Author Archives: Victoria

About Victoria

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

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.

Clare Associates Is Watching You – and that’s a good thing!

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Just so you know,  Google Analytics is installed on this website.  Google Analytics is a free website visitor analytics system which we use routinely on most of the websites that we work with.  It logs information like :

    We can see aggregated, non-personal data

    We can see aggregated, non-personal data

  • what searches were run that brought searchers to this site?
  • which posts did people look at?
  • what other sites linked people to this one?
  • what operating systems, browsers, screen resolutions, network locations did those people use?

We do this because we use Analytics all the time.  I find the data it gives me fascinating.  I love Analytics with an unhealthy passion.  And given that I’m sitting here typing all this stuff in, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to know a little about you, dear reader!

Personal data that you haven't given permission to collect- such as your preference in salad dressing, is not recorded.

Personal data that you haven’t given permission to collect- such as your preference in salad dressing, is not recorded.

Analytics does not record:

  • the name, email address, inside leg measurement or preferred salad dressing of the person using the computer to look at this.
  • Anything that your machine/network isn’t set up to disclose routinely.

Analytics does make a guess at your location, and I can see some very pretty maps showing where it thinks you all live. Because I live in Britain, Google kindly puts me right in the middle of the maps it shows me.  This makes me feel very important.  A lot of you seem to be using networks that say you are in Britain too.  You are in the centre of the world, like me!  But where, in our central little island, do you live?  I can see a map of that too! But oddly, it tells me that many of our visitors come from Billericay.  This seems odd.  We are based in Cornwall.  We have no customers in Billericay.  So who are all these Billericay people?

And in fact, the geographical guessing system is far from perfect.   My ISP, Zen Internet, is obviously not dispensing particularly accurate data about the location of its customers.  I know my location, and I can tell that Analytics is guessing my location to be either Crawley or London.  There are visits from Plymouth and Truro, which would be closer, but when I break down the reports for those locations, I can see that they are not me, since I do not typically visit our website by googling for my own name.

The geographic sensing has improved though.  There were several years when I connected to the internet via Claranet,  when Google geosensing was adamant that I lived in Germany, to the point where I had to override defaults to get a version of Google that wasn’t in German.

By looking at which pages and blog posts people visit (and which are less popular!) I can understand what sort of information is likely to be of use to our website visitors.  I can look at whether people arrive at the website and then go away straight away, and what sort of people are more likely to stop for a while and have a good rummage. I can look at which pages get lots of visitors, and which are mostly ignored.

Website visitor analytics offer a brilliant way for the people who build and own websites to understand what the visitors are wanting, without having to intrude and demand time and effort to explain directly.

Knowing how people use a website, what they searched for, which pages they visited and in what order,  helps the website owner either to help people find stuff they want more quickly and easily, or make it clearer that that isn’t what they do.

This makes the web better and more useable for everyone.  Analytics is a really important and honestly, not particularly intrusive tool that can help make the world a less irritating place.

21st Century Marketing Review for Devon Holiday Cottage Business

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otrsc report coverOld Tavistock Railway Station was converted to a set of three award-winning holiday cottages in 2008. On the face of it, the owners had already adopted 21st century marketing techniques – their website was attractive and they were using Google AdWords pay-per-click advertising. However, they were not getting the results they expected, so they called us in to conduct a 21st Century Marketing Review.

We were able to identify why the business’s pay-per-click campaigns were both ineffective and expensive. We then built new, better-targeted AdWords campaigns (with built-in conversion tracking, fully researched keywords and new ad copy) and have kept optimising and improving those campaigns.

otrsc combinedWe used Google Analytics and years of experience of optimising websites to recommend subtle changes that would improve the experience of visitors to the site. Finally, we conducted a detailed review of all of the accommodation listings sites that Old Tavistock was registered with and advised which were likely to offer the best value for money.

Online Shop development for Marianna G Swimwear

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Marianna.G is an exclusive swimwear brand launching their first collection in 2013. We created their original site, working with their chosen designer, using WordPress as a content management system, with a heavily customised page layout to fit their simple and beautiful brand.

To add powerful ecommerce functionality in a way that was affordable for a new business trying to achieve an exclusive look within a budget, we used the WordPress plugin Woocommerce – again, customising the default layout to fit the desired elegant look and feel, including custom programming in PHP to achieve the desired features and layout.

The site takes payment using the Worldpay payment service provider and also via Paypal, and has a tiered system of delivery charges depending on where in the world the shopper is located.

You can see it here:

Copyright and linking to copyright content: do you know the risks?

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I don’t know if this post is really really obvious or not at all obvious.  Maybe not at all obvious, from the sheer quantity of copyrighted images, music, books and video flying around the web in places where the copyright owner has not authorised them to be.

I’m leaving entirely aside the morality of, say, ripping film off DVD and putting it on Youtube, or using a pirated copy of your music as a background for your own home movie. I’m not  arguing on morality: we are in a position where the law is trying to catch up with technology and this inevitably creates odd and irritating situations.

I have many times had to explain to business owners that no, we can’t just take copies of photos off other people’s websites and use them on their commercial website, and that doing this affects other people’s livelihood – and is a risk.  Many people just do not realise that by using other people’s content, or linking to illegal material they are running a risk and potentially exposing their families to risk too. Continue reading

New website and social media presence for Garden Studios Business.

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shieldsstudiosTo launch their new garden studios product, Shields Buildings decided to launch a new Shields Studios brand. We created a simple site that put the emphasis on the product. An important feature of the product was the large windows, allowing the studio owner to see the view, so we played on this idea by creating a blog featuring ‘Superviews’ around the Southwest.

shieldsstudios-socialThis blog was designed for the business owner to update with regular photos,
which are automatically crossposted to Facebook and Twitter. This allows the business to have at least a basic social media presence with minimal extra effort needed. The content was manually crossposted to Google Plus.

Friends don’t let friends use Internet Explorer 6

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IE6 is 10 years old.  TEN!   And it was never very good.  If YOU or any of your family or friends are using IE6, please consider using software that isn’t approaching puberty? It’s safer!  It’s better!  It’s all round the Right Thing to Do!

I have someone reporting a site not displaying quite right in IE6. I don’t consider this an error.  I consider this to be a form of public service.