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Google Search Changes and Google Analytics 'Not Provided' Label

Published on November 11, 2011
Tags: SEO

You may remember a few months ago, when Google released the Panda/Farmer update and a significant percentage of search results were affected because of it. That update had a big impact on quite a lot of websites – and it seems Google has once again made some changes that are going to affect lots of people.

This time, the change involves their encrypted search feature. This is something that Google has had running for a while, but now it has altered its systems so that if a user is logged-in (to Gmail, iGoogle, Google+ or another Google platform), they are automatically redirected to encrypted search. Unlike in the past, they are no longer told that they are using this feature; the ‘http’ in the address bar simply changes to ‘https’. That is; https://www.google.com

The impact of this is that the search queries made by those users will be kept secure. The argument made by Google in its favour is that encrypted search is especially useful when using unsecured Wi-Fi networks and that it helps to protect ‘personalised search results’. 

Arguably, this is a smart move on Google’s part as it shows a concern for security and protects users’ data – something that is naturally of concern to many people. However, on the other side of the issue are webmasters, web designers and developers who rely on search information to analyse which of their campaigns are the most successful, who is clicking onto their sites and the terms people search for when they find their websites. 

With Google encrypting logged-in users’ data, it’s thought that around 10% of previous information will no longer be available to the people who typically analyse it.  It isn’t hard to see how this might have an impact on online marketing and analysis: with 10% less data, there’ll be less information to utilise and so campaigns won’t be targeted quite so successfully and their impact will be harder to measure. Around 10% harder to measure, to be precise.

This essentially means that when you log in to Analytics or another keyword tool, you’re likely to see a ‘not provided’ entry fairly high up in your keyword traffic list, where that 10% of data would normally be. 

Luckily, Google has put in place some measures that mean you will still be able to access some information: if you use Webmaster Tools, it will show you the top 100 search terms for your site. Granted, this doesn’t give you the complete picture or go into much detail about search traffic, but it at least provides something to work from.

The good news, really, is that your traffic shouldn’t be affected by the changes that have recently taken effect, as the alterations don’t have an impact on search rankings in the same way that Panda/Farmer did. However, one aspect of the changes that has caused some controversy is the fact that paid-for results are unaffected. This means that if you’re paying for Google’s services (such as for PPC campaigns), you’ll still be able to see which search terms bring in the best conversion rates.

This suggests that Google has put a price on information: if you use its free analytics services, logged-in users’ privacy takes precedence, but if you pay then their privacy is overlooked. It might sound a bit sceptical, but it does seem like there is now a choice to be made between favouring privacy and making money – and, when you consider that Google is selling this change as being in favour of users’ privacy, the sceptic starts to grow.

Of course, Google is designed to be a business. That’s its purpose, so we probably shouldn’t be too surprised when it makes changes that make things easier for itself but not necessarily for everyone else. The CEO of Google recently said of the company: ‘we understand what you want and can deliver it instantly’. Arguably, that ‘we’ is telling. Google knows what you want, but by implementing changes such as this, it makes it harder for webmasters and others to know exactly what people want.

This has a knock-on effect for keyword campaigns and other types of online marketing – and unless you are willing to pay Google for the information, it will continue to be difficult.

Google does a lot of good things, we can’t deny that. Its search engine services are excellent, its other services are mostly very good and it still provides good analysis tools for web designers and others to make use of. Plus, the balance between user privacy and the business of the web is always a hard one to get right. Perhaps these changes will work out for the best. However, in the short term at least, it does seem like things are going to be a little trickier for many webmasters.

By Chelsey Evans

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Web Design and Online Advertising an Evolving Relationship

Published on November 4, 2011
Tags: Web Design London, Mobile Application Development

One of the things that web designers often come under fire for is advertising. Many (probably most) sites these days feature advertising in some form: it can be a good source of revenue for businesses – including both the website on which the ad is displayed and the company displaying the ad, if it is done properly. However, web designers are sometimes criticised for the way these ads make the sites look – there’s an argument that ads make a site look messy and so detract from the overall design, no matter how well the website performs in other areas.

There is something in this argument, and any good web designer will tell you that there’s a fine line between advertising on a website being okay and it becoming overwhelming to the point where something needs to be done about it. But is it really the web designers fault at all?

After all, the counter argument would run that when a web design company creates a website, they are simply following the brief given to them by a client. If a client asks them to include space for advertising then this needs to be incorporated into the web design. Of course, the way it looks is still important as ads that look out of place or having too many of them can reduce their power and render them useless when compared with one or two well-placed, relevant ads on a page. But if a site relies heavily on advertising revenue and asks for this to be built into the design, there’s not always a huge amount of room to manoeuvre.

This is one of those debates where both sides have a point: some websites do look bad because they have so many ads on them, but many others are actually good examples of web design that successfully integrate valuable and useful ads into the site. It’s also a debate that is gradually becoming more prominent as the way we view the web changes.

We have discussed before about how smartphones, tablet computers and other devices are slowly starting to creep up on traditional web platforms such as PCs and laptops. This is changing lots of aspects of web design, from how you navigate sites (touchscreens versus mouse pointers, for instance) to the content you include on mobile websites (is it practical to simply copy the ‘regular’ website into mobile form?). Another aspect of web design it has an impact on is advertising.

Displaying ads on mobile sites doesn’t work in the same way as for laptops and desktops. Essentially, the screens are too small and so they can’t take the same amount of style or advertising. However, as more and more people start to use mobile web devices, the need to address this issue is growing as it seems unlikely the desire to generate revenue through online advertising is going to disappear.

Arguably, mobile websites provide interesting web design opportunities both in terms of their overall design and how they incorporate advertising. The specific challenges provided by the range of different operating systems and varying screen sizes means designers and developers have to be more inventive – and it’s possible to argue that this is working. For instance, take a look at some of the most popular apps, or tablet editions of newspapers. They’re changing the way they display information and making it appealing to the people who use these devices.

Developing specific and better mobile websites has the potential to make web designers, advertisers and companies think more carefully about the issue of advertising. It isn’t that hard to see why people find it so frustrating on traditional web platforms such as desktop computers; even now pop-ups have mostly disappeared, there is still a high concentration of ads on many sites.

Smaller screens and improving technology, though, means that mobile sites tend to include fewer ads overall – but the ones they do include are better targeted and, hopefully, of greater value to all concerned. It’s a development borne of necessity but one that’s sure to be welcomed as it continues. One good ad could potentially be worth a lot more than one hundred ill-placed ones. Decreasing need for multiple ads can also help to free up web design, leaving more room for innovation in design and bringing the focus back to content.

Overall, the issue of online advertising is one that’s set to stay. However, it seems that recent developments and the growing awareness of web users means that changes are coming – and with any luck, they’ll be changes for the better.

By Chelsey Evans

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Do Web Usage Trends Impact on Web Design?

Published on October 28, 2011
Tags: Web Design London, Internet Communication

Questions relating to human behaviour are always interesting and human behaviour in relation to the internet is no different. It’s always intriguing when surveys are released detailing how we tend to spend our time online – but what use do these surveys actually have? For most people, such things are largely for interest only; they provide a good snapshot of what is happening when and offer some entertainment (and possibly validation for our own internet habits).

But what about web designers? Can web usage trends have an impact on web design? Does knowing the percentage of people who use e-retail sites, for example, filter into ecommerce web design?

There isn’t really an easy answer to these questions, as the factors that impact on web design are numerous and so are not just based on how many people like to watch funny YouTube videos of cats (millions of them, if video viewing figures are anything to go by). Specific target audiences have to be kept in mind, as do the needs and wishes of businesses and others looking to start websites. Various regulations and rules have to be adhered to and the limits (and possibilities) of technology have to be explored.

So the issue isn’t simple, but arguably knowing how people like to use the internet can have some effect on certain aspects of website design. For instance, a 2004 survey found that people aged 18-29 were much more likely than people over 30 to use instant messaging services (59% compared to 33%). Information such as this can be used to influence the design of IM services: if you know that most of your users are aged under 30, it helps to focus your website design. Alternatively, it could inspire you to pitch your site design at an older, niche market.

Interestingly, the same study found that 65% of young internet users used the web to research new jobs, compared to 31% of older people. These figures are likely to be more equal now as more and more services move online, but they still provide an interesting insight into where people look for information – and could be useful if you were trying to decide how to pitch a new job vacancy website, for instance.

Of course, web usage trends are also interesting in their own right even without wondering how they might be able to help issues relating to web design. As an example, a 2011 US study found that 78% of adults (both men and women) use the internet. The study also found that people who earn more money are also more likely to be online: 96% of people with a household income over $75,000 had access to the internet as of May 2011, compared with 63% of those whose household income is less than $30,000. Young people were also more likely to be online (95%) than those aged over 65 (42%).

This also raises issues relating to the accessibility of the internet, as well as questions as to how people view it. For instance, are some people unable to use the internet because of how much it costs? Do younger people find it more relevant to their lives than older people?

Many studies have already been done on these important issues and many more are sure to be carried out in the future, but for now, let’s focus on changing web trends. In 2006, 2% of web users said that there was a video of them online. Fast forward to 2011 and that figure goes up to 10%. This also points us in the direction of other changes in web usage: social media is more popular now than it was five years ago and more businesses also have extensive online operations, both of which have helped contribute to the growth in videos online. The popularity of video sites such as YouTube also has a big part to play.

This suggests that there is a certain amount of responsiveness in the internet and web design; as trends emerge and start to become more prominent, they are developed further by designers and others keen to make the most of online potential. It also suggests that web users themselves are reactive and responsive to changes instigated by web design in the first place. After all, web habits can’t change and trends can’t start without someone creating them in the first place.

Overall then, web design and web trends are largely dependent on each other. They are both interesting to look at in their own right, but are arguably most useful – and most interesting – when seeing how they impact on each other and how one can spark a reaction in the other. As web usage continues to grow and evolve, it will be interesting to see the changes that come about as a result.

By Chelsey Evans

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The EU Consumer Rights Directive and Online Shopping

Published on October 21, 2011
Tags: Web Site Law, Internet Communication

Back in June, the EU Parliament passed something called the Consumer Rights Directive. This Directive has since been approved by a meeting of EU ministers and has now become law. Nations have got two years to comply with this new legislation – but what exactly is it?

As the name of it suggests, the Consumer Rights Directive is aimed at protecting consumer rights. It isn’t exclusive to online consumer activities, but this is one of the areas where it is set to have an impact. One of the main points of the directive is to stop websites from ‘pre-ticking’ boxes on online order forms, on the grounds that this can often lead to consumers signing up to things that they didn’t know they were signing up to. Web designers should take note, as there may be an obligation in the client-supplier relationship for the designer to give best advice on such matters.

One well-used example of this is company newsletters: you buy a product from an ecommerce website, but fail to notice the pre-ticked box agreeing to sign up to the online newsletter and future updates about the company and its products. Subsequently, you get inundated with advertising material you never wanted. Some pre-ticked boxes can even cost consumers money. The example given by the European Commission is the way the travel insurance box or an option for car rental will sometimes automatically be pre-ticked when customers are purchasing airline tickets.

Now all of this is going to have to stop, as pre-ticking boxes on order forms has been banned. Another aspect of the legislation is that it stops customers from being liable for charges they weren’t properly informed about when they made a purchase. They also get a fourteen day ‘cooling off’ period on purchases during which they can withdraw from their contract if they wish.

This isn’t the only thing the EU have done recently to try and protect consumers’ rights: the Privacy and Communications Directive does something similar in relation to internet advertising and online cookies, requiring users to give their consent before certain cookies can be used to stop sites from collecting so much information about them.

This brings us back to the eternal struggle between the rights of the consumer and the need for businesses to survive. It also brings us on to issues of implementation, something that is causing a bit of a headache in relation to the Privacy and Communications Directive, as countries have interpreted the legislation differently. But national interpretations and philosophical arguments aside, what does all of this mean for ecommerce websites? Will they be penalised by these recent EU directives?

On the one hand, you could argue that they are being penalised as the Privacy Directive makes collecting useful data more of a burden and the CRD stops them from taking action that may have bought in more business or helped them to get their message out to a larger number of people. However, protecting consumer rights is important and so these directives are largely positive. It also helps to make websites more honest as consumers will now have to specifically state whether or not they would like extra services rather than ending up with them regardless – something that the customers are sure to appreciate.

For example, in a recent press release, the EU details ten benefits of the new Consumer Rights Directive. The first of these benefits is that customers will be protected against ‘cost traps’ that trick them into paying for services online that ought to be free. Another benefit is that hidden charges and costs are not allowed, and consumers will have to confirm to say they understand the price they are being charged. This suggests that the only sites that will be losing out are those that probably shouldn’t be in business anyway.

Also, ecommerce is an area that is growing strongly, bucking the trend as many other areas of the economy continue to struggle. It doesn’t seem likely that these directives will stop this growth: after all, they strengthen the rights of the consumer, so if anything, they will help ecommerce even though online businesses might not like everything within the directives.

This is especially true in the UK. Figures from the IMRG tell us that the UK is the leading e-retail economy in Europe: if sales for 2011 stay on track, they’ll be worth €81billion by the end of the year.  Ecommerce is also growing at a rate of 18% per annum and more than 1 billion packages are shipped out across the UK as a result every year. It seems safe to say that a couple of Directives from the EU aren’t going to stop the online shopping juggernaut.

By Chelsey Evans

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5 Ideas for Integrating Social Media into your Web Design

Published on October 14, 2011
Tags: Web Design London

Everybody knows that social media is a great way for businesses to interact with their customers and help to add a ‘human’ dimension to their online operations. Done successfully, social media could even boost your business. However, get it wrong and you might end up doing more harm than good.

One important consideration is integrating your social media into your web design. Essentially, this means making it a part of your online operations and linking it in to your main website in a joined up, rather than fragmented, approach. Read on for five ideas for integrating social media into your website design.

Blog teasers on your home page

There are two main approaches to having a company blog. One is to include as part of your main website, such as by having a specific ‘blog’ tab alongside all your other website categories. Another approach is to have a separate blog with a separate domain. Generally speaking, the former approach is better from a search engine optimisation perspective.

But, whatever you decide to do, it can be a good idea to ‘tease’ your blog posts on the homepage of your website. For instance, if you have a ‘news’ section on your homepage, posting a small snippet of your latest blog post followed by a link to the main post so people can continue reading helps to make your site more interactive.

Also, some sites include a ‘latest updates’ section on the homepage of their web design: posting your latest blog titles and links there could be a good way of persuading people to read more.

Consider adding videos to your site

Another idea for integrating social media into your site is to add video content to certain pages. After all, it’s all very well having a company YouTube account, but if people can’t find your videos on your business’s website, it’s unlikely to have much of an impact.

For example, if you have a webpage dedicated to a certain product that you sell, an accompanying video demonstrating how that product works or videos including testimonies on that product could be useful. If you are interested in including videos on your website, you might like to talk to professional website developers to find out more about the best ways of doing this on your website, as the same solution won’t work for everyone.

Include social media buttons

As you might already have guessed, one of the main ways of integrating social media with your web design is to include social media buttons on your website. These are the buttons that allow people to visit your social media pages (such as on Facebook, Twitter or Google+) and also to share content that you have posted on your site. You can download a basic code sample to do this from www.addthis.com.

One thing to consider is the look of these social media buttons. The social networking sites themselves provide standard buttons that can be used on websites, but if you are trying to convey a particular image or sense of your brand, it can be a good idea to change how the buttons look so they fit in better with your web design. This is something a web design company will be able to help you with (such as by changing the colour of the buttons so they go with the rest of your design).

Consider additional content

As well as integrating your social networking content with your web design, there are other aspects you could consider. One example is the QR code. This is a relatively recent development that works a little bit like a barcode. These can be placed on websites and other forms of advertising, and they can be scanned by smartphones with cameras (and the right app).

These codes then take the person using the smartphone to a particular webpage on their phone: this could be a page offering more information about a product, a special offer, your social media page or a mobile version of your site. As more and more people start to use smartphones to browse the internet, it makes sense to start considering developments that could help you access the mobile internet market.

Keep it fresh

Finally, if you are serious about integrating your social media with your web design, you need to make sure you keep your social media fresh. Update your Twitter and Facebook accounts on a regular basis and make sure they’re full of appropriate, useful content that is relevant to your business. If your Twitter feed then updates on your website’s homepage as well, this helps to keep the content of your main site fresh, which in turn can help with your SEO strategy. This makes social media a useful tool for building your presence and engaging with customers, so it is definitely something worth thinking about.

By Chelsey Evans

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