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Google's Copyright Update

Published on August 24, 2012
Tags: SEO

To add to other Google updates aimed at promoting high quality, original content and penalising those sites that continue to break web etiquette in a range of ways, we can now add an update from Google aimed at copyright issues. The update was announced on 8th August and came into effect the week after and while, like the Panda and Penguin updates we’ve looked at previously, it shouldn’t affect most websites at all, it’s something that it’s definitely worth being aware of.

The copyright update (it doesn’t yet seem to have an animal-based nickname of its own) is aimed at those sites that have valid copyright removal notices against them, meaning that the more such notices a site has, the more it is likely to be penalised. In its blog post announcing the update, Google acknowledges that only courts can decide on issues of copyright infringement, so even though sites could be affected in the SERPs, it won’t remove content unless action is taken by the owner of the relevant rights.

Significantly though, Google also reports that it receives more copyright removal notices now on a daily basis than it did throughout the whole of 2009. The aim of taking valid notices into account in the search engine results is to help users continue to find high quality, legitimate information on the internet.

Something else to be aware of with regards to this update is the ‘counter-notices’ tool. This means that if, for instance, a valid notice is filed against a site and Google takes the step of removing the content, if the person whose content has been removed thinks the decision was wrong, it can file a counter notice to challenge the action. This, as discussed above, should only happen in the event that the proper legal steps are first taken to get the content removed; if those steps don’t happen, it seems that the site’s ranking will be penalised rather than pages removed.

However, even though the impact for most sites will probably be non-existent, this is still an important issue. The issue of copyright is a hot one, both in terms of protecting your own copyrights where necessary and in making sure you don’t infringe anyone else’s, accidentally or otherwise.

There are steps that you can take to help mitigate any issues related to this. For example, if you ever use someone else’s work on your website in a legitimate manner, make sure it is properly credited. A good example of this is images; it isn’t uncommon for sites to use images for which they do not have the copyright but which the copyright owner allows to be used. Most sites already credit the owners of the images, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure all of your pictures are properly accredited.

Also, if you are yourself an owner of any content that people might want to share or distribute elsewhere, it is probably worth giving some thought to your own copyright policy. For example, make it clear on your site that the copyright is yours and, if you are happy for people to share your content (such as by using your photos on their own blogs), state how you would like to be credited.

This is an issue that is of particular interest to the entertainment industry, as they are the ones who most often feel that their content has been used without permission. However, it is something that can affect anyone, so vigilance certainly seems sensible.
Something else to consider is that if your website allows users to upload their own content, you might want to take steps to prevent copyright infringement in their uploads. This is something that should ideally be dealt with in your terms and conditions so it is clear what you expect from users on the site and what they can and cannot post; and make sure you take action if the rules are broken.

A review of your website to make sure all content is original or properly credited where you have used anyone else’s material (and that you have got permission where necessary) should help and uncover any issues you need to address.

Overall, it is not yet entirely clear the impact that this Google update will have on search rankings or wider issues of copyright, but since it is a widely-discussed issue right now, it’s certainly worth checking your site complies with all the relevant regulations.

By Chelsey Evans

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Web design and photography

Published on August 24, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Imagery doesn’t always need to be complicated in web design and in fact, it is often the simplest images that work the best, either because they blend in well with the rest of the design or because they are striking, bold and memorable. Of course, imagery in web design doesn’t always need to be simple – there is plenty of room for complexity too – but the point is that whatever imagery you use, it needs to be right. It needs to fit.

This is as true for photography in web design as it is for all other types of graphics. Photography can play an important role on websites; it isn’t just professional photographers who need to worry about it. However, just as with anything else in website design, there are a few considerations we need to make to ensure our chosen photography has the impact we want.

What is the picture saying?
It has become something of a much overused cliché to say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it is true that web users can often get a good sense or a message from a website thanks to a single image. However, that image needs to be right, otherwise it won’t tell them anything at all or could send the wrong message.

It has been found that users are more likely to engage when the images used on a website are relevant; stock images can have the opposite effect. It might not always be feasible to get original photography done for your website, but this does show that putting careful thought into your choice of picture can have an impact on how likely people are to stick around.

Is it good quality?
It doesn’t really need to be said, but any photography used in web design needs to be of a good quality. Many websites display photographs of their own products on their site; one piece of advice for this is that it’s certainly worth paying for a professional service in this instance.

You will naturally want to show your products in the best light, and while it might be tempting to cut costs and take the pictures yourself, professional assistance can work wonders. Photographers know how to create high quality images that portray things in a certain way, and they can help you ensure that your products are displayed to the best of their ability on the site.

Have you thought about copyright?
When it comes to photography in web design, copyright is an important issue to look at. If you are using other people’s work on your site, such as for a header, background or picture to accompany a blog post, you need to make sure it is OK to use it. In some cases, this might mean buying a license and/or making sure you get express permission to use the work (and crediting the original photographer on the site).

Of course, if you use your own photography, you shouldn’t have to worry about issues of licensing, but you might still want to look into how copyright affects you so you can make sure your work is protected.

How does it fit with the site?
As mentioned above, when you’re using photographs on a website, they need to fit in with the rest of the site. A lot of this is obvious, such as making sure the subject of the photograph is relevant to the rest of the content. However, there are other, more subtle issues it is also worth considering.

For example, you might like to develop a certain style of photography for your site, such as always putting the same finish on the pictures. You might decide to use the same photographer every time you get new product photos taken to ensure there is consistency across the site. Positioning your photos is something else to consider; for instance, if you take a look at the pictures bloggers use to accompany their posts, you will often find that their pictures are always aligned in the same way from post to post.

This relates to issues of branding, and making sure that any photography in your web design adds to and enhances your brand rather than detracting from it. Pictures might only be one example of content on your site, but they can have a huge impact, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right.

By Chelsey Evans

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The importance of web design layout

Published on August 20, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

The question of layout is one that matters in all website designs. The layout contributes to the overall success of the website – it helps to determine what it looks like, how easy the content is to read and the kind of experience that users have when they pay a visit to the site. The fact that its purposes are both aesthetic and practical means that this is certainly an issue web designers need to engage with.

One of the key concepts that is often talked about with regards to the layout of website designs is ‘the fold’ – how much of the site users are able to see without needing to scroll down and, in particular, how much useful content (as opposed to ads or graphics, for example) they are able to see without scrolling.

This is a particularly interesting concept because earlier this year, Google released an algorithm update aimed at pages that don’t have a huge amount of quality content above the fold. This update was prompted by complaints from people about, for instance, clicking on a search result and being directed to a webpage where it was hard to tell whether or not it was actually relevant because the ‘above the fold’ section was so full of ads.

The issue is not getting rid of above the fold ads altogether, but more about making sure they are not so excessive that it impacts on the user experience – something that most web designers are probably more than aware of anyway but a point that’s worth reiterating. It isn’t just to do with excessive ad placements, either. We’ve probably all been on websites where all we’ve initially been able to see is a title, and perhaps some graphics or navigation options – all useful components of a webpage, but not necessarily what people are looking for when they’re after quality, relevant content.

The lesson here is surely that web designers need to make sure they have a good amount of high quality content above the fold of their websites, to make sure they are instantly relevant to users and so they don’t have to go looking for that content. However, one of the issues that arise with this is the fact that ‘the fold’ on websites can be quite a different thing depending on how people are choosing to view a particular site.

When we talk about ‘the fold’ in relation to newspapers, we always know how big the newspaper is going to be. We know how it needs to be laid out and we know how people are going to look at it, so making sure the most important information is above the fold isn’t too difficult. However, when it comes to websites, a person could be viewing a site on anything from a desktop PC to a small smartphone screen to a tablet or even a television. Browser size tools can be used to help designers work out the content that is likely to appear above the fold for most users, but it is unlikely to be an exact science.

In many ways, this brings us back to those topics we have discussed many times before – creating a good user experience and utilising high quality content on every single website we design. It also has a lot to do with common sense; we want web users to find the sites we create useful, and we want them to come back for more, so it makes sense to ensure the sites flow properly and aren’t cluttered with ads and that the content is easy to find.

It’s also interesting that if you do a Google search for, say, ‘web design’, the results don’t actually display that much content above the fold. Most of the space is taken up by ads and navigation tools, and a test search found only two natural search results appeared above the fold – despite the algorithm update released by Google focusing on this issue, it seems they may not have taken their own advice.

Overall, we cannot deny the importance of layout in web design. The algorithm update and ‘the fold’ aside, it has a significant impact on how a web user views a site, and so making sure our layouts are perfect every time we create a new page is something that should certainly be at the top of every designer’s mind.

By Chelsey Evans

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Developing a mobile strategy for your business

Published on August 17, 2012
Tags: Web Design London, Mobile Application Development

The mobile web is not just one of the biggest issues facing the web design industry at the moment; it’s also an issue that affects businesses everywhere. It used to be that a business could simply ask a web designer to create them a desktop site and the issue of a company website would be taken care of. Now, with so many different devices available and a huge increase in the number of consumers making use of smartphones to access the internet, it’s important for companies to develop a good mobile strategy.

The specific strategy that they choose will naturally depend on what they want out of their mobile web presence – for instance, one company might want to present key information to mobile web users in a simple and straightforward manner, while another might want to make use of their mobile presence to try and tap into the e-retail market, which could make their solution a little more complicated.

Whatever a company decides to do with their mobile web presence, there are quite a few strategy options that they could consider in terms of adapting or re-doing their web design for these new mediums. One option, of course, would be to do nothing and simply let mobile web users take their chances with a business’s desktop site on their smartphones. However, for any company serious about developing their mobile presence, this is unlikely to be the best solution, if only because desktop sites tend not to display properly and are tricky to navigate on mobile devices.

Another option might be to adapt your current site so that it works better on mobile devices; this is something a web designer skilled in mobile websites should be able to assist with. For instance, it is likely that the navigation of the site would need to be altered to take account of the fact it’s a person’s finger and not a mouse pointer that will be doing the navigating and clicking. Steps might also need to be taken to ensure the content on the site can be read easily on a range of mobile devices.

For many businesses though, this option might not be enough, particularly if your current site is quite complex and so perhaps not that well suited to use on a mobile device. This is one of the reasons many companies are starting to look at getting specifically designed mobile sites that are tailored for their needs and the purpose they are looking to achieve. For example, a site might have a focus on e-retail or it might be a streamlined version of the desktop site, displaying key information that is easy to search and navigate, but that isn’t as extensive or complex as that on the company’s ‘main’ site.

Also, as responsive website design becomes more well-known and an increasingly popular option, this is something else that businesses looking to develop a mobile strategy might be interested in. This is where a website is created that will display properly no matter what device is being used, so the same web address and content can be used for the desktop site as for the mobile site and any other versions that there might be. This is a solution that might suit some businesses, so it is definitely worth looking into.

However, we also cannot ignore the popularity of apps, particularly for smartphones such as Apple and Android devices. This is a slightly different issue to that of mobile web design, but depending on the business and what it wants to achieve, it could be a useful solution. For example, an e-retail app could be developed as a streamlined, convenient way for users to search for and purchase products without needing to access their mobile web browser. One of the issues with apps is that they tend to need to be developed for each specific device, and they also tend to need a specific purpose to give them a focus and a clear use – they are not just an extension or replication of a website.

Overall, a mobile strategy is becoming increasingly important for businesses, and there are plenty of options available for them to choose from if they are looking to take their mobile presence further. As more and more people make use of the mobile web, this is an issue that businesses and web designers alike certainly need to be aware of.

By Chelsey Evans

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Typography in web design

Published on August 10, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Typography is a discipline that has been around for as long as there have been words to read. It is all about creating and displaying the written word so that it is readable and can be understood by those who see it. Typography has developed a lot throughout the centuries, but arguably one of its biggest developments came with the advent of the internet.

Screens offer a special challenge to typography, because something that looks great on printed paper might not necessarily work so well when displayed on a screen. This means that web designers have to be very careful when choosing font and setting out written content on the internet, as to get it wrong could render a webpage unreadable.

We’ve probably all been onto websites where we have questioned the choice of font – it’s too curly, it’s too blocky, too light, too dark. As well as issues of aesthetics, which we will come onto shortly, there are very clear practical issues relating to typography. It needs to be right, not least because the majority of the internet is based around written content. When we talk of web design, the focus is often on graphics and imagery, but we can’t forget that the look of the words – as well as their content – matter too.

The main issue here is communication: webpages are there to communicate a message to us, and how successfully that is achieved has a significant impact on the overall success of the page. This means that if we’re unable to properly read what has been written, it almost doesn’t matter how good the content actually is because the aim of communication will have failed. It can sometimes seem as though typography is a largely aesthetic issue, but this helps to illustrate the fact that its importance goes deeper than that.

Another of the important typography issues we have to consider in web design is, as mentioned above, the fact that screens are very different to print. Because it is a different medium, it very often requires a different approach. For instance, the layout of the screen has requirements that you don’t have to deal with if you were, as an example, creating a promotional leaflet that you were planning to print. There are different segments of the screen to take into account, as well as the issue of display – the typography a web designer chooses has to display as it is intended to no matter what browser someone is using or what device they are using to access the internet.

The different resolutions of computer screens can also have an impact on the choice of typography; the last thing you want is for your text to appear too pixelated. We also have to consider the fact that typography is related to the issue of layout – as well as making sure everything is readable so that the content can be communicated to the web user, the typography can also have an effect on how a site is actually laid out and can influence how information is put to the web user.

For instance, the choice of a particular font might help to convey the importance of one section of a webpage, while another font might be used to put the web user in a particular frame of mind. This means that even though the selection of font has clear aesthetic links, its purpose can also be much deeper.

Staying with this idea, font can be very important for mood. Often websites are trying to portray a particular image or idea, and the typography can help with this. A professional, serious law firm for instance, might decide to use a crisp, formal font to help put their image across. A site targeted at young people might go for something a little funkier, and a site with a slight romantic angle, such as a florist or wedding-related site, might be tempted by the more flowing fonts.

As well as the look of the font, the aesthetics also incorporate the colour: does the content of the text and the overall web design demand a strong, bold colour for the text or something a little more subtle? Of course, black is a very popular choice for content that is part of a body of text, but there is still plenty of scope for creativity in choices.

Overall, typography in web design is certainly an important issue, one that has aesthetic and more practical implications. The choice of font and how it is displayed says a lot about a website, and getting the selection right is definitely worth our while.

By Chelsey Evans

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