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Google Zeitgeist 2011 – What’s on the List?

Published on December 23, 2011
Tags: SEO

If you are looking for a little bit of end-of-year entertainment search trends analysis, it is definitely worth paying a visit to Google Zeitgeist. This is Google’s website that lets you take a look at the fastest rising and fastest falling trends of 2011 (among other things).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Zeitgeist, it is a tool that allows you to see the ‘top 10’ of a range of categories. You can choose to search on a global basis or according to a specific country, which gives an interesting insight into what has gripped our collective imaginations over the past 12 months. Google calculates the lists by examining billions of search queries, determining the most popular trends of the year and then ranking them according to how well they increased (or fell) in popularity in comparison to the previous year. So, who or what exactly have we been spending our time searching this year?

Interestingly (or worryingly, depending on your point of view), the fastest rising search term on a global basis was ‘Rebecca Black’. You may remember Ms Black as the US teenager who released a song called ‘Friday’, became a YouTube sensation and generally took a bit of stick in the media on the grounds that the song wasn’t the best composition ever created. In the UK, she entered the fastest rising search trends list at number 9. She was, however, number 3 on the fastest rising people list.

As you might expect, the Royal Wedding also played a major role in worldwide search trends over the course of this year. On a global basis, Pippa Middleton was number 3 on the fastest rising people list, while Kate Middleton was number 10. If we confine the search to the UK, Kate Middleton was number 8 on the list, while Pippa wasn’t on the fastest rising people list at all (Ryan Dunn was number 1; he was the star of Jackass who was killed in a car crash).

One of the most interesting global Google Zeitgeist lists is the fastest rising news search trends. Top of the list is Fukushima, which was the site of Japan’s nuclear disaster a few months ago. The iPhone 4s was the second fastest rising news item, which perhaps offers an intriguing view into the things that grab our attention and the things that don’t (the iPhone 5 was the 8th item on this list, ahead of Gaddafi at 9 and Libya at 10). At the time of writing, it wasn’t possible to view just the UK list for fastest rising news trends, so we can’t compare or analyse specific local events.

However, one UK list that does provide some interest is the ‘what is’ trend list. ‘What is AV’ came out on top of the list. It seems like a long time ago now, but you probably remember the AV referendum that took place at the start of May 2011, hence the otherwise slightly odd search question. Our favourite entry on this particular list has got to be the runner up. In at number 2 is that all important question ‘what is scampi’. 

But what is the point of all of this? Surely one of the main uses of Google Zeitgeist is to offer a retrospective view of what the year was all about. It feels as though 2011 has been fairly news-heavy, often with a lot of pretty hefty, sometimes quite bleak news stories. What Zeitgeist suggests is that, despite all that, we’re still very interested in the world of celebrities and gossip – but that search also has a serious, useful side, providing us with information on electoral systems and important news events that resonate around the world.

Of course, next year’s search trends are likely to be different to this year’s, and so from a web design point of view, they are useful from a review and interest point of view rather than a practical one. However, it’s always interesting to get an insight into how people use the web, whether that involves the demographics of people who go online or the type of things they search for on Google.

If you want to know more about Zeitgeist or to view the other lists that are available, you can do so here.

By Chelsey Evans

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Web Design 2011 – A Review of the Year

Published on December 16, 2011
Tags: Web Design London

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

Diversification of platforms

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

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

Google keeps us up at night

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

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

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

Privacy versus analytics

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

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

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

Where next in 2012?

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

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

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

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

By Chelsey Evans

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Google Flow Visualisation – Achieving Your Online Goals

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

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

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

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

Google Flow

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

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

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

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

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

Retrospective Goal Flow

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

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

Measure Campaign Impact

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

Identify Useful Content

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

Ecommerce Benefits

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

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

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

By Chelsey Evans

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

Published on December 2, 2011
Tags: Web Site Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Chelsey Evans

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