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New Year, New Website

If you own or are responsible for a business website, it makes good sense to perform an audit at least every 6-12 months to ensure that your web pages are still alluring and your content is still up to date. A lot of advances have been made online, so even if your website has been revamped in the last couple of years, your good intentions already look dated.

Tend to your website like you would tend a garden: Sure you don’t have to be in it every single day, but regular tending to keep it fit for purpose. For example, remove the weeds and the plants that didn’t take. Maybe once a month add something fresh.

So many times I have seen unattended websites that are the garden equivalent of overgrown grass, thriving weeds and the rusting remains of an old car!
But before contacting any web designer, with a long list of what needs to be done, have a look at what you currently have online and perform an audit on your website. Here’s a quick how to guide:

Feedback

You know something is amiss with your website when you (or your sales team) stop referring people to the website for further details. You may instead be using Twitter or Facebook to keep your client base updated on the latest buzz. That is fair enough, but don’t forget they will out of curiosity look at your website as well. And what’s to say you cannot include social media updates on your actual website? You can.

Identify your quiet period

Every business has a quiet time: For business to business companies, this could be in the time between after Christmas and before new year; around March and before the financial year or during the 6 week Summer holidays. For online shops, this could be after both Christmas and the January sales. Whenever your quiet period where there are few distractions, this is when you should focus on this task and take the time to assess your website.

What needs to be changed

This is where you need to roll your sleeves up and look at your website objectively. Start at the home page: Does this still look stunning? More importantly does it still reflect your business?
From here, go through the other pages of your website: Do you still offer these products/services? Is the content still persuasive?

Also is your news page, portfolio and/or blog updated on a regular basis? How long ago was it updated? If they are not already, your social networks can be set to automatically update every time you post on your blog.

If your website performs an online function, (for example, completing a form, making a purchase, etc), does this still work ok?

In general, is your website easy to navigate? What is the general feel of the site? Is it still good? Try to put yourself in your customer’s position when going through your website: Would they be impressed or disappointed?

Check your stats

Any serious website owner should be set up on Google Analytics, as this can reveal a lot more about your website, how visitors find your website and how they behave on your website.

NB: If you are not on Google Analytics yet, then every hosting provider does provide basic analysis data from the control panel (but take this quiet time instead to get registered and setup on Google Analytics).

I could dedicate an entire article (even a few) to the various functions and filters of Google Analytics, but for now, The main areas to focus on should be:

  • Bounce rate this is where people click onto your website and then come off it within a short period of time. If this figure is high, then you definitely need to revise your website.
  • Time spent on website: There are two functions for this: The average duration that each visitor spends on your website or more usefully, a breakdown of the tally of people spending a fixed amount of time on your website (for example x% spending less than 10 seconds, x% less than 1 minute, etc) again the less time spent, the less engaging your pages and content are.
  • Number of pages on website Again provided as an average per visitor or a breakdown. Is your content compelling enough that people want to read more, or are your visitors visiting one pages and then leaving. Or have they found what they wanted on that one page?
  • Popular pages This section can be used to answer that question. There are 3 various breakdowns: Top content pages, which show the most visited pages on your website, Top Landing page (the first page one visits on your website) and Top Exit page (the last page visited on your website). This gives an indication of the path people are using throughout your website. The exit page may be your contact page, indicating that they are ringing or sending you an email.
  • Goal Analysis. Depending on the main focus of your website (for example, download a guide or make a purchase), take the time to set up each goal on your website, making sure to record every page in the process. This is the most worthwhile tool on Analytics because you can monitor the success of the whole process and see how many people are abandoning the process halfway. For example are people giving up on page 2 of your 4 page checkout process? if so why?
The WordPress version

The WordPress version as seen from the control panel (circled)

Responsive layout

Another area you should analyse on Google Analytics, is how people are viewing your website. There may only be about 30 people per month viewing your website using a tablet or smart phone, but this figure is anticipated to get bigger. Also these could be the visitors that want to buy from you or find out more information, so make sure that your website can accommodate the mobile user.
View your website on both a tablet and a mobile: How does your site look? Is it still easy to read and to navigate? Can you perform everything on a handheld device that you can from a desktop?  You should.

Security

If your website is set up using sophisticated software (for example WordPress, Joomla, etc), one final word about security: 2014 has been known for online security breaches from vulnerabilities in software to brute force attacks (link to 2014 hack list). Brute force attacks are automated but target your administration panel using simple passwords, and have been rife since the start of 2014 (ask your hosting provider, they may already have security measure in place to eliminate this).

So can your login be easily guessed? Now might be the time to create a more secure password.

Joomla Version

The Joomla Version as seen at the bottom of each page and the update notification (both circled)

Even better is your website software up to date? Software companies regularly revise the software to include all the latest security patches which keeps the nasties out. You can check the latest version of software by logging into your admin panel. Most software providers post a message on your admin panel when there is a new revision available.

These points alone should give you a clear idea on what needs to be improved on your website. Updates to the pages could easily be made by you or a members of staff, but the more involved areas, such as updating the software or re-development to accommodate mobile devices can simply be handed to your web developer or IT department.

This is a brief guide to get you started. DVH Design will shortly be compiling a more in-depth step by step analysis checklist for you to use on your website every year. Please contact or comment below if you would like this document when it goes live.

Unique or Sheep? 5 Ways to stand out From the Crowd

Unique or a Sheep - Make your website stand outIt is good to see that the economy has recovered. It’s even better to see more people than normal starting up their own business.  What has got me bothered is the general attitude towards competitors. So often I have heard, “I want my website designed just like company X” or “as much like competitor Y’s site that we can legally get away with.”

Even after 14 years of trading, I know that the market is very competitive and some companies are more established than others, but you are going to have a website that’s an exact replica of XYZ company what is the point? If they had a shop, would you buy a shop nearby and kit it exactly in the same way? It offers no value whatsoever to the consumer and makes your business look flimsy and very short-lived.

But whether you are just starting out or already an already established business, you don’t have to be a clone. You can make your website unique. Here are a few steps:

1. Look at your Competitor’s Sites

Competitor websites are a wealth of information and a good place to get your initial inspiration. Visit the websites of a few of your closest competitors. What parts of the site draws your attention? What do they offer? What information do they provide on their website, that seems to be popular? What is the feel of their website?

And then piece together how you can combine all these positive features into your website. By adapting this method, you aren’t necessarily copying anyone’s company, you are merely striving to be better than all of your competitors.

2. Focus on your Strong Points

On planning any business, one of the first things you should have done, is planned, amongst a few things is your unique selling point(s).

So is your customer support efficient? Do you explain terms in plain English? Do you go that extra mile to keep your clients happy? If so, then make this clear on your website.

If you are already established, then ask your clients: What do they like about your service? What makes you different from the store up the road who sells X widgets. Here might be the time for a survey offering some sort of incentive (eg 25% off next order).

Just please do me a favour and do not say because “we are cheaper”. That isn’t a unique selling point and seldom have I seen companies that undercut their competitors succeed in long-term business. Cue a well-known phrase surrounding peanuts and monkeys.

3. Flaunt your credibility

Even with a website with unique content and all these good points about your business, how further can we prove your company a long-term establishment and not another flimsy site that’s here one minute and gone the next?

  • Membership from professional bodies related to your industry. It is standard practice for these organisations to provide you with their logo/badge to use on your website
  • Accreditations These could also be from professional bodies or could even be a management standard or a general seal of approval that you may have received.
  • Customer reviews Do you have good snippets of comments from satisfied customers? Or an online review system on your site (especially for shopping websites)
  • Photo of your shop/building. It sounds basic but with so many websites popping up for the same sector, bricks and mortar reassures potential clients that you are a genuine business. As a classic example: one of my clients had their website re-designed to the extent where the image of their premises was somehow discarded. 1 month later while we were working out why they had no sales, they realised this image had made all the difference. Within one week of adding it back on, sales had picked up again.
I received a lovely giftbox from my satisfied clients, myperfectgiftbox.com

I received a lovely giftbox from my satisfied clients, myperfectgiftbox.com

The contents of the beautiful gift I received from a satisfied client

The contents of the beautiful gift I received from a satisfied client (the chocolates were bliss and the candle still smells gorgeous)



4. Get Social

Connecting with both existing clients and other like-minded businesses on the social networks gives you a chance to engage with your audience and done correctly, gives your company a unique voice.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter are the most popular, but picture platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest are great for portfolios, artwork and photography. All are free to signup to, and Facebook and LinkedIn have a wealth of groups that you can join and meet like-minded people.

You can save time and set up all your profiles using a social media tool such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.
Just remember, the golden rule with Social Media: tell tell tell, not sell sell sell.

Hootsuite in Action

Hootsuite.com is an ideal marketing tool that saves time visiting Social Media sites and comes with a URL shrinker to save valauble characters


5. Action, Monitor, Repeat

The thing that drives me most nuts with some websites, is they seem to get to a certain point and then stop trying. Social media dries up, effort stops and then what? Hopefully not sit back and relax and watch the orders come flooding in.

The key to a good website is to constantly monitor your progress on a regular basis. What has worked this month, which doesn’t seem to be working? Would it make any difference if I try X instead of Y? How can we improve?
Also check go back every few months, and check your competitors’ website: has anything changed? have they added and improved their website since you went live?

You will constantly have to go through this cycle, but if it means you having the edge over your competitors then its time and effort well spent.

Taking Stock of Web Images

Go to any business website and chances are there will be at least one stock image, maybe more on the pages. A stock image can save you the time and trouble of taking your own images, gives a visual representation of the theme of your web pages and clearly portrays your message. Stock images can be bought from reputable stock image websites and vary in price from £1-£30.

The early days of the internet saw a lot of shameless copyright infringement:  Images were plucked from other sites and used; content was copied off other websites and passed as their own. Around 2008, the image companies said “Enough!” and began to clamp down on anyone seen to be misusing images.

The one story I tend to share with my clients when emphasising the importance of image copyright and how it can all go wrong, was from the MD of a local company: Before we got called in to help with his website (I must stress that this all happened long before we were on the scene!) He bought two images to use on a corporate presentation about 10 years ago. When he came to updating his website a couple of years later he used the same two images on his website thinking that this was ok.

Two months later, two envelopes landed on his doormat.  Both were royalty bills from the photographer for each of these images: £7,500 each or the special offer price of £15,000 for 2. Money that is better spent elsewhere for any small business!

In this case, the person involved didn’t read the small print, because if he had, he would have known that these images were not permitted for web use. This is just as big a problem as using Google Image search and pinching the image for your own use.

There are many stock photographs website out there that provide a wealth of stock photography at various sizes and formats for you to get your message across. the main two being www.istockphoto.com and www.shutterstock.com.

It is free to register on both websites and then you can either pay per image, or pay in advance by, purchasing credits (iStockPhoto) or subscribing for a fixed time (ShutterStock). The unit price does get cheaper if you buy more or subscribe for longer, but my advice is only buy what you will realistically use.

www.sxc.hu Free stock photography website

There is also www.sxc.hu which is a free stock photo website, but the quality is not always as good as the paid stock image websites. Also still make sure you read the Standard restrictions and availability first as some photographers do ask to be notified and/or credited.

Here’s a few pointers to make your credits/subscription go even further:

Check out the free section: Both websites have a free section. If you have a clear idea of the image you want, see if you can find it here first.

Read the small print: Before buying anything, take the time to read through the Website’s Licensing terms. It is a lengthy document but stock image websites do make it a bit easier for you by listing what you’re allowed to use their images for and what is not permitted. If you’re planning to use an image or graphic as a logo, you will need to buy an extended license, which does cost a bit more. Most sites permit you to use their images for small-scale printing but check the impressions limit given as this varies from site to site.

Size and resolution: Each image comes available in about 3-5 different sizes, from a small 500 pixel image version to use on a web page to a high resolution, 6000 pixel wide image ideal for posters. If you know you’re going to crop an image then buy one slightly larger than you need to. If you are only using the image for the website then opt for a resolution 72 dpi (Dots per inch) which is more affordable than the ideal print resolution off 300dpi.

Get it right: I know a lot of you are probably saying “Duh!” and slapping your foreheads at this one, but it is one worth mentioning: Shutterstock do not have a refund policy and as of 1 July 2013, iStockPhoto will no longer issue refunds for errors. So if you don’t check you have the correct image, size and resolution, it’s your loss. So just double check again before before hitting the download button.

Steer clear of Editorials: Most stock websites include images used for editorial purposes. These are found under a separate section but may appear if you are running a search. These can include, logos, people, places or events. If they’re highlighted in red or have clear warnings on their page, then find an alternative because these are strictly for non-commercial use.

Conclusion

Just by following these basic guidelines, then no one needs to receive any hefty royalty bills for thousands for an image you realistically only need to pay a fiver for.  If anyone can think of any other good tips or something that I’ve missed then please do feel free to leave me a comment below.

Responsive Websites: Is your website ready?

I was just curious to find out what the top Christmas gifts were for last year.  It wouldn’t come as much surprise, but according to Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2012/12/17/2012s-top-christmas-gifts-and-the-companies-behind-them/), the iPhone5 is top of the list followed by Tablets, e-readers and mp3 players.  So pretty much gadgets galore.

Gadgets are getting more widespread and why not? They are handy little widgets to have and do everything, probably even more than what the average PC can do.  Using my website as an example, the number of mobile devices that visit my website has more than doubled within the past year.

 Comparison of module devices between 2012 and 2013

So here comes the £64,000 question:  Have you checked your website on a tablet device yet?  If not then don’t you think you should?  What works perfectly fine on a PC may not necessarily be as user-friendly on a mobile device.

There are online services where you can get a website suited for mobile devices, but these are separate from your actual website and you will have to pay separate hosting costs.  so in the long run it is probably more cost-effective to include a stylesheet that works for mobile devices.

Audit

Start by carrying out an audit of your website.  View it on both a tablet and a Smartphone (Failing that check http://tablet-emulator.org/  ). Also viewing your website on  landscape and portrait:  Can you read the text, click the links and flick through the movie?  How about the main functionality of your website:  Can you complete and send a form?  Can you shop or can you send a message?

Keep it Simple

A general rule of thumb is to declare the maximum width of the screen at about 480 pixels.  This is less than half of a browser’s standard setup.  Therefore you will need to have a rethink of the elements of your website because they’re not all going to fit onto your website.  Keep it simple and think what needs to be included, what needs to be re-positioned and what can be hidden.

Easy to click areas

Even though touch screens have eased the burden of using arrow keys to navigate websites, not everyone has perfectly thin fingers (I for one might as well have 10 thumbs!).  So there will need to be a lot of space for links, buttons and other linkable areas on your website.  This can be achieved using the padding:  and margin: attributes in the stylesheet

Upgrade your software

If your website is based around content management or is a shopping site, it might be worthwhile to the software upgraded.  Not only will this to keep the website secure, but as the software is constantly being developed, it might also include dynamics for mobile use.  It is common practice for software companies to include a list of latest features for their current software.

Test Test Test

The most important thing now is to test the website to see how the website looks on your mobile.  This can easily be done by resizing your browser on your PC:  Once  the browser is resized to  480 pixels, the handheld stylesheet will take effect and you can then see your changes.  Do test the browser on both mobile and tablet and iPhone/iPad and Android.

It sounds a bit involved, but this investment of time will be worth it and will see your company through on the next generation of devices.

The UK Cookie Law is Definitely not Dead

Last May, EU legislation came into place meaning that any website using cookies to store information about its visitors, had to both make it clear on their website’s privacy statement and ask for the user’s consent before they were allowed to use the website. If they didn’t, further action would be taken, and legal proceedings and monetary fines were mentioned.

This news was major enough to be covered by TV and the papers, and a lot of us remember the panic followed into what exactly cookies are used for on websites (a lot) and the excessive work that followed websites basically covering their hides so no one got sued.

Luckily just before this legislation came into force, a small change was made by the UK Information Commissioner. Indicating that websites can assume that the user has given “implied consent”. As quoted in the Guardian’s article:

“In an updated version of its advice for websites on how to use cookies – small text files that are stored on the user’s computer and can identify them – the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said that websites can assume that users have consented to their use of them.”

This made life a bit easier for the average business website, but there was a new twist in January when the ICO published on their website that they were changing how cookies were run on their own website:

“We’ve made a change to way we use cookies on our website, including setting cookies from the time users arrive. For those who don’t want cookies, we’re providing an easy way to remove them.
The aim is to help us collect reliable information to make our website better, while remaining compliant with the rules on cookies and our own guidance.”

There were a couple of articles that followed this development, both courtesy from Silktide MD, Oliver Emberton. Oliver, known for his Cookie Law Protest Site blogged about his take on the development and went on to talk to .Net magazine that this meant the cookie law is at long last dead.

I feel I must emphasise this here and now: The cookie law is not dead. The cookie law is just not as terrible as it was originally made out to be:  Websites still must outline on their privacy policy what cookies are used for, and it is still good practice to include a clear banner on a prominent area of the website outlining that cookies are used, and giving the user the ability to read more or clear instructions on how to disable these if they choose to.

Implied consent banner

A banner using implied consent

Cookies banner asking for users permission to proceed

Cookies banner asking for users permission to proceed

If you haven’t already, it is worth watching the video at ICO or if you have the time and patience, download the 31 page Cookies Guidance PDF (available on the same page as the video). It does contain some interesting points, but can be a bit long-winded.

Another proof that the cookie law is still in force is the quarterly review also on ICO website. This is an ongoing report summarising both reports and concerns over websites failing to comply and what they are doing about it. From this guide it is clear that the ICO is working with the companies that they have concerns over . Their summary quotes:

“We are considering 14 websites for further investigation. In these cases we will contact them to discuss their compliance, and require them to take steps as necessary. We have passed details of five websites to our International team, who have told the relevant European authorities about the concerns we received.

We will continue to contact every site we receive a concern about to ensure they know what steps they need to take.”

So there is no need to panic. If it gets to the stage that further action is taken on a website, it’s because of the failure to comply with the ICO or sheer ignorance on the company’s part.

On a separate note, I did check out two international companies not mentioned in the list on ICO’s quarterly report: One does clearly indicate on the first page what cookies are used for and gives the user the option to opt out and the other does not mention it at all. Will the ICO catch up with them? I will certainly be keeping posted.

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