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Suggested new years' resolutions for businesses with websites

31st December 2011

As we look forward to 2012 and what it may bring, we present to you a short list of suggested new year's resolutions for any organisation with a website.

I will conduct a twice-yearly website review

Your website affects your business. If it weren't so, I doubt you'd bother paying for it. So when was the last time you conducted a website review? Topics for discussion should include:

  • The aims of the business
  • How the website should fulfil each of those aims
  • Where we could improve
  • Next steps

I will get to grips with social media and cloud computing

Just like you saw the potential of the internet for your organisation, 5, 10, or even 15 years ago, now you should be looking at new ways to harness technology. Questions to consider are:

  • Can my website benefit from new links or visitors found through social networking?
  • What should I do about it?
  • Am I relying on too many office-based solutions when a cloud-based solution is available, more cheaply and reliably?
  • What should I do about it?

I will measure our marketing campaigns

There's still a huge amount of marketing that's relatively unmeasurable in terms of its impact. Online media helps you measure what yo're doing and how it's affecting visitors and sales. Make a point not to spend a pound in 2012 without measuring your spend and its effect. The simple act of measuring will help you get more out of your marketing budget. If you don't think you have a marketing budget, why not tot up what you spent in 2011 and use it as a baseline?

I will have a Happy New Year

Do you remember why you're in business, or working where you work? Make a point of making 2012 the year you enjoy what you're doing, do it well, and make a difference. Does this sound hard? Then maybe you need to discuss your objectives for the year with friends or colleagues, who will always provide new perspectives. If you don't have any to hand, why not talk to us?

Browser stats: reality check

23rd December 2011
Categories: analytics

A few years ago, too many to really remember, I wrote a blog post on how Firefox was creeping up on Internet Explorer in the access logs (there was no Google Analytics in those days, we had to rely on tools like Webalizer) and how one day Firefox and IE might be sort of equal in take-up.  In addition, our customers with a more techical fanbase were seeing Firefox and Safari users in significant numbers (but still not topping IE).

This year I have re-run my original survey, taking a sample of customer websites again - so I do stress that this is not a scientific survey in the sense that it does not represent the internet as a whole.

To my (mild) surprise, IE is still on top, but not much.  At around 33% on average across a variety of websites, including consumer websites.  Followed closely by Firefox at 27%, then Safari, then Chrome a poor 4th place.

However, on the more technically minded sites, Chrome is a clear winner, at 34% of users, followed by Firefox just pipping IE at the post, both on roughly 26%.

Within IE, across the whole sample, on average IE6 lags behind 7, 8, and 9, which is good news for users and developers alike, for reasons explained in previous posts.

Social sharing

Google analytics also reveals what it calls 'socially engaged' visits to our customers websites, visits prompted by sharing on twitter and facebook, for example.  These currently make up less than 1% of visits, but the presence of an emerging trend is obviously important.  If you're reading this and you're not giving your users a chance to share on facebook or twitter, or to +1 your web pages, have you been missing out on 1% of sales this year, 2% in 2012, 4% in 2013?

Mobile visits come in at 4% of all visits.  Again, this is an emerging trend that many website owners need to address and encourage.

The need for speed

Finally, Google Analytics also tells you how long your web pages take to load, which is an excellent measure of how much you're annoying users (little known fact: it also affects web page rankings).  Are your pages loading in under 3 seconds?  If not, it could be that you're on massively shared hosting, or the pages are built in an inefficient way, or both.  Come and talk to us!

It's likely that this is my last blog post before Christmas, so to all our readers:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

-Marcus


Google delivers some Google+ Improvements

20th December 2011
Categories: social media

Google has announced via a blog post a number of improvements which should make Google+ easier to use and (I would imagine that Google hopes) more attractive to new users and 'sticky' for existing ones.

One of the huge advantages Google+ has had from the start is integration with other Google products - most notably gmail, although being able to advertise on the Google home page as they did when Google+ came out is also a huge (dare I say it?) plus.

Notifications about things happening in Google+ appear in a header bar gmail, and Google has now made this easier to navigate, introducing more content in a dropdown panel when you click the notification icon.

Google has also extended Google+ into the business world, and there is a specific way to advertise your business on Google+, using a "Google+ Page".

Finally a better photo lightbox has been unveiled, replacing the very klunky 1.0 version which, to be honest, looked like a rushed product.

So who knows, maybe in 2012 we'll all be Google+ing each other?

Finally, silent updates for Internet Explorer users!

16th December 2011

It seems like someone's been reading our Christmas wish list blog posts, as Microsoft has just announced on their Window Steam Blog (or should that be Windows Team Blog?) that IE is to "Start Automatic Upgrades across Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7"

This is a great step towards protecting users from websites which prey upon the more technically illiterate, using phishing or other techniques to gain access to sensitive data or to wreak havoc on victims' computers.

It also means that web developers can save countless hours adapting the latest HTML to older browsers, as the bar is raised a little higher a little more quickly.

Well done Microsoft!

The web developer's Christmas list

14th December 2011

Dear Father Christmas

I've been incredibly good this year; I've applied w3c standards to all my html and css, and object oriented principles to all my code.  I've applied the boy scout principle (when editing code, I leave it a little better than it was when I started) and I've avoided GOTOs and raw SQL in views and controller code.

What I'd like is:

1. A single specification that's easy to read and unambiguous

2. A 2000 pixel wide screen - make that on dual monitors.

3. 3g on my phone everywhere I go 

4. A quad core processor 

5. Adobe Photoshop CS5

6. Everyone who uses IE6 to upgrade, please!

7. Oxebiz 7

8. Windows 8

9. Firefox 9

10. Visual Studio 2010

11. 2011 to be the year they stop inventing new computer languages, paradigms and frameworks

12. Twelve cups of coffee a day!

The website owner's Christmas list

13th December 2011

Dear Father Christmas

I've been very good this year.  I haven't set up keyword spam pages to get myself a better Google ranking, and I haven't spam-emailed random address lists.  I've made my website cater for all browsers, even if some of them suck (you know who you are), and I've made sure that it's accessible to people with different disabilities, and that it can be read and indexed properly by search engines.

I'd like:

1. My web developer to anticipate my every need and carry out the work with style and panache.

2. Two number one spots on Google for my 2 top-selling products, when people search by their specific or generic names.

3. My website to be beautifully organised into three tiers - home page, more details, and most detail.

4. My website visitors to enjoy the four-step checkout process and fill their baskets.

5. Five users to test my website for usability, providing great data for usability analysis.

6, 7, 8 and 9. IE6 users to all upgrade their browsers.  IE7, 8 and 9 users to start using Firefox or Chrome.

10. My website to fulfil Oxford Web's 10 marketing must-haves. 

11. 2011 to be the best year yet.

12. My website not to crash with the weight of 12,000 Christmas orders.

Skydrive gets an upgrade

9th December 2011

We're not only "all about Google" here, so to follow up on yesterday's post about cloud services, I wanted to mention Microsoft's skydrive, which has recently been upgraded.  I checked it out, and it's pretty amazing..

  • edit word, excel and powerpoint as if you've got it installed on your desktop
  • upload and download files
  • sharing (this has improved hugely)
  • quicker access to everyday functions like renaming files (so that it doesn't feel like you're using a web application - again, it's more like using a desktop app).

My guess is that in 10 years time the polarisation between desktop and web apps will be largely forgotten, so unfortunately none of these comparisons will make sense any more - but if you're reading this in 2021, desktop apps used to be faster, trust me...

A moving experience: cloud computing

8th December 2011

Having moved offices this week I have to say, despite the heaps of work actually carting stuff from one place to another and notifying customers and suppliers of our new contact details, it's been one of the least stressful moving experiences I've ever had.

Of course, we have to thank the good people at Sandford Gate in part for that; renting an office here and getting the phones, internet, and furniture we needed was a doddle.

But it's also down to the wonder of cloud computing. 

In the bad old days, our Exchange Server Administrator and our Windows Network Administrator would have been fiddling with cables and desktop settings, installing file servers and email servers in air-conditioned racks and coming up with unexpected problems which take email offline for hours on end. 

Nowadays, with everything we need on our laptops and desktops somewhere in the cloud, we can just unplug in the old office and plug in again in the new.  

In addition to a hosted email and file servers, and hosted office documents, we also use versioned file backups of our software projects, which mean any changes are logged and we are able to roll back to previous versions if necessary - a very useful tool.

To find out more about how cloud computing can help you and your business, get in touch.

How to grab customers' attention this Christmas

7th December 2011

Online Christmas shopers fall into all sorts of categories, and some into no categories at all, but here are some behaviours which we've observed in customers over the years which should help you plan your website's foray into the marketplace:

Customers don't always buy on price

Customers will look for websites that appear to be trustworthy. This means that some of them will avoid Google ads in favour of natural search results. It also means that getting a sharper design and the right content (and social media links) must be a priority for ageing websites. Just because it works, it doesn't mean it will attract customers.

Customers can't always buy on price

The cheapest option may be way down the list of search results.  No customer in a hurry is going to look on page 3 of search results, and many aren't going to look on page 2.  Be on page one (for your product name - your company name doesn't matter) and try Google Product Search too (see our earlier post).

Customers like to buy from trusted sites

If you don't have information about your security features, your returns policy, and happy customer testimonials, you will almost certainly be losing out on a huge swathe of customers who just don't trust you. They're easy to add, too. If you want to go a notch higher, use video testimonials to prove that your customers really exist!

Customers love lots of information

Of course, there are some situations in which, if you've found the product you're looking for, you'll click "buy".  But what if you aren't quite sure if it's wide enough, or supports Windows, or is suitable for a 3 year old? Be especially careful if you're receiving downloads of product information from  the manufacturer - are they enough?  Can you point the customer to more information or fact-sheet downloads, or write about your own experience? This is another great way to differentiate from your competitors.

Happy selling!

We've moved

4th December 2011

We've moved to Sandford Gate in East Oxford, a fantastic office development with a bit more room for our growing business. Our new address is:

Oxford Web
Sandford Gate
East Point Business Park
Oxford OX4 6LB

Our telephone number has also changed - it's 01865 596 144 - but our old number will work for a little while.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new offices.

A shared language

3rd December 2011

The paradoxically self-referencing Hofstadter's law states that "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law."

I'm sure it works in many professions, but it feels especially suitable to the software development industry.

So what makes projects take longer?

Whenever something takes longer than expected here at Oxford Web, we analyse the reasons, in order to learn from the experience.

And one of the biggest causes that crops up is the lack of a shared language between customers and web designers/developers.

If you've ever specified or built a website yourself, then you fall into one of both of these groups.

Baby talk

Have you overheard or been part of a conversation between a baby and a parent, where the baby is trying to get something across that the parent just doesn't understand?

Baby: Want it
Parent: Here's your teddy, sweetie!
Baby: Grrrr!  Want it!
Parent: Don't you want your teddy?  What do you want?
Baby (gesturing like crazy): Want it? 

Customers don't have the language

The baby analogy is not to say that customers are immature, but those who don't have experience of specifying websites just don't have the language - what the layperson calls jargon but is in fact a very necessary glue for putting together the desire for something and the activities which get it done.

The problem gets bigger when customers have a language but it's not our language. For example the customer may say "auto responder" (which means an email which fires off straight away when any email is received) but really mean "a series of prepared emails that fire in sequence when someone signs up to a newsletter". Or get frustrated with a developer who creates a fixed width website, when that's what the designer has designed, and it just won't stretch.

What can we do about it?

The only perfect solution is for the customer to understand a great deal about web design and development. But of course there's a lot we can do:

  • Thinking of things that the customer may not have thought of.
  • Showing the customer websites which do similar things to the things they want theirs to do.
  • Creating a written statement about the purpose and function of the website, based on the customer's original requirements.

These are huge steps towards mitigating the problem. But the biggest thing, the one thing which people say  they don't have but in reality will lose more of if they don't spend it at the start, is:

Time

If you want your website next week, we don't really have time to site down and discuss how it's going to work, specify it, prototype it, test it, usability test it, and go live. So you might as well write a blank cheque on cost and functionality.

For a very simple website (a unique website, not a wordpress job), you should normally allow:

  • A week to agree the specification
  • A week for design
  • A week for development
  • A week for functional testing (by the customer) and usability testing
  • A week to iron out problems and go live

For larger projects and systems, these timescales rise logarithmically with the amount of functionality being specified.

An evolving language

If you're the specifier, the designer, and the developer all rolles into one, you shortcut these processes within your brain, of course, and you can go from initial vision to going live in a few hours. So if there are more people involves, can we still shortcut the process by using a shared language?

In an industry less than 20 years old, with new trends, paradigms, and user expectations emerging every year, and when kids are learning how to use software instead of how to build it, how can we ever have a shared language? Are we in fact going back to the times when priests and monks knew Latin and the Bible, and the populace had to accept what was given to them?

Why don't you join us and learn a little Latin?  We've started a tech blog aimed at everyone from complete beginners to programming gurus, with a shared authorship in order to broaden the subject matter and the appeal, and with the aim of explaining techie concepts in plain English. We hope you enjoy it as it grows.

Online directories forced to remove dodgy advertisers

1st December 2011
Categories: legal

As the BBC reports, a judge in Nevada, USA, has ordered various online directories including Google, Bing, Yahoo and Facebook to remove links to sites offering counterfeit goods for sale.

As legislators try to get to grips with controlling the internet, what does it mean, and is it good or bad?

Earlier this year the European Union ruled that websites within its jurisdiction should gain explicit consent from users before storing 'tracking' cookies on users' browsers.

Google is today hitting back with print advertising explaining just what a cookie is and why it's so useful - there's an ad above my head on the train as I blog, saying "Hello David, What's your name again" as an illustration of the fact that without cookies, websites can have very short memories.

I have not met anyone yet who agrees with the EU cookie legislation. So in my view it's very misguided. But does that make internet legislation bad?

In all walks of life there may be good and bad legislation, and if legislation exists to prevent street traders from selling fake Rolexes on Oxford's cornmarket, why can't the law rule on internet trading?

Opposers of this kind of legislation cite the fact that in order to make it work, you have to legislate in all jurisdictions - but does that matter? Surely that is not the point of the law. However nice it would be if it was applied globally, laws must be passed if there is a strong case.

What do you think?

© Alberon Ltd 2017

8 Standingford House
26 Cave Street
Oxford
OX4 1BA

01865 596 144

Oxford Web is a trading name of Alberon Ltd, registered company no. 5765707 (England & Wales).