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Building your website as an effective marketing platform

28th October 2011

In our industry we talk so often about application development that we sometimes forget that the vast majority of websites are not doing fancy things like ecommerce and forums, but are vehicles for marketing.  

That does not mean, however, that those websites have to be simply a few pages of content.  There are a great number of ways to market your organisation effectively on the web, and in this article I am only going to cover on-site marketing, so in other words avoiding how to run a twitter or email campaign and any offsite search engine optimisation.

Design

Design is the one thing that makes you stand out form your competitors at first glance.  So it follows, in this instant-gratification world, that in order to do more business with your website visitors, you need a unique design.  Avoid wordpress templates and instant sites, make sure an experienced designer is providing something special.  Paying for a good design is a little bit like to hiring team members above market rates.  If you advertise for new employees quoting minimum wage, generally speaking you are not going to hire super-effective team members.

Addressing the main target audience with a recognisable scenario, question, or category

When someone lands on your website, they don't want your company history; they want to know if you can solve their problems.  Your job is to know the main problems and put into words a way of addressing them. These words should link to a page which tells people more.

Use social media where appropriate

I said we'd discuss on-site marketing; a button to tell people that your facebook page is available for comments or 'here's how to share this article with your circle' is very much on-site, and if it meets a need, put it in!

Google+

This is now very much a must have, as it will increase your ranking in friends' searches - see our earlier blog posts for the why + how.

Feedback

If you don't have a facebook page, is there a feedback mechanism (blog comments, for example)?  How do customers compain or get support?  If you don't encourage complaints, how are you going to learn about your potential market?

Instant chat

Do you have an instant chat facility?  Quite often when I'm browsing a potential suppliers' site, I want quick answers, without having to pick up the phone (I might be doing several things at once).  Do you have customers like me?  You can bet on it.  Instant chat caters for those people.

Search engine friendly mark-up

Don't be afraid of the term 'mark-up' - this simply means the HTML tags which surround the various elements on the website.  You can't see them but Google spiders can, and they will be looking for various elements to be in place for your site to get their seal of approval.  Talk to a web developer about making sure the spiders can see everything on the website, and organised in the right way.

Happy marketing!

Processes and People Make a Website

25th October 2011

It's difficult to build an effective website with a template.  It would be like choosing a company mission statement from a drop-down list, or copying your marketing plan from a book.  It's not competitive and it's not unique.  That's why we have a team of clever, creative people who are here to work on designing and building a website with your best interests at heart.

But it's also nigh-on impossible to build a cross-browser, search engine friendly, standards compliant, accessible, future-proof website without processes.  Every website we build goes through a checking process to make sure we cover all the bases.

But more importantly, at Oxford Web we refresh our people and our processes constantly.  All our designers and developers attend seminars and courses, and our processes are kept up to date using a collaborative process within the team.

So you know that with Oxford Web you are always in safe hands.

neutrinos, science, and computer programming

17th October 2011

As the newspapers and online journals have revealed this week, the tricky question of whether neutrinos travelled faster than light speed in between CERN and Gran Sasso has now been solved.

Occam's razor is the guiding principle here; the rule that when trying to decide why something works the way it does, the simplest answer (i.e. the one that makes fewer new assumptions) is usually the right one. In this case the assumption that the neutrinos were travelling faster than light was an unusual new assumption - the only problem was finding the simpler explanation, which of course turned out to be hidden for 2-3 weeks until some bright spark discovered that the satellites measuring the location of the neutrinos were to blame.

Computer systems are less subject to Occam's razor than nature, simply because their complex programming is created by human beings who often work at cross-purposes to the end users, but in a well tested and 'seasoned' system, where a fault develops, it's often the data that's to blame rather than a bug in the system - a perfect example of Occam's razor hard at work.

As computer programmers we're constantly constructing systems and rules, and here, if we're good at our jobs, we will work on the other side of the equation, building the simplest possible solution to a problem rather than a more complex one that's more likely to cause problems when changed.  

Why Google+ is a big deal

10th October 2011

I know what you're thinking... there goes the Google fanboy, banging on about how Facebook is for old ladies who play farmville, trying to get us all to join up to Google+, when in fact Facebook is the hub for everything and in Google+ it's so quiet you can actually hear the tumbleweed...

Well, take it or leave it, it doesn't matter, but sooner or later a large number of companies are going to be taking it, no matter what, because, as our earlier blog post indicated, if you connect to people using Google+, you're automatically increasing the chances of your website coming first when they search for your products and services.  

Why should this matter?  Surely your friends and acquaintances know you and will buy from you anyway?

No - from 15 years' experience in the business of websites, it can actually be very hard even for direct customers to remember all the things you do.  

But then there's the serendipity bit... you "plus one" your customer or supplier's (very fine) website, and your friends who don't know him or her will also get that website appearing on page 1 for certain searches.  In other words there's very little time investment needed to do someone in your circle a good deed.

So go on, connect and prosper, by Google+ing today!

Urban OS or Skynet? Am I right to worry?

1st October 2011

The BBC today discusses Urban OS, an operating system intended to control traffic lights, air conditioning, water pumps and other features of the urban environment without human intervention.

While I don't subscribe to the view that sooner or later a vast computer system ('Skynet') will begin to wage war on humans, I do worry about the removal of human intervention in such areas as the traffic management and the water supply.

Quite apart from the threat of software bugs which cause crashes, and human exploitation of the system (see The Italian Job), what about the deeper logic flaws which cause the system to operate in an unexpected way?

It was reported earlier that an algorithm on amazon caused a book price to suddenly rocket to 23 million dollars.  Do amazon not test their software?  Of course they do.  But no software can be tested for every possible situation.  This would be like trying to get an infinite number of monkeys to type the complete works of shakespeare.

I suggest we don't lose sight of the need for human supervision and intervention in these basic systems.

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