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Responsive Web Design: What is it?

Published on January 27, 2012
Tags: Web Design London, Mobile Application Development

We have seen plenty of times before how the proliferation of new web browsers and new web-supporting devices has led to a fragmentation in how people actually view the internet. We have also seen before that this can cause something of a headache for web designers and developers, who need to make sure their websites display on a whole range of devices.

One tactic that has been developed to help deal with this is responsive web design. This is an idea that has been around for a while, but it seems that 2012 is the year when it’s really set to take hold. With this in mind, let us take a look at what responsive web design is – and whether it is a positive development for the industry.

What is it?

Responsive website design is essentially exactly what it sounds like. It is a way of designing websites so that they effectively ‘respond’ to different platforms and browsers, with the aim that those sites will display as they should without further interference from web developers.

This is in contrast to some other methods of web design, which can require a separate design approach for each device being catered for. For example, mobile websites often require a separate design to a company’s main ‘desktop’ website. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but the idea behind responsive web design is to be more holistic.

The idea was originally developed and put forward in 2010 by a man named Ethan Marcotte. Since then, the concept of responsive web design has gathered momentum and gradually become more popular. You can read the original article on the idea here; it is slightly technical, but if you’re unfamiliar with coding, you should be able to at least get the general idea.

The debate

As with any development in the world of website design, there is a debate as to whether or not responsive web design is as brilliant as some proclaim (if you type ‘responsive web design’ into the Twitter search box, for instance, you should be able to get a decent sense of this).

On the positive side of the debate, responsive web design is a useful tool for designers and developers who need to cater for a wide range of platforms. It allows layouts to be more fluid, and some reports suggest that it can significantly improve user experience, due to the fact it helps sites to display correctly across a wider selection of browsers.

Responsive web design also arguably helps to address the issues raised by so many devices – namely, how to cater for all of them. With so many options for web users these days, designing a website is not the (relatively) straightforward task that it once was. So, on the face of it at least, responsive web design is a positive development and more websites are starting to adopt this approach.

However, there is another side to this. Some people argue that even though it might be nice to be able to display the same site on a mobile device as on a desktop, the needs of the mobile user are not necessarily the same as the needs of a desktop user. This argument suggests that people are looking for different things depending on the device they use and so websites should be tailored to reflect that – for example, some suggest that mobile sites should be smaller and tighter and stricter as to the content that is included on them, which requires a slightly different approach to their design.

This means that, for some, unless responsive web design can adapt to also alter the information that is displayed as well as how it is displayed, it is still worth being somewhat sceptical of it. There is something in this argument; screen size is not the only consideration when translating sites between devices (for instance, how will the mouse cursor work on a small, finger-controlled touchscreen compared to a computer screen?).

Despite this, responsive web design is definitely an interesting development in the world of web development. We can expect to see much more of it throughout this year and beyond as more web designers become familiar with it and more websites start to adopt the approach. However, the issue of content still needs to be resolved, which suggests there is still further work to be done before we can declare that we have cracked the issue of catering for multiple internet devices.

By Chelsey Evans

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Mobile E-commerce and 2012. Develop Your Mobile Brand Now

Published on January 20, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

We’ve known for quite a while that UK consumers are very keen on online shopping; even as high streets have been struggling and well-known names are worried about bankruptcy, online spending has been steadily growing. Now, with the figures for 2011 coming in, it’s clearer than ever before that, increasingly, we are a nation of online shoppers – and that isn’t about to change. If you haven’t yet got yourself an ecommerce website, now could be the time to invest.

A recent report from Kenshoo, a software provider, has found that paid search ads resulted in 50% more transactions in 2011 than they did the previous year, leading to significantly increased revenues. In terms of year on year growth for sales revenue, 26% of it came from search advertising in 2011, suggesting that this form of advertising is more popular than ever – SEO professionals might want to take note of this. Also, in the last couple of weeks of December, conversion rates were up by 75% and sales transactions were up by 66%.

Interestingly, even though UK consumers are shopping online more and more, the value of the average transaction has actually gone down, largely because people are looking for the best deals – and perhaps also because more frequent online shopping leads to smaller purchases on average.  Despite this, the total retail sales generated in the UK last year managed to top a massive £50bn, which accounted for around 12% of all spending, and is the highest figure in Europe.

This means that, last year, online shoppers spent just under £1500 each on average, spread out over 39 items. One estimate from Kelkoo calculates this to be a 14% growth in the online retail market. Another point of note from the 2011 studies is that consumers in the UK are much more willing to make purchases online than people in the US, with UK retailers seeing a significantly better return on their search advertising when compared to US data.

So what are some of the reasons for the increase in UK online shopping? One arguably, is that this is a trend that has been growing for a while. Another is that it is often possible to get better deals online than it is on the high street; for example, note the disparity in price that can often be found between buying books on the high street to (cheaper) Amazon. There is probably also an argument of convenience to be made; it’s simply often easier to go online and do a quick search for what you want to buy rather than going round the shops.

However, we can also put part of the growth in online retail down to developments in technology. In particular, smartphone apps and mobile versions of sites have played an important part in the growth of online shopping – at the beginning of 2010, purchases using mobile phones made up just 0.4% of all retail sales, but by the second quarter of 2011, this was up to 3.3%, and by the end of this year it is expected to top 12%-15%. One of the benefits of apps, for both consumers and retailers, is that they often allow for greater levels of personalisation. Also, a study by online retail authority IMRG found that nearly a quarter of smartphone users have used their mobile to access websites while they’re out shopping, suggesting that the internet can have an influence on purchases even when it is not directly used to make those purchases.

What can you do?

If you are wondering what you can do to benefit from the recent trend towards online retail, there are a few things you can do as a business. For example, a good quality ecommerce web design that’s easy to use, search and is attractive to consumers is a must-have in this day and age.

Also, as mentioned above, apps and mobile sites are becoming more prominent and more important in the world of online shopping. They can also be important for marketing, so developing an app or mobile site for your business is worthwhile especially as by the end of 2012 over 25% of searches are predicted to be carried out on a mobile device. Considering the above figure concerning people accessing websites on their smartphones, an emphasis on mobile web design must also surely be something to investigate.

Other recent developments, such as QR codes and mobile vouchers, are also interesting possibilities. A study from LinkShare also found that more than 40% of consumers had purchased something online that they would never have bought otherwise due to a well-timed offer or voucher. And, of course, don’t forget your marketing. The internet provides more options than ever before in terms of marketing and promotion; if you want to take advantage of the potential of online retail and in particular mobile ecommerce, then now is the time to do it. Contact us for more information.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google Search Gets More Personal

Published on January 13, 2012
Tags: SEO

In recent days, Google has come under increasing pressure from Twitter and others who accuse the corporation of prioritising its own search results over others. The accusation from Twitter is that Google is boosting the search rankings of its own Google+ site over other social networking sites.

This essentially means that when people are logged in to Google and do a search, they will typically see results from the Google+ networking site appearing near the top of the page. This is significant because of the high click-through rate associated with the first page of search rankings – only a tiny proportion of web users ever go onto the second page of search results, which is why web designers and SEO experts spend so much effort trying to get onto that coveted first page.

The accusation that is levelled at Google largely came about because of a new feature that they are currently rolling out: ‘Search, plus Your World’. The idea behind this is about helping people find the best results for their search term. Google makes the point that sometimes these results come from the ‘public’ domain – that is, other websites offering information or services. However, sometimes these results are more personal, and so the new feature also incorporates personal content into search results, such as content that an individual has previously shared with their friends and family.

One concern that has been raised relates to privacy and the perception that personal results now appear as though they are also public. In fact, this is not true, but it does mean that friends and family who previously weren’t included in ‘sharing’ posts might now be able to access information from people they are connected with.

The upshot of Search plus Your World is that social search, personal search and personalised search – all of which typically make up search results – have been combined. You should know when you are seeing personal search results because as well as the usual ‘X results found’ notification, you’ll also see an ‘X personal results’ found notification at the top of the results screen.

The criticism from Twitter, mentioned above, is that these personal results heavily favour Google+, and in fact Twitter, Facebook and other social networks aren’t currently covered by Search plus Your World. One of the reasons Twitter isn’t happy about this is because of the trend for news to break first on Twitter – and they’re worried that breaking information will be harder for people to find if Google+ is prioritised in the search results.

Google argues that Facebook, Twitter and others don’t allow the search bots to crawl their sites particularly deeply (largely because of privacy reasons, but a fair reading would also argue it’s possible they’re not too keen on the idea of sharing their information with a dominant, powerful rival) and that Google+ is the only one they have decent access to – hence the prioritisation in the social and personal search results. It essentially allows Google to integrate more of its services so that they can all be searched from the one, central, google.com (or .co.uk) location, rather than separately having to carry out searches in Google+, News and Images, for example.

However, this isn’t an entirely new argument: it has been reported before that when people carry out Google searches for their own names (we’ve all done it at one time or another), their Google+ profiles appear higher in the search results than their Facebook and Twitter pages. This led to similar prioritisation accusations being made on the grounds that while people had spent years working on their Facebook or Twitter accounts, Google+ has only been going for a few months and so it’s odd that it would be appearing higher in the results.

Arguably, though, this can be explained away by the same reasons. Google has better access to and more information from Google+. Plus, personal Facebook profiles aren’t included in site crawls and when you consider that Twitter posts are limited to only 140 characters, there is often very limited information available from other sites for the search bots to pick up on.

Also, it’s possible to argue that Google is simply better at SEO than Facebook and Twitter. For example, Google+ encourages authors to put links back to their Plus profile on their own websites – and any SEO expert will tell you that inbound links are very important. There’s also typically a huge amount of useful search content on Plus profiles, often because they simply include more information than other networking sites. Google+ also allows more descriptive title tags.

Overall, it seems as though on this occasion, even though there are some privacy concerns and legitimate worries about Google’s increasing prevalence, Search plus Your World is a clever update from Google. One thing to keep an eye on, though, is the growing pressure for an antitrust investigation as a result of Google’s dominance.



By Chelsey Evans

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Google Downgrades Chrome in Search Results

Published on January 6, 2012
Tags: SEO

We have written before about the impact that Google updates are able to have on many websites, with Panda/Farmer being a notable example of this, as well as about the growth of the Google Chrome browser. You may also remember that, last year, we mused about what might happen if everyone decided to conduct a little experiment and block Google from Chrome’s own Personal Block List.

Now, with a certain irony (or just bad luck on Google’s part), we now have a chance to see what happens when one of Google’s own services is downgraded in its search rankings. In this case, we are talking about the Chrome browser, which has been at the centre of a dispute over the past week or so as a result of a promotions campaign.

The story behind this is that Google hired a company to promote its increasingly popular Chrome browser. As a result, promotional videos were produced and placed on a range of blogs. This is all fine, but the problems arose when at least one of the bloggers failed to include the ‘nofollow’ text that is required by Google when placing paid links – Google has a rule that states paid promo material should not be used to move links up in its search index, so bloggers including links to Chrome downloads broke the guidelines.

It seems as though this rule breach was completely unintended: Google had contracted the work out to a third party, specifying what they wanted, but ended up getting something different to what they asked for. For a few days, it was unclear exactly what would happen to Chrome as a result of the rule-breaking; the mistake may have been innocent but there have been reports of other sites being downgraded previously for similar errors.

In the end, Google decided to temporarily downgrade the Chrome browser in its search index, stating that even though the issues with the blogs and promo videos have been rectified, the company holds itself to a higher standard and so action has been taken as a result. The web address www.google.com/chrome has been demoted for at least 60 days and the PageRank of that page has also been lowered. Google has reported that after the 60 days are up, the process will continue as it would with any other company: Chrome will need to submit a request for the case to be reconsidered and document the action they have taken to clean up the issue.

You can currently see evidence of this action yourself: if you go to Google and type in ‘browser’ and then scroll down the page, you shouldn’t see any evidence of Chrome in the results. In fact, at the time of writing, we had to go to the top of page 2 of the search results to see a paid ad for Chrome, and we were on page 7 before we found the first organic Chrome result.

This downgrade has to be something of a blow for Google, especially as Chrome is becoming more and more popular – and the promo campaign means that people are more likely to be searching for it.

Other browser news

It might only be the start of 2012 but it has been something of a busy week for browser news – this time, it is news that web designers and developers have been waiting for: IE6 seems to be finally on its way out.

Microsoft announced this week that Internet Explorer 6, the browser it has been actively trying to get rid of for quite some time, is now used by less than 1% of the US online population. To celebrate, they had a cake baked. As a result of the significant decline of IE6, Microsoft has said that web developers can now treat the browser as a low priority, freeing up designers and others to focus on more up to date technology.

This is good news for Microsoft, which has been battling with IE6 for years, but even though many countries have now moved on to later technology, IE6 is still popular in other places – a notable example is China, where around a quarter of web users are still on IE6. This suggests there is still some way to go before the death knell of IE6 can be sounded once and for all. We look forward to seeing the cake that gets made for that one.

By Chelsey Evans

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