149. White Hat

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: How to become number one on Google *cough*, are customer testimonials worth it and how do you create a reassuring website.

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Some housekeeping to kick off today’s show I am afraid:

Web Design Introductory Training

Drew and Rachel over at EdgeOfMySeat.com are running two training courses next month that look ideal for those starting out in web design. What is more they are offering boagworld listeners 10% off if they enter the promo code ‘boagworld’ at checkout.

The two courses are…

HTML and Web Standards for Beginners – 19th February

a one day course ideally suited to those wanting to get into web design, or perhaps for clients who have to format content with HTML for their websites. Covers the basic web standards principals of semantic markup and separation of content, structure and presentation.

Beginners CSS – 20th February

a one day course for learning CSS from the ground up. We go from zero knowledge right through to building floated, positioned and fixed width layouts.

For more information visit edgeofmyseat.com/training/

Bamboo Juice

Next up is a conference I am really excited to be speaking at. It called Bamboo Juice and is a one day conference taking place at the Eden Project in Cornwall. There is a growing line up of speakers that currently includes people like Jeremy Keith and myself.

It is great to see conferences happening further afield in the UK and I really want to see this one succeed. Please support it if you can. Cornwall is a stunning place and the Eden Project is a must visit. You ticket includes entry to the Eden Project so you will have a chance to look around.

Best of all the entire conference only costs £99! Please, please join us. Its going to be great fun and it should have a nice intimate feel with lots of time for chatting.

You can book your ticket now at bamboojuice.co.uk.

Consultancy Competition

Just a reminder of our free consultancy competition. Headscape are giving away a free days consultancy to a lucky winner. Email us with your name, URL and why you want us to help you out. We will pick a winner at the end of the month.

If you can’t wait that long Paul has started running mini-consultancy clinics via Skype. You can buy 30 minutes or more of Paul’s time and he will chat with you about your site, career or anything else (within reason). Its a bit of an experiment at the moment so if you are interested in trying it out visit the Boagworld forum where he talks more about the idea.

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News and events

More on jQuery

If you listen to this show regularly then no doubt you will be aware of what a huge jQuery fan I am. I was therefore super excited this week to see the release of a new version of jQuery that builds on what is already an excellent Javascript library.

Most of the improvements are in performance. This is remarkable as jQuery was already one of the most lightweight and speedy libraries available. However, they seem to have made some significant improvements.

The main new piece of functionality is something called Live Events. Live Events allows you to bind events (such as a onclick event) to all elements even if they have yet to be created. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you wanted all links with a class=’external’ to open in a new window. Previously you would create a function that added an event to all links with that class so that when the link was clicked it opened a new window. The problem was that if you added more links dynamically to the page you would have to rerun the function if you wanted them to behave in the same way. With live events this is no longer necessary. This is a huge improvement and one that will streamline a lot of code.

I really cannot say enough good things about jQuery. It really is enormously powerful and a real time saver. What you can do with it is quite amazing as is demonstrated by a post from Smashing Magazine this week entitled "45+ New jQuery Techniques For Good User Experience". Whether you use jQuery already or not, check this post out. It will definitely give you loads of ideas for enhancing your sites.

Getting started with HTML 5

Talking of new releases, there is a significant amount of buzz surrounding HTML 5 at the moment. This is somewhat surprising considering it is a long way from being finished and some even argue we do not need it in its current form.

Cameron Moll does a nice job of providing a round up of what is currently being written about HTML 5 including a nice little summary at the beginning…

The world isn’t ready for HTML 5 at large just yet, but we can begin preparing for it by using common, semantic selector names (header, nav, section, etc.)

To be honest it is still early days for HTML 5 with some estimating it will be released in 2022 some estimating that it will not be fully implemented by browsers until 2022. With those kind of timescales we can afford not to care. Jeff Croft puts it up nicely in his post "Two Thousand and Twenty Two" where he says…

It ultimately doesn’t matter if HTML 5 is available next month, next year, or fifty years from now. Those of us who do real work in this industry know that the only thing that really matters is what specs and technologies are supported by the browsers real people use.

Jeff came under a lot of attack for his post but I have to say I agree with him. What matters to real web designers and real website owners is what browsers will support now. So my advice is to ignore HTML 5 now and brush up on your WCAG 2 instead!

We turn now to the more immediate future and a post by the people over at Smashing Magazine. "Web Design Trends of 2009" endeavours to look at emerging trends that could become mainstream over the coming year.

To be honest I am not sure these are some much web design trends of 2009, as a look back at the end of the last year. However, it makes interesting reading none the less.

The trends listed include…

  • Use of letterpress typography, where text is ‘punched out’ of the background
  • An increase in the richness of user interfaces through the use of Javascript
  • The general acceptance of PNG transparency
  • Big bold typography
  • An increased use of font replacement using tools like sFIR
  • More sites than ever using overlay boxes to display images and video
  • A proliferation of video and screencasts
  • Blogs adopting a more magazine orientated design aesthetic
  • Lots of Javascript slideshows wherever you look

Nothing particularly surprising, but the article does provide some inspiring examples of these different trends and analysis about wh
y they are becoming fashionable.

Your website can thrive in a recession

We conclude today with another post about the recession. To be honest I am getting sick of talking about it. In fact I suspect it is turning into a self fulfilling prophesy. However, Gerry McGovern has written an interesting post about how your website could thrive in a recession.

The article mainly focuses on the cost savings that can be made by bringing customer interactions online. He quotes research which states:

the average cost of a web interaction is 27 pence, the average cost of a phone interaction is 3.76 Sterling and the average cost of a face-to-face interaction is 9.34 Sterling.

He goes on to say:

So, it is 14 times cheaper to allow a customer to complete a task on a website than to have the customer complete the same task over the phone. The Web is 35 times cheaper for completing such a task than a face-to-face interaction. Isn’t that a compelling business case for a website during a recession?

It is an interesting argument and one that may sway some of the people holding the purse strings. However it fails to take into account the upfront development cost of moving customer interactions online. For better or worse companies are focusing on short term cost savings at the moment rather than long term expenses. As a result some web design projects are being put on hold.

Nevertheless if you work for an organisation that deals with a large number of customers then this article is a powerful arguement. It is certainly something that you need to show your boss.

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Feature: Becoming Number One On Google

‘Become number one on Google’ – The dream of every website owner and titles like that grab people’s attention. What can you do to help achieve that dream without resorting to black hat techniques? Read More

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Listeners feedback:

Customer testimonials – Are they worth it?

Question from Dave Rupert –

“Client Testimonials” – whenever some marketing aficionado comes up with these they want them on the site. When was the last time you thought “OOOOH CLIENT TESTIMONIALS!! OMFGWTFBMXBBQ!!1!” and clicked to go see a whole page of them? Are these out of date? Does anyone care about them? Are there examples of good implementation? Do you use Client Testimonials on your site? If so, why?

This is a good question because it has made me question something that I have always considered to be a really good thing on websites.

I think someone in Dave’s position – who I assume is a web developer/owner – won’t ever get excited about a list of client testimonials. Let’s face it, they’re not for Dave. They’re meant for visitors to the site to try and persuade them that buying a product or hiring a service is a good idea. The idea is that customers are far more likely to trust a testimonial from an existing client than the marketing speak on a website.

But this is where I have started to question my thinking. For example: “I am Mr X from company Y and I have to tell you that after using these people’s services I am now a better, more rounded person and I have decided to name my first-born after the MD”… this rather points to the fact that Mr X is the MD’s brother/drinking buddy/receiver of folding in a reverse handed way (delete as appropriate)… or even the MD himself!

So, do potential customers place any value in testimonials or do they instantly think they are fiction. In my opinion, I do still think they have value, particularly if you back up an online testimonial with that particular client’s contact details in a proposal. I also think that video testimonials have more value than written ones because (unless they are a complete setup) you will be getting the client’s real feelings and you can watch their body language.

Slightly going of point, regarding providing client contact details for inclusion in a proposal, I have started to ask potential new clients which of our existing clients they would like to talk to rather than simply providing a list chosen by me. I think this adds a further degree of trust.

Fundamentally, I do still think testimonials are a good thing and we will continue to use them on our site. But I don’t think I will be placing so much importance on them as I used to.

How do you make your site feel safe

Kevin Dees asks an interesting question on the forum:

I don’t know if this question has been asked before but I’m interested in what other designers have done to help make a site "feel safe".

Many times I find myself leaving e-commerce sites… because they do not feel safe. I find that this is due to poor design. Big flashing buttons and the like make me wonder if I’m going to get scammed.

So, I guess what my question is "how, as a designer, do you make your site feel safe, welcoming, and secure with the design itself? What are good practices? How do you make users go were you want them to, yet make them feel like they are still in control? What do you suggest adding or even keeping way from when it comes to design"

The answers he got in the forum didn’t really address his question. They focused on the realities of making a site safe (security and technology) rather than on the perception of security.

A site maybe the safest in the world but if the design isn’t right you are left with doubts. Take for example the new US government site that allows people to apply for visa waivers every time they travel to the US. One would hope that a site collecting that amount of personal data would be extremely secure but the design leaves you wondering if it is legitimate. It just doesn’t ‘feel’ professional.

I have spent a long time trying to come up with an answer for Kevin. However, I have found it hard to define what provides that sense of security. Part of the problem is that I think as a web designer I am more sensitive to the ‘vibe’ a site gives off than the average user. I am not sure I am best placed to judge.

Also, a lot of the things that occurred to me where content issues more than design. Delivery policy, site security, returns policy etc. are all content issues and so do not answer Kevin’s question.

However a few things have come to mind…

  • An attention to detail – Sites that lack an attention to detail always make me nervous. Poor browser support, bad grammar, inconsistencies and ill considered design reek of unprofessionalism. If I am going to spend my money on a site, I want to know that money and time has been invested in its creation. If an organisation is shoddy in the production of their own site, then I can probably expect the same attitude in the way they interact with me!
  • Structure – I think a strong grid structure is very reassuring. It conveys a sense of order that is disconcerting when not there. I think that is the problem I have with the US immigration site. The form you have to fill in is all over the place. Fields don’t line up and the site lacks any sense of order.
  • Colour – Misjudging colour can have a serious physiological effect on how we perceive a site. Some colours ar

    e naturally more trustworthy than others. Blue for example has a very safe reliable quality. However using a conservative blue on a site aimed at young girls will project entirely the wrong image and make the audience suspicious of your site.

  • Trying too hard – Some sites just try too hard, shouting for attention. Flashy graphics, heavy sales copy and advertising orientated imagery all scream desperation and manipulation. People do not like to be manipulated or pushed into responding. They like to move at their own pace. Push them too hard and they will run away.

I am not sure I have done particularly well at answering the question either, but hopefully there is something in there you might find useful.