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How Mobile Devices are Shaping Websites and Software - Part 1

9th June 2014

The dramatic rise in the use of mobile devices is evident all around us: business people on benches in the park scrolling through the latest news articles on their lunch break, new parents using price comparison apps to ensure the weekly nappy spend is within budget, and of course for every street gathering of children or teens, at least one is guaranteed to be checking their phone. Here in Oxford during tourist season, phone cameras have greatly eclipsed regular digital cameras as the method of choice for documenting a rainy summer abroad.

According to a study by Cisco, the growth of internet traffic on mobile devices is predicted to grow by 66% each year until 2017, at which point total mobile internet traffic is anticipated to exceed fixed (or "non-mobile") traffic. Sales of tablets are predicted to overtake PC sales in the next couple of years and more apps are being produced to make viewing online content on mobile devices quicker and easier. The way we view the internet continues to rapidly evolve.

Mobile Technology

To keep up with the changing way we view the web, most new websites are optimized for tablet and mobile. Existing sites are redesigned and relaunched with mobile-friendly interfaces, and even the kind of information they display - the very purpose of these websites is evolving in order to stay relevant. But how? And do you need to alter your website?

As mentioned before, apps are increasing in number. Popular business networking site LinkedIn was initially designed as an online CV and employer database with embellished functionality. Now it has five mobile apps to carry out different functions to help tailor site experience to various user categories. For example, the 'Recruiter App' was produced to connect job seekers with recruiters. LinkedIn also bought newsreader service app 'Pulse' last year, hoping to increase regular site usage with informative industry and business articles. However, there needed to be an underlying reason for such an expensive takeover and the costly developer time needed to produce these apps. LinkedIn plan to monetize extra page visits by using advertisements.

Mobile devices, are best equipped for information consumption on the move, rather than content creation (mainly due to slowness and inaccuracies of touch-screen keyboards or tiny keys). The commute to London on the Oxford Tube is made much more palatable with a tablet to hand. Engaging daily articles from Pulse and simplified viewing and navigation provided by the other apps should make them much more appealing to this sort of audience. Additionally, regular site updates also improve Google and other search engine rankings and therefore increased 'hits' - the benefits of a dynamic site in the vast majority of cases can't be disputed!

Although LinkedIn is a successful company attaining yearly growth, as things currently stand, their takings are mainly obtained from recruiters paying for database access. When you compare its figures to other popular sites, it is clear there are better revenue models in existence: Facebook boasts over one billion users visiting at least once a month compared to LinkedIn's 200 million (out of more than 300 million members) coupled with a slower rate of income growth. Although LinkedIn has never called itself a 'social network' it realizes that the ad models used by content rich sites such as Twitter and Facebook will increase its growth, allowing it to keep pace as one of the world's most prominent websites. Increased phone and tablet usage from commuters and casual evening and weekend browsing is propelling a web-wide increase in content-driven sites.

Taking mobile development a step further, online photo and video sharing site Instagram, created in October 2010, was one of the first companies to adopt a 'mobile first' ethos; the Instagram website wasn't rolled out until early 2012, having existed purely as an app for Apple and Android products prior to this date. Instagram entered the market with a dynamic, innovative attitude and armed itself with endless quirky, retro photo filters to appeal to a growing hipster community. Its pioneering 'mobile first' approach: primarily designing for small screen access, worked well for the company. Their app pre-empted a genuine need of a public platform to upload and share photos taken on-the-go with phone cameras. However, the 'mobile first' design method is only suitable for certain applications which fulfil similar market demands. In truth, few such companies have achieved great commercial success: it has always been difficult to predict market paradigm shifts in technology development. As the pace of change quickens, predicting the next trend in technology usage is viewed by most as a black art.

Apps are currently only economically viable (and constructive) for large businesses. However, we'll discuss excellent alternatives for smaller companies in later sections of this article. In 'Part 2' of 'How Mobile Devices are Shaping Websites and Software', we expand further on the history of paradigm shifts in technology and discusses the widely criticized Windows 8 operating system.

The website that grew - part 14

8th June 2014

(for previous installments, try the tWtG category)

As the position on search engines improved, the site's popularity gradually grew. But Kate knew that search engine position wasn't the only way of drawing in customers. Some customers would be interested in connecting with the shop via social media channels, or receiving a newsletter which would give them discounts from time to time. So it was time to look at some of these methods.

First of all, Hugh showed Kate a chart of some of the common methods of online communication with customers.

some social media channels - email, facebook, twitter, quora, pinterest, google plus, website

"You've got to take into consideration what suits your customer base too" said Hugh. "Facebook is a consumer oriented medium, and your customers are consumers, so putting up a facebook page and getting "liked" is important. Once you're on people's facebook streams, it would be crucial to maintain a slow but steady stream of special offers and customer feedback.  But for the non-facebook users, those offers should probably be repeated in a monthly email newsletter."

Kate agreed, and was also quite interested in setting up Google+, twitter, and pinterest accounts, but realised that she did not have time for everything.

"We've talked about return on investment with the Google ads." she asked; "How does it work here?"

"Although we're working with a digital medium, it's sometimes a bit more like traditional advertising when you work facebook," said Hugh, "but you can measure clicks and buys from social media and emails.  So it's really important to do that, and that will give you a very good feel for how much all this work is worth."

 

 

Wordpress, Drupal, and Oxebiz

13th May 2014
Categories: drupal, oxebiz, wordpress

When new customers ask what technology we're using to build a website, the question comes from a variety of sources.  It used to be the case that people had heard the word 'Dreamweaver' bandied around, and were worried if we weren't implementing that. (We have been implementing websites with content management systems for donkey's years). But nowadays there is a lot of interest in Wordpress, and we are quite often assumed to be using it as our CMS of choice.

We have three main CMSs that we use to construct websites - each does the job of putting content on the site, allowing the user to be primarily concerned with content, while the web designers and developers can be concerned with design. But here's a quick cheat sheet describing some of the ways in which they differ:

  Wordpress Drupal Oxebiz
How full-featured out of the box? Basic Quite full-featured, for example it contains good user management features. Quite full-featured, for example it contains good user management features.
Easy to add 3rd party modules Easy Easy Oxebiz is our own software, so if we don't have the module, it needs to be built.
Easy for developers to add bespoke modules Easy Easy Very Easy
Easy to implement new designs Very Easy Easy Easy
Easy for back end users to navigate content Easy Very Easy - users can navigate to the page they want to edit from the front end. Easy
Easy for users to add/edit content Quite Easy, but does not allow as much control as Oxebiz Easy Very Easy
Easy for developers to change the way content works Will normally require a new module Quite Easy Very Easy

As you can see, it is not always an obvious choice, but we can help you look at the different alternatives, and how they meet your business objectives, before deciding on a technology.

How Does Heartbleed Affect me?

11th April 2014
Categories: heartbleed, security

It's understandable if you're confused about what you need to do to protect your information from the Heartbleed Bug due to conflicting advice you've heard from various sources. When the news of the Heartbleed was released to the public on Monday 7th April the majority of field experts declared it as disaster and advised the public to immediately change all their passwords. Later many of them took back this advice, and instructed people to wait a few days until software had been patched. Some websites claim they were unaffected.

heartbleed logo

So, is the bug serious? Yes, but only certain websites are affected - according to the internet security service NetCraft, around half a million websites will be affected - those which use 'OpenSSL certificates' issued from the 17% of OpenSSL servers which use the TLS 'heartbeat' extension. An OpenSSL certificate is a small data file which links an encrypted key to an organisation's details. Sites with secure connections are those where the padlock symbol is shown in the left-hand side of the url bar and where the 'http' changes to 'https'. They are used to make secure card payments, for data transfer, logins and for secure browsing.

The heartbeat extension was introduced in 2011 and basically works as follows:

1) The heartbeat program can ask the server to send back a short burst of information, or 'heartbeat', to check whether it's still 'alive' and functioning. This is normally a short string of characters e.g. the word 'house'.

2) If the server is indeed functioning, it will return the string of characters. If it is unable to find them, there is a chance something is wrong (e.g. the website is down) and action can swiftly be taken.

Heartbleed works by exploiting the fact it's possible to lie about the amount of information you can retrieve back from the server, which can be up to64 kilobytes of memory. However, anyone who launches an attack on a website using the Heartbleed vulnerability will not be able to control which data they receive from the server i.e. it could happen to contain sensitive user credentials. As it is virtually impossible to trace whether sites have been affected, and what data has been harvested, sites which would have been vulnerable during the 'window' of time the code was in place will require you to change your password.

No one knows for certain whether anyone knew about this weakness in OpenSSL software before the news became public, although possible traces of Heartbleed usage have been found and most experts think it 'unlikely' no one has spotted the weakness since heartbeat was introduced.

So What Should I Do?

Once an affected site has been 'patched' to protect it from the Heartbleed vulnerability you should change your password to protect your sensitive data. There will be no point in changing it before-hand as it's still possible for your information to be collected, especially now the news of the software weakness has been made public. Many major companies were informed by Google about the bug before news broke publicly to allow them time to patch. Below is a selected list published on the BBC News Pages of well known websites which could be affected, and what each company's advice is on whether changing password is necessary:

Website Name Affected by Heartbleed? Patch Implemented? Should Password be Changed?
 Amazon  No n/a

Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 Apple  Unclear  Unclear  Unclear
 Barclays  No  n/a Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 eBay  No  n/a Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 Evernote  No  n/a

Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 Facebook  Yes  Yes Yes
 Google/Gmail  Yes Yes  Yes 
 HSBC  No n/a Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 LinkedIn  No n/a Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 Lloyds No  n/a  No
 Microsoft/Hotmail/Outlook No  n/a Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 PayPal No  n/a  Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 RBS/Natwest No  n/a Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 Santander No  n/a Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 Tumblr Yes  Yes  Yes 
 Twitter No  n/a Only if same password used

on a vunerable site

 Yahoo/Yahoo Mail  Yes Yes  Yes 

n.b. Banks and other websites which multiple levels of security (e.g. card readers) are far more likely to have remained secure.

For Oxford Web Clients

If you are worried about your own websites which were produced by us being compromised, we have the following advice for our clients:

  • if you don't have an SSL certificate then your website will not be affected.
  • if there is a chance your website has been affected we will contact you and advise you further.

In the meantime, several online tests have been engineered to test your server for weakness. You can try them out yourself here and here.

The website that grew - part 13

2nd April 2014
Categories: ads, seo, tWtG

(for previous installments, try the tWtG category)

With a working website, and Google ads bringing in traffic, the orders started coming in.

Hugh reviewed the Google ad performance with Kate after two weeks of running the campaigns.

There was an ad saying:

Cheeseboard calculator

Calculate your ideal dinner party cheeseboard

Fine cheeses shipped direct

There was also one saying:

Online cheese shop

The finest world cheeses

Direct to your door

Thanks to the way Hugh had set up Google Ad reporting, they could see that although the first ad was getting dozens of clicks, it was generating relatively few orders. It looked like people wanted the cheeseboard calculator without buying anything. So they "paused" the first ad and added a second "active" ad as follows:

Luxury cheeses

Direct to your door

From our shop in Abingdon

Hugh suggested a new review in a fortnight's time, although after the initial couple of reviews, they would not be so frequent.

Meanwhile the team in the shop had started putting on a bit of content in a 'cheese blog' and they were looking at how different keywords brought people to the site. It turned out that many visitors were locals searching for "french cheese", and because of a blog post on French cheese, and the way in which Google suggested search results from Abingdon if you were using Google from within that town, the website turned up on page 1 for that phrase.

How grown up is your online marketing?

25th March 2014
Categories: marketing, measurement, seo

Some of the Oxford Web team had a great session with Ned Wells from Cicada Online today, looking at the "maturity" of various facets of our online marketing.  For example, with the measurement of the online marketing that you do - is it in a "baby" phase - all trial and error - or have you put a lot of thought behind it and aligned it with your business objectives?  Energising stuff!  Do get in touch with us or Cicada if you want to investigate these topics for your business.

Can a social media presence replace your website?

17th March 2014

I recently attended a business meeting with a wide mix of businesses represented, and a presentation on social media. In the presenter's opinion, social media had made websites outdated.

If social media supplies a need for your business, that's great; we're making use of social media too, and many of our customers do, in different ways. But what it doesn't do is obviate the need for other forms of e-marketing and e-provision (not all websites exist for marketing!).

Take a business that doesn't sell anything online, doesn't have a great deal of information to get across, and doesn't have any online provision for such functions as customer/member service. Do they still need a website?

Assuming they sell something that people look for on the internet, then yes, I would suggest a website even if they have a social media presence on various platforms, simply to provide a base for describing what they sell, and pointing to the various social media sites.

The one constant in social media (if we are talking about facebook, twitter, pinterest.. - menshn closed last year, by the way) is that. as a user, you are faced with a rolling list of new topics, latest at the top.  

So as a business, if you have to constantly re-state your USPs in order to keep them in people's minds, you're using the wrong medium!

Why customers are fantastic

10th March 2014
Categories: customers

We never stop learning about customer support here at Oxford Web, and we thought it was high time we shared some of the "positives" we get from serving a huge variety of different customers.  So here's our countdown of the 5 best things about customers!

5. Customers remind you to speak in plain English

It's OK having a language for geeks - it's a shortcut for getting ideas across, and if we spoke in layman's terms within the team all day long we'd, waste many hours of work. But the average website customer doesn't want to know that a database query was using too many joins, or that IE7 had trouble with CSS3. Keep it simple!

4. Customers help make the product perfect

When designing and building a website, we aim to see what the customer sees, but they'll have unique insights into the market and the type of visitors who will land on the site. We don't dictate how things should look - we certainly challenge and advise, but ultimately we believe the partnership between Oxford Web and our customer provides the most fruitful environment to build a website.

3. Customers recommend other customers

If you're providing some of the "magic" that makes your customers' businesses tick, they'll be happy to recommend others.  We receive many referrals from existing customers every year, and we like to think it's because we add value to their businesses and they're impressed with our reliability and expertise. Sometimes we miss out, and in some cases it may be because we don't remind people often enough about the services we provide. Don't stay silent!  We aim to send an e-newsletter once a month in 2014.

2. Customers have fantastic ideas

Working within a team in a tech environment exposes us to many ideas and influences, but if we can also be influenced from outside the team, so much the better.  We weren't the first to put a twitter link on our website, or video, or to push all the boundaries of function and form.  We get a lot of inspiration from customers.  

1. Customers earn us our bread and butter

Yes, it's so obvious, it almost shouldn't be on the list - but if you have customers yourself, don't forget that you need to make a profit from them. They appreciate the value you're adding to their business, and if you're doing a good job, they should be happy to pay your bills and ultimately help you prosper.  If they're doing this, you're doing it right!

Google data highlighter

5th March 2014
Categories: content, google, seo

If your website is full of useful information, there's a new way of getting that information to your customers before they've clicked the link to your site in Google's search results - called "Google data highlighter".

Using the highlighter tool, you can tell Google more about the data on your website, so that it can present it in a so-called "rich snippet" in search results.

To start with, you specify a starting page for a data set - say, for example, your news page.  Then using Google's preview of your page, you highlight elements such as the title, date, author, and categories, and Google tries to find other pages set out in the same way.  Once you're done, Google will start using this data on the next crawl - so be prepared to wait a few days before seeing the new search results.

We've gone through this process with the Oxford Web blog - what do you think of the results?

What's worth $19 Billion?

22nd February 2014
Categories: business, facebook, whatsapp

There has - unsurprisingly - been a great deal of internet chatter about the staggering $19 Billion which Facebook is paying for Whats App.

Is a messaging app worth $19 Billion?  Of course not.  There are many messaging apps, and if you paid a couple of developers more than $50k each to build a decent one you would certainly be cheated.  I built a basic local messaging app for a 12-PC Northstar Horizon network, pre-internet, in 1984, and it took me just a few hours.  Messaging is not rocket science!

What Facebook are paying for, of course, is a half-billion user base. One 14th of the planet.

But is half a billion users worth $19 Billion?  Using standard-ish multiples, given a turnover of (very roughly) half a billion a year, you'd expect to pay $1 - 2 Billion for the business, but it goes without saying that a business with half a billion users is anything but standard.  

But... how is Facebook going to make its money back (that's what investments are for, after all)? It remains to be seen whether Google, Microsoft, or someone else is going to start poaching dissatisfied users who resent the fact that their app is now property of Facebook.

The website that grew, part 12

4th November 2013
Categories: gimp, mobile, tWtG

(for previous installments, try the tWtG category)

A glitch occurred in the website building process, when John tried to look at the website from his phone.

"This is tiny.  How are people supposed to buy cheese from this?"

Kate had briefly discussed mobile website support with Hugh, their web developer, but dismissed it early on because of the cost.

"All you have to do is pinch and zoom.  If people are buying loads from us, we can make a prettier mobile website in a second phase."

"Hmm" said John, but he decided not to argue.

There was another problem with the issue of photographs.  Hugh's website content management system allowed Kate and the others to upload large photos of cheese boards and cheese wrapped in packets, but they would need to take photos on a regular basis, and the photos needed cropping and colour correction.  Hugh wouldn't be able to do this for them every week, unless they paid him.

Hugh introduced Kate to GIMP, a free photo editing tool which does many of the things Photoshop does.  "It's a little quirky", said Hugh, "but once you know how to do the basic things, it's very quick and easy."  Kate struggled at first, but after a session with Hugh and some reading of the online GIMP tutorials, managed to do what she needed.

Finally the website was ready to launch.  Hugh's company put it live and then switched on Google Ads to get more traffic to the site.

Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird - should I worry?

28th October 2013
Categories: google, seo

SEO "Experts" want you to worry about Google algorithm updates. They want you to think that nasty bad old Google is making changes that will affect you, and only those clever Search Engine "professionals" can dig you out of that hole.

The latest "update" is an improvement to the the search engine's handling of questions, and of its understanding of the relevance of your search or question.  Actually Google is updating its software all the time, and the "update" is basically a round-up of a set of changes which Amit Singhal announced on Google's 15th birthday.

Google search results are of course very different to Yellow Pages, and not all pages can be the top 10 most relevant pages for a particular phrase.  When people say they've been "attacked" by Google, and try to pick on an "update", it's really like saying that they've been attacked by the motorway, when they're going at 65 and another car happens to be going at 70.

What can we expect from Hummingbird?

Hummingbird is about users - Amit Singhal talks about looking for works of art and comparing genres - or comparing food ingredients, and the idea of remembering "context" - i.e. what you just asked about.  In other words, "search" is becoming more of a conversation than a single question.

In a nutshell, the Hummingbird update is aimed at giving users answers to their questions - rather than putting your competitor above you in natural search listings.

Sow what can we learn from Hummingbird?

If your service or product answers a question, and more people are going to be asking that question because of the update, then why not ask that question on your website? 

So for example, if cheese is your thing, your website should use questions like "where can I buy cheese?" and not just statements.

This approach isn't the official line on Hummingbird, but it makes sense that you adapt (or gather, grow) your copy to include the phrases people most often use.

For more SEO advice, follow the "seo" link at the top of this article. Enjoy!

Are you paying too much to get traffic to your website?

19th September 2013

A lot of people talk about search engine optimisation when what they mean is getting traffic.

Getting traffic is easy.  But getting the right traffic - that's the difficult bit.

You can pay to get people to come to your website - that's what you're doing when you use Google Ads, and in effect it's what you're doing if you make any kinds of promises in an email or a link.

Some traffic is better than none, but not when you're paying for it and it's the wrong traffic.

Hook up Google Analytics and you can find out what people are doing on your site when they arrive from various sources. You can also associate a cost with a source of traffic. Are you getting the wrong people on your website because you've promised them something you can't really deliver (like the cheapest prices or the best stuff)?

Honesty means you filter out the visitors you don't actually want when all's said and done - so in your Google Ads, your meta-description, and your email links, talk about what visitors you really want - what their story is, and how it should perfectly match your story.

For example:

Oxford Web

We design, build, and develop websites for growing organisations who want to invest in digital marketing because it works.

or

Oxford Web

We help membership organisations drastically reduce their administration costs by building hard-working, top-notch websites.

New plans - make your website work for your business!

2nd September 2013
Categories: business, marketing

This time of year is as good as any for reviewing your business and your website and making sure that both are performing as they should, and that you have a plan for the next few months.

Many businesses work up to a busy time at Christmas; others are simply back from holiday with a fresh outlook and new ideas.

I find this table useful:

Our Business Objectives Inward Facing Outward Facing
General    
Specific    

“Inward facing” objectives may involve staffing or administration, premises and so on, while “outward facing” objectives will normally involve your customers, suppliers, partners, members, the press, or the wider public.

Examples of “General” objectives may include staff morale, making a profit, keeping your customers better informed, finding more customers, etc., while “Specific” objectives may include things like income figures, profit margins, or numbers of new sales enquiries.

If you can't easily categorise an objective, don't worry, just pick a box to put it in. The main thing is getting them down on paper.

Our Business Objectives Inward Facing Outward Facing
General

boost staff morale in warehouse and sales team

make a profit in Q4

keep customers informed about our new super tech range 
Specific complete design of new ultra tech range  monthly average sales enquiries - Q4 - 200

Not every objective you have can be fulfilled by your website or online presence - but starting from the perspective of business objectives is the right way to look at a website.

It's easier to ask "what's happening in the industry?" and be bogged down with HTML5, responsive design, twitter, pinterest and so on. But these can distract you if you don't have solid objectives and a clear focus. You should by all means learn what these things are - but you should focus on your business objectives if you're going to get anything right.

The third stage of this table is aligning the objectives with a specific action. In the example below I've focussed just on online tools - but of course in a real plan you would have other things going on:

Our Business Objectives Inward Facing Outward Facing
General

boost staff morale in warehouse and sales team - listen to their concerns and reduce the clicks they need to look up internal information on the company extranet!

make a profit in Q4 - use google ads and search engine optimisation to boost the number of website visitors and thus increase sales!

keep customers informed about our new super tech range - use an informative email newsletter to get to people who want to know!
Specific complete design of new ultra tech range - use google docs and skype to improve team communication and a project planning tool to track progress! monthly average sales enquiries - Q4 - 200 - use google analytics sales funnel and usability analysis to find the bottlenecks on the website, and make the website easier to use!  - more visitors x more conversions = much increased sales!

Happy planning!

Back to school

30th August 2013

The overriding feeling - besides the nervousness - is the pride in the unscuffed black shoes, the neat school tie, the clean pencil case and bag or satchel. Do you remember that?

Creating a new website can be like going to school. But soon the pride can give way to shame, because someone says "nobody uses that technology any more" or your news articles simply look out of date, because you haven't updated them in months. Or something inexplicably stops working - maybe it's to do with a new browser version or something that's changed on the web server. The website's falling to pieces, and you don't know what to do.

Don't panic

First of all, don't panic. Whatever looks bad to you, because you know its flaws so well, sometimes doesn't matter to the website visitor. Yes, you can improve it, but think carefully about how, rather than rushing into things.

Seek advice

Come to one of our seminars, subscribe to our e-news, or contact us about a website audit. This puts the information in your hands so that you can make an informed decision.

Make changes

Don't be afraid to change. Small changes can have big results - and what's more, you can measure them. Have a plan B, but try plan A and measure its success rate.

When you change a website, visitors react. Whether it's an additional click "yes, I'll buy/get in touch/subscribe" or just putting their faith jin you. Get in touch with us about how that can work.

And happy first day of term!

The website that grew, part 11

6th July 2013
Categories: design, ecommerce, tWtG

(for previous episodes, try the "The website that grew" category)

Hugh came back to Kate with a draft design, which he said would need to be approved before the website "build" began.

Website designs differ from real websites in the same way that architects' plans or CAD drawings differ from buildings.  On a CAD drawing, one component might be a wall, whereas in reality a wall is made up of several components - not just bricks, but a cavity in between, and possibly plumbing and electricity running through it. It will also need to conform to building regulations.

Designs are typically created in computer graphics packages such as Photoshop or GIMP, which allow designers to work with multiple components, called layers, when creating a design. Sometimes these components exactly match the components that will be used to build the website - for example a button might be a layer in GIMP and a "tag" in HTML, but in many instances the layers are only an approximation of the website components - they are just being used to create a "picture" of how the website will look.

So once the design is agreed, the work of building the website still needs to be done - not only because the HTML needs to be written, but because buttons and links need to work (i.e. make things happen on the website).

Sometimes designers create a "picture" of every page on the website - and sometimes they will create a home page from which other pages can be derived. The former activity is of course more expensive but will make sure that very little can go wrong in terms of the website looking professional and being easy to use.

Hugh's design got rid of the background colour of the existing cheese shop website - everything was on a white background, so the featured cheeses could stand out. He also came up with a few ideas while designing - including a dinner party cheeseboard calculator.

Cheeseboard calculator

The cheeseboard calculator asked users two simple questions: "how many people?" and "how conservative/experimental are their tastes?".  As well as being fun to play with, it would give users a very quick way of catering for the last course of a small dinner party, which made it quicker than buying cheese on a supermarket site - so definitely worth building into the site.

After a few small tweaks to the design, Kate OK'd it, and the website building work began...

Manage your keywords and stay relevant

19th June 2013
Categories: google, seo

Quite often new customers will ask us how to attain a more prominent position in search engine results.

Of course, often the real target is more sales. And sometimes it turns out that they are getting enough clicks but not enough conversions, and the first focus should be on usability.

But sometimes they do really need more prominence on Google - and the question is - "for which keywords?". At this point, we will undertake a keyword analysis, using various sources of information, to find out where to put most of the effort. Our e-news article on the "long tail" is useful reading if you are contemplating this kind of activity.

But how do you stay relevant?

Frstly, you need to understand what people are typing into Google when they are looking for your product or service. There are two kinds of information about what people are typing into Google - (1) internal - i.e. phrases which do actually cause your site to appear in search results (not necessarily on the first page) - this is supplied by Google Analytics now, so it's a real mine of information - and (2) external - lists of keywords suggested by search engines or other sites, which may not necessarily cause your website to come up. These lists are both important.

External 

As time moves on, people may find different ways to describe your product. It may be that they are looking for new brand names which aren't mentioned on your site - or lookng for activities, consumers or suppliers of the product you sell, as a roundabout way of finding that product. Depending on your industry, you may need to get a new keyword list every 6 months or so and work out what to include in your site.

Internal

But when Google Analytics tells you that for a certain key phrase dear to your heart you appear on page 2 - but have never been clicked - you can do a lot more:

  • Improve your site's rank generally - this always helps, and we can tell you how.
  • Improve the relevance of one particular page to that keyword - without swamping the page.
  • Change the meta-description, so that what people see in the search results is enticing enough to make them click.

So if you're not reading that Gogole Analytics data every month or so - you may be missing out on opportunities.

Our new design portfolio

9th May 2013
Categories: design

We operate in a funny industry. Some people think we're web designers; others see us as web developers. It has something to do with the fact that some graphic designers build websites, and some software developers build websites too.

A website doesn't just have to look good. If that were the case, it would be a one-page brochure. Websites have to work - the navigation has to work of course, but more than that, the website and its surrounding online strategy have to be thought out and engineered to make the business behind them as effective as possible, whether or not the website has 'transactional' features.

Good graphic designers, like good software developers and e-markeeters, build the needs of the business into everything they do.

At Oxford Web we're fortunate enough to have a great mix of skills in our team, including graphic design, software development, and of course business process development and e-marketing.

And while our website reflects the latter skills pretty well, up until now it wasn't really showing the very best of our graphic design.

So we've created a microsite, http://graphic-design.oxford-web.co.uk, to showcase the best of our graphic design work.

Hope you like it.

Photoshop turns to subscription model

7th May 2013
Categories: gimp, graphics, photoshop

Adobe announced recently at its "Max" conference that Photoshop and other Adobe products would be moving to a subscription model.

I can understand websites which use a subscription model - you (the customer) are regularly using services which they (the supplier) need to constantly maintain.  Or a service like dropbox, which maintains a set of file servers constantly connected to the internet so that your computer can use them at any time of day or night.

Downloadable software, on the other hand, has been written, tested, and finally made available via a shop, downloaded onto your computer, and is expected to work as written.

It's a bit like electricity - you can buy it in the mains or in a battery.  But charging a subscription fee or software that should just work is like trying to charge a subscription fee for a battery.

On a side note - lots of great graphics have been created with GIMP!

Once they are on your website, what next?

3rd May 2013
Categories: copywriting, usability

OK, so you've worked hard at getting visitors to your website, and now they're coming in droves. The only slight problem is.. they're not buying anything. What do you do next?

First of all, let's talk about where they arrive.

The page a visitor first sees when they come to your website is called a landing page. If they've typed your domain name into a browser's address bar, they will normally come to your home page, so that, for those people, is the landing page. But you can create multiple landing pages for different purposes:

  • business card
  • email signature
  • online advert

Equally, the search term your visitor types in may lead them to one of your internal pages that closely matches that term - so any page on your website could be a landing page.

Ideally your landing page should be tailored to the needs of the visitor. If they've come looking for information about your house cleaning robot, for example, give them a quick reminder of the key facts and ask them to buy,  If they're looking for a competitor's widget, give them the comparison table and ask them to buy yours.  And so on.

Your customers are on a mission

What's next?  Typical visitors will have a purpose in visiting your website, so the fewer clicks from the landing page to the destination page the better.  If there can be a button on the landing page that adds the product to their basket and takes them to checkout, showing whatever discount they've earned, great. From that point, the fewer clicks to secure their purchase and thank them for it, the better.

A short path to the target page means not a lot of words on the way

While you want to satisfy curious visitors, investors, prospective employees, and search engines with a whole range of relevant and interesting content, once you've examined the optimum path from landing page to destination page, you'll see that you cannot squeeze all of your amazing copy onto those few short pages.  Blaise Pascal wrote "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I've written a long one instead".  Why not take the time to make it short and snappy (without getting rid of your in-depth pages elsewhere)?

A word about "squeeze pages"

'Squeeze pages; is a horrible term; I don't know who invented it. Probably an American who had read a marketing book about how to invent categories so that you can be the best in them. What do they do? They combine a landing page and a destination page, and a lot of spammy "convincing" sales talk in between, and they tend to be very long. Well, guess what? They look like the web equivalent of the shopping channel. They're not for you.

The website that grew, part 10

7th March 2013
Categories: google, seo, tWtG

(for previous episodes, try the "The website that grew" category)

Nancy was surprisingly willing to trust Kate's judgement, but had a few questions.

"Can you tell me what factors might prevent the shop from taking 500 online orders every month?"

"I suppose - if people don't find us, or find a cheap competitor, or find a competitor's website easier to use."

"OK, those seem like they might be real difficulties."

"We're investing money with Hugh; he's going to make sure that the website is found."

"Hmm, it doesn't say that on the cost breakdown."

"OK, I'll ask him about that."

"And what about competitors?"

"We need to put effort into the website to make sure it's providing great value, great service, and it's unique.  I think we've learned our lesson there."

"But your job..."

"I'm going to get John and Martin on board.  They can make updates when they're not serving in the shop.  And I will check up on them at least once a week."

"You're very keen on this."

"Yes, I suppose I am.  Seeing what Hugh's done in the past, I can see us running a successful online business here."

Nancy asked if Kate had spoken to her husband John about the proposed developments.  Kate told her that she really wanted Nancy's agreement in principle first, and so Nancy agreed to go ahead with the idea as long as they had a manageable budget for search engine work, and if John was happy.

Hugh proposed a mixture of Google ads and what he called "natural search".  

Google ads appear on the right hand side of the search results whenever you conduct a search on Google, and sometimes at the top.  For your ad to appear, you must bid on a price per click - whether it's 10p or £1, it's your choice.  But you only pay when your ad is clicked.  You can make the ad appear for a number of different search phrases or partial phrases, and you can create different ads and watch how they convert into sales.  For example an ad that advertised your product as "cheap" may get lots of clicks but not generate any sales - so normally you will run diferent ads and compare their performance before whittling them down.

"Natural search" refers to all of the results that are not advertisements.  Google will quickly run through the web pages it knows that are relevant to the search phrase that has been typed, and compare them, for importance and relevance, before displaying them in an order derived from that comparison.  To become more important and relevant takes work on the website copy and structure, and looking at how other websites refer to and trust the website you're trying to promote.

Hugh proposed a sliding scale of costs, starting with a small dip into Google Ads to test the water.  At last Nancy was happy with the proposed costs and Kate spoke to John.

John was happy too, so the work began.

The evolution of publishing

20th February 2013

When we talk about publishing the written word, at any point in its history, we are talking fundamentally about putting the written word in front of readers.  There have been many different phases of this activity, triggered by many significant technologies.

Writing itself seems to have had various origins, including in Egypt the transition from broadly significant symbols in the famous Narmer palette, to symbols signifying sounds, which can be used to construct words.  It wasn't easy to bring early writing to a wide audience, but one form of publishing was of course carving words on temple walls for all (who could read) to see.

The temple carving process was:

  • costly, requiring special tools and trained craftsmen
  • permanent

Meanwhile, writing on less permanent media, such as papyrus, was developing, and this had other problems:

  • required large amounts of manpower to reach a wide audience
  • prone to copying mistakes
  • easily destroyed

Of course, several thousand years later the next development in publishing arrived - the printing press.  William Caxton introduced the printing press to England, though he did not invent the process.  At first, printing presses were crude affairs, using moveable type to construct pages, which had to be disassembled to construct the next page, and so on, so to make the best of the technology you had to know how many copies you were going to print, as new print runs required doing the same thing all over again!  The printing press made it:

  • easy to make multiple copies
  • difficult to amend a just small part of the copy
  • impossible to correct what has already been printed and disseminated

As printing developed, so did writing and publishing. It became easy to become a prolific novelist, though publishing practices as late as the 19th century were different to what we have today - with novelists like Dickens and Trollope being published first in serialised form in newspapers.

The role of the publisher was essential, both for the newspaper serialisation (the publisher was the newspaper, and the distribution was almost universal) and the book form (publishers took care of selling to book shops, something authors could not do by themselves).

Six hundred years on from the invention of printing, we have an advance in technology (the internet) which has led to a number of changes in the process of publishing the written word. These changes include: 

  • The devaluation of the written word (even if publishers charge "too much" for online editions, many people are writing copy and placing it on the internet for everyone to read without paying a penny - this blog, for example.
  • The devaluation of publishing (electronic self-publishing can happen through online book-sellers or just via a personal website, while paper self-publishing can be done cheaply through an online printing firm).
  • The increased power of the new book media - e-readers can bring the "printed" word to you more quickly than ever.
  • The return of serialisation - some authors are viewing e-readers as an ideal medium for publishing serialised books.

Far from simply introducing a "publish" button, the internet has taken us off into many interesting avenues - and at a faster pace than ever.

What's next?

Welcoming more team members

14th February 2013
Categories: staff

We welcome two recent arrivals to the Oxford Web team: Greg Joy and Sue Head.

Greg joins us as part of his placement year studying IT at Oxford Brookes University.  He is already proficient in HTML, CSS and PHP coding, along with a few other languages such as Java.  He has been hard at work on one of our ecommerce websites.

Sue's background covers engineering, project management, and software sales, and joins us as a project manager, aiming to ensure that our customers' requirements are carried out to the bet of our ability and to our customers' satisfaction.

Wristwatch computing - will it work?

13th February 2013

There has been a large amount of speculation very recently that Apple is working on a new wristwatch computer.

Of course, wristwatch computing is not new.  As far back as 1980, I was able to play with a wristwatch calculator (with bright red LEDs) which could perform very basic calculator functions including addition, subtraction, division and multiplication.  The buttons were fairly fiddly but it did the job.

Science fiction for a long time heralded wristwatch communication - from Dick Tracey to the Power Rangers - and that too has been a reality for a little while - LG for example brought out a wristwatch phone a couple of years ago.

But the universal computing/communication device has of course become the smart phone, which provides a screen big enough to see things on, and big enough to tap out messages.  Does it end there, or is there a 'next step' - onto the wrist?

Proponents of the technology may argue that with an ultra-high definition display, a wristwatch-sized device can still display useful information.  And that we don't need keyboards any more, given the ability for phones to recognise the human voice and act on it.

So if size is perhaps not an issue, what's to stop this new gadget becoming Apple's next massive hit? If anything, I'd say it's the inconvenience of having to have it on your wrist.  

Think about it - a phone can be in any position.  It can be propped up or held close when you're reading; it can sit on a car dashboard; it can be held at arms length when you're sitting on the tube with no room to move your elbows.  Having to move your arm to a particular position to use a device would effectively kill it for me.

Have you had any experiences with wrist computing?  Let us know!

The website that grew, part 9

11th February 2013

"What do you want to achieve with the online shop?" asked Hugh.

"I want to supplement the shop's income." said Kate, "so that we can be more profitable."

"And what does that mean in terms of volume of orders?  A hundred orders a month?  A thousand?  Ten thousand?"

"I really want 500 orders a month online."

"How many customers come to the real shop right now?  As in, how many different people do you see in a month?"

"I'm not sure.  It's probably around 500, but some of those would come back several times in a month."

"OK.  Whichever way look look at it, you need customers from outside Aylesbury, which means advertising online.  So if you're aiming for 500 new orders, you should build something solid, that works, and that brings people back to the site, and something that grows.  When you get to 500 you should be fairly certain that the next month is going to bring more orders, and so on, month after month."

Kate was sceptical.  "How can I be sure that this will happen?  And what's it going to cost?"

"It's not cheap, but cheap will get you the results you're getting now.  We know what works because we've done it before, but it will need your input."

Kate's problem now was that she couldn't spare the time, and John didn't want to. "What if I can't provide much input?  Can you help?"

"We can provide more day-to-day help," said Hugh, "but it is more expensive.  What about your shop assistant - er.. "

"Martin."

"Yes, can he spare any time?"

"Not really, but I think I might be able to persuade John's mum to get involved.   She's started using an iPad and she loves it!"

"OK.  That sounds good."

Hugh and Kate chatted about how the online shop would attract and retain customers, and Hugh promised to put some figures together.  They agreed to ditch the getyourdomainsnowuk.biz shop and start again with a completely bespoke shop (though built on some readily-available open source software that Hugh had used before).

After 3 days, Hugh came back with a proposal and an estimate.  The estimate contained the following figures*:

website redesign £1000.00
bespoke online catalogue £1000.00
integration with paypal and amazon payments £1000.00
email list management and sales follow up  £1000.00
set up of blog £1000.00
project management and training £1000.00
TOTAL £6000,00

*Please note that the prices in the table above are completely made up; every shop is different and it is no use extrapolating these prices for your individual circumstances.  A web developer will normally discuss your plans, and tailor the solution to your requirements, the speed at which you want to grow, the technology available at the time, and so on.

Although Hugh's pitch had sounded convincing, and he'd also included examples of websites that he'd built which were doing well in terms of sales and visitor numbers, Kate baulked at the cost.  But she sat down with a spreadsheet and worked out the return in investment, and became calmer.  "Once we hit the 500 sales mark", she thought, "it will take just 8 months for the profits to pay off the website."

She did think that John and Nancy would be difficult about the cost, and she resolved to get at least one more quote.  She searched the internet for local web shops, found a few, and fired off some enquiries. She arranged meetings with the ones who seemed most friendly, and in due course received two more estimates, one cheaper than Hugh and one more expensive.  

Then she organised a lunch with Nancy, and we'll find out more soon....

A nice, high quality article - and money!

17th December 2012
Categories: gambling, seo, spam

When I dipped into my electronic post bag this morning I was surprised and delighted to find an email offering me money.

It wasn't in exchange for my bank details; it was from a very nice man who wanted to write a "high quality original article" in the form of a sponsored post on the Oxford Web blog.

As you may imagine, alarm bells had already begun to ring in my head.  What's going on is that someone who wants to get better rankings in Google wants to use a number of high ranking websites to create content to link to their website.

"What's wrong with that?" you may ask.  I'm a cynic with a lot of things, but the whole idea behind Google's "link juice" algorithm is that websites earn kudos by having other websites rate them highly and therefore link to them - not that they should pay for it and at the same time downgrade the level of content on my site!

I read on.

"Oh, by the way, I'd like to know if linking to a gambling website would be a problem for you..."

Yes - it would be.  And you can read more about why if you buy Graham Tempest (our customer)'s excellent novels - here!

And that link is free of charge...

Linked In Caching Madness

30th November 2012
Categories: caching, social media

It has been brought to our attention recently that if you share a link using "Linked In", it will cache the title and descrption of that link indefintely, so that if someone else shares it two years later and has made significant changes, the "preview" given by Linked In, which includes the page title, won't have changed from two years ago!

Say I share a link today to Green Living Energy's blog post on the new Electrical Safety Register, http://www.greenlivingenergy.co.uk/the-electrical-safety-register-.  The "window title", a.k.a. "meta title" of this page is "The Electrical Safety Register".  

So far so good.  

If in two years Green Living Energy have deleted their blog and post a damning indictment of the Electrical Safety Register, entitled "How the Electrical Safety Register has failed" (not likely but bear with me), and happen to post it under the same URL, i.e. http://www.greenlivingenergy.co.uk/the-electrical-safety-register-, and I want to share it on linked in, it will come up with the title in bold underneath my link "The Electrical Safety Register".  It won't check the title, despite the fact that it was first shared over 2 years ago.

Not a genius bit of programming - but forewarned is forearmed!

websites need words

23rd November 2012
Categories: blogging, marketing

When you walk into a shop or an office, you expect to get a feel for the owners' character, vision, and ethos. Walking into a small independent East Oxford coffee shop, for example, you might see mismatched crockery, antiques, union flags, Bovril jars, pictures of letterboxes, and war posters, which give a homely, "made in Britain" feel - whereas if you walk into a coffee shop chain you'll see a reduced colour palette, all matching crockery, smart new furniture, large scale black and white photography, and uniform typefaces and signage.

But having stepped in, your next step will be to order a coffee. If the shop owner has trained their staff well, your conversation (i.e. your "ordering experience") will be at one with the ethos of the business. Perhaps in the chain they'll refrain from certain forms of addressm like "love", or "my dear", and perhaps in the independent shop they will be more flexible about what you can have and how they can accommodate you.

A nice website design isn't enough to portray the character of a business. You need to expose some of your thoughts and ideas, your philosophy and ethics. And you can't do this with "Home", "About us", "Services" and "Contact us" alone! 

So write about what you know, what you think of the regulations surrounding your industry, what your customers are up to, and what new services and products you can offer - but above all, write!  And if you need help setting up a blog to do just this, hopefully you'll know where to come.

Networking in Oxford

5th November 2012
Categories: networking

Sad to announce, the final event of Oxford-based networking group "Ladies and Gentlemen that Lunch" has taken place.  We supported this group for a number of years with a website which:

  • Allowed the group to manage content via an online content management system
  • Allowed members to update their profiles for an online directory
  • Allowed the group to post events and take payment for events

If you're interested in networking events near Oxford, you could try Refer-On or the Late Breakfast, but if you're interested in meeting us in an informal setting to discuss websites (including design, building, and optimisation) we're planning on running a few  seminars in the new year (2013) - please register your interest here.

One small step

3rd October 2012
Categories: automation, processes

I was at a very engaging and informative presentation this morning by Mark Salisbury from the Oxford Knowledge Company, who reminded us that the Apollo 11 mission to the moon reached its destination with the aid of 4 computers which were each similar in processing power and storage size to the ZX81.  The problem, he said, was that now we have desktop PCs which are thousands of times more powerful, all we do with them is write documents, send emails, and browse the web..

Mark went on to discuss the needs of a modern business, and how computers can automate processes within businesses to save time and avoid mistakes.  

Do you have a business where you have to type each invoice by hand or manually transpose information from one system to another?  Or do you have a website and CRM system which don't talk to each other?  Are there any boring tasks which you think could be automated with the use of some nifty technology?  If so, it may not be as hard as you think!

Do talk to us or the Oxford Knowledge Company if you're interested in making your business processes better.

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