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UK Law Relating to Default Settings for Opt-in / Opt-out Marketing Checkboxes (PECR)

Published on January 31, 2011
Tags: Web Site Law

In 2003, European regulations known as the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) came into force. The purpose of these rules is to govern electronic and other marketing, particularly marketing relating to online activities. Other covered areas include telemarketing, faxes and SMS messages. The regulations are enforced in the UK by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Since they came into force, there have been major issues surrounding the application of the PECR, with many organisations flouting the rules, whether intentionally or not. One major example of this is the opt-in/opt-out checkboxes found on many websites as well as in emails.

To illustrate, the regulations dictate that no individual should receive any marketing emails unless a series of criteria have been met (the same rules don’t apply to businesses). The criteria are:

  1. the individuals’ details must have been obtained by the company in question through a legitimate sale or negotiation;

  2. the sent message must relate to similar products offered by the sender;

  3. the individual must have been given the opportunity to refuse marketing messages from the sender and can easily opt out at any time of their choosing.

This means that companies who don’t offer individuals the means to opt out of marketing messages are in breach of the PECR and, therefore, both UK and European law.

The reason this is such a big issue is the way such opt out facilities are currently implemented. Take the example of an online retailer. When you make a purchase through that retailer’s online store, you will be presented with a series of checkboxes at the bottom of the form relating to marketing. In simple terms, these give you the chance to refuse marketing from the retailer and any third parties. The problem, though, is often in the way the checkboxes are worded. For example, it is common to find statements written in a negative manner (such as ‘click here if you do NOT want to receive information from us’).

This assumes automatic agreement unless the customer takes action to dictate otherwise and it is a problem in the world of online marketing: naturally, there is a desire and a need for online companies to market their business and services to customers, but they also have to comply with the PECR and the Data Protection Act to ensure that individuals’ rights of privacy are met. This means that assuming customers are willing to receive marketing emails unless they instruct otherwise is not only dangerous but increases the chances of the rules being breached.

This problem is exacerbated by pre-selected checkboxes. This most commonly happens where you have to check the box to opt in to a marketing messaging service – retailers and marketers often pre-select the checkbox in the hope individuals will leave it as it is. Conversely, in cases where you have to check the box to opt out, retailers and other businesses tend to leave the box unchecked to maximise their mailing lists. While they are in theory complying with the regulations, if an individual was confused by the phrasing or layout of the options, any complaint to the ICO would be likely to be upheld (the ICO receives around 5000 complaints every year on matters relating to unwanted marketing).

Of course, it can be argued that this is not just a problem related to online marketing practices: similar ‘opt in’ assumptions can be seen everywhere from pension schemes to organ donation, with new processes being bought in to assume the compliance and participation of individuals unless they explicitly state otherwise. The major issue for online marketers and businesses, though, is determining the reasons why people choose to opt out of marketing messages in the first place in order to work out the best ways to persuade them to opt in.

This requires much more careful action than wording opt in/opt out checkboxes in such a way as to ensure maximum compliance by default. It means that online marketers need to carefully consider what attracts individuals to certain websites in the first place and how they can keep their attention once they’re there, thereby encouraging them to sign up for marketing messages.

It has been widely reported that people are turned off by pop ups and other unwanted forms of advertising, so it’s likely that they are just as put off by marketers sending messages that the individual sees as being unsolicited, either because the marketer is flagrantly breaking the rules or because the individual accidentally opted in to something.

Perhaps the solution is as simple as having a good web design to catch people’s attention and then providing the best possible product / service to customers so they will be interested in finding out about new offers and services from the company in future marketing messages. This would be coupled with an obvious and easy means of opting out if an individual so desired (such as can be seen in email newsletters, which are required to include a ‘click here to unsubscribe’ link).

Whatever the solution, it is clear that there is currently a widespread problem relating to breaches of the PECR that is not only annoying to individuals receiving unwanted messages, but could ultimately damage the otherwise good reputation of a free and democratic internet.

By Chelsey Evans

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5 Trends in Web Design for 2011

Published on January 25, 2011
Tags: Web Design London

As with any rapidly expanding industry that’s reliant on technology, the world of web design is fast-changing and constantly evolving. Whether you're a designer, developer, or responsible for the rebuild of your personal or company web site, we take a look at some of the key issues and changes that will be affecting web designs over the coming months and years.

Tablet Computers

Since the release of Apple’s iPad, the popularity and demand for the tablet computer is continuing to grow. As more people use these computers, they’ll also be using them to browse on the internet, posing a challenge for web designers. This is something of an urgent issue, considering the predictions from Forrester Research that tablet computers such as the iPad will occupy around a quarter of the market within five years. This growth is predicted to come largely at the expense of desktop PCs rather than portable devices, suggesting that web designers are going to have to act to create websites that work on an increasing range of portable items.

One issue to be considered is the versatility of portable devices. For example, the ability to use the tablet computer either horizontally or vertically not only gives consumers more options but also means that website designers may have to incorporate two different designs for websites so they can easily be viewed however consumers use their computers. This means there is a need for more versatile web design templates that can be utilised on a growing range of screen types, from tablet computers to new laptops, netbooks and smartphones.


Related to this is the massive growth of touchscreen devices. This means that new features have to be built into websites to be able to accommodate the different methods of operation. For example, while traditional website design has to be suitable for a mouse clicking links and moving around the screen, touchscreen technology means that allowances have to be made to make up for the fact it’s people’s fingers doing the pointing and clicking, rather than the mouse. The impact here is that links and buttons need to be bigger and more spaced out to accommodate for the larger finger over the traditional mouse cursor.

For a while, this has been an issue confined to smartphones, but with the growth of tablet computers and other touchscreen technology, it is an issue that’s becoming more mainstream. This in turn throws up questions for web designers relating to design and aesthetics; after all, it isn’t just a case of incorporating larger buttons - for websites to remain attractive as well as functional, there is going to have to be a shift in design so that none of their visual impact is lost.

Web TV

Relatively new on the block is WebTV (Internet via your TV set). Again, this introduces some interesting challenges as screens will typically be viewed from a distance (around 10ft) and need larger fonts and graphics on effectively a smaller screen resolution. Google has produced an excellent primer on web designing for WebTV.


There are also changes happening in the world of web fonts. One challenge that web designers have faced for a while now is the restriction over the different fonts they can use as they can’t always guarantee that they’ll be supported by different operating systems. This can often affect the viewing experience of web users or often prevent particular fonts from showing up at all. The reason for this is simple: the most widely used and accessible fonts are those that are saved or available on the greatest number of machines. If a designer uses a font that is somewhat obscure, the chances of it being supported are lower.

The growth of cloud computing and the emergence of CSS3, though, means that more fonts with attractive designs are becoming more commonly supported through web-based hosts such as Google. One recent development here is Google Web Fonts) which allows web designers to access Google’s massive database of fonts for free under an open agreement. This works through the Google Font API, which works on the vast majority of browsers and is easy to use, thus opening up the options available for internet typography. This presents web designers with more options and means they can be more creative in their designs and the fonts used in them.

Smart Phones

One final challenge for web designers is the growth of mobile internet and the need to develop websites that can be viewed on much smaller screens such as those featured on mobile smartphones. This is another phenomenon that needs urgent attention: Morgan Stanley recently released some research that suggests there will be 1 billion heavy mobile data users by 2013 and that smartphones are fast on their way to outselling PCs globally. While many companies are not yet focused on adapting their websites for mobile devices, it is a growing trend and we can expect to see web designers spending more time on this in the future. When you consider that 100million Facebook users currently access the site through their mobiles, it becomes clear that the growth of the mobile internet is not a trend that can be ignored.

Mobile internet has also opened up a whole new area of web design, not just through the need to develop sites to fit a range of (often small) screen sizes, but through the growth of apps. The iPhone is probably the best example of the growth of apps, but there is increasingly a market for BlackBerry, Android and other styles of app that have to be tailored to individual operating systems, creating a major challenge for web designers to adapt to a new style of design and programming that many will not be familiar with. And tied in closely with this is the small matter of the search engines, as creating a mobile version of a main site can cause duplicate content issues if not handled properly, though thankfully with a web developer or search engine optimisation on board that understands these issues, any problems can be negated.

This is just a sample of the emerging challenges for web designers in 2011 and beyond. If you’ve thought of others whilst reading this article, why not complete the comments box below, tell us about them and we’ll publish them here!

By Chelsey Evans

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Does a Mobile Web Site Create Duplicate Content Problems on Google?

Published on January 20, 2011
Tags: SEO

A question we've frequently been asked is, does a mobile version of a web site create duplicate content issues on Google? The answer, if done correctly, is apparently not. The main things you should consider are:

  1. Consider making a separate web site for your mobile content, and not just as different content served up under your main URL. For example, m.yourdomain.com.
  2. It is okay to redirect users based on the user agent their browser is sending. So, if your site detects an iPhone or Android user agent you can redirect to your mobile site automatically.
  3. Google has a specific user agent for mobile site indexing called googlebotmobile. Again, it's okay to redirect this agent automatically. However, don't redirect based solely on the IP of this user agent as that could create cloaking issues.

If you follow these three key rules, you should find yourself on the rigth side of Google and not suffer any penalties as a result of duplicate content. For more information, watch the following video from Google:

By Chelsey Evans

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New Top Level Domain Names for Web Addresses

Published on January 14, 2011
Tags: Web Hosting

If you’ve ever used the internet in any capacity at all, you’re more than likely to be aware of top level domain names. These are basically what allow you to view web sites and, for a long time, they’ve been relatively static. You’ll be aware, of course, of the most common domain suffixes such as .com, .co.uk, .gov, .net and .ac.uk. Most of the suffixes currently refer to countries or types of organisation (such as .org for nonprofits).

The issue here is that the current domains are getting crowded due to the massive expansion of the internet - both the number of websites that exist and the number of people who use the web, whether it’s for business or pleasure. This overcrowding of existing domain names makes it harder for web design companies and others to make the most of their search engine optimisation strategies, as all the best web addresses get snapped up really quickly.

As part of measures to combat this overcrowding, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is now beginning to introduce brand new top level domain names. ICANN is a private sector, not for profit organisation set up in 1998 that acts as an internet enabler, helping to keep the web free and democratic as well as maintaining those all important domain names.

The new top level domains are designed to allow web designers and businesses to include more specific key words in their web addresses. For example, the new web address for Hilton Hotels could be www.hilton.hotel. This allows web designers to be more specific and include key search terms within the web address. This is important, as search engines are currently being redeveloped to prioritise the new domain names, so, following the above example, hotel websites ending in .hotel would take precedence over those ending in .com.

Similarly, if someone types in a Google search for ‘New York City’, the first results to show up would be those ending in the new, specific top level domain of .nyc. The aim here is to make the search results more relevant as well as making the addresses more specific. It means that website addresses will fit more closely with common search terms in their related field and will thus yield more results, as well as benefiting the individual web users who will enjoy better tailored search results. It will also make it easier for smaller websites and businesses to stand out through specialised web addresses in an environment where they might otherwise be overlooked by search engine algorithms.

You can read more about the new top level domains from ICANN here.

By Chelsey Evans

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