Technology « Datadial Blog
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On the subject of Technology

Martina Martina

February 23rd, 2011.

Why it is now impossible to rank as #1 in search engines…

The evolution of the Internet shows the constant change in the way search engines fetch you the information you want when you put in a query. Gone are the days, when a uniform set of results would pop up irrespective of who you are, where, when and how you searched a particular term.

One such example was just 2 years ago in the huge viral campaign for the blockbuster movie ‘2012’. The online marketing behind this movie was so clever that consumers were told to “just search 2012” in a search engine, as part of the teaser. Indeed if they did, a quick search in Google would return about 1, 000 websites and over 150 books based on the idea that 2012 marked – the end. Scary!

Localised and Personalised results.

Two years later, things have changed. With Google collecting just about every smidgen of information available to them from the online user, they have found away to return results that are ultra personalised all depending on the users’ settings. This is great in terms of relevance. For example, a Londoner living in Chelsea putting in a search for “local plumbers” or even just “plumbers” would be in for a treat. Google would collect her I.P. address which would determine roughly which area the search has come from, her domain name, (which in this case would be ‘.co.uk’), and even the similar searches that have been carried out in the past, to finally come up with some options that would best relate to that user.

This seems great for the person wanting a local plumber. But is it great? The answer is yes…and no – and here’s why:

  • It causes some businesses or products to not be shown, limiting the users opportunity to try something new/go somewhere else.
  • Other businesses might not draw customers from certain locations because they are not being shown in results.
  • Most importantly: nobody ranks number one!

Blended results

Blended results further add to this difficulty of ranking at the very top of your field. These are integrated in the results that are returned when you search any particular term. For example we already know that a search for “local plumbers” combines a series of data to produce personalised results. Blended results are the effect of vertical search engines gathering information. For example in Google, there are additional tabs you can click to get certain results: (images, news, books, blogs etc.) These are placed adjacently between organic results. So you might search “plumber” and return: 1. A Google page listing of a local plumber, 2. The Wikipedia definition for the word, 3. A directory result and 4. An image of a plumber (just kidding on this one :-) but you get the idea.)

Therefore ranking at number one is not really generic. This doesn’t mean however, that you can’t rank at the top for your field if you utilise tools such as Google AdWords and create a very powerful and successful campaign with all the right keywords. After all, you only need to appeal to the intended audience, and this is exactly what Google assists in doing!

Happy Searching.

Steff Steff

October 12th, 2010.

Dowce : Screen capture for the masses!

We’ve all been there, needing to show a friend or colleague something we’re seeing on our monitor but don’t want them to see the entire screen, so we reluctantly fire up photoshop (or paint!), then crop the image, save the image (thinking up some temporary filename and cluttering up yet another folder) and finally email the resulting image – wasting precious time and losing focus on other tasks at hand.

I got tired of this monotony so came up with a solution… dowce - Easy screen capture

Using the tool that sits next to your clock  you can very quickly highlight a portion of your screen and either copy to clipboard, save to your computer, or upload to dowce.com – where you’ll be given back a unique short URL to send out to people.  You can even add a caption and password protect your capture. It literally takes a few seconds and lets you get on with your other jobs.

Pre-launch, members of the team here at Datadial installed it on their office computers and found it to be really useful when composing emails to clients which needed to contain screenshots of statistics and website layouts.  Friends have also started using it to show each other winning (and losing) hands of online poker! It’s one of those tools that once you pick up, you use more than you would expect.

To give you an idea of what’s on offer, here’s a screenshot of the options you get after you’ve made your selection:

If you choose to Save to dowce.com you’ll receive a unique link to your capture…

It’s as simple as that! For a full demonstration of how it all works and to download dowce for free, visit www.dowce.com

Martina Martina

October 1st, 2010.

Successfully guest posting on A-list blogs.

You are probably already aware of the importance of guest posting to for the purposes of promotion in the world of SEO. The two work hand in hand. However, there is more to guest posting than simply getting your article uploaded to any random blog on the internet – if you want it to be seen and seen often, then you need to be featured on successful high powered blogs that get attention.

As somebody that is fairly new to SEO, I have learned that there are many ways to ‘get a link’, but perhaps more importantly, I have recognised the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to guest posting.

So what shouldn’t you do?

  • Aimlessly send out requests asking a multitude of questions regarding guidelines.

Why? – Because blogs like this usually have set guidelines that can be found on ‘guest posting’ sections of their site. Asking webmasters questions that they have already answered shows your lack of attention to detail. Not a good sign.

  • Ignore the target audience.

Figuring out the niche for that blog, or the readers interests from previous posts that they have on the site is helpful. Of course you may be working for clients or have your own ideas that are far away from the niche theme of the blog that you are approaching. One solution to this is to be creative and to try and marry the ideas that you have, to this niche. For example, I recently found a blog on video-gaming where I wanted to incorporate a client that supplies contemporary decorative art; I came up with ideas such as ‘concept art in video-games’ and even ‘tattoo art inspired by game characters’. These worked well.

  • Follow-suit.

Taking initiative is highly appreciated in the world of guest posting. Don’t be afraid to send some material to the blog owner, rather than simply asking to send some. If they are a successful blog, chances are they will be inundated with requests daily, many of which they turn down. Instead, sending some well written content with a good email explaining your intentions will be a breath of fresh air, will get you noticed and will heighten your chances of getting that post.

  • Be generic.

Go ‘gaga’ with the hyperbole, the numbered titles and the informative language used. If the blog owner wants changes to be made, you’ll be informed, but standing out is the key – a title can make the topic seem boring even if the content is great. Huge blogs of text with no photographs are a no-no. Avoid these.

  • Give up.

If your post was refused but you followed the above steps, chances are it’s going to have been a pretty well put together and thought out piece of work. A well constructed post is never a wasted effort, so don’t waste it – use it elsewhere or use it on your own blog if you can. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. :)

Rob

August 17th, 2010.

4 more ways to increase conversion rates

This article is aimed at people new to e-commerce. It covers some of the basics of ensuring that your website maximises conversion rates.

It should also be read alongside  12 quick ways to increase conversion rates.

For more experienced e-commerce managers please see this article on advanced techniques for increasing conversion rates.

1) Minimized Navigation on Shopping Cart/Basket Pages

There is nothing more frustrating for an online retailer than an abandoned basket. Why did the user go all that way and then lose interest??

It’s fair to assume at the check out stage that a user does want to buy something.   So our advice is to minimise the navigation available on your shopping cart pages. Keep wording short, simple, and to the point. Do not allow any distractions that could potentially pull your customer away or cause a delay.

By adding in lots of last minute deals and offers you risk diverting attention and losing the sale.  Not everyone subscribes to this method, however at Datadial we believe it to be the best option.

An example: http://www.yapp.co.uk/pages/checkout_Login.aspx

2) Clear and Upfront Notification of Delivery Charges

Tacking on fees on to a final price without notification early in the buying process is the quickest way to lose a potential sale.  Numerous surveys have revealed that hidden delivery costs are the number one reason for people to abandon a shopping cart.  Notify your customers upfront if they will be required to pay any shipping or handling fees. This is a great way to increase conversion rates and build customer loyalty.

3) Clearly Display Trust Elements for Consumer Confidence

Remember, quite often users do not know who you are, where you are or really anything about you.  Therefore it’s crucial you do everything you can to gain, nurture and keep your customer confidence in order to increase conversion rates. Here are a few ways to do this:

Clearly display “trust elements” on your website. Trust elements can include:

a. Credit card logos. Use only approved, high-quality logos representing the types of credit cards you accept. This helps customers feel more secure in knowing you are a legitimate business. It also shows the user that they can buy from your site. It may not be obvious otherwise.

b. Contact information. Whenever possible clearly display your companies contact information. Customers need to know they will be able to contact you if they have a problem, questions, or need more product details.

c. Real employee names and a company director. When people shop online they like to know with whom they are dealing. Displaying real names and titles of key company employees will help consumers feel more secure in knowing there are real people running the show and not just computerised robots or answering machines.

d. Photos of faces and places. Include photographs of the people with whom your customer is dealing. If appropriate and applicable, include very short biographies about the smiling faces on your website. Consider using photographs of your business location if applicable. This helps people understand yours is a legitimate business with a real location and that you aren’t likely to disappear in the night.

e. Visual verifications of claimed approvals, affiliations, and other credentials. If you have the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for example, proudly display it in a prominent place. If you have earned awards for business-related, and sometimes personal accomplishments, tell your consumers with a quality image and link that leads to more information.

f. Push any special customer services you have to offer. If your customer service representatives are bi-lingual or speak multiple languages, find a way to let potential consumers know from the get go.

Multiple Payment options

Most of the time one payment option on your site is totally adequate.  But in the interests of maximising conversions you might consider adding other payment vehicles to your site.

The most popular alternative is PayPal.  Some users only ever use paypal as they are comfortable with it and trust it.  PayPal offers your customers options. They can pay with major credit cards, or can pay directly from their own PayPal account.  It also has the advantage (depending on how you look at it)  that Paypal store your credit card so that you do not have to re-enter it each time you visit a site offering Paypal.  Paypal is also great one for small and start-up businesses that have no established a financial history with their banks. It’s fast and easy to register, display on your website, and capture funds that can be transferred right to your bank account.

So why not add it as an option?

Well it’s expensive with commission rates around the 3% mark (and 20p per transaction).  Paypal also have a knack of siding with the buyer in the event of  dispute meaning that refunds are issued on request, leaving merchants frequently out of pocket.

It’s an extra administrative thing to manage but if adding Paypal helps get an extra % sales conversion on your site then maybe it is worth it.

Google Checkout also offers easy solutions for start up merchants and small businesses. Google checkout claim to increase leads and create more conversions with a fast, easy, convenient checkout process.

You can also sign for basket abandonment alerts so you can recapture customers who wander away without buying!

The main advantage that Google Checkout has over Paypal is that its icon appears in Adwords results – so naturally drawing your eye to merchants using it, resulting in a 10% uplift in conversion rates according to Google.

However, Google Checkout has many drawbacks.  Its interface and design are distinctly amateurish and this influencers trust building for users on their site.  (Having said that Paypal’s interface is not much better).  Also it’s only possible to link Google Check out to credit card accounts and not bank accounts.

Since its launch Google checkout has not taken off in anyway like Paypal before it and struggles for market penetration.

But, as above, if it means a small increase in sales conversions, and you can put up with the extra administrative hassle, then maybe it’s worth having Google Checkout as well as Paypal as well as normal Credit Card payment facilities.

Like Paypal, Google Checkout is suitable for small and larger merchants alike, though brand aware and high end merchants are unlikely to be found using either as there is undoubtedly something “cheap” looking about both!

Rob

July 22nd, 2010.

A glimpse into the future of E-tailing over and beyond traditional e-commerce

I recently went to a talk on the different forms that e-tailing is taking over and beyond the traditional e-commerce site.

Below is a distilled version of the talk with just the best bits.  A lot of these examples are only availabe in the US at the moment but by reading this  you are getting ahead of the curve!

(The talk was by the big cheese at Pod1 – Fadi – so credit to him for researching it all)

E-commerce via Apps

Squareup.com
Start accepting cash and card payments with Square. No contracts, monthly fees, or hidden costs. Effortlessly manage the money you take with an easy and intuitive interface. US only at the moment and only for payments less than $60 but one to watch for sure.

See corporate video

And a review on how it works

Google shopper (Android only)

This APP allows you to scan barcodes, the co

vers of books and media, and even search by voice – the app will tell you where you can buy the same product and at what price.  Pretty nifty if it works!

foursquare

It took 12 months for the location-based social network to attract one million users and by stark contrast; the second million only took three months. Ever since February 2010, the site has been registering over one million ‘check-ins’ a week.

See how it works:

New e-commerce software

Vendr

Vendr create POP-UP shops – They say that you can create your e-commerce site within 15 minutes.   These are basic obviously sites now but I guess they will improve. In any event they will probably do for many home based businesses.

from their site: “Works with your current website:  Add a “store” button to your blog or website, and your store will simply pop-up over your content — no more sending your customers elsewhere to make a purchase. Vendr functions as a part of your existing site. ”


Alvenda

Alvenda software allows you to create e-commerce shops within sites such as Facebook – Alvenda’s first customer, 1-800-Flowers.com, launched during the Mother’s Day holiday in 2009 and recognized a 10.5x lift in shopping activity by making it easier for people to shop.

New E-Tailing concepts

Cutting out the middle man – Harnessing the power of social media to revolutionise product manufacture and pricing.

Furniture:

http://www.made.com/
For furtniture design and manufacture: You choose what makes it into our collection. Vote for your favourites and the most popular will be made available to order.

Wine

http://www.nakedwines.com/
Buy early, pay less
The earlier you buy an air ticket, the less you pay. Now you can do the same with wine. Save £££!

Car Rental

Whipcar
WhipCar is the first service in the world where a car owner can rent out their vehicle for money, whenever they are not using it. WhipCar pairs sensible drivers with spare car time

Kolen

April 9th, 2010.

How website and email stuff works

Typically my knowledge of domains, DNS settings and A-records is happily restricted to one phrase: “Sergio, can you setup a new site please?”

But recently my personal website had issues with the DNS service I was using. I needed to move it, including changing my entire hosting and email. It’s headache material, but it’s one of those things that website owners have to do sooner or later.

If you are also daunted by all of this jargon, this may help:

Diagram illustrating how websites and email work

Download a printable PDF »

The small print: this is a highly simplified diagram of how all of this works, intended to only provide an introduction. There are many more connections in between the ones illustrated. This also only shows POP3 email accounts (the most common business setup), but there are other options such as webmail and IMAP.

Sergio

January 5th, 2010.

Adding Email accounts to Microsoft Outlook 2007 Manually

This tutorial will guide you through the setup of your email account. You will need the details we provided you to setup your account on Outlook

  1. Startup Microsoft Outlook 2007.(a)  If this is the first account you are setting up on outlook a Wizard will startup, click Next.
    Outlook 2007 Startup

    On the account Configuration Select yes to configure E-mail account then click Next. Go to to step 2

    E-mail Accounts
    (b) if you already have an account setup and would like to add another e-mail account.
    Select Tools on the Menu Bar then Account Settings.

    Account Settings

    Select New.

    Add New E-mail

  2. Select Microsoft Exchange,POP3, IMAP, or HTTP then click Next

    Select E-mail Service

  3. Enter E-mail account details
    Type your name: e.g. Joe Blogs
    Type your E-mail address: e.g. joe@demo.co.uk
    Type your Password: e.g. password
    Then retype your password: e.g. password
    Then Select Manually Configure Server Settings or additional Server types then click Next

    Auto Account Setup

  4. Choose E-mail Service
  5. Select Internet E-mail then click Next

    Select Internet E-mail

  6. Enter Server Information
    Account type: POP3
    Incoming Mail Server : Information provided by Datadial
    Outgoing Mail Server(SMTP): Information provided by Datadial
    User Name: Information provided by Datadial
    Password: Information provided by Datadial
    Select Remember password then click More settings

    Enter Email Details

  7. Outgoing Server Setup
    Select Outgoing Server tab
    Select my outgoing Server (SMTP) requires authentication and Use same settings as my incoming server then click OK

    Select Outgoing Server

    Select Test Account Settings and check if everything is completed then select Next

  8. Finish Setup
    Select Finish. If you still have an account settings window open you can click close to return to Outlook

    Finish Wizard

Rob

July 6th, 2009.

Just how social was Compare the Market campaign

meerkat

I attended the Online Marketing show at Olympia on Tuesday and listened to “How to implement a social media campaign” By Amelia Torcode, Partner and Head of Digital Strategy, VCCP.

VCCP and Amelia are now the darlings of the social media world following their successful Compare the Market/ Compare the Meerkat campaign.  Anna picked up an NMA award last week for the campaign.

I’ve got to say that I was a little disappointed by the presentation, especially on behalf of the delegates who had actually gone along in order to learn about Social Media Marketing.  All they got was a self indulgent “aren’t we wonderful” lecture on the Meerkat experience, along with a repeat of some of the adverts just in case you hadn’t quite got the message yet.  The talk cost £40 to attend so you would hope to learn something in return apart from how wonderful VCCP are.

But my main beef with the whole thing was actually the question of whether this was in fact a successful Social Media Campaign at all.  At its simplest VCCP came up with a cute idea, paid a huge amount to advertise it, set up a Twitter account and Facebook page and then encouraged the banter on these and other sites.  This has created incredible awareness and has kept a lot of people happy.  Site traffic has gone up 80%,  but still way below Confused.com. Succesful quotes have gone up 20%.

But was this really a social media campaign in its truest sense?  Could they have achieved a better result at a fraction of the price? Did they essentially miss the point of social marketing?

Social media is a method of generating discussion about your product or service within social network platforms seemingly without any effort being made by yourself.  In short you start a story, others pick it up and pass it around because its either funny, interesting or useful  If you get the story right you don’t need to spend any money because the “network” does the work for you. In VCCP’s case they (must have) spent a fortune on the development of a separate www.comparethemeerkat.com website and on the TV campaign, and in the process killing the average cost per conversion, although Anna claimed that this had come down by 21% but it was not clear that this took into account VCCP cost.

The point and beauty of social media is that you don’t need a TV campaign, the network does the work for you.  The message is passed on because people feel the need to.  And the number of people who link to your site ultimately help the Google rankings.  The actual spike in traffic is an irrelevance compared to the long term effect on Google rankings

On the point of search engine rankings, in her talk Anna started off by saying that Google was the benchmark around which the whole campaign was based but then did not mention Google from that moment in.  When I questioned her about the traffic from Google she was unable to answer as she had no stats and there was a separate agency altogether dealing with natural SEO. In fact any discussion about Google rankings or PPC had her flummoxed. I found this astounding.

I don’t want to knock Anna or the the meerkat campaign but it’s really interesting seeing the different approach that an Advertising agency can have to Social Media compared to a proper Online Marketing company. Advertising is all about brand awareness.  SEO is all about driving sales via the website.  As an SEO consultant myself I could not imagine implementing a campaign without keeping Google and other search stats at the forefront of any analysis of the campaign’s success.

Also I would have questioned a totally separate site, comparethemeerkat.com to be the backbone of the campaign.  Any self respecting SEO will tell you that for a social media campaign to be successful is to get people to link to your client site voluntarily which in turns helps rankings and therefore sales.  In this campaign as the majority of the new links will be pointed at the stand-alone Meerkat website.  In my opinion this is a huge miss of the campaign.  1000’s of lovely links all going to the wrong website – how depressing!

The only solution would be to 301 the meerkat website one day when no one is looking, though this is a huge social media faux-pas and could potentially lose them a lot of trust and goodwill.  Undoubtedly VCCP have been successful in raising awareness of CompareTheMarket but I am unconvinced about the benefits of the long term online presence.

If I was new to social media I would certainly have left none the wiser after this talk.  If I had been giving the talk I would have attempted to reveal the theory behind succesful social media marketing, explained how stories got picked up and spun about the web, how a traffic spike in itself is not important but the links that it brings, how the ultimate prize is rankings.  In short I would  have talked less about myself and more about how to help others, especially if I was charging £40!

Alex

July 20th, 2008.

The benefits of RSS Feeds

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) can become an invaluable tool if used correctly. Although the use of RSS is usually reserved for techies, it is only a matter of time before this technology is embraced by regular web users.

RSS feeds are designed to aggregate multiple feed of information by grouping and storing topics of interest into one location. Users can browse these feeds at their own leisure safe in the knowledge that they can access the latest information relating to their chosen interest. If you are interested in a particular subject, (i.e. football) you could visit a site that exposes its content via RSS and subscribe to it. Now, at your own leisure you can check your RSS feed and browse the latest feeds (or newly posted information) in a uniformed and sortable format.

Each item within a feed contains a title, date, summary and sometimes videos and images. If the topic is of particular interest, you can click the feed link and jump off to the source of the feed (web site) to read more. This is a much cleaner and efficient way of keeping up to date with topics you are interested in rather than trawling the internet and storing lots of bookmarks. This way the information comes to you without having to lift a finger. Users are completely in control of the information they receive as unsubscribing is just as easy, if not easier that subscribing. You remain totally control of the flow of information. RSS feeds are a huge time saver and can boost you productivity .

Types of RSS feeds:

  • Blog posts – Receive updates every time a new blog is posted
  • Article Feeds – Get summaries or articles written about a particular subject
  • Forum Posts – Receive updates each time user reply to a particular forum post you are interested in
  • Retail Feeds – Many ecommerce sites are publishing whole product lines as RSS feeds. Each time a new product is added you’ll be notified
  • News Feeds – Receive breaking news from sites like Google
  • Industry Specific – Keep up to date with industry related articles, news and reviews that maybe related to your industry

Subscribing for RSS Feeds
The best way to do this is by registering with a Feed Reader site like Google Reader, which allows you to store all of you feeds in one central location online. This is a simple process especially if you already have a Google account. Once you have done this you are ready to start subscribing to RSS feeds. The next time you see an RSS link or image simply click it, choose the feed reader you have registered with from the dropdown menu and click subscribe. You’ll instantly have access to the entire feed displayed in chorological order.

Create your own feed
If you publish regular information on your site you can benefit from publishing this as an RSS feed. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. By not having an RSS feed you are missing out on an opportunity to keep your customer / audience informed on what you business is up to. RSS feeds should be thought of as a free promotional tool. You’ll be able to relax safe in the knowledge that as soon as new information is add to your site users will be informed. This will bring in more site traffic a users may want to find out more or purchase products

Alex

July 20th, 2008.

SQL Server 2008

Like many of Microsoft’s recent software products (Visual Studio .Net, .Net Framework or C# 3.0) SQL Server 2008 has been enhanced based previous versions by fixing bugs and adding new functionality built based on existing features. This is a welcome strategy that helps ease the transition for developers and database administrators.

In this blog post I will briefly touch on some of the database administrator functions and focus on the developer functionality, additions and upgrades.

Administrators

Management
SQL Server 2008 policy management has been updated and is now called the ‘Declarative Management Framework’. It is now possible to configure multiple database servers so that a standard configuration can be applied and maintained on multiple servers and databases.

Multiple Server Integration makes it possible to execute queries against multiple servers by placing them within special groups. Result can be categorised into one result per server or merged together as one set of results.

Security (Transparent Data Encryption)
A cool new feature of SQL Server 2008 is the improved flexibility of data encryption. Data encryption is now a property of the database instead of application code. This makes the database administrator and developer’s life’s easier as now they don’t have to make changes to the database every time encryption functionality changes at the application level.

Resource Governor
Database administrators can now specify how much CPU/RAM each user is allowed to use. This will help to eliminate situations where a user’s mistake could potentially bring down a whole server. By imposing these limitations users are restricted to a predefined amount of CPU/RAM usage.

Developers
Developers have also been treated to some appealing updates in the latest version SQL Server. There are a number of new features that have been added to make a developer’s life easier and increase their productivity.

LINQ Vs SQL
Most developers are pretty familiar with writing T-SQL queries to retrieve data for application objects. Most are also aware of the distinct syntactical differences between VB/C# and T-SQL. SQL Server 2008 provides something called the LINQ to SQL provider, which makes it possible to write LINQ commands directly within SQL Server. This lets develops use one common object centric language in the application domain and the database domain. Developers will be able to use the LINQ programming syntax on database table and application collection, XML and datasets.

DATETIME Data Type
Datetime has now been separated into two separate data types so that each one can be defined independently. These new data types will help increase performance by eliminating the need to perform certain operations to extract the date or time portion of the Datetime data type.

GEOGRAPHY and GEOMETRY
These two additions have been added to better represent location specific data. This eliminates the need to break geography and geometry data down into formats that fit other standard data types.

Syntactic Sugar
The SQL language has had some small additions in the shape of Inline Variable Declarations:

Old
DECLARE @myVar int
SET @myVar = 5

New
DECLARE @myVar int = 5

C like math syntax
SET @i += 5

Icing on the cake
SQL Server 2008 had been blessed with Intellisense. All I can say is “about time too”. Gone are the days where you would have to do a Google search to remind yourself of certain T-SQL keywords, statements or syntax. Now SQL Server will give you’re a full list of statements and keywords available for a particular variable’s data type as well as column names for a particular table.

Conclusion
SQL Server offers some interesting new features that will keep developers and administrators happy. These new features integrate well with Visual Studio and the .Net framework 3.5 making SQL Server a nice finishing touch to a well rounded application development environment.

Alex

July 20th, 2008.

Web Usability

Web usability is about designing your web site so that users can achieve their desired goal quickly and easily. Taking time out during development to make sure your site meets usability standards can have a huge benefit to your business.
“A web usability redesign can increase the sales/conversion rate by 100%”
– Jakob Nielson

Designers and developers must make sure they spend adequate time planning the flow of information by firstly identifying the needs of their intended users, then creating a path for site visitors to follow, which firstly, addresses a users initial concerns, then gradually takes then towards achieving their goals. This is achieved by understanding the goal the goals of you target users and then identifying the information your site needs to provide.

There are millions of web sites all competing for the same space, so it is important that you get the right information across a quickly as possible. It has never been easier for users to find a competitors web site, which may do a better job than yours. It is important that you meet the immediate needs of your site visitors as this the fundamental principle behind good web design.

Web designer must realise that if a web site is hard to use or hard to read, users will leave the site. This is because most users simply do not want to spend a large amount of time trying to figure out how to use a site as there are plenty of other sites to choose from.

Definition of Usability

  • Easy to learn
  • Efficient to use
  • Easy to recover from errors
  • Easy to remember

 

Navigation (Breadcrumb Trail)
Site navigation is crucial as users must know where they are and where they are going at all times. The easiest way to achieve this is to follow certain site convention, layouts and phrases (i.e. company logo should be in the top left corner with a link back to the home page, ‘about us’ links should display organisational information, shopping cart or basket should refer to items a user wishes to purchase etc).

These conventions must not be adhered to whenever possible as users have become accustomed to them. Developers and designer must use this to their advantage because sticking to them can increase the usability of the site.

Download Speeds
How many times have you exited a web page because it has taken too long to download? As broadband speeds get faster users are becoming increasingly impatient when it comes to page download time. On average users are prepared to wait 8.6 seconds, so it is important that you pay attention to this. There is no use having a fancy web site with high resolution images if users aren’t prepared to wait long enough to see them.

Faster page download speeds can be achieved by using CSS instead of images, placing CSS code in a separate file and using Unobtrusive JavaScript.

Usability Testing
Many web designers fail to complete adequate usability testing due to time and budget constraints. They fail to realise that a usable web site or CMS will eliminate a lot of time spent providing technical support. It is crucial that designers and developers know that the adoption of usability testing will eventually pay for itself many times over.

The key is to start usability testing early and to involve your target demographic. If possible, use five people to complete these tests as this has been known to uncover as much as 85% of usability issues.

Conclusion
Usability is a hugely neglected area of web development and is an issue that needs to be addressed. We must always remember that users always come first and that if you make the user your priority then they will reward you with their loyalty.

It is not good enough using programmers and designers to do the testing either, as IT professionals do not think like the average web user. The best way to complete thorough testing is use candidate that are similar to your target audience.

Usability is an incredibly valuable tool that can save an organisation a lot of money, improve their competitive position and customer loyalty. It’s never too late, so start today.

Alex

July 19th, 2008.

Mobile Broadband

Over recent years broadband has become the benchmark standard for internet access at home and at work and the days of dial-up speeds of 56k are a thing of the past. If you have been using the internet for long enough to remember how painfully slow this was, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what mobile broadband has to offer.

Mobile broadband relies on 3G technology, which makes it possible to access the internet using a laptop (or PC) anywhere that has mobile phone coverage. You don’t even have to be in a wireless hotspot area as your broadband coverage and connection quality depends on how close you are to a mobile phone mast. The closer you are, the faster the connection speed you will be able to achieve.

Who is Mobile Broadband for?
Mobile broadband is an attractive solution for students or those living in temporary accommodation as it doesn’t require a land line. In fact in most cases it doesn’t require a mobile phone contract either. This has many advantages over conventional broadband access.

It is an essential tool for businessman and entrepreneurs, as it gives them the flexibility to complete their work on the move. It enables them to keep in touch with their latest emails and access important documents in a reliable way.

Hardware (3G Modems)
Setting up mobile broadband is extremely easy. Firstly you will need a 3G modem, which comes in three forms; USB Dongle, USB Key or Data card (laptop only).

  • Dongles are about the size of a mobile phone and plug into your USB port.
  • USB sticks are much smaller and are geared towards users who want a more portable option.
  • Data cards are more discrete but are less popular as they require a laptop with a plug and play software/expansion slot.

 

Providers
The five main mobile broadband providers are:

  • 3 Mobile
  • Vodafone
  • T-Mobile
  • Orange
  • O2

 

Each company offers various packages and uses their extensive mobile coverage to deliver a high quality internet connection.

Technology
Mobile broadband is made possible via 3G services, which are made possible via HSDPA (high speed download packet access) and HSUPA (high speed upload packet access). These enable broadband speeds of up to 7.2 MBPS download and 1.76MBPS upload.

3G functionality is also becoming a standard feature in modern laptops. This means users don’t have to worry about using dongles, making it easy to switch from wireless broadband at home to 3G broadband on the move; all with a few mouse clicks.

What’s the catch?
Mobile broadband is a new service and because of this there are still some limitations. Many of the current packages have quite restrictive monthly download limits depending on the package you are on. Another downside is that the higher your download requirements the longer your contract length will tend to be. Contracts lengths range from 0, 12, 18 and 24 months, which allow download limits of between 1-15GBs.

These limits have been imposed as the cost of transferring data across 3G networks is more expensive than transmitting data across home broadband networks. Providers also have to make sure that heavy users do not overload the network causing lost connections and slow services for others.

Conclusion
It is estimated that mobile broadband account will grow by as much as 50% by 2010. By 2009 mobile broadband can be expected by companies like BT, Virgin Media, Tiscali and AOL.

The addition of Femtocell base stations will help to boost mobile reception and advances in technologies like 4G will also bring faster connections. This will lower the cost to mobile operators, which can be passed back to the consumer.

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