analytics teams, who have found that up to 10% of their previous analytics data simply isn’t there anymore (unless you’re paying for certain services).

The EU has also had a lot to do with the privacy debate, with recommendations regarding internet cookies and the ‘pre-ticked’ box phenomenon. Arguably, the directive that affects internet cookies – the Privacy and Communications Directive – is the more significant of these in terms of web design as it limits the amount of information websites can collect on their users before having to ask them for permission.

The EU privacy directive has caused some issues due to varying interpretations of it across different member states and the fact that hardly any countries have actually taken any meaningful action on it yet. However, it is still an important example of the on-going debate between the privacy of web users and the needs of businesses that depend on web analytics for their revenue.

Where next in 2012?

With all of this in mind, what can we expect to see in 2012? At the time of writing, it seems safe to say that all of the above issues will be continuing on into the New Year. As more and more people start to use the internet on their smartphones and web users make use of a growing range of browsers, compatibility issues are set to carry on for the time being.

We also predict that Google will be making more waves in 2012, whether this is due to exciting new services or algorithm updates that have a knock-on effect for months afterwards. Privacy will also continue to be debated, as will other related issues such as piracy, especially if the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US and other similar directives continue to cause controversy.

Elsewhere, seeing as 2012 is an Olympic year, you can probably expect to see lots of Olympic-themed web design and online campaigns, at least in the run up to the Games. 3D is a phenomenon that seems unstoppable and has been having an increasing influence on web design, so that could be another area to watch.

Whatever happens, though, the world of web design at the end of 2011 is exciting. There’s a lot going on and a lot of potential for further development. We look forward to whatever 2012 may bring.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google Flow Visualisation Achieving Your Online Goals

Published on December 9, 2011
Tags: SEO, Web Design London

Working out the return on your investment is one of the key jobs in an online marketing campaign; without understanding the impact of something, you won’t know what works and what doesn’t or, crucially, whether you should fund similar projects again or focus resources elsewhere instead. Since websites are usually central to these endeavours, a couple of key questions need to be asked to help answer.

Simply put, how do people end up on your website? And, once they’ve found their way there, what do they do?

Understanding issues such as this is behind the recent launch of Google’s Flow Visualisation. This is a new feature of Google Analytics and, as the name suggests, the aim of it is to visualise your visitor flow. Essentially, it maps out where they’re coming from (such as direct or Google.com) and what they’re looking at. It also measures your drop-off rate, so you can easily see when people click away from your site.

Google Flow

Google also describes Flow Visualisation as ‘interactive’. A key feature here is the ability to hover your mouse cursor over various listed pages to see more information on them, such as how many people visited a particular page and how they came to be there. There is also a feature known as ‘Goal Flow’, which allows the site owner to identify various goals (for instance, URLS) and then measure results in relation to particular highlighted goals. This also works retrospectively, which is an interesting development for Analytics.

Therefore, we can split the new Flow Visualisation into two separate developments:

  • Goal Flow, which measures conversion paths and drop-offs. Google are apparently looking at extending the capabilities of this, too.

  • Visitors Flow, which details where traffic comes from and where visitors go once they’re on your site. This feature also contains ‘nodes’, which group together likely pathways through the site and allow you to follow through on various site connections.

This all sounds very well, but does Google Flow Visualisation have any practical applications, or is it simply an alternative way of looking at data you’ve already got?

Retrospective Goal Flow

Probably one of the most interesting – and practical – developments of Flow Visualisation is the ability to look at retrospective, historical data through the Goal Flow feature. This means that if you set up a new goal, as well as being able to use it to analyse future data, you’ll also be able to take a look at past conversion rates for that particular goal.

This can help with issues such as comparisons and reporting. The retrospective component applies only to your current goal settings, so this is something to keep in mind but it’s still potentially a very useful and nifty tool. Also, it’s something that wasn’t available before so it’s definitely a welcome addition.

Measure Campaign Impact

As suggested above, measuring the impact of campaigns is hugely important. Interestingly, Flow Visualisation can help you measure the impact of Adwords campaigns. You do this by selecting ‘Campaign’ (rather than ‘Source’) as your flow report dimension. This then allows you to highlight a particular section of traffic and measure how well your campaign is performing.

Identify Useful Content

This is something that we’ve been able to do using Analytics for quite some time now, but Flow Visualisation arguably makes it easier to see where our most useful site content is placed. For instance, we can make use of the Goal Flow tool to see where most users head while on the site, which can be a useful indicator of where our most popular content is. This can then feed into future developments such as site content overhauls and new campaigns.

Ecommerce Benefits

Flow Visualisation also has some potential benefits for ecommerce websites in the form of a backwards traffic visualisation. This is a component of the Goal Flow and it allows you to see where your web traffic has ‘looped’. For example, it means you are able to see if someone has been on the checkout page of your site but then clicked back to have another look at the relevant product page.

This could be useful for ecommerce campaigns such as ads on the checkout page detailing other products that might be of interest to the customer, as it can allow you to see the effectiveness of these. It could also help you gain some insight into why some customers abandon their baskets before making a purchase.

Overall, Google Flow Visualisation is an interesting Analytics development. Some of the features are, in essence, new ways of looking at existing information, but the Goal Flow feature in particular has the potential to be very useful. We’re also interested to hear that Google Analytics has some more developments on the way, so we’ll be looking out for those to see how they add to the Analytics experience.

By Chelsey Evans

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The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) How it Affects the Internet

Published on December 2, 2011
Tags: Web Site Law

In recent weeks, you may have read about something called the Stop Online Piracy Act. Or, to give it the acronym such things seem to require these days, SOPA. This is a bill that has been introduced by a member of the US House of Representatives with the aim of… you guessed it, stopping online piracy.

This bill has caused something of an outcry among various groups – but what is it actually all about? There’s been a lot of controversy over this piece of legislation and it’s something that people have been getting heated about on both sides of the debate, so we thought we’d try and cut through the hyperbole to see what is actually going on.

Essentially, at the heart of this bill is an issue of copyright. The purpose of SOPA is meant to be to try and stop copyright infringement – specifically, the infringement of the copyright of American creative products that are illegally ‘shared’ on the internet by sites based in other countries. Currently, trying to bring these sites to justice in the US is relatively useless because they’re all based offshore.

So on the one hand, it’s possible to see the logic behind introducing SOPA as a bill: people who create a product, whether it’s music, a film or something else, have a legal right to copyright. And, unlike patents which are issued by nation states following an application process, copyright is automatic and universal. If anyone tries to infringe it, the holder of the copyright has a right to challenge them.

High profile supporters of the bill include the kind of groups you might expect to support copyright enforcement, including the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. Another interesting supporter is the US Chamber of Commerce – this is an organisation that usually fights for ‘free enterprise’ but is supporting SOPA on the grounds that rogue websites threaten ’19 million American jobs’.

However, on the other side of the debate we have many of the US’ internet giants. Organisations such as Google, eBay, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and AOL are all opposed to SOPA because they fear that if it were to become law, it would make it harder for the web to innovate – largely because it would invite a lot of lawsuits, which are hardly ideal for creating an innovative atmosphere.

In a way, SOPA is similar to a bill that was introduced in the US Senate, the Protect IP Bill. However, SOPA goes one step further: where Protect IP was focused on groups such as domain name providers, SOPA targets internet providers themselves – in order to deal with targeted ‘rogue websites’, the idea is that the US Attorney General would get a court order that effectively compels internet providers to withdraw support from those sites.

Arguably, it is this that has helped to make the current bill so controversial. But what are the implications for web users if this Act is passed and eventually becomes law? It’s hard to make accurate predictions when the legislation is still being debated and it’s not guaranteed to pass, but it seems as though certain popular websites would no longer be available (at least not in the US, but seeing as the European Parliament recently approved a motion that stresses the need to refrain from ‘unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names’, it seems as though it could create international issues as well).

Another reason it is controversial is because it has potential security implications. This is because internet providers would be required to redirect certain domain names (such as those of sites containing pirated information) to US security organisations. This matters because it contradicts with something called DNSSEC, which is designed to make things more secure for web users. There’s also a worry that innocent sites could be unfairly damaged – and even that cybersecurity could be compromised.

For now, though, we need to wait and see what happens. There’s big, well-funded support on both sides of the SOPA debate. However, it’s worth pointing out that despite all the noise about SOPA, it still hasn’t come to a vote on the House floor and could be subject to further hearings about its security implications before that’s allowed to happen – and even then there’s no guarantee it will get onto the schedule. But should it make it through it could affect us all, whether we're in the US or not.

One thing, though, stands out: whichever side of the debate you may stand on, it seems fair to say that absolutely everyone is passionate about creating and promoting good content – the main dispute is over how to go about it.

By Chelsey Evans

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Redesigning Websites 6 Things to Consider

Published on November 25, 2011
Tags: Web Design London

As we come to the end of 2011, now can be quite a good time to think about what you’d like the New Year to bring. This is especially important if you’ve got a business, as a brand new year can often mark a turning point and provide a new focus for your company. It can also be a good time to think about the issue of website design – or more specifically, website redesign.

No matter how great your current web design is, if you have had it for quite a long time then you might well be able to benefit from a site reboot to reflect the changes your company has gone through recently. You don’t necessarily have to have a complete site makeover, although this is an option, but an upgrade and assessment of where things stand can make a big difference. To give you a helping hand, read on for six things to consider when contemplating website redesign - all courtesy of Ampheon Web Design London.

The current site – where it stands

It helps to have an idea of where your website currently stands, as this can give you a better idea of where you want to go. For instance, look at issues such as how much traffic you get to your current site, how well you do in the search engine rankings and whether the content on the site still matches your purpose as a business. Do you have an ecommerce website? If so, how well has this been performing in terms of sales?

The current site – what needs improving

Once you know where things stand, you can start to think about what needs improving. This is something it can be a good idea to chat to your web designer about to make sure you’re on the same page and to pick up any technical issues you may have missed. However, even without any technical know-how, you’re more than likely to be able to highlight the issues you’d like to address through your new web design. This could be something as simple as adding a couple of new pages or updating your graphics.

Your business – how it’s changed

It’s also worth reviewing your business before altering your website design. For instance, have you started running any projects or services that perhaps aren’t on your website yet? Have you changed your focus to a different target market? Have you expanded your outlook? These are all things you might like to take account of in your website design, so jotting down a few thoughts will definitely help the process.

Your new site – what you want to achieve

Now we’re getting to the fun bit: what you’re actually looking for in your revamped web design. Think about what you’d like to achieve through your website in the coming New Year. This could be goals such as getting to the top of the search rankings for a particular key term, or getting more traffic through to the site or making more sales through your ecommerce site. It could also be goals related to the look of your site, such as the colour scheme or how the content is laid out.

Your new site – content

Before you get your web designer onto the task of updating your site design, it helps if you have a think about what you’d like to do in terms of content. It can really boost the look of the site if we know beforehand how much content there is likely to be and how you’d like to set it out. So, just as you probably did when the site was designed in the first place, sit down and go through all the content you need to have on the site, making sure it’s all relevant and there for a particular purpose.

Your new site – SEO and marketing

Finally, as well as issues relating to content and design, you also need to consider the issues of SEO and marketing. After all, if you’re going to the effort of upgrading your website design for the New Year, you want people to be able to find it. If you’ve already got an SEO strategy, you might like to review it to make sure it still reflects the purpose and goals of your business. This is something else you could talk to your web designer about to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

Overall, there’s no hard and fast rule to tell you what to do with your site when it comes to redesigning it. However, businesses do change over time and the New Year provides a perfect opportunity to start thinking about how you might like to reflect this in other areas of your operations – including your website. A website redesign could well be what you need to get your company off to a great start in 2012.

By Chelsey Evans

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Are the New Google Plus Business Pages Any Good?

Published on November 18, 2011
Tags: SEO

Google Plus, the social networking offering from Google, has been up and running for a few months now and recently, it has launched its own business pages. This is a concept that has already had some success on Facebook, with more than700,000 businesses said to have set up their own page with the networking giant. So, it makes sense that Google+ would launch its own version - but are Google’s business pages any good?

It’s still early days for these business pages – and for Google+ itself - but they do show some potential that companies are sure to want to make use of. For instance, the pages are due to be ranked in search results, which is sure to be appreciated by businesses looking to boost their Google rankings. Google has also developed a new feature, which is called Direct Connect.

The idea behind this is that it allows web users to connect directly to companies’ Google business pages through search. You do this through the Google site – type ‘+’ followed by the business name (such as +Google). This then takes you to the relevant Google+ page. This feature is still being rolled out and so it’s not yet entirely operational, but you can read more about it here.

All of this is very positive and it suggests that these new Google business pages have the potential to be very good, especially as Google+ continues to grow and more users start to adopt it. However, there has been some concern that they’re not quite up to standard yet.

In a way, this mirrors some concerns that were raised when the network itself first launched – it was thought by some that it wasn’t quite ready, and there was some controversy over issues such as whether it was okay to use internet pseudonyms rather than real names on the site, as well as the fact you need to sign up using a Gmail address (adding to our increasing number of email addresses).

One of the issues with the new Google+ business pages is that only one person can currently administer the page. This means that if you have two people in your company who typically manage social media, they’ll probably have to set up a specific company Google+ account and manage the business page through that, rather than doing it through their own accounts. Some companies may appreciate this approach, but when you consider that you are able to have multiple administrators on Facebook’s equivalent pages, it does suggest that not everyone will be entirely happy with this.

Also, one of the selling points of Facebook’s business pages is that they can be used to run competitions and promotions. This can be a good way of drawing more people to the page and encouraging interaction between brands and users. Currently, under Google+ policies, this isn’t possible on the Google business pages, which is likely to be seen as a negative point by many. Of course, this doesn’t stop the possibility of a policy change in the future (nor does it stop businesses linking to competitions elsewhere from their Google+ page), but for now it is something to consider.

Another – potentially more significant – issue faced by Google+ business pages (and the site as a whole) is that it simply doesn’t get as much traffic as other networking sites such as Facebook. For instance, Facebook reaches over 60% of US web users. By contrast, Google+ currently reaches less than 1%. It seems safe to say that Google+ will grow over time, but currently, for online marketers and website designers, if you are going to have a business page it seems as though Facebook or LinkedIn would be the safer bet. 

In all fairness to the Google Plus business pages, they are still new and so it stands to reason that functionality will be added over time and they’ll continue to grow in capability and capacity. The idea of Direct Connect is also an interesting one and raises more search opportunities for businesses – and including the pages in search results is a good move.

Therefore, we can probably put many of the current issues down to teething trouble and on-going development. However, until Google+ starts to become more popular and reaches more users (particularly active users who use the site every day as so many do with Facebook), it seems that no matter how good the business pages are, they’ll still struggle to make much of an impact. That isn’t to say companies shouldn’t bother with them – they have many good points and are more than likely to become more influential over time – but perhaps don’t abandon your other social media platforms just yet.

All that said, and whilst Google+ for Business is still a work in progress, it is still worthwhile getting your business in there early. As an early-adopter of Google+ for Business, you never know how Google might reward you in the natural search results later down the line – perhaps it will be similar to how they use your domain name registration date as a ranking signal. It could be that the longer your business is in Google+ for Business, the better the search placements you get.

By Chelsey Evans

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Disclaimer: The contents of these articles are provided for information only and do not constitute advice. We are not liable for any actions that you might take as a result of reading this information, and always recommend that you speak to a qualified professional if in doubt.

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