Chris’s Octopress Blog

A blogging framework for hackers.

What Is a ‘Responsive’ Website - and Why You Should Have One

We have reached a tipping point. THE tipping point. The one that web evangelists have been predicting for years. As I write this blog, the internet is teetering on a precipice!

OK, maybe it’s not all that dramatic…

The latest news is that the average person using the internet, reading the news, online shopping, dare I say, Facebook’ing’, is now more likely to do it on a mobile device or tablet, than from a desktop PC.

Why is this important to you? Well if you don’t have a website, it’s probably not, but if you do, it’s vital. Do you know how your site looks (or perhaps more importantly, performs) when viewed on an Android device, on a tablet or on an iPhone?

Did you consider mobile devices when your site was designed? Chances are, if your site is more than just a couple of years old, you didn’t. After all, the iPhone was only released as recently as 2007, although it feels like we’ve always had them.

If you’re asking yourself if you really need a site that works on a mobile phone, then that is a perfectly sensible and reasonable question to ask, but it’s not one you have to guess. Using Analytics, as I talked about in a previous blog post, you can see exactly what visitors to your site are using when they visit your site. If only one percent of your visitors are on a mobile device, then perhaps you don’t need to worry about it. But, what if you discover that 60% of your visits come from a smartphone? And that your site really doesn’t work well on a smartphone. Well, then, perhaps a freshening up of the design might be in order.

There are now so many different devices out there, all able to access the internet, so how do you make sure that your site looks good on them all?

You could build several (many!) different version of your site and have scripts running to detect the kind of device a visitor is using and serve them the appropriate version, but frankly there are too many devices to realistically do that. And what about that new device coming out next year, or the one after that?

The solution is to build one responsive website. Now your site will automatically adjust its layout and font sizes to suite the viewing screen and you never need to be concerned about knowing what the device is.

So, how do you make your site responsive? The best scenario here is that you don’t have an existing website at all, and therefore a responsive site can be built from the ground up. If you already have a site, but it is fairly modern, was built using the best practices of webs design and is relatively simple, then it could be possible to retrofit it into being a responsive site. If it is more than a few years old though, very complicated or was not written to modern W3C complient standards, then it might require more work. This will then be a decision as to whether a new site might be the simpler and cheaper option.

Why You Should Love ‘Analytics’

Analytics used to be the tool of only the largest companies with time and resources to dedicate staff to the task. It also required expensive software and dedicated servers and databases, to gather and log the information.

Now, all this power (information – knowledge is power, after all!) is accessible to anyone, and best of all, for free.

Analytics is, very simply put, information about your website. But that description really doesn’t do the subject justice. This information, interpreted correctly, can be used for so much more than just your website, it can apply to your whole business. It can be an insight into your customers, it can help identify unexpected markets, or help you improve your service to your existing customers.

Usage patterns of your visitors, not just how many visitors come to your site, but what they do while they’re there, what they used to visit your page (PC, mobile, tablet), what size screen they used. Where they were geographically in the world, Swansea or Hong Kong?!

Say you have two products on your site, one gets 1% views and the other 99%. At a minimum, this tells you one of two things. That there is a fault in the design of your website and it needs improving to make the first product more visible or, if we assume that both products are equally visible, perhaps you should reduce your stock orders of product A but increase your orders of product B tenfold! This is the kind of information that website analytics can provide - and it’s priceless.

The longer you monitor your site with analytics, the more complete the picture becomes.

You can monitor the site around the time of non-web based marketing promotions and analytics can also be embedded in marketing emails letting you know how successful any given mailshot was.

Once you have analytics running on your site and the information pouring in, you can begin to truly tailor your site for best impact. In my next two blogs, the first about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and the second about making your website work on mobile devices and tablets, I’ll explain how the information gathered from analytics can be applied to help you make the best choices.

Search Engine Optimization - SEO

Search Engine Optimization – SEO

Try Googling your website. Sounds like a simple enough thing to do, right?

But what are you actually going to type into Google to try to find your site? You know your business, and probably your website, intimately, so perhaps you know the terms to put in to get Google listing your site at the top of the page. If it doesn’t list at all, then you definitely have some work to do.

But what about some more obscure terms, or names of your products, type of product? Where does your site list now? First page? Second? Third?!

Search Engine Optimization is not as hard, or as technical, as it sounds. It is simply about knowing how a search site like Google lists and prioritizes sites, and then tailoring your own so that it lists as often as possible under the terms that you want. And equally as importantly, doesn’t list under search terms you don’t want to be associated with.

The modern day search engines are very good at what they do, and there is a chance that even knowing nothing about this subject and having never done anything specific with your site, it still lists prominently when the right terms are searched for. If that is the case, then great.

If not, there are many, comparatively simple things that can be done to ‘tailor’ how your site appears, and to ensure that it does appear, as often as possible and as high as possible. Fist result on the first page will do very nicely, thank you!

Why W3C Standards Are Important

The best way to ensure that a website works properly on all devices, operating systems and browsers is to code it following the recommended W3C standards.

The W3C is the group/body who oversee and rationalize the code that is used to write websites. Browser manufacturers then use this standard to write their browser (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox etc.) software so that it knows how to correctly display a modern website. It is perfectly possible to write a website that barely follows that standards at all but still works on a particular system or browser but this will only be due to a very forgiving browser correcting the mistakes in the code on the fly and there is every chance that the site will eventually break when the browser is updated or will not work on other browsers or devices. Once upon a time 90% of internet users were on Windows and used Internet Explorer but this is far from the reality today and the number of devices and browsers in the world is only going to keep getting more diverse.

This is why browser manufacturers now all follow a centralized standard and it is important that these standards are also followed in creating your website.