- 69% Of Responsive Websites Take An
- Benefits Of Responsive Websites
- How Important Is User Experience For Businesses?
- Mistakes To Look Out For When Adopting Responsive Web Design
- Why Responsive Design Matters
Published on September 10, 2011
Tags: Web Design London
More and more companies are looking to save costs on the design and / or development of their web site. In a bid to do this, many are looking overseas at the promise of having their web site built for a fraction of the cost that might otherwise be the case in the UK. Many web design companies here in the UK also use overseas outsourcing though will often not tell their clients that this is the case.
But, does overseas outsourcing really offer realistic cost savings, or could you end up with a sub-standard web site, that takes twice as long to build, and that’s if it actually gets completed?
This article aims to provide you with the answer, by highlighting some of the causes.
Where in the World?
The most frequently used countries and geographic regions for outsourcing are India, Indonesia, Eastern Europe and Russia. New regions are appearing now though, such as South America. Different locations will have different living and working standards and different access to technologies. Each will also have its own cultural nuances, public holidays and staff working hours that need to be taken in to account if you’re to successfully work with them.
Access to Education, Training and Resources
One of the starting points for understanding why outsource projects can fail is to understand the local access to education and resources.
As an example, whilst a developer in India might have a degree from an Indian university, is that degree comparable to a developer that has studied at a UK university? Further, does the outsourcer have access to strong Continuing Professional Development (CPD) resources such as certified training organisations or is ongoing training ad-hoc, and using free resources on Google. Is CPD structured and provided, or purely down to the individual developer’s initiative to develop themselves. Whilst these might not concern you at the higher level (you’re just looking to get your site built), understanding the quality of who’s working on your site does affect you.
Before you begin your project with a selected company, you can ask them about their staff qualifications and CPD arrangements. It’s also worth asking them about their total team size as smaller teams will be more risky than larger ones. This might give you a good insight into how the company manages and treats its staff and the resultant level of quality you can expect.
I Promise You
Certain cultures can make it really hard to say ‘no’, and some companies will say anything to win your business. So, you go along with your six-month development specification, say you want it in three months with all the bells and whistles, and you get a positive ‘yes’, that it can be delivered in the time you want.
Great! You sign up, you start the project, because you’ve been promised just what you want; fast delivery, everything you’ve asked for, at the price you want. Brilliant news! Or is it?
One month in, the project deadlines start to slip, two months in they slip further, three months in, you’re still waiting and then one month overdue comes the delivery – not what you asked for, not what you expected, and you find out it needs a further three months to put right – if it’s possible at all.
But where did it all go wrong? Very often it can be down to the company simply wanting your business then worrying about how to deliver later, but equally it can be down to misunderstanding the web design brief or elements within the brief.
It pays at this time to remember the golden triangle: TIME – QUALITY – PRICE - you can’t have it all ways. If you want it fast, it will come at the compromise of quality and / or price. If you want it well-built, it will come at the compromise of time and / or price and if you want it cheap, it will come at the compromise of time and / or quality.
So, before commissioning a web development project first seek out several quotes and not just from outsourcers but from UK companies with UK teams. Identify how many resource days are needed to develop the project and multiply by 2.5 and divide the figure by 22. This will give you an approximate delivery window for the project in months (do note this is a really rough rule of thumb as the project complexity could increase / decrease the multiplier).
So, as a working example if the average number of resource days (number of days the designers and developers work) for a project is quoted as 15, then 2.5x15 = 37.5, divided by 22 = 1.7, and on that basis you could envisage that a 15 resource-day project will take 1.5 to 2 months to complete. If a company comes back saying it can be done easily inside a month, you should consider that as potentially a risk to the golden triangle and how that might affect your project.
Batten Down the Hatches
If we’ve learned anything from 2011 it’s that this year is the year of the hack; spamming has started to take a back seat in favour of direct attacks on web sites; from high profile sites like Sony down to the lowly home-based business.
It is worth bearing in mind that all code is not created equal, and to an advanced hacker no site or web server is off limits or couldn’t be accessed. The key is to make your site and web hosting server as secure as it possibly can so the hacker chooses to go elsewhere – and that largely comes down to two things; the quality of the code and the security that your development team use.
Code quality and security comes in the form of making sure three elements are in place;
First, a correctly structured three-tier architecture where the design, the business logic and the database are all separated into individual segmented layers of code
Second, your site is reliant and protected against SQL Injection attacks
Third, your site is resilient and protected against HTML Injection attacks
The security that your development team use is also paramount; do they have up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware products installed on all of their machines, do they have policies in place to prevent accessing certain web sites that commonly host viruses and trojans, and do they have anti-virus and anti-spam scanning on their email? We have seen cases where web site passwords have been stolen from a developer’s machine only to then be used to directly hack and upload hacked content to a web site. If you’re handing over access details to a developer, it’s important to make sure they’re going to be able to protect that information properly.
This is probably one of the biggest areas right now that should concern you; making sure your web site is as watertight as it can be, and the way to find that out from any development partner is to ask the questions above. Quite often, outsource providers do not have the resources to adequately protect their computers and do not have access to the education needed to put in place best practices with regards to code quality and security.
The Outsourcer’s Outsource
When you commission an outsource project you might be forgiven for thinking you are actually outsourcing to the company you have commissioned. Think again though. We have seen numerous cases where an outsource company will then employ freelancers, other companies and even university students still doing their web development courses (shocking, we know!) in order to fulfil a project.
So, before you begin, make sure you ask exactly who will be working on the project and that they are directly employed by the company.
Lost in Translation
One of the trickiest aspects of outsourcing to a country where English is not the first language is communication. You might get to deal with a project / account manger who’s English is pretty good, and then your comments are passed on to the developer in their native language who’s grasp of English is less or non-existent. You’ll generally never know if this is the case though.
So, first establish the English levels of the people you’ll be working with. It’s okay if the developer doesn’t speak English but it does then mean a lot more work at your end to fulfil the project. You’ll need to provide far more information graphically rather than textually as to how you want things to be delivered, and you’ll also need to provide details of all the system messages to save you getting something back that clearly looks like it was outsourced or doesn't work at all. For example, if you have a form on your site that needs certain fields to be filled in, those error messages will need to look perfect for your site visitors to feel trust in your site; that probably means you’re going to need to write them.
A further problem in relation to outsourced web design is proximity to your market. If you’re employing someone to design a web site that’s leading edge in the UK market, that mirrors some latest brand, TV or print campaign, or that requires an understanding of where UK design trends are heading, employing a designer sitting in India is unlikely to give you that edge.
In that respect, you may want to rely on a local web designer, even if the coding (development) is then done elsewhere in the world.
So many times we’ve seen companies engage outsource providers with an inadequate contract for services, a minimal or non-existent brief and overpayment at the start of a project. Consider that your agreement should:
Define exactly what is going to be delivered detail
Define the price it will be delivered for
Define the companies involved in the agreement (you and the outsourcer)
Define terms in relation to who owns the rights to the source code and confidentiality
Define where the agreement is bound (for example – and preferably - by English law if you are in England)
Define the payment stages for the project, making sure you don’t pay too much upfront if any of the points in this document give you cause for concern.
Let us state that outsourcing is not bad. There are some very good outsourcing companies, but they are outweighed by a huge number of companies that are incapable of project deliveries to the highest standards.
We know – we take over web development project rescues almost every week from failed outsource projects.
And to highlight that we’re not against outsourcing, we should state here that we do it - so this article is based on experience and real-life observations. But we are strict and we have years of experience (since 1997) in outsourcing so we know how to spot a good provider and a bad one.
We work with just a couple of very good providers who we’ve partnered with for several years; they provide us with high quality services to high standards, under extremely tight service level agreements (SLA’s) and whilst we pay more than the bargain-basement outsource providers, we get what we need; quality development teams that allow our business to be flexible and win awards. We don't look at outsourcing as a cheap alternative, but as an extension to our in-house team to provide more flexibility and a wider skillset. The hourly rates might be less than in-house staff, but on the other side of that, we have to invest more in the management of the relationship so the cost actually balances out.
On average, we turn down 20-30 outsourcing requests a week simply because the companies don’t meet our standards. That gives you an indication of the ratio of good to less-than-good suppliers out there.
So web outsourcing is not for everyone; it takes a lot of skill to find a good supplier and even more to make that relationship work. Success once a company is selected relies on knowing how to work with the chosen supplier in the right way, and investing more time than might otherwise be the case with a locally based supplier.
Finally, the above doesn't only apply to overseas outsource suppliers. Ask the same questions of any UK web design company too (or US, or wherever else in the world you are whilst reading this!). And, if you do you a local company, ask them if they're going to outsource your project overseas.
When you have a website, one of the things you may need to think about is search engine optimisation (SEO). There are quite a few different things that make up SEO, but arguably one of the most important components of it is keywords. For those not in the know, keywords are words or phrases that you choose to target on your website in order to boost your ranking in search engine results for those terms.
On the face of it, choosing keywords is a fairly simple task. For instance, Ampheon is a web design firm, and so one of the keywords related to that will naturally be ‘Web Design London’. However, when you type ‘Web Design London’ into Google AdWords, it comes back telling you that there are approximately 74,000 local monthly searches for that term. If you type ‘Web Design London’ into the Google search engine, it gleefully informs you that there are about 50,000,000 results in total.
This means that getting to the top of the rankings for a term like that is extremely difficult, but when you consider that research has shown that 40% of people don’t look past the first three search results that come up and that 99% of people never look past the first page of results, you can’t just rely on a single keyword or phrase – especially one that so many other websites are targeting, too.
Let’s take ‘shoe shop’ as an example. With 550,000 local monthly searches for the term ‘shoe shop’, it suggests that it’s going to be quite hard for a website to stand out using this search term. This means that it’s a good idea to look for other, relevant search terms that are useful for your site’s SEO but that perhaps aren’t quite so competitive. Helpfully, tools such as Google AdWords and Wordtracker offer you lists of alternative keywords as well as some helpful data to let you know details such as how many people search for those terms each month.
For instance, terms such as ‘shoe shops’, ‘shoe shopping’, ‘shoe shops online’ and ‘womens shoe shops’ are still popular but probably much easier to tackle in terms of SEO. Another trick is to add a geographical marker to your keyword terms. So, if your shoe shop was based in London, one of your key phrases could be ‘shoe shop London’, making the term more specific and hopefully appealing to an audience that is more likely to buy from you.
But does this mean you should ignore those popular terms such as ‘shoe shop’ and ‘web design’ entirely? Not at all. If those terms are relevant to your business, of course you should target them as keywords. After all, people will expect to see them on your site as that’s what your company is about – it would be really hard to write anything about Ampheon, for example, without using the words ‘web design’.
Also, SEO is not always about the quick fix. A good SEO strategy will have a long term plan, so while it’s unlikely a website will immediately break into the top results for a massively popular term, that’s no reason to assume that it never will. The search engines will still scan your site for those terms and, the more high-quality content you add to it, the higher your rankings should (hopefully rise).
This means that a combination of keywords is generally an effective strategy. Use popular terms, but also add other words to make them more specific. As mentioned above, adding the location of your business is one good option. Being more specific about what your company does is also a good idea. For instance, is your shoe shop just a general shoe shop, or does it specialise in certain types of shoes? Does it have a focus on children’s shoes or women’s shoes or extra wide shoes? All of these things would provide good qualifiers that can help you target more specific terms.
Finally, it’s important to do your research on keyword tools such as AdWords or Wordtracker. These can provide you with valuable information that can sometimes really pay off. There might be some keywords and terms that are specific to your business and are popular search terms, but they are still relatively niche and don’t yet have much competition among other websites. If you could target those words, you could be well on your way to success.
Overall, choosing the right keywords for your website is not an exact science. Some will be easier for you to choose than others, but as long as you keep in mind the fact that you’re playing the long game, there’s no reason to assume you won’t be successful. A combination of the right keywords, good content and a good web design really can make a difference. Some of it is going to involve trial and error, but in the longer term, if done properly, your business could thrive as a result.
Published on September 2, 2011
Tags: Web Design London
Working in web design, the team at Ampheon often spend time looking through websites to see what’s out there, find out what’s new and research different options for our clients. Many of these websites are great, but sometimes we come across pages or even whole websites that leave something to be desired. So, in the spirit of sharing and promoting the benefits of top quality web design, read on to find out about 10 common web design mistakes that all web designers – amateur and professional – should avoid.
Of course, graphics are an important part of any website and web designers spend a long time making sure they are exactly right. There is, however, a need to get the balance of graphics on a website right. Too few and the website might look boring, but too many and it can look cluttered and become distracting to the visitor. Lots of graphics – especially big ones such as banners – can also slow the website down as well, leading to a reduction in the quality of the user experience.
Too Many Adverts
Adverts on a website can be a good way of promoting different causes and generating revenue, depending on the kind of campaign you’re running. If the site is just packed full with ads, though, it can be a little disconcerting. What’s more, if you overdo it you can actually lose positions on Google. So, before adding adverts, ask yourself what exactly are you trying to promote, the website itself or the companies whose ads you’re displaying? And, how important are Google positions to your site’s success?
Lots of websites make use of templates that have been pre-made (although, we’ll add here that we don’t ever use templates for client web sites!). This can be useful for lots of companies, especially those who perhaps don’t have the budget to have an entire site custom-made. However, templates can often be easily recognised, especially when they haven’t been customised at all. If you want your site to stand out, it needs to be tailored to your business. This is why web design is so important; Internet users these days are savvy and will judge you on your site; if it looks like a template and a site that’s not been properly invested in, your site visitor will probably pick that up and head elsewhere.
Sometimes, you go onto a website and you think ‘wow, this looks good. I want to know more’. As soon as you try to find out more, though, you get stuck. Websites with hard to find or confusing navigation are hugely off-putting to web users, and those visitors won’t hang around to find out more, they’ll just click off to another site. What’s more, Google and Bing will penalise you for visitors that click off your site too quickly. This is one of those issues that sound quite obvious, but it happens quite a lot. Navigation is something that web designers should be thinking about from the very beginning to make sure that the visitor is drawn in and stays on your site.
Odd Colour Palette
If you’re going to have a website, people need to be able to read it. Websites that have a colour scheme with little contrast can sometimes appear to be bland and also hard to read, especially if the text is a similar colour to the background. Alternatively, sites that are full of bright, zingy colours might look exciting, but it doesn’t mean they’re any easier to use. Finding the right colour palette for your market is important, and worth researching; don’t go with a colour set simply because you like it.
Broken or Missing Links
This is arguably more of a content issue than a web design one, but it definitely still counts as a website no-no. Links are great on websites: they can help people find more information and they can be good for your SEO – as long as they work. Links that don’t work or that appear to be there when they actually aren’t don’t sit well with anyone (such as a ‘click here’ instruction that doesn’t give you anywhere to click). Links that take you to the wrong place can also lead to a visitor’s immediate exit from your site.
Lack of Focus
All websites need a focus and this applies to both the web design and the content. Who is your website for? What is your core message? Your website needs to be tailored to the people who are going to be using it, so your aims and message need to be very clear. Good web design can help with this, directing people’s attention to the right place and giving them exactly what they’re looking for. In additional, Google likes well-focussed web sites with lots of unique content; so staying on message with your own uniquely written text will win you business and search engine positions.
You’ve probably visited sites that have a site counter somewhere displaying the number of visitors to the site. Circa 1995 this was great – decent statistics packages were in short supply, and finding out how many people visited your site was important. But, these days things have moved on; displaying your visitor numbers openly can actually make your site appeared unused or amateurish. There are free tools out there that will integrate with your site and give you loads more information than a simple counter – Google Analytics being the most well-known.
Buy Me! …But Where and Who From?
E-commerce sites are great and, if done well, can often boost sales. However, if you are going to have an e-commerce site, it needs to be easy to use, easy to buy and most of all appear trustworthy and genuine. If you want people to buy something from your website, the process needs to be as simple as possible. They shouldn’t have to go hunting for the ‘buy now’ button, or else they might end up going elsewhere. Similarly, making sure you’re on top of the site’s security, and that you clearly display contact details for your company and your terms and conditions of business can also instil trust (aside from being required by law in the UK).
Contact Us! … But How?
Ties in with the above, websites need to make it easy for people to get in touch. They need to be able to tell you if they have a question or give you feedback for things they might have bought from you or services they want to find. Making it difficult to contact them or writing at the bottom of the page ‘don’t hesitate to contact us today’ but then failing to provide a ‘contact us’ link can be off-putting. Cover your bases by making getting in touch as easy as possible, in a visible, understandable way.
As an example, we recently took over marketing and design for a client who displayed on their existing site their phone number in the top right of the page along with their email address underneath (we’ll add here we didn’t design the site!). The phone number wasn’t structured in the usual London format 0207 000 0000 but as 02 070 000 000 and the email address font was considerably smaller and exremely close to the phone number making it hard to see. The moment we restructured the phone number and separated and enlarged the email address to make it more visible the phone started ringing and emails enquiries started arriving. This simply points to demonstrate that adding things to a page isn’t enough; thought is needed to make sure that physiologically the site visitor can actually see and recognise them quickly and easily.
When the world of the web designer moves so fast, it can be somewhat odd to think that the profession is not actually that long out of its infancy. Like so many other areas of technology, though – and particularly areas that relate to the online world – web design is a industry that is constantly evolving as time goes by.
Arguably, it is also becoming increasingly important as time goes by. In a challenging market where the vast majority of businesses today all have their own websites, the task of the web designer in creating eye-catching, exciting websites that combine style with functionality and that stand out from the crowd can be a hard to get exactly right. Whether involved in corporate web design, designing sites for individuals or another related aspect of the job, hardly a day goes by when there isn’t something new to take into account.
Despite the regular changes, however, there are a few current trends that jump out in the world of web design. These are trends that are having a big impact on the way we work, as well as on the experience of web users who view the websites created by designers. Read on to find out more about five important trends in web design.
Web Design for Smartphones and Other Devices
A few years ago, websites were designed almost exclusively for personal computers and laptops, and Internet Explorer was by far the dominant web browser. This may have created some limitations in terms of design as it meant there were only certain technologies that could be utilised, but it also meant that web designers could largely guarantee that a site they created would display and run as it was supposed to on the vast majority of computers.
Now, however, the landscape has changed. As well as a massive proliferation in the use of smartphones, tablet computers and other devices when accessing the web, there is also an increasing array of web browsers out there, and the market is much more diverse than it was. One the one hand, this is great for web designers who want to make the most of the latest technology and utilise exciting opportunities that simply weren’t practical before. But, this also raises certain challenges, such as the need to tweak sites and apps for different devices and browsers so they run properly and the user experience remains seamless, no matter how a person chooses to view the web.
Web Design for Touchscreens
I’m sure if you regularly commute or have sat in a coffee bar people-watching that it won’t have escaped your notice how five years ago everyone was all thumbs, whereas now they’ll all fingers. The proliferation of people swiping, pressing and tapping away at their touch-sensitive screens has changed the way we interact with the outside world.
Although it may seem like a relatively minor shift, this has important consequences for web design. For instance, when a person is viewing a website on a computer that uses a mouse or track-pad, the on-screen buttons can appear small. However, fingers are somewhat less accurate than a mouse pointer, so allowances need to be made when it comes to the usability and design of websites. Bigger buttons with larger spacing, making links clearer, and alterations on how scrolling works are just a hanful of the issues this raises.
Move Away from Flash
There are several reasons web designers and others are moving away from using Flash. iHate Flash from Apple being the predominant driver with so may iDevices now in use and the usability issues created when Flash just won’t run. Another reason is that search engines don’t really like Flash either, and so if a site is created using it, it can have a detrimental effect on the website’s search engine positions.
Quick Response Barcodes
Over the past few months, you might have noticed a growing trend for square barcodes to be used on TV shows, in magazines and even on business cards. The idea is that you download an app onto your smartphone and then use it to take a picture of the barcode, although known as a QR (or Quick Response) code. That picture then translates into a website, contact information, or other details which will open up on your phone.
For instance, if you were to put one of these barcodes on your regular website, it could act as a gateway to your mobile site or to a special mobile offer that could be used in-store. This might in turn help to broaden how people viewed your site, making accessing the information easier than ever before. This links into the trend for web design to increasingly focus on mobile sites; as more and more people use smartphones to access the web, and access sites through increasing numbers of ways (such as these quick response barcodes), mobile sites are becoming every bit as important as ‘regular’ sites.
If you use Google, and you probably do, you will no doubt have noticed that there have been some additions to their site of late. One of these is the ability to see previews of websites before you click onto them. When you type in your search term and the results come up, you can now hover your mouse (assuming you’re using a computer and not a touchscreen device – otherwise touch with your finger) over the link and it will show you a thumbnail image of the website. This creates a new challenge for web designers: making sure the thumbnail preview looks as good as the full site, as people increasingly use the function to decide whether to click through onto the site.
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.
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