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Google Panda; An Update

Published on July 27, 2012
Tags: SEO

You will no doubt remember when Google released its major algorithm update towards the start of last year: the Panda update (sometimes referred to as the Farmer update) impacted on around 12% of searches at the time, and web designers and others working in the industry spent considerable time making sure websites were up to standard.

The aim of the Panda update was to help weed out sites considered to be less reputable, such as those that took part in the practice of keyword stuffing or otherwise employing low-quality content – yet that still managed to do well in the search results prior to Panda. The impact of this algorithm change was significant, and since then there have been multiple updates and refreshes to the Panda algorithm to help perfect what it was intended to do.

Fairly recently - on June 25th to be precise - a further refresh of Panda was released. It is thought that this has only had an impact on around 1% of searches, but it still makes sense to take this opportunity to review your site and make sure it won't fall foul of the algorithm designed to find low quality sites and bump them down the search results. After all, there are billions of Google searches done every day, so even though 1% might not sound like a huge amount, it is still something that cannot be ignored (if you want to be amazed by the number of Google searches per day, this link is somewhat eye-opening: click the 'start' button and watch the numbers flick by faster than you can see).

So with this in mind, let’s take a look at the different things you can do to ensure your site falls into the ‘high quality content’ category and will not fall foul of the most recent or any future Panda algorithm updates that might be released.

‘High quality content’ is something that can be hard to define, but it’s what all sites need to achieve if they want to rank well in relevant search results. Last year, Google released a list of interesting questions that can help web designers work out whether a particular site is high quality. For example, trustworthiness is one issue that comes up quite a lot: is your website trustworthy? If it is an ecommerce site, would you be willing to input your credit card details? These questions can seem rather subjective, but most of us have a pretty good idea about the answer we would give when looking at a particular website.

However, there are also some very practical things we can do to make sure our websites are high quality and filled with useful information for web users. For instance, making sure there is no duplicate content on your site is one obvious way of improving your site, particularly as this is one of the things Panda can penalise you for.

Sites that make use of a considerable amount of advertising can also take action to make sure they don’t fall foul of Panda. This is a particularly relevant issue since part of the aim of the most recent Panda update was to weed out sites that trick users into believing an ad is trustworthy when it isn’t necessarily the case. Websites that take part in link-building should also ensure that all of their links are reputable and genuine.

One of the big things that all websites can do – and that they should probably be doing anyway even if it weren’t for updates such as Panda – is to think about things from the point of view of the web user. After all, one of the aims of any website is to make sure the user has a good experience of that site, whether it’s in navigating the different pages to find what they’re looking for, making a purchase or reading about a topic of interest to them.

It might sound a little inconclusive to say that the main thing you can do to deal with the implications of Google Panda is to take care over all of the content on your site and make sure it is all engaging and well-written, but it’s true. We can all take action to make sure our websites aren’t negatively affected by algorithm changes, but ultimately our focus needs to be on creating a good web environment and a positive experience for web users – all of the time, not just whenever a new algorithm update is released.
 

By Chelsey Evans

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Could a slow website affect your search rankings?

Published on July 27, 2012
Tags: SEO

There are plenty of factors that have an impact on our search rankings. How well the website is optimised, for instance, or how good the content is. But could a slow website also affect our search rankings? One thing is for certain: we all want to make our websites as quick and efficient as possible. It isn’t just SEO specialists who are interested in this; arguably, web designers have just as much if not more of an interest in making sure our websites are fast and responsive. Here are some of the main reasons why it matters.

Web users don’t like slow sites
It is a truth widely acknowledged in the world of web design that web users tend not to like slow websites. While users naturally have varying degrees of patience when faced with a slow-loading site, many will walk away if it takes too long to load a page. According to some research, if a site takes more than four seconds to load, 1 in 4 people will abandon the site.

One of our main roles as web designers is to give the people who use our websites the best possible experience. How long it takes the page to load might be only one of the factors that influence this, but it certainly doesn’t get us off to a good start when they are stuck waiting for something to load – and it could cost us their attention altogether.

Growing smartphone usage
We have looked before on this blog at issues of growing smartphone usage and why we need to take account of it in web design, but the speed of websites is definitely one of the key issues to consider. Even though there have been massive improvements in recent years in terms of how long it takes mobile websites to load, we cannot deny that they are usually still significantly slower to load than desktop sites.

With this in mind, if a website were to take five seconds to load on a desktop, how much longer would that same site take to load on a mobile device? The difference can be considerable, and research from America suggests that if a mobile site doesn’t load within 10 seconds, half of users will abandon that site.

This is one of the reasons why web design techniques such as responsive design are becoming more popular; it helps to make mobile sites more reactive and efficient, as well as providing a better visual display and practical experience to web users.

Search rankings could be affected
Another reason to care about a slow-loading webpage is that it could end up having an impact on your search engine results. According to Google, only 1 per cent of searches are impacted by the load time of websites, but we shouldn’t assume that our own websites are safe and so it makes sense to ensure they’re as efficient as possible so we don’t get penalised.

This means that even though other issues such as the relevance and quality of the site have more impact on how well your website does in search results, the speed can also have an effect.

It could identify other issues

Also, if your website is loading slowly, it could be a sign that there are other issues you need to address in order to help it run properly. For example, has the site been properly optimised? Could the size of the graphics perhaps be slowing the site down? Are there any bugs that you might have missed that need to be fixed to speed it up? Is there anything you could do to reduce the size of your style sheets? Can you reduce the size of the webpage in any other way to help it load faster?

If we want our websites to run as efficiently as possible, we need to make sure we have analysed it properly and perfected the design so there is nothing on the site that could possibly lead to it being slower than it should be. If we do this, it won’t just be the speed of the load time that improves; the overall quality and experience of the site should improve too, so it is definitely an issue that deserves our attention whenever we are worried that a site isn’t loading quickly enough.
 

By Chelsey Evans

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Designing websites for tablets

Published on July 13, 2012
Tags: Usability

We all know that tablets are fast becoming one of the most popular web devices around. Portable and generally equipped with the latest hardware and software, it is estimated that tablet owners spend more money online than people who buy online through other means (£97 in the past three months compared with an average of £79, according to a study by Total Media). This means that even though tablets remain in the minority for now, web designers cannot ignore them and we increasingly need to act to make sure websites – including ecommerce websites – are properly designed and optimised for tablet use.
 
Think about the user experience
As with any other type of web design, one of the big things when it comes to creating websites for use on tablets is the user experience. This means addressing obvious issues such as the fact that tablets are operated using fingers rather than mouse pointers, and so the navigation design needs to be adapted accordingly. It needs to be easy for people to use without looking clunky and out of place.
 
Other issues that need to be looked at in terms of user experience include menus that, when using a desktop computer, drop down when the mouse pointer is hovered over them. This is often not a possibility with tablets, and so menu alternatives need to be developed when designers are adapting sites for these devices.
 
The user experience can also be affected by the information that is displayed on the page. Most tablets allow for multiple screen orientations, so that if you turn the device from landscape to portrait, the site alters to display accordingly. This means that websites need to be carefully administered so that crucial information isn’t lost from the screen when the device is turned around; while users have the option of swiping across to see additional information, this isn’t always the most practical option.
 
Also, how are web users actually using their tablets? If we consider that they are typically spending more online than the average online shopper, it suggests that ecommerce is clearly a big issue. We need to be certain when creating ecommerce sites for tablets that they will operate properly and that the buying process will be as easy as possible in order to make the most of this market.
 
We also have the issue of apps to consider. With the growing popularity of device-based apps, this is clearly an issue that web designers need to be aware of. For example, are people more likely to make a purchase through an app that is specific to their device, or will they still head to the ‘main’ website through their tablet browser in order to do this? If they are using the device apps, do you need as many web applications on the sites that you design?
 
Remember different tablet specifications
Just as we see computers and laptops with a range of different specifications, so we also tablets with significant differences between them. The web design for a tablet needs to be flexible enough to work on multiple screen sizes, as well as multiple resolutions. Graphics can be an issue here; with developments such as the iPad’s high-quality Retina screen, graphics need to display well on devices with high resolutions, without slowing down devices that have resolutions that aren’t quite as high.
 
Something else that web designers need to remember for tablets is that no matter how capable they are, they typically have less memory and less powerful CPUs than desktop computers. This means that we need to be careful when designing sites that include a lot of media as the devices that are supposed to be running it might not be able to properly support it.
 
Flash is another issue that we need to be careful about when designing websites to be used on tablets. Some tablets, such as the iPad, don’t support it, and so in most cases it is probably best to stick to CSS and HTML5. These are much more likely to achieve good results on tablets, and the capabilities of HTML5 mean that we are now able to achieve high-quality media that will run on all tablets, so there is less need to worry about Flash compatibility. 
 
Overall, it looks as though the tablet market will continue to grow in size and significance. So, even though for now it is still a relatively small section of the online market, it is definitely a powerful and important one. Making sure the websites we create are fully operational and ideal for tablet use should certainly be high on the lists of all designers.
 

By Chelsey Evans

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Do short attention spans affect web design?

Published on July 13, 2012
Tags: Usability, Web Design London

We can identify any number of factors that might affect web design, from the brief developed by the company in need of a website to their chosen web designer and the designer’s own preferences and ways of working. However, we can never underestimate the power of the web user when it comes to the design of websites. There is a lot of talk about how modern attention spans are shorter than they used to be, and that our expectations have risen at the same time. 
 
Regardless of whether or not we believe that people’s attention spans are shorter than they were before (one counter-argument runs that there is simply more to do now than there used to be, so it’s easier to get distracted), does this have an impact on web design?
 
In some ways, it probably does. After all, we have all read about how web users are likely to click away from a page that doesn’t load quickly, and how we need to tailor all of our web content so that users can find it as quickly as possible. This means that web designers always need to be aware of issues such as the size of graphics, which could take a long time to load, and how text is laid out in order to make sure it is as readable as possible.
 
Some statistics suggest that if a webpage takes more than 4 seconds to load, a quarter of people will abandon it (these are figures from America, so they might be slightly different in the UK, but they still provide an interesting insight). Also, if a mobile webpage doesn’t load within 10 seconds, it’s thought that 50% of people will abandon the page, and many of them won’t go back to it again.
 
We can also identify alleged attention span issues in the world of online search. According to statistics from the United States, more than 3 billion Google searches are done every day. However, Google discovered that if the search results were slowed down by just four tenths of a second, there would be 8 million fewer searches a day.
 
All of this suggests that short attention spans are definitely having an impact on the online world, including on web design. However, in the case of web design at least, could it not also be that rather than being solely about attention spans, designs are adapted and altered simply because it’s good practice? 
 
Best practice would suggest that webpages should load as quickly as possible, after all. Many websites are there for ecommerce or are otherwise linked to business, and so it is in their own best interests that they load quickly and efficiently, as well as being convenient for web users who don’t want to wait a long time for them to load. 
 
It’s also good sense for websites to be easy to read, and there is unlikely to be a web designer alive today who would deliberately create a website that was confusing and with hard-to-read content. We all know the importance of good quality text that is relevant and interesting; it helps our websites to rank well in the search engine results as well as being beneficial for web users.
 
Clear layouts are another web design element that simply makes good sense as well as being a good option just in case any users happen to have short attention spans. So, given deeper thought, one explanation could be that web users simply recognise good design when they see it.
 
After all, if the best websites are laid out very clearly, are interesting and engaging and it’s easy to find things on them, it makes websites that don’t fulfil that brief stand out for the wrong reasons. The quality of designs has improved dramatically in just a few short years: the bar has been raised and new standards have been set. It isn’t that difficult to see why some web users abandon certain websites after just a few seconds when there are other websites that will load straight away and give them what they want.
 
So perhaps there is something in the attention span theory, but it isn’t the whole story. We also need to look at the increasing quality of web design and the growing capabilities of internet devices in order to give us a clearer picture of just how design is affected today.
 

By Chelsey Evans

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How can you build a brand through web design?

Published on July 13, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

There are plenty of different factors to think about when decided on your company’s web design – but don’t forget that you need to keep your brand in mind. For example, if your company is quite well-known, it makes sense to ensure your website is designed in such a way that your brand will be familiar to the people who use your website. Here are a few things you might like to think about when looking to build your brand through web design.

Personality
This is another way of saying the ‘feel’ of your website. What kind of company are you? Are you known for your professional image or is your image slightly more fun and funky? This can affect how your website is designed, so even though it might sound like quite an objective thing, it’s useful to think about it and know what kind of signal you want to send.
 
The colours
The colours you use on your website are one of the most obvious ways you can build a brand through web design. For instance, most companies have their ‘company colours’, which are associated with them and which appear on all of their marketing material. These are often the colours you have used on your company logo, which can be used as a good base for deciding the scheme for the rest of the website.
 
Don’t forget that colours can also add to the feel of the site and can help you evoke a sense of what your brand is, even without the use of specific graphics. As an example, colours such as cool blue and green can appear to be quite calming, while silvers and greys could help to evoke a professional air for your website.
 
Consistent message
If your website is too eclectic, it could end up harming your brand. It makes sense to be consistent in your web design so that people feel reassured whenever they use your website. It also makes good design sense, as a website that is consistent throughout is more likely to look good and be easy for web users to understand than one that utilises a completely different design for each page. 
 
That’s not to say you can’t have any variation, but that every page on your website needs to fit into the overall scheme of the design. For instance, you might have different graphics on each page, but they might all have a similar theme to help bring them together under your brand. Utilising the same background colours for graphics, or having a focus on curved, flowing lines are a couple of examples of how you could tie together different graphics.
 
Another benefit of consistency (such as by using the same page layout for different parts of the site) is that the same stylesheets can be used multiple times. One of the benefits of this is that it can help your website to load faster as there won’t be quite as much unique coding for the site to download.
 
Content
Of course, your choice of content also plays a crucial role in building your brand through your web design. For example, you might like to think about the tone of the content and the kind of language you use. It can be useful to look at the websites of your competitors to see the kind of content they utilise, and determine how you can create content that will stand out for your own site. You might also think about the words that can be associated with your business, and work out how they could be built into your content. It isn’t unusual to find statements of business missions on websites, so that’s something else to consider.
 
Don’t forget social media, either. That can be an important part of a company’s brand, and so including social media links on your site can be a good option to choose. Your web design company can even design bespoke links back to your social media pages to make sure they’re in keeping with the rest of the website.
 
Overall, there are no hard and fast rules to building your brand through web design, not least because every brand is different. However, it is an issue that definitely requires some thought as it can have a significant impact on the trust people have for your site – and your business overall. Making sure you’ve got your branding right is certainly a worthwhile task.
 

By Chelsey Evans

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