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The EU Cookie Law: What You Need to Know

Published on May 18, 2012
Tags: Web Site Law, Web Design London

They’re technically known as the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations, but you might know them as the EU Cookie Law. This is the new directive that comes into effect on 26th May 2012 and that requires websites to gain the consent of users when they want to run most cookies on that website.

The vast majority of websites currently use cookies and, as it stands, many of them are breaking the law as most websites don’t ask for users’ consent before utilising the cookies. There are different types of cookie though, and some of them are exempt from compliance with the Cookie Law. Generally speaking, those cookies that are exempt are the ones that are essential to the operation of a website. For example, if you have to log in to a website to use its service, a cookie will be needed to remember that or else the service will not work.

However, even though some cookies might be used for operational purposes, they will still require websites to get consent from users before using them. For instance, this could be the case for cookies that remember a user’s preferences for that site. Other cookies considered to be ‘non-essential’ will also need consent before they can be utilised on a website. Notably, tracking cookies (such as those used by service like Google Analytics or Statcounter) will require permission from users, as will advertising cookies.

The Information Commissioners Office, which is responsible for the Cookie Law in the UK, has offered some suggestions as to how websites can make sure they are compliant with the new law. These include getting users to agree to cookies when they accept website terms and conditions, obtain consent when users choose certain settings, obtain consent when users utilise certain features, or utilise tools such as headers or pop-ups in order to gain consent.

For an example of how consent can be gained from users, pay a quick visit to the ICO website. Across the top of the screen you will see a header that requires you to tick a box that states ‘I accept cookies from this site’. It appears that this is a one-time thing. Once you have accepted the cookies from the ICO website, if you then leave the site and come back, it doesn’t ask you again to accept the cookies.

Guidance from the ICO suggests that the person who is responsible for setting a particular cookie should be responsible for the compliance of that cookie with the new law. For instance, if a third party advertiser were to place an ad on our website, they would be responsible for ensuring it complied with the law. However, if we were to use Google Analytics cookies to track our site statistics, we would be responsible for those cookies. The difficulty arises when a third party, such as an advertiser, doesn’t actually have a means of obtaining consent because the website is not theirs. This means that in practice it is much likely to be easier for the website owner to take responsibility for obtaining consent for all relevant cookies.

There is therefore likely to be a need for website owners/operators to liaise with any third parties in order to find out the exact nature of the cookies placed on a particular site since an owner might not always be entirely aware of this.

There are clearly quite a few ways in which a website could choose to obtain consent from users for their cookies, but no matter which method is chosen, the most important thing is that users are given an informed and clear choice. It is important to note that this might also mean that websites have to update their terms and conditions or privacy policies in order to ensure they comply with the new Cookie Law and so that users can read more about the kind of cookies that are used on a particular website.

As it stands, the majority of websites are thought to still be in violation of the Cookie Law, with many holding on to see how other websites (such as key government sites) deal with the new regulations. However, the law is due to come into effect very soon, and so if websites have yet to take action to comply with the directive, they would be wise to start forming a strategy now so that they do not fall foul of the ICO and find themselves in trouble.

Next time, we’ll be taking a look at how the Cookie Law affects tracking cookies such as Google Analytics. For now, if you want to find out more about the Cookie Law and different types of cookies and how they will be affected, the International Chamber of Commerce has produced a useful guide.

By Chelsey Evans

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Before you Begin The Importance of Planning in Web Design

Published on April 26, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

A lot of the focus in the world of web design is often on the process of design – and with good reason. Poor design can easily ruin the very best of intentions, which is why it is so important that we take the utmost care over every single site we create. However, not quite as much attention is paid to the bit that comes before the actual web design stage – the planning. This is the part that is generally the responsibility of the company in need of the website, and it’s important to get it right as this can have just as much effect on the outcome of your website as the design itself.

Let’s have a look at five key stages that give us an insight into the importance of planning in website design.

What is its purpose?

This first point is something that is likely to sound obvious to a lot of people, but – what is your website for? Without a good answer to this question, it is unlikely that your site will be as focused as it could be and it will make the rest of your planning more difficult, as well as making it harder to create a compelling design to go along with the plan.

For example, your site could be to raise awareness of an issue or a business, or it could be to entertain or inform, or it might be that you want to focus on ecommerce. It might also involve a combination of purposes, which is fine – the main aim of this exercise is to determine what they are.

Who is it for?

Then we come onto the issue of the audience, which in many ways is wrapped up in the above point. You need to know who your website is going to be aimed at – will they be stakeholders, customers or someone else? What age are they likely to be? What do they typically use your company for? What are they looking for in a website from you?

This stage of the planning process can involve a bit of research, such as surveying your target market or having a look at competitors’ websites to see how they have targeted their information. This can help you get a better idea of the kind of information you will need to include.

What information will you need?

This brings us on to the next stage of planning – the content. What information will you need to include on your website? How are you going to put this across? It’s perhaps inevitable that your website will end up including a mixture of written content, graphics and interactivity, but you need to decide exactly how this is going to be broken down and the part that each piece of content is going to play.

The navigation of your website is also linked to this; it needs to be easy for web users to get around your website, so when you are planning what content you are going to include, make sure you have a good, simple plan that makes it easy for people to work out where everything is.

What should it look like?

Of course, you also shouldn’t neglect the look of your site, and you can have quite a lot of fun deciding what you want it to look like. For example, you could choose to include your existing company branding to ensure continuity and make sure your site is instantly recognisable to the people who use it.

You might also like to give some thought to the kind of feel you’d like your website to invoke, such as whether you’re going for a clean and professional look, or something a little funkier.

What’s your long term strategy?

Finally, as well as your initial website plan, don’t forget to engage in a little bit of blue sky thinking and develop a strategy for the longer term. It’s extremely likely that there will come a point when you’re website needs an upgrade or even a complete overhaul, so you might want to think about how you might manage this. What is your goal for the site? How will it need to adapt over time to deal with this?

Even simple things, such as deciding who will be updating your blog or news section should be considered so you have a clear plan for delivery, and so you’ll be able to get straight down to business once your new web design has been completed.

 

By Chelsey Evans

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4 Reasons to Care About Mobile Web Design

Published on April 20, 2012
Tags: Web Design London, Mobile Application Development

We all know that mobile devices are now more important than ever before when it comes to surfing the web, and that more and more people are using devices such as smartphones and tablet computers in order to access the internet. But what does this mean for your business? Mobile web design requires specialist attention and often takes time to adapt from your main website – but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bother. In short, why should your company care about mobile web design?

It’s growing – and so are devices

Recently, Ian Carrington, who is Google’s director of mobile and social advertising strategy, said that a huge amount of Google queries in the UK are made through mobile devices. In particular, 20% of YouTube views are made through mobiles and the same proportion of searches made about entertainment and travel topics are also made on mobiles. Also, 12% of the UK population now own a tablet and when you consider that even just a couple of years ago, no one had one, this is a significant growth market.

This illustrates that both the mobile web and the range of mobile devices are growing. More than 1 billion people worldwide are now able to connect to the internet through their phones. This astonishing statistic is clearly something that businesses need to take notice of if they haven’t already.

Take your small business global

In a way, this is linked to the above point – Ian Carrington also makes the point that people all around the world are connected to the internet, which means that businesses now have more scope than ever before to go global. At the start of the century, it would have sounded slightly ambitious to say that a small business based in the UK could have a global reach, but now it is entirely possible. As many businesses are moving away from set physical locations and adopting a predominantly internet-based approach, this is becoming more and more important.

At the same time, there is also more scope for businesses to enhance their local profiles thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices. A significant proportion of mobile searches are about local-specific issues. Plus, you may have recently seen our article on the Google Venice update, which is designed to enhance local search results, making them more specific to where web users are based. With any luck, this is something that will be able to benefit smartphone users as well, meaning that it’s definitely worth taking note of.

Adapting is getting easier

Also, even though mobile web design undoubtedly requires extra time and effort that used to put some companies off investing in it, it is now getting easier to adapt sites for mobile devices. You may have read about responsive web design, which helps to make it easier for sites to display well across a range of different devices. This is something that can definitely help the mobile web trend.

Of course, we still have to remember that when people access the internet through their phones, they are often looking for slightly different information or a different experience to the one they get on a desktop or laptop. A lot of this is for practical reasons, such as mobile screens being considerably smaller and operated differently to a traditional computer. This is arguably something that savvy businesses can make the most of, being careful to give mobile web users what they’re looking for so that they’ll be more likely to find your services relevant, useful and appealing.

Access your data wherever you are

Finally, if your business is predominantly based on the internet as so many are these days, it makes to make sure your potential customers can access your information no matter where they are. This is another excellent reason to care about mobile web design, as you never know where someone might be when they suddenly decide that they need to look up your company or start making use of your services. This is all about access and making sure that you can be found by your target market – in a world where information is increasingly available in a whole range of different mediums, it pays to make sure you can be found in as many of those mediums as you possibly can.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google Venice Update: UK SEO and Website Advice

Published on April 13, 2012
Tags: SEO, Web Design London

Something all web designers and SEO specialists need to be aware of is the Google Venice update. This is an update that was included in a series of algorithm changes that Google announced towards the end of February 2012, but the effects of it are just starting to become clear. You can read the full list of algorithm changes that make up the update here.

Google Venice itself is actually number 26 on that list of around 40 algorithm changes and the idea behind it is to improve the rankings of local search results. This is the explanation that is offered by Google:

“Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.”

This basically means that if you search for something, the results you get off Google will be much more personalised to your location. For example, if you search for ‘web designers’, you should hopefully see results from web designers that are local to you (e.g. ‘web designers london’), because Google is now utilising IP addresses to work out where you are and provide you with results accordingly.

This has several implications for businesses that we need to be aware of. First of all, this has the potential to benefit local businesses that have previously been disadvantaged by larger firms in terms of their SEO. If local businesses are able to optimise their sites for local search terms, they could potentially do quite well out of Google Venice.

However, as well as the benefits, it also throws up a couple of challenges. For instance, businesses that are based in one location but who carry out work in lots of locations will face a dilemma as to what they should optimise and how. As an example, as a web design firm, we can often just as easily design a website for a company in Scotland as we can in London because we’re able to work virtually. Does this mean we need to optimise separate pages for every location we work in?

The full impact of Google Venice is yet to be determined, but for such a significant update it hasn’t actually yet been analysed that extensively.

One issue that does seem to have come up, though, is that if you live in a place that shares its name with somewhere else (Birmingham UK and Birmingham Alabama, for instance), there is a chance that Google will pick the wrong place because even though websites are based in different countries, they’re optimised for the same place names. This doesn’t seem to be an extensive problem, but it’s something that many businesses will need to be aware of.

What is clear from the Google Venice update is that local search is now really entering its own and every business needs to start developing a plan to deal with it to make sure they stay properly optimised and take advantages of the opportunities the algorithm change has to offer. For example, developing localised page content or local landing pages can help firms to optimise the areas they want to target. You’ll only be able to make use of the Google Places feature if you actually have a physical address in a certain place, but if you are based in one place yet work in many, there’s nothing to stop you optimising your site in other ways.

Websites might also need to rejig their site architecture to make sure it is properly optimised for local pages. For instance, take a look at your homepage. Is it currently optimised for local search? If not, then you might well need to make some updates to ensure it still continues to rank for relevant search terms, an also to micro-format your address (if you don’t know what this is, please do ask us).

Also, just because Google has a significant new update out, don’t forget about the old ones. You may think that one of the easiest ways to optimise for local search might be to simply use the same or similar content on multiple pages and just change the keywords. However, this could end with you falling foul of last year’s Google Panda/Farmer update that punishes low quality or duplicate content. Making the extra effort to properly optimise your site for Google Venice is definitely worth it. 

Local link building might also help, although it’s not yet clear how the recent updates have impacted on how links are included in determining search rankings. Some suggest that they have become less important, but you still shouldn’t ignore this area, particularly if you’re trying to cement your local profile.

And, despite what you might think, you don’t even need inbound links to your site to improve your local rankings. Google uses NAP data (Name, Address, Postcode) to identify your business and gets this information from various sources on the web. So, search Google for your postcode, then your company name, and try to make sure the information found is consistent with the NAP on your site, to your Google Places listing, to anywhere else where your NAP is listed (including where you might be listed without there even being a link to you site). Consistency, and relevancy, are key – if you can get NAP listings on sites that also service the same area you are based (so, for example, we might look to get NAP listings on London-centric sites) that will be more relevant than having a NAP listing on a global web site, or a site that’s focussed on content on the other side of the world.

Overall, Google Venice might be able to be explained in just a couple of sentences, but its potential impact could be really significant. Taking action now to ensure your site continues to rank well should definitely be on all of our ‘to do’ lists.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google+ Gets a Facelift

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

Google’s contribution to the world of social networking sites, Google+, has gone through something of a facelift. We’ve seen before how this social networking site got off to something of a shaky start, with complaints from some users including the fact that the site required them to sign up using their own names rather than an internet pseudonym. The site is also still trailing the social media giants in terms of the number of users it has, but has this latest development done enough to allow Google+ to play with the big(ger) hitters?

There are certainly some interesting features as part of the redesigned site. In a blog post, Google announced that more than 170 million people have upgraded to Google+ in the past ten months since the site was first launched. They also say that over the past 30 days, 100 million people have ‘engaged’ with it. 50 million apparently ‘engaged’ every day. When we compare this with Facebook, which at the end of 2011 had around 250 million users who used the service every day, there is clearly some way for Google+ to go – but it still seems to be growing steadily.

The redesigned site offers more options for things like videos and photographs – you can include full sized photographs now. Google says it has also made it easier for people to join in discussions and see what’s going on in the different Google+ communities. There are also interesting new navigation tools, one of which Google calls a ‘dynamic ribbon of applications’. The idea behind this is to allow users to do things such as drag apps up or down, hide or show apps, and hover over them to display information. This is a contrast to the static icons that used to be at the top of the page.

The Google+ ‘Hangout’ option has now been updated, too. The idea behind this is to give people more chances to connect, such as by making it easier for people to access hangouts, offering tips and a ‘rotating billboard of popular hangouts’.

Google admits in the above mentioned blog post that it still has some way to go, but it sees this redesign of Google+ as an important step. So, will it make much of a difference? It’s perhaps a bit too soon to tell, but we can safely see that the social networking site has been growing well lately. One of the reasons for this is that since the start of 2012, when users have signed up for another Google service, they have also been required to set up a Google+ account. One estimate from Search Engine Watch says that this has added 80 million people in the past three months.

However, when compared with other social networking sites, Google+ is still falling behind in terms of both user numbers and how long people spend on the website. ComScore did a survey that found people spent 18% of their time online on Facebook during January. They spent a total of just 3 minutes on Google+. Other social networking sites also did considerably better than Google’s offering.

Plus, we can arguably see aspects of other social networking sites in the Google+ redesign. For instance, Twitter’s web developers are likely to have taken keen notice of the inclusion of a trending topics feature on the Google site, something that Twitter has been using itself for the past couple of years. There’s also a new cover photo feature on Google+ that is somewhat similar to the cover photo feature on Facebook that was rolled out recently as part of its ‘timeline’ redesign. Twitter in particular has previously expressed concern at actions taken by Google, such as the search giant’s move at the start of this year to integrate Google+ into its search results.

Another concern from some users is that, unlike Facebook and Twitter that users are able to update through apps and other means, Google+ requires people to log in before they can take any action – something that some people say inflates the user numbers.

So it seems that the debate over Google+ rumbles on. Is it good or isn’t it? It seems that people have very set, divided opinions over the issue, but Google is determined that Google+ will be a success. They say that one of the aims of the site update is to make ‘sharing more awesome’. Time will tell if that turns out to be the case.

By Chelsey Evans

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