Is your password easy for a computer to guess!?

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We’ve recently just gone through a situation where the security of one of our websites had been somewhat comprised. And while we will never be 100% certain as to how the site was accessed by this annoyance it did make us look closely at ways we could make the most of the security measures that we use on the web.

The most blindingly obvious was the integrity of our passwords because as a general rule we do what most people do and use one of three very simple passwords for all of our online logins.  Why?? We all know this is bad thing to do but we do it anyway! My justification is that I have so many accounts online that it would be impossible to remember a separate password for every one of these.

And as we all saw last week the compromising of LinkedIn saw many email address/password logins taken by hackers (one being ours). The point being that when this login combo is the same as what you use on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or any of your other online accounts, you can see how far reaching your vulnerability lies. They have access to one then they have access to all.  And apparently it’s not hard for a hacker to make a computer programme that will try known username and password combo’s against various well known sites.

So what makes a secure password?

Most people (myself included) are guilty of choosing a password that is very easy to remember, likely based upon a combination of names, dates or a simple letter/number sequences. And as mentioned above we tend to use the same password over again, usually in combination with our main email address.

Simple password: katrina1234

Easy to remember but easy for a computer to figure out.

Last year the top five most used passwords were:

1. password
2. 123456
3. 12345678
4. qwerty
5. abc123

Source: http://mashable.com/2011/11/17/worst-internet-passwords/

Though we have been told for many years that the best password is one that uses a random assortment of small letters, capital letters, numbers and symbols. And the reason we don’t always do this is that they’re absolutely impossible to remember. One trick we’ve all seen to make this a little easier is to take a normal password like katrina123# and replace some of the characters to ‘make it harder’ like K4tr!Na123#.

Medium password: K4tr!Na123#

Hard to remember and moderate for a computer to figure out.

One suggestion that we came across while researching the best type of password to have is a ‘pass-phrase’. A pass-phrase is a password that uses 4 or more words, with or without spaces in between. It’s to do with the amount of ‘entropy’ your password generates, the more entropy, the more complex it is to crack. In technical terms, within information theory, entropy is a measure of the uncertainty associated with a random variable. So the more ‘characters’ your pass-phrase, the more entropy it has. For those of you with a desire to understand more about entropy, try looking here and here.

Now I don’t pretend for a minute to understand the science behind it but just believe when I say that a password using say 4 separate and unrelated words is a lot harder for a computer to crack than one word made up of a mixture of caps, small letters, numbers and symbols. AND the bonus – it is easier for a human to remember #winwin.

Strong password: super chickens hover lightly

Silly enough to remember and very hard for a computer to figure out.

Password Strength cartoon from xkcd.com no.936

So my suggestion is to set about changing your passwords to a pass-phrase where possible.  Make it a string of words that are silly enough for you to remember.  If you need to note them down, just note down the first letter of each word in the phrase or use an online password manager to help keep track of your passwords.

Please note, not all sites will let you use pass-phrases, they will force you still to use the ‘random’ passwords often with limits on the number characters used. Just remember to change your passwords from time to time and make them as safe as you dare!

Also, no passwords in this article actually belong to me or any other living person I know.

More information: How to protect your company’s password (Mashable), Passphrase (Wikipedia), The Great Debates: Pass Phrases vs. Passwords. Pt 1 of 3 (Technet)

Google Places – Does Google know about your business?

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Google Places is all about connecting your business with local customers. As Google say themselves, 97% of consumers search for businesses near to them online.  Even if you don’t a website, having your business on Google Places makes complete business sense.

As with most Google Services, Google Places is completely free so apart from your time (and really not much is needed to set it up) your wallet is not going to be out of pocket. Quite the reverse actually as if done effectively your Google Places listing could greatly increase customers to your business.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, try putting the words Takeaways Beverley or Takeaways YourTown into Google. You should get something like this:

Google Places Search page

The red markers on the Google Map shows the business listings from Google Places (likely to be the most well ranked takeaway outlets in Beverley for these keywords). In the search results list it puts a link to each of those with a marker. Or you can click on the map to find out more information about these businesses including links to find them, contact details, photos and reviews.  You can instantly see why Google Places has great potential.

Registering is easy. All you need is a Google account and if you don’t have one registering is a simple process. If you’re not sure if you have a Google account, you will have one if you can access any of the other Google Services like Google Analytics, Google Reader, Gmail or Blogger or even You Tube.

Tip: I find that using Chrome (my fav browser) it won’t let me pick a category while filling in the form, so I would suggest using Firefox, IE or some other one instead to register with Google Places.

Once you’ve logged in or registered at www.google.com/placesforbusiness, Google will then take you though a handful of steps to list your business:

  • Select your Country and type in your main business telephone number.
  • It will then do one of two things. The most likely is that it will bring up a page for you to fill in with all your business details. However I have found on a couple of occasions it will bring up a listing with your number. If this is your business, you can claim it into your Google Places account by verifying it is your business. Read on to find out how.
  • Fill in the details as requested. Pick as many categories (max 5) as you can find to match your business. And make sure you use as many of those 200 characters as possible in the Description field to describe your business! And use your keywords (click here to read a post about finding your business keywords). Make it an accurate but not boastful description because as we know Google likes things to be real!)
  • When finished press the Submit button.

registering for google places for your business

Google will want to validate your listing (to keep out the riff raff!) It will either want to call, text or post you a verification number. Do what suits you best. Just be aware if you choose the post method, they will send a postcard that looks very much like junk mail so keep an eye out for it. It can take a couple of weeks. You will need to login again once you get the verification code and type it into the verification field.

what your google places verification letter will look like

Where you need to put the verification number for your google places account

Customers will be able to add their reviews to your business and you can post status updates and offers to customers via your Google Places account as well. As it is a Google product, in my experience it makes sense to make the most of it!

So just to recap, why should you join Google Places?

  • Customers can more easily find you without knowing your business name.
  • The nature of a Google search means it is fast replacing traditional telephone directory listings.
  • It is free advertising.
  • It is linked to Google Maps so can help your business appear on the first page for local business searches.
  • As it is linked, Smart phone mobile users can search for your type of business using Google Maps.
  • Customers are able to easily leave reviews and recommendations of your business which help your listing to move up in the rankings.
  • You are able to put your website address, contact details, business information, photos and video’s in your listing.

Here’s a link to how Google suggest you Optimise your listing to help customers find your business on Google Places and here’s a link to their quality guidelines to using a Google Places page.

Twitter: What is #Follow Friday #followfriday

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You may have seen Twitter posts that mention #ff or #followfriday – so the story goes it was originally a Twitter social convention  started by Twitter member @micah to introduce interesting people he was following to those following him.

The idea caught on and now you will find many tweeters posting #ff updates on Friday. It might be that they are thanking fellow tweeters for retweets or they’ve been particularly interesting or they are great mates or they’ve provided great conversation or whatever :)

It’s just a nice little way to appreciate your twitter followers and those you’re following.

And often when you’re new to Twitter it can be difficult to find good people to follow – being a very busy place and crammed with lots of noise and fluff. But I have found my looking at the #ff of the people in my tweeter feed, I can find some great new people to follow.

A #followfriday tweet will look something like this:

#followfriday @three60ruralpr @wossy @stephenfry

or

#ff @urbanchickenuk @theangelshare @sellmywedding

How to use #followfriday effectively:

1. Keep an eye out for #followfriday in the tweets you receive and check them out

2. Write your own once in a while, perhaps keeping the list to 2-3 members

3. Use Twitter Search to see who else is being recommended in #followfriday

If you are following someone brilliant and they happen to use #ff you could find yourself with several more interesting people/businesses to follow yourself. And it’s so nice when people start to #ff you!

How do I plan my website?

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After a few years building websites for small businesses, I’ve put together a list of the most frequently asked questions I ask new clients.  And I thought it might be useful to anyone looking to put together a website for their small business for the first time as it seem like a daunting task! You’ll probably find that not all the suggestions below will be relevant to your project so if that’s the case simply ignore them :)

1. Website History

Do you have an existing site? If so what is domain name? (web address)

Do you want a new site, development or refreshing of an existing site?

Do you currently use any website statistical tools?

Do you currently have any social media accounts associated with your website/business? (Eg. Twitter, Facebook etc)

2. Your Visitors

Do you have an idea of who will be visiting your site?

Are they the same as your current offline customers?

If not, think about your desired or typical customer to the website? What do they want from your website?

Think about the goals of the website or indeed each page or section? Are they coming to find out information, be entertained, subscribing to a membership/newsletter, making a purchase, reading research, contributing to a conversation etc…

3. Website – the new one :)

Is the site more about information being ‘pushed to’ the customer (a brochure site), or more about having a two-way conversation with customers (content driven and interactive?)

Is having a good ranking on Google important to you and your business?

Does the site need social media links?

Does the site need a blog? Would it benefit from having a blog?

Do you need to be able to edit the content of the site yourself?

What is the approximate size of the site, ie. how many pages do you need? Do you need sections or categories?  (Often drawing a site-map on a scrap of paper or in something like Word or PowerPoint can help with this).

Do you need ecommerce on the site (the ability for customers to purchase from you online)?

Are you able to put together your own website copy?  Can you prepare the words and provide the pictures/photos for the pages or do these need to be created and/or outsourced?

Do you have a logo (it is usually very important to keep branding consistent across all marketing/customer channels)?

Have you seen other websites/competitors perhaps that you like the look of? Or don’t like the look of?

Is there any particular functionality that you’d like the site to have, like image galleries, rotating images/slideshows, twitter feeds and so on?

4. Small Print

Do you have any deadlines for your website project? When would you like the new website to be launched?

Do you have budget for the site? The budget will need to at least allow for the design and build of the site, the domain name and web hosting, and ongoing maintenance.

Does the site need any legal references, eg. terms and conditions, privacy policy, disclaimers and so forth?

A website is a big investment so it’s worth getting it right the first time!

How to create a Facebook business page

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You might have come across companies using Facebook business pages, liked the idea and wondered ‘how on earth do I get one of these’ as there are no obvious buttons to click to set one up.

Why should you have one? A Facebook business page is a fantastic tool for business because it places your company right at the heart of the world’s most popular social network, it will help your business connect and engage with customers, meet new ones and will help spread your business message via the friend network. Plus the search engines love them.

Similar to a personal profile page, you’ll be able to post status updates on your wall telling your ‘fans’ about developments in your service/product offering, provide insight into the people behind the ‘brand’, engage in conversation and light banter.  You’ll be able to post company information, links to websites, pages and blogs, post pictures and videos, ask questions via discussions and announce events.  It’s like having your very own mobile broadcast vehicle that zips around the world.  Best of all because your Facebook business page is ‘opt-in’ your group of fans will be dedicated to your cause.

So how do you go about setting one up?

The first thing to get your head around is that any Facebook business page needs to be created within a personal Facebook profile page.

As Susan Payton in her Mashable post says ‘Facebook Pages are different than profiles. You have a profile for you, Jane Doe, but your business can’t have a profile — it can have a Page. A Page is a place to house all the pertinent information about your company.’

And initially the person that ‘own’ the profile page is the person that administrates it. It’s a good idea at this point to consider carefully who should take this role.  For those of us with small businesses that is an easy decision to make as it’s normally just ‘us’ but for a larger company some thought must be given to who will control the profile page.

So to get started…

1. If you haven’t already, join and register with Facebook at www.facebook.com.

2. Once logged in scroll to the very bottom of the page and on the bottom navigation menu click on ‘Advertising’.

fbbottomnav

3. Then click on the Pages button near the top.

fbpagesnav

4. Then click on the Create a Page green button.

fbcreatepg

5. Fill in the form, selecting the options that best suit your business.  Please make sure that you’re not in violation of any Facebook terms or policies, click on the link to read if necessary. Press Create Page when ready.

fbcreatepgform6. You’ve done all the hard work now you can add information to your page.  If you click on ‘Edit Information’ you’ll be able to add basic and detailed information about your company, like websites, company overview (perhaps copy and paste some information from your own website). Post a welcome to our business page message in your status, perhaps mention what your intentions are with the page.  Write something in the little text box to the left-hand side, think of it as your calling card so make it engaging and appealing.  Click on the little + button on the main navigation and add the menu tabs for photos, links, events and so forth, utilise whatever suits your business.

7. If you click on the ‘edit page’ link on the left-hand side menu, you’ll be taken to the settings for your page and this is where you can set permissions on who can post what.  Click the little pencil to get to the edit menu’s for each of the options.

8. When you are ready, click on the Publish this Page button to make it go live – the TELL people about it (see consideration 4 below).

Other considerations:

  • To log back into your Facebook business page (when you want to update it), first login to the profile you used to set up the page.  Then look to the bottom of the browser window and click on the little green and blue F icon on the Applications Menu, this will take you to Ads and Pages, where you will click on Pages, then View Page.  And off you go.
  • A very useful application to have is Memorable Web Addresses, look on the page settings page (see point 7 above) for applications, click link and browse the applications. You’re looking for a Facebook Business Application and this particular one allows you to have an easy to remember personalised web address for your Facebook business page. There are plenty of other applications that you can append to your page, just make sure they add value to your audience.
  • On the settings page, you can add other administrators.
  • You aren’t able to ‘share the page’ with all of your friends directly however you could post the link on your blog, link to it on your website, put the link in your email signature, post it on twitter and your personal Facebook status, mention it in client email mailshots – just tell people about it and if you keep it relevant, professional and updated people will come.

Examples of businesses using Facebook business pages

The New York Times

STA Travel

Wiggly Wigglers

Innocent Drinks

Spencer & Young Artists

katproductions (me) – http://companies.to/katproductions/

It may appear a little daunting at first to set up your Facebook business page especially when in this day and age we’re so used to getting something instantly at a click of a button but will be so worth it for your business!

Other useful sources of related information for Facebook business pages:

http://www.davechaffey.com/blog/online-pr/using-facebook-for-marketing-10-company-examples/

http://www.facebook.com/advertising/?pages

http://feedfront.com/archives/article002156

http://mashable.com/2009/09/22/facebook-pages-guide/

http://mashable.com/category/facebook/

10 Top Tips for DIY Design for your business

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Design is an integral part of a professional-looking business, but you may not want to invest in outsourcing the work. If you have decided to DIY design and don’t know where to start, these ten tips should help you on your way.
1. Get to know your printer. A good printer can tell you the most cost-effective way to print, advise on paper weight, resolution and colour management. They will also tell you what format they can print, something you need to know way before you even get started on your design project.
2. Get more than one printing quote. Printing prices and quality vary massively from printer to printer and most expensive does not mean best quality or service, so always shop around before you decide.
3. Buy Books. There are some great books available for ‘Non-designers’ who want to design their own promotional literature. Learn simple rules that if you follow your designs will vastly improve, so invest in some books and take time to learn.
4. Collect stuff. If you find yourself in front of a leaflet stand, close your eyes, open them and take the first leaflet that you notice. Chances are, this will be well designed. If you keep a box full of designs you like and you think are good, these will help improve your designs and provide inspiration.
5. Ask people what they think. Always get a second opinion on what you have designed. You might have missed something important or may not be getting the right message across with your use of colour, fonts or images.
6. Use good software. Adobe InDesign is what I use to do Graphic Design and I wouldn’t recommend using anything else. However, it is not cheap. But, you get what you pay for and it is an invaluable tool in producing professional design.
7. Avoid Clipart. How often I have seen a poster draped in Clipart and avoided the event advertised simply as a result of this. Clipart is often used by design novices and makes the design look like it has been designed by a novice. Avoid at all costs!
8. No image is better than a bad image. Too many times have I seen designs with poor images, pixelated and inappropriate to the context of the design. You can easily tell when someone has sourced a low quality image off the internet and plonked it into a layout. It makes you look bad. If in doubt, take it out.
9. Be consistent. Find a design style that is appropriate for your business and stick to it. Consistency is vital in creating the right image.
10. Be Bold, show personality. Don’t be afraid to use striking colours or abstract images in your design. There’s nothing less inspiring than a brochure full of pictures of people in suits sitting round tables.
Feel free to contact Rhian of dare to know ltd if you need any help or guidance.
My spec:
Rhian Lonergan-White BA Hons graduated in 1999 from Liverpool John Moores University with a degree in TV production. She spent 5 years with the Oxford University museum, The Ashmolean, as an in-house graphic designer, where she was responsible for exhibition, book and front-of-house design. During this time Rhian was DJ-ing in Oxford, running her own club nights and designing many books and other assorted material for prestigious organisations such as The British Violin Making Association and The Association for Cultural Enterprise. She also held two successful graphic art exhibitions in Oxford.
Rhian moved to North Lincolnshire in 2007, setting up her multi-discipline creative services company, dare to know ltd. Her time is now divided between being commissioned for bespoke graphic art for businesses and individuals, graphic design projects, photography assignments and film production jobs. Rhian’s colourful style of graphic art has been described as ‘hyper-surreal and fantastical’, where the use of photographs to transcend the ordinary becomes ‘visual alchemy’, as described in The Journal, to create something truly unique. She also works as a creative workshop facilitator in all things creative and including podcasting, film-making and animation, as well as giving tutorials in creative software such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Final Cut Pro and all things ‘Mac’.
With dare to know, Rhian has enjoyed a very busy and successful first two years in business, with many workshop projects winning awards, most notably an animation won the Children’s section at the International Animation Film Festival in the Czech Republic in 2008.

Introducing Guest Blogger Rhian Lonergan-White from dare to know Ltd, a North Lincolnshire based multi-disciplinary creative services agency.

Design is an integral part of a professional-looking business, but you may not want to invest in outsourcing the work. If you have decided to DIY design and don’t know where to start, these ten tips should help you on your way.

  1. Get to know your printer. A good printer can tell you the most cost-effective way to print, advise on paper weight, resolution and colour management. They will also tell you what format they can print, something you need to know way before you even get started on your design project.
  2. Get more than one printing quote. Printing prices and quality vary massively from printer to printer and most expensive does not mean best quality or service, so always shop around before you decide.
  3. Buy Books. There are some great books available for ‘Non-designers’ who want to design their own promotional literature. Learn simple rules that if you follow your designs will vastly improve, so invest in some books and take time to learn.
  4. Collect stuff. If you find yourself in front of a leaflet stand, close your eyes, open them and take the first leaflet that you notice. Chances are, this will be well designed. If you keep a box full of designs you like and you think are good, these will help improve your designs and provide inspiration.
  5. Ask people what they think. Always get a second opinion on what you have designed. You might have missed something important or may not be getting the right message across with your use of colour, fonts or images.
  6. Use good software. Adobe InDesign is what I use to do Graphic Design and I wouldn’t recommend using anything else. However, it is not cheap. But, you get what you pay for and it is an invaluable tool in producing professional design.
  7. Avoid Clipart. How often I have seen a poster draped in Clipart and avoided the event advertised simply as a result of this. Clipart is often used by design novices and makes the design look like it has been designed by a novice. Avoid at all costs!
  8. No image is better than a bad image. Too many times have I seen designs with poor images, pixelated and inappropriate to the context of the design. You can easily tell when someone has sourced a low quality image off the internet and plonked it into a layout. It makes you look bad. If in doubt, take it out.
  9. Be consistent. Find a design style that is appropriate for your business and stick to it. Consistency is vital in creating the right image.
  10. Be Bold, show personality. Don’t be afraid to use striking colours or abstract images in your design. There’s nothing less inspiring than a brochure full of pictures of people in suits sitting round tables.

Feel free to contact Rhian of dare to know ltd if you need any help or guidance.

Rhian Lonergan-White BA Hons graduated in 1999 from Liverpool John Moores University with a degree in TV production. She spent 5 years with the Oxford University museum, The Ashmolean, as an in-house graphic designer, where she was responsible for exhibition, book and front-of-house design. During this time Rhian was DJ-ing in Oxford, running her own club nights and designing many books and other assorted material for prestigious organisations such as The British Violin Making Association and The Association for Cultural Enterprise. She also held two successful graphic art exhibitions in Oxford.

Rhian moved to North Lincolnshire in 2007, setting up her multi-discipline creative services company, dare to know ltd. Her time is now divided between being commissioned for bespoke graphic art for businesses and individuals, graphic design projects, photography assignments and film production jobs. Rhian’s colourful style of graphic art has been described as ‘hyper-surreal and fantastical’, where the use of photographs to transcend the ordinary becomes ‘visual alchemy’, as described in The Journal, to create something truly unique. She also works as a creative workshop facilitator in all things creative and including podcasting, film-making and animation, as well as giving tutorials in creative software such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Final Cut Pro and all things ‘Mac’.

With dare to know, Rhian has enjoyed a very busy and successful first two years in business, with many workshop projects winning awards, most notably an animation won the Children’s section at the International Animation Film Festival in the Czech Republic in 2008.

HOW TO Add your business to Google’s Local Business Centre

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Google say it well enough themselves,

“Help customers find you on Google Maps

Many millions of businesses and people use Google and Google maps to find other businesses every day and Google through their online Local Business Centre’s allow you to add your business FREE to their listings.

That way, when someone is searching for a local business similar to yours, you might have a better chance in ranking well in their Google Map search. Often a search in Google’s general search engine will show a small map of the local area with pinpoints directing you to local businesses, and by doing this yours could be one of them.

Like they say, it’s easy and it’s free – so why not!

  1. Go to www.google.com/local and click on ‘put your business on Google Maps’
  2. Either login if you already have a Google account or ‘sign up now’ to register
  3. To add a new listing, fill in your business information, including your email, website (if you have one) and up to five categories, add one at time, click on ‘add another category’ if you want to another more than one.
  4. As well, you can input your operating hours, business payment options, up to 10 photographs, up to five video’s from a You Tube account, plus other additional details.
  5. Click submit and you’re done! As easy as that.

If you have more than one business, you can manage all your listings within your Google account and update it whenever you want.

Plus having a Google account allows you access to many other fantastic Google applications like Google Alerts, Google Analytics and the Google Reader for keeping track of any blogs you are following.

I will have blog posts about these coming soon.

Resource: Mailchimp.com for E-newsletters

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Many of my clients often ask how they would go about  sending out email newsletters to their own customer list. One online service that I’ve been using as have several of my clients is www.mailchimp.com. It’s easy to use, offers a pay-as-you-go payment plan, brilliant for small businesses. It has stacks of excellent features to help you maintain and build your contact lists, create nice looking and effective email newsletters, and has a fully comprehensive campaign tracking and reports facility. Plus is a brilliant way of driving traffic to your website!

mailchimp.com email newsletter online service

mailchimp.com email newsletter online service

Using email marketing, that is keeping in contact with your customers via email, is a great way to open communication channels and keep your business in the forefront of your customers’ minds.  If done well, it’s a really effective means to increase your brand/business exposure to those new and existing customers that might need your services now and in the future.

Email newsletters are perfect for promoting your products and services in a timely and appropriate fashion, letting customers know about any new offers/promotions/developments within your business, sharing customer feedback and testimonials, and just generally keeping your name out there.

Mailchimp is an excellent tool to help with your email marketing efforts.  It’s main benefits are:

  • the creation of professional looking emails that work with all the different types of email clients such as Outlook, gmail, hotmail, AOL and so forth, as often these will visually render the same email differently, some will remove images, some will only show text, others are very strict about what constitutes spam. Mailchimp allows you to create emails using their own tried and tested email templates, or with a little knowledge you’re able to customise these to create something truly unique.
  • awesome list management capabilities. Mailchimp allows you to manage as many contact lists as you need, letting you create lists on the fly, uploading existing customers lists or even putting special code onto your website so any new ‘newsletter’ join-ups are added automatically to the relevant Mailchimp list (that is providing you abide by the current opt-in contact list regulations that stipulate all contacts on a list have knowingly agreed to opt-in to receiving your email newsletters – Data Protection Act 1998). Mailchimp list management also allows for such things as automatic and recorded unsubscribes and list segmentation.
  • A fully comprehensive report and tracking centre. Each campaign sent has it’s own set of reports to tell you how many and who opened your email, how many bounced, how many regarded your email as spam, when and where emails were opened, how many were forwarded using easy to read graphics with the ability to download as an Excel spreadsheet. And all against industry benchmarks. One tool that many of my clients have found very useful is the A/B split testing that helps determine the best practice for their email campaigns. It also allows for Google Analytics integration to better track website clicks.
  • Many more features including data security and privacy, maximum deliverability and plenty of useful help and support.

The best bit for small businesses is that it is free to use for up to lists of 500.  After that you simply go onto using one of their pay-monthly programmes or the pay-as-you-go plan where you purchase credits as and when you need them.

You can read more about www.mailchimp.com at their website.  Providing that you aren’t spamming customers with irrelevant and too frequent material and that your email content sends suitable and well-timed messages to customers who have opted-in to receive them, using an online service such as Mailchimp is a truly hassle-free way to start connecting with your customers and is superbly cost-effective.

You can find out more about email marketing here:

Good luck!

The how’s and why’s of backlinks and SEO

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Search engine optimisation (SEO) is about more than having a good set of keywords on your website.  Backlinks are an absolutely vital way of letting the search engines know about your site, thus affecting your search engine rankings and sadly it’s something that many website owners are unaware of.
Backlinks, often referred to as inbound links, are links from another website back to yours.  For example, having my website address (URL) on this blog (see blogroll to the right) is providing an inbound link back to my own website.  The search engines use a website’s backlinks as one indication of its’ popularity and credibility and this therefore affects that website’s search engine ranking.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is about more than having a good set of keywords on your website.  Backlinks are an absolutely vital way of letting the search engines know about your site, thus affecting your search engine rankings and sadly it’s something that many website owners are unaware of.

Backlinks, often referred to as inbound links, are links from another website back to yours.  For example, having my website address (URL) on this blog (see blogroll to the left) is providing an inbound link back to my own website at katproductions (as is this link).  The search engines use a website’s backlinks as one indication of its’ popularity and credibility which ultimately affects that website’s search engine ranking.

Many factors determine the value of backlinks to your website search engine ranking but the best backlinks come from other established websites that are relevant to your own industry and credible themselves. And it also helps if the page that your weblink is on has a good ‘PageRank‘.

“PageRank is a link analysis algorithm, named after Larry Page, used by the Google Internet search engine that assigns a numerical weighting…” to each webpage, it is what Google uses to determine the importance of your webpages. Wikipedia

The theory goes that having your backlink on a page with a high PageRank will give that link to your website a higher weighted value therefore helping push up your search engine rankings for that page. However, if that highly PageRanked page has many backlinks on it to other websites it can effectively dilute its value, almost like it has to share out the value of its PageRank amongst all the links on its’ page.  You can find out more about this here and here as it can get fairly complicated.

All we need to know is that another website’s PageRank can add value to your inbound link.

If you want to find out what the PageRank’s are for the pages on your site either install the Google PageRank toolbar onto your browser or try this tool, Whats my PageRank,  I can’t be sure exactly how accurate it is but for the sites I tested it seemed accurate enough.

How do I find out how many backlinks my website has?

Most search engines provide a method for determining the number of backlinks that your website has.  For instance on Google, try typing link:websitename.co.uk into the search box. Google seems to show much less backlinks than another search like Yahoo.  Try Yahoo’s Site Explorer by typing your web address, http://www.webname.co.uk into the field at the top, then click on the Explore URL button. This seems to show the largest number of backlinks back to your site.

If you’ve installed Google’s PageRank toolbar and click on the PageRank icon while on any webpage, then select BackLinks from the drop down menu, it will show you Google’s list of backlinks for that page.

Another nice little online tool is Backlink Watch. This tells you how many backlinks your site has, what the anchor text is on each backlink, and how many other external links (to other pages or websites) there are on that particular webpage. Speaking of anchor text, this is the text that the link is behind, the most commonly used anchor text for a link is ‘click here’.  If you do a search for the words ‘click here’ it will show you all the websites that use this anchor text.  It doesn’t mean anything to anyone but shows you the power of having keyword driven anchor text.  So for example, if possible rather than have someone put ‘click here for katproductions’, see if it can be ‘click here for web design services from katproductions’. That way your backlink is working hardest for you.

It’s true you can pay to have backlinks created for your website. Although, I would be wary about anyone offering to get your business hundreds of backlinks in a short period of time.  The worst case scenario is that your web address ends up on hundreds of purpose built ‘link farms’ that the search engines don’t like and potentially your website could be penalised for, that is to have your search engine rankings severly compromised or worse still totally removed.

However, in saying that there are many good search engine optimisation companies around who will create a backlinking strategy for your business and who have dedicated staff finding suitable and valuable backlinks for your website.  It seems that the search engines value a more organic growth of backlinks and are likely to be suspicious if your backlinks increase hugely and suddenly overnight.

How do I get backlinks to my site?

First and most importantly make sure your website has quality content that people want to link to. After all there is no point going to all this trouble just to have people leave as soon as they arrive!

Then to get backlinks I suggest using a variety of sources.  First make sure that you’ve submitted yourself to the Google and Yahoo search engines.  Then do a couple of searches to find some credible website directories like DMOZ, Thomson Local and so on.  Many of these will allow you to register your business free of charge.  Then try putting some of your keywords/key phrases into a search engine and see which websites your competitors are listed on or even try your competitors’s web address using the ‘link’ techniques mentioned above. Find out whether you should be or can be listed on these as well. Or it may be that your business works with other similar or complimentary businesses and there may be opportunities to have your web address on their websites. Though beware of having too many reciprocal links, sometimes they can end up effectively cancelling each out out.

These days it is quite common practice to use social networking type websites to help with your backlinking.  For example, submitting online articles, a Facebook Business Page, a business blog, a Twitter account or a social bookmarking account, like Digg or Delicious, will allow you to create a profile about yourself and/or your business thus providing the link back to your business website.  And providing that you actually make use of these accounts, it can be an extremely successful way of telling the search engines that you are most definitely in business! Plus there are many many other benefits in utilising these as well – but that’s another blog post!

In addition to having your own accounts with social networking sites, it is also very useful from a backlinking point of view to read other related blogs, facebook pages, twitter accounts, forums and so forth and post comments on these.  As well as this adding another backlink for your website, and providing you post geniune comments (and not blatant hard-sell ‘come to my website’ type messages) you will also better your own online credibility within your industry, and you might even have a bit of fun or learn something new doing so.

It is a win-win situation.

More information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backlink

http://www.goarticles.com/cgi-bin/showa.cgi?C=1151743

http://www.webconfs.com/how-to-build-backlinks-article-16.php

http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66356

Don’t underestimate your keywords

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The key to a successful online presence and an effective search engine optimisation strategy is by having relevant keywords. Very simply put the best keywords are those that most accurately reflect the words and phrases that your online visitors will use to search online for your website.

By creating your own list of relevant keywords you’ll find it easier to tap into your pool of online customers. You’re likely to find that your website traffic will increase and it will be far more targeted and therefore they will be far more likely to want to engage in a relationship with your business.

WHAT EXACTLY ARE KEYWORDS?

Typically keywords are words and phrases that people type into search engines to find goods, services and information. Much research tells us that most people when searching use more than one word to find something on the internet, and that they will keep refining their words until they come across a page of search engine results that gives a list of website links that satisfies what they’re looking for. If this is the way that you search online it is more than likely that your customers are using this very same process too.

HOW ARE THESE KEYWORDS USED?

Once you have a good list, your keywords will contribute to your websites search engine optimisation and ultimately help shape your online strategy. There doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast rule about how many keywords that you should have but I normally suggest to clients that a good start is to create a 20-30. Your keywords can then be used to help build your website’s text copy, provide relevant search engine optimisation tags within your website’s code, help to develop social networking content like blogging, tweets and other online commentary.

Search Engine Optimisation

Search engines use keywords from your website text content and specially tagged code to establish a ‘theme’ that helps it to rank each page of your website. Amongst other indicators, the strength of your ‘theme’ combined with relevant and credible back links leading back to your site will establish your rank within the search engines for your keywords. Most often a web designer/developer would implement the search engine specific tags within the site’s code that is unless your website’s content management facility allows you access.

You can see any website’s meta-tags by clicking on the View or Page menu’s in your browser then selecting the option that says, ‘source’ or ‘page source’. The code will open in your text editor.

The tags to watch out for are:

Title tag: looks like this <title>words in here</title> Currently the most important of the in-code optimisation tags. The title tag is revealed in the very top blue bar of your internet browser. Typically organisations use this field to simply state their business name. Ideally place 2-3 of your most important keywords/keyphrases here providing they are relevant to the information displayed on that page.

Meta-tags: These are placed within the code of your website. The meta-tag ‘keywords’ will simply list the keywords relevant to the individual webpage they are on and the meta-tag ‘description’ will retain a 1-2 sentence statement about your business and the content of the individual page that utilises 2-3 of your keywords. The search engines prefer that the description is informative and not hard-sell.

Alt tags and link ‘titles’: You’ll know if a webpage has these enabled by running your mouse over any on-page links, menu links or images and having a small yellow rectangular box appear with text inside. Not only do these help with search engine optimisation by listing relevant keyword(s) but provide sensible non-visual navigation cues for website accessibility.

H1 tags and Bolding: As well as making it easier for visitors to digest chunks of text on your website, using headers and bolding of words helps the search engines to determine better the ‘theme’ of your page and therefore helps with your search engine rankings. H1 to H6 are simply six standard ‘codes’ that web designers/developers will use to create section and paragraph headings.

Text Content: Your list of keywords will be crucial in helping you create the text copy for each of your webpages. As well as providing useful information to visitors the search engines will read the text on your website and look for any similar keywords that are used frequently in a natural and organic way. Search engines are very clever in recognising when a website has simply listed all their keywords over and over again solely for cheating the optimisation process and they will either ignore it completely or black list the page from their results.

Online presence outside of your website

Your keywords can also help better your online presence outside of your website. Here I’m talking in terms of social media and social networking. For example, if you’re registered with LinkedIn, the online business networking directory your profile should be littered with your main keywords. If you have a business related blog or use a micro-blogging tool like Twitter, your list of keywords can help shape your blog topics. Or if you say use Facebook for business, again these have opportunity for relevant keyword placement, and providing all of these social media sites link back to your own website, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much they can help with your search engine rankings.

SO HOW DO YOU CREATE A USEFUL LIST OF KEYWORDS?

Getting together a list of keywords isn’t difficult but to be successful does require a small amount of time spent researching and refining the words. Let’s take for example a local website that sells DIY hardware.

I have found that typically when first asked to provide a list of keywords a business will send a list of between 10-15 singular words that they feel are relevant to their business. In this case, I may have received a list that said ‘hammers, nails, fences, paint, screws, timber, tools, drills, lights, bulbs, bathrooms’.

Imagine for a minute if someone in a search engine simply types ‘nails‘ what kind of website is likely to be thrown up in the results. A quick search reveals mostly website’s about fingernails, nail varnish and nail care. Nothing at all on the first page about fencing or building nails. And let’s face it, the majority of us won’t go past the first page of search results before refining our search.

So immediately we can see that unless you’re an corporate multi-national who’s very image is ‘nails’ or your business operates in a very unusual and niche industry, then your website isn’t going to do well with singular words.

The first step in creating your keywords is to make a generic list, then think about the journey that someone will take to find your business online – a journey that can often take days of online research as opposed to impulsive offline purchasing.

Gary Reid from Search Works, (taken from a recent .net article) says that the first type of search is called ‘navigational’ where a search query will include a brand name, a web address or a company name. The second type of search is called ‘informational’ where highly generic phrases will be used for example ‘fence palings’ or ‘concrete nails’.  And the final leg of the journey is called a ‘transactional’ search where typically 3-5 word phrases are used to really narrow down the search, for instance, ‘white porcelain door handles’ or ‘brand model colour size location’.  The key is to have a list of keywords that represent each stage of this journey and that are specific to each page of your website. It’s worth noting that the search engines when evaluating your webpages don’t like to see too much repetition.

Once you have a list the next step is to ask friends, family and customers for their input. There is no harm in asking customers how they found you or what they might do to search for you online (if they didn’t know your business name).  More often than not when I help customers with this part of their keyword creation, they find that outsiders to their business will use different words to the jargon that they use on a daily basis. So it is really important to make sure that you’re using the words that your customers would use and not simply what you assume.

The next step is to take this bigger list and try these out in a search engine to see what type of results that you get.  This is excellent for many reasons, you’ll instantly see what works and what doesn’t as the results will either show your type of business or not. Once you start finding keywords that work, you’re likely to find your online competitors and can then look at their websites and see what keywords that they’re using by looking at all the optimisation factors as listed above.

Again you can see any website’s meta-tags by clicking on the View or Page menu’s in your browser then selecting the option that says, ‘source’ or ‘page source’.

Now that you have a pretty good list, you can also make use of many online tools to check your keywords for popularity and frequency of use and for suggestions as to alternative but useful keywords that you may not have come across. For example:

https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal
http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com/

http://www.seotoolset.com/cgi-bin/checktraffic.cgi

http://www.digitalpoint.com/tools/suggestion/

I’VE GOT A LIST OF KEYWORDS SO NOW WHAT?

Set about having all the search engine optimisation tips above implemented. Look at your website content – does it need an overhaul, do the words need rewriting? Have your web designer/developer add or refresh the ‘tags’ that need improving if you’re unable to. Look at ways you can expand your web presence past your website through social networking alternatives and use your keywords to help with the content of these. Take time to review your list once in a while, keep checking that they’re relevant to your business and that they’re working for you.

Have Google Analytics installed on your website, it’s an excellent tool and will provide some feedback on keywords used to find your site and it’s FREE.

As Gary Reid said, ‘blindly optimising for a set of keywords is a quick way to waste time and money’. Certainly in today’s economy making use of inexpensive marketing techniques is crucial and having smart keywords will definitely go some way in helping to avoid wasting time and money. Particularly for small businesses it will help in quickly targeting your online marketing efforts so those very important customers who are out there really searching for you and your business will find you and not your competitors.