Category Archives: Website design and usability

Ideas, tips and hints to get you started; includes tips on using our content management system.

Three Free Tools: Test Your Website Now

Google’s Recent Mobile Friendly Algorithm Update

your website on all devicesOver 50% of people now search on mobile devices, so no-one can afford to ignore this issue.

Even some apparently mobile-friendly websites fail these tests. Is yours one of them?

Google and Bing take this very seriously. Seriously enough to provide simple tools for you to check your website. Google’s recent update penalises websites that aren’t mobile friendly. For searchers using using a smartphone or tablet, it will reduce your page rank. If your landing pages aren’t mobile-friendly, it may stop displaying your ads on mobiles.

Take five minutes and use these three simple tools to check if your website is losing business for you. Best of all, they’re free!

The Three Tools

Nobody wants to visit a website that takes ages to load, or that they can’t see properly when they get there. Check your competitors’ sites (and your web designer’s :o), too: make sure you stay one or two steps ahead…

  1. Here’s Google’s mobile friendly web page testing tool. Your web page must  pass this test. However, I have seen false positive results, so use tool number three, too.
  2. Google also helps fund the Web Page Speed Test, at www.webpagetest.org. Your web page should become visible within four or five seconds, tops. You’ll lose viewers – and potential customers – if it doesn’t.
  3. Tool 3 is your own Common Sense: take a look at your web page on a smartphone – but maybe not your own! Explained below.

Have a go now. If you have any questions, I’ve added explanations below. Neither of the first two tests is definitive, so make sure you use the third as well. The speed test needs a little thought, so maybe read that bit, even if you don’t read the rest.

an ezesite website on a smartphoneTool 1: Google’s Mobile Friendly Test

Type your home page URL into this Google tool, click Analyze, and wait a few minutes for it to check your site. You’ll see your page in a mobile phone, like this, if your page is mobile friendly, or “Awesome”, as Google describes it.

Or try Bing’s Mobile Friendly Test, if you prefer. Take care to paste your URL into the lower of the two search fields as the top one performs an Internet search. Caught me out the first time I used it :o)

2double7 is a local taxi firm and they have a BlueTree website. All BlueTree sites (well, those less than a few years old) are mobile friendly. We take steps to make sure of it during the build process.
Try 2double7’s by copy/pasting this URL into the tool www.2double7.co.uk.

If want to you try ours, remember it’s encrypted (that’s another story) so you may need to enter the whole URL, https://www.bluetree.co.uk.

google's response to a non mobile friendly web pageIf your website isn’t mobile friendly, you’ll get a different result. I picked a local, Portishead, non-mobile-friendly website at random. I won’t say who’s it is :o).

Suffice to say, it’s not a BlueTree site.

If you use a CMS, you could maybe help by making the text bigger. However, if you get a result like this, you need to talk to your web designer pretty soon if you want to stop losing 50% or more of your visitors.

Tool 2: Web Page Speed Test

Since writing this post, Google has published more evidence of how slow mobile downloads impact usability and viewer satisfaction.

This is the web page speed test tool. Here are a few things to think about before using it.

Speed Test Controls

  1. Test Location. Select a server near where your website is hosted. For us that’s UK, and any UK selection will do. You may find your website is hosted overseas somewhere, so check with your ISP. If it’s hosted outside the UK, the page download speed will be slower. Even though bits and bytes travel at the speed of light, the further away your host is, the more switching computers there are between you and your visitors.
    Update: I’ve since noticed that, sometimes, no UK test centres are listed. If this happens, just chose the nearest, or try again in a few days time. Location makes a difference, but only a small one.
  2. Select Browser. The browser choice affects the speed with which your page is “rendered” so it makes a small difference. Bear in mind that phones work at about one third the speed of a recent laptop, so the structure and coding of your web page are much more important than the browser you select.
  3. Next click on Advanced Settings.
    1. Connection. This is the speed of Internet access that’ll be used for your test. The slowest UK mobile phone service is 3G. Speed varies with provider, device, and signal strength. Even if your own connection is faster, select one of the 3G connections to see what your average visitor will see.
    2. Number of tests to run. Results vary, so we need to run several to get a fair reading. Choose an odd number, because the tool selects the median value, or middle result. You need an odd number to get one of them in the middle. The more runs, the more representative the result. The maximum is 9 in the free version.
    3. Repeat view. Web browsers store web pages locally to speed up repeat views. This avoids having to load pages again if a visitor comes back, saving time and bandwidth. I usually check “first view only” as this is the test that represents a first-time visitor. If a visitor returns, they must want something, so they’ll wait longer anyway.
    4. Capture video. Check this box to see a movie of your web page loading. It’s worth looking at the video. One site I checked showed a load speed in excess of 25 seconds, but it began to display after six.
    5. Keep test private. The website keeps all results for a while, so you, and others can see them. Check this box if you don’t  want your results public. You can still see them.
    6. Label is optional. It allows you to identify a particular test later. Take a look at the test history tab when you’re through, and you’ll see the reason for it.
  4. Now click the yellow START TEST button. Your test may be queued and you’ll see how many there are in front of yours. The test will take a while, and the screen will refresh after each iteration. You don’t need to watch it, just keep your browser open while you’re doing something else.

Speed Test Results

web page speed test result for a BlueTree client's websiteTo keep your visitors happiest, the “Start Render” time should be less than four or five seconds. That’s when things start to happen in earnest, and your visitor sees something.

This is 2double7’s result. The start render time is just over three seconds, whilst the whole page loads in just under six. For 3G, that’s very good for any page, especially good for a big page like this.

A red or orange box, top right, shows improvements your web designer can make. Green A is perfect, F is fail.

If you select a slow connection, such as Slow 3G, the First Byte Time may be orange or red. This is because it includes the time to make first contact with the server. It depends, in part, on the speed of your network. All you or your web designer can do about it is to choose a good ISP to host your site, and locate it in the UK.

Your web designer can set HTTP Keep Alive, which maintains the connection, once made, for the page load duration. It should be green A. Every time the connection breaks, your visitors’ browsers must incur the First Byte Time again.

Compress Transfer is a server-side setting, and WebPageTest.org doesn’t always notice it. If your page has a red F here, check it again using this HTTP Compression Tester, also free. If that reports all Ok, then it is OK.

BlueTree CMS does Compress Images automatically when you upload them, so they can’t be compressed any further. You may still trigger the dreaded red F. It’s worth asking your webmaster (BlueTree included) if you don’t get a green A here.

On a BlueTree website, Cache Static Content will usually show the red F, By caching content locally, your visitor will see your web page faster on subsequent visits.  Problem is, should you update your page, something that’s easy and frequent with BlueTree CMS, your visitor will see the old version and not the update. Lets’s face it, who ever thinks to refresh their cache? Your pages should load so fast that you don’t need to worry about caching them.

The X, to the right, indicates the site doesn’t use CDN, or a Content Delivery Network. Multinational organisations ensure fast delivery by using servers located in each country. Remember earlier, when you chose the country in which your website is hosted? 2double7 serves a local market, so they don’t need to worry about this. There’s no CDN code on 2double7’s website.

How to View Speed test Results

Go to the median run (it was run 5 for this example) and click on “Watch video” to see what a real visitor will see. Download the video to send to your web designer if you’re not 100% happy.

Tool 3: Common Sense

A false positive result from the mobile-friendly testLook at your web page on a mobile phone. It sounds dead obvious but do it anyway, and borrow other people’s phones.

  1. Beware of caching. Web browsers keep a local copy of recently-viewed pages in a “Cache”. Next time you visit, the page is displayed more quickly, from the cache. This why the speed test offers first and repeat view options. To get a true result for a first-time visitor, ignore the first result and refresh the page. Or ask friends to look on their phones, so long as they haven’t looked at your website before.
  2. You may get a false positive result from the mobile-friendly test. The tool rated this site mobile-friendly, but only checked the Cookie warning. This page isn’t mobile friendly.
  3. If a big photograph occupies the top half of your page, that’s all you’ll see on a smartphone. Not everyone will bother to scroll down to your your message.
  4. Some web pages contain movies, or cycling photographs, at the top of the page. These look very nice on a laptop, but may be all your visitors see on mobile. How many will wait around to see the whole show and get your message?
  5. Make sure it looks the same on different phone brands, especially Android and Apple. Many businesses use Windows or Blackberry phones, so if that’s your target market…

What To Do If Your Website Isn’t Mobile Friendly

joke: smiley face

Send the movie your website designer and ask for a quote. Or, if you’d like to change to a BlueTree website, get in touch, or leave a comment below. Our ethical pricing policy means you may find it costs less than fixing your current one!

BlueTree CMS Objectives

Why BlueTree Created a New CMS

Motivation Behind BlueTree CMS

With a steadily growing user base, it seems like a good time to talk about why BlueTree developed its own Content Management System, or CMS.

The primary reason: we can no longer use our favourite CMS, Adobe® Contribute®. Adobe now has a new business model, with high monthly fees, aimed at big corporates. You can still buy Contribute, but it’s no longer being developed. We have to find a solution for existing clients, and we can’t recommend obsolete software new ones.

There are plenty of good CMS’s around,” says Mark, “many of them free. We’ve used quite a few, including one of the most popular, for years, on behalf of our clients. However, it’s become clear that there is a gap in the market. Many small business owners want to write and maintain their own website content, but lose patience due to the technical demands of their CMS.

“They end up paying people like us to update their websites. They all have better uses for that money!”

It’s not that small business owners aren’t capable of doing it; many do so with great success. It’s more that there’s so much to learn – most simply do not have the time. Starting a new business or growing a small enterprise is demanding enough on its own.

We’ve Made CMS’s Before

As luck would have it, we’ve developed several Content Management Systems, for other companies. They were very specialised, aimed mainly at maintaining professional knowledge bases. One of them helps managers with the special requirements required to help staff with “hidden abilities”. The design may look odd to you but, in fact, it’s highly specialised, being designed for people with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and other  conditions, who look at the world in different, often very productive, ways. You can see it here, at Key 4 Learning,

In building these systems, we’ve had to write hundreds of “components”, small parcels of Internet code, from which we built each one. Think of them as Lego bricks, each with its own particular function. We clip them together to make the CMS. They have one big advantage over Lego, however: we can copy them; we don’t have to break up one model to make the next.

So, why not fill that gap in the market, and use our components to build our own, simple CMS, one that a time-strapped small business owner can actually use?

Users Requirements From Their CMS

So, what would we need to provide for our target customers? Remember, they’re entrepreneurs. They know all about their field, they’re very skilled, dedicated, and highly motivated. Often they know less about the Internet, and how to use it for sales and marketing. And they’re very short of time.

There’s no way a piece of software can do all this, so we need more. BlueTree CMS is a complete package, which includes all the service and software you need to start and continue your Digital Marketing journey.

Our CMS must be:

  • Easy to use: anyone who can use a word processor must be able to use it;
  • Quick to learn: just the features you need, not those you don’t;
  • Secure: only authorised employees should be allowed to make updates;
  • Always available: updates should be possible always, from anywhere in the world;
  • Never interrupted due to out-of-sync plug-ins or underlying software components;
  • Fully supported: a skilled web-master on call should you ever get stuck.

There are other features that people new to Digital Marketing perhaps don’t know they need. A first website is often simply an on-line brochure. However, you quickly realize your website is a business asset that can save costs and deliver revenue, generate sales and engage with customers.

We’ll explain these issues, as much as you need to know about them, when you come to see us. BlueTree CMS handles many of them automatically. Those it can’t, it leads you through. Some examples:

  • A mobile-friendly design, since most local searches are done “on the go” these days;
  • Fast-loading web pages, to rank well in search results;
  • Automatic image optimisation, for fast web page download;
  • No limits on pages, images or documents (i.e. forget “up to 5 pages, £250”);
  • Automated techie tasks, so you neither need to understand, nor perform them;
  • Automatic XML sitemap, used by search engines to find the pages on your site;
  • User-managed web page names, important for good search results;
  • Control of meta-tags and Microdata, also used and rewarded by search engines;
  • Web page rename function, with automatic redirects so you don’t duplicate content.

What other website features, design and commercial, would our customers require?

  • An efficient, collaborative design process, that harnesses your imagination and our Internet experience;
  • The added business credibility of a top-level-domain email address;
  • Social media auto-posters, with a review capability prior to publication;
  • Optional packages, so clients don’t need to pay for things they don’t use;
    • Digital Marketing, Blog, On-line Shop,  Customer Engagement…
  • No surprises: fixed price quotations, up front;
  • Staged payments: only pay for each stage when you’re happy.

BlueTree’s Requirements From Its CMS

Naturally, we can’t afford to do this out of the goodness of our hearts: it must be commercially viable. In essence, it must allow us to give great service to our customers – they pay our wages. It must never get too complex, but it must continue to improve in other ways, particularly, ease of use, and cost to support.

So, to provide us with a sustainable, growing business, our CMS must have:

  • Low support cost: single set of source code, so all clients receive every improvement;
  • Scalable architecture: so we can always add new clients without affecting existing ones;
  • Popular programming language: so it’s easy to find new staff to develop it;
  • Up-to-date technology: so we can capitalise on the latest Internet trends;
  • No risky add-ons: all functionality integrated, so we avoid any website downtime due to version clashes;
  • Hacker-resistance: separate maintenance and deployment servers;
  • No cross-contamination: no connection between different clients’ websites;
  • Acceptable revenue stream: so we can pay ourselves and continue to invest in improvements;
  • Continuous improvement plan: harness clients’ ideas – they’ll know best;
  • Responsible use of Open Source components, so we have no third-party software licence issues;
  • Extensible design: so we can add special features if clients require them;
  • Simplicity: easy to use, so we must provide a way forward for those who outgrow it.

In Conclusion

We’re now well on the way and we have our first batch of clients, with more in progress.

If you’d like to join them, or just find out a bit more, please go to our contact page or click that “Get in Touch” button, to the lower right of your screen.

How to Check and Improve Web Server Response Time

Introduction

In our previous post, we dealt with the time it takes you web pages to travel over the Internet and into your browser. We also discussed why fast response is important. Now it’s time to look at the other element of website response time: server response time. In this post we examine,

  • how to find out if your web server is slow,
  • how to fix the problem.

Is My Web Server Too Slow?

What Is “Too Slow” and Why Does it Matter?

Widely available research tells us that, variously, half of Internet users will leave a web page if they’re not hooked within three seconds, or two seconds… The longest I’ve come a cross is eight seconds.

So, taking the easiest target, if your web page takes 8 seconds to load, half of your potential customers will have already left by the time it appears. With average conversion rates of 1% or less, that means you need over 100 clicks on your ad to get one person interested. And remember, this is just interested, not a real customer by a long way.

So, 8 seconds is far too slow. NB: 8 seconds covers both server response time and page load time. Try 2 or 3 seconds instead for the server alone.

How to Check Server Response Time

Method 1: Ping It

“ping” is a command we use to monitor clients’ server up-times. Handily, it also tells you how long it took to send a tiny packet of data across the Internet and receive a reply.

You need to know your web site’s IP address, and how to use a command prompt. I use Windows 7, so I click the Start button and type cmd into the search field. This is the old DOS window, for anyone who can remember that far back.

Windows cmd showing ping command

  1. At the command prompt, type ping, followed by your website’s IP Address, followed by Enter or Return. E.g. “ping 78.31.107.141”.
  2. You see the time our server took to respond, 32 milliseconds.
  3. To close the cmd window, type “exit”.

Method 2: Pingdom

Fortunately, there is an better way.

Pingdom is a service provided by a Swedish company. It tracks website performance and downtime. Not only does it take away all the hassle, it also keeps history, and shows charts of your site’s performance over time. It’s free for occasional use on a single website.

  1. Set up an account, log in, and identify your website for checking.
  2. Let it run for a day or more.
  3. Log in to your dashboard, where you can see an up-to-date summary: down-time and server response time.
    a section of the pingdom dashboard, showing downtime and response time over your chosen time period.
    This shows there’s been no downtime over the last 24 hours, and the response time was fine too, average 386 milliseconds. That’s very good.
  4. Click the icon I’ve indicated “choose report” and select Response Time.

Poor Response Time Example

chart showing average hourly response time for February sixth.

NB: this chart comes from a different website, which we won’t name. It shows hourly average response times on Feb 6, from 00:01 hours to 24:00. You can see that, after 6pm or so, response time was OK, well below half a second. However, all through the working day it took over 3 seconds just to get a response from the server. You can hover over a point on the graph and Pingdom displays the detail (white box, top of picture).

This is not a good result. Sadly, this website’s graph looks similar every day. Users are losing interest.

pingdom get startedTry Pingdom’s free tool on your own website! Go to their website and click Get Started Now.

TIP. Several people with whom I’ve discussedpingdom logout button Pingdom had trouble logging out of their account for the first time. It isn’t dead obvious how to do it. Look for the “on/off” symbol, towards the top of the screen, to the right of your login name. Being yellow, it’s hard to spot, but it turns red when you hover over it.

How to Fix The Problem

OK, we’re talking about the carriers, here, everything that happens between your browser and the website you want to view. We covered the website’s contribution in an earlier post.

There are two main components: the speed of your Internet connection and the time it takes the web server wake up, find the web page you requested, and send it back.

Step 1: Is it your Internet Connection or the Websites’s Server

Because Pingdom pings from a fast Internet connection, we can ignore the download speed issue. If Pingdom sales a site is slow,then it’s on a slow server. If Pingdom says the site is OK, and the ping command from your own device shows a slow response time, then your Internet connection is the problem.

Step 2: How do you find an ISP with satisfactory performance?

We need to stress that most web hosts, most of the time, will provide satisfactory performance. You might suffer a bit at peak usage times, but that’s all. Here’s a good way to find one.

  1. Find other business’s websites, people you know, and use Pingdom for a day or more;
  2. If they’re OK, ask who their ISP is;
  3. If they’re not OK, point them at this post ;-).

You could also look at PC Pro’s annual web hosting awards and pick one from around the top of the list.

Web Pages Should Load Fast

How to Measure Your Website’s Speed

In this post we examine the importance of making your web pages load fast, the effect of slow pages on usability, and a little bit about how to improve things.

Page Load Speed is Important

Ever had to wait ages for a web page to load? What did you do? Hang around, or look for something else? The modern world, fuelled by the Internet, is making us all very impatient. This study into user reactions to slow page loads was published as long ago as 2009; imagine what the figures are today!

  • 47% of people expect a web page to load in two seconds or less.
  • 40% will abandon a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load.
  • 52% of online shoppers claim that quick page loads are important for their loyalty to a site.
  • 14% will start shopping at a different site if page loads are slow, 23% will stop shopping or even walk away from their computer.
  • 64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their site visit will go somewhere else to shop next time.

chart showing bounce rate vs increasing page load speed

chart showing how pages per visit drops as page load speed increases

Now here are a couple of charts to emphasise the point. They show bounce rate and the reduction in pages viewed per visit, compared with page load speed.

Bounce rate measures the number of visitors who arrive at your page and then immediately go away to another site. The inference being that they didn’t like what they saw (or couldn’t be bothered to wait for another page to load).

Source: Web Performance Today.

Apart from frustrating your visitors – the very people you want to impress – there are other implications, too.

 

  1. Search engine spiders will give up if a site loads too slowly, so your pages won’t be indexed in a timely fashion.
  2. Slow pages depress your AdWords “quality score”, or QS; this in turn increases your cost per click, adding to on-line marketing costs or reducing the number of times your ad is displayed.

How to Measure Page Load Speed

Google thinks the speed of the Internet is so important they’ve developed a tool called PageSpeed Insights to measure it. It’s easy to use. Just go to PageSpeed Insights, enter your website’s address, and click the go button.

enter your website address and click "analyse"After a few moments thought, the tool will rank your website, scores out of 100, for both mobile and static (those conected to a landline) devices.

score out of 100 for mobile and static devicesInsights’ focus on mobiles has intensified over recent months as mobile devices account for a rapidly-growing proportion of all Internet traffic.

So you can see our scores here, above. Now try yours!

What the Scores Mean

So what is a good score? Whilst 100/100 is perfect, presumeably, the law of diminuishing returns will ensure that few sites ever get there. I’d say that:

  • over 90: awesome,
  • over 80: great,
  • over 70: might be fine,
  • under 70: better do something about it.

bluetree.co.uk usually scores 96 or 98/100 for static computers, 86 0r 88/100 for mobiles. However, when first developed it scored only 78. We experimented with the new design to see how close we could get to the magic 100/100. You can read all about our experiments here.

Easy Speed Up for Your Website

The PageSpeed tool kindly offers a list of suggestions on how to improve your website. Most of them are a bit techie for many people, but some of them are obvious – and easy to remedy:

  1. Images can be very big, and very slow to load, so:
    a) don’t have too many,
    b) make sure they’re the correct size,
    c) compress them to make sure the files are as small as possible.
  2. Make sure there are no surplus characters, or spaces at the end of lines and paragraphs: it’s easy to introduce extra characters (and extra download time) if you copy and paste from Microsoft Word, for example.

How Fast is Your Web Server?

One last thing: we’ve been looking at what you can do to to improve your website download speed. That’s changes to your website to improve the transfer speed. There’s another element that’s harder control: your web server.

This is just as important. We’ll look at how to measure server response in our next post.

Don’t Demand a Username

Why do websites ask for a username when you set up an account? And why don’t website forms make it obvious what’s wrong?

I was prompted to write this post after becoming quite cross, trying to register a new account with a well-known shower manufacturer. I need a spare part to stop my shower dripping.

They wanted me to enter a username, so I entered one and completed all the other form fields with an *. Then I got this error message.

Example form requiring a usernameI read down as far as “Problems were found…” and didn’t spot the little message below. “My problem,” you might say. But why not show the problem in red? I wouldn’t have missed it then!

As it was, I completed the form several times, adding one more field at a time trying to find which * (obligatory field indicator) was missing. And typing the password – twice – each time.

Then I thought, I’m using the Chrome browser, with third-party cookies turned off. Switched to IE, where I keep cookies turned on, and tried again. Same result. Read here about why cookies are important.

Finally I spotted the real error and changed the username.

Guess what! My second username was rejected, and my third. Then I chose a username “bbbbbbbbbbbb” and completed the purchase.

But WHY ASK FOR A USERNAME AT ALL?

Everyone else uses your email address. Just think of the time you’d have saved me – and probably loads of other people, too. ‘Nuff said!

Website Malware Attack

What Happens in a Malware Attack

On Monday, I was looking for a local business which I know, so I searched for what they do. Does anybody use Yell or BT.com any more? They didn’t appear in my search results. So, thinking this might turn out to be an SEO sales opportunity;-) I searched for it by business name, specifically.

Bing's malware warning panel.

Bing’s Malware Warning

Bing listed them this time, but when I clicked the link to open their website, this note appeared next to the search results. Bing would not take me straight to their website.

Google, similarly, listed them but with this immediate and scary warning, “This site may harm your computer.” One click fewer than Bing, you notice.

If you go straight to an infected website, your browser will warn you very clearly not to open it, too. If you decide to visit, be prepared to get rid of some spam!

This is all very upsetting for web user and site owner alike.

Why Malware Attacks Happen

Hackers, the source of malware, seek out weak targets. Everyone is vulnerable.

Think of your website like your house: how do you reduce the risk of burglary? You make your house less attractive to burglars than those around it. You buy a house in an area with a low crime rate. You fit decent locks and security lights. You fence the garden, install robust, lockable gates, and plant thorny bushes in vulnerable places. And then you take out insurance so that, should the worst happen, you can replace what you’ve lost.

All these points have website equivalents:

  • Chose a secure web host, one with a good reputation, big enough to afford the serious cost of real security, small enough not to be a target;
  • Understand, implement and check your client and server firewalls and anti-virus systems; keep them up to date;
  • Cover web server gateways with strong passwords and change them regularly;
  • Make sure somebody with sufficient authority “owns” your domain name and those ISP passwords;
  • Validate carefully all data entry fields, blog comments, and anywhere someone else can data enter into your website, as this is where many hacks come from;
  • Keep your operating system, web server and database software up-to-date with the latest versions to cope with new threats;
  • Take regular back-ups – and test them – so you can get back up and running fast if disaster strikes.

And keep constantly vigilant: add regular website audits into your Business Continuity Plan.

Further Reading on Malware

Here’s some more information about malware attacks.

Local Search Marketing Task

apple iphone 5The new iPhone 5 will ship this Autumn with new operating software. It could upset your local search marketing. iPhone 5 will have new maps, developed by Apple, maybe with a 3D mapping feature. Up to now they’ve used Google Maps.

What does this mean for your website and SEO?

Well, your Google Places Page won’t display on new iPhones ands iPads after the launch. Instead, we’re told, Apple will get its local business listings from Yelp, a global Internet directory. Maybe old devices will be upgraded, too.

So, be sure to claim your Yelp business listing now, if you haven’t already done so!

If you have claimed it, make sure it complements your website and and Google Places page, and that you’re happy with the content.

Don’t use Google Places? Get started here.

More on this in our later Apple Maps post, after implementation.

Cookie Law, the EU e-Privacy Directive

gingerbread man, by punkle at i-stockContents

In this post we provide ideas for UK website owners on how to deal with their obligations under the new EU e-Privacy Directive.

EU Cookie Law Obligations

If your website uses cookies, you now have to declare this clearly to users and, potentially, get their permission to do so.

Since the  situation is a little confused, we’ve been trying to work out the best advice we can give to clients on how to deal with this new legal requirement. Here is the extent of our thinking so far.

Disclaimer

This is our current understanding. We’re not lawyers but this is how it seems to us. We offer the suggestions below as just that: suggestions. Use them at your own risk. If they are wrong, and you’d like to help us correct them, please join in the debate by clicking “Leave a comment” below.

Don’t Panic!

Whilst the rules came into force in the UK on 26 May, 2012, there’s no need to panic, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says so.  At the time of writing, they’re working with organisations the size of Amazon and the banks to get them to toe the line first. It’ll take a while. First Direct had complied when we checked a few days ago; Santander had not.

Cookie Law Requirements

To comply with EU e-Privacy directive, if your EU-owned website uses cookies, you must,

  1. declare to each new visitor that you use them;
  2. explain what they are;
  3. describe how you use them;
  4. obtain consent before storing cookies on a user’s computer or mobile device.

For UK-based companies it’s slightly less onerous, because our Information Commissioner has adopted the principle of implied consent.  In other words, you do not have to stop users browsing your website until they specifically consent. You can make it all clear and then assume consent if the user takes no further action.

The Big Problem With the e-Privacy Directive

Can you imaging what would happen when somebody arrives at your website? They’ll see a big panel saying, “Do you consent to us using cookies Yes or No.”

Given that a percentage of the population haven’t a clue what a cookie is, and even more don’t understand the implications, many people will bail out at that stage. This would lose potential customers and increase your bounce rate, which lowers your page rank.

Companies that have already tried the dead stop approach have experienced serious loss of traffic.

What You Need to Do

Now, according to the Information Commissioner, using your browser’s cookie settings is a recognised way to give legal consent. So, you can use cookies so long as you:

  • make it clear that your site uses cookies;
  • help the user understand what they are;
  • tell users what you do with them;
  • explain how to opt out, or stop them being used.

Having done all that, and having provided the opportunity to opt out by changing browser settings, you can assume consent and let the website work as normal. You can even deposit a cookie so you can make it less obvious next time.

Does My Site Use Cookies?

Your website designer will be able to tell you for sure if your site uses cookies.

Probably the most common use of cookies is in visitor tracking. Google Analytics uses cookies to identify repeat visitors. It’s not possible to identify a person this way, nor, in many cases, even their computer.

Cookies are also used in security scripts, to recognise a visitor, when he or she logs in, and display only that visitor’s private information. In this case, you may be able to identify an individual and you may be holding some personal data about them.

Cookie Law Solution Examples

Each company should, for each of its websites,

  1. Review the use of cookies and amend if necessary;
  2. Decide on a strategy for complying with  the law;
  3. Implement the strategy;
  4. Monitor compliance regularly.

Here are just a few examples. If you follow the links to the example sites, and you don’t see their cookie banners, you probably visited them before and they left you a cookie.

This is the BBC‘s solution – a banner across the top of your browser window. It offers hyper-links to:

  1. “Continue” – assume consent;
  2. “Find out more” – go and read a full explanation;
  3. “Change your cookie settings” – where you can opt out of the four different cookie types

If you ignore the banner and browse to another page, you won’t see it again, even when you start a new session. Because it dropped a cookie.

BBC Cookie Law Example

BBC Cookie Law Example

The Information Commissioner’s Office implements the EU version of the Directive. It insists that you check a box and click a button before you can use the site.

Information Commissioner's Office Cookie Example

Information Commissioner's Office Cookie Example

Floating Cookie Law Example

Floating Example

This one floats on top of your landing page. It’s a free control you can download and use, from Edinburgh digital marketing agency, Civic.

Please also click here for our own approach to cookies. It explains the different categories of cookie.

More Cookie Law to Follow

The UK is, we’re told, ahead of the game in implementing the EU e-Privacy Directive. Our “assumption rule” for first party cookies isn’t approved by the EU. It remains to be seen what stance the EU will take, what other countries do, and what you need to do for European visitors.

We are also aware that the ICO is talking to browser developers with a view to getting them to change the way they handle cookie settings.

And, as the population at large get to understand cookies better, the requirement for every website to explain so much about them will reduce, too.

It’s all a bit of a mess, really, and there’ll be more work to do in the future – bank on it!

Your Next Step

Further reading:

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