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Digital Economy Act 2010: The Internet and the Creative Industries

Published on April 25, 2011
Tags: Web Site Law

A few days ago, Justice Kenneth Parker ruled against an appeal bought by internet service providers BT and TalkTalk over a case involving the Digital Economy Act 2010. The ISPs argued that the Act was incompatible with EU law as it, among other things, stipulated that people who download online content illegally can have their accounts suspended.

The Act has been controversial since it came in, but Justice Parker ruled in its favour and most components of it are now being implemented. The thinking behind this particular case is that illegal downloads – of music, films, TV shows, books and so on – damages the creative industries and violates rights relating to copyright and intellectual property. The ISPs tried to argue that web users have the right of free expression, but this was rejected in favour of protecting industries that have already been damaged by the extent of online privacy.

Without getting into a debate on net neutrality and whether web users' 'freedom of access to information’ is more important than the protection of creative content, this is arguably a growing problem with the internet. Lots of people download content illegally and expect to be able to obtain such information for free, which is a huge issue in creative circles. After all, creative content – no matter what it is – costs money to produce and so, especially when so many of these industries are already struggling, to then have so many people obtaining content for free through often less than legal means is massively damaging.

This issue is also highlighted by another recent case, this time involving Google. You may be aware that Google wants to create the world’s biggest online library and eBook store. The publishing industry has been dreading the possibility of this for quite some time: for a while, it seemed inevitable that Google would win the right to continue with pursuing this goal and the already struggling publishing industry would suffer even more. To a lot of people’s surprise, though, on 22nd March 2011, a US federal judge ruled against Google and announced that the Google Book Settlement would have given the company a ‘de facto monopoly’ and that it wouldn’t be allowed. 

One of the big issues here is copyright. Setting up such an online library would involve Google copying books that are still within copyright and therefore still owned by someone else. The Google Book Settlement also made it so that it was up to publishers to find out whether their books had been copied and raise it with Google, rather than the other way around, which was also considered to be a major issue with the proposals. It would also have given Google a stake in future proceeds, among other things, which would have created the ‘de facto monopoly’ that was ruled against by the US judge.

Google said that the purpose of the Book Settlement was to open up access to books that currently might not be available to everyone, including out of print books. The issue, though, is that when some books are out of print in some countries but not in others, and when some books are censored in some countries and not in others, it raises international issues that are the preserve of the government, not a private company. Needless to say, the publishing industry was relieved by the ruling of the judge, but Google is still estimated to be in possession of 12-15 million copied books, which, under current rulings, have been copied illegally.

Both of these examples show the conflict between the creative industries and the internet. They also show that, while when we think of online piracy and illegal downloading we immediately think of individual web users, they are not the only ones involved. The explosion of the internet and other digital platforms may have made it much easier for the creative industries to get their material out there and seen by more people, but it has also made it much more vulnerable to exploitation at all levels.

A lot of this is down to the freedom of the web. In many ways one of its biggest selling points, it also has the potential to create conflicts, especially when internet self-regulation is held in such high regard. It works to protect itself, which is admirable, but in doing so it poses real world problems that increasingly require action from governments and judiciaries.

The internet has, for a long time, been in something of a world of its own. Now it is coming to maturity, however, and as the above examples illustrate, it is starting to come to the fore in the real world and it’s posing issues that definitely need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Whatever your opinion of both these cases and your opinion more generally on online content, it seems safe to say that this issue isn’t going to go away any time soon.

By Chelsey Evans

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Successful Online Marketing: 10 Free Tips

Published on April 15, 2011
Tags: SEO

Last week, we bought you a blog post on some top tips for building an ecommerce site. This week, we thought we’d look at online marketing. After all, this is an increasingly important area of business as more and more people look to the internet to find information, research companies and conduct their personal business. So, if you own a business and are thinking about running an online marketing campaign, what are the most important things to think about?

1. Have a good website

Before you even think about developing specific campaigns, you need to make sure you have a good online base. As one of our clients once told us ‘if you turned up to a meeting in a shabby or homemade suit, how could you expect to be taken seriously’. This means it’s really important that your website is of top quality, is informative, easy to navigate and appeals directly to your potential customer base. All of this is something a good web designer will be able to help you achieve and it will lend your online operations a feeling of quality, which your customers and clients will value and trust.

2. Have a blog

Having a company blog is important for online marketing as this can be a good way of promoting your message, particularly to your core audience who are more likely to read your blog on a regular basis. As well as your own blog to promote campaigns, you can link with other blogs or even pay for others to write blog posts for you to get your message heard all over the web. This is important, particularly if you are trying to promote a particular product or service, as people often look at third party websites to read reviews and check that you actually do what you say you do. A few well-tailored blog posts, with important keywords targeted, will help you to achieve this.

If you link your blog post with your social media and search engine optimisation efforts, you can find that your site will take off in ways you’d never expected, reaching new readers and potential clients effortlessly.

3. Use social media

Social media is another growing online trend and offers a good way of disseminating your message to a wide audience, particularly if you are hoping to engage young people or a specific section of the online market. Remember, though, that social media isn’t just about the obvious things such as Facebook pages and Twitter; you should also look for industry-specific forums where you can target your marketing to a particular audience. Other countries might also have local social media sites, which would definitely be worth tapping into.

4. Tailor content to your audience

As with so many things online, content is really important as this is one of the main ways of selling your online marketing campaign. Think carefully about who your audience is and the best way to engage them. Do you need to split your campaign into strands and produce different content for different groups, or are you just targeting one key group?

5. Search engine optimisation

You also need to make sure your online marketing campaign can be easily found on the internet. This means thinking about the key search terms that relate to your marketing and promoting them in articles and blog posts. If you post marketing material on other forums or blogs, make sure they have links back to your website as this is not only good for offering people more information, but links are also important for SEO.

6. Network with other companies

Networking is also important. Identify companies who might be able to help you promote your online campaign. For example, if you have any partnerships with other businesses, they might be able to write you a blog post or include a link on their website that links back to your site, getting your message out there and into new networks.

7. Build your customer contacts

Of course, your customers or clients (current and potential) are the ones you are hoping to market your campaign to, so it helps to make your contact base as wide as you can. Do you have an email newsletter to update your customers with news and information? If not, this might be something you could consider to build your list of contacts and maximise the chances of your marketing being a success.

8. Have a hook

Whenever you’re marketing anything, whether online or offline, you need to make sure you have a hook. Why should people care about your campaign? What’s your selling point? How are you going to draw people in? One way of doing this is with promotional material and perhaps a specific graphic or logo that people can identify with your campaign. This is something a web designer will be able to help you with and you can use it as a base to build an interesting, innovative campaign.

9. Analyse results

Once your campaign is underway, you need to analyse the results to make sure it’s working. Consider using software such as Google Analytics to work out how many people have viewed your campaign, how they found it, how long they spend reading about it and so on. This will give you a good idea of how successful it is and whether you need to make any changes.

10. Make changes and be flexible

Finally, if your analysis tells you that something isn’t quite working, do something about it. Use the information you’ve learnt to build on what you’ve got and make your campaign, bigger, better targeted and more accessible. While you should never stray from your core message, constant updating and revision will help keep your content fresh and relevant and maximise your chances of achieving the results you want.

By Chelsey Evans

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10 Tips for Building a Good Ecommerce Site

Published on April 8, 2011
Tags: Web Design London

An ecommerce website is a really good way of managing a business’s online operations and, if it’s done properly, it can boost trade, make your business more efficient, and bring more customers your way. For the uninitiated, an ecommerce site is one that allows things to be bought – displaying products and accepting payments (Amazon is probably the most famous example of this). Read on for 10 of our top tips on building a good ecommerce site.

1. Sort out your web hosting

As with any website, when you’re building an ecommerce site, you need to have web hosting. If you are employing a web designer to build your site for you, this is more than likely something they will be able to sort out on your behalf. It ensures that your site will actually be there to view when people search for it and stores all of your content. Make sure your hosting is in the country where you intend to do the most business, and try to use a domain name that has the country’s extension too (for example, .co.uk for a UK-focussed site). You should also make sure the hosting is fast and reliable (at least 99.98% uptime on a regular basis), and you can check this using sites such as Web Page Test and Web Hosting Stuff.

2. Get a good web design

If you are trying to sell something through an ecommerce site, then your site needs to appear worthy and trusted enough for people to part with their money. This means spending time getting the perfect site design, one that reflects quality, trustworthiness and your brand. Again, this is something a good web designer will be ideal for helping you with, as they know what works and what doesn’t and will be able to capture your vision in a quality design. Whatever you do, unless you’re already a really good designer don’t try this at home! Internet consumers are highly experienced now and can spot the difference between a company that’s invested in their web site with a professional design and build, and one that hasn’t. And good design conveys a far higher level of trust in a company than one that has poor design.

3. Make sure the site is easy to navigate

You also need to make sure it’s easy to get around your site; if you’re trying to encourage people to buy things from you, then they need to be able to do it with a few clicks of the mouse. If you’re building a large site, then you could incorporate a search engine to make it easier for web users to navigate, but no matter what sort of site you’re building, all the pertinent information needs to be accessible within a couple of clicks from the home page with the ability to move around the site without having to use the Back button on the browser.

4. Focus on your target market

Your target market is where a lot of your business is going to be coming from, so making sure your ecommerce site caters to them is vital. It’s a good idea to talk to your web site developer about the type of people you’re hoping to target with your site, so their needs and preferences can be built into the website design. Whatever you do, don’t try and build a ‘one size fits all’ site; first focus in on a specific market and build the design and navigation to that market’s requirements then if that’s successful, look to expand your brand and offering.

5. Find the right shopping cart software

Obviously, with an ecommerce site, the ‘commerce’ part is extremely important. You need to integrate shopping cart software into the site early on. This works to process orders, issue invoices, and calculate VAT. There are several off the shelf packages to choose from although they do cater for all needs so can sometimes be unwieldy and difficult to manage. Some are also not suitable for gaining good search engine positions. Additionally, if you’ve got specific requirements for your product display or checkout process, you may find that they are lacking or too inflexible to cater for your needs. That’s where a custom ecommerce site comes in to fill the gap where off-the-shelf online stores cannot work as you need them to.

6. Know how your payments work

Linked to your shopping cart software is the matter of payments. The focus and size of your website will probably play a part in how you handle payments received through your site, but you need to have an understanding of how it all works no matter what type of site you’re building. There are two basic concepts; an online payment provider that integrates direct with the site such as PayPal or Google Checkout or a bank and payment gateway arrangement where the bank provide you with a merchant number, this is integrated with payment gateway system, that in turn integrates with the web site. The most common UK system right now for this approach is SagePay (linked to any bank’s merchant number), followed by Barclays ePDQ (naturally, linked to a Barclays merchant number). Each of the two approaches comes with different costs which will be dependant on your business model, so it is worthwhile investigating both routes to decide which is most appropriate for you.

7. Write appropriate, catchy content

As with any website, it’s important that your ecommerce site is populated with appropriate, catchy content, as it is this that will help to sell your products and bring in businesses. Remember that you are writing for the web so you should also consider search engine optimisation when writing content in order to maximise your chances of ranking highly in search engine results. Bear in mind that Google doesn’t like lack of content or repetition, so if you simply use short product descriptions or copy description from other sites, such as the manufacturers’ sites, you are unlikely to do well on Google. Unique content of at least a couple of hundred words per product is the ideal.

8. Know how to market online

Linked to the point above is knowing how to market your ecommerce site online. SEO (search engine optimisation) plays a big part in this, so think carefully about the keywords you want to promote in each article or blog post, and on each product and information page. You also need to think about how you intend to attract business to your site, particularly from beyond your target group. You could, for instance, think about affiliate programmes, linking with blogs and developing your social media presence to disseminate your message, or possibly looking at paid advertising such as Google AdWords pay-per-click marketing. All of this is part of building a strong, identifiable, trustworthy brand that consumers instantly associate with you and your business.

9. Expand your networks

In order for your ecommerce site to be a success, you need to know how it fits into the wider market. Before you begin building the site, research your competition and investigate how they do things. Think about what works well and what you’d like to change, as well as where your site could fit into existing services. It can also be a good idea to network with other sites, as suggested above, in order to boost your publicity and, hopefully, your traffic.

10. Grow your business

Finally, when you’re building your ecommerce site, it’s not quite enough to think about where your business is at present; you also need to think about where you want to go in the future. Your ecommerce site is something that you should build into your wider business plan so that it can be expanded upon and developed as time goes by. Having a vision for your site is important, as this can make all the difference between a growing, dynamic website and one that just stays still.

By Chelsey Evans

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How Should Web Designers Manage Outdated Web Browser Technology?

Published on March 31, 2011
Tags: Internet Communication

For the last couple of weeks, we have written about improvements to online technology (the Google Farmer update and the Chrome Personal Blocklist) that have the potential to increase the performance of users’ internet experience. This week, however, our attention turns to the issue of outdated technology, which has the potential to have just as big an impact on the internet, but this time for all the wrong reasons.

One of the most obvious examples here is Internet Explorer 6. This is the web browsing system that Microsoft released back in 2001, when Windows XP was just starting to make waves. The IE6 browser was somewhat problematic from the start; it didn’t properly comply with the web standards of the day and it prevented computers using non-Windows operating systems from displaying sites correctly. As this was in the days before Apple became such a big name, Microsoft was the dominant force in desktop computing and so IE6 was the most used web browser, making it almost impossible for other systems to compete.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the flaws of IE6 were one of the issues that led to a restructuring of web standards. This led to increased competition, most notably from Apple’s Safari browser and Mozilla Firefox and so Microsoft had to act to make its web browsers more compatible with other’s operating systems. Eventually, IE7, IE8 and now IE9 were created, ironing out many of the compatibility issues from IE6 and helping to make the web browser experience more dynamic and competitive than ever before.

This increase in competition has generally been positive: with more players on the field, they now all compete with each other to produce the fastest loading web pages, the fastest downloads, and the most comprehensive experience. This is great for web designers as it means their creations are much more likely to end up looking exactly as they intended, no matter which operating system or browser is used to display them.

However, IE6 still refuses to die. Even though in Europe, America, Brazil, Russia and New Zealand less than 4% of web users have IE6 as their browser, it still accounts for 12% of users across the world. This causes massive problems for web designers, particularly in Asia where IE6 is still heavily used, as it prevents their designs from displaying properly and affects the quality of the online experience for users. It means that designers not only have to create their sites to make the most of new technology, but they also have to cater for the sizeable number of people using outmoded browser systems. It also means that Microsoft loses advertising revenue whenever people search on IE6, for complicated reasons involving default search engine settings, which are different on IE6 to later browsers.

It isn’t just IE6 and other outdated web browsers that have the potential to cause problems, either. In this age of search engine optimisation, the speed at which a web page loads is also really important. This can involve a delicate balancing act of coding, Flash capabilities and other multimedia in order to accommodate the whole of the market: while many people now have high-speed broadband, others still use dial up connections while others use mobile internet with varying speeds. Web designers always have to be conscious of this as it is important websites reach the maximum number of web users as easily as possible, but there is also a dilemma that unfurls here.

How long should you accommodate slower and older technologies before moving on and leaving them behind? It’s a tricky issue as, even though the web design industry moves fairly quickly, the ordinary web user isn’t always quite so fast for any number of reasons. This could be because of the affordability (or lack thereof) of new technology, outdated laws restricting their access, speed of the internet connection to download newer versions, or any number of other things. If you are a web designer or company and a significant proportion of your online base is still using slow connections or old browsers, you risk alienating them if you move on from that technology too soon.

The flipside of the argument is that unless website designers move on and take up new technology when it arises, people will have less of an incentive to move on with it. They have less of a need to upgrade their systems if the old ones are still being supported. So a line needs to be drawn in order to strike the right balance between old and new, progress and accommodation.

The hard part is deciding where that line needs to be in the first place.

By Chelsey Evans

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The Chrome Personal Blocklist - What If We All Block Google?

Published on March 29, 2011
Tags: SEO

We wrote last week about the Google Farmer / Panda update; changes to the Google search algorithm that’s had an impact on around 12% of searches since it was launched in the United States, lowering the rankings of low quality sites and ‘content farms’. First analyses show that the Farmer update has been largely successful, with improved search results and the impact falling where it was intended to.

This is all great and it bodes well for when the update is rolled out in the UK and across the rest of the world over the coming weeks and months. One issue, though, has made us think a little bit and has got us wondering what might happen if some, shall we say, ‘unintended consequences’ occurred as a result.

That issue is the Google Chrome Personal Blocklist. You are no doubt aware that Chrome is Google’s web browser, launched to challenge the likes of Internet Explorer and Firefox. The Personal Blocklist is a recently introduced enhancement to Chrome, which allows users to download some software that then, as the name suggests, lets them block certain websites from appearing in their Google search results. So, if they were to do a web search through Google but the top results turned out to be low quality sites such as content farms, they could then block those sites so they wouldn’t appear in their search results again. Any blocked sites are also sent to Google for analysis, and Google admits they may be used as a ranking signal in the future.

On the face of it, this is a really useful tool and it seems to be working well so far. Google says that people have benefitted from better search results, which really should be the ultimate aim. 

Another thing to note is that the sites most affected by the Personal Blocklist are largely the same sites that have been impacted by the Farmer update.

Google says that it didn’t use Personal Blocklist data to inform the Google Farmer / Panda update and they can most likely be trusted on this – the Blocklist hadn’t been around long enough to be incorporated into the Farmer update and is still in an experimental stage. So it does appear to be a coincidence that backs up the success of the Farmer update, which seems to have been based around analysis of user click data and web content quality (such as sentence structure and keyword placement). If both web users and Google are coming to the same conclusions about websites, then something must be going right.

But some evidence still shows that those sites most commonly featured on Blocklists then fell down the Google rankings as a result. So, we were wondering… what if everyone decided to block Google? Admittedly, this is a far-fetched possibility and would never actually happen as it would be foolish to abandon one of the best and most extensive search engines out there. But if everyone did do it, what would happen??

  • Scenario 1: Nothing at all. But, it’d give the Google engineers something to smile about in seeing their technology in action.

  • Scenario 2: On a personal level, searching for Google on Google wouldn’t show any results. But, on a global level things carry on as normal.

  • Scenario 3: On a personal level, searching for Google on Google wouldn’t show any results, and on a global level Google’s Page Rank is reduced algorithmically and it receives a +100 positions penalty (we bet there’s about 12% of US web sites right now wishing this was the case!).

  • Scenario 4: You can’t access Google via Chrome at all.

  • Scenario 5: Google sulks decides it doesn’t like people anymore, and targets the primate market instead. After all, according to the Infinite Monkey Theorem give enough monkeys typewriters and they’ll reproduce a work of Shakespeare, so give enough monkeys access to Google and who knows what our genetically close cousins could come up with…. so Google Monkeys anyone? (Please Matt Cutts of Google – can the next update be codenamed Google Monkeys – after all we’ve just had Pandas!)

OK, so we’re speaking in jest here, but it does raise a real point: should you just block websites because they’re low quality, or for other reasons too? For instance, should people take a moral stand against certain companies by blocking their sites through Chrome’s Personal Blocklist and punishing them through reduced search rankings?

After all, for all the good that business has bought the world, it also has its darker side and barely a week goes by in the news without some report or other about underhand dealings and morally suspect happenings. The internet has proved to be a useful tool for protest before: what if blocking websites could be used in much the same way; to lodge a protest against a company or even Government?

It might not make much of a real impact on businesses just yet – if people were to block sites en masse for reasons of moral or ethical nature, it would most likely be big business bearing the brunt and so they’d be able to withstand any action, especially as Chrome is still a minority web browser (sorry Google – we love it, but it’s still true). Additionally, it would be unlikely to make it into a ranking signal unless the site being blocked was suspect. But on a personal search level if the site no longer appeared in any of an inpidual’s results, and if done en-masse, it might just make a point. This could be true noticeable if the site in question used Google Webmaster Tools and the owners saw a drop-off in page impressions.

Of course, the most likely scenario is that all will continue as before: the Farmer update will roll out across the rest of the world and improve search results by weeding out low quality sites, and people will continue to do much the same thing with the Chrome Personal Blocklist. It does raise the issue, though, that sometimes technological advances have more potential than we can ever realise at first. It’s certainly one to ponder.

If you’ve any thoughts on this article written by Ampheon Web Design London, we’d be delighted to hear them. Why not post your comment, or alternative scenarios below!

By Chelsey Evans

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