Why Accessibility Is Easy

discriminationDiscriminationAnti-discrimination legislation did not happen overnight. Indeed, the process of inclusion for citizens of all demographics has been on the agenda of governments, and human rights activists the world over for many years.

It’s not a new agenda, most policy makers and corporate watchdogs actively encourage the employment and inclusion of all people regardless of ethnicity, social or economic standing, religion, mental capacity or physical attributes. Some countries also enforce these policies to create a fair and socially responsible business climate. Private and public organizations likewise have long understood the importance of providing facilities for staff members and visitors with special needs, particularly in their legal place of business or operations. Not providing such amenities would likely result in litigation, and so, in many cases, these companies feel compelled to address any inadequacies as a high priority business agenda.

braille displayBraille DisplayWhat about the Internet?

Surprisingly many companies had not even considered the idea of ensuring their business’ Internet premise was also accessible. After all, why would a person that has vision impairment use the Internet? Well of course they would want to use the Internet, just as any sighted person would want to access such a vast and rich resource. Vision impairment is also only one of many other conditions that can potentially inhibit the use of information resources like the Internet. Many people who have difficulty using digital or interactive media may not necessarily be technically classified as having a disabling condition either. Thankfully, there are now various technologies to aid users with special needs in their use of media. Included in a large variety of assisting technologies are items such as screen readers or Braille machines for people with vision restrictions, subtitles for those with hearing difficulties, and speech recognition for those without the full use of their appendages. In spite of the existence of these tremendous technologies, the ability of a machine to accurately render content in a meaningful way often relies on that content being formatted with careful consideration of accessibility standards.

Why is this suddenly so important?

The issue was not really even on the corporate radar until a recent lawsuit mounted by the US National federation for the Blind (NFB) on behalf of claimants with disabilities, stated that they were being discriminated against because a well known company’s online content was only accessible by able-bodied people. The NFB had raised concerns with the Target corporation (a major US-based discount retailer which operates more than 1,300 stores in 47 states) more than ten months before, and stated:

“The website is no more accessible today than it was in May of last year, when we first complained to Target.”

The issue bubbles away in boardrooms even now as legal teams scramble to advise their clients on the best way to conform to changes in the Disability Discrimination Act, Section 508, and other such legislative decrees from various governments of the world.

disabled equalityDisabled EqualityWhose problem is this?

Website developers have long known about the technical requirements and specifications as determined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Any developer that has been in the industry for a length of time has already acknowledged and adapted to changing technological standards, both in hardware and software design. Why aren’t website companies just building accessible sites anyway? Yet many website developers felt that the stringent requirements of the Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI) would restrict their design capability too much, when in essence the real issue, was a reluctance to subject their working practices to higher standards that are easily measurable by anyone with a browser and a little bit of knowledge.

Their previously ‘easy’ way of doing things was in their opinion much quicker, cheaper, and visually more interesting. The truth however was that this new (and improved) way of doing things would require busy agencies to take the time to retrain. They do say that you ‘can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. In this case, there are now quite a few old dogs in the maturing digital media industry.

legal actionlegal actionAre there any other benefits besides avoiding legal action?

Actually not only is designing accessible websites easy, it makes a lot of sense on many different strategic levels. Consider the following insights as documented in the “Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites” (British Standards Institute 2006, ISBN_0 580 46567 5):

  • The Family Resources Survey [2] found that there are almost 10 million disabled people in the UK with a combined spending power in the region of 80 billion pounds per annum. Furthermore there are millions of other individuals that are affected by sensory, physical and/or cognitive impairments, including those resulting from the ageing process.
  • Research undertaken by the DRC “The Web: Access and inclusion for disabled people” [3] has confirmed that people without disabilities are also able to use websites that are optimised for accessibility more effectively and more successfully.
  • Content developed upholding World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines and specifications can be more easily transferred to other media, such as interactive TV, mobile phones and handheld computers.
  • Accessible content, for example where a text equivalent is provided for graphical elements, is highly visible to search engines, often leading to higher rankings.

digital mediaDigital MeadiaCertainly these benefits will be of interest to executives considering the perceived expense associated with building accessible interactive content, yet there are also other benefits in the form of corporate social responsibility and public relations.

What does the stakeholder need to do about accessibility?

Whenever a digital media project is commissioned by a company the only consideration to be made by stakeholders is to what level of compliance the content should adhere. There is a small amount of flexibility in this context because there are some elements within the standard which are considered compulsory, some which are recommended yet are not necessarily essential, and others which are desirable to create something which has the maximum possibility of being viewed by any user, regardless of their situation. Ultimately, a design or development company can adopt a more stringent approach depending on the design criteria set by executives.

Should the stakeholder be reading more about the standards?

There are a lot of technical and specification documents full of jargon that can be overwhelming to conscientious companies attempting to embrace the need for accessibility. In reality all of this content should instead be assimilated by the agencies that intend to create the content rather than the corporations who simply want to develop an interactive strategy.

business consultingBusiness ConsultingWhy is everyone trying to sell consultation about accessibility?

Given that there is suddenly some confusion amongst the corporate world as executives scramble to become legally watertight, many so-called consultancies have sprung up to exploit these vulnerable companies by charging great sums of money to analyse current websites or digital content for accessibility inadequacies. There are certainly tools available that can easily interrogate the code of a website and examine the structure to identify any obvious ‘rule-breaking’. Some consultants will go as far as to use these free tools to create reports on accessibility, when this is only one component of whether a website is usable and “friendly” for people with special needs. These same ‘consultants’ would like to also have large corporations paying them to help with search engine optimisation (SEO), which should not really be an issue if a website is built correctly in the first place.

What alternatives are there to external consultancy reports?

Actually, corporate executives may be surprised to know that money spent on consultancy reports could be better spent simply paying some users with actual disabilities to visit the website in question and offer constructive feedback through a usability workshop.

So what about Usability?

web devlopmentWeb DevelopmentIf the website is accessible, is it also a good website?

It is possible to check all the boxes of the W3C Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and yet have a layout and content that actually makes very little sense to users of the site. Usability on the other hand benefits everyone, which ultimately translates into a positive experience for all users as they interact with a company’s branded presence. A positive user experience logically leads to results, such as increased sales, brand interaction, positive word of mouth, and other business benefits.

Isn’t accessibility a bit complicated?

Although there can appear to be some complexity (and therefore consultancy work) involved in building highly accessible or usable content, this is actually a fundamental service which should rather come as a standard inclusion with any development proposal that is worth its salt. Indeed, commissioning an accessible website should be no different to commissioning any ‘ordinary’ website. They are certainly the same thing in the eyes of an accomplished website development company. It is really as simple as making sure the site is built correctly in the first place. This means a good foundation, standards compliance, craftsmanship, good project management, together with attention to detail and great build quality.

website designerWebsite DesignerBuilding a website is like building a house

The process could be compared to building a new house. As the homeowner you would want an architect and builder who are abreast of the latest trends, techniques, standards and processes to build your house. You would not expect them to charge you a consultancy fee on top of the house design and build fees. How would you feel if you then found your brand new home was illegal because it did not adhere to the current building code? The enforcement agents would instruct for your house to be razed to the ground. Likewise, building a new website in the new millennium should take all current design and technical specifications into consideration by default.

What if I have existing websites that need to become accessible?

As opposed to building, renovating an existing house can be considerably more problematic. What can seem like a single simple task may end up becoming five other quite complicated tasks. This can make budgeting quite difficult, and milestones seemingly without a definitive end. In the same way the processes used in the original construction of an older website will be dated and likely no longer compliant. This often means that major re-engineering may be required to bring the site up to the standards set in legislation. Sometimes, it can be easier to knock down the outdated house (or website) and start again. Are there any websites that can be easily updated to conform to accessibility requirements? Fortunately database driven dynamic websites have a distinct advantage over static websites when it is time to ‘renovate’. If the content is being loaded into a browser from a database, it is then also possible to modify the way that content is displayed (or rendered by aiding technologies) through page templates. These templates can be updated or replaced with greater ease to create an entirely new website that is completely accessible.

old building set in concreteOld Building Set in ConcreteWill renovating an old database driven website be expensive?

Perhaps most importantly, this renovation process need not be tremendously expensive as there is no complete website rebuild, nor the creation of hundreds of new web pages manually as in the case of a static website rebuild.

Which websites will require a complete rebuild?

If a site has been built statically, it could be compared to a building that was originally set in concrete with steel reinforcement. Unfortunately in these cases it is better to simply demolish and start again. Of course this also affords the opportunity to use the latest trends and building techniques to create something fresh and contemporary, perhaps even prize-winning. In these circumstances, the work (and therefore expense) involved in making the website accessible could be compared to a new build website project.

Recommendations for stakeholders

Certainly it could be said that if there is any one recommendation to be made in the design and building of websites, stakeholders should make sure that all content is dynamically driven from a database. By doing this the company can ensure that the site can be continually modified as Internet technologies and standards change. The content will at the end of the day always just be content. Businesses that are maintaining websites with a content management system (or CMS) will have this functionality built in already and are a step ahead of the game. That’s not so hard, all in all. So accessibility is not complicated after all, nor is it necessarily expensive.

website optimizationWebsite OptimizationThe foundation of a great interactive and accessible project that returns measurable results is starting with a great interactive strategy.

  • Define the market, milestones, means, and measurement methodology.
  • Direct the organization to ensure company-wide commitment, content, continuity, and contribution.
  • Design the technical and aesthetic solution.
  • Develop the content and assets in keeping with the latest thinking in website design and construction.

Deploy optimised and accessible content, and then enjoy the added advantages of creating a resource that people all over the world can enjoy…regardless of their accessibility constraints.

For a free quotation, or to discuss your website requirements, please contact us today.

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How important is a responsive website

responsive web designResponsive Web DesignAs more people are beginning to use mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, for every task that used to be only capable on desktop, one thing has become clear: mobile is taking over Internet surfing. And, it's not even just surfing. It's everything from browsing social media outlets, checking emails and doing some online shopping.

Because mobile Internet usage is increasing steadily, it's extremely important that your website is mobile friendly. Usually this isn't a major concern. You have a website designed for desktop users and another site specifically developed for mobile users. But, is it possible to have a site that is equally favorable for both desktop and mobile users?

There actually is a design that can handle both types of users. And it's called responsive web design.

What is responsive design?

A responsive design simply means a website that has been constructed so that all of the content, images and structure of the site remains the same on any device. For example, when a user accesses a site on their desktop, they are getting the full view of the site. But when that same user goes to visit the site from their smartphone or tablet, the site will retract to fit on the smaller screen.

In other words, with a responsive website design, you don't have to have worry about having different websites for various devices or making sure that your site runs properly on a mobile device.

But there are some other really important reasons why you should make the switch to responsive design for your website.

browsing on smartphoneBrowsing On SmartphoneMobile Usage is Increasing.

Take a step into the outside world and you'll definitely notice a lot of people on their mobile phones. In fact, it seems that just about everyone is attached at the hip with their smartphone. For some reason, however, there are many businesses who have not yet picked up on this trend. Maybe they could use the following stats from Smart Insights to convince them how much mobile usage has skyrocketed.

  • More than 20 percent of Google searches are now being performed on some sort of mobile device.
  • In 2012 over half of all local searches were done on a mobile device.
  • 25 percent of Internet users only access the internet via a mobile device in the United States.
  • 25.85 percent of all emails are opened on mobile phones, with another 10.16 percent being opened on tablets.
  • Mobile Internet usage is expected to overtake desktop usage.
  • Out of the 4 billion mobile phones in the world, 1.08 billion are smartphones and 3.05 are SMS enabled.

Recommended By Google

We all know that Google is a really big deal. In fact, the Big G claimed 67 percent search market share in 2013, making it the most popular search engine in the world. So, if Google claims that it prefers responsive web design as the recommended mobile configuration, you better take that as a hint - which was confirmed by Google's Pierre Farr in June 2012.

Search EnginesSearch EnginesBut why does Google prefer responsive design? For starters, it's more efficient for Google to bot crawl the site, and then index and organize all the content that is online. The reason for this is that with responsive design, all sites have just one URL and the same HTML across all devices. When a business has both a mobile site and desktop site, there will be a different URL and different HTML for each. This forces Google to crawl and index multiple versions of the same exact site.

Also, when there is just one website and URL, it's much easier for users to share, engage and interact with the content on that site as compared to a site that has different pages for mobile and desktop users. Google is a fan of that as well. Why? Because what if someone shared a mobile site on a social media outlet and one of their connections viewed that mobile site on their desktop? That viewer would then be viewing a less than optimal site because it was intended for mobile. This makes the user unhappy.

And Google realizes that unhappy people will go elsewhere, meaning that bounce rates increase and the site will not rank on mobile searches. This creates a whole big headache involving Google's external link algorithm and on-page errors. Which in turn, also harms your SEO.
In other words, it's just bad for business for both Google and all of the websites that aren't taking advantage of the benefits of responsive design.

Can Increase Conversion Rates

Besides all of the search benefits, as well as making users happy, responsive design has the ability to increase those coveted conversion rates from all of the mobile users in the world. Why? Well, if a website is not working on mobile or tablet device, users will obviously be unable to convert. And how many people are doing online shopping from a mobile device? There has been research that found 69% of tablet users shopped on their device within the last 30 days.

So, when a user has to do more work than needed to complete a conversion, do you think that they will still convert? It's less likely they will convert. However, there's a little more to it than that. For example, since a responsive website design can adjust to any screen, developers have control on how all of those conversion elements will display on mobile and tablet.

why do you need responsive web designWhy Do You Need Responsive Web DesignFinally, responsive design allows you to do some important high-end heat mapping and A/B testing, which can be done through software like Clicktale or Optimizely. This means that you can segment users by mobile and gain a better picture of how those users are interacting on your site. When you do this, you can discover what sales tactics and marketing strategies are effective, as well as those that are not. When you have this information, you can increase conversion rates.

Social Media Has Gone Mobile

We're guessing that you're involved with inbound marketing. But even if you're not, you still realize how important blogging and social media are in the 21st Century. In fact, if you have not implemented some sort of social media strategy in your marketing campaign, you're missing out on a lot of leads. But, social media has also now gone mobile, which you may have noticed. How important is mobile for social media users? According to a study from ComScore, 55% of social media consumption happens on a mobile device.

This is a really vital stat because what's the point of sharing content on social media if it's not compatible with mobile devices? Again, if a website isn't functioning on a mobile device, users get frustrated and leave. High bounce rates = low conversion rates. And, that puts everyone in a foul mood.

Better User Experience

We've briefly touched on this before, but responsive design gives users a better experience. For example, users don't have to fool around with zooming and shrinking the text or images on screen. Instead, all of the content automatically adjusts to the screen of the device. This makes it easier and more convenient for users to read and navigate on your site.

And, there are stats to further illustrate why the experience of users is so important. According to Google's Think Insights on Mobile, whenever someone arrives on your mobile website and is frustrated, or doesn't see the content that they are searching for immediately, there's a 61 percent chance they will leave and head to another website. However, whenever a user has had a positive experience with your mobile website, that individual will be 67 percent more likely to buy a product or use a service. Furthermore, 48 percent of users stated to Google that when a site doesn't function on their mobile device it makes them feel that the company does not care for their business.

A better user experience also makes it easier to be reached and complain. If people are able to contact you and find a way to complain, you have a much lower probability of them going online through social media and complaining.

Easier to Manage

phone users browsingPhone Users BrowsingGoing back to SEO for a moment, if you have separate desktop and mobile sites, you're going to have to run separate SEO campaigns for each. Wouldn't it just be easier to manage only one SEO campaign and one website? That would make not just your customers happy, but also your team including everyone from developers to content marketing managers. More importantly because you only have one site, responsive design is more cost effective as well

Stay Ahead of Competition

In the business world, you have to stay ahead of the competition. So, if more and more users are using their mobile devices to search and make purchases online, you have to cater to that audience by having a mobile-friendly site. In fact, 85 percent of adults believe that a mobile site must be as good, if not better than, a desktop site.

If that doesn't convince you enough. Around six months ago I redesigned my personal company site to have a responsive design. My mobile conversion (people contacting me) tripled overnight as well as people coming to my site doubled. I've also worked with several clients that have had similar results. Stay ahead of your competition and have a site that stands out. It'll make the difference.

Chances are that your competitors aren't making use of responsive designs, which means that they are losing out on potential customers. And, that is where you can stay ahead and take those customers away.

For more information, or a free quotation, please contact us today

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Why Website Templates Make Being A Webmaster More Efficient

Professional Web DesignerProfessional Web DesignerThe acceptance of website templates as an alternative to website designing can be attributed to the ability of templates in improving the work efficiency of the webmaster. Of course, they also reduce the costs involved in setting up a website.

Website templates have evolved over the years from simple HTML web page templates to the Flash template designs that allow for dynamic and customized websites. Getting a website designed from scratch is an expensive and time-consuming process. Moreover, it is not easy to get the right web designer, very often projects get delayed because of difference in opinion between the web designer and the webmaster and delay usually implies escalating costs. Website templates help to solve this problem by offering a selection of web page designs at a fraction of the cost of a professionally designed web page.

Multimedia Flash and other professionally designed templates enable webmasters to select from millions of permutations and combinations without having to approach a web designer. Inexperienced webmasters benefit more from using website templates as it frees their time and allows them to concentrate on other issues regarding the development of their website. There are many websites that offer templates that can easily be customized to a webmaster’s requirements.

design vs templateProfessional Design vs TemplateArriving at the right website design can speed up the website development process as after freezing the design, adding content to the website is not very time consuming and can be accomplished relatively easily. Website templates allow webmasters to pay more attention to this critical aspect of website development, and thus are more likely to receive traffic from search engines.

Branding And Creative Web DesignBranding and Creative Web DesignAs website templates provide a ready made and consistent design for each page, they help in binding a website together, giving it uniformity and coherence, and in facilitating smooth browsing. Templates are available with editable and uneditable regions, so chances of content getting erased are reduced. An important advantage that website templates offer is the ease with which they can be modified. The HTML and CSS components are not very difficult to master, and once the basic website is in place and online, a webmaster can crystallize his concepts, and customize the website to suit his business needs, by fine tuning the content or adding JavaScript, if required.

Thus, website templates, that cost round $50 - $200, are of great help to webmasters in running the website more efficiently. They also allow the site to generate revenue quickly, by allowing the webmaster to focus on producing content, and implementing marketing activities, such as web page optimization and competitor analysis.

For a free quotation, or to discuss your website needs, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Web design: Keep it clean

less is moreLess is MoreWhen designing your website, remember one thing: Less is more. Some people make the mistake of filling up every pixel on their web page with a different image or graphic or piece of text. Not only does this usually look bad, but it greatly diminishes the chance that the visitor will be able to find a focal point. People don’t like being confused when they visit a web site. They like simple.

column structureColumn Structure

Information overload

Try to not use more than three columns in your layout. Some websites can get away with one column, others need two or three. A good web designer will be able to develop a strategy for successfully laying out their website content in only a few columns.

Colors that complement

Try to avoid using more than 5 colors on your website. Develop a color scheme and stick to it. A great site that has heaps of working color schemes is at http://www.colorschemer.com. They also have a program called ColorSchemer that makes choosing colors a cinch. No, we don’t work for these guys - we just love their website and software! One of their recent blog posts was about our company’s obvious favorite color - blue!

Content is king

Make sure that the content on your pages is informative and to the point. Many web surfers have short attention spans and will lose interest if your web page content isn’t concise and clear. On the other hand, if you have a lot of informative, valuable information, post as much of it as you can. The web needs a lot of good content to make up for all of the bad website content out there.

too many imagesToo Many ImagesUse images wisely

The same can be said for website images - don’t abuse them. Not only do too many images look tacky and unprofessional, but they can significantly slow down the loading of your website. As mentioned a moment ago, web surfers have short attention spans. If your website takes longer than 5-10 seconds to load, you risk losing visitors. Make sure that your images have been optimized in Adobe Photoshop or other image editing software. Optimized images will load much more quickly than images that are saved without any optimization.

Web pages that suck

Web design talent is not something everyone has been gifted with. Someone went so far as to prove this fact by creating a website called Web Pages That Suck.com. On this site you will find many examples of, forgive us for saying, terrible websites. Those who created these sites obviously did not read their Web Design 101 book. We actually found this site helpful, when many of us first began our website design careers. You can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes. Try your best not to end up on that website.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for a free quotation, or more information.

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How Do I Choose a Web Designer for My Business?

web designHow Do I Choose a Web Designer for My Business?With the proliferation of the world wide web and independent businesses, it is literally a 'jungle' out there when it comes to locating affordable website design services. If you don't know the difference between a web host and a website, how are you supposed to figure out which web design company will be capable and worth the outlay from your fixed budget. Let's face it, start-ups, independent entrepreneurs and small businesses do not have the large budgets of corporations and every rand counts. Making informed decisions when it comes to your business' marketing expenditures can be the difference between business success and failure.

Having an online component for your company is an established low cost tool to build your company brand, keep in touch with your customers and reach out to new ones. Nielsen/Net Ratings found that the overall at-home global active Internet universe for 12 selected countries swelled by more than 2.8 million users from June 2004 to July 2004 bringing the total to 291,986,237 users. Having a website is necessary to reach these users.

Since I self-designed my first company website, my time was spent trying to figure out who should host my site, but the method of search is comparable with looking for a website designer: asking around, looking in search engines, poring through over 30 sites comparing services, prices and added value (if there was any). I didn't really know what I was looking for, even though I had some technical background, but in general I knew I wanted a host who was affordable and had good customer service. So, considering those of you who are starting from the beginning and need someone to help you Plan your site, Design it and Put it up for the world to see, there are specific concerns that you will need to address.

Website hostingWebsite HostingHere are seven real-world questions any new business owner should ask a prospective web designer. Based on their answers you can compare each company on a more equal basis, decreasing your search time and increasing the time you need to spend building your business.Do they offer domain name registration & web hosting with their packages?

  1. Do they promote your website once it's built?
  2. Do their package prices include maintenance fees?
  3. Can you make alterations/updates to the website on your own?
  4. Do they handle product sales transactions? (E commerce sites)
  5. How long is your contract?
  6. Can you see previous work that has been done?

Getting the answers to these questions will get you on the way to choosing a web designer who can handle your website and total business needs.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for a free quotation, or to discuss your website needs.

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