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You are no doubt familiar with the G8, the group of rich nations that meet every once in a while to discuss potent world issues and try to come up with solutions to global problems. They’re meeting again this week and it’s fair to say they’ve got a lot to talk about: from the global economy to the current wave of revolutions taking place and the aid promises they made a few years ago, there’s plenty on the agenda. Perhaps that’s why a notable related event hasn’t had quite as much media coverage as it might otherwise have done.
That event is the eG8 forum, a kind of bolt-on to the main G8 summit that was designed to look at the issues posed by the internet and the role it plays in an increasingly interconnected world. It was opened on Tuesday 24th May in Paris by President Sarkozy and was set up as a two-day event, with some of the biggest players invited. From the big names such as Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) and Eric Schmidt (Google’s executive chairman) to other players in the information and communication industries, the people attending the forum are some of the most influential in the world when it comes to the internet.
The eG8 looked at the issue of ‘The Internet: Accelerating Growth’ and it’s fair to say it has opened up something of a debate. President Sarkozy used the opportunity to argue for increased internet regulations, suggesting that as the World Wide Web is a global phenomenon, it needs global rules. He made the argument that while the internet offers opportunities for ideas to be heard like never before, the internet should never be a replacement for democracy.
In his opening speech to the eG8, he said: "Total transparency has to be balanced by individual liberty. Do not forget that every anonymous internet user comes from a society and has a life."
The speech was timely: if you live in the UK, there is no way you can failed to have noticed the current furore surrounding superinjunctions and, in particular, the fact that most current injunctions apply mainly to the big broadcasters and newspapers with online forums such as Twitter either not being included or being badly policed when it comes to enforcing those privacy injunctions. This has allowed particular cases to be ‘broken’ through Twitter (we’re not naming any names to be on the safe side) and now high court judges are asking the social networking site for the details of users who have allegedly broken injunctions.
The whole issue feeds into the debate and privacy and the issue over what exactly counts as ‘the public interest’. There are arguments for and against introducing more regulations to the internet, but ‘the public interest’ and privacy are not the only issues raised by the internet and the discussions that were held at the eG8. They also looked at intellectual property, copyright and the protection of children online. In the ‘real’ world, these are all things that are governed by laws, made by governments and enforced by various agencies. On the internet, it’s much less clear cut. Arguments are made for ‘free speech’ over the rights of artists and others to be recognised for their intellectual content. Counterarguments are made that the digital age changes things, that we’re not operating on the same stage as 50, 20, 10 years ago.
It’s not easy to unpick. We’ve written elsewhere about the growing challenges posed by the internet and the minefield of deciding whether or not more regulations are necessary. One thing that does seem increasingly clear, however, is that any solution is going to need to be global or else it just won’t be practical. The internet exists largely outside borders and so to try and contain it within them doesn’t make a huge amount of practical sense.
The eG8 didn’t solve anything. It was more of a talking shop than anything else. It did, however stoke up the never-ending debate about what to do with the internet and all the issues it raises. Generally speaking, Europeans are said to be more in favour of regulating the internet than the Americans, perhaps reflecting the cultural and political traditions of their respective continents. Unless a proposal is generated that everyone can agree on, though, it seems unlikely that the division is going to be resolved any time soon.
You may have thought that wallets have always been ‘mobile’, but the concept of the mobile wallet has just reached the digital age. On 20th May 2011, the QuickTap system was launched. It’s the brainchild of Orange and Barclaycard, and the idea is that customers can pay for purchases under £15 using their mobile phone. Of course, in order to use the system, you have to have a special phone (a Samsung Tocco Lite) and be a customer of both Orange and Barclaycard. As long as you meet the criteria, however, you can make what are known as ‘contactless’ payments, which are supposed to make paying for your shopping much more efficient.
Whatever your thoughts on this development, it does raise an important issue – namely that of the growing trend for mobile internet devices. As of the end of 2010, there were an estimated 5 billion mobile phone contracts in the world (although we presume at least some of these were for phones sitting defunct in drawers and down the back of the sofa). Smartphones are now said to be outselling desktop computers and, increasingly, people are using those smartphones to access online services. Despite all this, there are still relatively few businesses that have developed specific websites for mobile devices. The tendency is still to think in terms of what we could call the ‘mainstream internet’ and not pay quite enough attention to the potentially huge mobile internet market.
Mobile marketing is something that businesses increasingly need to take note of. It’s said that in 2009 alone, mobile advertising revenues grew by 85%. With the introduction of the iPhone and increasingly sophisticated Android devices, it’s highly likely that the boom has grown even further since. So, if you run a business that is looking to develop its online strategy and make the most of popular technologies, what are some of the things you should be thinking about in terms of mobile phones?
Mobile websites. Somewhat obviously, mobile websites are one of the biggest issues to consider. As more people use their internet-capable smartphones to access the internet on a daily basis, it’s more important than ever before that they can access your site from their phone. After all, if they are looking to use their phone to buy some clothes online and have the choice between using a site that’s been especially designed for mobile phones and one that hasn’t, they’re more than likely to go for the tailored site. Regular websites tend not to display properly on mobile phones due to the smaller screen size, making them hard – if not impossible – to use. You can still keep the basic design of your site for the mobile version, but it would definitely be useful to talk to a specialist web designer to work out how it can be adapted.
Smartphone apps. You will no doubt be aware of the vast array of apps you can now get for smartphones. Arguably, Apple has cornered the market in this respect, but Android and BlackBerry also make use of mobile apps. Increasingly, businesses are designing their own apps that their customers can download and use on the go. Some of these apps are for entertainment only, while others offer services that customers might find valuable. For example, Tesco has a shopping app that allows you to do your weekly shop from your phone. You can get satnav apps to help you find your way to places and others that allow you to access services from certain businesses. There are issues to consider in terms of pricing (that is to say, whether you intend to charge for your app or not), but it is an increasingly popular option and a potentially good marketing move for businesses.
Social media. One of the biggest uses of mobile internet relates to social media. Lots of people access their Facebook and Twitter accounts from their phones, so this could be a good chance for businesses to develop their marketing and engage with their customers. Any business that doesn’t have social networking accounts is missing out, so this is definitely an issue worth considering more generally as well as in relation to mobile marketing.
Location capabilities. We wrote a couple of weeks ago about how businesses can utilise local search during the London Olympics next year. This is an important aspect of mobile internet as it offers opportunities for companies to not only strengthen their current business but also seek new business. Local search often links to social media, as it allows people to ‘check in’ to places using the social networking accounts on their phones. When they check in, they can then often receive rewards such as money off vouchers and, in return, you benefit from their business.
Overall, mobile internet services are set to become more important over the coming months and years. For now, businesses aren’t penalised too much for not making use of the capabilities, but as more and more companies do catch on and start using mobile marketing, it will become more important that others follow or else risk being left behind. With so many options and potential for good results, it certainly makes sense to make the most of this growing trend.
For a free quotation on Mobile Application Development, contact us today.
A while ago, we wrote a couple of posts on what is known as the Google Panda (or Farmer) update. For the uninitiated, this was an algorithm update released by Google that was designed to improve the search engine rankings of good quality sites by weeding out sites considered to be low quality so they couldn’t reach the top of the rankings just by being good at SEO. Naturally, websites that are filled with good content don’t have anything to worry about from this update or any of the others that Google has released since. Low quality sites, though, have been affected.
This is great news for web users as it means they are more likely to find what they are searching for on the internet and they can trust search results more, but what about those websites that try really hard to get it right but still fall foul of closely guarded search algorithms? Just as some chefs refuse to give out details about their best-loved recipes, search engine giants such as Google look after their algorithms just as closely. This obviously makes good business sense for them, but if you are the owner of a website that has been affected by the Panda update despite your best efforts, it would be helpful to know where you’re going wrong.
So, when it comes to building high quality websites that will help you to do well in search engine rankings, what do you need to consider?
According to Google and almost any other internet authority, a lot of it is to do with trust. People need to be able to trust your website and the content on it. This doesn’t just mean keeping it free of bugs and viruses, but also developing your site to be a good authority on the topic about which you are writing. For example, what qualifies you to write about a particular subject? Does that come across in the content you write? Those sites that feature ‘shallow’ content tend to be the ones most affected by Google Panda and other algorithm updates, so even if you are expert at SEO and keyword placement, you need to make sure what you write actually says something, too. You can read more about site content in our previous article 'Unique Content: Why Site Text is THE Most Important of SEO Tips'.
In a recent blog post on their updates, Google asks a question that encapsulates the essence of this well: ‘Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?’ This is not just important for e-commerce sites but for all sites as it relates to a wider issue about trust and image perception. When people use a company’s website, they are buying into the business as a whole and so it’s important that the online face of the company comes across well. As well as making sure all your articles are factually correct, have good grammar and are relevant to what you do, they also need to be relevant to your brand.
All companies have a brand image – some spend more time on it than others, but they all have one and so you need to keep this in mind when looking to develop a high quality website. Do your web design and the style of your web content reflect your wider image? If someone reads your website, would they easily be able to associate it with the way they know your company offline? These might seem like philosophical questions with no straightforward answer, but they are definitely worth considering when it comes to creating your website.
Keeping all of these things in mind, here a few tips that might help you in building high quality websites and improving your search engine rankings:
Think about the big picture. This is also advice that Google offers in the blog post mentioned above and it makes sense. A lot of attention has been given to the Google Panda update – with good reason – but it is not the only algorithm update and nor is Google the only search engine. Think holistically about your website to see if it is meeting its aims and whether it provides a good experience for web users.
Don’t forget the details. The overall impression given by your website is really important, but the individual pages matter, too. The content on all of your web pages needs to be relevant and of a high standard. If it isn’t, then this can have a negative impact on your search rankings even if most of your site is really good. One bad page can also change how web users see your site, so it’s worth spending some time going through the website to make sure everything is of a high standard. Ask yourself questions: if you were looking for information on a specific topic, would your webpage give you the answers you were looking for? If not, it might be time to think again.
Write for your web users. We’ve said this in previous articles, but it’s worth saying again: you need to write your website for the people who will be using it, not the search engine algorithms. Write for your audience and you’ll most likely do well in Google rankings anyway because your focus will be in the right place.
Learn from your competition. Look at other websites to see what works and what doesn’t. What would inspire you to share a webpage with a friend? Are there any sites you find really inspiring? Are there any you think are dreadful? Why? How can you make your site better? In websites as in face-to-face business: the need for innovative, high quality work matters on the internet just as much as it does elsewhere.
We’ve been saying for as long as we remember; nothing is more important than the content on your web site. You can build links galore and undertake all manner of search engine strategies, but without good-quality content, any gains you make in search engine positions will be short-lived.
The issue of content came into focus again in 2010 and is set to intensify throughout 2011. Of course, to begin with your site must have content, but what constitutes ‘content’ as far as the search engines are concerned? There are two factors you should consider; content should be:
If you run a web site that sells cleaning products, why would you then include links to your favourite personal sites or just have images of the products with no text? We’ve come across all types of sites in the past with clients wondering why they don’t get ranking and this is just an example of something that really has happened!
First, a page without text is practically blank to the search engines (the same, to a degree, can still be said of Flash-generated pages too). To the search engines, an image is just a picture. Certainly, some very clever image recognition software might be able to work out what the image is about, but that’s not going to rank you very well even if it were being used. Much better is to lay the ‘food’ out in front of the search engines in a way that’s easy for them to see and easy for them to understand. And that means using text – plain and simple.
Whilst there is no minimum length for the text on a web page, bear in mind that the more text you add, the more you can create a relevant page of information with both your keywords and synonyms of your keywords. If your page has just 10 words, creating relevance would be hard work. Our recommendation is that for each page you want the search engines to find, work to a minimum of 300 or so words.
And that includes the home page. True, if you’re a large, established corporation you don’t need to worry too much about text on your home page as you’ll be able to build relevance in other ways, but the majority of sites aren’t at that level. That means you’re competing in a crowded arena, and with your home page being the main page the search engines use to understand the relevance of your whole site, if you don’t have text on this page then you are missing the best opportunity you have. We have worked with many clients where they want to keep the home page clean and pretty, but then wonder why optimisation efforts are slow (or fail) to bear results.
So, don’t be shy and work that content. But, don’t just write for the search engines. Getting the site visible on the search engines is one thing, but don’t forget that when real people reach the site you’ll want them to do something – and that means having content that sells. If you’re not expert at writing site content, consider hiring one – that little bit of extra expense could easily make the difference between having a lot of visitors and no sales, and having a lot of visitors and a lot of sales. It also justifies the return on investment on your search engine optimisation activities. Make sure though that any content writer you employ really does create unique content (copy and paste a sentence into Google with quote marks around it, and this will quickly identify if it’s unique) as there are some less scrupulous ‘copywriters’ out there.
Another top tip is to work on short easy-to-read sentences. This is for two reasons; first, the search engine’s indexers will find it easier and faster to understand the relevance, and that may mean faster position improvements and second, in the global world we live where automated translation is frequently used (Google Translate being just one), shorter sentences translate better. For a potential customer who doesn’t speak your site’s language as their first language, they might run it through an automated translation engine and the shorter the sentences, the better it will read for them, and the more chances you have of making that all-important sale.
Try to keep each page focussed to one or two topics at most, and create as many pages as you need to cover the relevant parts of your business. Don’t cram the 10 services you offer onto one page, rather create 10 separate page, with each discussing each service in more detail. That way, the search engines will be able to build individual relevance for each service you offer.
Finally, keep in mind the relevance of the whole site. As mentioned at the top of this article, don’t start adding information that has no relevance to what your site is about. Be focussed on creating two levels of relevance. The overall focus is what is the site about, who is it aimed at and what do you want site visitors to do when they get there? The second, level is what an individual page is about, who is it aimed at, and does it fit into the overall site relevance scope. If the answer to the whether if fits into the overall scope is no, then remove the page.
Google defines duplicate content as:
… substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.
Hopefully you'll know (but in case you don't) - duplicated content causes ranking problems. But, more recently a Google employee released a little more information on what it could consider to be ‘appreciably similar’.
In a recent webmaster query response, the employee responded to a question about duplicate content. In the response, the employee went on to state that although the wording of the site in question was not exactly a duplicate of another site, there were strong similarities. The two phrases in question were:
“The Prince serenaded Leighton Meester during his concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (Jan. 18).”
“Leighton Meester gets serenaded by the legendary Prince during his sold-out concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (January 18).”
The Google employee noted the similar phrases “serenaded”, “New York City’s Madison Square Garden”, and “Tuesday night (Jan[uary] 18)”.
Whilst the response discusses other similarities, such as linking to images from the same third party site not related to either page in question, this does raise a question about how Google’s semantics engine is working.
If, indeed, Google can see the phrases above as being ‘appreciably similar’ then it becomes all the more important not simply to take another’s content and adjust it, but to re-write completely. That is, creating your own content with your own words.
And that is ultimately what the search engines want; content that is going to be unique and meaningful to a user. If two sites have effectively the same content but just presented with slightly different wording it is going to make a judgement on which to rank well and which is piggy-backing off the original version. If two sites have entirely unique content, even if on the same topic, then each will be judged and deemed for their respective merits.
We should also take note of Google’s use of ‘blocks of content’ in the definition of duplicate content. This means you might feel okay reusing a few sentences or paragraphs here or there from a web site to boost your own content (we won’t go into the copyright issues that can create here!) but bear in mind that the search engines’ semantics engines are probably sufficiently refined enough now to be able to detect much more that you might think they can spot.
This came into focus again with a recent blog posting by Matt Cutts from Google where he discussed webspam – the junk that appears in the web results. Matt highlighted that in 2010 there were two algorithm releases to reduce the effectiveness of sites with ‘shallow or low quality content’. But, the same article referenced that this is something of a work-in-progress and further updates will appear - particularly in 2011 with:
“…one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content”
As we now know, this major change has so far come in the form of the Google Panda / Farmer in March / April 2011. So, if you haven’t reviewed your site content for uniqueness, relevance and depth recently, now would be a very good time to do so to ensure that whenever the next algorithm changes come along, you can rest assured that your site will pass with flying colours.
In closing, Google recently released a blog posting that gives a lot more guidance on content and structure preparation for your site. If you haven't seen it already, we strongly recommend reading More guidance on building high quality sites.
The internet is often seen as something of a dichotomy. On one level, it is a vast global tool that transcends governments and borders. On another level, it is extremely local and is sometimes said to have helped bring the world closer together. It is this local facet to the internet that we will be exploring this week. More specifically, we will be looking at the growth of local search tools and how businesses can benefit from them, particularly in relation events such as the London Olympics 2012.
What is local search?
At its most basic level, local search allows web users to place geographic restrictions on their search terms. For example, if you were searching for a restaurant, you wouldn’t just type the term ‘restaurant’ into Google because you’d end up with results that weren’t useful to you. Instead, you’d specify where you would like your restaurant to be, such as ‘London restaurants’ or, in the case of our Olympics example, ‘London restaurants close to the Olympic stadium’. The effect is to constrain the search so web users receive more accurately tailored results that are more likely to be relevant to them.
As well as aiding search terms, local search has also recently expanded into social networking. For example, Facebook has recently adopted a feature called ‘Places’ that allows you to ‘check in’ to locations and name people you are with. There are also services such as FourSquare, which also allows you to ‘check in’ and give recommendations of places for people to visit.
Similarly, Google also offers a Places service, with optional mobile search results tailored to the exact location of the mobile phone conducting the search. This type of service, tied in with apps for iPhone and Android such as AroundMe create a new level of experience for the Internet user to locate information close to the spot where they are actually standing. So, if they are standing right outside a main Olympic venue, being able to find restaurants or bars close by, particularly ones that are reviewed and recommended, provides an invaluable modern-day tourist guide feel to the best places to eat and drink.
Increasingly, businesses are starting to pick up on the potential for local search features such as those offered by Facebook, Google and AroundMe and they are now promoting special offers and discounts for people who ‘check in’ to their locations. Further Smartphone apps are being developed to allow people to use these features on the move and to identify local offers by doing a quick search on their phone. They then benefit from money off and other promotions at their favourite retailers, while the businesses benefit from having people checking in to their locations and making use of their services.
These kinds of tools makes it invaluable and impossible for businesses to ignore, although to build up an optimised local business marketing campaign takes time and a lot of expertise. So to be ready for the games next summer, you should really be considering making a start now.
How can this help businesses during the Olympics?
It has been almost impossible to miss the fact that the Olympics are coming to the UK in 2012, even for us as web designers, London. The prime beneficiary of this will be London as this is where the Games are based, but with athlete training facilities across the country and some of the events taking place in other locations, there is potential for businesses right across the country to benefit. More people will be coming to the country during the Olympics, which is in itself good for business, but it’s also possible for companies to significantly enhance those benefits by making use of local search.
Probably the main way of doing this is to set up your business with local search services like Facebook, FourSquare and Google so that web users who make use of those facilities will be able to easily find you. With so many tourists in the country for the Olympics, they will all be looking for specific services and you will have more chance of being located if you are featured on one of these increasingly popular apps.
You can then add specials and offers to your features to entice people to use your services. After all, if someone has the option at eating at a restaurant that’s offering a 20% discount for new customers and one that’s offering no discount, they’re most likely to go for the one with the discount. You will still benefit as it is business you wouldn’t have otherwise received and, if you deliver on your promise of a quality service, that customer is likely to bring you repeat business.
It might be tempting to focus solely on new customers during the Olympics, but it’s important to remember your regular customers, too. It’s highly likely that they’ll still be trying to use your business even while the city is bustling with tourists, so you can help win their loyalty and compensate them for any inconvenience by offering discounts to your regular customers, as well.
You should also consider customer satisfaction seriously. Most location-based services also now carry an element of user reviews. And a significant amount of research has been done to clearly indicate that Internet users will now trust third party reviews almost as much as a review from friends and family. That’s powerful – it really means that if you pick up bad reviews, no amount of local search optimisation or offers are going to entice people through your doors. You have to treat them well while they’re there to be absolutely sure you get the reviews you deserve, and so future clients too.
Is this sustainable?
While we have been focusing on the London Olympics, local search also has long term benefits. More and more people are using ‘check in’ facilities on their mobile phones and, while people might once have searched for businesses in the Yellow Pages, they are now increasingly using local search capabilities. They can offer you a good way of getting ‘word of mouth’ recommendations and promoting your company to people who may not otherwise have been able to find it.
In brief, local search can help you to promote your business and also to attract new customers. As well as being good for new business, however, it can also help you to maintain your regular customers through offering them exclusive discounts and promotions in return for their continued loyalty. Local search may still be a relatively new market, but it’s certainly a growing one, and certainly something that’s here to stay. Google’s priority particularly for 2011 is local, so if you haven’t already considered it – now is the time to do so.
If you would like expert advice and a free no obligation discussion about promoting your business through local channels, please contact us today.
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