1 April 2014

Crowdsourced Internet Connectivity

Internet Connectivity at Events - SOLVED!

Intimate conference, massive expo - it doesn't matter... internet connectivity at events remains problematic. You don't want to pay the expensive WiFi infrastructure costs and you don't want your overseas visitors to pay expensive roaming costs. Even if you do take the financial hit, connectivity is normally patchy at best... too many people connecting, corners where WiFi doesn't reach. Until now it has been a nightmare - but there is a solution...


It's genius is in it's simplicity! At any event you have a mass of people moving around - all with internet-enabled smartphones. Without compromising privacy, decreasing battery life or incurring any significant data use (through employment of careful load-balancing algorithms), each handset acts as a signal amplifier boosting both WiFi and 3G within a venue. Because a connection can hop through an ever-moving 'mesh' (as your attendees move around), the signal reaches all corners of your venue.

Who will be first to bring this to market?

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22 June 2011

Free Android App to Quit Smoking

What has an Android app to help you kick the habit got to do with online business and this blog? Erm, well the app is one of mine... so I wanted to tell you about it - and how easy it is to create your own Android apps.

First, please indulge me for a moment...

Free From Smoking - The App

The app itself is very simple, it allows the user to play a MP3 recording of a hypnosis session which has been used successfully by many people to help them stop smoking. Don't worry - I didn't create the session (that was done by a qualified professional with many years of experience), I just built the app. From the app, users also have the ability to access a website which has a whole host of helpful information.

  • find out if you're ready to quit
  • check that this programme will work for you
  • read tips to help you quit smoking
  • understand how hypnosis works
  • see why hypnosis is so effective in quitting smoking
  • read about the professional, experienced therapist that recorded this session
  • learn the health benefits of stopping smoking
  • read the full terms and conditions of use

If you're an Android user who wants to quit smoking (or know anyone that does), check out the FREE Quit Smoking App.

How to Create Android Apps Quickly for FREE

This is actually my second app (the first was CallerID Manager - a simple way to show/hide your number, which is surprisingly difficult on Android phones). The thing that both apps have in common is that they're very simple and are designed to solve a specific problem. I've actually been surprised by how many downloads these apps get - it seems easier to get traffic to new Android apps than new websites.

Soooo, how do you go about creating your own app?

1. Start with Google App Inventor

Download App Inventor from Google Labs. Watch the tutorials and get started by building your own simple app. It's designed for people with no programming experience, just an interest in these things. And don't despair - it was months between me downloading it and having a genuinely good idea for an app.

2. Prepare your app (APK) for the Android Market

When I first used App Inventor, I didn't realise that you can't actually upload the APK file you create to the Android Market. It's a bit crap that Google provide Google App Inventor to create Google Android Apps for the Google Market and don't let you upload them.

For CallerID Manager I paid a freelancer on oDesk to recreate my app for me in a format that could be uploaded to the Android Market. But, since then I discovered...

Free software to automate the conversion of App Inventor APKs for the Android Market!!!

It's really simple to use - so if you like it, be kind and make a donation to the developer.

Note that unlike iPhone apps, you can actually host Android apps on your own website - but it's worth uploading them to the Android Market for extra exposure.

3. Upload your app to the Android Market

I won't take you through the boring setup and $25 cost of creating an account. The thing you're likely to struggle with as a beginner is taking the minimum required 2 screenshots of your app. Unlike the iPhone, taking screenshots on your Android phone is a nightmare - unless your phone is 'rooted' (hacked) - which I don't recommend if all you need is screenshots.

It is a bit of a faff, but the process is to download (and install) the Java SDK and then the Android SDK. You'll then have all the tools you need. The easiest way I found is to follow this tutorial for taking Android screenshots without root.

4. Relax and enjoy monitoring the popularity of your apps

That's it - and it does take a bit of getting used to... but if you're reading these articles, it's well within your reach. Have fun.

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26 May 2011

How Companies Can Comply with the UK Cookie Law

This affects your online privacy rights...

I'm taking a departure from my normal writing topics to propose a solution to UK companies that have to comply with the UK cookie law (having just got a 1 year reprieve). If you've got no idea what I'm on about you might want to read this BBC article.

A quick explanation of cookies...

Many websites use cookies (a small file saved on your computer) to store information about you and your use of their site. This can be great and make your browsing life better by making it easier to log in quickly, see things according to previously saved preferences and also be presented with the most relevant content. However they can also by used more maliciously by unscrupulous advertisers. Read more about cookies here.

The new law - pros and cons...

The new law is all about making it more transparent to you - the user - about what data is being collected and stored. The proposal is pretty much that every time a website wants to store information you'd have to give your explicit permission. Great for privacy, right? Not so good for a smooth web experience - imagine the number of times you'd be interrupted whilst being asked for permission (much, much more than you'd think)!

A possible solution...

So I'm presenting this solution to both users of the internet (I'm guessing there's one or two of you out there) and to companies which have to comply with the new law. What do you think (let me know in the comments)?

It's quite simple really - every website that uses cookies would have to have a page (call it 'Your Cookie Privacy') and this page would display all of the information stored about you in cookies for the site you're currently browsing. You'd then have options to block them completely (total privacy), block certain information (whilst being 'warned' what the consequences of blocking would be - such as having to reset preference every time you visit the site), or simply allow it to continue using cookies in the same way it always has. This gives the best of both worlds... total control goes to the user whilst allowing the browsing experience to remain as uninterrupted as the user allows it.

Problem solved?

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26 April 2011

3 Essential Android Apps That You'll Wonder How You Ever Managed Without

These 3 essential apps are different to other 'recommended' lists. They tend to focus on apps for a particular topic such as business, gaming or productivity. These apps do things that you wish your Android phone did out-of-the-box, but unfortunately doesn't. In short, they make your Android phone better and your mobile life simpler.

1. Quick Profiles

Before you had an Android phone you probably had something like a Nokia with in-built profiles that let you quickly switch sound and vibration settings depending on if you were in a meeting or outdoors, etc. Quick Profiles enables you to do this on your Android phone and a whole lot more.

With Quick Profiles you can turn other settings on/off such as WiFi and Bluetooth. So, for example, I have a 'car' profile which turns Bluetooth on, WiFi off and the volume for calls and notifications up to the max.

Get Quick Profiles FREE here.

2. SDrescan

Have you ever edited any of your photos and then seen the annoying 'broken photo' icon in the Photo Gallery? SDrescan fixes that and many other things - quickly and easily. It doesn't need any more explanation than that.

Get SDrescan FREE here.

3. Caller ID Manager

OK, I'm biased - this is my first app, my baby. I use my mobile for work but don't always want clients to have my mobile number, so I hide it. Then I want to make a call to someone I know at the end of the day and I want to show it again. This is a real pain to do through the Android Settings menus However, with this app you can quickly show/hide your number on all calls at the touch of a button. By default it is set up for UK networks/carriers - but is configurable to work in other countries and on other networks.

Show me a little love and get Caller ID Manager FREE here.

Please leave a rating and comment if you like it - and be sure to tell your friends. If you have any feedback, I'd be happy to reply to your emails.

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10 March 2011

The Great Privacy Debate - What it Means for Organisations and Businesses using Social Media

I'm going to break from my normal posting schedule to wade in to the great privacy debate that is currently waging (again) thanks to Eric Schmidt of Google. I'm even going to gag my geek reflex and resist the urge to tell you just how to find out what personal information is available about you on the internet lest it scare you into "changing your name in order to escape [your] previous online activity" - as Eric Schmidt predicts children will be doing in the future. By the way, if you are interested, let me know in the comments and perhaps I'll do a piece on it another time. No, this article is instead going to open up for debate...

...How increased personal privacy concerns will affect organisations use of social media.

It might be helpful to start with a quick recap. The data available online to date has been a marketers dream and has enabled the savvy to better target their audience. And, so far at least, most users have been happy to provide basic personal data without too much thought.

With concerns over privacy getting much more media coverage, coupled with the fact that people are being bombarded with so much digital noise from less scrupulous businesses realising that 'there is an audience out there to sell to', it's no wonder that users will think twice before handing over their information in future. So what does this mean for social media?

Well, as far as I'm concerned, it's good news all round. I'm of the opinion that when social media is used to sell, sell, sell - at best it is 'cold' and more often than not, it's downright spammy! Social media offers a fantastic opportunity for organisations to better serve their 'customers'. Whether that is by listening to what is being said and making appropriate improvements or engaging with customers on their preferred social platform to provide additional help, support and information - it becomes a win/win situation. The customer genuinely benefits and the organisation might lower operational costs and gain more exposure as well as build brand loyalty and trust.

So, that's why I think it is good that 'customers' will think twice before 'connecting' with organisations online and opening up themselves and their data - it will force businesses to use social media to provide something of value to their audience (and in return the business benefits too). And let's face it - that's what social networks are really all about.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below. Are you concerned about your privacy online? Would you like some advice (I'll try and help in the comments)? Will the current debate change your behaviour?

Please note: I originally wrote this article for another organisation which has since taken their blog offline. I've therefore republished it here in the hope that you'll find it useful (and for posterity).

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8 March 2011

Happy Birthday Naomi

Today is Naomi Dunford's birthday!

Why am I writing about it? Why should you care? Well, Naomi is the Naomi of IttyBiz fame. When I started out on this online business journey, her SEO School ebook was the first I was ever persuaded to part with my hard-earned money for - and it was money well spent. Since then I also attended her F*** REALISTIC conference - which resulted in me getting off my ass and building a full site selling e-Products in less than a week... and Naomi was generous enough to send a heap load of traffic my way.

Naomi has helped a lot of people and their small businesses with her 'no bull****', common sense style. Her dedication to her readers and customers alike was the reason why one of them (Colin, take a bow) got in touch to organise this rather cool "internet-wide celebration of the genius, generosity and gin-soaked wisdom of the delightful Ms Dunford".

I highly recommend heading over to the IttyBiz site or following Naomi on Twitter for some fun and frolics.

Happy Birthday Naomi



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5 March 2011

Why Small Business Websites Fail - And How To Fix Yours

website visibilityQuite a bold post title don't you think? How can I know that a website is failing when I don't know what it was created to achieve? But therein lies the problem... most small businesses have a website because they 'know' they need one. Often, little (if any) thought is put into deciding how the website should serve the business. The end result...? A website which seriously under-performs and/or a site which can actually harm the business, either through lost leads or by damaging reputation by not being of the same quality as the rest of the business.

So, it's already obvious the first question you need to ask yourself...

Why does my business have a website, what purpose do I want it to serve?

There are a myriad of legitimate answers to this question. For example, you might want people to find your site and pick up the phone to enquire about your services, you might want them to purchase something directly from the site. You might even simply want to give away free quality information to prove your expertise in a given area - which will eventually lead to new business.

Whatever the purpose of your site, there are a series of questions you'll also want to be able to answer in order to work out how your site can be improved and fulfil it's potential.

  • how many visitors does your site receive each week?
  • where did they come from (Google, other sites, etc)?
  • what did they search for?
  • did they find it?
  • what pages did they look at?
  • did they take the action you wanted (contact, purchase, etc)?

The answers to these questions might surprise you - and without the answers you're effectively blind. The good news is that this information is relatively easy to find out - a free service like Google Analytics will tell you most of it.

Depending on your timescales, budget and expertise you may want to pay someone to install analytics or interpret the results. And you'll almost certainly want to seek expert advice on how to take your site from where it is now to where you want it to be. That can include anything from reorganising the site from a usability perspective to hardcore search engine optimisation (SEO) so that your site appears higher up search engine results pages (SERPS).

But before we run ahead... be clear on what you want from your small business website and make sure you have visibility of your analytics data (i.e. get answers to the questions listed above).

If you need help with any of that or are ready to move on to the next step, let me know.

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14 January 2011

To Social Media or Not To Social Media? That is the Question! Lessons for Businesses from Shakespeare

How ironic that this post is mainly being distributed through the power of social networks, and many of the businesses and organisations who would benefit most from reading it aren't yet using social media for work. That's a problem, or is it...?

Using Social Media without Using Social Media

Obviously I'm an advocate of the benefits of using social media - though I'd say it is better not to use it at all than to use it half-heartedly. However, many businesses aren't ready to fully immerse themselves in this new world just yet - but that's OK, there are ways to use it and benefit without having to take that first step. Confused? What I'm really talking about here is...

Good Use of Social Sharing Tools

In a nutshell, social sharing tools enable readers of a web page to easily tell their friends (or network) about it. The great thing about sharing tools is that you don't need to have your own account on the social networking sites in order for your content to be promoted on them.

In the old days it used to take the form of 'email this page to a friend'. You'd click on a button, type in your friend's details and they'd receive an email with a link to the page you were reading. As the popularity of social networking sites grew, the 'email this' button was commonly replaced with a 'share this' button - which when clicked on gave the option to share the content on multiple networks. More recently these have become a little prettier and people have become a bit more selective about which networks they want you to share their content on.

For businesses and organisations that do not yet have their own social networking accounts*, arguably the best places to have your content/pages promoted is on Facebook and Twitter - two of the most widely used platforms today. Twitter have just launched their own Tweet button and Facebook have a Like button which is very quick for site visitors to use. Facebook also have a Share button which is arguably 'better' (as the shared information is more prominent in the user's stream) but is not quite as quick to use.

By making these sharing tools available to your site visitors, you make it easy for them to promote your content to their networks. With any luck, people within their network will notice it and visit your site to see it for themselves - thus increasing the number of people who are aware of what your organisation does. Remember that recommendations from friends are massively more trusted and acted on than direct promotion by an organisation itself. Of course, you still have to do your bit and provide content your readers deem worthy of sharing.

What Are You Waiting For?

These tools are very quick and easy to add to your site (and they're also free) - so don't miss the opportunity to increase your audience today.

*NOTE: Whilst it is not necessary to set up accounts on these networks, it is advisable to at least reserve your username (organisation name) before someone else takes it - sometimes referred to as cyber-squatting. This is particularly important for Twitter, where the Tweet button does require a Twitter account name to be provided - so it might as well be your own Twitter account.

Please note: I originally wrote this article for another organisation which has since taken their blog offline. I've therefore republished it here in the hope that you'll find it useful (and for posterity).

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6 January 2011

Beyond Social Media… Building a Social Game Layer on top of the World

"The last decade [has been about] building the social layer and [a] framework for connections, and construction on that layer is over, it's finished... The framework itself is done." ~ Seth Priebatsch talking at TEDxBoston, August 2010.

In his recent talk at TEDxBoston (which you can watch below), Seth says that the last decade has been about building a social framework - and that is now complete with Facebook. Facebook created the Open Graph and they own all of our connections - that's half a billion people! So when you want to build on the social layer, it is the Open Graph API - there isn't another choice.

And while Seth admits that there's still a lot to explore in terms of 'social', i.e. how to leverage it and use it, he says that the next decade will be all about building a game layer, a pervasive net of behaviour-steering game dynamics that will reshape education and commerce.

Whilst the social layer is all about 'connections', the game layer is all about 'influence'. If social is all about connecting people everywhere they are and everywhere they go, then influence is about using 'force' to dictate where they go, what they do when they get there and how they do it. It is much more powerful.

Seth is the 'chief ninja' (his words, not mine) behind SCVGNR. In the talk - which I highly recommend watching, as you might be shocked at some of the games you're already subconsciously playing - he talks about 4 gaming principles...

  • appointment dynamic
    a dynamic in which to succeed, one must return at a predetermined time to take a predetermined action (e.g. happy hour!)

  • influence and status
    the ability of one player to modify the behaviour of another's actions through social pressure (e.g. the American Express Black card - everyone wants the black one)

  • progression dynamic
    a dynamic in which progression is granularly displayed and measured through the process of completing itemised tasks (e.g. the profile completion progress bar on networks such as LinkedIn)

  • communal discovery
    a dynamic wherein an entire community is rallied to work together to solve a challenge (e.g. the original Digg where mambers had to collectively source the best news)

This is powerful stuff and businesses are starting to explore this more (still utilising 'social') as a way of gaining competitive advantage. It is still in infancy, but aside from SCVNGR you need only look at the likes of Xtify, Placecast ShopAlerts, ShopKick and the old favourite FourSquare to see how it is going to take off and develop. It is therefore something that cannot be ignored.

Everything you've read so far is distilled from Seth's talk, so why not watch it below (or here if you're reading via email or RSS). It is fun and entertaining as well as informative.

As always, we'd love to hear your take on thoughts on this in the comments (and if you enjoyed reading it, please give us a tweet or share on Facebook - thank you)...

Please note: I originally wrote this article for another organisation which has since taken their blog offline. I've therefore republished it here in the hope that you'll find it useful (and for posterity).

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31 December 2010

First, Email Overload. Now, Social Media Overwhelm. Death by Over-Popularity (and a model for future success)

By February 2010 there were already over 50 million tweets a day on Twitter - and the number of Facebook status updates dwarfs this. The numbers are rising too, rising fast. And on top of this, we're now being asked to 'check in' everywhere we go. The common logic is that this presents a marketing opportunity that cannot be ignored. The reality is that more and more people will say to themselves "I have important things to accomplish in my finite time, get me out of here!!!".

To see where this will end up, we need only look back in time...

Anyone involved in the business of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO - the act of tweaking your website so that it would appear on page 1 of the search results) in the 'good' old days knew it was as simple as 'stuffing' your page with keywords to make it seem more relevant to Google. This was normally achieved with the 'black hat' technique of putting white text on a white background so it was hidden to human readers. Google got wise to this and started removing these shady sites from their listings. They also got clever and decided to judge relevance more by something that a web master could not control - links to their site from other sites. As always with these things, the 'criminals' got clever too and 'link farming' was born. Web masters would now either buy links or build their own websites to link to each other (farming). Google are wise to this too and have measures to counteract it - but Facebook do not!

Facebook 'like' farming...

There's a header that reads funnily! And no, I'm not saying that Mark Zuckerberg has a secret penchant for farming. What I'm trying to say is that the smart marketers know that when a friend recommends something, we tend to trust that recommendation - it's a powerful form of marketing. Now that Facebook have their Open Graph protocol, it becomes very easy to put a Facebook 'like' button on any page of any website. At first this was great - we could see what our friends liked (from our own Facebook news stream) and check it out for ourselves. Now, however, the practice of buying and farming 'likes' has begun and the amount of spam in our news stream is on the rise.

Sifting relevance from all the noise...

So where is all of this going to end up? Looking back, the first thing that happened with email was the introduction of the spam filter. This blocked the unsolicited rot. Then (most) genuine marketers became more savvy and reduced the volume of emails that were sent out and gave control over the type of emails received to the recipient through provision sophisticated subscription options. However, this still isn't enough - and it's rare to meet someone who doesn't say that they still get too much email. It seems that the clever folks at Google might, once again, have the answer...

Priority Inbox (will it work in social media?)

Google have recently introduced something called Priority Inbox for users of Gmail. In a nutshell, it tries to work out which emails are important to you (based on past patterns). The user can further train and refine it. Read more about Priority Inbox here (and watch the video below - or here).

2011 will be the year of RELEVANCE!

Social media platforms will have to come up with something if they're not to collapse under the weight of their own success. Could something like Google's Priority Inbox work for Facebook and Twitter?

What methods do you use to deal with social media overwhelm? Have you noticed a rise in 'noise'? As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic - post them below in the comments and let's have a discussion.

You might also like to read Augie Ray's article on Google vs Facebook and/or Chris Crum's article on 'like farms'. Thanks for the information and inspiration chaps.

Please note: I originally wrote this article for another organisation which has since taken their blog offline. I've therefore republished it here in the hope that you'll find it useful (and for posterity).

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20 August 2010

How to Create an Alternate Page Title in the Headway Theme for WordPress

Headway WordPress TutorialsI've talked before about why I like using the Headway theme for WordPress - mainly because it is so easy to use. One of my clients just phoned to ask how to specify an alternate page title - i.e. the page name is one thing (e.g. Home Page), but what is displayed on the home page is something different (e.g. Welcome Friends).

I was quite surprised to receive the call as normally they'd just Google it and find the answer - as with everything else, it's very easy to do in Headway. Anyway, I just checked, and the answer isn't easy to find at all. So I've written this brief 'how-to' in the hope that future searches for this information will lead you to this article. Anyway, enough of the preamble, here's...

How to Specify an Alternate Page Title using the Headway Theme for WordPress

From the WordPress Admin dashboard edit the page you want to change the title of. Scroll right down the page until you see the 'Alternate Page Title' box. Simply type your title in there and save your changes. Note that you can also choose to hide the title completely.

Click on the image to zoom in...

Alternate Page Title using Headway for WordPress
There, that wasn't so hard. Do you have any other questions? Let me know in the comments.


Within 10 minutes of posting this article I did another Google Search for alternate page title headway and this article is ranked number 2 in the search results (click on that link). If you add the word 'WordPress' on the end, it ranks number 3. Now, admittedly there isn't much competition, but it shows you the power of the long-tail!!!

P.S. I don't know when you'll read this, so obviously the rankings might change by then, so here's the proof (click on the image to zoom in)...

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6 August 2010

Amazing Opportunities to Increase Sales with Social Media - The Facts!!!

Social Media MarketingOnline Business Consultant helps businesses to achieve their objectives (e.g. promote brand awareness, increase sales, gain more targeted website traffic, generate online revenue) by using all the internet has to offer. I recently stumbled upon this credible video with some rather interesting facts about UK internet and social media usage, including:
  • 78% of UK internet users look online for goods and services
  • 70% trust online recommendations from strangers
  • 90% trust online recommendations from people they know
  • 20% of tweets contain a reference to a product or brand
  • A visitor from a social media site is 10x more likely to make a purchase online than the average visitor (71% vs 7%)
There statistics prove how important it is to get things right online. If you're not 100% happy with how your business performs online, then why not try a free 15 minute consultation?

Watch the video below (or click here if reading via email or RSS)...

Video credit to Simply Zesty

Please note that I've used TubeChop to show only part of this video - read more about creating YouTube clips and specifying start and end times.

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How to Create YouTube Clips by Specifying the Start and End Time

Create YouTube ClipsThis one is a little off-topic, but if you're wanting to find out how to link to or embed part of a YouTube video on your website or blog, the information can be pretty hard to find, so here it is...

The first thing that is worth mentioning is that YouTube provide a facility to link to and embed videos at a particular timestamp, and if that is all you want to do (i.e. define the start time), then I'd use the native YouTube functionality. Here are the instructions for specifying the start time of YouTube videos.

YouTube do not provide a function to specify the end time so that it stops at a certain point. If you want to do this, you'll have to use one of the services that have popped up. My favourite is TubeChop as it seems to work best.

With TubeChop you simply enter the YouTube URL (web address) or search for a video, then specify start and end times and finally 'chop it'. You're then given a link and embed code. Let's illustrate with an example...

I have a YouTube video with instruction on how to insert images in CushyCMS (click on that link to see the full version). Now if I wanted to only show the part about setting image properties, after I'd used TubeChop I'd have a link e.g. image properties in CushyCMS and also the ability to embed it (as seen below - so long as you're not reading this via RSS or email, in which case click here)...

Some things to note...

Viewers of the embedded video can see the full original video by clicking on the link at the bottom-right of the video player. Viewers using the link will see a link to the full original video when watching it on TubeChop.

There is an alternative, very similar, service called Splicd. I've tried this too but found that the embed code doesn't work (the viewer will see the full video) and even the link to view on Splicd shows the full video - so even though it stops at the point you specified, it's easy for the view to see that there's more and view it by moving the timer along.

So there you have it, if you ever want to link to or embed part of a YouTube video, specifying your own start and end time, TubeChop will enable you to easily create YouTube clips.

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1 August 2010

Advice for Twitter Beginners (and Why Not to Protect your Tweets)

Twitter BirdThis is taken from a email sent to a friend who was new to Twitter and wanted to get more out of it. At the time, they were protecting their tweets. Please note that the account I refer to in the email is my personal Twitter account rather than the Twitter account I use for this business...

So, first thing is - protected tweets. This will limit how much you can get out of it, so the question is, why protect them? I'm a big believer in privacy, so rather than protect my tweets, I do two things:

  1. Disassociate the account from myself.
    The username isn't my name and I don't have my proper name on the account either. Also the photo isn't of me. I try not to tweet stuff that would let strangers easily work out who I am.

  2. Exercise caution.
    Even though I cannot easily be identified (though it wouldn't be too hard to work out for someone with the knowledge and inclination), I don't really tweet about location (i.e. letting people know I'm out of the house or on holiday), and I don't tweet anything that I'd be worried about being traced back to me (e.g. my boss is a %^&*).

It's up to you, but you might get more benefit out of letting people see and follow you easily. Facebook is more for conversations with friends. Twitter is more for conversations with people interested in similar stuff - and for that to happen, they have to find you.

Anyways, whatever you do with the protection... how about finding interesting people? Here are some ideas...

  • Look at the public timeline - http://twitter.com/public_timeline.
    Check out the profiles of interesting tweets. If they're tweeting lots of interesting things, follow them.

  • Search for stuff you're interested in (not just hashtags) - http://search.twitter.com/.
    Again, check the profiles and tweets and follow interesting folk (and see who they follow).

  • Use a hashtag search during an event such as an #F1 race.

Once you've found some interesting people - talk to them! Reply to their tweets and get in on the conversation. They may reply, they may follow you back - don't worry if they don't. Before you know it, you're chatting and swapping info with people who are interested in the same stuff as you.

As time goes on, you'll get bored of some people - just unfollow them and look for more.

Twitter gets quite boring if you're just looking at streams of info from others and tweeting your own updates with no-one listening.

Hope it helps - let me know how you get on in the comments.

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29 July 2010

Amazing Website Design Using the Headway for Wordpress Premium Theme

Headway Wordpress ThemeWordpress is best known as a blogging platform. However, it is probably one of the easiest and cheapest (i.e. free) ways to create a website which can easily be updated with new content by anyone technical enough to send/receive email.

Getting Wordpress to look like a nice website however is not so easy. There are some free themes available. My recommendation is to use the Headway Wordpress theme. I've used it on several sites now and have been really pleased with how easy it is to achieve great results.

One of the key things about the Headway theme (especially for beginners) is the Visual Editor. This allows you to change the look and feel of your site in much the same way as you change fonts and colours in Microsoft Word - it's that easy.

Click here to see the latest website I designed using Headway. It's also worth having a look at the blog pages. The design is fairly simple, but it's really clear and professional looking - exactly what a website visitor wants. I'll admit that I've used a very small amount of trickery (custom CSS), but a complete beginner could get similar results themselves - and I'd be happy to do some fine tuning if you wanted.

The best way to fully appreciate what the Headway Wordpress Premium Theme can do for you is to click one of the links in this article. It's called a premium theme because you have to pay for it ($87) - but that's nothing compared to the cost of hiring a web designer or buying a new computer because you threw yours out the window in frustration when trying to change the design of a free theme!!!

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8 April 2010

Adding a Favicon to your Wordpress Blog

What is a FaviconA lot of my recent posts have been inspired by questions from clients, and this is no exception. On this occasion I was asked how to add an icon next to the blog web address in a browser. This icon is commonly called a Favicon (or Favourites Icon), and can be displayed in different places on different browsers, but most commonly it is next to the web address and on tabs.

How to Create a Favicon

The first thing you'll need is a Favicon. One of the easiest ways to do this is by using a free Favicon generator. All you have to do is upload a small logo and it will do the rest for you - the result will be a 16x16 pixels .ico file which you should save (download) to your computer.

Because the icon graphics are so small, they don't carry a lot of detail well - so I'd recommend using a very simple logo as the basis for your Favicon.

Installing your Favicon

If you're using WordPress, then there are a number of Favicon plugins available. I've had a look around and one of the better ones appears to be the Shockingly Simple Favicon. Instructions for using the Shockingly Simple Favicon plugin are here - the only thing I'd mention is that when it says to upload your Favicon to http://www.incerteza.org/blog it actually means that you should upload your Favicon to the root (top level) folder of your blog (where the other WordPress folders are). If your blog and website are one and the same (i.e. there's no /blog in your web address), then upload it to the website root folder - otherwise upload it to the blog root folder (i.e. the top level folder for your blog).

If you're not sure about how to upload your Favicon to your website/blog, then you might want to check out my instructions on using FTP with your blog.

Hopefully that was nice and simple, but if you'd like a helping hand, you can always hire me.

What if I don't use WordPress?

OK, so this was intended to be for WordPress blogs, but it's a valid question. Adding a Favicon to any website page is fairly simple. As before, the first thing you need to do is create your Favicon. Once you have your Favicon, you need to FTP it to your webserver. Finally you need to add some HTML code to each web page that you'd like the Favicon to appear on. For full instructions and the required HTML code, please see the Favicon Help page.

And what if I use Blogger?

For Blogger, the instructions are as above, but you don't need to put the HTML code on every page, you just need to insert it once into the template. So view the HTML code for the template and insert it before the closing 'head' tag.

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2 April 2010

Which Remote or Distance Working Software is Right For Your Business

Remote Working ToolsI was recently contacted out of the blue by Valerie, a complete stranger, asking for help. Like many others, Valerie has been affected by the recent economic downturn and wrote to me saying:

"I'm trying to get back on my feet, in a junior role for a consulting company that some former colleagues are starting here in New York. It's been brutal the past couple of years, and this new job is far from marketing and design work I used to do, but it's a job and so far, interesting. The guys seem like they're interested in cultivating some expertise in "remote"/"distance" technologies and services...

I was hoping I could ask you a few questions, and I am hoping you will be kind enough to explain or share a thing or two so I can avoid looking and sounding like a complete idiot."

Through her research Valerie had stumbled upon a Citrix 'customer success' case study (PDF) that I'd been part of with a previous employer. She then found my contact details online. I was impressed with her approach, so asked what questions she'd like answered...

What's the difference between the Goto products, WebEx, Live Meeting, Logmein, etc? I know there are different products for different purposes -- meetings, remote computer access, customer support. And it appears WebEx has mostly focused on meetings, as has Live Meeting; while Goto has products for meetings, customer support, and remotely accessing your desktop from another computer. Logmein looks like they do a lot of the remote desktop access. They say they have a "Rescue" product for support.

I guess my big question is: What makes each of these companies different? And what makes each of the products different? Is it cost? Technology? How easy it is to use?

They're pretty broad questions and it has been some time since I really looked into the subject, so I tried to answer the questions in the most helpful way, offering some initial insight and then providing guidance on next steps. I hope the advice is useful for you too should you ever need to look at the different options...

Choosing the right Remote Working Tool (my answer to Valerie)

You should back up my thoughts with your own research, but I guess the starting point would be to think of the audience:

  • single person
  • small group of people
  • large group of people

and intention:

  • support
  • ad-hoc meeting (2-way chat)
  • webinar (web-based seminar - 1 way chat)

Most offerings probably are aimed at some combination of the above.

I know Citrix have GoToAssist for remote support (1-on-1) where the premise is that the support person sees the users PC. GoToMeeting for ad-hoc or scheduled meeting with just a few people, which will probably involve 2-way chat (multiple peple see the presenters screen). And finally, GoToWebinar for presenting to (up to) 1000 people with one way chat and the ability to do things like polling questions. The reality is most products overlap somewhat, so you'd choose the one that is best for your needs (and budget). For example, the Assist and Meeting product allow you to change 'presenter' (i.e. which screen you see) and also allow you to swap keyboard and mouse control - so they can pretty much be used for the same thing, except Assist can only be used one-on-one (though you may have a group of people in a meeting room with a projector and speakerphone, so problem solved). The Webinar product is the only one that facilitates a registration process.

From what I know about WebEx, they have biggest market share in the US, so it is a well known product - but Citrix is pretty well known too now. I think WebEx is web-based whereas Citrix uses Java. Depending on your audience, one may be preferable to the other.

I don't know about LogMeIn, but I believe their focus is on being able to take control of your own PC(s) from other locations - though you're right that they have the Rescue product with a support focus, and they probably have other products which do what everyone else does too.

They're all about as easy to use as each other - and none are too difficult if you're fairly familiar with the concepts.

Your next step would probably be to download their product brochures, speak to sales staff and arrange a demo or test drive. It's the only real way you'll fully understand it all.

Other Non-Corporate Options

When advising Valerie, I focussed on technologies she'd asked about as it seemed like these were the most appropriate for her use. However, there are many other options out there that are free. I guess it depends on your needs. Here are a few other options that I'm aware of...

  • YuuGuu
    Primary focus in on one other person viewing your screen.

  • LogMeIn Express
    Again, the primary focus is on one other person viewing your screen. However, what sets this apart is the fact that it is from a trusted vendor and is incredibly easy for you to use as a host and requires no setup for the 'viewer'. It is also very basic - which might be just fine.

  • CrossLoop (see my CrossLoop review)
    The focus of CrossLoop is still one-on-one support, however you can switch 'presenter' if needed so that you can see the other persons' screen, rather than them just being able to see yours. The other distinguishing factor about CrossLoop is that is really a support community which you can be part of providing paid for) support or go to for (paid) support.

What has your experience been with these products? Are there any other options out there that you can recommend? Let us know in the comments.

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26 March 2010

Switching from Blogger FTP to Blogger Custom Domains - A Checklist

Blogger FTPI started this blog using Google's Blogger platform, mainly because that's what I knew best at the time. I now recommend WordPress for most purposes, but if you've been on Blogger for a while and were publishing to your website using FTP (like I was), then you'll know that Google pulled support for this from 26th March 2010. I made the switch from FTP publishing to the Blogger Custom Domains a while ago, and whilst it is quite simple, there are a few things it is easy to forget. This guide will help you through the switch and cover all bases...

Where is your blog now?

If your blog is effectively your home page (i.e. it's what visitors see when they go to www.yoursite.com), then the migration process is fairly simple and Google provide decent instructions which I won't repeat here - just make sure you use their 'redirect' option. However, if like me, your blog is an extension of your static website (e.g. the blog homepage is somewhere like www.yoursite.com/blog), then there's a few extra things you'll want to consider...

Moving your blog

I'm going to use my site and blog as an example. My blog used to reside at www.onlinebusinessconsultant.co.uk/articles - and now that Blogger don't support FTP I've had to set up a sub-domain. So now my blog resides at articles.onlinebusinessconsultant.co.uk - the bold word 'articles' being the subdomain. Yours might look like blog.yoursite.com. Google provide pretty decent instructions for this bit too, so again, I won't repeat them here. So far this is all the standard stuff and my guide is about focussing on the things you might accidentally forget. So let's get to that... Actually, make sure your blog resides successfully at your new subdomain before doing anything else. OK, let's move on...

Don't use Blogger Redirect!

You'll see an option under the Publishing Settings which says 'Redirect yoursite.com to blog.yoursite.com?' Obviously you don't want to do this as you still want visitors to your static site (including your home page) to get there rather than be directed to your blog.

Blogger do provide a FTP migration tool however, I've left all of my old blog files where they are (as there are lots of links to them, and I couldn't see the point of moving them). What that meant though is that anyone visiting my old blog (i.e. /articles) would only see the old posts and not all the new ones which are now on the new subdomain. I also have links going to my old blog home page on my site and elsewhere throughout the internet and I didn't fancy changing all of these. To get round this I created a new index.html file to replace the old index.html file that was auto-created by Blogger (which was my old blog home page - i.e. the one in the /articles directory). This index.html has one purpose only which is to redirect visitors to the new blog home page on the articles subdomain. See the code below (click to enlarge and read clearly)...

JavaScript Redirect
It is pretty self-explanatory, but lines 9 to 13 are a JavaScript redirect to the new blog home page. And lines 15 to 17 are for people who disable JavaScript - and it simply tells them where the blog is now and gives them a link to click. I simply replaced the old index.html using FTP.

Don't forget your RSS Feed

I use FeedBurner to allow readers to easily subscribe to new articles by RSS or email. Now that my blog is in a new place, the RSS feed has moved too! First of all, find the location of your new feed. Most modern browsers have a RSS feed reader built in and will give you the feed address. It's likely to look something like http://blog.yoursite.com/feeds/posts/default - now just head over to FeedBurner and edit the existing feed and put in the new RSS address. That's it, job done. At least that bit was simple, eh?


Hopefully now that you've moved your blog, have set up a redirect and updated your RSS feed address, everything will work just fine and the change will be transparent to your readers.

Did I forget anything? Have you got any tips to make the change easier? If so, let us know in the comments.

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22 March 2010

How to use FTP with your Blog or Website

FTPIn my last article I talked about how to get your website in Google's search results. In it I recommended using the Google Webmaster tools - and in order for this to work, Google has to 'verify' you. One method of verification is to upload a special HTML file to your website. To upload this file (or transfer any file to your site, for example a PDF brochure you want visitors to be able to download), you'll need to use something called FTP (which stands for File Transfer Protocol). In this post I'll show you how to FTP files to a JustHost site (as most of my customers are using it - read why), but the principles are the same whoever you're using for hosting.

When you browse the internet you'll notice that your web browser (e.g. Firefox or Internet Explorer) prefixes the web address with HTTP (i.e. it appears before the www. bit). HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol and is a way or transferring web pages from the web server to read (i.e. display nicely) on your computer in a web browser. FTP is another method of transferring files over the internet - but it isn't concerned with the 'display' of data. There are various methods of transferring files using FTP, but one of the easiest is to use FTP software such as FileZilla. You'll notice I'm recommending that you get it from SnapFiles and that is because I find it a great place to get hold of decent free software. So if you haven't already, download FileZilla and install it. If you're using Firefox, I really like the FireFTP addon which works in a similar way.

OK, now you've done that, a quick diversion that will save you loads of time. If you log in to your JustHost control panel (or the control panel provided by your web host), you'll see something like the image below which allows you to set up an FTP site amongst other things. IGNORE IT COMPLETELY - you don't need to do anything with this at all! It's very easy to assume that if you're doing FTP you need an FTP site - and for what we're doing (and most other things you'll want to do), you simply don't. Cool, time saved and stress removed.

Now that FileZilla has loaded, click the top-left button to open the Site Manager. You don't need to do this (you can just use the Quick Connect bar), but it will save you time should you ever want to FTP anything again.

You'll see something like the image below. Now you want to:

  1. Click the New Site button
  2. Type in a name for the site (e.g. the name of your website)
  3. On the General tab you need to provide the following information:
  • Host: this is provided by your web host but is likely to be your domain name (e.g. onlinebusinessconsultant.co.uk) or your domain name prefixed with ftp. (e.g. ftp.onlinebusinessconsultant.co.uk).

  • Servertype: leave this as FTP.

  • Logontype: set this to 'Ask for password' as I don't think it is good practice to store passwords on your computer.

  • User: type in the username you use to log on to your web host.

    You shouldn't need to change anything else, but if you have any problems, refer to the settings provided by your web host.
  1. Click OK

Now click the little downward-pointing black arrow to the right of the Site Manager button and click the name of the site you just created.

You'll then be asked to provide your password - do this and click OK. I usually tick the 'Remember password for this session' option as it then saves the password until you close FileZilla.

The following screen will display. I've numbered the sections so that I can easily describe them to you:

  1. Displays the connection status.
  2. This is the file structure on your computer (i.e. your folders).
  3. This is the file structure on your web server ('/' is the 'root' which means the top level - everything else resides within this folder).
  4. These are the files and folders on your computer that reside within the selected folder in section 2 (which is highlighted in blue).
  5. These are the files and folders on your web server which reside in the selected folder in section 3.
  6. Shows the status of files being transferred.

Note that sometimes your website will not reside at the 'root' but instead will appear within a folder called something like 'public_html'. Again, your web host will have provided this information and you can always check back with them if unsure.

So, now that we've connected to your web server via FTP, we now want to transfer a file from your computer to your web server. To do this, first navigate to the file by browsing folders in section 2 until you see the file in section 4 (the left-hand-side of the screen is your computer, and the right is the web server). Next navigate to the folder you want to save/transfer the file to on your web server (by double-clicking folders in section 3 and 5). Note that if you click on the folder named '..' it takes you back up a level (until you reach the 'root'). Also, if you want to create a folder on your web server, right-click in section 5 and choose 'Create Directory', then name it.

Once you have the file to transfer from your computer in section 4 and the folder you want to transfer it to open in section 5, simply drag and drop the file. You'll then see the file transfer progress in section 6.

Rinse and repeat to transfer more files as required. When you're finished, click the button with the little red cross (a little to the right of the Site Manager button) in order to disconnect.

Well done, you're nearly there, but first check that the file has transferred and is where you think it is. Simply type in on your browser http://YourWebsite.com/YourFolder(s)/YourFile.extension. For example, I've created a folder on my website called 'downloads' and I store files for visitors there. So my CrossLoop instructions are here http://www.onlinebusinessconsultant.co.uk/downloads/crossloop/how-to-use-crossloop.pdf. Note how I have used hyphens instead of spaces in the file name. If your file opens (or you're prompted to download it), SUCCESS!!! If you have any problems, simply reconnect and check the location of the file on your web host and also it's name (right-click to rename it).

I have to admit, reading this back it looks like a lot to do. This is because I've tried to be thorough - but I promise, it is quite easy, especially when you've done it once. If you'd like some help with your first (or first few) attempt(s), then contact me and I can provide remote assistance. I do charge for the personal service (it's how I make my living), but everything provided in these articles is free.

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14 March 2010

How to Launch your Blog or Website on Google

How to get indexed by GoogleMy good friend Nicky has just started her first ever blog, A Cornucopia of London (a guide to showcase new and old London with places off the beaten track), and asked me "how do I launch my blog on Google?". Good question Nicky, one that I'm sure many of my readers would like to know the answer to too(?!).

Starting at the beginning (original, huh?) let's just first look at what we mean when we say 'launch on Google' and why we'd want to do that...

Why bother letting Google know about your blog or website?

When people want to find something on the internet, most commonly they'll use a search engine - and Google is the biggest. Arguably it is the most popular because it is the best at putting the most relevant web pages at the top of the search results for you. The reason why Nicky, other bloggers and website owners want Google to know about their website is so that other people stand a chance of finding it. Hopefully you'll then get more visitors and then more business (or whatever it is you want from your site). So when we say 'launch on Google' what we actually mean is 'let Google know about my website so that it can include it in its indexes' (like being listed in the Yellow Pages).

Now we've got that out of the way, I do need to let you know that there is a BIG difference between being listed in Google's search results and being listed near the top where you actually stand a chance of people clicking on the link to your site! I've written about this before, but just to give you some idea - the first result on Google receives about 40% of the clicks, the tenth receives probably less than 1%. So, if you're on page 4 (in about 46th position), how many clicks do you think you'll get? Not many! The art of appearing near the top of search results is called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and is a separate topic. I have written a super simple guide to SEO if you're interested. However, let's first concentrate on getting listed, then we can work out how to improve the listing.

Before your site is listed by Google

Before you go to the effort of letting Google know about your site, it is worth getting your site in order - both from a technical and a communications perspective.

From a technical perspective, you want things to be 'right' before Google stores information about your site. An example of this would be page names... If you look at the my top 3 essentials for starting a blog article, you'll see the URL is http://articles.onlinebusinessconsultant.co.uk/2009/12/top-3-essentials-for-starting-blog.html - the page name being in bold. This is good for humans because they can see what the page is about, but it is good for Google too as the better they understand a page, the higher it will rank (well, that's one factor). If you were to change a page name after Google stores it, then when someone clicks on that page in the search results they'll receive a 'page not found' error (unless you've redirected it - which is lots of work, so best to get it right in the first place). I'm going to pick on Nicky's site which hasn't yet had this technical stuff sorted, so the page name for a review of an Italian restaurant is http://cornucopialondon.com/?p=64 - which neither you or Google would know by looking at it. To fix this, check your WordPress permalink settings.

From a 'communications' perspective, the whole point of being listed in Google is so that people come to your site. This requires some work, and you wouldn't want to waste that effort - if someone turns up once and isn't impressed, they won't come back and they won't tell their friends. So, before promoting your site make sure it looks good and has some interesting content - but also take advantage of social media plugins which are readily available for WordPress. Take a look at this property development blog I started (and seem to have abandoned pretty quickly) - the design isn't fancy, but the basics are all there. At the top-right of every page there is a box encouraging visitors to subscribe for free (so they get automatically notified of new updates and come back). This encouragement also appears at the bottom of every article. I use FeedBurner for this. At the top-left of every article is a Tweet This button to encourage readers to promote the article. Finally there is a social media bar at the bottom allowing readers to promote the article on other social networks - I'm using SexyBookmarks. There's lots more you can do, but these basics are so easy it's worth doing first.

OK, finally I'm getting round to the point, how to tell Google about your blog...

Can Google see your website?

Sounds obvious, but there's some tech code stuff that stops Google and other search engines from including you webpages in their indexes (it's called a noindex tag). You need to make sure that you're not accidentally using this code. So, if you're using WordPress go and check the Privacy settings!

Use Google Webmaster Tools

Head over to Google Webmaster Tools and get an account. Once you're signed up, add your blog/website and get it verified. Once it is verified, be sure to add a sitemap (a list of pages on your site you want search engines to find). An easy way to create a sitemap if you're using WordPress is to use Google XMP Sitemaps plugin.

Sign up for Google Analytics

Strictly speaking this won't get you listed per se, but you'll want to know how many people are coming to your site, and if you use Google's tool, Google are going to have to monitor your site. And if they're monitoring your site, by definition they know about it. This might get you listed more quickly. If you're using Google Analytics with WordPress, then I suggest using the Google Analytics WordPress plugin.

Submit your URL (web address) to Google

Yup, it really is that easy, use the following link to submit your URL to Google. Never overlook the obvious!

Let Google find your website through Links

If there is a website which Google frequently indexes (i.e. checks for new content), then if that site links to yours Google will follow the link and find you! By linking to Nicky's site at the top of this blog I've effectively done this for her. This is doubly good because not only have we guided Google to the new site, but Google is effectively being told 'this site is so good I'm linking to it'. The more 'quality' links to a site, the higher up the rankings you'll appear.

One way to gain links is to leave appropriate and helpful comments on relevant blogs which allow you to include a link to your site. Note that most blogs include an instruction to Google (called a nofollow) which basically says 'as the blog owner I don't vouch for this link'. It helps discourage spammy comments and blogs that employ this won't help in your quest to get listed.

Use Google Local Business Listings

This might not always be relevant, and I wouldn't recommend putting your home address in the public listings, but you might want to use Google's Local Business Listings. Again, this is another way to tell Google about the existence of your blog. It is also very effective when someone does a search which includes a geographical location as local listings frequently appear on page 1 of the search results in these instances.

How do I know when I'm listed by Google?

Keep checking Google Webmaster Tools which will show how many URLs (pages) in the sitemap are indexed. You can also do a search in Google like this site:onlinebusinessconsultant.co.uk which will show all the pages Google knows about.

Note that appearing in the listings can take a matter of days, weeks or months!!! Once you've done the basics, getting more links to your site (from genuine, quality sites) is the best way to get listed quicker. Also make sure that you're not inadvertently doing anything to violate Google's guidelines. They don't take kindly to people trying to manipulate the system and it can result in a ban for the search results!

I think that pretty much covers it, but if you have any other suggestions of questions be sure to post them in the comments below. If you need help with any of this stuff you can always hire me.

P.S. If you're wanting to start a blog like Nicky, why not check out my Top 3 Essentials for Starting a Blog.

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3 January 2010

Super Simple Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for Beginners

SEO for befinnersWhat is the purpose of your website? If you can't easily answer that question, then I highly recommend having a good think about it because everything you do with your site should be to serve that purpose.

Chances are that your website is there to be useful or interesting or to sell stuff to a particular audience. When I say audience, I mean people - human beings. Therefore, it makes sense that the content of your site is for them (this is very important to remember). But, how will they find your site in the first place? That's right, by using a search engine such as Google. So, not only should your site be good for people, but it must also be search engine 'friendly' so that people can find it.

The process of trying to make your website appear at the top of search results is called Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO).

Before we get into SEO, there's something you should know if you're about to have a site designed and created for you...

A web designer will design your site and put the words you provide on the pages. A good website designer will construct the site such that search engines will 'understand' it (i.e. be able to determine what it is about so they can find it and place it in search results). However, it is not usual for a web designer to optimise your site for search engines - this is an additional, time-consuming job... one that you'll have to pay for or do yourself. Whichever route you choose, it is good to know a bit about the topic, so this is for you.

Really Simple Search Engine Optimisation

SEO is a huge topic. The purpose of what follows is intended as a very light introduction to the principles so that you can learn more and carry out the task yourself or, alternatively, have a knowledgeable conversation with someone you're planning to hire for the job.

There are two areas to look at with SEO:
  1. On page optimisation

    This covers everything that you can do on your site to make it have the best chance of ranking well for a given phrase or search term. You can control this.

  2. Off site optimisation

    This covers everything out of your control that will make your site rank more highly for a given phrase. Basically, it is all about how many (and which) sites link to yours.
It's worth exploring these briefly. I'd say that on-page optimisation is absolutely worth doing because it is within your control and gives your site the best chance of ranking well. However, off-site optimisation will have a much bigger effect on your rankings. This is because, if ranking was entirely dependent on what people did on their own site, then (some) people would try to cheat the system. To counter this, Google looks at how many sites link to yours. If there are lots, then Google is more inclined to think 'ah, this must genuinely be of interest, let's push it up the rankings'. However, this is also open to abuse, so Google will also look at the 'quality' of the sites that link to you. If you have sites like BBC.co.uk and CNN.com linking to you (or indeed, important 'authority' sites for your topic), then that will boost your rankings even higher. This is called link building, and can happen naturally if people have a reason to want to link to your site. Alternatively, you'll need to find ways of getting links (such as having your site listed in online directories).

What phrases are your audience searching for?

It is important to know what people are searching for, and it isn't always obvious. One place to start would be to look at competitor websites and run them through a tool like the SEOmoz Term Extractor. Once you know what your competition is targeting, head over to Google's Keyword Tool and plug those phrases in. It will then tell you the number of searches for each phrase in a month - and also provide you with similar phrases that are being searched for that you might never have thought of.

Once you think you have relevant phrases for your audience, check the competition and target (optimise your site for) phrases that will bring traffic volume and that you have a good chance of ranking highly for. How do you work out your chances? Read on.

Amount of Competition

Ranking well for an obscure term is relatively easy. For example, if you searched for 'hairy hungry horny hippos' in Google, I wouldn't expect there to be much competition. Having typed that, I just did a quick search and there are 1,030,000 pages in the world with those words (who'd have thought it)! Google reports this number on the right just above the 1st result. Now if you search again and put the phrase in "quotes" you'll see there are zero results. What happened there? The first search (without quotes) is a 'broad match', it means those 1 million results had all of the words somewhere on the page. The second search was a 'phrase' match, which means no pages had those words together on the page in that precise order. Well, they didn't until now - it'll be interesting to see if I hit page 1, or even the number 1 spot in a few weeks when Google finds this page.

The point of all this is that, for each page on your site, you want to target a particulate phrase. And, whilst it is easy to rank well for an obscure phrase, if no-one is searching for that phrase, then you still won't gain any visitors to your site.

Normally (not always - and lucky you if you find one), the more popular a phrase, the more competition there is. This means it is more difficult to get a top spot in the search results. So, in this stage, we've checked the amount of competition for a given phrase.

Quality of Competition

The amount of competition isn't the only thing to consider though. If you're going to beat the competition, you also need to know how good they are. For this you want to know their Google Page Rank (a scale from 1-10, 10 meaning that Google think they're a mega authority site) and the number of backlinks (links) to the site. The easiest way to check this is to use the SEO for Firefox addon.

If the top 10 spots have a high (5 and above) Page Rank and lots of Y!Links (Yahoo's backlink checker), then you'll have to invest a lot of time, effort and money, to beat them. The principle to beating the competition is to look at what they're doing, and do it better (better on-page and off-site SEO).

So, what you're looking for is a sweet-spot where you stand a good chance of ranking highly, but also know that enough people are searching for the phrase to bring visitors to your site.

A note about Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

It is estimated that the number 1 spot in Google will get 40% or so of the clicks, and this drops rapidly down to approximately 0.5% for the number 10 spot. That means that if 1000 people are searching for your phrase every month and you're on page 1 in the number 10 spot, it will only translate to 5 or so visitors! By the way, well done for getting on page 1 at all, it isn't easy.

Don't forget, it's VERY important...

When you're writing your website content, you're writing for people, not search engines. If people find your site and think it is rubbish, that won't do you much good either!

Wrapping it all up - and a recommendation!

I hope this has proved a useful introduction to the most basic principles of SEO. As I've mentioned a few times now, it really is a huge topic and if it's something you want to understand properly and put into practice, you'll have to read a lot deeper.

To get you started (and in addition to the links provided above), take a look at some of the free SEOmoz tools and guides. For on-page optimisation, I recommend using their web developer cheat sheet.

Finally, I started my SEO adventure with a great book that I'd highly recommend, SEO School by Naomi Dunford (that's an affiliate link BTW folks). It's an easy and enjoyable read and it will help you take more practical first steps following on from this article.

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