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Ofcom's Biannual Report on Broadband Speeds: The Internet is Getting Faster

Published on July 29, 2011
Tags: Usability, Web Design London, Internet Communication

A report from Ofcom has found that there are still major discrepancies between reported and actual broadband speeds in the UK. This is despite the fact that average broadband speeds in the country are now around 6.8Mbps per second; there are still huge local variations and some areas still don’t support the speeds of broadband that are frequently advertised by internet providers.

This is something we have written about before, but it is worth looking at again as it seems to be a problem that just won’t quite go away despite multiple actions being taken with the aim of dealing with the issue. The Ofcom report found that even though nearly half of people with broadband are paying for packages with speeds up to 10Mbps, very few of them actually achieve this.

This has led Ofcom to call for changes in the way internet service providers advertise their products. It’s not all bad news, however, as broadband speeds have increased by around 10% in the past six months. This suggests a growing consumer awareness of the need to shop around for the best deals and fastest speeds, as much of the improvement came from people switching to faster services.

One issue that is becoming more prominent, though, is that even while average broadband speeds are increasing – which is, of course, good news – there is a growing gap between speeds that are advertised and speeds that are actually achieved. Even though average speeds are only around 6.8Mbps, the average speed advertised by internet service providers is 15Mbps.

Something else that the report found was that many people have broadband services that claim to be ‘up to’ 24Mbps, while more than a third of them only receive 4Mbps. Also, Ofcom found that broadband offering speeds of more than 24Mbps, which counts as being superfast, was available to 57% of homes. Despite these services being available, not everyone is receiving those speeds as they’ve been advertised.

So, what are some of the factors that affect the speed of broadband?

  • The way broadband is delivered is one major reason many internet users don’t get the headline advertised speed; around 75% of broadband still relies on ADSL technology, which means that the speed you receive is influenced by the distance between your house and the telephone exchange.

  • The time of day when the service is being used can also have an impact; if you are trying to use your broadband at a time when many other people are also using it, it can drag down the speeds achieved.

  • The quality of wiring in your house plays a part, too; if the wiring in your house isn’t keeping up with advances in broadband technology it will make it much harder to achieve the speeds that have been advertised by the internet service provider.

This is an issue that affects us all and so it is definitely more important than simply a question of advertising. For instance, when web designers and developers are creating new websites, they will naturally want to make use of the latest technologies to provide the best possible user experience. However, if web users are struggling with slow to load broadband, websites that make use of such technology run the risk of not displaying properly or taking much longer to load than they would if customers were receiving ‘as advertised’ broad band speeds.

This is frustrating for everyone and so while it’s definitely encouraging that progress has been made over the past six months, the widening gap between advertised and actual speeds is certainly something that needs to be addressed.

ASA, the Advertising Standards Agency, is currently looking at the issue of broadband advertising and it is expected to report soon; it will be interesting to see what they have to say. Added to this, Ofcom have recommended that rather than a single speed being quoted, customers should be provided with a speed range so that they can get a more accurate picture of their likely broadband speed than they would if they were simply told the maximum speed available.

This is valuable, as it is naturally important that consumers are given a clear indication of the speeds they can expect from their internet service provider. Also, more awareness of the difference between ADSL (generally slower) and cable (generally faster) services will definitely be beneficial.

However, it is also tempting to suggest that as well as making alterations to the way speeds are advertised, if real, beneficial change is to be made in the world of broadband speeds, programmes to upgrade the networks and improve actual speeds should be given more priority. After all, advertising can only take you so far; eventually, you need a faster product to back it up.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google, Amazon and the Android Mobile Application Market

Published on July 22, 2011
Tags: Mobile Application Development

More than a billion people in the world use services provided by Google. Commonly, these include the world-famous Google search engine and sites under its ownership, such as YouTube, as well as the increasingly popular Google Chrome web browser. Google currently also dominates the Android market, and essentially has unilateral control over it. In more recent developments, the company launched its new social networking site, Google+, only three weeks ago and it has already almost reached the twenty million user landmark.

All of this goes to show just how big Google is and how far reaching its influence is in the world of the web and other technological matters. There have been a few points of contention along the way, such as US courts ruling that the company should halt its attempts to create the biggest online library ever, and challenges made to the EU over the company’s dominance of the search market.

Now it appears as though Amazon is set to challenge Google by launching its own tablet computer, using Android technology. Rumours have been building for a while that Amazon is intending to launch its own tablet, and a week ago it appeared to become more certain, with some suggesting that the tablet could even launch before October. On the face of it, this seems to be more of a direct challenge to Apple and its iPad than it does to Google, but when you take into account Google’s control over the Android market it raises questions for the search giant as well.

One of the issues is that Google has reportedly stopped other hardware manufacturers from competing with its own Android devices. However, Amazon has got its own mobile app store, which enables it to cut out Google and instead sell features such as messaging and search to the highest bidder (such as to Bing, for example). This would help, in theory, to cut down on the cost of the hardware, as would the fact that Amazon could afford to sell the hardware for a lower price, knowing they could make up the cost on software and other content instead.

If the Amazon tablet is released as is suggested that it will be, and if it proves to be a success, this could inspire other manufacturers to make use of the Amazon app store. The thinking here is that Amazon has got considerable retail experience and so would be able to make the tablet and its app store more profitable than apps have proved to be for Google.

The effect of all of this would be to challenge Google’s dominance in one area of its operations, but there are a few snags that Amazon would need to work out before its proposed tablet could be a proper success. One of the biggest challenges is the fact that the Amazon app store is currently only available in the United States, and it would naturally take time for it to re-develop and alter it so that it was suitable for other regions, which often have in place considerably different regulations and policies governing such software.

Another challenge is that the Amazon app store might need to spend slightly more time on development to work out some of the issues that have previously been raised, such as the fact that some third-party developers find it frustrating: if they were going to offer a comprehensive, user-friendly app service, this would definitely need to be worked out.

So, the issue is not without its challenges and it is nowhere near a certainty that the rumoured Amazon tablet will have the impact that is hoped by some (or even that it will be released by October, as has been suggested). However, it does show burgeoning competition in a market that has gone relatively unchallenged up until now and it also shows that, no matter how well Google performs and no matter how it expands into new areas such as social networking, it is not the only player on the field.

Whatever happens, tablet computers are rapidly becoming more popular: last year, Apple sold 3,000,000 iPads in just 80 days. BlackBerry manufacturer RIM has also released its own tablet computer and more are surely on the way from elsewhere. Amazon is sure to face many challenges in its attempts to break into this market, let alone when challenging Google’s dominance of the Android market, but it just goes to prove that Google still can’t afford to ignore its competitors, however successful it becomes.

By Chelsey Evans

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Are Spelling and Grammar Important on a Web Site?

Published on July 14, 2011
Tags: SEO, Usability, Web Design London

An interesting news report this week suggests that poor spelling and grammar on websites is costing internet businesses millions of pounds a week. It seems to be common sense that if you are publishing anything on the internet, you should – at the very least – run it through a spellchecker first to make sure there are no glaring errors. It appears, however, that lots of people fail to do this and it’s having a massive impact on businesses.

A large part of the issue here is about trust: if people are going to part with their hard-earned cash online, they need to feel as though they can trust the website. If there are lots of spelling errors and basic grammar-related mistakes, they might feel as though the site is not particularly professional and is therefore not worthy of their business (this is the point where we frantically read back through this blog post to make sure we’re not guilty of the same sin).

It isn’t just ecommerce sites that are affected, either. It seems fairly safe to say that the vast majority of businesses have websites so they can promote their work and grow their company; even if they’re not directly touting for business online, their website still forms an important part of their marketing portfolio. Plus, as more people turn to the internet to research businesses before they use them in the ‘real’ world, it is more important than ever that websites offer a good first impression.

The source of this news story about the revenue lost by online businesses is Charles Duncombe, an online entrepreneur. He makes the point that websites have about six seconds to grab someone’s attention, and that sounds about right. Web users can tell extremely quickly whether or not a site is of good quality. The overall look of the website obviously plays a part in this, but so does the quality of the content – if there is a stupid mistake in the headline (other than perhaps in a clearly ironic manner), it’s bound to put people off.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that internet sales in the UK are worth around £527m per week, which demonstrates just how big a business this is. Additionally, an online experiment by Mr Duncombe found that online sales were twice as high once he had corrected an error on a website. This goes to show how much money is being lost thanks to bad spelling.

There is also the potential for websites to be negatively affected in search engine rankings thanks to spelling mistakes and other indicators of poor quality content. We have previously written about the Google Farmer update, which has had the effect of pushing lower quality sites down in the search engine rankings – proving that it’s not enough to just target keywords: quality matters for all sorts of things.

It’s also worth noting that the reputations of businesses are at risk, here. A company could offer a fantastic service, but if it doesn’t sell it properly or it gets something fundamental wrong on its website, it could stop that company’s success in its tracks. Mr Duncombe makes the point that when you sell something on the web, 99% of it is down to the written word.

It’s vital to get it right, especially when you consider that things such as bad spelling and dodgy grammar are traditionally taken as indicators of an online scam. It seems safe to predict that every single person reading this blog will have been the recipient of multiple scam emails that have been riddled with basic written errors. It also seems safe to predict that you will all have immediately deleted the emails as a result (well, we hope so, anyway!). Imagine if people did that with the website of your business, simply because you didn’t proofread it properly or put quite enough thought into the copywriting.

So, don’t let your business’s website lose out because you’ve written “it’s” instead of “its”. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure the content on your site is of a high quality so your readers will trust it and – hopefully – give you their business as a result. They include:

  • Use a spellchecker. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t.

  • Remember your audience. It is fine to write in ‘text speak’ when you’re actually texting, but remember that your website is supposed to be a professional pitch as to why people should use your services. Imagine you’re a customer: would you be convinced by your site? If the answer is ‘no’, then you may have some work to do.

  • Get a copywriter. There’s no shame in admitting you need some assistance to help your website pack a punch for the right reasons. A professional copywriter will be able to make sure there are no grammatical slip-ups on your site and that the content is relevant to your business.

  • Proofread. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Even if you’re confident in your ability to write good copy, don’t post it online without checking it first. You never know when errors might have crept in without you realising.

By Chelsey Evans

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Which Comes First in Web Design - Design or Content?

Published on July 8, 2011
Tags: Web Design London

When you have a business, chances are that at some point you will want a top quality website to help market your work and provide your clients with more information about your services. The temptation at this point can often be to jump straight in to the web design process and start thinking about what you want the site to look like.

Of course, aesthetics are important as they are what web visitors first see when they click onto a page, and they do make a difference as to whether the visitor decides to stay on your website, to read the information there and to contact you or buy your products. So what your website looks like is very important, and it’s something that web designers spend a lot of time making sure to get right.

When you are creating a website, however, it often helps to start from a different point: the content. Graphics and colours may come first in terms of a web visitor’s viewing experience, but in terms of what goes into your website, it really helps if you know what you want to say first. This often helps to guide the web designer too as the quality and length of the site content can determine the structure and layout of the design.

This is why planning is such an important part of the web design process; when we design websites at Ampheon Web Design London, for instance, we always like to know exactly what the client is looking for first. This includes matters such as the nature of their business and what they are hoping to achieve with their website, as well as how they would like it to look. This helps us to create a much better website with the aim that it will be more successful at generating traffic and business.

So, if you are thinking of creating a new website for your business, what are some of the things you should be thinking about before you turn your thoughts to the aesthetics of web design?

In a lot of cases, it can help to get right back down to basics. For example, what does your company actually do? Having a really clear, conceptual idea of what your business is about can help to shape your vision for your website. Secondly, who is your target audience? This is likely to vary depending on the nature of your company and whether you are looking to produce an ecommerce site or an informative one.

It also pays to think about what content you are going to be putting on the site. What articles do you think you will need to include in order to sell your business to people? What categories do they fall into? This helps to break your site down into distinct sections that will make it easier to design, navigate and understand. It also helps if you have at least some content written before you turn your attention to the look of the website, as the tone of your writing will help to inform where the site goes from there.

And don’t forget: your  web site content should be written with the visitor in mind; how what you are offering can benefit them.

Once you have a very clear idea in your head about the content of your website – the meat of it, if you like – you can turn your attention to the design. What kind of colours do you want? What feelings to you want the site to invoke? Do you want interactive features? What sort of graphics? How do you want to go about branding it? These are all questions that your web designer will be able to help you answer if you aren’t sure, but the more you know beforehand, the more the designer will be able to create an accurate reflection of your vision.

One of the most important things to remember about web design – and websites in general – is that if they are going to be good, they need to be dynamic. This means you should regularly review the content on your site and update it to keep it fresh and relevant. This is not only sensible from the point of view of keeping your readers up to date, but it also helps in terms of SEO (search engine optimisation). At longer intervals, you might also want to review the aesthetics of your site to see if they need updating to keep up with where your business is going.

Overall, then, web design is not static. It’s not just a case of designing an attractive website. Of course, that’s part of it, but it’s also about the quality of the content that forms the core of the site, so the aesthetics will complement what you have to say, not overwhelm it. Web design is not just about creating pretty webpages: it’s also about conveying a message. Knowing what that message is before the design process starts will definitely be of benefit to your business.

By Chelsey Evans

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Disclaimer: The contents of these articles are provided for information only and do not constitute advice. We are not liable for any actions that you might take as a result of reading this information, and always recommend that you speak to a qualified professional if in doubt.

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