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4 Reasons Your Website Might Cost You More

It is generally accepted that most businesses need, or at least want, to create a presence on the Web, so what can go wrong?

architect95Now, I'm not a lawyer but as a System Architect, as well as being responsible for the design elements of an IT project, I need to understand how it fits into the existing environment and that includes internal and external standards, as well as certain aspects of the law. Many websites in use today simply don't comply.

Some of the more common pitfalls I have come across are listed below - hopefully yours is squeaky clean!

For many small businesses, the thought of paying thousands of pounds for a professionally designed and created website is daunting. Many resort to using “a friend who knows about these things,” or one of the smaller IT companies that does websites “on the cheap.” (By the way there are many that will do an excellent job.) Some business owners prefer to have a go themselves using one of the popular frameworks such as Wordpress, or use the one of the many DIY online site builders provided by the Internet Service Providers (ISP).

Nothing wrong with any of these, well not much anyhow, but there have been fairly recent changes to the law that, unfortunately, many websites do not adequately address and subsequently small business owners can find themselves facing significant fines.

Company Disclosure Requirements

Since 1 January 2007, companies have been required to provide certain information about the business on websites and emails. For limited companies, this information comprises the registered company name, registered address, place of registration (e.g. Scotland, England & Wales, Ireland, etc.) and the Companies House registration number. Additional information is required for ecommerce companies - i.e. those selling online. For sole traders, the true name of the trader must usually be disclosed as well as an indication that they are a trader - in line with mail order selling regulations that have been in place for many years.

Rather than putting it on every page of the site, best practice recommends that the requisite information is provided within an "About us" or "Contact us" page. For email, it is best presented as part of a footer section at the bottom, along with any disclaimers you might want to include. It's normally easy to get this added automatically by your email software as part of the signature.

Trading Standards is responsible for ensuring this is done properly and failure to comply puts a company at risk of a fine of up to £1,000.

Cookies

cookieMany websites use cookies to store information on the user’s computer that can be referenced the next time the website or, in some cases, other seemingly unrelated websites are visited. (If you are not familiar with cookes, take a look at the privacy policy on this site for a description.) You may have seen sites that offer to “remember me on this computer”? These generally use a cookie to do that. Commonly, cookies are used to gather statistical information about users and how they use the site, which is perfectly legitimate marketing strategy.
Recent EU legislation requires "informed consent" before information can be stored in on a user’s computer. Fair enough, I'm not sure I would like it if someone put a leaflet on my car everytime I drove into town!

Initially, the directve was interpreted to mean that the user was required to give permission before a cookie could be stored on their machine. After several years of experience, it is now accepted that continuing to use the website after being told it uses cookies is sufficient and that storing certain information that is strictly necessary for the operation of the website (things like shopping baskets on ecommerce sites, for example) is exempt.

Copyright

copyrightWhere do you get your material from? Image-rich websites are very popular these days but many site owners do not realise that the images found on the Internet are usually protected by copyright. There have been many cases where website owners have faced big bills from image owners - several hundred pounds or more.

Before using any image on your site make sure that you have the right to use it. Look for images licenced under the Creative Commons initiative, buy a licence to use an image (prices vary from a few pounds to hundreds or even thousands for the right image), or better still use your own photos or drawings.

Usability

Many people don’t realise that the Disability Discrimination Act, which requires things like wheelchair access to public buildings, also applies to websites. In particular business owners need to be aware of the needs of partially sighted or blind users and ensure that their website is designed appropriately. For example, text should have sufficient contrast and should permit easy use of so called, assistive technologies, such as screen reading software.

So what should you do?

First, don't panic! Chances are your site already complies. Even if it does not, the risk of being caught in the near future is low (but not impossible) and so long as you can demonstrate that you are taking steps to comply, you are likely to be given some leaway.

You should:

  • review your use of cookies,
  • ensure that you have the requisite information on your contact page and have the appropriate registration with the Infomation Commissioner's Office.
  • review the sources of materials used on the site -  particularly images - for possible copyright issues
  • be mindful of your choice of colour and, particularly, contrast

Additionally, there are tools available to check your site's usability but simple things like using 'ALT' tags on all images and ensuring that the text is readable, even to someone with poor contrast discrimination, will be a great place to start.

If you maintain your own website, make sure it complies with legislation. If your website was implemented by a professional company it should comply but ask them to confirm this and get them to make any necessary changes.

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