In what can only be a carefully-timed PR move, Amazon has this morning secured impressive coverage by announcing that it's testing the use of drones for deliveries.
Why so carefully-timed? Well, today just so happens to be Cyber Monday, the day when online sales peak in the run-up to Christmas. Experts are predicting that internet spending today could hit £500m, making it the biggest online shopping day in history.
Never mind that drone deliveries are likely still years off — what matters to Amazon is that it has got its brand into the BBC website's top 'most read' slot on the busiest digital retail day of the year.
While it's true that Cyber Monday has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, there is no doubt that the first Monday in December is a key online shopping day. So, if you sell online, it could pay to be prepared.
Ok, so without the PR budget of Amazon you're unlikely to secure similar levels of brand coverage. However, if you sell online, there are still things you can do to make sure you handle Cyber Monday well.
It's a little late now to do anything more than last-minute preparations, of course. But you can certainly make sure that your website's working properly and you're ready to handle orders that arrive:
How have you found Cyber Monday in previous years? Does it deliver a boost to your bottom line, or is it nothing more than a load of hype?
Modern computers and servers are so powerful that many businesses tend to only use only a small percentage of their full capabilities.
For instance, if a server is only being used to store files and share internet access then much of its processing power is going to waste.
In recent years, more companies have started using virtualisation to help harness some of that untapped power. So, what is virtualisation and why should it matter to your business?
Virtualisation involves sharing computing resources so your business can get more bang for its buck. This clever technology allows one physical server to function as several servers.
That’s why they’re called virtual servers: although they behave like individual servers, they all run on the same piece of hardware.
For example, instead of running your each of your in-house applications (email server, accounting system, CRM system etc) on its own physical server, you can ‘virtualise’ one big server and run the whole lot on that.
Doing so means you only have one physical server to maintain. Virtualisation is also handy when different applications can't run together under the same operating system. For example, perhaps your accounting software runs on Windows but your website requires Linux.
These days, you can take advantage of virtualisation without actually owning any hardware yourself. Instead, you rent your virtual servers from another company, often a web hosting or cloud computing firm.
In this situation, you’ll never see the physical server on which your virtual servers run. It sits safely in a data centre where it may be shared by other businesses too.
The beauty of this approach is that the resources needed to run your applications can be spread across a number of virtual servers, which are all shared between companies.
This means that there’s lots of computing power on tap should you need it — yet you don’t have to invest in expensive hardware yourself.
To spread the load, many virtualisation services split computing power between customers in different time zones, so there’s always enough spare capacity to go round.
One of the first questions businesses have about sharing servers in this way is: ‘Are our applications and data safe if we’re sharing with other companies?’
Usually, the answer is yes, as long as you are dealing with a reputable provider. If they are a European firm and covered by EU data protection laws then that gives you extra reassurance. In general, you should ask the same questions of your provider as you would of any other cloud computing company.
Virtualisation is all about sharing the cost of computing resources. If more businesses can share a single resource, that resource becomes cheaper for each individual business. And that’s why virtualisation should matter to you.
This is a guest post from John Paterson, CEO of Really Simple Systems
What is the cloud? You’ll get a very different answer depending on who you ask that questions.
That’s because ‘cloud’ is a fluffy term that has been blown around endlessly, used by different people and organisations to mean different things. There’s never been any consensus about what it actually does mean.
Some people argue it simply refers to the internet. Others suggest it’s just a manufactured term that means absolutely nothing.
The most widely accepted definition of cloud computing comes from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. It states:
“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
Now that’s all well and good, but if you’re a business owner embroiled in running and growing a company, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. You just want a straightforward solution that’s going to support your business as it grows.
The company I work for — Names.co.uk — offers cloud services. When we talk about the cloud, we are referring to a cluster of servers. These work together, providing one large platform that can be sub-divided up into smaller chunks to do useful jobs like hosting your website or running a customer database.
Each user has an isolated virtual server, with its own operating system, control panel and software. They also get a guaranteed share of network resources, giving them confidence that the cloud will perform for them.
One of the biggest benefits of the cloud in this form is flexibility. Users can increase and decrease their computing power as and when they want, only paying for what the need.
More and more businesses are moving to the cloud because they like the idea of not paying for services they don’t use. It’s like buying a mansion when you only need a one-bedroom flat, with the option of upgrading to two bedrooms if you need to.
But if you’re still struggling with the question: ‘what is the cloud?’, why not see some more answers? We asked some people what the cloud means to them. See their answers in this video.
This is a guest post from Names.co.uk.
Cloud computing has had a huge impact on business technology in recent years. It is capable of offering on-demand computing power, email services, collaboration tools, disaster recovery systems and security, often at a lower cost compared to on-site hardware and software.
The cloud is still growing fast, but before your company embraces it wholeheartedly, it’s worth looking beyond the hype to check out the possible downsides.
Like most technologies, the cloud does have some disadvantages. Here are three important ones.
When using cloud computing services you are heavily reliant on the availability of your internet connection and of the cloud service itself. Investing in a robust internet connection with a backup will ensure things are reliable at your end.
It’s also important your cloud provider’s servers are located in more than one data centre. This ensures they can continue providing you with access to files and data, even during problems at one of their data centres.
Who can access your data? Is it safe on your cloud provider’s servers? Could it be stolen?
Every reputable cloud provider should meet all relevant data protection legislation and operate robust, encrypted networks. But even if you’re confident about your provider’s security precautions, the biggest dangers may lie elsewhere.
More specifically, those dangers may lie within your own business. Because using the cloud will enable your staff to access company data from anywhere, you need to work harder to make sure it stays within your business.
Moving to the cloud does not mean liability falls into someone else’s hands. You still have full responsibility for your business operations, yet using the cloud means you’re effectively outsourcing some of your IT systems.
It is vital that you have a contingency plan to overcome any potential risks. For instance, how would you cope if your internet connection failed or your cloud provider went bust?
If you’re considering a move to the cloud but want to proceed with caution, it’s important to seek a provider that can offer you advice and solutions tailored to your business.
It can be a good idea to identify a supplier that offers IT consultancy, support and traditional in-house expertise alongside cloud services. Moving everything into the cloud at once isn’t usually practical, but you can strategically move services when it’s right for your business.
This is a guest post from Leia Solanki, Marketing Executive; Tegen Ltd
Americans consumed about 3.6 zettabytes of information in 2008. You can bet the UK isn’t far behind.
That’s an enormous volume of information: the difference between 0.3 and 3.6 zettabytes is ten times the number of grains of sand on the earth.
This volume of information is apparent every day, in our bulging inboxes, our enormous choice of TV channels and an endless list of results on Google.
It’s no longer information overload. It’s filter failure.
There is chaos on the information superhighway. We can't see the wood from the trees. Facts do not exist any more, because every fact has an anti-fact on the web.
We create our own belief bubbles, our brains are mush and we are driven by what the smart phone tells us. It’s a cocktail for disaster. Or is it?
In Smarter than you think: how technology is changing our minds for the better, author Clive Thompson talks about how technology and the internet makes us smarter and better.
His argument is convincing. Technology provides eternal memory, where we can recall anything and learn from it. And it creates cognitive diversity, providing a place to test, discuss and distribute our thinking with all knowledge at our fingertips.
Technology has also made us more literate. We are writing and reading more than ever with texts, emails, tweets and so on, but tech is also creating different types of literacy.
With video, images, data and — soon — 3D printing, the internet and technology is giving us more rich ways to express ourselves.
If you put it that way, it is difficult to argue. However, Thompson does make reference to the fear of missing out (FOMO) syndrome, the dangers of constant distraction and the need to be mindful and aware of how you think.
And that brings me to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, fast and slow. His advice? Regularly step out of this stream of digital information. Take time to slow down. Meditate. Relax.
Kahneman thinks that, in future, we may all benefit from our own digital assistants. He cites Watson, the supercomputer that can play guess-the-question quiz show Jeopardy.
The technology behind Watson is now being used to help doctors diagnose patients based on the answers they give.
In five years, you could have Watson on your phone. It will be your digital, ambient, super-smart digital assistant who can help with your memory, knowledge, thinking and a lot more.
And what will happen then? Well, once you have a powerful new tool for finding answers, you can think of harder problems to solve.
The term cloud computing has been around for years now. The idea itself goes back even further.
However, there are still plenty of businesses that haven’t yet considered using cloud computing as part of their IT. There are plenty more that use the cloud without realising it, or that simply aren’t clear on the impact of the cloud.
Here’s a quick five-point guide to the key ways cloud computing could change how your business operates its IT:
If you’ve introduced cloud computing to your business, have you seen these changes? What would you say to other businesses considering a similar move?
Russell Scott is Managing Director of Sycura, a firm offering cloud computing solutions and IT support in the Hertfordshire area.
Responsive websites adapt to fit different screens.
According to IDC's worldwide and US tablet forecast, 2013 will be the first year in which more tablet computers are sold than traditional PCs. But although consumers are increasingly using smaller screens to view websites and buy online, online retailers are lagging behind with their websites.
The results are quite striking. It found that only one of these retailers uses responsive web design to create a site that automatically adapts itself to different screen sizes. The retailer in question is Currys.
Given that a third of all UK page views now come from smart phones and tablets, delivering a good user experience across all devices should be top priority for anyone looking to sell online.
Responsive web design isn't the only way to do that. Many businesses run a completely separate mobile website, designed specifically for small smart phone screens. Some also have mobile apps to help you search and buy items quickly.
Both these approaches are fine, but neither makes good use of screen sizes that fall in between smart phones and desktop computers. The great thing about responsive sites is that they're fluid, and designed to work on any screen, rather than those of specific sizes.
If you've not given much thought to the experience mobile users have on your business website, now really is the time to start. You'll find that the argument in favour of a responsive approach is strong.
Responsive design is the best way to create a consistent user experience, no matter what device people are viewing your website on. The content on the pages remains fundamentally the same, but just displays differently.
This means that you don't have to find a way of identifying mobile users in order to show them a different website, or worry about redirecting URLs so people see relevant information on both versions of your website.
When people share links to your website, you'll also know that the pages will always be optimised for the viewing device, not the device the link was shared from.
Quite simply, responsive web design is the only way to cater for the ever-expanding range of devices that people are using to access the internet. It's time to start making our sites more flexible.
Marketing has evolved as technology has evolved. Billboard ads and newspaper adverts feel somewhat outdated. Television, the internet and smart phones are taking over the marketing world, forcing marketers to shake up their strategies.
Now, instead of ringing up the local newspaper or radio station, marketers are emailing websites or working out how to integrate adverts into mobile apps.
However, traditional marketing — such as networking and face-to-face marketing — is still around. In some cases, these channels have embraced technology. For instance, Skype and email have really made it easy for marketers to stay in touch with their target audiences.
Your marketing can now be optimised and targeted to show content or products to people who are most likely to be interested in them. Some say this has made advertisers’ jobs too easy.
One example of this is Facebook’s advertising scheme. This lets you specify what age, gender and precise interests you would like to pinpoint with your ad.
Facebook even allows you to advertise to people who are connected to a specific person. You can also choose to target to people with a specific relationship status, language, education level or workplace.
This brings a whole new level of marketing: social marketing. Sites that provide social marketing include Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, LinkedIn, Yelp and YouTube. Each has its own, unique selling point, but all share a common factor: personal data collection.
Nowadays, marketers need to track and measure multi-channel campaign that may include email, search, social media, telephone, and direct mail. They will also track clicks, responses, purchase patterns and other such data.
Marketers have been using these digital methods for a long time, but not as long as traditional methods such as networking.
Networking events provide many benefits for a company. They build relationships with other businesses and create opportunities that could lead to new people coming into the business to work or to spend money.
In conclusion, technology has aided marketers greatly over the past few years. But although in many ways it has made marketing easier, it has also added complexity.
The ratio of online to traditional marketing now stands at about 70:30. Because of the enormous diversity on the internet, marketers must do outrageously impressive things to get noticed.
Adam Stevens is a technology and marketing enthusiast as well as a writer for Intxt, a bespoke mobile marketing specialist.
When you're trying to keep your website or blog regularly updated, one of the biggest headaches can be finding good photos that you're allowed to use.
You can't go just grabbing photos you like from other websites, because it's hard to know who owns the copyright. If you're not careful, you could find yourself in hot water legally.
So, for this Friday's tech tip we reveal three places to find free photos for your website:
Website stock.xchng offers thousands of free photos, most of which you can use freely on your website.
From the home page, just enter what you're looking for in to the search box.
When the results appear, select an image to enlarge it. If you like it, check the information beneath Usage in the right column. Most images are royalty-free, but always check.
If you can use the image, select Download to sign up for free and then download a copy of the image to your computer.
Morguefile is very similar to stock.xchng. Just search for images from the home page.
When you spot an image you like on the search results page, select it to view it in a box on screen. You can check the usage rights here — look for text that starts 'You are allowed to copy, distribute, transmit the work and to adapt the work...'
If you want to use the photo, just select Download Image.
Yep, the drill's the same on RGBStock too. Search, select the image you like, and then review the usage rights.
You need to be signed up to download images, but signing up is fast and free.
Although each of these free sites offers photos that can be used in most circumstances, you might find there are restrictions if:
If you want more flexiblility in how you use photos, it might be better to buy them from a site like Shutterstock or iStockphoto. These stock photography sites tend to offer a range of usage options, with prices to match.
Where did you get the photos for your website?
If you seem to spend much of your working day cursing your slow internet connection or turning your router on and off to get it working, then the latest statistics on UK broadband might come as a surprise.
According to the EU Commission, the UK actually does pretty well when it comes to broadband prices, speeds and connectivity - at least compared to the other 26 EU states.
The latest figures show that a broadband connection with a speed of 8 - 12 megabits per second (mbps - that's typical for an ADSL connection that uses a standard phone line) costs an average of €19.78 a month. That's well under the overall EU average.
Similarly, if the figures are to be believed then 70% of the population now has access to so-called 'next generation' connections of 30mbps+, which are typically delivered via fibre-optic cables. That's well above the EU average.
Given that we live in a country where online shopping is high and internet businesses account for a significant slice of GDP, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.
So, why are people's perceptions often so different? After all, we've moaned enough on our blog about the state of UK broadband.
Well, although the UK broadband market looks pretty healthy at face value, the headline figures do obscure a couple of important facts.
Many businesses still find there's a big difference between the advertised 'up to' speed of their internet connection, and the speed they actually receive.
This is caused by the nature of the copper wires used for most broadband connections (we explain the issues in full here), but the result is that it can feel like you're paying for a connection you don't get.
The EU figures back this up. If you're using some sort of DSL connection (usually advertised as 'up to'), on average you only get 45% of the advertised speed. For instance, I'm writing this on an 'up to 20mbps' connection that tends to run at about 10mbps.
Although the EU figures suggest 70% of people can now opt for a faster fibre connection, that still leaves 30% of the population who can't. That's a significant proportion of businesses unable to benefit from properly fast connections that are reasonable value.
But then perhaps we shouldn't criticise this fact too harshly. The pace at which providers are rolling out this superfast broadband has increase significantly over the last year or so.
How do you find your broadband connection? Is it fast enough for your requirements?
Millions of businesses rely on cloud technology each day, and recent revelations about PRISM have thrown data security back into the spotlight, demonstrating that where your data is physically located can really matter.
Over the last five years or so more and more companies have started moving business data to the cloud. But while the benefits of the technology are clear, the implications are often not.
In truth, cloud technology can present some real challenges. Not enough companies are giving thought to the legal and physical implications of the cloud. I believe cloud providers have a responsibility to highlight these factors, of which location is one.
It's widely accepted that companies should hold data in a secure facility (usually a building called a data centre, constructed specifically for the purpose). The location of that facility often get overlooked, but it matters.
For starters, some regions are prone to natural events such as earthquakes or floods. Others are beset by political instability and unrest.
The Euro crisis has hit confidence in some European countries which were previously considered rock-solid.
And then there's growing interference by governments - yes, we're back to PRISM again.
In light of these concerns, you're well-advised to investigate the setting of any potential cloud provider's facilities.
When evaluating the location of a cloud provider or hosting firm, these are the main factors to consider:
Not only do you need to keep your data secure, but you also need to maintain a competitive edge.
Cloud services give you extra flexibility and make it easy for you to work on the move, but location plays a part in competitiveness too.
For instance, server response times can vary significantly depending on whether your servers are located relatively nearby (the same country or continent), or further afield (like the other side of the world).
This can have a very real influence on your website's search rankings, because load speed is one of the factors Google takes into account.
These are just some of the reasons your business should pay attention to the location of servers holding your data. Have you give it much thought?
Mateo Meier is founder of Artmotion, which offers hosting services located in Switzerland.
Do you publish a live feed of tweets on your business website? And has it recently stopped working? For our tip this week, we can explain why.
It's all to do with changes Twitter is making to its API.
Let's step back for a moment. API stands for application programming interface. It's a set of functions in Twitter that allows people to create applications using Twitter data.
For instance, if you use a program like Echofon or HootSuite to manage your Twitter account, that software accesses Twitter through the API. You can think of it as an official connection through which third party apps can plug in to Twitter.
Back last year, Twitter announced it was moving to a new version of its API.
On 11 June this year, the changeover was complete, and the old API was shut down. This means any apps or tools that use the API stopped working.
We won't go into detail about all the API changes (here's more information, if you're interested), but one big difference is that it's now harder for apps to access a list of your recent tweets.
You now have to authenticate each app in your Twitter account, giving it permission to access your feed. Previously, this wasn't required.
If your website's Twitter feed has broken, it's probably to do with this authentication issue. There are a couple of ways to fix it, depending on how your website is built:
You might also have to tweak how tweets are displayed on your site, as Twitter now requires tweets to be displayed in a consistent way.
Do Not Track is a relatively new initiative designed to make it easier for people to let websites know when they don't want their activities to be tracked.
From the perspective of companies trying to do business online, tracking internet users is important. It allows them to see how people use websites and target advertising more accurately.
Yet privacy advocates argue it's currently difficult for people to control and understand what data websites collect about their internet use.
It was this situation that led to the EU cookie law, which came into full effect about a year ago. The result? A proliferation of confusing pop-up messages about cookies that don't really change anything. Well played, EU cookie law people.
Can Do Not Track make things clearer? It aims to put power in the hands of internet users via a new setting in their web browser. If you don't want websites to track what you do, you can just turn Do Not Track on.
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Fine in theory. The thing is, Do Not Track is entirely voluntary, so it only works on websites that have agreed to take notice of Do Not Track requests. Currently, the list is pretty small.
But if your business relies on tracking internet users, keep an eye on Do Not Track over the next few months.
If political pressure or legislation forces more companies to take notice of Do Not Track requests, then it could start becoming harder to track what users do online.
And while many will argue it's about time people had better control over their internet privacy, this could have a significant impact on the online economy.
Hackers. They attack someone, somewhere, every day. They are omnipresent on the internet. Their main targets include governments, TV channels, banks and big companies.
With the internet evolving so quickly, we must face a new reality. While the internet offers many exciting possibilities and is an essential part of our private and professional lives, we also have to face the downsides.
Security breaches are a reality and internet security is now more important than ever before.
Hacking is no novelty. It was back in the 1980s that the first hackers managed to access to sensitive data. But it wasn't until the 1990s that hacking started to become a serious problem for big institutions and companies.
High profile victims have included Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook, no less. The financial damage can be significant, but for organisations like these the more profound implications come from the loss of trust and the knock on effect on their image.
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This associated damage is hard to measure and even harder to fix.
Who would want to share personal information on a social network knowing its owners are not able to protect their security? Who would want to use an online bank service if it's easy for hackers to access sensitive information
Internet security is essential for everyone who wants to succeed in today's modern, fast paced and constantly changing world. Big companies and banks have been using secure connections (encrypted connections protected by SSL certificates) for many years now.
But what about smaller companies? What about a person who wants to sell online? Who guarantees customers are safe when paying for goods and services from smaller companies online?
It's easy to lose track of the possibilities and threats in a world that changes so rapidly. SSL certificates might be an obvious choice for big companies, but they are crucial for smaller organisations and individuals who sell through online shops too.
This is a guest post from Symantec. If you run a company that sells goods or services online, you'll find a wealth of information in Symantec's interactive security guide.
One in four consumers don't trust any company to secure their personal information online. That's according to a survey of 1,000 UK consumers conducted by information security and risk management firm Integralis.
Although a quarter of all respondents said they don't trust any organisation to take care of their personal data online, there is some relatively good news in one sector: nearly 65% of people said they do trust banks with this information.
However, businesses operating in other fields need to do more to win the trust of their customers. Only 36% of people trust online retailers with their personal data, 24% trust supermarkets and just 22% trust online payment systems like PayPal.
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But despite this general lack of confidence, people still use these services in droves. For instance, over half of people surveyed said they do grocery shopping online at least once a week. While people might not trust online retailers with their data, they're still willing to share it.
"Online shopping is unbelievably popular, even though people don't necessarily trust it," confirms Mick Ebsworth, information security consulting practice director at Integralis. "People are worried about the types of information these site sask for."
"Far too often, consumers are prepared to supply core personal details - like mother's maiden name or date of birth - to organisations that don't need that information."
This can put consumers at increased risk of ID theft, should that information fall into the hands of online criminals.
"People need to always think about the information they provide," explains Ebsworth. "Does an organisation need it? Your bank might not be attacked, but your account at another site with lower security might be. So why use the same passwords?"
Although consumers might be making mistakes by supplying personal information to firms that don't need it, the buck really stops with the organisations requesting it. If they want potential customers to trust them more, they need to be more circumspect about requesting information.
Ebsworth has some advice for online businesses: "Firstly, you need to put in place the technical controls to keep personal information secure. You need the right level of encryption and good levels of data storage. Think about who has access to that information - in your organisation, with third parties, and online."
"Secondly, only request information that you really need. Recognise that the consumer has a role to play here, but that you can help them."
Finally, he has a sober reminder for firms that might still be unconcerned about how they handle this data. "Everybody who collects personal information has a duty to take care of it. Although there's nothing in the law to say how you should deal with a data breach, the Information Commissioner's Office can levy big fines if they believe you haven't adhered to good practice."
Does your business need all the information it collects from customers? Do they trust you to take care of it?
You can use tools like Google Analytics to see how visitors interact with your website. But that’s just a drop in the ocean in terms of competitive analysis.
If you’re running a small or new business, there are some excellent, comprehensive and free competitive analysis tools that can provide valuable data to help you understand your market.
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You’ll need to be willing to put a bit of time in to learn how to get the most from these free competitive analysis tools. But if you do, you’ll be rewarded with information to help your business succeed.
Short for ‘due diligence’, it’s an excellent tool that provides free business intelligence such as insight into competitors, suppliers, investors and clients.
You can also use it to benchmark a business’s performance and growth over time, build sales leads and integrate social networks such as LinkedIn.
Google Analytics and Google Trends are good free competitive analysis tools because they’re integrated with the most popular search engine in the world. It means you get data ‘right from the horse’s mouth’.
But it’s a good idea to go beyond Google to get deeper insight into your website’s analytics. Comparing data sets can help you avoid sample biases that come about from opt-in panels or toolbars, giving you a more accurate picture of how your audience is behaving in response to your marketing efforts.
For example, have a look at the free competitive analysis tools from SEOmoz.
Search engines are constantly learning more about how people categorise and search for information. A big part of the mix in recent years has been social media, which search engines now indirectly recognise and attribute authority to.
In other words, it’s important to use and understand social media to reach your audience, and watch and learn from competitors too.
Competitive analysis doesn’t need to be expensive and complicated. As long as you’re willing to work at it, you can get valuable insight on your partners, suppliers, clients and customers … and get a step ahead in your business.
Helen Major has a keen interest in finance and has been writing for blogs and newspapers on the subject since she graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2007. She is currently writing on behalf of Duedil, a free Company House and directors’ search database.
Accessing the internet on mobile phones has been one of the fastest growing technology trends over the last few years. UK consumers have rushed to buy smart phones, with ownership almost doubling in the past couple of years.
As a result, businesses really need to wise up to the evolving mobile website landscape.
Worryingly, smaller UK businesses are falling behind in this mobile world, missing out on vital sales and new customers.
The same research found 45% of internet users use a mobile device to access the web and that 6% have shopped online from their mobile phone. This means people are spending up to £1.3 billion via ‘on the move’ purchases.
This confirms the shift to mobile is being led by consumers, which means it’s vital businesses reconsider their mobile internet presence.
The risk businesses are facing is that they’ll miss out on mobile custom. Many believe creating a mobile-friendly site is too costly or complicated.
However, with reports predicting purchases made using smart phones could make up 12% of all ecommerce, smaller companies can’t afford to ignore the mobile trend. There are a number of options available to create mobile websites – not all of them complicated - and they can ensure mobile visitors have a good website experience.
Our report also found that, while vast numbers of the UK’s 1.1 million small businesses (1 – 49 employees, 2011 Government figure) are online, there are still 660,000 that have yet to get themselves online at all.
Even those companies that have got to grips with the web are risking falling behind by not creating sites that can be used on mobile phones.
Perhaps most notably, we found that businesses really do worry about falling behind the pace of technology change. Half say they are ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ that they are being overtaken by changes including the advance of mobile internet usage.
Quite simply, it’s time smaller companies invested in becoming fully accessible to customers using mobile internet. If they don’t, the risk of losing out on future custom is very real.
Ramandeep Sambi is an online marketing executive at BaseKit.
Fibre: the secret to faster broadband. (Image: Flickr user James Laurence Stewart)
Here's a tech bargain ideal for home-based businesses looking for an internet connection with a bit more oomph.
You'll have to pay line rental (£13.99 a month or £126 a year) on top of that, but the offer makes this broadband tech bargain significantly cheaper than most competitors.
Over a year, the Plusnet package will cost you £347.76 - or a little less if you pay the annual line rental up front.
For comparison, BT's Unlimited Infinity 2 package - which has the same 76Mbps speed and unlimited downloads - adds up to £423 over the same period.
If - like most of us - your internet connection is still based on ADSL (which uses a traditional copper wire to connect you to the local telephone exchange), this Plusnet package will give you a big speed boost. That's because it uses a modern fibre optic cable to bridge the distance from your street to the exchange.
This allows Plusnet to offer speeds of up to 76Mbps - around ten times faster than the speed of an average UK broadband connection. You'll notice web pages load more snappily, and the extra speed will make a vast difference when you download large files or several people are using the connection at once.
What's more, Plusnet's broadband service generally gets good ratings from users.
The main potential drawback is that you must be based in Plusnet's service area. To see if this includes you, just click Start your order on the Plusnet site, then pop in your postcode when requested.
Both website visitors and search engines alike prefer web pages that load quickly. Akin Fagbohun, researcher and content writer on behalf of managed data services company Six Degrees Group, explains how to squeeze more pace out of your site.
In the same way that you can zip files to reduce their size on your computer, you can also compress the files that form the structure and content of your web pages.
The process of compressing and uploading your files can be a little technical, so you may want to ask your web designer or agency about this.
Browser caching is an excellent way to reduce load times for returning visitors. Caching tells a returning visitor’s web browser if anything on the site has changed since they last visited.
If the site is the same, the web browser will simply show the pages it downloaded last time, instead of downloading the information again. And if only certain files have changed, it’ll only download those.
Most web hosting companies already support caching. If yours does, it should be enabled automatically, so you won’t have to do anything to benefit.
If you want your site to be super-quick, think about how the images you’re uploading will be displayed. To minimise load times, make sure images you upload have already been scaled to the size at which they’ll be displayed.
If the same image is used in different places at different sizes, scale the image down to the maximum size it will appear then reduce the size in your website’s HTML code where necessary.
Most content management systems like WordPress will do this for you.
The term ‘CDN’ has become a bit of a buzzword in the world of web hosting lately. When you use a CDN service, your website is replicated to a number of servers around the world.
When a visitor calls up your site, the server closest to them delivers your site. This reduces the stress placed on any single web server, and means the data has a shorter distance to travel to its destination.
Again, some web hosting firms provide access to a CDN as part of their hosting package.
There's always something interesting going on with Google. Just this week it announced Google Glass, a pair of glasses with a camera and display built in.
However, as it'll probably be a little while before you see someone wearing them on your local High Street, for this Friday's tip of the week we thought we'd show you three Google tricks.
Google has a pretty advanced calculator built right into it, and you can easily calculate sums by just tapping them in to the search box. Here's an example: 54 + 46 = ?:
Use the +, -, / and * keys and give it a go yourself. You'll never need to us an actual calculator again.
You can convert currencies too, and Google will automatically use up-to-date exchange rates for you. How many dollars can you get for £150?
If you don't know what a specific word means, just type define: into Google, followed by the word. For example: define:disestablishmentarianism.
If you're grappling with another language, Google can help you there too. Check out its translation tools.
What Google tips and shortcuts do you use regularly? Leave a comment to let us know.
So... remember the EU cookie law? This time last year it was big news, as companies large and small scrambled to understand the implications and avoid potential fines of up to £500,000.
Cookies are small bits of data used to identify visitors and provide them with a better experience on a website - for instance by keeping them logged in or tracking the pages they visit. Virtually every web page uses them.
The EU cookie law aimed to protect people by making them more aware of what cookies are being set as they use the internet.
Technical and legal experts alike agreed that the law required websites to seek consent from visitors before setting any cookies on their computers. Companies spent time and money getting ready for the law, many implementing pop-ups and overlays which users have found irritating and annoying.
However, it turns out there are two key problems with this approach:
It's an unsatisfactory experience for both parties.
Now, it seems like all that effort to create opt-ins might have been unnecessary. Because at the end of last month, the Information Commissioner's Office (that's the body with the job of enforcing the law in the UK) announced it was going to remove the opt-in from its website and start setting cookies as soon as soon as visitors arrived. In addition, the site:
If that's good enough for the ICO, then surely it must be good enough for the rest of us. And with little evidence to suggest that a lack of an opt-in damages visitor confidence or trust, the obvious move now is for businesses that have implemented an opt-in to remove it.
We could offer our own comment on this change in approach, but instead let's turn to Silktide, a software company that's created this great infographic summarising the cookie law so far. Click the infographic to see the full version:
How have you interpreted the cookie law on your website? Will you remove your opt-in message too?
If you have a few moments to spare this morning and a burning desire to learn more about how data travels to your computer from servers around the world, take a look at this map. It shows the vital underwater cables that connect continents and carry the vast majority of the world's internet traffic.
Whenever you visit a website that's located on a server in another part of the world, it's almost certain that the data from that server will reach your computer by travelling through some of these undersea cables.
It's incredible to think that these tiny cables - each usually less than 10cm in diameter - form such a vital part of the internet infrastructure we've come to rely on every day. With each carrying an enormous volume of data, it's no wonder that a single cable snapping can cause big disruption and hit the headlines.
So, next time you watch that video of a panda sneezing on YouTube, just think how far it might have travelled to reach you. The internet: isn't it amazing?
What's a better way to start off the bargain hunt this week than by speeding up and securing your network with this wireless router from Netgear?
Whether you're upgrading your existing network from 100Mbit to 1Gigabit, or installing a router in your office for the first time - the Netgear N600 will have you browsing the web, accessing files, and printing wirelessly in no time.
5 ethernet ports mean you can connect 5 devices via ethernet cable, and many more via wireless. A built in USB port also means you can network your printer so any device on your network can print.
All the latest security standards are on board so you can be sure that your connection is secure, and safe from prying eyes.
Curry's has this wireless router as a web-only deal for £39.99, as opposed to the usual £79.99. Grab yourself a bargain because these won't be here for long!
(Image: Flickr user Alberto Bissacco.)
If you live in, work in or travel to London then you might have been enjoying free wireless internet in Tube stations for the last few months.
Virgin Media has installed wireless access to nearly 100 stations. But from the start of February, it'll stop being free.
But if you're not with any of those companies then you're going to have to fork out. You can buy access for different periods of time:
There's a special offer on at the moment that gets you three months for the price of one, but even with that in place to tempt people, it's hard to see customers flocking to use the service.
Tube stations are places you pass through. You don't linger to use the internet access and other facilities. You want to get on your train and to your destination as quickly as possible.
Say I use the Tube twice a day to commute to the office. Now, let's be generous, and say I spend ten minutes in stations in the morning, and ten minutes in the evening. Discounting weekends, that's roughly 400 minutes a month where I might be in a position to use the Wi-Fi.
At £15 a month, that works out to about 3.75p per minute of wireless internet. Is that really worth it, to check Twitter and your email? I don't think so - especially when you can almost certainly get mobile internet the moment you emerge from a station.
If you've become addicted to the free internet while it's been available, don't worry. It's easy enough to download emails and the latest Tweets before you head underground. Any emails you write on the Tube will be sent as soon as you emerge onto the streets.
You can even use a service like Pocket to cue up news articles or websites to read on your journey.
The appeal of free underground internet access is clear. But as soon as there's a cost involved, it's not worth the hassle and expense.
Of course, Virgin Media probably doesn't expect the service to attract many paying users. It's more interested in providing mobile and broadband customers with a perk - and giving potential customers a reason to switch to these services.
When your website takes more than a few seconds to load, it's obviously annoying for your visitors. But did you know that poor website performance can have a more tangible cost too?
People abandon websites that take too long to load. As your page load time increases, your conversion rate drops. And that means you're making fewer online sales.