Author Archives: Victoria

About Victoria

Website builder, Marketer, Google Analytics enthusiast. See more here : About Victoria & Clare Associates

Writer and Archaeologist Louise Turner: website launch

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As a history fan, I was delighted to be approached by archaeologist and writer Louise Turner, who wanted a new website created to promote her debut novel, Fire & Sword: a story set among the turmoil of late fifteenth century Scotland.

Fire_and_Sword_Novel_Scotland_smAs well as the usual ‘about the author’  and background content, Louise was keen to provide information on all the carefully-researched locations mentioned in the book, some of which are now obscure and hard to find.

We’re still working on developing that part of the project but here you can find maps of Scotland and Renfrewshire with mouse-over contextual links to some of the excellent background information that Louise has brought together.  We’re hoping that this will give the site a little search engine advantage in the local market too.

You can preview chapter 1 of Fire & Sword here

Website revamp for Blackcat Plymouth

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Blackcat Plymouth operate a sameday courier service and also a trailered car transport service – based in Plymouth, they operate across the UK, and need a website to showcase their services.  blackcat

We originally created a website for Blackcat way back in 2006, and although it had been updated several times since then, it was well overdue for an update.

Unusually nowadays, there was no requirement on this website for a content management system: the content was all ready to go and the site would not need any regular updates by the business owner: instead I would be doing them myself. So, I took the opportunity to build this site from scratch, just using a simple text editor to create the code.  This approach meant a very clean, lean presentation – there’s nothing at all in the code that isn’t required for this site.   It makes a nice change from repurposing software built for a range of purposes, which is the kind of job I spend a lot of time on generally.

I wrote the new look and feel in modern HTML 5 code, and added a very simple reviews system using php and Jquery.  This allows people to post a review of the Blackcat service.  The reviews are then held in a queue so that they can be checked for inappropriate content (and any spam we didn’t manage to filter out automatically) and approved by the site owner.

I also added a simple photo gallery to showcase the range of vehicles transported.

And here it is:  http://www.blackcatplymouth.co.uk/

 

WordPress Users: Sometimes it’s not good to share

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This is a Public Service announcement.  I hope it will be useful!

If you have a WordPress website or blog, and you have administrator access to it, that’s YOUR administrator access.  It’s for you, only.

DON’T share your username and password with your cousin/friend/grandson/Great Aunt Fanny when they offer to ‘help out’ with a blog post, an article or some extra photos.  Sharing passwords at least doubles the likelihood that your password will end up in the wrong hands.  That could mean that your website will end up advertising Gentleman’s Stiffeners,  sending unfortunate emails, and generally causing you a world of woe.  It also means that if something does go wrong, it’s much harder to use the lovely WordPress history functions to work out what went wrong and make sure it doesnt’ happen again.

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Instead, set up separate user accounts for each of your helpers, with no more access than they actually need.  It’s easy to do, and honestly, if you don’t, the chances are high that you will regret it.

This also applies to other content management systems – Drupal, Joomla, Moodle, CMS Made Simple,  and so on.  But I’m mentioning WordPress here because it’s such a popular system, and I’ve run across three separate organisations sharing WordPress passwords in the last 24 hours!

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Make sure website visitor data belongs to the site owner

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Google Analytics is a great free tool for businesses, charities and anyone with a website.  You can see how many people are visiting your website,  work out which pages they are looking at (and which pages they ignore completely, or bounce off within a few seconds), and get an idea of what technologies they are using.  You can see where they are in the world, and which other websites or search engines they came from.  This is all really useful stuff.

But, if your Google Analytics account was set up incorrectly, this could limit the amount of useful information you can get out of it, and your ability to link it to other really useful Google tools such as Adwords and Webmaster Tools.

The problem is that it’s possible to group more than one website onto a Google Analytics account.  This is very convenient when all the websites belong to one organisation – you can log in once, and see all your website data conveniently in one place.

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Unfortunately, many web designers, asked to set up Google Analytics for a client, will add the extra website to their own account rather than setting up a new account.  This is fine as long as the client just wants to see a basic report.  But once the client wants to start doing nifty stuff like linking their Google Analytics account to Adwords and Webmaster tools, or to produce custom profiles, they find that this just can’t be done.  The only option is to abandon the old Analytics account and all the collected data, and start over, creating a brand new account.

If you are having Google Analytics set up for a new website, please save yourself this hassle.  Make sure that whoever sets up Analytics for your website sets up a new account for you, and links it to Google Webmaster Tools right from day 1. And if you are a web designer, please, please, don’t lump unrelated websites that belong to different businesses onto one Google Analytics account.

I honestly cannot say that this mistake, common though it is, is down to incompetence by the web designer.    There is surprisingly little documentation for Google Analytics beyond the basics, and a designer whose primary focus is on gorgeous site designs can easily be forgiven for not realising the implications of how they set up Analytics.   Google could make life a lot easier for everyone just by providing a little more help information during the setup process – but until they do, if it’s your website, make sure you ask for your own account.  If it’s a client site you are working on, make the responsible decision, and set up an account for each of your client businesses.

New Caribbean Weddings website

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Caribbean Weddings is a new project from Tropic Breeze – a specialist independent Caribbean tour operator.  People who are planning weddings in the Caribbean need different information to customers who are booking family holidays,  so we developed this new website in order to focus on providing all the details needed for this particular market.

This site has a content management system that is integrated with the main Tropic Breeze website, to allow easy control of both sites and their separate content from one central location.

The site was custom-built using responsive design – a system which allows a website to adapt to different devices being used to view it.    On a phone, the page and images resize so that users don’t need to scroll from side to side when viewing the site, and the spacing is wider to make the links easier to tap on.    There’s still some work to be done on improving this as the site is bedded in and tested with real customers, but so far it’s looking promising.

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Setting up a new online payment service for an established Bespoke & Military Tailors

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Althougbb1372_lgh we did not design http://www.goldings.co.uk, Clare Associates has been helping this traditional bespoke tailor and military tailoring business look after their website since 2007 – including finishing off and launching their online shop, which sells an enormous range of military badges and buttons, after a previous supplier was unable to complete the work.

Recently, due to changes in the legislation on PCI DSS compliance and improvements in Internet security, Goldings decided to change the online payment provider they were using for ecommerce to Barclaycard.

Clare Associates helped them set up the Barclaycard EPDQ system and created a new online shop management tool to connect to the existing website, Barclaycard, and the Goldings bespoke ecommerce system.

So I should try to be a Panda..? Google’s Panda & Penguin Updates: which is which? And does it matter?

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Since 2011, the search engine optimisation world has been awash with talk of pandas and penguins. Google, in their ongoing quest to provide searchers with search results that are just what they were looking for, has come up with two new ways of checking for attempts to game the system.  They are trying to find and remove websites that don’t provide anything very useful.

We’ve all come across those websites – you run a search looking for a local business, and find a page that is stuffed with placenames, but is clearly just a template that doesn’t offer anything relevant locally. Or you click through to a page that’s all ads and doesn’t contain any of the in-depth information you were hoping for. Google would like to stop sending you to those sites, but it’s hard for an automated system to tell useful content from random text scattered with buzz-words.

So Google created Panda and Penguin as updates to their search engine.  Both, in different ways,  are designed to help people find only the good stuff. But as programming updates on very complex systems do, sometimes they had unexpected or unwelcome consequences for some people using them.

Both updates were originally rolled out as periodic changes.  Although they were intended to raise quality,both updates caused much wailing and cursing by website owners who found their websites had been hit.  When a new Panda or Penguin was rolled out, some website owners found their websites – fairly or unfairly – no longer appeared when searches were run that had previously brought in lots of visitors.   So you will probably find quite a lot of mentions of Panda and Penguin updates as scary stuff that makes it harder to promote your website.  That wasn’t the intention, but it can look a bit like that sometimes.

As I mentioned, these updates used to be a periodic thing, coming along every few months.  Now Panda has been integrated with the main Google system of regular updates, although the Penguin updates still happen as a periodic change to the way Google works.

But all this isn’t my problem. My problem is remembering which of the dratted updates is which. To help with that, I made this to help me visualise which one I was talking about:
Panda or Penguin Google Update: Telling the Difference infographic

Of course, part of the problem built-in to providing highly relevant search results is that someone who is really good at doing a job or providing a really superb product is not necessarily a person who is good at writing up information on websites, talking about it on Facebook or Twitter – or puzzling their way through whether their website looks more like a Panda or a Penguin.

If you are searching for a plumber, the fact that you can find a website for a plumber in Google may not correlate well with whether that plumber turns up promptly and quickly fixes your leaky cistern. Some people’s websites look like nice fat Pandas, but you only find out they are actually sneaky Penguins when you buy stuff. And some people will have skinny little websites that nobody is talking about on social media – yet will sell you the item you have always wanted and couldn’t find. Google still hasn’t got to the bottom of that one, and I wonder if they ever will.

Eight Top Tips for Smaller Accommodation Websites

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We’ve been doing quite a lot of work with travel websites and holiday accommodation providers recently, so I thought this might be a good time to summarise our top tips.

1) Take your time and get good photography.

Nice daffs, good sky - shame about the Bright! Orange! Car!

Nice daffs, good sky – shame about the Bright! Orange! Car!

    Your whole operation will be judged on the photos you show on your website, so make sure you have good, clear, in-focus photos taken on a sunny day.  Make sure that eyesores are tidied away – that old plastic chair or binbag you barely noticed will leap out of a photo!  If you can put tea and scones or a glass of wine on the outdoor table, so much the better.

2) Think hard about what people might search for that you provide, and make sure you have pages focussing on those features.  Is your accommodation ideal for honeymooning couples, dog friendly, ideal for people travelling without a car?  Do you have a special offer for Mother’s Day, or discounts for holidays in October?  If so, write a page about each of those things!

3) Allow room for growth when planning your website.  Unless you are quite sure that everything you do will fit neatly into less than seven pages, be cautious about getting a website with menu bars that go horizontally across the top of your website.   These tend to limit how easy it is to add content.  A vertical menu is much more expandable, without resorting to hiding information behind dropdowns.   Ask for a content management system, so you can easily add pages and highlight special offers.

4 ) Update whenever you can.  If customers may be concerned about unseasonal snow, Icelandic volcanos or too much rain preventing them enjoying their holiday, consider posting an update on your site about what’s still open and how much of a problem this really is. Photo-updates are good!

5) Make notes of questions you are asked. If previous customers ask about golf in the area, whether accommodation has wifi, or how easy it is to get to the pub, that’s an opportunity for communicating more effectively via your website.  Set some time aside to building new content to explain how your accommodation meets these needs.

6) Check your site on a mobile phone.  If you don’t have a smartphone, borrow one and take a look.  Is the text readable?  Does the first photo shown still look great?  Is the load time reasonable?

7) Pretend to be a customer.  If your customers are supposed to contact you via a form, or follow a link, try it yourself.  If you have online booking, make a booking yourself.  Was the booking process easy to use?  Did you get confused?  Would more information at a crucial stage help?

Just a snap, but it could help tell a story about this local cafe

Just a snap, but tells a story about this local cafe more effectively than just a line of text that says ‘cafe nearby’.

8) What’s local?  What’s REALLY local?  Be wary of listing the same huge tourist attractions that every other travel business focusses on – unless you really are just down the road, these may not make your smaller business stand out.  Instead, could you put more effort into showcasing more local attractions that might not have such a great web presence, but could be a good selling point?  Explain how close the local pub is, and show a photo of the nice meal you had there.  Tell visitors about the riverside walk, the secure bicycle storage or the canoeing trips, with photos if you can manage them.

Content development & Website design for Callington holiday cottage

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Bell Cottage, a brand new holiday cottage in South East Cornwall, needed a website that communicated the peaceful rural charm of the location, but also encouraged visitors to choose this accommodation because of its central location.

Because the accommodation is not the traditional Cornish seaside location, it was important to develop content that would emphasise the charms of a holiday spent in the Tamar Valley, West Devon and South East Cornwall, and convince users that a holiday at Bell Cottage was the right choice for them.  Holiday Accommodation is a market where people are likely to take many factors into consideration, and may be put off by lack of information or difficult navigation, so ease of use and plenty of detail was key.

bellcottage2We worked with the accommodation owners to make the best use of their local knowledge and develop content that would encourage bookings.  We showed the cottage as centrally located for different kinds of holiday of interest to the target market for this website – for example, golfers, people interested in Cornish history, walking and garden visiting.

Visit the Bell Cottage website.