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Is Twitter dying?

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 29 October 2015 | Category: Social media
(1381 views)

TwitterTry typing ‘is twitter dying’ into Google and you’ll find a whole bunch of articles that suggest it is. Now admittedly you can replace the word ‘twitter’ with any number of things and find numerous results – I tried it and did – but there is genuine concern that Twitter has lost its way and that it might be about to fade into obscurity.

I was quite active on Twitter a few years ago but I didn’t find that it helped my business, which was the main reason for me being on it. I know of a few people who say that Twitter does work for them but the people I have in mind have been prolific tweeters for a long time and have the skill and ability to actually post interesting tweets thereby engaging with people and starting conversations.

Despite a brand recognition of 90%, Twitter only has 30% penetration and there is evidence that ordinary people are posting less and less, leaving it to celebrities, big brands and journalists and becoming less active on it themselves.

There is also evidence that people are finding Twitter an unpleasant place to be. It’s like an unpoliced no-go area in a dystopian town where people can walk around anonymously and abuse, threaten, harass and bully other people with impunity.

I’d be interested in hearing other people’s views. Do you still use Twitter and does it work for you?


A unique form of marketing - the video letter

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 20 October 2015 | Category: Video
(812 views)

It’s something that I’ve been doing for a while to get in front of new customers – video letters – and it occurred to me that it might be of interest to our customers so I thought I’d pop it in a quick blog post and just test the water.

It’s a highly-focussed and targeted method of marketing – right to the person you want to talk to.

The idea is to record a quick video message and upload it and then send the link to the contact in question. In our case we’ve produced a special page just for this which also includes customisable boxes around the video into which content and links can be placed that are relevant to the person we are trying to contact. Then there’s a feedback form and contact details at the bottom so they can get back in touch with you. It also sends us an email so that we know when our contact has looked at the video and we can then follow up appropriately.

Video letter screen grab

If you’re reading this because you received our Morsels e-bulletin then we’ve produced a video letter example just for you so that you can see how it works.

Videos can be shot on a smartphone mounted on a tripod and will still look professional.

One of the advantages of the video letter is that your contact can see and hear you and get that first impression of you before even meeting you and hopefully it will be a favourable one (please say it is in the case of my video – not that I’m needy or anything!)

Another advantage for us is the novelty value. It’s not a form of marketing that many people use so when someone sees a video personally addressed to them, they are flattered and it makes a good impression.

I’d be interested to get your feedback!


(Y)Our calls to action

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 19 October 2015 | Category: Marketing
(843 views)

We’ve made a bit of a change to our own website recently, practising what we preach. We realised that our own calls to action were not as prominent as they might be especially on the home page.

So we add in our three main calls to action at the top of the home page:

  • A link through to my e-book ‘23½ ways to transform your website into a success generator’
  • A link through to my second e-book ‘An e-commerce primer’
  • A link through to our website appraisal service

It may be argued that there should be just ONE clear call to action on a page but in our case each of the three pages linked to above is a landing page with a call to action in its own right. So if we’re dealing with a client who wants an e-commerce site built then we’ll send them directly to www.novamedia.co.uk/ecommercebook.

But when people come across our home page they will hopefully find something of interest at the top of the page and click through.

Does your website have a call to action or landing pages? It’s something that’s worth thinking about.


A Green & Pleasant testimonial

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 18 October 2015 | Category: Marketing
(798 views)

I’m often banging on about the power of testimonials.

The reason that a good and credible testimonial works so well is that people who are thinking of buying from you can get honest and believable feedback from someone else who has already bought from you.

And we’ve just received a lovely testimonial from one of our newest clients, Carol Cooling at Coolings Green & Pleasant which reads:

“What a joy to work with someone who can explain the mysteries of the internet and social media to a complete technophobe in a clear, concise and meaningful way! Throughout the whole design and build process Dave, Rob and Michael were wonderfully patient and understanding, explaining everything with great clarity to ensure we were comfortable with each step. The end result is a fabulous new website that we’re really proud of, and confident we can use to its best effect going forward. I cannot recommend Novamedia highly enough for their consummate professionalism coupled with a friendly and approachable manner. Absolutely first-class!”

The key word that I used in my introduction is ‘credible’ Publishing the name and company of the person giving the testimonial ensures that people reading it believe it, and we do that with all of our testimonials which you can see here.


Related blog posts

The value of testimonials - part 2

The value of testimonials - part 1


A humorous look at our prices

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 17 October 2015 | Category: Web design
(866 views)

I came across this graphic recently and, of course, as with all humour it’s exaggerated, but there’s more than a grain of truth in it. The clients who get the best results are the ones that trust us to get on with the job. Just saying!

Humorous design price list

N.B. Not our actual price-list!


Increase your levels of engagement with video

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 30 September 2015 | Category: Video
(915 views)

It is not an over-exaggeration to say that most websites could benefit hugely with the addition of video.

A study in 2014 by Demand Metric showed that visitors watch video just because it’s video - a claim no other content type can make. That is to say, the allure of this medium means people need far less encouragement to click a Play button than to read a carefully crafted article or view an image gallery. The efficacy of video as a marketing tool is also confirmed by this report. 71% of those surveyed said it performed better for them compared with other content types.

These two facts show that if you’re not using video, you probably should be. If nothing else, it can add interest, interactivity and personality to your website. For example, Novamedia produced a website for a financial planning advisor earlier this year - www.ashleylawwesterham.co.uk.The client commissioned a series of short videos each answering a particular question, which we then embedded on his website. The videos show him in his office, with clients, with his dog in the garden, shots of the location of his office, and crucially he provides the voiceovers. These videos are effective for two reasons - firstly, they add more interest to the site and keep visitors browsing for longer, and secondly they show the person behind the business. For small businesses which need an edge, this personal touch is important and it’s something which video does very well.

But what about the cost?

Like anything, video can be costly, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want ‘Spielbergian’ levels of production, layers of special effects, or if you decide to hire professional script-writers and a number of cameramen then of course your costs will soar. At the other extreme, it is possible to create a passable marketing video using only a smartphone and an external microphone. In other words, how much you spend depends on what you want to do but crucially, video is now a medium which is open to everybody.

For example, we shot and edited the video shown below for Provender Nurseries using a smart phone, flip-camera and external microphone. Adding in some neat titles at the start and end and overlaying a stock music track helped to bring the video to life.

But we’ve also produced videos that have required higher-end equipment such as interviews where it’s essential to use a good quality microphone and we are becoming more and more involved in video work bot shooting and editing as people realise the value of moving images on their levels of customer engagement.


I don’t care about your website

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 30 September 2015 | Category: Web design
(915 views)

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a customer of ours I care about your website but let’s be honest, people visiting your site don’t give a hoot about it.

They don’t care that you’ve got 587 people following you on Facebook. They don’t care that your website had 1,312 visits yesterday, with 48.2% coming from mobiles or tablets. And they don’t care that your titles are 24 point text using Frutiger Medium typeface.

All they care about is that it solves their problem whatever that might be and that it is easy to use so that they can get in, sort out what they want to do and get back to chatting with their friends, drinking a nice glass of red and getting on with their lives.

So your job and ours is simply to make it as easy for them to do what they want: to buy a product, to sign up for an event, to download a brochure, to watch an instructional video.

You and we always need to put ourselves in the shoes or your website’s visitors.

How would you feel using your website if you were your customer?

It’s your job and our job to care about your website, not your customer’s.


Related blog posts

23½ ways to transform your website into a success generator


My very, very first computer is back!

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 29 September 2015 | Category: The old days
(957 views)

It was back in 2011 that I wrote a blog about my first computer. You can still read it here.

However, that wasn’t actually my first computer. It was my first business computer but the first one I had was a birthday present from Mrs H back in 1983 and it was the famous Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

It was my first introduction to programming and as well as using BASIC I also got into the high-end machine code with the help of the brick-sized Z80 programming manual and the Complete Spectrum ROM Disassembly. Looking back I was a bit of a geek!

The Spectrum is still up in the loft somewhere but it was brought to mind again this week when I saw that a company had brought out a new version complete with wireless keyboard, Bluetooth technology and the ability to be used with any device.

You can see some gents waxing lyrical about the device in the video.

So if the 80s geek in you craves a bit of nostalgia, grab yourself the new ZX Spectrum for just £84.99. (Mine cost £180 in 1983, equivalent to £570 today!).

Save

Save


Related blog posts

My first PC and some interesting and silly numbers


In Numbers: Novamedia's Email Marketing Service

Blog post written by Rob Henson | 29 May 2015 | Category: Email marketing
(1330 views)

Novamedia email campaign stats infographic


Email marketing - beware silent unsubscribes

Blog post written by Rob Henson | 13 May 2015 | Category: Email marketing
(1154 views)

When running email campaigns it is important to give recipients a way to unsubscribe should they not want to hear from you again. This is normally done with a simple unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email e.g.

“To unsubscribe from this mailing list please click here”

One problem with this is that it’s possible to accidentally lose your most engaged readers because of a phenomenon called “silent unsubscribing”.

Gran on a motorbikeThe best way of explaining what this means is to give an example:

You run a company which sells motorbikes and decide to send out a marketing email. John McDonald receives your email, enthuses about it, loves what you have to say and forwards it on to all of his colleagues, friends and family including his Auntie Mary. Mary – who is in her eighties isn’t particularly interested in motorbikes and wonders why she’s got the email. She clicks the unsubscribe link, removing John from your mailing list.

Disaster! You’ve just lost one of your most engaged readers, someone who was happy not only to receive and read your email, but to share it too. John won’t receive any of your future emails and worse, he won’t even know he’s unsubscribed.

This is a rare phenomenon as it relies on a particular chain of events, but it is worth militating against. At Novamedia we simply include the recipient’s email address in the unsubscribe link. So the example above might read:

“To remove johnmcdonald@gmail.com from this mailing list please click here”

This shows who the email originally ‘belongs’ to and will in most instances protect against accidental silent unsubscribes. A simple solution to a thorny little problem!


Related blog posts

The email marketing process part 1 - Producing the email piece

The email marketing process part 2 - Setting up the campaign

The email marketing process part 3 - The distribution list

The email marketing process part 4 - Testing, sending and reporting


Android handy hint - Google's phone finder

Blog post written by Rob Henson | 28 April 2015 | Category: Technical advice
(1071 views)

A quick blog post sharing something we’ve just discovered which we like. If you’ve got an Android phone and you’ve lost it or forgotten where you’ve put it, there’s an easy way of finding it.

  1. Go to google.com on a computer and sign in using the Google account associated with your phone
  2. Type into Google “Find my phone”
  3. A Google map appears showing exactly where your phone is. Underneath that there’s a button labelled “Ring” which will set your phone ringing on maximum volume for five minutes while you hunt for it.

Nifty eh?


The Facebook Blue Whale

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 27 April 2015 | Category: Social media
(1137 views)

Facebook Blue Whale

One of the things we have noticed on the Facebook pages we manage is that despite being a diverse range of pages, the graphs that show the times of day when people are engaging with the pages are strikingly similar.

I’ve decided to call it the Facebook Blue Whale because as you can see from my artistic endeavours, the shape of the graph resembles said beast.

Below is a montage of five graphs from pages we manage and, as you can see, in all cases engagement with Facebook creeps up during the course of the day peaking in the evening between about 8 and 10pm.

This has two important implications. Firstly, if you want to engage with the fans of your page, post to Facebook at those times. Secondly, bear in mind that they are probably sitting down relaxing and browsing Facebook on their smartphone or tablet in front of Coronation Street so don’t try selling to them or being commercial. Engaging on Facebook is all about being informative, entertaining and/or educational.

So use the power of the Facebook Blue Whale today!

Facebook graphs


Google's Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide

Blog post written by Rob Henson | 24 April 2015 | Category: SEO
(1194 views)

SEO guide

Back in 2010 Google created its Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide – a handbook full of information about how to ensure your website achieves and maintains strong search engine rankings. It is still as relevant as it was five years ago and whilst primarily aimed at web designers and agencies, it is nevertheless worth reading if you have your own website and want to know how to get more visitors.

To download a pdf copy, click here 

 This blog post focuses on some of the points within the guide. Firstly, we’ll look at the nitty-gritty of web design – what we can do to ensure your website is optimised for Google and other search engines. Then we’ll look at how content you add to your site can help with your Google rankings. And thirdly, we’ll look at promotion and analysis; how you promote your site, and how you can analyse the results of this promotion.

Technical considerations – or ‘What we do for you’

The basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) are generally hard-baked into the code of your website. The two most basic factors are page titles which are declared using tags and a page’s description, declared using description meta tags.

A good page title will be brief and legible to visitors whilst also containing keywords which you think a potential customer might search for. “John Fish - Catering” might be an accurate page title for a homepage of a catering firm but people will likely search for services in their area, so “John Fish – Catering services in Bromley” would be better. Better still would be to drill-down further, highlight a particular specialism: “John Fish – Corporate and wedding catering services in Bromley”, for example.

Description meta tags carry out a similar function, but allow for more detail and more keywords. They are generally used to describe to a search engine what a page is for (e.g. homepage, about us page, contact page etc.) but there is leeway to include keywords and phrases too. Often the description meta tag will form all or part of the text-snippet under your site when it’s listed in a search engine, so getting it right is important.  

When creating a website we will hard-code title and description meta tags on static pages, and will ensure the website automatically generates them for dynamic content such as news pages. This way you can be confident your site will have the basics of SEO in place.

Intuitive navigation using text links is another technical consideration Google highlights in its Optimisation Starter Guide. Whilst the search engine analyses each page individually (hence the importance of title and description tags on each page), it will try to prioritise important pages and a simple and intuitive navigation hierarchy helps with this.

And what’s good for visitors is good for the search engines. Better navigation will ensure visitors are happy using your site and will at the same time increase the likelihood of Google finding all of your content. This is why planning robust navigation menus is one of the primary considerations when we design a new website.

Lastly, ensuring your website works on all devices is increasingly important. As of 21st April 2015, Google is rewarding websites which are mobile-friendly and penalising those which are not. All websites we build are responsive as a matter of course now – so they work equally well on mobiles as they do on desktop PCs and Google likes this!

Content is King – or ‘What you can do for yourself’

“Interesting sites will increase their recognition on their own”.

This is the first sentence in Google’s Search Engine Optimisation guide, and it’s true! Always bear in mind that increasing your Google ranking isn’t your ultimate goal but the means to an end. Your final goal may be getting more people to read your articles, more people to buy your products, or more people to pick up the phone and contact you. Having new, interesting articles appearing, up to date product descriptions, or content which encourages visitors to get in touch is the way to do this.

And when content creation is done well you end up with a virtuous circle. More content means more keywords for search engines to find, which means more visitors, which means more people sharing your content and trusting you, which incentivises you to create even more new content.

Whilst content creation requires little technical knowledge - just your enthusiasm, time and expertise - it is worth keeping in mind what potential visitors may be searching for and trying to include some of those phrases in your content. Striking a balance is important because you don’t want your articles or product descriptions to read like they were written by a man who’s just swallowed a thesaurus, but equally you should not pass up the opportunity to add key phrases to your content.

One approach may be to break your content into smaller sections, and use the keywords in headings. Creating your content with a dual readership path – allowing people who read in detail and skim readers to understand your salient points is good practice anyway. Using this technique to embed key phrases within headings will only enhance your content as far as search engines are concerned.

No website is an Island

Ten years ago creating a website, adding content and getting it listed in all the major search engines may have been enough to ensure your site stayed ahead of its competitors. However, it is now important that you treat your website as the central part of your marketing strategy but not the only part. Promoting your content offline, on social media, via newsletters and email marketing campaigns is vital if you want to maximise the number of people reading it. And if you run a consumer facing business – a high street shop for example – getting listed on Google Business is vital as it means your business is then shown on Google Maps and you can take advantage of location based search.

(Oh and a quick plug here! We can help with all of these things. We offer bespoke email marketing from design to distribution, can help set you up on Facebook, Twitter and Google Business and design a website which encourage users to share you content, and we also offer design for print services.)

Finally, using tools such as Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools can help identify which parts of your site are working well and which aren’t. We add Google Analytics to all sites we create as a matter of course. It allows site owners to see which search phrases are being used to find their site, which pages are getting most hits, whether AdWord campaigns are working effectively, how user behaviour differs between devices and much more.

Optimising website for search engines is a complex and inexact science but our experience with a number of clients over a number of years means we’re in a good position to offer help and advice. So, if you have any questions about this blog post or about Google’s Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


A website through the ages

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 14 April 2015 | Category: Web design
(1178 views)

Novamedia has been creating and managing websites since 1999. In this blog post, we take a brief look back at the first website we ever created for Bromley Youth Music Trust, a site we still manage. As you'll see, it’s had a few new licks of paint since then as technology and design trends have changed....

BYMT website 1999


We approached BYMT in 1999, and at this time the organisation didn’t have a website. The site we created was state of the art for the time with news and event listings both controllable via a back-end admin module. A feature of this design was the use of dozens of thumbnail photos, each page showing two at random.


BYMT website 2005


Launched in 2005 with a radical redesign focussed on a more traditional look – the colours derived from the wood of string instruments. This site included more information about BYMT’s ensembles and courses, and we also introduced a section where visitors could listen to recordings of the young musicians performing.


BYMT website 2012


In 2012 the website underwent a major overhaul, adding an online shop from which people could buy CDs and clothes, and also adding the facility for people to pay lesson fees online. There was more emphasis on large photographs, and we created various blogs for instrumental departments. This allowed teachers and students to contribute to the site more than they had done in the past.


BYMT website 2015


Launched in 2015, the latest version of BYMT’s website is fully responsive. The design gracefully transforms depending on the screen-size of the visitor. It also has a greater focus on social media with news items and event listings automatically shared on Facebook when they are posted. Other new features include more use of video and a donations page. The use of large randomised photos on the right hand side feels similar to the 1999 site, but with better technology and connections these are of far greater quality now!


Monitoring email marketing results

Blog post written by Rob Henson | 13 April 2015 | Category: Email marketing
(1139 views)

After you’ve sent an email campaign, you’ll want to know how successful it has been. Novamedia can help...

What the system measures?

After an email is sent to a contact list from our system a number of criteria are monitored from the moment it hits a recipient’s inbox. The system we use collates this information, giving you an understanding of how effective your email campaign is. The statistics we measure include:

  • Open rate: the percentage of your contact list that has opened the email.
  • Bounce rate: the percentage of your contact list that didn’t receive the email because it bounced.
  • Unsubscribe rate: the percentage of your contact list that didn’t like or want your email and have unsubscribed.

Looking at these percentages gives a good indication of how successful your email campaign has been. But we can go deeper than that. Our system also tracks individual recipients, and individual links within your email.

So if you have a few links to your website, or to an event registration page, or to a particular product within your email, you can monitor which ones people are clicking on the most. This can help you make more informed decisions about the layout and content of future email campaigns.

How can I access this information?

Many of our clients have access to their email campaigns’ statistics online because we set them up as users on our system, giving them a username and password to track all their campaigns. Whilst we can produce individual reports for clients, most prefer the power and convenience of having access to their own real-time data and control over their contact list. Below is a screenshot showing how this looks to logged in users:

Email marketing stats

I can see all this information, but what is a good open rate?

This question depends on a lot of factors but a starting point when considering this question - and when setting expectations for your company’s campaigns - is to examine your own habits. When you receive a marketing email, even one from a company you know well and trust, how likely are you to open it, read it all in detail, and click on all or any of the links in it?

If you’re like most people, you’ll delete many emails you receive before even opening them.

As a benchmark an open rate of 20% - just one in five people opening your beautifully crafted email - is considered good. That may sound like we’re lowering expectations, but it’s worth being realistic.

There are a couple of other basic factors that will also affect open rate:

  • The type of email you're sending
  • The quality of your list

For example, an email campaign sent to a list of your most trusted clients, reminding them about an exclusive event they are already signed up for could easily generate an open rate of 70%+. Conversely, an email campaign sent to a list of email addresses which has not been well maintained and which simply contains some information about one of your products may struggle to get a 10% open rate.

So, when analysing open stats bear in mind the habits of email users in general, drawing on your own habits, the quality of the list you sent to, and the content of your email.

List management

Once an email campaign has been sent and its results digested and analysed (with help from the reporting tools in our system), it is likely the contact list will need tidying up ready for the next campaign.

I’ve touched on this a little already when I mentioned bounces and unsubscribes. Whilst neither is desirable both are inevitable, especially for larger contact lists. Our system will automatically manage your list, meaning addresses which have bounced and recipients who have unsubscribed will no longer be sent emails.

It’s also likely you’ll want to add new recipients for your next campaign. To add new email addresses to your contact list you have two options. You can either provide us with the contact list which we can import into the system or you can log in and import new contacts whenever you need to.

Our system makes list management easy, giving you more time to concentrate on the content of your campaigns.


Related blog posts

Email marketing – why buying lists is a big no-no

Email marketing – the all-important content of your email

Email marketing – the importance of the subject line

The email marketing process part 1 - Producing the email piece

The email marketing process part 2 - Setting up the campaign

The email marketing process part 3 - The distribution list

The email marketing process part 4 - Testing, sending and reporting

Email marketing – the importance of the 'from name'


A reminder: Google loves mobile-friendly, responsive websites and is changing its search results to reflect this

Blog post written by Rob Henson | 30 March 2015 | Category: SEO
(1047 views)

You have less than a month.

On April 21st Google will be changing its search algorithm, rewarding websites which make it easy for users on mobile phones to access content, and penalising those which don’t. And Google is being brutal – your website is either mobile-friendly, or it isn’t, and the search giant will either increase or decrease your website’s ranking on whether it passes their test. For businesses which rely on traffic generated by search, passing this test is therefore vitally important!

You can check if your own website passes Google’s mobile-friendly test by entering its address here:
https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

If you passed, give you yourself a pat on the back.

If not, it's time to start thinking seriously about your users – those people trying to find out about your business, trying to buy from you, or simply trying to contact you – who are currently served a mediocre website on their smaller screens.

Novamedia can help, of course. We’ve been designing responsive website for a few years now, creating sites which are optimised for all screen sizes. See, for example, the sites we created for Munro & Forster, BYMT, Playing Up Theatre Company or Shaw & Sons.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can help you pass Google's mobile-friendly test, and ensure your website achieves the Google ranking it deserves, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’ll also be more than happy to appraise your current website and come up with any suggestions for improvements!


Related blog posts

Google lets people know if your site is mobile-friendly


I want everything above the fold

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 18 March 2015 | Category: Web design
(844 views)

The phrase ‘above the fold’ describes how newspapers would put their most important headline above the point where the paper was folded and placed in the sellers’ racks. People walking past would see this prominent headline and be tempted to buy the paper.

But above the fold is also used in website design (one of those many analogue phrases that has made its way across to the digital world) and it refers to the portion of the web page that is visible without having to scroll.

It’s become a source of frustration to web designers especially when a client says that they want to get everything in above the fold and that they don’t want people to have to scroll to get to the information on the page.

Well, I’ve got news for you: ‘above the fold’ is dead. It’s dead for two reasons.

Firstly, where is the fold on your website? It depends on what sort of screen you are looking at it on. Take a look at the examples below of the Weald Aquatics home page. Image 1 shows the page on a high-resolution desktop screen. Number 2 shows how it would look on a lower resolution screen or maybe a tablet and image number 3 shows how the page looks on a mobile device. So I repeat the question: where is the fold?

It doesn’t exist anymore or at least if it does, then the fold is potentially in hundreds of different places. What criteria are you going to use judge which ‘fold’ is the one above which all your content should appear? Responsive design has changed everything as far as the fold is concerned.

Secondly, there was some research carried out in 2006 that said that 76% of people would not scroll on a web page. In 2014, 90% of people scroll. That’s a huge turnaround and again it’s thanks to our mobile devices and phones. We’ve all got so used to scrolling that it is second nature and also very easy – just run your finger over the screen and hey presto!

So the conclusion is, don’t pack stuff at the top of your pages. It will make them look messy and confused and turn people off of exploring any further. You need readability. Imagine if a newspaper tried to pack everything in above the fold; they don’t because they know that people will buy the newspaper if what they can see is enticing enough and then magically they’ll open it to read other articles just as your audience will scroll to read more if what they see on the page entices them to do so.

The other myth is that a call to action has to be above that elusive fold. This is also nonsense. If you’ve got your call to action at the top then you’ve probably not explained enough about the benefits of why you want people to take that action. Outline the benefits in a well-designed and thought-out way and, guess what, people will scroll to read and then they’ll get to that call to action anyway but much better informed to make a decision.

Having said all that, what is at the top of your page is still important. For example, your site’s navigation should always be accessible at the top. It’s a matter of making sure that what you place at the top of your pages tempts your users to investigate more, probably to scroll or to click to other content.

Think about creating quality content and presenting it in a way that piques your users’ interest and imagination. This will ensure that your visitors stay on your site and you’ll probably even find that they scroll below that imaginary fold.


23½ ways to transform your website into a success generator

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 10 December 2014 | Category: Web design
(1203 views)

E-book front cover

I produced the first edition of my e-book in 2012 and I’ve just finished the 3rd edition which is available free on the website.

The first edition had 20½ ways so I’ve added a few extra chapters in this edition and brought it right up to date.

It also includes a checklist which you can go through and tick off to help you determine if your website is as effective as it could be and if it is doing all it can to bring in new business.

Download your free copy today by going to www.novamedia.co.uk/ebook.


Google lets people know if your site is mobile-friendly

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 26 November 2014 | Category: SEO
(979 views)

Google mobile-friendly tagStarting from last week and being rolled out over the next few weeks, Google has added a new label to its mobile search results to tell people if the page in the results is mobile-friendly.

In Google’s own words:

"Have you ever tapped on a Google Search result on your mobile phone, only to find yourself looking at a page where the text was too small, the links were tiny, and you had to scroll sideways to see all the content? This usually happens when the website has not been optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone. This can be a frustrating experience for our mobile searchers."

The label will simply say 'Mobile-friendly' and as it becomes more widely known, it is likely that a website that is not optimised for mobile devices will get fewer visits as people opt just to go to the search results that are labelled as mobile-friendly.

There are various criteria that make a site mobile-friendly such as:

  • Being able to read text without zooming
  • Not using unsupported software such as Flash
  • Making sure links are far enough apart so that they can easily be tapped

You can check if Google deems your site to be mobile-friendly by typing in your website's URL at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.

Oh and even more importantly, Google are also considering making this a ranking factor so that sites which are not mobile-friendly will be penalised in the search rankings.


Related blog posts

It pays to be responsive


E-commerce – not reinventing the wheel

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 11 November 2014 | Category: E-commerce
(1122 views)

We have built up a reputation for building tailor-made websites that will do exactly what the client wants but when it comes to e-commerce this can sometimes feel like reinventing the wheel. When we started building e-commerce sites 15 years ago, there were no systems out there that you could buy so everything had to be built from scratch.

That’s not the case today with a wide range of different e-commerce systems to suit all needs and budgets. This year I have spent some time looking into these and having looked at all of the criteria, we plumped for BigCommerce. The redesigned site for Pace Aquatics has been built using BigCommerce and it went live last week – see www.pace-aquatics.co.uk.

It means that putting together an online shop is an easier process and therefore not as costly. It also means that you have access to so many more features than you would have with a custom-built shop especially marketing features – the most important aspect of an online shop after you have gone live.

Are there any disadvantages of a system like this? Well you may find there are one or two things that you want to be able to do that the system can’t do. We came across a couple when building the Pace website and you may occasionally have to accept that and work round them. But the feature-rich capabilities of a system like BigCommerce far outweigh the odd issue and we feel we made the right decision and we were able to get the redesigned Pace website produced and up and running within weeks.

If you’re interested in finding out more, why not drop me a line?


Have you got your .uk domain name?

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 29 October 2014 | Category: Technical advice
(1051 views)

It’s always seemed strange to me that all other countries in the world have a simple top level domain extension and we don’t. For example, France is .fr, Germany is .de and so on. We’ve always had to tack on a ‘co’ or ‘org’ or some other such extension to make .co.uk or .org.uk.

Well there is now a simple .uk extension and the rule is that if you have a .co.uk domain then you are entitled to buy the .uk domain for a limited period.

There’s no great rush as you have got until 10 June 2019 but it could easily be one of those things you put aside and forget to do so why not get it done and out of the way?

If your domain name or names are handled by us, let me know if you want us to set up the .uk domain.

If not, you simply need to contact your domain registrar or hosting company.


From marijuana to Mrs Snowball - e-commerce has come a long way

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 22 October 2014 | Category: E-commerce
(1208 views)

Did you know that the first e-commerce transaction was in 1971 or 1972? Students using Arpanet (the predecessor of the internet) at Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory engaged in a commercial transaction with their counterparts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, using the network to arrange the sale of an undisclosed quantity of marijuana.

And did you know that the world’s first B2C online shopper was in the UK?  It was May 1984 when 72-year-old Mrs Jane Snowball (pictured in an ITN interview) first used the new Gateshead Council Shopping and Information Service, to purchase her weekly groceries from Tesco.

We’ve come a long way since then and we now take online shopping for granted with billions of pounds being spent every year online.

But what does it take to put an online shop together? Often people embark on an online shop with their sights and ambitions (and budgets) set too low or without realising what’s involved. We’ve produced online shops for a long time now and it occurred to me that it would be really useful to put together a checklist of all of the aspects of an online shop.

To that end I am producing an e-book that will outline all of the things that need to be considered when embarking on an e-commerce project. It’s going to be a long list but it will hopefully give anyone thinking of setting up an online shop an exhaustive guide as to what’s required, not just in setting up the shop but also in getting people to buy and continue to buy.

We'll be advertising it on our website as soon as it's available.

In the meantime, if we can help with your e-commerce project why not get in touch.


 

Update!!! The e-commerce e-book is now available. Just head on over to this page to download your copy.


Email marketing – why buying lists is a big no-no

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 30 September 2014 | Category: Email marketing
(1104 views)

Email marketing is an excellent way of building business if it’s done properly but, let’s be honest, there are many ways to cock it up and our job is to steer you down the right path so you get the maximum response and benefit.

If you really want to waste your money then a great way to do so is to try to use a purchased list of contacts.

But surely (I hear you say) it’s a great way of getting my message out to thousands of people without having to do any work in getting the names in the first place.

No! No! No! Could I make it any clearer?

What are the reasons that make purchasing email lists a bad idea?

They didn’t opt in and they don’t know you

The people on the list didn’t opt in to your list. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. How many times do you get email from companies you don’t recognise? And how many times is your response: “Ooh I’m so glad they sent me that email. Let me open it and buy their products immediately!” OK, it was a rhetorical question.

They don’t know who you are. It’s no good trying to build a relationship via email marketing with people who don’t know you from Adam.

Spam complaints and deliverability

Because they don’t know who you are and didn’t opt in, you’ll get loads of spam complaints. This means that it could affect deliverability on our servers and we don’t like that.

You won’t get the results

Most importantly from your point of view, you won’t get any results! A few years back we ran a campaign for a client that we found out afterwards was to a bought list. They got a 3% open rate and no response at all.

We don’t allow purchased lists

Finally the best reason for not using a purchased list is that we don’t allow them for all of the reasons outlined above.

So what’s the answer?

It’s slower but the only way to ensure deliverability and results is to build your own list. Get people to opt in (or preferably double opt-in with a confirmation email) and then you’ve definitely got their permission to keep in touch. I’ve already written a blog post about how you can do this.

And if you want any help with any of this, just get in touch.


Related blog posts

How to build your customer database


The value of testimonials - part 2

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 01 September 2014 | Category: Web design
(1121 views)

Following on from my blog about testimonials last week, here are three random thoughts that came to mind when I was busy writing.

People might steal my customers!

This was a genuine reaction from one of our clients when we talked about putting testimonials on his website. It might apply if you are in an extremely price-sensitive business but in most cases you should be confident enough about your relationship with your customers to proudly add their words of praise to your website.

How do I get testimonials?

Simple answer to this one – just ask! If you’re in B2B, send your clients an email and ask them for their thoughts. That’s what we did and, with no pressure we got some great feedback as you can see on our testimonials page. If you run a B2C business, there are various ways you can get testimonials. For example, you could get your customers to fill out a feedback form either on paper or via your website. Make sure you tell them that their opinion may be published on your website and get permission to use their name.

Spreading the word

Once you’ve added the testimonial to your website, spread the word by adding it to your social media channels. Add a link from your Facebook page, from Twitter and LinkedIn or anything other channel that you use. We developed a system we call the Social Media Matrix which determines how we use information across various channels. You can find out all about it in a blog post I wrote in April last year.


Related blog posts

The Social Media Matrix


The value of testimonials - part 1

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 28 August 2014 | Category: Web design
(1188 views)

One of the most important things you can do on your website is to have testimonials – people shouting out about how good you are. It shows your prospective customers what your actual customers think of you.

But, as with all things, you’ve got to get it right. Here are four testimonials which go from bad to better to best.

Great job, well done
Linda S., Canterbury

BAD. It’s too short of course and doesn’t tell a prospective customer anything useful. In fact it’s going to do more harm than good because it looks as though you’ve asked a customer for a testimonial and they really can’t be bothered to say much about you. To make matters worse, even if it is a genuine testimonial, it doesn’t look like it is. Linda S could have been made up.

John and his team did a great job on our latest project. Nothing was too much trouble and everything we threw at them was handled with professionalism and courtesy. The artwork was delivered on time to the printer and our client was delighted with the final brochures.
Linda Summers, Director, Hengist Marketing, Canterbury

GOOD. This is much better. It tells a prospective customer what you did for your customer and gives them a credible name, job title and company. We had a customer recently contact a number of our clients from our testimonials to get a reference and I’m going in to see them next week about working with them on a long-term basis.

John and his team did a great job on our latest project. Nothing was too much trouble and everything we threw at them was handled with professionalism and courtesy. The artwork was delivered on time to the printer and our client was delighted with the final brochures.
Linda Summers, Director, Hengist Marketing, Canterbury

BETTER. The next step up. Adding a photo of your customer gives the testimonial a more personal touch.

We had to get 1,000 16-page brochures produced for a client in 2 weeks. It was a tall order and we needed a company we could work with who could take the pressure off and deliver. John and his team did a great job on the project. Nothing was too much trouble and everything we threw at them was handled with professionalism and courtesy. The artwork was delivered on time to the printer and our client was delighted with the final brochures.
Linda Summers, Director, Hengist Marketing, Canterbury

BEST. This one expands the testimonial a bit more to address the problem that the customer had that you were able to solve.


Want to be even more credible? How about a video testimonial? It needn’t be difficult or time consuming. A quick trip to the customer’s office, video them on your smartphone saying nice things about your company, upload to YouTube and embed on your website. If you want to know more about embedding video on your website, give me a call or drop me a line.

In the meantime, why not take a look at our testimonials supplied by some of our brilliant customers. Just pop over to www.novamedia.co.uk/testimonials.

There’s more next week including how you can get the most out of your testimonials.


Email marketing – the all-important content of your email

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 21 August 2014 | Category: Email marketing
(1050 views)

I’ve written blog posts before about the importance of the subject line and the from name in an email marketing campaign. They are the things that determine if your email is going to be opened. Get them wrong and it will forever remain unread, forlornly sitting in your recipient’s deleted items folder.

But your work isn’t done just because you’ve got someone to open your email because what you need then is for them to take the right action. So it’s important to make sure that the content is right.

What are the purposes of your email? There are various reasons for sending out an email campaign. Some campaigns may have more than one purpose such as:

  • Inviting people to an event
  • Getting them to sign up to your mailing list (but only if you offer them something in return)
  • Selling products
  • Sending out special offers
  • Disseminating hints, tips and advice (which is what Novamedia Morsels is usually about)
  • Sending out useful / engaging / entertaining content

Getting the content right is an art and it depends on what you want to achieve. Some emails we send out are newsletters with a lot of useful information in the email itself. Others keep it short and sweet with links through to various pages. Some have just one aim and one link. If you want to get people to sign up for an event or click through to buy a product, a big registration or buy button or link is important.

Also don’t leave you call to action until the bottom of the email (although there’s no harm in repeating it at the bottom).

And always check your email statistics. If your open rate is high but your click-through rate is low then it probably means you’re not getting the content right and need to look again at what you are saying.

We have a lot of experience in designing and managing email campaigns so why not contact us and let us help you with yours.


Related blog posts

Email marketing – the importance of the subject line

Email marketing – the importance of the 'from name'


Google increases ranking for secure sites

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 13 August 2014 | Category: Technical advice
(1065 views)

Google has announced that it is now using websites’ security status as a ranking method. In other words, if your site uses the HTTPS protocol to encrypt communication between user and server then it will rank higher than a site that is not using HTTPS (all other things being equal).

For the time being this is a lightweight signal and doesn’t rank as highly as other things such as site content and keywords but Google has said it may increase the importance of a secure connection over time.

Google believes all website communication should be secure to stop passive attackers ‘listening in’ to people using the web or worse still, being able to tamper with data. They want to entice developers such as us to use a secure connection.

We already use HTTPS on our online shops (see for example Geo F Trumper, Shaw & Sons and Pace Aquatics) and it is particularly inexcusable not to use HTTPS when asking for a user’s payment details (not to mention really bonkers business practice).  We’re going to be reviewing all of our sites and sending out recommendations to our customers over the coming weeks.

If your site already uses HTTPS, you can test its connection at Qualys SSL Labs

If you have any questions about this issue, just drop me a line.

Google logo with padlock


Trust me, I’m a Webmaster

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 06 August 2014 | Category: Web design
(1080 views)

Sometimes we get calls from people asking us to produce a website where they have a fixed idea of exactly what they want. This is not usually based on any research but simply copying what other people do and including the sorts of pages that they think they have to have in order to set up a web presence. (Incidentally, following the herd is never a good idea in marketing – most people are doing stuff wrong!)

“Yeh, I just want a home page, an About Us page, a Contact page and a bit about what we do” might be a typical opening gambit.

What they haven’t done is to address the most important question: What do you want your website to achieve? What is the purpose of your little corner of cyberspace?

If we are called in early enough, this is the first question we will ask. It may be that your website has more than one purpose. For example, if you are setting up an online shop then of course, your main aim is to sell products. But a very important secondary aim should always be to build up a mailing list of customers, people you can keep in contact with about your products, services, offers and hints and tips.

But whatever the purpose is, get your web designers involved at an early stage, especially if they understand marketing. Don’t just present them with a fait accompli and ask them to get on with it.

We may come up with things that you haven’t thought about or different ways of achieving your stated aim.

And I don’t know about other web design companies but we’re quite happy to come in to you with no obligation to discuss any ideas you might have that involve an online presence or online marketing. The only thing we ask is for a nice cup of tea and a couple of chocolate biscuits!


Don’t listen to your customers

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 30 July 2014 | Category: Marketing
(1031 views)

The customer is always right. That’s what we are told and of course a lot of the time it’s true.

But not always.

We just ran an online survey for one of our long-standing clients to get feedback on their website and it was a very useful exercise. We had over 200 responses and were able to glean from these what the website users liked and didn’t like and what new stuff they wanted to see on the website. It will form the basis of a major overhaul of the site.

Occasionally though we get a call from a client to say that they would like something changed on the site because one customer has contacted them and thinks it’s a good idea. When we point out that the other 500,000 visitors over the last year have had no problem using that particular piece of functionality, the new idea suddenly loses its appeal.

There are always exceptions to every rule and we did recently implement a change to the saved orders functionality on the Provender Nurseries website because one of their customers came up with what both we and the client thought was a good idea.

But more often than not it’s better to listen to the opinions of 200 people rather than just one!

It’s also easier to get that kind of feedback now by setting up online surveys which can be disseminated via email. If you want to know more about that service, just drop me a line.


You won’t sleep well with just one pillar

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 10 July 2014 | Category: SEO
(1039 views)

We’ve had some success recently helping our clients with search engine optimisation or SEO and getting them legitimately to the top page in Google. This is all great and it will bring more traffic to their site and therefore more business.

Some of these clients take their marketing seriously and use various other forms of marketing and advertising to help them to procure more business. They have more than one marketing pillar holding up their business so should one fail to bring home the bacon, there are other marketing methods that will succeed and help maintain a steady flow of new business.

What worries me though is when a customer solely relies on just one pillar. And what worries me even more is when that pillar is SEO.

Don’t get me wrong, SEO can be valuable. Getting to the top of Google’s rankings should bring more traffic and therefore more business if you have targeted the right key words and phrases. Google is quite helpful in telling you what to do in order to help boost your ranking and how to make sure your site is relevant. But they’re not going to give away all their secrets and there’s no guarantee they won’t suddenly change the way they do things which will cause your site’s rankings to fall.

SEO is unique in that respect amongst forms of marketing. If you’re using other marketing methods and they work then you don’t usually have to make any tweaks to what you are doing. SEO doesn’t work like that. Either you’ve got to keep on top of it or you risk suddenly finding your site not getting any traffic because its ranking has slipped.

But more importantly, make sure you’ve got many other marketing pillars holding up your business and please don’t just rely on SEO.

Only one pillar


What makes an email campaign successful?

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 06 February 2014 | Category: Email marketing
(1377 views)

We have run hundreds of email campaigns for our clients over the years and we have become rather good at it, even if I say so myself.

The most important thing with email marketing, as with any marketing, is results. There are various ways to measure those results: number of sales generated as a result of the campaign, the number of people signing up for an event or the number of people clicking through to a particular page.

However you measure the results, there are two important things that have to happen first: the email has to be opened and a link or links within the email have to be clicked.

So what can you do to maximise the chances of those things happening?

Well, it’s a mixture of things that you need to get right:

  • The email subject line
  • The From name
  • The content and call to action
  • The list

The email subject line

The only thing that the subject line has to do is to get people to open the email, simple as that. It shouldn’t be too long, it should be spelt right and it shouldn’t be spammy. I wrote a blog post about this early last year which covers the subject line in more detail. You can read it here.

The From name

The most important thing about the From name is that it should be recognisable. It’s a matter of trust. If people recognise who the email has come from then they are more likely to open it. If not, it’s the junk bin for your email. A mixture of your name and your company name often works best but if you want to find out more about this then take a look at another blog post I wrote on the subject.

The content and call to action

It’s no good getting people to open your email if the content then causes them to close it immediately.

Getting the content of your email right is an art. It all depends on what you want to achieve. Some emails we send out are newsletters with a lot of useful information in the email itself. Others keep the content of the email short and sweet with links through to various pages. Again others have just one aim and one link. If you want to get people to sign up for an event, a bit registration button or link is important. If you want people to buy a product then make it easy for them to get through to the page on your site that sells that product.

Don’t leave you call to action until the bottom of the email although there’s no harm in repeating it at the bottom.

We have a lot of experience in designing email campaigns so why not contact us and let us help you with yours.

The list

Your database is your most useful resource and an up-to-date list is vital to ensure that you get the best open rates.

Bought lists rarely achieve good open rates. We ran one for a customer once from a list they supplied not realising it was a bought list and they achieved an open rate of just 5%.

People are most likely to open your email if they have (a) opted in to receive relevant emails from you and (b) joined up recently.

Another blog post I wrote was about how to build your database and you can read it here.

Open rates

What is a good open rate? Well, the best we’ve ever achieved is 84% but that was on a brand new and quite small mailing list. The campaigns for this particular client are now getting open rates of about 40% which is still very good.

You’d probably be disappointed with anything below 20% but the range of 20% to 40% is going from acceptable to very good and anything over 40% is exceptionally good.

If you were getting below 20% then we would suggest looking at all of the aspects I have already mentioned above. One or more of them will be letting you down somewhere along the line.


Related blog posts

Email marketing – the importance of the subject line

Email marketing – the importance of the 'from name'

How to build your customer database


I like apps but I also like mobile websites but which is best?

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 31 January 2014 | Category: Web design
(1337 views)

There’s only one way to find out – FIGHT! And apologies to all of my customers outside the UK who won’t get the Harry Hill reference. Harry who?

Anyway, I’ve been asked a few times by people the difference between an app and a mobile website so I thought I’d put pen to paper to explain.

Both apps and mobile websites are accessed via your smartphone or mobile device. That’s the one thing they have in common. Apps are downloaded and run as separate entities on your phone whereas mobile websites are accessed via the phone’s website browser.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons

Platforms

If you want to produce an app then it has to be produced for a variety of operating systems: iOS for iPhones, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry and others.  This requires a lot more work than a mobile website and will also mean more cost to set up. It might also mean having to re-write parts of the app when a mobile operating system changes, adding more time and cost.

A mobile website has to be produced just once and will work in all smartphone browsers. It also has the advantage of using exactly the same content as your desktop website so no more work is involved in populating the site.

Availability

A mobile website is available as soon as it is live. The user does not need to download anything. Just go to the browser and visit the site. A mobile website also cannot be deleted of course. It is always available unlike an app that can easily be removed from the user’s phone.

Searchability

Just like your regular desktop website, your mobile website can be found by search engines. More and more people are now using mobile devices to browse the web and to purchase online.

Phone’s functionality

If you need to access the phone’s functionality such as its camera or maybe GPS functionality then an app would be better as it is able to do this. An app is effectively a computer program on your phone, much like using Word or Excel on your desktop computer except with a much simpler design suited to a small screen and a touch-based interface.

A mobile site can work just like an app

A mobile website can still have a lot of functionality just like your desktop website in fact. We’ve built mobile online shops and other mobile websites that have extensive functionality. Probably the two best examples are the online shop for Geo F Trumper (www.trumpers.com) and the website for Provender Nurseries (www.provendernurseries.co.uk).

Conclusion

Whether to produce an app or a mobile website depends upon what you want to achieve. That’s the starting point. Because when you know what you want, you can decide in a more informed manner what vehicle to use to achieve your aim.

An app really comes into its own if you need to access the phone’s native functionality but other than that, in most cases a mobile website will be the answer for many reasons.

If you want more information on mobile websites, why not give me a call or drop me an email.


Related blog posts

It pays to be responsive


Email marketing – the importance of the subject line

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 09 January 2014 | Category: Email marketing
(2142 views)

When people open your email it’s important to have a strong call to action. However, it has to be opened in the first place and probably the single most important thing that will ensure your email is opened is the subject line.

It is a mini sales message – and it’s important to get it right.

You might be tempted to use your name, company name or brand name in the subject line but if these are in the From Name (which they should be – see my other blog post re the importance of the From Name) then it’s duplicating the same information and wasting valuable subject line real estate. (Sorry that last bit sounded a tad American, but then some of our best clients are from across the pond so what the heck!).

Anyway, here are a few guidelines that will help you to decide on the best subject line for your email campaign:

  1. Get the grammar and spelling right. If you make spelling or grammar mistakes in your email there will be many people who won’t even bother to open it. It might also get stopped by spam filters anyway. So make sure you get it right – there’s no excuse!
  2. Don’t be spammy. Avoid using words that spammers might use. Don’t put words in CAPITAL LETTERS. Firstly it’s not polite when it comes to netiquette and it will be seen as spam.
  3. Don’t promise things in the subject line that you don’t deliver in the body of the email.
  4. Make sure that your subject line is not too long. If it is there is a chance that the line will be cut short in your recipient’s email software missing what might be valuable information. Keep to about 10 words maximum if you can.
  5. What about personalising the subject line? I am slightly ambivalent about this. In my opinion people will know it’s an automatic merge won’t they? However, it may be that I’m a bit long in the tooth and personalised email subject lines just turn me off. It’s something that tends to be generally recommended so what do I know?
  6. Make sure you’ve got a concise call to action. This will encourage people to open the email and act.
  7. There’s no reason why the subject line cannot be controversial but be careful. Subject lines like You’d better watch out, It’s time to panic, Someone will get hurt may work in some circumstances and maybe for the more quirky product or service but they could also backfire if used inappropriately.
  8. By all means, steal ideas. Have you received emails whose subject line was compelling enough for you to open the email? Pinch their ideas and use them in your own emails.
  9. Test subject lines. A/B testing enables you to use two different subject lines and see which one works best. We can help you using our email campaign system.

Here are a few examples of what we think are good subject lines:

  • Last chance to buy – 25% off all men’s suits
  • Invitation: FDI conference,  London, January 23rd – early bird discounts
  • Read this ONLY if you are serious about growing your business
  • You’re Going To Love This – Look What We’ve Got For You
  • Win an iPad - entry deadline fast approaching
  • How to make it onto your ideal client’s short list

So next time you are running an email campaign, give careful thought to the subject line. What will it be to ensure that your email is opened?

Let me know if you want any more advice on email marketing or if we can help with your next campaign. At the time of writing we have produced and sent over 1,000 email campaigns for our clients.


You are not your customer

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 08 November 2013 | Category: Marketing
(1423 views)

I don't want to know what people had for dinner!This is one of the most important marketing messages that anyone in business should take on board and it’s an issue that I come across on so many occasions.

So I’ll repeat it here: You are not your customer!

I hear you saying, “Well that’s pretty obvious isn’t it? Of course I’m not my customer, how can I be?”

The problem is that often when it comes to marketing, people make decisions based on the way they think rather than the way their customers think.

They fail to put themselves in their customer’s shoes and fail to see the way their customer sees their service or product. And that means the message never gets through.

How does it manifest itself in my experience?

The most obvious manifestation is when you are talking about an area of marketing and the customer starts the sentence with “I don’t like...”. For example, I might be recommending that a customer looks at Google Adwords as a good way of bringing in new business.

“Oh no, I don’t like those advert thingies at the top of the page. I never click on them.” And then I have to explain politely that it doesn’t matter a damn what they do, it’s what their customers do that matters.

The other area that irks me is false modesty. It is really a good idea to have your picture plus a short biog or better still a video of you talking about your business and what it can do for the customer on your website. Remember, people buy from people and that’s especially true in smaller companies. Get over the fact that you don’t like it and do it.

Facebook is another area that often gets overlooked because of customer preconceptions. The catchphrase for those people who won’t even countenance Facebook as a potential marketing method is “I don’t want to know what people had for dinner”, which shows a complete misunderstanding of the way that Facebook can work as a marketing medium.

So how do you get round this issue?

The first thing to do is to create an avatar of your customer. Who is he he/she. How old are they? Where do they live? What are their interests? How much money do they earn? The more detail you can put on your avatar, the better. It means that your marketing can be more accurately targeted.

Then use the three Ms: Market. Message. Media.

  1. Work out who your market is – this is where the avatar comes in handy.
  2. Then work out what message you want to get to that market.
  3. Then and only then, decide what the best marketing method is to use to deliver that message to your target market.

That way, you shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing your customers are all like you.


Related blog posts

Cookies – the new law really takes the biscuit


The value of LinkedIn endorsements

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 15 October 2013 | Category: Social media
(1282 views)

I keep getting emails from LinkedIn telling me that so-and-so has endorsed me for various skills. It’s all very nice to be recognised on a daily basis for being proficient in this, that and the other but what are these endorsements all about and, more importantly, do they really enhance your credibility?  

My biggest issue with these endorsements is that I am getting them from people who don’t really know whether I am any good at what they say I am because they have never used me for those skills. I guess it’s easy enough to go onto the Novamedia website and take a look at our portfolio or our great testimonials and infer (quite rightly) from those that we are good at what we do and then to endorse us, but if you’ve never used us for these services then you cannot be 100% sure.

And then when I go onto LinkedIn to confirm the endorsement, I am asked if I’d like to endorse various people I am connected to for various skills. The skills listed incidentally, are apparently generated programmatically by LinkedIn from the user’s profile and other information. It is really easy to endorse Fred Bloggs for his skills in Event Organisation – it’s just a matter of clicking one button and then it’s done and Fred is replaced by someone else with another skill who you can just as easily endorse.

It has been compared to the Facebook ‘Like’ button. It’s certainly as easy to use as that.

It seems to me that it is just a way of driving traffic to LinkedIn and to try to get people going to the site regularly. To me there is limited value in collecting endorsements but if other people are not aware of how easy it is to endorse someone and how widespread endorsement collection is becoming, they might place a greater value on seeing someone on LinkedIn with hundreds of endorsements to their name.

I would much rather collect testimonials from people who have used us and who had something valuable to say about our services, attitude and business. So just in case you haven’t already clicked on the link above to our testimonials, here is a sample to whet your appetite:

Over my long career, I have worked with many companies, but Novamedia stands heads above all the others. Their professionalism and project management can only be described as "the best of the best"
Elizabeth Anne 'Betiayn' Tursi, National Chair, Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF)


Related blog posts

The Social Media Matrix


The email marketing process part 1 - Producing the email piece

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 07 September 2013 | Category: Email marketing
(2015 views)

The first thing we do when working with a new client is to design an email template which will be used for the email marketing campaign and also any subsequent campaigns. We will set up text styles, colours, fonts etc. and incorporate logos and images as required.

It is essential that the email piece to be sent out is designed to look good but, more importantly, is also 'designed for the inbox'. This means that it should work in whatever email software the recipient is using. In practice it is impossible to ensure that it works 100% correctly in every email program because they all render HTML content differently, but we can ensure that the design is as flexible as possible so that as many recipients as possible can see the email the way it was intended to look.

However, we always create a fallback in the shape of an online version. In the version that you contact receives we place a link at the top that says something like: 'If you are unable to read this e-mail, please click here to see our online version.' Therefore if the received version doesn't quite work the way it should, they can still see the email designed and laid out as intended in the online version in their browser. We also use this online version as the one that we show to the client as the email piece is being put together. Once they have approved the online version we then proceed to produce the HTML and text versions (see below).

There's the possibility that a contact's email software won't let them view HTML emails so we also produce a text version of your email so that these people don't miss out on your message. The email is sent out in what is called 'multipart' format – i.e. both HTML and text – and the recipient's email program will decide which part to display.

If you want the email to be personalised then this can also be done. For example, you might want 'Dear FirstName' at the top of the email (where Firstname is a column from the distribution list database). You might also want the email to be signed off by different people such as when sending to a list supplied from various sales reps within your organisation.

It's even possible to insert a completely different block of text / images in an email based on criteria from the distribution list database. Let's take an example to show you what I mean. Suppose you were organising three conferences in different locations and you wanted to show a picture of the recipient's nearest conference centre and its address in the body of the email. Your distribution database would need to have a column containing a location name and we can code the email to look at this location name and then display the appropriate content.

Our system will track click-throughs on all links within the email.

When all is said and done, the content of your email campaign is the final most important factor. It is that which will decide how many people respond to your call to action.


Related blog posts

The email marketing process part 2 - Setting up the campaign

The email marketing process part 3 - The distribution list

The email marketing process part 4 - Testing, sending and reporting


The email marketing process part 2 - Setting up the campaign

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 07 September 2013 | Category: Email marketing
(1858 views)

Once we have designed the email piece we can then set up the campaign. This involves various steps and settings within the email campaign application that we use.

Some of the most important are settings that our client has to supply such as:

  • The From Name
  • The From Address
  • The Reply-To address
  • The message subject

I won't blabber on about the importance of the From Name mainly because I have already written a blog post on this very subject. The From Address will typically be the email address of the person in the From Name but it doesn't have to be. The Reply-To address can be different to the From Address if you wish. Then when the recipient clicks Reply in their email application their reply will go back to this person instead.

The message subject is important and I have written a separate blog post about this which you can read here. Suffice to say at this stage that the subject line should trigger some sort of recognition within your recipient so that they don't look at it and immediately dismiss it as spam.

We also set up all of the click-throughs so that these can be recorded in our system and reported back to you.

One of the things we can do is to add an attachment but we hardly ever do this unless we are sending the email to a very small number of people and the attachment is a very small file size. Adding a large attachment to an email can massively increase the amount of time it takes to send and also runs a higher risk of being rejected as spam. What we recommend instead is that the attachment is uploaded to a web server and then we add a link to it within the body of the email. This gets round the two issues mentioned and has the added benefit that we can track clicks on this slink to see who has downloaded the attachment.


Related blog posts

The email marketing process part 1 - Producing the email piece

The email marketing process part 3 - The distribution list

The email marketing process part 4 - Testing, sending and reporting


The email marketing process part 3 - The distribution list

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 07 September 2013 | Category: Email marketing
(2076 views)

We run email marketing campaigns for many clients and these go to lists of varying sizes. You can supply us with a list of recipients or, as we do with a lot of clients, we can use the opt-in list from your website. For some clients we have actually constructed and manage their website as well so we can access the online database which we will have built in order to download the latest additions to the mailing list.

It is important that all lists only contain the names and email addresses of people who have actually opted in to receive communication from you or people who are legitimate contacts of your organisation.

It is also important that you offer all recipients a way of opting out of receiving communication and that you actually carry out their request when they have asked to be removed from the mailing list especially if you are managing your own lists. For those clients for whom we hold their definitive mailing list we make sure that any unsubscribe requests are actioned so that the contact doesn't receive any more emails.

If you supply us with the list, we process the list to get it into a format we can work with. More often than not distribution lists are supplied to us in Excel format but they can be supplied in any database format that we are able to read. Check with us before sending.

If you want to use merge fields in order to personalise the email, then these will need to be included in your list as separate columns. There's more about this in our other blog post in this series: Part 1 - Producing the email piece.


Related blog posts

The email marketing process part 1 - Producing the email piece

The email marketing process part 2 - Setting up the campaign

The email marketing process part 4 - Testing, sending and reporting


The email marketing process part 4 - Testing, sending and reporting

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 07 September 2013 | Category: Email marketing
(2083 views)

When we set up the distribution list database to send an email campaign, we also add to it some test addresses. These will of course contain one or more of our addresses but will also contain at least one of the client's email addresses as well.

The first thing we do is to send the email to ourselves and run a series of checks to ensure that everything is working:

  • Does the email work in both its HTML and text forms?
  • Does the unsubscribe link work and go to the correct unsubscribe page?
  • Does open tracking work?
  • Do all of the click-through links work?
  • If personalised emails are being used, are all merge fields working as they should be.

We also check the email to ensure that it isn't spammy and also that it looks good in a number of different email systems such as Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo.

When we are happy that everything is OK, we send a test email to the client so that they can check it and make any final changes.

Once the client is happy that it all looks and works as it should, we send the email out to the distribution list. We use specialist email marketing and sending software which will take each email and send it out separately to each recipient on the distribution list.

Then the interesting bit starts. Our system records all sorts of things to help you to analyse the success of your email marketing campaign. It records who has opened the email, which links they have clicked on, which email addresses have bounced, which email addresses are badly formatted and who has unsubscribed from your mailing list.

Email open tracking is done via the insertion of a tiny invisible image in the email piece. If a user's email software has images turned off then the open event will not be recorded. However, the result is still a good indicator of how successful your email marketing campaign has been. We have had open rates in the range of 10% up to 85% though a typical open rate range would be between 20% and 40% and anything in the higher end of that range can be regarded as a good figure.


Related blog posts

The email marketing process part 1 - Producing the email piece

The email marketing process part 2 - Setting up the campaign

The email marketing process part 3 - The distribution list


In the old days... PowerPoint was what you plugged stuff into

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 04 July 2013 | Category: The old days
(1312 views)

I’m going off piste and away from my usual web-related articles with this latest blog post to ramble off down Memory Lane for a little while.

I love all things digital and I’ve been in the creative industries all my life and seen how every aspect of this sort of work has evolved rapidly from the old analogue / manual methods to the new, sleek digital implementations. You name it, it’s now digital – presentations, photography, video, printing, publishing, music, radio, TV and so on.

And I for one am happy with this. I don’t long for the days when you had to thread a piece of sprocketed film into the back of a camera or to my old photo lab days when my hands were immersed in all manner of dermatologically dubious chemical solutions. Nowadays you just whip out the smartphone and Bob’s your uncle.

Whilst I’m not that old, it’s surprising the reaction you get from people who have only known digital (aka young people) when you tell them about how things were done back then. (Don’t call them the ‘old days’ or you’ll get a slap!)

Take for example the humble slide. These days if you want to produce a white on blue slide, you simply open PowerPoint, type in the title and text, save it and you’re done. It takes less than 5 minutes. Do you want to know how we used to do it? Of course you do! Let’s jump in a time machine and go back 30 years.

First of all you’d have to produce artwork. This was done by transferring Letraset letters onto white board. If you made a typo, you’d have to scrape off the letters with a scalpel and do them again.

The artwork was then placed under a rostrum camera and photographed using high contrast 35mm lith film. The lith film was then processed which produced a resulting negative with white text on a black background. This would then be retouched with black retouching fluid to get rid of any white ‘pinholes’.

The rostrum camera was then loaded with 35mm colour transparency film. Below the camera was a light box with three dial in filters of yellow, magenta and cyan. The magenta and cyan filters would be dialled up to the top to produce a blue light and this would be photographed on the rostrum camera. You’d shoot as many frames as you needed based on the number of slides you were producing. Then the film in the rostrum camera would be wound back to the start and the lith negative placed on the light box with all of the colours dialled out, therefore giving a white light. The white text would be exposed over the blue background that had already been shot on the colour film. There would be a separate lith neg for each slide and these would be shot in turn.

Rostrum camera

The colour transparency film would then have to be processed. When it was returned, each slide would be cut out, brushed or blown clean and mounted in a slide mount. There, job done!

Of course, if you wanted lots of colours on a slide, the process was even more complex and so I won’t go into that.

It was all a bit different from the way we do things now. But there are two things you can say about doing things the old way. Firstly, it makes you appreciate how much simpler and cleaner things are today and secondly it gives you a strong foundation. Much of what we did then is still very relevant today even if the methods are very different.


Content management – doing it right!

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 18 June 2013 | Category: Content management
(1283 views)

We are quite used to building content-managed websites where the client has control over what is going to appear on their site. But occasionally my heart sinks once the site has gone live and it’s not being updated or, if it is, it’s just the bare minimum of content with the occasional badly framed/exposed/cropped photo.

Even with the best of intentions this sometimes happens and it is important from the start to make sure that you have the resources to keep the site updated with good, well-written and grammatically correct content and high-quality photos.

Who is responsible for writing the content? Who is going to supply the photos for the website? Who will take charge of actually adding the content to the site?

Keeping a website up to date takes time and thought. It’s something that needs to be built in to someone’s daily tasks and not something that “we’ll get around to when we’ve got the time”.

Importantly, it also takes a level of skill and knowledge. Not everyone is adept at the English language particularly when it comes to being creative and interesting. Many people don’t know how to produce a good photo or how to process images after shooting to enhance them. For example, the pictures below show how a badly take photo can be manipulated to end up with a decent result.

If you can’t do it in-house then get someone to help. Employ a copywriter and/or a professional photographer. We can help – just get in touch.

What you show on your website will often be the first impression that a potential client has of your organisation. Do you really want to leave it to chance?


Related blog posts

Website content – if you can’t do it, you’ve got four choices...


Email marketing – the importance of the 'from name'

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 07 June 2013 | Category: Email marketing
(2744 views)

One of our services is email marketing. It's really effective for many of our clients and brings some good and measurable results to them as part of their overall marketing mix.

There are various things that make up a good email campaign. In this article I am concentrating on just one of those aspects – the 'from name'.

It's not rocket science this one is it? If you want people to open up the email you are sending them then make sure that they recognise who it has come from.  If they all know who you are personally then you could use just use your name but if there are some who may not know you or recognise your name immediately in an email then don't risk it. Use you company name and possibly your own name as well to make it more personal.

For example, if you received an email from 'John Smith' (OK I know, it's not very imaginative) you may consign it to the deleted folder right away. However, if it was from 'Apple Store – John Smith' then you may well remember John from the Apple Store and open his email. Even if you don't know John, you might still open it seeing as it come from the Apple Store and then you might well click through to their website and buy a couple of pounds of Cox's Orange Pippins (or whatever apples take your fancy).

In many cases, it may just be pertinent to use the company name and this is probably the most common form of from name that we use. Allied to a good subject line this is probably the most effective way of getting people to open your email. Recipients will recognise the company name and, if it a name they trust they are far more likely to open the email.

It could also be argued that people receive so much crap in their inboxes these days that a simple company name, uncomplicated by extra stuff such as the sender's name, will stand out and be easily recognised amongst the rest of the garbage in a person's inbox.

Also bear in mind that the way people have their email software set up, the whole of the from name might not be visible – the end may be cut off. So a short, pithy from name is also preferable from this point of view.


Related blog posts

Email marketing – the all-important content of your email

Email marketing – the importance of the subject line


Taking the mystery out of domains

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 04 June 2013 | Category: Technical advice
(1342 views)

One subject that occasionally confuses clients is the whole thing about domain names and how they work especially in terms of how they are related to email addresses and websites.

So I thought I’d pen a simplified blog post to explain it in terms that (I hope) are easily understood (something we could have done with ourselves many moons ago when we first started out!).

The first thing is that you register a domain name. You can get domains registered in many places. The only advice would be to use a reputable domain provider. We can register domain names. We don’t do this as a standalone service but we have registered many names for our web design clients. For the purposes of this blog post we are going to use our own domain, novamedia.co.uk as an example.

A domain name is normally simply in two or three parts, separated by dots. In the case of our example, the .co.uk is known as a second level domain. (Top level domains are .com, .org and .net amongst others). Then beneath our .co.uk is the domain name we have chosen, novamedia. For most people this information isn’t at all important. You just know that you want to use novamedia.co.uk as your domain name and then get it registered.

What is the point of a domain name? All computers on a network are indentified by a unique number known as an IP address. This is normally a four- or six-part number such as 37.128.188.35. If you type that IP address in your browser’s address bar, you’ll see that it goes to our website. So what is easier to remember – novamedia.co.uk or 37.128.188.35? Clearly it’s much easier and more user friendly to remember a name that a set of numbers.

This is where DNS comes in. DNS stands for Domain Name System and it is effectively a distributed online directory that translates easy-to-read domain names into their numerical IP addresses and then routes network traffic off to the server for that IP address. It knows what to do for various uses of the domain as well. So for example, if you type in www.novamedia.co.uk, the first thing that the DNS does is to look for the DNS records for novamedia.co.uk and then within these records it looks for the IP address for the www part of novamedia.co.uk which is 37.128.188.35.  Then via the internet it gets the information from the server with that IP address and returns it to the user’s browser, showing them the Novamedia website.

The same thing applies to email. If you send an email to dave@novamedia.co.uk, the email sending system will look for the DNS records for novamedia.co.uk then, knowing that the dave@ part represents an email address, it will look for the IP address of the email part of the domain. This won’t be the same as the www IP address but it will be the IP address of the mail server that receives email for all addresses at novamedia.co.uk. The email is then sent to the server on that IP address and deposited there ready to be retrieved by my email program.

DNS records are usually managed via a control panel for the domain. We often need to change records via such a control panel especially when we are producing a website for a client that already has a domain. Either we or the client can log into their control panel and change the DNS record for the www part of the domain from the IP address of the current web server to our server’s IP address where we are hosting their shiny new website. No other records in the DNS are changed so their existing email service still goes to the same place it always has.

I hope that has helped to take some of the mystery out of domains and how they work.


The Social Media Matrix

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 29 April 2013 | Category: Social media
(1612 views)

So you’ve got this patchwork of disparate presences online – your website, your Facebook page, maybe a Twitter account and a YouTube channel. You might even be running email marketing campaigns like we do. Individually they may well work as a marketing method for your business but how can you make them work together so that they become supercharged and even more effective?

We put together a system which takes all of our social media presence and also includes email marketing and our blog and we worked out a method of how they should interact. We call it our social media matrix. We’ve used it successfully ourselves and for some of our clients.

This is the social media matrix:

The matrix outlines what should happen if you want to do any of the things in the left hand column. So for example, if we receive a new testimonial from a client, we take the following action:

  • Firstly of course, it is added to our website.
  • It’s mentioned on Facebook with a link back to the testimonial on the website. (Or the whole testimonial could be put onto Facebook. We might also consider putting the client’s logo or person’s face on the Facebook post).
  • We tweet about the testimonial again with a link through to the testimonials page on our website. (We would probably tweet about it more than once, possibly adding it to a list of scheduled tweets).
  • We post an update on LinkedIn with a link back to the testimonials page on our website.
  • We might also add it to our monthly email campaign if it is relevant.

The matrix ensures that we don’t waste any opportunities to make the most of any information or content that we have and that it is shared on as many channels as possible.

It also emphasises the on-going importance of your website because whilst it might not be your only online presence these days, it is still one of the most important as your other online presences will invariably point to information and content that you’ve put on your website.

Why not try using our social media matrix in your business and let me know how you get on?


IE6 is definitely, absolutely, officially dead!

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 18 April 2013 | Category: Web design
(1481 views)

Who says so? Me that’s who!

I wrote a blog post on July 30 2010 declaring the end of IE6 – that’s 2½ years ago! You can see it by clicking here

I was talking to a client about a new job in 2011 and they said that their clients in the pharmaceutical industry were still using IE6 and so the website we were producing had to work on this old browser. So my declaration of the end of IE6 may have been a little premature.

But usage has now fallen to less than 0.6% in the UK and 0.2% in the US. Apparently Norway at 0% has wiped it off the face of the earth (well, off the face of Norway at least) so well done to our Scandinavian friends! (China is inexplicably still at over 25% but I don’t think most of my clients are going to be too bothered about that).

So why do I say that IE6 is officially dead?

Well, I decided on a particular measurement that would confirm to me the end of IE6. Our client Geo F Trumper (www.trumpers.com) for whom we built an online shop (which is in the process of being updated to a snazzy new one as I write) take several orders a day. I decided that as soon as a calendar month had gone by without a single order from a customer using IE6, we could officially declare IE6 dead and gone.

We nearly got there towards the end of last year, missing out by just 2 hours when a customer sneaked in an order using IE6 at the last minute but we have now finally done it – no IE6 orders have been placed since January 24th.

We haven’t really been supporting IE6 for a while now but now I can officially, absolutely and definitely say "Goodbye IE6, we won’t miss you."


Fixed width or 100%? There’s only one way to find out – FIGHT!

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 10 April 2013 | Category: Web design
(1541 views)

For the uninitiated, there has always been a debate within the web community about whether a website should be designed with a fixed width or produced to occupy the full screen width irrespective of the user’s screen resolution.

At this point I will nail my colours firmly to the mast as a proponent of fixed-width websites. I’m not alone; most websites you look at nowadays are fixed width and if it is good enough for the likes of the BBC, Google, Facebook and Ebay then it’s good enough for me.

Amazon is an exception; they have stuck to the 100% width. I like using Amazon but one thing I don’t like (or two if you count their tax-dodging antics) is their site layout. I have never found it particularly appealing or easy to use. (Anyone at Amazon want some help on usability? Give me a shout!).

There are problems with sites that are produced to a 100% screen width especially on larger screens. The first is that your text will stretch out into long lines and become very difficult to read. Imagine trying to read a paperback book where the pages are 50cm wide and the text goes right across these pages and you’ll get an idea of what I mean.

When you use a full-screen layout you have no control over the appearance of your page. Your user’s browser and screen width will dictate how wide or narrow your pages appear.

All of our sites are fixed widths. At one time I’ll admit we produced two websites at 100% screen width both at the client’s insistence but I am glad to say that both have since been converted back to fixed width and look much the better for it.

So if we have agreed that fixed-width is much better than full-screen (and we have, haven’t we?), then what size do we produce our fixed-width sites to? Over the years, screen resolutions have got higher and higher. In 2013, over 99% of users have a desktop screen resolution of 1024x768 or higher. Ten years ago that figure was 46% and more people were viewing the web on screens of 800x600. So back then we were producing websites with a width of 760 pixels which would fit on a screen of 800 pixels wide allowing for the scrollbar.

Now we go to at least 960 pixels or sometimes higher. 960 is a good number because it has lots of divisors and is therefore suited to the use of a grid system for dividing pages into columns.

It is considered bad practice to force a user to scroll horizontally when browsing a website so sites should always be produced so that the vast majority of people can view without this being the case. That is why 960 pixels wide is still the optimum width for a site.

What about mobile screens? If you use a smartphone to browse the web you will be aware that most websites shrink down automatically to fit onto the screen. You then have to pinch zoom to zone in on those parts you want to view in detail. This works fine but it’s not an ideal scenario which is why it is better to be responsive – i.e. to produce a website so that it works on a mobile device as well as the desktop. For an example, see the website we designed for Provender Nurseries at www.provendernurseries.co.uk. Take a look at it on both a PC and a mobile device and you’ll see what I mean.

Paradoxically, having railed against fixed-width sites, a site designed for use on a mobile device nearly always uses a 100% width screen but this is not an issue as most mobile viewports do not differ greatly and the concepts used in good mobile design lend themselves to this approach.


It pays to be responsive

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 08 January 2013 | Category: Web design
(1675 views)

We all know that many people are now accessing websites via mobile devices and tablets. The smartphone is now ubiquitous whether you like it or not and people want to look at websites on their smartphones.

Most websites that you will look at on your phone will look the same as they do on a desktop PC. They are still usable and parts of the page can be viewed by pinch zooming. But more and more sites and being built or redesigned so that they ‘work’ as mobile sites as well as on larger screens.

It’s not going to be an overnight process. Most of the sites we have built still fall into the first category because there was no requirement at the time they were produced to design specifically for mobile devices and the technology was new so there were no agreed techniques for doing so unless you built a completely separate site.

But technology moves fast. There are now techniques that allow us web designers to produce a website that will work on large screens as always but will also morph into mobile websites on a smaller screen. And without building two separate sites!

It’s known as responsive design and it allows us to build just one site that works on all devices. We have just launched our first properly responsive website for Provender Nurseries. Take a look at the site at www.provendernurseries.co.uk on both your PC and your phone. Or if you want to find out more about the site, take a look at our portfolio page.

The important thing is that the site has been specifically designed for mobile devices as well as for larger screens. There is very little compromise required to achieve this. We drafted out exactly how we wanted the site to look and function on smartphones and then made the technology fit our vision for the site.

There is some extra work up front to produce the two different designs and layouts but once this is done and the responsive structure is built, the addition of the content and all of the other functionality is the same as it would be if we were just designing for the desktop screen.

We’ll offer this option for all new sites that we are building and any sites that we are updating. You don’t have to take it but with over 1 billion smartphones in the world and an estimate that this number will go over 2 billion within three years, can you afford not to?


How to build your customer database

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 20 November 2012 | Category: Email marketing
(1876 views)

Having decided that your database is your organisation’s most useful resource, we next need to work out how we can grow that database. The more people you have in your database, the better the response you will get when you contact them – it’s a simple numbers game. Although a quick caveat is in order before we proceed too much further. You’ll need to make sure that the people you are adding to your database have agreed to be in there and also that these same people are likely to be your customers. Don’t just add people for the sake of building up your numbers. You will also need to allow people to be removed from your database.

So how do you grow a database? Well there are various methods.

Via your website

One of the most important purposes a website can have is to get contacts into a database. In fact you should be doing this whatever else your website might be set up to achieve.  You can get names in a number of ways. If you sell online then try to sign people up from the checkout. If you give people the option to join your mailing list then they invariably will. One of the sites we run has a 70% sign-up rate at the checkout and it’s a site with a good repeat business potential as well so we can keep in contact with these people via regular email marketing campaigns.

If you’re not grabbing people when they get to your site then they will pass by like ships in the night.

As an example of where a site is getting contact details, see the Weald Aquatics website at www.wealdaquatics.co.uk.  Weald Aquatics is a bricks-and-mortar aquarium and pond shop based in Knockholt in Kent. We came up with the idea of setting up a Weald Aquatics Club and people are encouraged to sign up for this via the website as well as in the shop. They are driven to the website by leaflets given out with each purchase in the shop extolling the benefits of joining the Club. A monthly email newsletter is sent to the club members with special offers, news and advice and this generates tangible results within the shop. It keeps Weald at the front of people’s minds when it comes to thinking about purchasing aquatics products.

Another way of getting contact details from visitors to your website is to offer something that is valuable. It may be an informational resource, a special offer or anything else as long as there is a perceived value to your offer. If you want to do this via your website you need what is known as a squeeze page, so called because you are squeezing information out of people (in the nicest possible way) before they can get to the goodies.

It needs to be a fair exchange. If the site user is going to give away his or her details then they are going to want to make sure that what you’re offering is worthwhile so that they will gladly enter into the bargain.

Be sure to let your users know that you will protect their privacy. You can have a simple line that says something like: We value your privacy and your details will only be used by us and not passed on to any third parties or you can add a privacy policy to your website with full details of how you collect and use data on your site.

Have you got something of value that you can offer to your site visitors that will persuade them to give you their valuable contact details?

Existing clients

Of course all of your existing customers should be in your database. They should be added on the day that they become a customer. Potential customers too should be in your database but you should obtain their permission before adding them in.

Out and about

When you meet people and talk about your business, ask them if they are happy to receive information from you This is particularly relevant at networking meetings especially if you are a regular at these meetings and have got to know some of the faces well.

Events, seminars, conferences or exhibitions are all great opportunities to get people to sign up as well. You might want to use the same tit-for-tat method as described above so that you are offering something in return for their details such as a give-away or a competition entry.

In-shop

If people are coming into your premises, and this especially applies to shops, restaurants, salons etc. then you should do everything you can to get their contact details. So few shops do this and they are missing out on a potential goldmine of new and repeat business. Again find a way of incentivising. In the case of Weald Aquatics we offer 10% off all pond and aquarium fish FOREVER. (A 10% off offer is not very imaginative but when you tell someone that it’s forever, that puts a different slant on it).

What can you offer in your business to get people to sign-up to your database?

Buying lists

You might think that a quick way of building your database is to buy a list. Think again. I’ve written  a separate section on this in the Email marketing e-book and I'll add a link here as soon as it is live.

Conclusion

There are a number of ways that you can legitimately build up your own database. If you haven’t already got a database then why not get started today. It’ll pay dividends.


My favourite testimonial – "You have wasted a lot of my time and I’m very annoyed"

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 20 November 2012 | Category: Web design
(2903 views)

If you haven’t seen our great testimonials then you should. Take a look here and see what our clients say about us. We’ve got a brilliant bunch of clients who we are very happy to work for and, as you can see, they are very happy with us too. But before you do, read this. It’s some feedback I received recently from a potential client:

"When i first spoke to you, i told you everything I wanted done and you said im looking at around £1000 for a coldfusion website.
Since i mentioned a £3000 budget you seem determined to hit over that mark.
Your quote is ridiculous and i certainly will not be using your 1 man band to build my site,
Ive had over 10 quotes for £500 and free training from companies that have large over heads and actually know what there doing.
You want £340 for half a days training, your not even a limited company or VAT registered so dont see how you can estimate your hourly rate at over £80ph.
You have wasted alot of my time and and im very annoyed."

This was dashed off in a fit of pique (you can tell that can’t you?) and I won’t pepper it with [sics] otherwise it will become even more unreadable.

There are a few inaccuracies – we’re not a one-man-band and we are VAT registered and some of the other points are also stretching the truth. As to the costs, these varied as the client’s brief changed. It was never as low as £1,000 and at one point the quote went over £9,000 but that was when the client was asking for 260 separately copywritten pages! And I won’t even go into his claim about £500 for a website with free training. Any company offering that will not be in business this time next year.

But one thing I will agree with is the last line. I should have turned him down as soon as it became apparent that this was not going to be our kind of project. There was a growing gut feeling that this wasn’t my kind of client. I also wasted a lot of my own time trying to accommodate the client with a number of phone calls, a written proposal and various quotes as the brief changed from one day to the next. In the end, the amount of time I spent going round in circles, taking phone calls and writing the proposal took up a lot of time and in our business, time is what we charge for. So I lost money.

You may be asking if I’ve gone stark staring mad putting this on our website. It’s not the most ringing endorsement for our services is it? No, but what it does is to illustrate the sort of people we don’t want to do business with and it’s kind of cathartic writing this blog piece as it might help me to be more selective when it comes to new clients in future.

Clients who are serious about their business; clients who are educated; clients who see their online presence as an important part of their marketing strategy; oh and last but definitely not least, clients who are nice to deal with and who make working for them a pleasure and a privilege. If you are already a client, then that describes you.

If you are not yet a client and you think that the above is a fitting description of you and your company then I look forward to sitting down with you soon to discuss your website and online marketing strategy.

And just to remind you again, if you want to see the things our real clients say about us, just take a look at our testimonials page.


What is hosting and why do I need it?

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 18 September 2012 | Category: Technical advice
(1722 views)

Now and again a client will come to us and ask what hosting is and why they need to pay for it. Although we set this out upfront when beginning a job a client may sometimes forget about this service we are providing them with and the costs involved (after all, quality hosting should be something you are able to have minimal involvement in as it should just work!). So after several questions about hosting from clients we have realised that perhaps we have not been clear enough in the past about what hosting actually is. Hopefully this blog post will answer all those questions.

What is hosting?

Hosting is literally where your website lives. A website must exist on a computer (called a server) which has access to the internet and is running web server software. When somebody using the internet tries to visit a page on your website they send a request for that page over the internet from their computer to the server where the website is hosted (aha!). The server will then send the requested page back to the user’s computer which will look all pretty in their web browser. In essence that is all there is to it although technically this can get quite complicated!

A server can be any computer which is connected to the internet. Any PC or Mac with a connection to the internet and the correct software installed can act as a web server but you get many advantages when you use a server specially designed and installed for the job.

Our server

Our server does not sit in our office keeping us all nice and warm but is installed in a datacentre. A datacentre is a building with the specific purpose of housing servers. There are many advantages to keeping our server here:

  • The datacentre is temperature controlled so that the servers do not get too hot and can therefore provide their best performance.
  • The connection to the internet at the datacentre is unlike your broadband connection in your office or at home. Datecentres lease a large amount of bandwidth so that upload and download speeds are very fast and very consistent. The hardware used to connect to the internet is extremely high-end and there are backup solutions in place if hardware is to fail.
  • The datacentre is physically very secure so that hardware and more importantly data, are protected.
  • Backups to an offsite location are performed regularly, ensuring that you never lose your important data.

The above advantages ensure we are able to provide high-availability worry-free hosting for your website or application.

Speaking of applications

In order to create a website or web application which does more than present static pages of text  and images to the user extra software is required on our server. Most importantly we require a web application server and database server. We use Adobe ColdFusion and MySQL respectively. ColdFusion provides us with an architecture which allows to efficiently build rich, scalable applications which can do almost anything you can think of. MySQL provides us with a robust and well-supported database for storing the data which these applications rely upon.

Why do I need to pay for you to host my website?

You don’t! But you will need to pay somebody to host it. The implementation and management of our hosting service obviously requires an on-going commitment for us and we believe that the service we provide is extremely good value for money. The websites and applications which we build for you are specifically designed for the software environment on our server and so by hosting with us you can be assured that your site will just work (and in the rare case where there is a problem we have systems in place which immediately alert us to it so we can go about fixing it)!


Design is about the user experience

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 07 August 2012 | Category: Usability
(1834 views)

This is taken from one of the chapters in our e-book: '20½ ways to make sure your website works for you'. If you want to find out what the other 19½ ways are, you can get the rest of the e-book by going here.

The simple rule here is to make the site as easy as possible to use at all stages. You want to keep people on the site and if they find that they can't use it easily then it doesn't matter how good your content is, they'll simply say goodbye and find someone else.

The first issue here is navigation. Don't confuse users with multiple navigations around the site. Keep it simple and make sure that the navigation is consistent across all pages of your website.

Make sure your site works in multiple browsers. You'll be forgiven for neglecting Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) because anyone still using that browser (which was launched in 2001) frankly deserves to get a bad web experience. They should have upgraded long ago. Even IE7 is now getting long in the tooth having been launched in 2006. (As a side note, it seems mad that there were 5 years between the launch of IE6 and IE7 particularly given how unreliable IE6 was). However, IE7 is still used by enough people to mean that it should not be totally disregarded. But make sure your site works in IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari as well as on the iPad and Android tablets.

Whilst broadband has meant that we can now download web pages much more quickly, there's no excuse for bloating pages more than is necessary. Keep them slim so that they download quickly, enhancing the user experience.

Accessibility is another key issue. I could write an e-book on that subject alone but at the very least, make sure your website uses colours that contrast well with each other.

Also make it easy for people to find stuff on your site. We've already covered navigation but if you've got a large number of pages on your site (for example, a large products database) then add a search facility so that users can easily find what they are looking for. Preferably have this search facility as part of the navigation so that it appears in the same place on all pages of the site.

Is it easy to find stuff on your website or does your navigation need a review?


The making of the Novamedia map viral

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 11 April 2012 | Category: Web design
(1895 views)

You may have seen our UK map game that we launched recently. You haven't? Well here it is: http://www.novamedia.co.uk/ukmapgame/. Warning: it's mildly addictive.

The idea came to me one day that it might be something that we can put together quite quickly that will afford some diversion to our clients (a few minutes away from your busy schedule never hurt anyone) whilst at the same time showing off our web application building skills. Add in a bit of subtle marketing for Novamedia and it's a winner all round. (The marketing aspects will change over time having received some pertinent advice from fellow business people).

You may be interested in how we put this together and how it all works. We've been building web applications for 13 years and we're pretty good at it now. So much so that this map game took less than a week from start to finish.

As with all web applications it relies on a database in the background and a web application 'language' in the code to interact with that database. Our preferred solutions are MySQL: for the database and ColdFusion for the web application development.

There are two database tables, one for all of the places on the map and another to hold the results. The places table is very simple. It just contains the town or city name, its X and Y co-ordinates on our map and its level of difficulty: easy, medium or hard.

We had to make sure that the co-ordinates were accurate. We didn't want people coming back to us and telling us that we'd got our location wrong. To do this we downloaded a free Ordnance Survey large scale map of the UK which contained thousands of place names. We used this map to produce our blank graphic map and then developed a formula to convert the co-ordinates from the large scale map to the co-ordinates required for our online map and therefore our places database. We added over 300 places in all and this was probably the longest part of the job.

Designing the user interface is important in any online application and we gave this a lot of thought in order to make it as user-friendly as possible. When the user has selected their level of difficulty, the system takes them through a series of 10 places and the results of their guesses are shown in a table that builds up on the right.

Working out the results was quite simple. You remember the Pythagorean theorem from your school days? Of course you do! The square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides. By using a right-angled triangle from where you clicked to the actual co-ordinates of the location, it's easy to work out the straight line distance between the two points. Multiply this by a factor that converts pixels to miles and bingo, you have your result.

These results are held in memory until you have completed all 10 guesses. Then they are added to the results database table. Again it's a simple table. It contains your score, the level of difficulty and a timestamp to show when you played the game. It also contains your IP address. This is just there to show us how many different people are playing to give us some idea of the popularity of the game.

Knowing your score and level of difficulty, it's then easy to work out where you rank in the list of people who have played the game at that particular level. We can show you your position and a sad, neutral or smiley face depending on how you fared compared to your fellow players.

We've built many web applications over the years mostly a lot more complex than the map game but I hope that this little look 'under the bonnet' gives you a small idea of what goes on behind the scenes when building an online application.


Setting up email accounts

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 27 March 2012 | Category: Technical advice
(1745 views)

This week's blog is a bit of back to basics, answering one of the questions we often get asked if we have set up a domain for a client: How do I set up my email accounts?

I'm not going to go through every different software program in detail but just cover in general terms the information that you need to set up email accounts using your preferred software.

The first thing you have to do is to decide what email address or addresses you want to use and get these set up on the system. If you have a control panel for your domain then you will be able to do this yourself. If not, you may have to ask your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or the person who looks after your IT to do this for you. (If you've got a person who looks after your IT in-house then he or she can probably do this whole thing for you anyway, so there may be no point in reading on. Go and put your feet up and have a cup of tea!).

But let's assume that you have to set all this up yourself. We'll choose and email address – let's say fred@novamedia.co.uk. The control panel will ask you to enter the email address and select a password for the email. You'll need both of these things when you set it up on your email program. Your control panel may well have other options too but you can ignore these for the time being.

As soon as you have set this new email address up, any emails sent to fred@novamedia.co.uk will start going into Fred's inbox on the mail server. The mail server is the server your ISP uses to receive email on your behalf. When you set up your email program, it interrogates this mail server to see if there are any emails in Fred's inbox and downloads them to your PC.

You don't actually have to set up your email software if you don't want to. Most ISPs will offer a webmail service where you can just log in to the mail server and view and send emails from there and in fact this is basically the way that cloud email services work such as Google's GMail.

But we'll assume you want to receive emails on your PC otherwise this blog post is going to end much sooner than expected.

So you go in to your email software and go to the bit where you set up a new account. You'll need various bits of information:

  • Your email address
  • Your password
  • The POP server address
  • The SMTP server address
  • The server port numbers if the defaults are not being used

Now you know the first two already but you'll need to find out the last three and these are questions you need to ask your ISP. It may well be documented on your control panel. What are these things?

POP stands for Post Office Protocol. It's got nothing to do with the GPO (that ages me!) but is simply the protocol used to describe how email messages are received. SMTP stands for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol and is the system used to describe how messages are sent. Often the server addresses for these will be the same. For example, our ISP uses mail.flintmedia.co.uk.

There are two port numbers, one for the POP server and one for the SMTP server. By default these are 110 and 25 respectively. Your ISP may use different port numbers and you may need to check this. If you are setting up an email address on our system, the SMTP port is 587.

Finally there may be a checkbox that you need to tick if your ISP's server requires authentication. Again, your ISP should be able to make this clear. Our ISP requires this to be ticked.

That's basically it and I hope I've given you enough information to enable you to set up your email address using your chosen software program.

There's just one final thing. By default, when you download the emails from the mail server, they are transferred to your PC and deleted from the mail server. However, most email programs will enable you to choose if you want to leave the message on the mail server. This can be useful in some circumstances. For example, you may want to have access to your emails from other devices such as your smartphone or a laptop but still want to have all messages downloaded to your PC. You can set up your email accounts on your smartphone or laptop in the same way as described above but click the box that tells the system to leave messages on the server. When you get back to your desktop PC and download your emails, these messages will still be there and will therefore download to the PC and then be deleted from the mail server.

(If you've been pointed to this blog post as one of our clients and anything isn't clear, do give me a call).


Things that wind me up on Twitter

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 14 March 2012 | Category: Social media
(1610 views)

Dear readers, I have to warn you that I am about to go into Grumpy Old Man (GOM) mode. I'm not normally a GOM (although my wife might dispute that) so please indulge me as I let off a bit of steam (or alternatively, don't read on, it's entirely up to you).

Now I've been using Twitter for quite a while now and, day by day, more and more people enter the arena. More people are following me every day although I've got a long way to go to get to Lady Gaga's 20 million followers (in fact I've got well over 19,999,000 to go but that's not the point).

There are a lot of people who use Twitter perfectly well. They are interesting, engaging and, funnily enough, they get my attention. Strange that, isn't it? But there are many others who don't and these people I tend to ignore or even unfollow.

So what are these people doing that gets my goat. I've listed a few things below. You may agree or not agree with these – I'd like to hear your comments.

People who sell all the time
Yes we know you're on Twitter to get new business but if you keep tweeting 'Buy, buy, buy' then I'm afraid it's 'Bye, bye, bye' from me.

FFs without a reason
If you want me to follow someone of a Friday, do one at a time and give me a good reason. If you tweet '#FF' followed by a bunch of names, why am I going to click on any of them to find out why I should follow them? Hint: I'm not!

People using quotation books
This one winds me up. If you haven't got anything interesting to say, don't pick up a book of clever quotations off of your shelf and tweet these ad nauseum. And if you've stuck a whole bunch of these in scheduled tweets then shame on you.

People who are not interesting
Try to be interesting on Twitter. You'll get my attention. Even be a bit edgy as long as you don't go too far. Then if you throw in a proportion of business tweets as well, they'll also get read.

People who tweet loads all in one go
I keep my tweets in lists. It's mostly the people I find interesting and engaging that are in these lists and they are the ones that get looked at the most. But if you fire off a large number of tweets in one go and take over my list so that everyone else is pushed down, you're going to get removed from the list which means I won't see any of your tweets.

People who use loads of hashtags, links and gobbledegook
If a tweet is just a link and a bunch of hashtags I'm very unlikely to click on it. If I can't make sense of the tweet in a few seconds then I'll move on to the next one.

Thinking it's OK not to spell correctly
There are two schools of thought on this one. Some people say that it's OK to fire off a tweet in a hurry and not worry about the spelling. I guess you could argue that a badly spelt tweet that gets click-throughs is better than no tweet at all. But even better is a correctly spelt tweet that gets attention. Good spelling and grammar is also polite. If it's not correct, it forces the reader to work harder.

Not having the nous to précis text
If you can't fit everything into 140 characters, learn how to précis. That doesn't mean converting 'your' to 'ur' (Ur was an ancient Sumerian city – see you can learn something from reading my blog!). Try to re-word the tweet whilst still keeping it readable. It only takes a few seconds to do.

Social media 'experts'
I'm followed by loads of social media 'experts'. Now I'm not saying that there's no such thing as a social media expert but I don't want to be on Twitter just to be told how to use Twitter all of the time.

Please retweet
I'll retweet if I think it's interesting. You don't have to ask. In fact if you do ask, I'm likely not to retweet – I'm a bit contrary at times!

People telling me how many followers they've got
You don't need to tweet to tell me how many followers you have or how many you've got to go to get to some landmark number. I can find that out for myself if I'm interested.

Abbreviations and acronyms
Actually I'm OK with a lot of these. I don't mind OMG, WTF and LOL (although I have my doubts if people really are laughing out loud when they type LOL and certainly ROFLMAO is never to be taken literally). But the more obscure ones are unlikely to have me Googling for their meaning so I'll probably just ignore them instead. So DUOA. See?

Abuse, racism, cowardice etc.
Finally of course it goes without saying that anyone using Twitter to be abusive, racist, sexist and so on will be unfollowed and possibly reported. Nuff said.

...and calm...
I feel much better having got all that off my chest. If you're new to Twitter I hope it helped. If you've been using it for some time you might feel there are a few things I've left off of the list - let me know. I'm off to make a cup of tea!


Website content – if you can’t do it, you’ve got four choices...

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 02 March 2012 | Category: Web design
(1732 views)

It's like anything in life. If there's a thing you can't do then you have four choices:

  1. Don't do it
  2. Do it yourself but do it badly
  3. Learn how to do it well
  4. Get someone else to do it

It applies to all sorts of things. I was up a step ladder decorating my hall about three years ago. Bored and fed up, I got down off of the ladder, put it away in the garage and resolved to give up decorating for good. Next day I phoned Malcolm and he's been doing our painting, decorating and other such jobs ever since (highly recommended incidentally if you need someone in the Bromley area!). I chose option 4 – it was definitely the right thing to do.

Another example is that of public speaking. In business we often have to get up in front of people and talk and it was always something that terrified me. I have recently resolved to do something about it and in this case, I have chosen option 3. I've joined a speakers club and intend to get proficient at this particular life skill.

So down to brass tacks – your website and its content. We have produced sites with content management systems (CMS) for years allowing clients to update those parts of the site that change frequently. But is this always the sensible thing to do? It really depends on if the client is going to use the CMS and use it well.

These are the three factors you need to bear in mind:

  • Understand what the website section is for
  • Write well
  • Update often

Understand what the website section is for

If you've got a blog on your website, use it as a blog. Make it interesting and write stuff that people will want to read. If you're using the blog to flag up events or small pieces of news then think about having a separate news or events page on your site custom-built just for this sort of thing.

If you've got various staff using the CMS, make sure they all know how to use it and what each section is for.

Write well

This is the big one for me for various reasons and it comes back to the four options at the top. If you can't write well then either learn to do so or employ someone else to do it. We can write copy for you or employ specialist copywriters.

We've got some clients who know how to write well. For example take a look at the Munro & Forster blog at http://www.munroforster.com/blog.cfm. It's interesting and there are no distracting spelling or grammatical errors.

We've also produced a couple of sites where the client's skills in this area are lacking and we have had to talk to them about how they can improve this as well as explain the negative effect this is having on their business. The errors stick out like a sore thumb and people will subconsciously link this lack of attention to detail to whatever service or product you are selling.

And from a purely selfish point of view, we can't put a client site in our web portfolio if it contains bad English because it's going to reflect badly on us as well!

Update often

If you've got a blog or a news section then use it. Don't let it sit there gathering dust. Update it regularly and then tweet about it or add the update to your Facebook age. We now set up sections in clients' websites that automatically post updates to their company's Facebook page so there's no extra effort involved.

It also stands to reason that the more, good-quality content you've got on your website, the more stuff there is for Google to index thus helping your search engine rankings.

If you want any help with your website or copy, just get in touch.


Cookies – the new law really takes the biscuit

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 12 October 2011 | Category: Usability
(1827 views)

The government has given companies until 26 May 2012 to comply with the new EU's Privacy and Communications Directive which requires the user's consent before using cookies. This could open up a hornet's nest of problems and could potentially make websites a lot less useful and user-friendly.

So what exactly is a cookie? It's a small file placed on your PC by a website that they can retrieve each time you visit pages on the site. It is not dangerous and cannot harm your PC and it can only be used by the web domain that stored it in the first place.

Let me give you an example from one of our websites. The World Malaria Day website (http://www.worldmalariaday.org) has an option at the top to view the site in French. If you click on this flag, the website stores a cookie on your PC that holds the information saying that your language preference is French. The next time you visit the site, this cookie is retrieved and the site is automatically shown to you in French. Without this convenience you would have to click on the flag every time you visited in order to see the site in French – not very user-friendly at best.

Without wishing to confuse matters, there is another type of cookie which is non-persistent and which expires when you leave a site. These are called session cookies and are strictly necessary to hold web pages together. For example, if you have entered a password to access a site then every page you go to on that site needs to know that you have logged in and are able to view it. It can check a session cookie to do this. Without it, each page you went to would say "sorry we don't know who you are – go away!".

A similar thing might be used to keep your basket contents when shopping. Not being able to track this would be like having a supermarket basket with the bottom missing. Every time you put something in, it would immediately fall out again and your basket would remain forever empty.

A bigger impact will be felt if third party applications such as Google Analytics have to get permission to use cookies. If people are able to opt out then the reporting you are getting about your website visitors will be less accurate and therefore you will be less able to make informed decisions about your marketing. Will there be an alternative technological approach that can be adopted? It seems a wait and see approach is what is generally being recommended in the hope that analytics companies will come up with a solution.

As far as our sites are concerned, the majority just use the necessary session cookies but we will be carrying out a review and implementing changes where necessary.


My first PC and some interesting and silly numbers

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 08 August 2011 | Category: The old days
(2227 views)

The speed that technology moves nowadays is amazing. Smartphones would have been looked upon almost as magic only a decade ago (in fact I still think there is some sort of enchantment going on!).

Now, I'm old enough to remember when things were not quite as high tech as they are today, although at the time of course, what we had was leading edge. My first business which I started in 1986, produced 35mm slides for business presentations - thousands of them! Clients would fax us a hand-drawn brief and we would use a state-of-the-art computer graphics system to draw the slides on-screen and then send them by modem to an imaging company who would produce the slides and send them back to us by courier. (Later we would get our own imaging system at a cost of £40,000).

The system we used was made by a company called Autographix and it used an Apple IIe as its main computer allied to a graphics box which was the size of a large desktop computer. The Apple had no hard disk, just 3 x 5¼ inch floppy disk drives, two that were responsible for the system and one that stored the files we were producing. Each disk had a capacity of 360Kb. You would need 22,000 of these to store everything on my phone.

There were two fonts available, one serif and one sans-serif, in a choice of 6 sizes and the colour palette consisted of 64 colours. When you typed text on the screen a rectangle would appear to show where the text was going to be placed.

The modem that we used to send the files to the imaging centre ran at a speed of 300 bits per second. Today's broadband speeds of 10Mbits per second are therefore over 33,000 times faster than my old modem. To have sent a typical MP3 file on that modem would have meant hanging around for 29½ hours.

Where the numbers really get silly though is when we start talking about costs, especially if we talk about a cost / storage ratio. This first system cost me £7,500. That's £20,833 per megabyte of storage. A 64Gb iPad 2 today typically costs about £559. That's 0.87 pence per megabyte of storage. That means that my first system was 2,394,635 times more expensive than an iPad 2! Or, if you want to get into real fantasy land, a system with the storage of an iPad in 1986 would have cost just under £18 billion and that doesn't include inflation!


Google Images is not a free stock library

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 08 August 2011 | Category: Web design
(2499 views)

I had a client recently ask me to put together a new website, not a large site, but a site nonetheless. Not an unreasonable request seeing as we design websites!

So we were working on the site when the client sent over several images and asked us to add these to some of the pages. Now, I took a look at these images and they were quite a disparate bunch. My suspicions were immediately aroused. These didn't look like the sort of images a client would normally send. They were all different sizes, all very different subjects and of varying quality.

I was emailing the client about the site so I thought I would mention the images and ask them where they had got them from. The reply was "We got them from Google Images". To be honest, that reply didn't come as a big surprise. As I said, I had had my suspicions which is why I asked the question in the first place.

So I had to gently break the news that we couldn't actually use these images on the website. The client of course asked why. The simple answer is - Google Images is not a free stock library.

All of the images that appear on Google Images when you do a search have been produced by someone, either photographed or drawn or digitised in some way or another. The copyright in these images belongs to someone. Taking images and using them on your website or in presentations or documents is stealing. It might not seem as bad as popping down to your local Sainsbury's and half-inching a packet of digestive biscuits but it's the same thing really except that it is so much easier to nick something from the screen in front of you.

The alternative of course is to have pictures taken. This might be OK if it's a set of portraits or a bunch of product images or even a set of outside images taken in the same location.  But it is not so practical if you really want such a varied selection of images.

Then the alternative is to use an online stock library. We regularly use ShutterStock.com. Each stock library has millions of high-quality images which can be used on websites, presentations, documents and so on. They are also very inexpensive especially if you only want a lower resolution image for use on the web or a presentation – only a few pounds per image. We have used photos from such libraries on many sites. Probably one of the best examples is Pilot Plus (www.pilot-plus.com), a quirky site we created for a printing company which features many photos of dressed-up dogs! Also the images used in this blog are all bought and paid for using an online stock library.

I know of a web design company who were hit with a £900 bill when it transpired they had illegally used images for a client's site. Is it really a risk worth taking?


Don’t ever ask for a website intro screen as a refusal can often offend

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 07 June 2011 | Category: Web design
(2511 views)

I thought website intro screens had died out with the ark but we still occasionally get people saying that they would like an animated introduction at the 'beginning' of their website.

Now my gut response to this would be impolite so I decided to pop my thoughts down in a quick blog post. If you have asked me for such an appendage to your website then you may well have been directed to this blog post. If you are an esteemed existing client then I am sure you know me well enough to value my opinion as much as I value your custom. If you are a potential new customer then I hope you will come to value my opinion starting with this one. (By the way, many clients do value us – just take a look at the testimonials on our website).

However, I digress. Let me give you my honest opinion on website intro screens. There is no such thing as a website intro screen! A website doesn't need an intro screen. How many top websites that you visit have intro screens? None, that's how many.

If a website company puts an intro screen in their proposal for your website, find another website company. They'll charge you good money for what is essentially a vanity exercise for them to show that they know how to use Flash. And it will do you more harm than good. (I even saw a website company proudly advertising on their home page that they are specialists in building intro pages. Jeez!).

When I visit a website there are a number of things I go there for and one of them is definitely NOT to see flying logos and animated crap, (oops, sorry I really have tried to be polite).

What you need is a decent home page that does an effective job for your organisation. So please don't ask me for an intro screen. The answer will be NO, NO, NO!


Screen Recording demo

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 14 April 2011 | Category: Web design
(2032 views)

A few of the sales leads we have been talking to recently involve customers who have a software or online product to sell. One or two have asked us if we can put together a video demonstration of their product so that people can get an idea of what it can do. It just so happens that we have been in the process of looking into this for a while so we thought it might be a good idea to put together a short demonstration of our ability in this area. The result is shown below. It's me doing the voice-over (and admittedly I'm no Reggie Bosanquet but please don't hold that against me). If you think that this is something that might be useful, please get in touch.

 


That's it – we’re all done with IE6

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 30 July 2010 | Category: Web design
(2262 views)

According to web analytics company StatCounter, usage of Internet Explorer 6 has fallen below 5%. Its decline has been dramatic from 11.5% a year ago to its current level of 4.7%.

That's great news for us beleaguered web designers. Especially when you hear comments like this from Aodhan Cullen, CEO of StatCounter: "At these levels web developers now have valid justification not to support IE6 in the future,". According to the report, a number of sites including YouTube have already withdrawn support for IE6.

So it means we no longer have to spend hours of our valuable (and frankly unchargeable) time making sites work in IE6. That's a big fat hooray in anyone's book!

There are still differences between the more up-to-date browsers out there but these are small in comparison to the differences between IE6 and the rest of the bunch including IE6's younger siblings, 7 and 8.

So it's goodbye and good riddance to IE6 which can join Netscape Navigator 4.0 in the webmasters' Hall of Infamy.


Billy Connolly is a funny man, but his website isn’t funny

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 20 April 2010 | Category: Usability
(2515 views)

So I had been meaning to write this blog post on usability for some time and, as is usual in business, other things got in the way – like work. And I thought to myself tonight, as I sat down to write this, "wouldn't it be typical if Billy Connolly had had his site redesigned in between me thinking of expressing my considered assessment of it and actually getting round to doing it."

I took a look tonight to make sure that he had not had it re-designed and, to my initial horror, he had! It was all different and I thought that was the end of this blog post. Then, as I looked at the site, it became clear that this man is a serial offender when it comes to usability.

Billy Connolly is a funny man, but his website isn't funny.

It's at www.billyconnolly.com and, whilst you could say that it is slightly better than the previous incarnation that I was preparing to have a pop at, that's not really saying much.

Now why, I hear you ask, are you picking on that nice Mr Connolly. Well, firstly and quite frankly, he should know better (or at least the people who are advising him should) and secondly, maybe he'll ring up and ask Novamedia to completely re-design it for him. OK, I won't hold my breath; he's probably more likely to call me and tell me to... (let's not go there).

What is wrong with the site? Firstly, it has no fixed menu and, if you want to find anything, you have to roll your mouse over the various elements on the home page until you come across what you want.

When you have clicked on an item, you are taken to the page and then there is no way to then go off to another page without clicking the back link to get back to the annoying home page.

The pages are all designed differently as though a bunch of amateur web designers was each given the job of designing one page with no communication between each designer.

The whole thing is just chaotic and anarchic. You could say that it reflects Billy Connolly's personality but, to me, web usability is too important an issue to treat in such a cavalier fashion. Being original doesn't mean making something unusable. You wouldn't design a chair with a hole instead of a seat because people would fall through when they sat on it and it wouldn't be usable. You wouldn't design a hot water bottle made out of tissue paper because you would be sued by people with scalded feet.

So Mr Connolly, what should you do to make your site usable? Here are a few tips to start with:

  • Design an easy-to-use, clear navigation system
  • Keep your navigation consistent – same place on all pages
  • Have a clear link to the home page
  • Don't overuse Flash. (Why do all comedians do this?)
  • If the site is large, have a search box so users can easily find content
  • If the site navigation is complex, use a breadcrumb link to tell users where they are

Anyway, that's enough ranting for the time being. It's getting late and I'm going to sit down and put on a Billy Connolly DVD to watch him doing what he does best – making people laugh.


It's only words, and words are all I have...

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 22 March 2010 | Category: SEO
(2530 views)

Client to me: "I want my site to be number one in Google".

Me to client: "It already is".

Cue one of various reactions ranging from disbelief through scepticism to temporary misplaced delight at the thought that their site is at the top of the search results. And then the inevitable question: "What do you mean, it already is? When I look for it, it's nowhere to be seen. If you can show me my site at the top of the search listings I'll happily dine out on this fine Trilby".

This fictional exchange would, I'll wager, end up with the client feeling nauseous, forlornly looking down at half a hat.

To be fair, I wouldn't call in my winnings. Firstly, forcing a client to eat a hat is a guaranteed way of losing said client. Secondly, I did cheat just a little bit.

With the obvious caveat that your site has to have been submitted to and indexed by Google, you can see it at number one in the search engine by taking a unique phrase from the site and typing it in to the search box.

Take an example from the Novamedia website. Type into Google the following, including the inverted commas:

"Design and production of websites, from simple informational sites to database-driven content management systems"

You see. A page from the Novamedia website is the top result. (In fact when I tried, it was the only result but that's neither here nor there). Try it for your site and see how you get on.

Having demonstrated this, the hypothetical client then points out, of course, that they want to be number one in Google for a particular meaningful key word or phrase and not a sentence that no-one ever has, or ever will, type into a search engine and if you think they are going to munch on headwear following that tame demonstration then you've got another think coming. And it is usually at this point that we go from one extreme to another.

"I want to be on the first page in Google for 'restaurant'".

Well, you will certainly be somewhere in the 288 million results that Google helpfully tells you it can supply. (Did you know that if you decided you had nothing better to do than to scan through all of these results one page at a time and allowing 15 seconds per page, it would take nearly 137 years!).

Anyway, I would then suggest that maybe we ought to narrow it down a bit. So the client suggests 'italian restaurant'. Wow, that has really helped. You are now in the top 60 million results and, even with the best search engine optimisation in the world, you are never going to be on the front page or anywhere near it.

So we need to narrow it down a bit more. How about aiming for a top result based on the location of the restaurant? For example, 'italian restaurant petts wood'. Now that's given us more of a fighting chance – 6,350 results, nearly 1,000 times fewer than our last search, and the top two results are, strangely enough, Italian restaurants in Petts Wood, (my home town) and jolly nice eateries they are too.

What it comes down to is aiming for search phrases that are more targeted towards your business. It could be argued that the example above is to some extent spurious in that no-one is actually going to search simply for the word 'restaurant' on its own, but it makes the point.

What you want is quality traffic and not quantity. Think about what you do, where you do it, how you do it and who you do it for and aim to get traffic to your site based on the key words you come up with.

  • I am a web designer in Bromley (target the key words web design bromley).
  • I am a PR consultant specialising in healthcare communications in Central London (target the key words pr consultancy healthcare london).
  • I have an online shop selling aquatics products and we sell Eheim internal filters for aquariums with free delivery (target the keywords eheim aquarium internal filters free delivery for one of the product pages).

That third example is actually a real-life one. Try it in Google and you should see a result for Pace Aquatics (http://www.pace-aquatics.co.uk/product_detail.cfm?ProductID=10) very near the top of the search results. It's a site we produced and we worked carefully on our search optimisation.

Anyway, all that talk of restaurants has made me peckish. More later. In the meantime, why not follow us on Twitter to keep you updated on our blog posts.


Does the world really need another blog?

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 18 March 2010 | Category: Novamedia news
(1725 views)

Well, a quick search reveals that no-one really knows how many blogs there are out there but, looking at the various estimates, a good working figure would be 100 million, give or take. So from that point of view, no the world probably doesn't need any more.

Then again, there are apparently 400 million dogs in the world. Applying the same logic, it needs another dog even less. Fido there is going to have to go for a short trip to the vets.

Alright, calm down. I'll cut you a deal. You can keep the dog if I can keep the blog. How does that sound?

So why are we blogging? One of the main reasons is to answer the questions we are often asked by clients and to answer them in a way that can be understood. There's a lot of advice out there on matters relating to the web but the vast majority is written by techies for techies. What we plan to do is to convert the gobbledegook into plain English and do it in a friendly, conversational and interesting way.

What are we going to blog about? Well, it will be web stuff mainly: web design, web technologies and innovations, web marketing, search engine optimisation, social media and so on. That's the business we're in and that is what we know about. But occasionally we might stray into other related areas and maybe even into totally unrelated subjects if something takes our fancy.

What you will get is 100% guaranteed originality. There will be no copying and pasting, no plagiarism. We are looking forward to keeping you informed and, hopefully, entertained.

If you want to keep up to date with our blog posts, why not subscribe using the link on the right or follow us on Twitter.

Oh, and by the way, I was only bluffing about the dog; he's far too cute.