Author Archives: Victoria

About Victoria

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

Protect your reputation & customers : be aware of security issues

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It’s a mean old world out there.

You may be running a smallish local business, focussing carefully on delighting your local customers and doing the job better than your local competition, but if you are connected to the internet – and who can afford not to be these days? – you may inadvertently connect to some very unpleasant people who would very much like to use your computer, website, email or social media accounts for their own dodgy purposes.

If you are using a content management system such as WordPress or Joomla to power your website, you have a lot of power that the bad guys could potentially be using. I was just moving a new customer’s WordPress website to new web hosting, and I took a quick look at the files, just to make sure that a couple of items I didnt’ recognise were being currently used by the website rather than being old things left over from previous projects that were no longer in use. When I looked at them carefully, I realised that they had been placed within the website by someone who was clearly up to no good. Some of them were virus infested, others were designed to collect credit card numbers.

How did those bad guys get into the website? Well, there are several possibilities, and it’s hard to pin down which was definitely the culprit.

The Hosting
The site was hosted on very very cheap hosting – probably skimping on security and updates – so it’s possible that someone had got into the server hosting the site and had done bad things to all the sites that were hosted on it.

A Dodgy/insecure WordPress plugin?
Or it could be that someone wrote a WordPress plugin with the deliberate intention of using it as a way in to websites that installed it. Or, perhaps more likely, it could be a plugin that accidentally left a security hole that was later discovered and used to affect this particular site. Be very careful about where you get WordPress plugins from, and if you are not at the point where you can look at the code of your plugins, and see what it’s doing for you, stick to widely installed regularly updated plugins, with a lot of users.

Password Stolen or Guessed?
It could be that a password was sent insecurely in email, and someone picked up the details, either on the email’s journey through cyberspace, or after it arrived on the owner’s computer. Never send passwords by email. It could be that the password was simply guessed – this is why password programs tend to insist you choose a nice long password containing numbers and capital letters. Yes, they can be harder to remember, but they could save you an awful lot of time and trouble.

Cheap hosting is not worth it on many levels. It’s insecure, it’s slow (so customers get a bad experience). It’s well worth spending a little more and getting hosting that won’t kick you in the back. And if you are running any system that uses plugins or apps or third party add-ons of any kind – don’t just click ‘install’ without thinking. Every one is a risk. Only use the ones you really need. And, change your password!

We Love the Tamar Valley – a new Drupal 7 website for Tamar Valley Tourism

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We Love the Tamar Valley is a new website project created for Tamar Valley Tourism, a group that brings together businesses in the Tamar Valley that have an interest in tourism – from holiday cottages, to bed manufacturers, to top hotels, to farmer’s markets. We were delighted to win the contract to produce this site – we have lived and worked in the Tamar Valley for 13 years, and it’s always great to be promoting a product you believe in!

tavata

The site was created to replace an older website which had been custom built in php and mySQL. It was a bit difficult to manage, and wasn’t attracting the traffic it needed. We decided to create the new site using the Open Source Drupal 7 content management system as a framework. This approach meant that we could pull together a powerful site with a number of different ways to manage and navigate the content, and do it relatively quickly. The downside was that the content had to be copied over to the new Drupal site, but as all the content needed to be checked and refreshed anyway, and we were keen to add to it, this was one way of ensuring that all of it was looked at.

All of the 200+ member businesses will have their own password-protected access to the site, and there’s also a site administrator who reviews and approves content. This was another reason to go for a Drupal 7 based approach – we were able to build customised login systems and instead of providing a standardised content management interface, we could provide forms with a lot of control over the help text provided and the way each form element worked. This is one disadvantage of the WordPress content management system, much as we love it – it’s relatively difficult to customise the administrative interface, so if that doesn’t fit what you want to do with it, it can be fiddly to provide people with a way to enter information that is clear and easy to use.

Mailchimp is very nifty, but his big brother Mandrill is even better for integrating with websites.

Mailchimp is very nifty, but his big brother Mandrill is even better for integrating with websites.

One task the website has to do is to allow invoices to members to be emailled, managed and reports produced, and we also had to make sure that a weekly email roundup of news from members could be sent. To make sure that emails reached their destinations, we enlisted the help of the brilliant Mailchimp service (highly recommended, and free for low volume use) and also brought in Mailchimp’s big brother Mandrill – a system designed for integration with websites, and for sending personalised, transactional emails, which works really well with Drupal.

Another nifty tool we used was the Open Framework Drupal theme. We chose to base our unique look and feel around a previously developed theme as a framework, because this approach allowed us to quickly develop a very flexible site that was responsive, so it adapts easily to different devices, from mobile phones to laptop computers. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we used the framework and concentrated on customising the design and building content and photography that visitors would find exciting.

The site is not exactly finished – it probably never will be! We don’t believe in finished websites, but in websites that grow organically over time that can adapt to events. We’re pretty clear that the new We Love The Tamar Valley site will be able to do that excellently.

Photo preparation workshop coming up on Tuesday 25th

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Would you like to make your photos look more striking, add text or take out that awkward item that spoils the whole shot? Learn how to use free software on your own computer to give your photos the wow factor at a half-day training workshop from Tamar Valley Tourism.

Photo-editing workshop, Callington, Tuesday 25th February, 10am to 1pm. Courses organised by the Tamar Valley Tourism Association (TAVATA) and presented by Victoria Clare of Clare Associates Ltd.

Photo preparation demonstration

The courses will take place at Langman’s Restaurant in Callington, and there are still spaces available on each. The cost per session is just £35.50 per person.

The content will be:

• Understanding resolution, compression and choosing the right image format.
• Composition & cropping.
• Using unsharp mask, saturation & histogram adjustment to improve the lighting, colour and sharpness of your photos.
• Adding text
• Using black and white, sepia, and other effects.

Important note
The course will use a free editing program suitable for:
a Windows XP, Windows 7, or Windows 8 computer,
a Windows 8 Surface tablet
a Mac with Firefox, Chrome, or Safari 7.
A Chromebook

Your computer will need the Flash plugin. The software will not work on an Ipad or Android tablet. You should bring your computer with you.

To book your place, call Jill Price on 01579 370835, or email Jill at admin@tavata.co.uk .

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.

wordpress-newuser1

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!

wordpress-newuser2

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.

Analytics1

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.

SONY DSC

 

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.