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SEO and Social Media Workshops from Web Experts

28th November 2011
Categories: seo, social media

Are you tired of hearing about SEO and social media? So are we. But together with our friends at Cicada Online, we have put together a workshop for our contacts and customers, aimed at cutting through the hot air and getting results. The half-day session covers:

  • Understanding the opportunities from SEO and social media
  • Relating them to your business
  • Creating an SEO and social media action plan for your business
  • A credit for 4 hours' SEO work on your website

Workshops can be held on your premises, or at Oxford Web's new offices at Sandford Gate (from mid December 2011). Workshops at Sandford Gate will be delivered to a maximum of 6 people from 2 businesses and will cost £375+VAT per business represented.

By keeping the workshops very limited, we are able to concentrate on your needs - whether you want to focus on more traffic, expanding the reach of your business, or simply a better experience for your website visitors, we can give you the low-down, listen to your concerns, analyse your website's strengths and weaknesses, and advise on future actions.

Marcus from Oxford Web and Ned Wells from Cicada Online will both be available throughout the workshops in order to cover the subject matter comprehensively.  Each company represented will also receive credit for 2 hours' work from Oxford Web and 2 hours from Cicada, which will be directed where needed most, following recommended actions from the workshop.

We will be publishing workshop dates shortly; meanwhile, for more information, please get in touch.

Is it time to put your products on Google Product Search?

25th November 2011
Categories: seo

Google Product Search is an automatic feature which is turned on when Google thinks you're searching for a product.  You may see normal web results for some way down the page, then a row of results for that product from different online shops.

You can also turn it on by clicking 'Shopping' in the filters you will see on the left hand side of the screen whenever you conduct a search.

Product Search is a great way to give your products more exposure, even (or especially) if you have a successul online shop with a stream of visitors, as it can put your products above similar products in search results, where you may not be above them in 'natural' search.

What's more, Google has just made some great improvements to product search:

  • multiple filters (left hand side) allow you do narrow your search down, even by category (Google tries to understand the categories your product sits in; it may not always get it right, but it's pretty close)
  • you can go to a single product and click 'compare prices' to see its availability in different stores
  • you can add products to a 'shopping list' (this doesn't place it in the store's basket; rather, this is like a wish list, and you can go back to your list any time and follow the links to the relevant online shop).

So if you're selling online, why wait? It's easy to set up, and if you need help, that's why we're here.

Microsoft and Yahoo sign non-disclosure

24th November 2011

The New York Times reports that Microsoft and Yahoo have signed a non-discolsure agreement, signalling that Microsoft may be closer to buying the search engine company than we thought.

So what's in it for them?

The Yahoo CEO resigned earlier this year, due to the search engine's lacklustre performance in the marketplace.  This prompted me to wonder what Yahoo's attraction to users is - their search engine is way behind google, their email is klunky, their home page is cluttered... what is there to like?

But 80 million unique visitors a month somehow end up at Yahoo's front door - poor by search engine standards, yes, but pretty good for the average website!

Yahoo groups has some traction, and some people will land on the home page having installed the Yahoo toolbar alongside some other software.  There's also Yahoo answers and niche services like Yahoo finance.

Users - yes.  But what about profits?

Microsoft aren't stupid, and what they will be looking for is profit.  So what will they plan to do with Yahoo? My guess is that Yahoo and Live/msn/hotmail won't merge - not for years anyway. The brands have their own followers and merging would not gain users. But we will certainly see shared advert and search algorithms, and a push to capitalise on ad revenue on the same way Google has. Yahoo email users should also expect more integration with Office 365 features, another great way to push/cross-sell the Yahoo and Office 365 services.

So after some dire experiences with Yahoo mail I'll pick it up again after the merger, along with trying out their other services again, but typically I think growth will come from retention of existing customers, plus new customers cross-sold from Office, Skype, the Windows phone and other Microsoft services and acquisitions.

Watch this space! 

Why you shouldn't blog to improve your rank

22nd November 2011
Categories: seo

You may have heard from search engine specialists that you should blog to improve your search engine ranking.  

Do they never learn?

The best and only reason to blog is to communicate with your users. Users who may be your customers, your potential customers, your sponsors, your readers, your constituency, or one of any number of audiences you may wish to address.

It is those people who have to read your drivel, or of course your well thought out and informative discourse. Search engine spiders may read it too, but there is only one reason for this: to put it in front of other people.

Of course putting content on your website makes you relevant to more keyword searches, but if you're just putting junk up, then at what price?

Whats best, SEO or usability?

I was speaking to a search engine consultant today whom I respect, and he told me that, with an ecommerce customer he works with, simply making the website more usable (please see my blog articles 1 and 2 on usability) the site's search engine ranking for some key phrases improved hugely, and the subsequent traffic increased four-fold. Why would this be? Apart from the fact that changes were being made, and spiders love that kind of stuff, the web is for humans, and the search engine algorithms are designed to mimic humans, in order to make search results better for everyone. So the rule of thumb works: make your website better for human beings, and they will come.

Remember the panda

Earlier this year the 'panda' algorithm came into effect at Google HQ, making content more important than links in the game of 'how important is my website?'.  The only reason for this is that search engine 'specialists' were creating huge link sites in order to make their clients rank better, rather than improving the websites themselves.  There's a lesson here (again): make your website better, and people will come!

So by all means blog, much and often, but please write great content directed at your human website visitors, not keyword-splattered spider-fodder!

Occupy Flash!

21st November 2011

The occupy flash movement aims to get computer users to disable the Flash plugin on their browsers, claiming that it's old and buggy, and is slowing down the development of new interactive web pages, specifically HTML5/Javascript developments.

While I sympathise, this is akin to asking people to take out the mileometer on their car in favour of soon-to-be-standard robot vehicles.  It won't give them a robot vehicle; it'll just make sure they have less features (and sometimes when they really need those features) in their current car.

So I raise my hat to you, Occupy Flash guys, but I won't be coming along for the ride, sorry!

Usability Analysis - Part 2

16th November 2011
Categories: usability

We're working with a local educational establishment on an application which helps them receive student submissions.  There is a twice-yearly submission window, which means a period of intense activity followed by 5 months of preparation for the next window.

This forces us to follow a neatly defined 'plan-develop-test-release' cycle, which could apply to any other website, but isn't usually top of the agenda.

During the testing part of the cycle the idea is that you test  that the system functions properly given a wide variation of parameters, but also that the system is usable, i.e. that perhaps the less savvy users will still be able to understand and navigate the web application.

However, during the release section of the cycle there are inevitably events we can learn from.

For example:

  • do users fail to understand the terminology and ask the same questions?
  • will users benefit from having different concepts separated over multiple screens, so they don't miss anything?
  • do website administrators repeatedly ask us to perform system level tasks, where we could create an 'app for that'?

Yes, the thrust of the usability effort has got to be looking over shoulders of new testers during the test cycle, but usability is also understanding patterns which emerge from mass usage.

A six month cycle can really focus the mind and help a website increase any metric - conversions and sales for example.  Let us know if we can help you plan your usability analysis and release cycle.

Why you need more time to be creative

14th November 2011

An interesting video from "KreativMagazin" shows how it takes time to build real creativity into what you do. It's not a terribly scientific study, and the children who are asked to draw around the hands of a clock are given just ten seconds at first, which is not even time to think, but it makes a good point.

But the problem is, given ten minutes instead of ten seconds, how do you know who's going to squander the time and who's going to come up with something unique or "disruptive"?  In the video a whole classroom of children is the resource, but in real life you sometimes need to choose one resource... and of course the temptation is always to tell them to make it snappy!

Why "Click Here" is wrong on so many levels

10th November 2011
Categories: usability

Have you ever seen (or perpetrated) the 'click here' crime?  It's when you have a sentence on your web page that reads something like "To see our brochure about ecommerce apps, click here" (where 'click here' is a link).

Here's why it's wrong on 3 levels:

  1. Readability.  If your customers are reading your webpage at 100 miles an hour (and they will), a set of underlined 'click here's aren't going to help.  Far better to emphasise the important words (like the "ecommerce apps") by turning them into links.
  2. Accessibility.  If blind people are using your website, they'll hear "link: click here" instead of "link: brochure about ecommerce apps", which doesn't work, especially if they're getting a summary of links!
  3. Search engines: if you're linking to the ecommerce apps page with the words "ecommerce apps", search engines will add those words to the information they have about the page (i.e. they'll go into the search index along with all the words on the page, for retrieval later on).  Which means the page shows greater relevance to those words.

Why not take a look at your website copy now and correct those pesky 'click here' links? 

The web developers' toolkit - part 1: graphics

9th November 2011
Categories: graphics

It doesn't take a huge outlay to be able to develop websites these days.  What it does take to develop good websites is an in-depth experience, not just of the technology, but of your customers and the process of marketing them online.

That said, we present the first in our series about the tools a web developer needs to get started, starting with graphics tools.

The main thing you need if you're building any kind of sophistication into your design (whether you're designing the site or receiving/setting up the artwork in order to build the site) is a graphics editor which handles layers.

Photoshop is the industry standard package with all the bells and whistles, and comes with a hefty price tag to match.  You can do amazing things with photographs, although you'll need to learn about the tool in order to create nice buttons and graphics.  Thankfully, there are now lots of youtube videos which help with that.  Or you can read a book...

Photoshop Elements is a cut-down and very reasonably priced version of Photoshop.  The only thing I've needed that it lacks is grouping layers, which can be important if you're receving artwork from a designer who uses Photoshop 'proper'.

Fireworks is another Adobe offering, really aimed at the graphics side of the web rather than photo editing, so while it won't help you with that nice header banner you would like to create, with the face merging into a landscape, it'll do buttons nicely.  It doesn't have a huge market so you may find that designers you'll deal with normally use Photoshop.

GIMP is a free tool which offers something near the sophistication of Photoshop, with some nice extras besides, like a series of effects and animations.  The down side is the clunky multi-window interface, but you can certainly get used to it.

Paint.Net is the baby of the group, another free tool, with various features missing such as retaining text information inside a layer.  That said, it's often good for your customers who just want to crop and resize pictures before putting them online and don't want to pay for anything more sophisticated.   

The phone: can Microsoft do it?

8th November 2011

Microsoft loves a launch party, but can Microsoft make it with their Windows phone?

Points in favour:

  • Microsoft is a recognised brand, and is able to pull together elements that people already work with, such as office documents and skype.
  • Having jumped in at this point, they've had a good chance to study the competition and get things right.
  • There's lots of media coverage, and no doubt new phone buyers will understand the concept.

Points against:

  • Microsoft haven't quite shaken their uncool glitchy blue-screen-of-death image.
  • Smart phone market saturation is huge, so there aren't that many places to go, and Android and iPhone users will probably stay with what they know.
  • Steve Ballmer.  He's got the energy, yes, but none of the charisma the other Steve had.

Well, the jury's out, but my prediction is that Windows Phone will trail even Blackberry in the marketplace at the end of 2012.

The past is a foreign country

5th November 2011

Google has decided (blog post, 3 Nov) to make a new set of major changes to the ranking algorithm of its search engine.

Recent events, 'hot topics' and 'trending' topics will work slightly differently from now, in that if the search giant identifies a set of keywords as belonging to one of those categories, a search will bring up more recently edited web pages relating to those keywords.

This is bad news for someone who is ranked No. 1 for "fishing tackle", for example, if "fishing tackle" suddenly becomes a new ultra-conservative political group making demands of the US president.  Until the issue is no longer hot, your ranking will suffer as a result, and it may be time to open up your wallet a little and fork out for those google adwords you've been avoiding.

The problem here is that, while fairly advanced search tools are on offer, search engines know that people don't want to use them.  Why give you the dashboard of a Dreamliner jet when you can have a pedal and a steering wheel?  Through a fantastic process of natural selection, users have put the burden on search engines to provide them with as simple a solution as possible and to anticpate their needs where possible, as opposed to educating them on how to use a more complex tool.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that there are opportunities to 'hijack' popular/trending/newsworthy keywords and phrases in order to appear higher up the rankings. The equivalent of adding misleading meta-keywords to your web pages in order to attract traffic consisting of people who didn't search for you, and which of course will have the same effect - disgust and censure.

So this probably only works in favour of (some) users, rather than any website owners, which of course is the intention.

Gmail's new look - just when you thought it couldn't get better

2nd November 2011

For those of you who use gmail, I'd recommend you try the 'new look' they're touting.  It gives you new button formats (again...) but that's the worst part.  The best is really very good, including:

  • New format for conversations - so you can see more of each email on one page without expanding all and losing the thread.
  • New search dropdown which gives you the advanced search features in a dropdown.
  • Density control - less phenomenal but I really like it - allows you to control the density of email on the page.

For anyone who's avoided gmail based on the fact that it's free and not branded in your company name - give it a try.  You can connect it to your company domain, and there's a paid version called Google Apps.

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