Monday, 8 January 2018

The Website Design Business is Changing Again

Since the start of this Century, there have various trends in Website design. Not just the creation techniques and presentation styles but also Google's influence over content (viewable and back-office).

screen sized web pageAs with graphic design, a decade earlier, when software packages became available to enable company owners to create their own leaflets, etc., there is an increasingly wide choice of DIY website options, notably Wix, Weebly and, of course, WordPress. A plethora of "W"s, possibly to associate with Website or World Wide Web. 

Startups and hobbyists often invest their own time in building free or very cheap DIY websites because money is scarce. If a business out-grows their website, professional designers are often engaged, as the business owners' time is better spent elsewhere, usually production or sales.

long scrolling web page example
Most likely inspired by small devices (smart-phones), the trend in website display over the past year or two has been for a very long, scrollable home page, sliced into sections of images and text blocks. Not my favourite design but it's the client's choice and, who knows, they may want to follow another trend in a couple of years and come back for a re-design!

The more important trend is to do with security. Not only are site owners being "encouraged" to apply for https certification, which adds to cost, but there are almost continuous updates required to improve protection from hackers. Building a more secure website takes more time and therefore will cost the client more money. Adding features also increases development and testing time.

One estimate that is difficult to build in to a quote is the number of changes that a client will make during the development. In the past couple of years...
  • We designed a client's website, migrated it to a different name, made several tweaks and successfully published it until a few days later when the company underwent a change and we had to take it down.
  • We had to charge one client more than twice as much as originally quoted because three completely different designs were requested and created in the space of a few months.
  • We designed and built four websites for another client, which they liked but did not publish due to a change of direction.
  • A successfully published client site was handed over to a third party for updating; it now looks a bit of a mess and we don't like to include it in our portfolio.
The end result is that, of those nine developed websites, we have only one in our recent portfolio. Of course, there are three others that have been published - four websites to show out of twelve developed doesn't help promote our website design services. We currently have two more under construction where we have been awaiting content for several months.

We learned today that a website that we quoted for last week is not going ahead. We're hoping to find out the reason, as this is the second bid we've lost in the past year; the other one was due to the client wanting a larger website company to provide support as-and-when needed (there are only two of us). There is a price to pay for this support though, as their quote was 30% higher than ours, showing that cost isn't the only factor. The BPc is not entirely dependent on website design, as we also offer branding/graphic design services and SEO/social media management, therefore we have remained buoyant, whatever the trend, since 1990.

Along with many other businesses, we wonder what impact Brexit may have in the next couple of years.

Should you require a website or any of our internet/marketing/design services, please visit TheBPc.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Unusual trends ... What's the reason?

We've had a few clients from the past (i.e. from two to four years ago) who have recently called to ask why there has been a sudden change in their visitor numbers or sales patterns. We don't know, of course. They didn't expect us to know but hoped we might.

Sometimes, it's easy to guess. For example, a client selling high value home-improvement products had a dip in orders just around the Brexit vote. Once people realised that there was no immediate change in their circumstances, orders resumed and, in fact, the past few months' enquiries and sales performance has easily surpassed the same period of the previous year.

Another client, whose biggest seller for years was knee-length riding boots, has barely sold any recently although sales of other products are still buoyant.

Sharing or Downsizing?

Recently, a company selling urns for funeral ashes has noted that sales of full size urns have dipped whilst sales of mini-urns have quadrupled. Could this be a result of downsizing or decluttering? That seems a bit heartless so we're exploring the theory that a loved one's treasured ashes are being shared more widely instead of being passed around the family in a traditional sized urn.

From a business viewpoint, determining whether this is a passing trend or a permanent shift in customs is important for replacing stocks held. Similarly, the boot suppliers had re-invested their money in stock which is currently dormant so they need to find new customers.

Both these companies are family-run small businesses, the like of which have been the mainstay of Britain's economy over the past ten years. Currently, with an election in the imminent future, such companies are holding their collective breath.

Are Internet giants influencing people's choices? 

Are internet giants (Google, eBay) influencing people by determining what they are fed? An interesting factor (which might be a red herring) is that both companies noticed a change in sales from their websites after they began selling through their eBay shops. Fewer standard urns and fewer boots, via both eBay and direct sales. We can factor out Brexit and other political influences because these changes happened a year apart.

It could be said that, by setting up as eBay shops in direct competition to their own websites, they were feeding the beast. Theoretically, search engines should address that balance. The thing is, I don't know the answer but I'd be happy to hear other people's opinions.

Newlight Cremation Urns Sherwood Equestrian Supplies - Shires boots

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Google+ and Tumblr Users

Having spent considerable time and effort trying to use Google+ and Tumblr, I'm wondering who else uses them.

I'll deal with Tumblr first as it's the least complex. Tumblr is a popular blog tool, supposedly, but in my opinion it is rarely used for business. I have struggled to find interesting posts, despite trying a variety of search terms. It seems mainly full of images and these are mostly from photographers and the leisure crowd. I dip back in now and then but find no significant improvement. If anyone can guide me on this from a business perspective, please do!

Now, Google+ seems to be an untidy sock drawer, with it's links to Circles, Reviews and Business Pages. I blunder through it as best I can because it's part of Google and may have an effect on clients' website rankings - but I just don't get it. Secretly, I don't think Google does either.

For example, this is The BPc's Google+ page. It has 5 followers. FIVE, compared with our three figure following on Twitter. We have a number of people/businesses in our Circles (i.e. we follow them) but, with three exceptions, they rarely post, the exceptions being: Hitchin Town FC, Novelties Direct and Blogging Tips. None of these have me in their circles (i.e. follow me back), I just have 4 overseas followers and an unknown - not especially useful for business promotion in the UK!

Do I conclude that nobody uses Google+? Pretty much.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Changes in Social Media

smiley faces & thumbs up
I'm rambling a bit here, thinking out loud, pondering the recent changes in Twitter and Pinterest.

Social Media Strategies
Following the success of Google and Facebook money-making advertisement strategies, social media companies invest heavily in offering and honing their free services to hook people. They then use their popularity to bombard users with ads which turn the huge investments into huge profits. That's OK, it's a sound business plan that has been proven over the past twenty years.

Twitter and Pinterest are two services that have more recently changed the way they present themselves to users and have begun to add in 'promoted' posts for people who pay. Again, that's OK, their money has to come from somewhere and, as long as it's not from users, there shouldn't be a problem.

I use Twitter a lot. I have a personal account with around 500 followers and I follow almost 600 accounts that interest me - a mix of interesting personalities, people with similar hobbies and local tweeters. This is what worries me... following Twitter's recent changes, the number of interactions has plummeted. With the exception of 1 tweet last week and 1 on April 8th, none of my personal tweets/retweets during the past month were acknowledged (ie, liked, reweeted or replied). Maybe they were boring? Or maybe it's the way that Twitter is reshuffling tweets now (which is what Facebook does).

One of the things I liked about Twitter was its simplicity - a list of tweets from people I follow, in the order they were tweeted. Not so now. Using my business persona (different set of priorities, I follow clients, industry-related accounts, local business & community) I shall now open Twitter in another tab...
  • 1 tweet from someone I follow
  • 1 promoted tweet
  • 8 tweets from hours ago "while I was away"
  • 1 promoted tweet
  • 1 tweet from 2 hours ago
  • 1 list of "who to follow"
  • 6 tweets from hours ago
  • 1 promoted tweet (dated December 2015)
  • followed by several tweets from hours ago
But WHAT'S HAPPENING *NOW*? Well, I have to refresh the page to get current tweets - and there they are, good.

Not being a total idiot, I realise that you can change settings, so I have. Details here: Twitter Settings. While I await the outcome of this, I'll pose another question...

What's the obsession with the number of followers on Social Media? 
This has always puzzled me. I can understand that, from a business persective, you want to reach a large and expanding audience but if you are a person using social media to be, well, sociable, does it matter how many people click to follow you? Is it an ego thing?

What matters is whether those followers are actually seeing your tweets. If your followers are following 1,000 people and receiving 2,000 to 10,000 tweets per day, the chances are very slim that they are waiting to hear from you. Some astute tweeters may be using lists to separate their favourites - are you in any lists? (You won't know about the private lists.)

Which brings us back to the point that people are not interacting like they used to. Not publicly, anyway. And as things change, so we must adapt. Off to tweet this now - feel free to comment!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Business Relationships

meeting - pixabay image cropped
The BPc has been assisting Signcraft with SEO since 2010. Recently, when Signcraft decided to review their marketing strategy, they asked for a meeting, so we got together at their premises last week, to discuss the way forward. This is the first time we have met, despite working together for almost six years.

The journey was particularly tiresome, waiting in traffic on the M25 for almost an hour, almost doubling the anticipated journey time. The round-trip took over six hours, which works out to about one hour a year, which is a really good ratio compared with most client meetings. We all felt that it was worth the effort as we often wandered off-topic, filling in gaps that would not be covered via email.

The meeting was a great opportunity to fill in knowledge gaps on both sides for a greater understading of how we can work together, better. Typically, our clients are proud of the quality of their work but don't expect others to find it interesting. Signcraft creates signage, which can sound flat but the projects are so varied - this is why there is a section on their website for case studies. These include giant wall coverings, giant hoardings and wraps around buildings, printing backgrounds for box-office films and more 'ordinary stuff' such as estate agents' board service and shop fascias... and more... plus their company news.

Many of our clients are south of our mid-Herts base; we have been recommended to them and contact has been mainly via email or 'phone. Word of our cost-effective services has spread amongst the small businesses of Watford and North-West London, which is the main reason that we do not meet often, if at all (although there are good links via the A1, M1 and Great Northern Rail).

We write blog posts for a client on the North London / South Herts borders who we have never met yet he has introduced several new clients to us over recent years.

We have some loyal local clients, too. For example, Keelings (Accountants) have been a client since the turn of the century! At the time, they were based in Hitchin, Herts., but have been based in Old Hatfield for more than ten years. The BPc designed Keelings' first website and redesigned it a few years later. We still update it with quarterly newsletters but would love to bring it up to date, technologically, as soon as possible. We have met with this client to discuss their website just once in all that time.

We have designed a number of interim websites and supplied various graphic design services for a client in Welwyn, since their business start-up in 2006. Millers Cleaning Services expanded to Millers Property Services and is now trading as MPS Facility Services. In those ten years, we have met with Millers just three or four times.

The BPC has designed a commemorative '10 years trading' graphic in the MPS Ltd company style for display on their website, social media, emails and stationery.

MPS Facility Management, Welwyn, Herts. Trading for 10 years

Further afield, we have a client in the Provence, South of France, who we met once around the year 2000 and who subsequently used The BPc for a new website for their new venture, almost 15 years later. Visit for a family holiday and you could meet them too!

So, how important is it to meet up? It doesn't seem to be important to many businesses - as long as you keep in touch by other means. We have a good business relationship with our clients because we get on with things, keep them informed and don't put demands on their busy schedules.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Comments on Blogs

Whilst researching ideas for a client blog post, recently, I came across an interesting post and commented on it. I added some brief information about my interest, including the url of the client's site which hosts the blog I was working on.

The initial response to my comment was negative, suggesting that the url was a spammy 'plant' for a website link. I can understand this, as I manage several blogs for clients and I think one comment in approximately 200 is genuine. We resolved the misunderstanding amicably, I'm pleased to report, as it's a blog that I now enjoy following, as it has some humorous posts.
"a spammy plant"

All comments on blogs that I manage, whether WordPress or Google Blogger, require approval before publishing. I will sometimes approve comments that are 'planted' as long as they are personal responses that add value to the post subject and do not promote products or services that compete with a client's products or services in the same targeted sales area.

For example, if a client specialises in repairing vintage cars in the UK, there is no problem in a single link to a similar service in New Zealand - or a service in the UK that specialises in supplying (say) tyres for vintage cars - or a service that repairs newer sports cars.

In fact, good comments are to be encouraged, as they demonstrate that the blog is active and is valued by readers. Mass produced spammy comments are usually easy to spot...
  • they often don't make sense;
  • they are usually generic "hey, great blog, I'm looking forward to more..."
  • if you copy/paste a phrase from the comment into a search box, there are often several identical results on other blogs; they are not specific to your post.

Blog writers generally love genuine feed-back, even if it states a contrary viewpoint. Please feel free to leave an individual comment on this or any of The BPc's blogs:

Thank you!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Any Old COBOLers Out There?

In a previous life, I used COBOL, provided technical support to COBOL programmers and marketed RM/COBOL compilers throughout Europe. I'm sure that statement will be a load of 'cobblers' to most people but others might be interested to know that there has been a short documentary made about Grace Hopper.

Amazing, Grace!

I would barely recognise COBOL source code now. During the early 1980s, desktop computers were launched and business software was generally in Basic or COBOL. The IT industry went through a radical shake-up in the late 1980s with a new generation of screen-based applications aimed at a growing number of users.

The BPc was originally launched to provide marketing and design services to small businesses and has recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. The ability to adapt to the changing needs of our client base has kept us buoyant. Whilst we can still provide graphic design and marketing services, these are mainly logo/corporate design and internet marketing, such as writing website copy, news and blog posts. The main demand for our skills is website related - creating, redesigning, optimising web sites - and social media related - managing blogs, Twitter, Facebook pages and Google, including analytics and PPC management - all generally lumped together under the label 'SEO'.

In our spare time, we update our own blogs! Company blog TheBPcUK & Client blog MyPortfolioLtd