De-skilling of website design: the pitfalls.

This article isn’t intended to be a “what we predict will happen in the next decade or two” piece. It’s our view of where things stand currently and what it means for businesses and institutions in ensuring that customers can find and engage with them digitally. Patterns do evolve, but we prefer to revise the opinions we offer over time in the light of developments, some of which are expected and those that are unexpected.

Back in the 1990s when the Internet took off, website building was in the hands of either enthusiastic amateurs or professional ‘web masters’ who commanded awe and respect for their knowledge and abilities in this emerging medium.

Even up to the mid-2000s, it was very easy to identify the difference between a website designed by a professional and anyone else.

Innovation and development in technology such as the smartphone, the tablet, games consoles and myriad other web-enabled devices has forced the pace of evolution in websites and how they function.

The advent of social media and software apps has sped up the pace, too – and search engines have become ever-more sophisticated in what information they offer users at the top level before they ever visit a website listed in the rankings.

The ‘web master’ role has broadened and diffused into designer/developer specialisms (‘front or back end’) or come back together into cross-disciplinary roles (‘full stack’).

Indeed, the term ‘web design’ is seen by many as old-hat and irrelevant, with the emphasis more on user experience (UX): how users interact with a business and/or its devices/products/communication channels.

Some would argue that the way our usage of mobile devices is going and because of the increasing use of voice search via Alexa and Siri, therefore the act of conducting text-type searches via Google and other search engines may become irrelevant, too.

One point needs to be made clear at this juncture. A website fulfils a far greater function than necessarily being the main point of contact, because it is the hub, driving engine and information archive that powers everything you do digitally in how you reach your customers: including social media, a related app or e-commerce.

The Internet is a vast repository of information: essentially a giant reference library that holds a huge variety of content: text, video, sound or infographics. Your business occupies a space on the shelf of that library and you are flagging up the location.

As such, any digital interface with that library, be it your web pages, social media, an app etc. must function well – the surface look is important but secondary to content and overall user-friendliness.

It’s true that with the introduction of website templates such as themeforest and online website builders such as squarespace, professional and amateur design can appear indistinguishable.

Many would also argue that, particularly if one owns a small business or start-up, to invest in professional web development can be costly – or worse, a poor return on investment. If a relatively cheap web builder can deliver a professional-looking result, why hire professionals at all? We would suggest that you need to think very carefully before cutting corners with a pretty, off-the-peg template web builder.

Regardless of whether one uses a web builder or hires professionals, one needs to think very carefully about how to identify the target audience, what one’s online strategy needs to be to fit your business model and what tactics one needs to employ to engage with your audience. Digital development professionals worth their salt work with you to do just that rather than just concentrating on a site’s cosmetic appearance.

If you’re a small-to-medium sized business, then doing that without the relevant knowledge or the resources to employ someone in-house to do it is going to be a problem. Are you objective enough to analyse your own business in that way anyway? Above all, do you have the time to devote to it when you’re busy running your business and it will be taking you away from your core tasks?

A web builder may well provide you with what appears to be a professional-looking website design, but it is by no means guaranteed to be the right design for your needs and most importantly the needs of your customers. Good professional developers provide high-quality design that is fit for purpose.

Although there are web builders that promise to be truly responsive across platforms and devices, it is crucial that your website (and any digital channels that engage with it) is thoroughly tested to ensure it displays correctly. Professional web developers do this as standard. It’s in their interest to do so, after all.

The content you upload to your site, especially pictures and videos, can have a negative impact on load times. Bugs can occur, too; bugs that are not simple to identify or fix, that may compromise the look and operation of your site, and which you simply don’t have the know-how to resolve. It may be costly if you call upon help from the web builder’s provider.

Security is a big issue, too: ensuring that your site is protected against malware, viruses, hackers and myriad online threats. It’s not just your own data you are safeguarding but that of your visitors and customers. The advent of GDPR legislation on 25th May 2018 makes this imperative (see our blog article on the GDPR).

Also, a nice template will not bring visitors flooding in on its own. High-quality content is vital (we will be posting a separate article about content soon), and your website also needs to be fully SEO-optimised to place it near the top of Google search rankings.

Granted, search engine optimisation is not an overnight process – but one that skilled digital professionals can advise on, and run on your behalf.

Not only are reputable professionals in this field conversant with current digital trends, but they also add the ‘human element’ that no web builder can, to avoid the homogeneity of samey-looking designs that can lose you in a competitive marketplace.

They know that content is key and they can discuss and adapt design to yours and your customers’ needs in a far more flexible manner. Additionally, they provide the technical support to ensure your site operates smoothly and to resolve any problems that may occur.

This is not to decry web builders, template themes, related CMS or any of the industry standard frameworks on which they run. We also do not rule out the increasing role of AI within digital design. There is a clearly a place for all these useful tools and the judicious use or adaptation of them can provide an excellent, fully functional, responsive, attractive result – but we suggest that currently a professional is still best-placed to assess this.

We believe that it is still a big gamble for a business, however focused it thinks its business model and online strategy is, to put all its faith in a template and a web builder alone. As outlined above, there still are significant pitfalls that can end up costing a business valuable time and money it can ill afford to lose.

 

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Let’s be clear about GDPR: when it comes being compliant, for you there’s no opt-out.

The following HCOMS article is a brief overview about the new GDPR legislation. It’s likely that we’ll be posting more in-depth articles on this subject, but we want to give you some basic guidance as to what you need to have in place immediately.

The information in this article is not provided as legal advice on GDPR compliance. We advise you to contact a legal expert with experience in this area of legislation. However, the following information is a basic guide to putting things in place that will enable you to be GDPR-compliant.

HCOMS can assist you with this: to find out more, contact HCOMS today.

Five months on, many websites STILL aren’t GDPR-compliant

In our communications and interactions on the Web since 25th May 2018, we at HCOMS have noted that an astonishing number of websites are still not complying with the GDPR.

In the first few weeks after the GDPR became active legislation, it might be expected that big organisations who were non-compliant would be the first ones to face hefty fines of up to 20 million euros or 4% of annual turnover (whichever is larger).

However, nearly five months on, we would strongly suggest that it isn’t wise to be non-compliant with the GDPR on the assumption that, for example, one runs an SME business – or in other words, “I’m not big or important enough for the GDPR to affect me”.

Here are the main errors HCOMS has witnessed:

  • No cookie consent: They may seem annoying, but those pop-up boxes on arrival at a website that request consent to cookies with a link to the website’s privacy policy are not an option. They’re mandatory, as is a brief, informative description in the pop-up itself to describe what the cookies are used for.
  • No terms and conditions agreement on contact forms: To be compliant, there must be a link to your organisation’s full T&Cs.
  • No privacy policy: Under the GDPR, you must show a privacy policy that clearly sets out how, when, where and why personal data is collected, stored and processed.
  • Not showing contact details of the organisation: you must have clear contact details and any other associated information, such as if you are a VAT-registered business with the VAT number quoted, or if you are a Registered Charity, quoting the registration number.

GDPR: it’s in force NOW – so you’d best be on the right side of it

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) came into force on the 25th May 2018. It dovetails with the PECR (Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations).

The PECR’s coverage is for email communications and the use of cookies, and the GDPR covers elements of these too, with the emphasis on protecting individuals’ data privacy in their online interactions with websites.

These two pieces of legislation are part of the EU’s ePrivacy Directive – and following Brexit in 2019, the British Government would need to create and enact similar legislation to cover the UK.

However, it’s important to remember that wherever you, your business or organisation is based in the world, if your website can be viewed in the EU and individuals’ personal data is gathered, then you need to be GDPR-compliant.

Put simply, there isn’t an opt-out for you regarding the law.

Accountability and EU Citizens’ rights under the GDPR

Under the GDPR, a citizen of the EU is known as the Data Subject whose personal data is being collected, stored and processed by your website.

You and your organisation who are in overall charge/direction of this process are known as the Data Controller – and the person(s) who collect, store and process the data via back-end management of your website are known as the Data Processor(s)

A Third Party is someone authorised to process personal data on behalf of the Data Controller or Data Processor.

The Data Recipient(s) are those to whom such data is disclosed.

Here are the main Rights of Data Subjects (this is not the full list, but the ones specifically pertaining to this process:

The Right to Access: As a Data Subject an EU citizen has the right to ask for and receive confirmation on what personal data is being collected, where and how, and what it will be used for. If the Data Subject requests the data, it must be sent to them free of any charge in electronic form.

The Right to Be Forgotten: A Data Subject must have an easy-to-access and easy-to-use way to withdraw consent. On such withdrawal, all collected personally-identifiable data must be purged.

Portability of Data: If a Data Subject requests it, and they must be given a clear option to do so, they should receive all personal data held on them by your website and, if they wish to, be able to transfer the possession of that data whenever they request it.

Notification of a Data Breach: Should any form of breach or access to personal data that is not authorised occur, a full notification of said breach must be made within 72 hours of knowledge that the breach has occurred. The potential outcome of such a data breach could be considered a “risk to the rights and freedoms of individuals”.

Your initial GDPR checklist: actions to take

  • Make sure your website displays a cookie consent pop-up on a visitor’s arrival at your website, with a clear, concise description as to what the cookies are used for. Ensure it also has a link to your website’s privacy policy.

IMPORTANT: Remember that there must be a separate request/consent mechanism in place on your website if you wish to offer site visitors the opportunity to receive newsletters/promotions/offers etc., by email or SMS.

  • Ensure that any contact form your website generates has a link to your full terms and conditions page. You must have full terms and conditions on your website.
  • Check that you have a clearly-explained privacy policy on your website that explains how, when, where and why you collect personal data. It must also provide site visitors with access to that data, the right to withdraw consent and to have their data purged, and the right to portability of said data.
  • Display clear contact details for your company (email address, telephone number, business address) and any associated information, e.g. VAT or Registered Charity numbers.

Need assistance? Busy doing what you do best? Talk to HCOMS today

Whether you have a Web manager or not, you might simply be so busy attending to business that attending to GDPR compliance is the reason why you haven’t done it yet. Or maybe you just simply need assistance with putting it in place. HCOMS can help: contact us today.

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SEO: how HCOMS makes it work for you

HCOMS understands SEO and we believe that as marketing specialists who operate transparently and with integrity, it’s our duty to give you a better understanding of SEO too. Here then is an overview to help you.

Search Engine Optimisation creates the best conditions for Organic or Natural Web Traffic. As the terms suggest, it’s a process that in order to send your site higher up the web rankings is akin to gardening in that it promotes a ‘natural’ growth of popularity in your site and in web traffic.

Understanding this means that one also understands SEO takes time, like planting a seed but creating all the right conditions to enable it to thrive and grow. It’s not an overnight process: it takes at least six months and often more. However, in the long term this approach pays dividends if conducted correctly.

For this reason it pays to be wary of those who promise that they’ll put you at the very top of the search rankings in a short time. Likewise, anyone who tells you they can give you accurate calculations on how many hits your competition’s sites receive and therefore how many yours will get is a claim that one should also be wary of. In the absence of analytics accurate calculations are impossible – only guesses.

Equally, backlinks to other sites should be of a high quality with a good reputation and relevant to your sector and marketplace to promote the type of web traffic your site needs. If backlinks are being generated for you but with no clear methodology or source, then you could be paying for dubious backlinks that could have an adverse effect on your search rankings. They will be spotted by Google algorithms designed to weed out such backlinks.

One hears horror stories of companies whose rankings and business have suffered as a result of SEO companies who have utilised ‘black hat SEO’, and we would advise you to be vigilant. At HCOMS, we know that conducting SEO properly and above board is the only way.

We ensure that your site is acceptable to Google’s algorithms and an excellent experience for users; that all tags, parameters and meta data are correctly configured; that your site is correctly optimised to integrate with your social media channels; and that all backlinks are of high quality and that blog articles are shared with those whose opinions have weight within your sector. Most importantly, your content must be original and of a quality to be rated higher by Google. Remember, it all takes time.

If your site is an existing one, we can use analytics to provide a clearer picture (see our blog article on web traffic sources). If your site is new, there will obviously be no analytic statistics to begin with, but as with the SEO process in general, it is a case of “suck it and see”. In the longer term however, accurate analytics and robust SEO are a highly effective way of promoting high rankings and web traffic.

PPC (Pay-Per-Click) ads are an alternative or an accompaniment to SEO: but in a competitive sector you can be pulled into a bidding war and quickly squander your marketing budget. PPC is better used tactically if at all. You must also remember that in terms of ROI it is uneconomical if your site’s content is poor or rarely updated, because visitors directed by PPC ads will leave your site quickly, and it will suffer in the rankings as a consequence. If the quality of your PPC ads is poor, then they will suffer too in position.

SEO is a complex discipline: but when conducted correctly in conjunction with your site, social media and email marketing, it makes all the difference.

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Why Websites Fail

Reasons Websites Fail

 

There is nothing more frustrating than spending money and time setting up a website, only for it to remain hidden in the depths of the Internet, lost and attracting zero hits.

To succeed, a website must generate traffic, and plenty of it. Read on to find out how you can make your website stand out among the crowds, attract hits, a regular customer base and keep that all important conversion rate high.

 Content

The content on your website really is the key to your success. There is little point in creating a fabulous all singing, all dancing website that has little or no substance.

Content must be informative, relevant and fresh. It should add something of value to the Internet that makes users want to read on and find out more.

It’s ok to challenge preconceptions, and to state your own opinion so long as whatever you are writing is interesting and exciting. Give users a reason to read on.

Content should be updated regularly. Out-of-date information or old news is boring. Your customers deserve to know that you work hard to keep your website fresh, eye-catching and worth talking about.

Check your links to ensure they work and correct any that don’t. An unloved website shows a lack of concern for the customer’s user experience.

Domain Name

So, you have a fantastic business idea, and a fully functioning website. Does its name reflect what it has to offer?

Keep domain names simple, effective and on point. As the old saying goes, they should do what they say on the tin!

If you hire luxury cars in Norfolk, say so! A website called ‘Norfolk Luxury Car Hire’ will reach your target audience far more  effectively and efficiently than something with little or no relevance to your product or service, such as ‘L&L Cars’. State your purpose directly.

In short, your domain name should describe, identify and satisfy a searcher’s requirements.

Be sure to purchase both versions of your domain name (.com and .co.uk).

Proofreading

A website is your virtual shop window, so make sure your page copy is well written, without any sloppy grammatical mistakes.

Consider your website as your online handshake; an introduction to future customers. First impressions count, and a poorly written or presented website will make users question your credibility.

Navigation

How easy is your website to use? Can customers find what they want quickly and easily?

Users don’t want to spend ages navigating their way around a complicated site. Make directions glaringly obvious.

Know Your Audience

If you know your product, you should know your target audience and be able to reach them.

Once you know who you need to attract, writing appropriate content and providing relevant links and advertising will fall into place.

If you have a niche product/area, exploit it!

Keywords

Search engines analyse your website to see if it fits a searcher’s criteria. Make sure yours does by using well placed and relevant keywords.

It’s important however, that your content makes for good reading, so use them well, don’t just throw them in anywhere!

To find the best keywords for your site, you will need to use a web-based tool. This will help you to discover exactly what people are looking for when using the Internet.

Search Engine Optimisation

Great SEO means providing great content by satisfying the search engines need for, you guessed it, relevant content. Failure to regularly update content and optimize your pages will see your website fall down the ranks.

There is no point trying to cheat your way into great search engine optimisation, Google and the likes will know!

There are ways to help your new website gain recognition, such as Pay Per Click adverts, but you should aim to have customers clicking on your site because they know who you are. Which leads us nicely on to…

Too Many Ads, Links & Flashing Lights

If a website is one big sales pitch, customers will not return. You need to focus on your product, intent and purpose.

Don’t distract users with too many banner ads, and irrelevant external links. Once a customer leaves, they are unlikely to come back.

Provide external links that will help your business, not detract from it.

Maintenance

The worst mistake you can make is to sit back, and assume that your website will work for itself.

It wont!

Make sure you have registered your site on the local search engines, and make your presence felt on the web.

Answer customers enquires promptly and professionally, don’t leave them hanging.

Once you’ve invested money, be prepared to invest time and energy regularly to keep your website looking fresh, attractive and well maintained.

And Finally…

Think about what you would expect from a website. What makes you return to the same sites over again? Equally, what makes you scroll down?!

People are loyal to the websites that attract them, so make yours stand out from the crowds.

 

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How Much Should a Website Cost?

How much a website costs is dependant on your requirements. What exactly do you want your website to do?

Websites can be tailored to suit each individual client’s needs and budget, so it is important to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve.

Things to Consider…

Aesthetics: How do you want your website to look?

Your website is your online introduction. Therefore it is important that you stand out amongst the crowds.

There are free templates available for DIY websites, but these lack individuality and tend to be basic.

Web designers are able to build and maintain your website, and offer a  consultation service allowing them to work with you to fully discuss your needs and budget before  proceeding with any work.

Size and Complexity: Prices will vary dependant on the size and functionality of your design.

The larger a website, the longer it takes to build. Once you start to explore the upper echelons of website design, you should expect to pay more.

Basic websites with a few pages and an email form are of course cheaper than bespoke web portal designs, which will be based entirely upon a client’s needs.

Requirements: What features do you want your website to have? Cheaper websites will have less content and fewer pages, but may be suitable for you.

More expensive websites will include additional design features and functionalities such as interactive elements / multimedia.

Responsive design is a necessity in today’s world. Your website must be accessible across all devices.

Websites must also perform well in all major search engines. Search Engine Optimisation specialists will ensure that all of their designs work effectively across the major search engines.

Any professional website should be an excellent investment for your business, it’s your website, your way. So whether it’s web design, re-design, blog or social media design, ensure that you have an idea of exactly what it is you want to achieve, and work closely with your developer to create your perfect website.

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Web Copy and Web Content: What the Difference is, and Why it Matters.

Web Copy and Web Content:

What the Difference is, and Why it Matters.

Web copy is the bare bones of your website. It’s all the main pages that  your customer sees first.

These pages must be eye-catching, informative and above all designed to sell.

The whole concept behind web copy, is that it’s well enough written to grab customers’ attention immediately, enticing them to read on. Web users like to skim read, so if what you’re showing them is too wordy or boring, they will just move from your site to the next.

Web copy is not about using long, wordy sentences or telling life stories. It’s the technique of using punchy, persuasive language  to sell your product quickly and effectively.

Think of your web copy as a hook on which to capture your audience; if you are passionate about what you’re selling, and know your  target audience, finding  keywords and utilising them should not be too difficult.

Home Page

Don’t overload this with detail, but make it punchy and to the point. This is who we are and this is what we do. Be clear and direct.

About Page

Make sure people know that they’ve come to the right place, and that you can give them what they need. Informative but not an info-dump. Inspirational but not autobiographical.

Products and Services

Sell yourself here! Inform, inspire and persuade but use short sentences that provoke the reader’s interest.

Call to Action

Every page of your web copy should be compelling enough for the reader to want to know more. Therefore you should include a call-to-action on all of your main pages. This needs to be obvious enough to entice customers, but not so annoying that it deducts attention from your actual service and costs you a customer.

Essentially, your web copy should be provocative enough to make the reader want to take action  i.e. read on and buy in!

Which is where your web content comes in…

The web content is where you put meat on the bones of your web copy.

This is the place to entertain and inform. Your content should be relevant to your product and audience, but it’s also a good place to have fun and establish rapport.

Make what you write something that readers will want to talk about, share and link to.

Tell the story about how and why you are here, but make it interesting and worth reading.

Share relevant stories and products to enhance your own brand, and always make sure your content is fresh, well-written and up-to-date.

Websites require regular attention, nobody wants to read an outdated blog or irrelevant article. Your website is your online introduction, and one that is rarely updated will give the impression that you don’t really care, which will damage your online credibility.

Commercial writing for the web needs to include keywords that are (you guessed it) relevant to your product and brand. Search engines love keywords, fresh content and clarity. Perform keyword research and include the relevant words throughout your text, headings,subheadings and links. Remember though, that you are writing for humans, not robots, so although keywords make for great SEO, poor content does not! Don’t just throw keywords in randomly.

 

 

 

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What is a Denial of Service (DoS) Attack?

What is a Denial of Service (DoS) Attack?

With more than 2000 attacks observed globally on a daily basis, Denial of Service attacks present a very real threat to a wide variety of online services.

A DoS attack is a deliberate attempt to shut down a network. Typically the perpetrator uses one computer and one Internet connection to flood a targeted system or resource.

They work by either overwhelming the target with huge amounts of traffic (flood attacks) or sending information designed to trigger a crash (crashing services).

In both cases the DoS will render the network useless, denying all access to expected services or resources and creating major problems for its users.

Distributed Denial of Service Attack

A DDoS attack differs from a DoS attack in that the incoming traffic flooding the victim comes from a multitude of different sources. They generally target large, important resources such as banks.

Because of  the high volume of traffic from multiple places, DDoS attacks make it difficult to determine legitimate traffic from attack traffic and of course, are harder to stop.

In Short…

Any attack against server availability is deemed to be a Denial-of-Service attack. If a hacker uses many systems to launch attacks against a remote host, it is classed as a Distributed Denial of Service attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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