Shall we blog?

Like an over-excited puppy, you created a blog on your website because that is what brings traffic in (all the research said so…) and you started with gusto, creating blogs that you faithfully published every week and then…

(whistles, looks at watch)

(carries on whistling, admires hair in mirror)

…nothing.

(Disappointed sigh)

Why as a local, online business, you should be blogging

It’s all about content. It’s all about thriving and surviving in a competitive market place and even though you think that your local customers are just fab, you all need to sharing your eggs around your basket. Relying on one market for business, local or otherwise, is the ‘putting your eggs in one basket’ thing, hence where there are fluctuations in the market place they hit you hard, their impact magnified. Being in business is all about looking for the next thing, improving, creating and selling whether that is a local butchers with award winning sausages or a local foot clinic.

Your customers’ tastes change as they influenced by marketing, opinion shifts and budget constraints; they are busy people too so booking online for a foot treatment is great – unless they don’t find your website. We live in a 24 hour world, where we spend the majority of our time in front of different screens, from our smartphone to our tablet, then mooching around on the laptop for the next big thing.

But, people search the web differently too. They may think they have an ingrowing toe nail but how do you know? They hop on the web and do some research and guess what? Google (or any search engine) will note their location and you, wrote a blog or two on the perils on ingrowing toe nails. Google likes the look of your blog, as people have been reading it and liking it or sharing and guess what? Your website bobs up in front of their very eyes and, better still, they can book online and you have a new customers booked in for a consultation on Wednesday afternoon at 4.30pm.

Imagined if that happened once or twice a week; that’s 8 customers a month that you may not have had before…

“So I’m blogging for survival then?”

Sounds a bit melodramatic but yes and, well… er, no.

There are, the last time someone counted 164 million blogs – but that number has probably fluctuated up and down several zillion times since the man in the back room started his tally chart.

The vast majority of these blogs will have less than a 1,000 visitors a month and represent a disaster zone. Why?

You blog for months and months, seemingly for little reward and it is human nature that if you slog your guts out for months and months on something you find stressful and difficult, another tiny little thing to add to your already busy day, you will stop doing it. Fact.

How to avoiding failing at blogging…

Creating content it is GREAT! But do you market it?

If you don’t, you are not promoting yourself or your business hence you will not extend your readership passed you mum and your sister. Their ‘liking’ or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook is great, but you need more likes and shares and comments and readers…. So promote it!

And don’t forget it is not just promoting new blogs; promote older ones too. If there is an article in the news on the importance of cutting your toenails properly and you wrote a piece on it a few months, promote your blog with some well-placed hashtags.

You have permission to jump on the bandwagon.

You will then find, possibly, that people will read some of your other podiatry diatribes on the ingrowing toenails, bunions and athlete’s foot and learn something; people like being informed, hence your blog starts to gain authority with an increased following.

The next step is to start linking your blog with other authoritative sites; the ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours approach’. Again, this is all about building a reader base so why not try your hand submitting a ‘guest post’ to another site, with a lovely link to your own blog? And then, ask someone to do the same for you – they write a post for your site, and your share links and readers back and forth.

Avoid: plagiarism and replicas

What does not go down well is nicking stuff from other people or simply writing a blog that says the same as everyone else’s. This can be a bit stuff as there is only so many ways and times you can take about a subject and, if it is current and in the news headlines then a blog on it simply adds you voice to many others.

Nicking someone’s stuff that they have possibly spent hours crafting is not only morally slightly-dodgy, but can earn you a penalty point from Google and other search engines. Before you know, your blog and website has disappeared without a trace and it is very hard to get it back in Google’s good books again.

The lesson is thus…

  • Creating content and posting it regular is great – once a week is fab
  • Promoting it via your social media platforms is also great
  • Keep promoting older blogs too
  • Advanced bloggers also look to guests posts and links with like-minded blogs and websites
  • Keep doing it!
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Social media wars: which is better?

With the fallout from the Google Authorship and ‘is it a ploy to get us all using Google+?’ question still being bandied around, businesses can be easily confused as to which social media platform is the right one for them.

It can be tempting to be on everything but the problem with this blanket approach is that you may be using platforms that are not suitable and, keeping up to date with them all can be a timing nightmare.

In this article we look at Google+ or G+ and what it can offer you, as well as looking at arguably the most powerful and well-known of social media platforms, Facebook.

Things are changing

Facebook is the ‘daddy of ‘em all’, with a reach that is phenomenal it has, for many years, held the top notch position; it was and still is, the social media platform you must be on. If you wanted to reach out to the largest audience ever, then FB was the place to be.

But things change and on the world of online sharing. Once the poor relation, is seems that the ugly duckling is blossoming into the beautiful swan; 2014 has marked the best year for G+ yet, with its monthly active users reaching 540 million across the globe.

The difference between the two? G+ allows people to search for your business and is obviously geared towards this end of the market, whereas Facebook is more ‘personal’ in its approach but there are reasons why both could be useful, if not essential.

Circles

Some people think that circles on G+ are complicated but they are far from that. It’s a way of sorting the wheat from the chaff if you like and rather than being bombarded with every single post or share, you can group people together, choosing what you see and when.

Facebook has a similar set up now with Edgerank, the algorithm it introduced in December 2013. Rather than users being bombarded with items or posts they may find irrelevant, this algorithm sorts what it thinks the user will like. The only problem with this is that you don’t control it – unlike the G+ circles which you set up – the algorithm checks what you have been looking at and makes the decision for you.

Reach

On Facebook, any posts or statuses you make will need to reach a certain level of ‘likes’ over a set number of times before it is available to the masses, hence the almost begging Tweets and messages from businesses imploring you to like them on Facebook.

BUT, if this doesn’t work, you can always pay for the privilege with various adverts to boost your appearance and views on the platform. But, some say that this is losing sight of its original intention as small businesses may not have the budgeting resources to play alongside the big players.

The algorithm

Facebook’s algorithm is a double-edged sword; on one hand it has a positive impact but recent bad press from experiments such as the ‘emotion experiment’ has made some people question the platform and its integrity.

However, you cannot throw away 1.32 billion users around the world lightly and so, by improving your Facebook posts, from asking questions to running competitions, you do have an excellent way, at your fingertips of attracting new people and customers to your business.

Is it just about numbers?

Reaching the masses is great but, if only a small percentage buy your product or service, is it worth it for a local, online business?

No sale is a bad sale, and so if it reaps the smallest reward then that is not to be sniffed at but if it comes at a cost in terms of both time and money, it may be worth a re-think.

A G+ ‘hangout’ is as some people say, an awesome resource that allows businesses and customers to connect. Think of it as a modern-day equivalent of consumer research and with G+ and Google being the same, you are sending out some strong signals to the most popular search engine.

So, who to choose?

Internet trends change from week to week; it would be sheer folly to predict today what will be right next week or the week after and so on. However, the rub is that, as a business you need to connect to a wide an audience as possible, but balance it against time spent ‘doing’ social media and the return it gives you.

The answer is this – place the same post across the social media platforms you currently use and see where you get the most responses; do this a few times at different times of the year and it gives you an indication of where your audience is at.

Once you feel you know which platforms are right for your business, put time and energy into creating a plan so that you have something to offer customers and something to talk about over both G+ and Facebook – and any others too!

Which platforms do you use? How did you decide which social media sites were best for your local business?

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WordPress – a counter argument

Here at Locally, we use WordPress as the basis for great business websites. We work with a growing range of clients, all local businesses making their presence felt online too.

We work with start-ups through to larger companies who offer a range of high quality products and services locally, as well as nationally and, in the vast majority of cases, globally too.

We know that websites need to be creative showcases that have high quality content, great graphics that are not overdone and that the whole thing needs to search engine optimised.

We also know that every business is different and so every website needs to be different; what suits one free school in one area of the country will not suit another free school is another area. Businesses may occupy the same trade or industry, but it doesn’t mean they offer the same product or service, in the same way.

So, we don’t have ‘templates’ as such, although we have an innate understanding of what a business could want and, working alongside our clients, we create great websites that work.

WordPress – not everyone’s cup of tea

WordPress is an open source platform, which, without getting too technical, means that brilliantly technically minded people (like us here at Locally!) can create rather wonderful and spectacular websites for businesses (for anyone, in fact). Associated with a  vibrant and fabulous blogging movement, you can create, with the addition of plug-ins and design creativity, a bespoke WordPress website.

But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea as highlighted in a recent article we came across and so, we think it is only fair to present the other side of the argument and why WordPress can create fabulous, creative websites that really do work…

The criticisms levelled at WordPress websites were:

  • WordPress sites are not ‘truly’ able to be updated or created in a bespoke way – not true! And we think we have a growing portfolio that points to evidence to the contrary. There is also mention that people who create such websites do not know much about code and that they hitch a ride on other developers, using their ideas and creations. Here at Locally we add to the WordPress community, as well as share ideas. Since when has this been a bad thing?
  • Plug ins – as an open and sharing community, developers from across the web community create plug ins that others can use of their websites to enhance it. Detractors suggest that these plug ins often conflict and break, suggesting that the security of the website will be compromised. With all the recent hacking scandals and dodgy photos making their way online this is, to all intents and purposes, playing on people’s vulnerability. With the right technical help from a company like us, these breakages and conflicts in plug ins can be avoided.
  • Security – continuing with the theme of security, some industry experts also suggest that the open community behind WordPress is also its greatest weakness. As the platform is written by and shared by large numbers of people, suggestions are it is easier to hack and therefore, your WordPress website could be compromised. Funny how the recent hacking scandals have not affected WordPress but other open source programs…
  • Every site is the same – again, a common misconception we feel around WordPress is that people assume that because there are thousands of themes to choose from that this means every website looks and feels the same; we disagree. We do create bespoke WordPress websites. Simple.
  • Lacking in originality – another criticism of WordPress is the perceived lack of originality and that search engines, such as Google, will note this, giving such website a ‘miss’ when it comes to page 1 rankings. This doesn’t seem to affect Beyonce’s WordPress site… hers seems far from lacking in originality and ranking. In fact, research any major topic online and you will come across many bespoke websites that use WordPress and do not seem to struggle from lack of originality.
  • Updating – apparently the penchant for updating WordPress every few months is an issue that some find deplorable. We think that keep your website fresh, with all the latest technical wizardry a rather fabulous thing…
  • SEO – ah, the old search engine optimisation argument. In fact, we think our earlier point about WordPress websites figuring high in the rankings more than blows this point out of the water…

For those that knock WordPress we think you are trying to kick an open door; it is a futile exercise! Take another look at what this platform can offer your business.

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“Jingle bells, Jingle bells…”

WE love Christmas here at Locally! Any excuse to wear a dodgy looking jumper and extra sparkle for a day. A bright hiatus in an otherwise grey month, we dream of snow and crisp blue skies.

As we bask in the driest September since 1960, you may have noticed that there are the odd reference here and there to Christmas. Yet to take hold, we all know that by the time the clocks change, the retail industry will be in full Christmas swing.

Just take a look at your personal Facebook or other social media site and will see the odd Christmas graphic creeping in, telling you that you have less than ‘x number of Saturday’s’ before the arrival of the festive period. But, before we get there and you once again wear the jumper you will never wear again, let us think about all the things you have to do… and add one more to your list;

Calling all of our online, local businesses who have products and services to sell: check your website.

BUT, before you go plunging ahead with the following suggestions for a spruce up of your website before the Christmas rush, we need to mention a pro and a con of this…

  • PRO: the money you make during the Christmas rush will be a large % of your overall turnover
  • CON: don’t make rash decisions. Think carefully before you opt to change anything…

That said, we need to talk about your website… its content and the small little tweaks you could make in time for the Christmas rush. But, you won’t have a Christmas rush if you website is a bit squiffy so here goes;

It makes perfect sense to me!

But does it to everyone else?! One sure fire way of getting some honest (brutal) feedback is to get a friend or relative to be a critical shopper. How is it really to find what a customer wants or needs? Is the checkout process clunky?

Real life example – we have seen a local cattery and kennel who give cats and dogs a great holiday while the folks are away and yet their website and marketing material has a picture of rabbits on it. Do they take rabbits for holidays? No. So why have rabbits on your website…? We suspect to fill a space.

In other words, is your website easy to use and easy to buy from?

Does your website ‘say’ what is needs to?

Rather than just looking at your content, look at the overall image that is conveyed by your website and bear in mind your target audience. If you attempting to appeal to parents, does it look like a trusted website? Are the goods and products on offer, offered in a way that says ‘buy me with confidence’?

A longer term project, but what about your descriptions and photos? Good quality or due for a change.

NEVER underestimate the appeal factor your website must have…

Overboard design

This could be a whole separate post in itself but if you design needs tweaking then you need to get someone with a fabulous design eye to take a look. The festive season is not an excuse to go overboard with dancing snowmen and an abundance of snowflakes, flashing away when someone lands on your page.

You have 3 seconds from the moment someone lands on your website to make the right impression… or they simply go away!

‘Buy NOW’/ ‘Click here’/ ‘Add to basket’/Buy 2, get the 3rd free…

What do the four above phrases have in common? They are all calls to action and, even though we know that consumers are not dunces, psychologically they need permission, guidance, direct instructions – call it want you want – to buy your product or services. You may have a lovely description about how your locally made produce is the best, but are you telling them to ‘buy it now before stock run out’?

If not, why not?!

What’s that smell…?

It could be your stale content. Sorry. There is no other way to say it but your content can ‘go off’ after a while. Not only does Google like to see fresh, bountiful content but so do consumers. If they visit a few times and keep seeing the same thing, they’ll start asking if there is anyone at the other end… keep the rolling news bit going, get the blogs happening, update the welcome etc.

A short term solution that could add some sparkle but this is no excuse to blunder on in and change everything.

Be realistic about what you can achieve and do smaller portions of you website well, rather than a whole quick change that is not right.

Smartphone compatibility

Figures vary, but 75% of consumers may, at frequent intervals use their mobile to do their shopping online and so if your website is not fit for this, you may be losing a valuable number of potential customers.

Bits don’t work…

… and finally, if you do nothing else this side of Christmas, you simply must check that all the bits and bobs work, like your social media buttons. Not only do broken bits and bobs send a negative message to your potential customer, it also means that they are missing out on the more social aspects of your company or brand – if they can’t like you Facebook page or follow you on Twitter, then you are missing out on a growing audience.

The pre-Christmas summary is this:

  • Get someone to take an objective look at how easy it to find products and buy through your website

  • Chivvy up the content but rather than going wholesale, pick the parts that could be improved

  • Keep blogging and adding content

  • Check ALL the important bits and bobs work – and keep doing that

  • You have 3 seconds to make the right impression…

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Could your social media presence mean more sales in 2015…

Thumb Up Sign

…and how your SEO plan will look like to harness your audience

Now that the summer sun and heat (!) have started to cool, the Christmas countdown has started and, dear reader, you will be pleased to know we are around 100 days away from the festive season where we are all jolly, ruddy cheeked and over-stuffed.

However, as we gear up to the time of year that the majority of our online retail businesses make their money, we take a sneaky peek in to what 2015 could offer us…

… and it seems that the next ‘big thing’ will be the growth in sales from social media. In fact, back in 2012, experts and industry commentators were predicting that by 2015, social media was going to burst in terms of increased revenue and, that the shopping experience would improve immensely over time.

It seems that someone, somewhere has been doing some number crunching too – predictions are that by the end of next year, almost half of the sales will be generated by social media and that, for online, local businesses, could be worth thousands and thousands of pounds.

And which social media platform could hold the balance…?

Facebook.

Love it or hate it, the social media platform’s power seem to keep growing and the numbers of consumers it is referring to businesses is set to increase. Thus far, statistics suggest that it send around 25% of referral traffic to businesses and so if you are not on Facebook, or perhaps do not harness it as much as you could, the tail end of 2014, just before the Christmas rush, could be the right time.

It seems that having a fan base on Facebook for your brand will pay dividends – 80% of your Facebook followers are likely to buy from you through your offers compared to 41% who are not your followers – the moral of this story? Start growing your fan base and offer them some great offers and discounts!

Recommendations are just as important too, so ask people to like and share as again, 70% of your followers will apparently do this, compared to ‘strangers’.

You also need to keep an eye on your competitors and check out how well you are performing on social media compared to them…

  • Around ⅓ of online, small and local businesses have a Facebook page or presence
  • Being on social media of this kind can also decrease marketing costs meaning your sales revenue takes less of a hit with expenses
  • The reach of Facebook and many other social media platforms is huge BUT, don’t forget that it is not just there to sell at all costs! Don’t forget to have a mix of offers, discounts and interesting links and ideas.

Not the only social media platform…

But, Facebook is not the ‘be all and end all’ of online selling and sharing platforms, and whilst predictions are that its power and focus will grow in 2015, it is important to keep an eye on other predictions that could affect your local, online business;

  • The ‘humble’ mobile is no longer ‘humble’ -Smartphones are everywhere and predictions are that during 2015, 50% of web traffic will be through consumers using their phones. Is your website mobile friendly? If not, you need to tap into this lucrative opportunity.
  • Be social! – Just as we have talked about social signals before and how some people refute that Google takes any notice of this social signals, it seems at odds with the prediction that 2015 will see social media grow increasingly dominant in the world of search engine optimisation. Take a look at your social media presence – is it working?
  • Email marketing is here to stay – But, if you think that a Facebook page and the odd Tweet will be enough, you’d be wrong! But, any email marketing you do will need to be more consumer focused, as well as personalised and targeted. This is simply because as web users, we are being increasingly bombarded with information and data.
  • Real-time – We are impatient, no more so than when it comes to buying something or asking for help; predictions are that response from companies to consumers will increasingly become in real time in 2015 – none of this “we aim to respond in 5 working days…” lark!
  • Content in context – We have been saying for some time now that your content needs to be of quality, with any keywords or phrases well placed within the article or post – and we have been proved right! 2015 promises to be the year that if your keyword sticks out like a sore thumb, you’ll be bounced back past page 10 in the search engine pages! You really do need to be using words and phrases in a way that is semantically correct – in other words, written and used in the right way.

Don’t get left behind in 2015…

  • Search engine optimisation will be essential
  • If your website is lumpy, complex to use and just s-l-o-w, then Google will take no notice of it
  • Quality content that is fresh!

Don’t wait until 2015!

However, there are still 100 days to Christmas and so this is what you need to do:

ü  Take a look NOW at your website and see what small maintenance ‘jobs’ can be done to refine it

ü  Spruce up the content now

ü  Look longer term: sort out the site for mobile

ü  Use your social media platforms to good effect

ü  Look longer term – get that online strategy written!

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Tempus Fugit! How do you charge for your time?

Time does truly fly.

We’ve all seen the usual photos of friend’s children, scrubbed clean after the summer holidays ready for the new school term, posted on Facebook in crisp clean uniforms, with comments underneath that usually say something along the lines of, “where has the time gone?!”

But, time flying past can have a serious consequence; if a project is bleeding time, you are losing money…

Bleeding time?!

Sounds painful and unnecessary but when we say this we mean effectively undercharging for the amount of time you spend on a project. In fact, it can be quite a wake up call. Especially when you come across a program that can link what you input on the timesheet with creating an accurate invoice…

However, like most things, the internet has the answer; there are a plethora of applications and software that can effectively and efficiently track the amount of time you spend on a project.

How do you charge for your time?

Go on, admit it! You hazard a guess and, at best, hope that it hits the mark. You probably don’t bother re-negotiating for the odd few minutes here and there of the over time you do but, if you can see the project running and running you will, hopefully, re-negotiate a better deal.

If you are a one-man band, this may be OK-ish; when problems can become apparent is when it comes to leaking time (and therefore, money) is when you have a team of people working on various projects at once.

Which is why you may need one of the many online applications or programs to help you note the amount of time each employee spend on each project or assignment.

The cloud computing options

Remember our article on cloud computing? Well this is a great way of investing in programs that do not need downloading or expensive updates. These time sheet type applications can be free but other charge a monthly fee for their use.

Of course, as with all things, you need to research each of these applications thoroughly, checking that what they offer for the price you can afford is something useful; don’t be bamboozled into spending money you don’t have!

Likewise, as with all cloud applications etc., check out the security too; online reviews are a great place to start for which timesheet programs could be a contender for your business.

Some ideas…

There are some great online timesheets that can function from a basic timesheet, to setting up projects so that more than one employee can input their time for each project. This way you can see what time is being spent on each portion of a project; you can then adjust your quotation system but also assess if there are some aspects that can be streamlined to make them flow quicker.

We’ve come across some great applications, all with varying degrees of complexities including Basecamp www.basecamp.com and Timegenie www.thetimegenie.com

One application that we find useful is Toggl. Not only do you complete timesheet per project but they can also be used to create invoices – meaning you streaming the amount of time spent on creating invoices – take a look https://www.toggl.com/tour/web

Who could Toggl be useful for?

Anybody who charges by a ‘time unit’ and is intended for anyone who wants an overview of time spent on projects. It bills itself as an easy-to-use programme that can be up and running within minutes.

They draw their customers from across a wide sectors of industry and from across the globe, including consultants, book-keepers, designers, students for example and they also say they have  small to large businesses using their application too – from charities, not-for-profit organisations to big, global companies.

Security and reliability

We have all, however, been in that dreadful position when we have tried to use an online program to complete a simple, yet essential task only to find that we are attempting to do so when there is essential maintenance or a glitch in the system.

So when checking for security and reliability with any cloud service is that they are duplicated and backed up – so if the night time cleaner inadvertently pulls the plug, your important data is not lost.

You will also find, like Toggl does, that cloud services talk about ‘uptime’ and you are looking for a high percentage of time – Toggl say they have an uptime of 99.9%, with data backed up every 12 hours, as well as being encrypted and stored in several separate locations. All in all, it seems that they take security and reliability seriously.

Should you pay? Or is free good enough?

Depending on what you want to use the service force, and how complex you need the functions to be, there may be a charge but, in all honesty, the majority of cloud services such as timesheet and connected invoicing are reasonable.

You will also find that many of these application and programs reel you in with a 30 day free trial for example but look out for…

  • Contracts, termination fees and the like which may mean that once signed up, you are tied in for months…
  • There are discounts available with many of these online services, such as for charities, not for profit organisations, students etc. as well as for larger companies
  • As easy as they say they are to use, you may struggle with some features – what is the support like? Is there a cost to this?
  • Many are run from countries across the globe – if you are on a different time zone, how does support work then? It will be no good if you have a burning question but it can’t be answered as the sun’s not up in America yet…
  • Synchronicity is great too and so you may want to check if you can access it or have updates etc. across the range of technology you use

Is it for you?

It could be and with a bit of research and some tome spent getting to know the program, you could find that you actually charge for the time spent on a project!

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Head in the Clouds… what is all this about cloud computing?

It’s everywhere. Literally.

For some, they have found the cloud to be a less than perfect place with recent stories about celebrities and their Clouds being hacked, with private photographs making their way on to certain websites and sharing platforms. Not a pleasant thought and one which raises security concerns for not just celebrities, but for all of us – companies, local online businesses and ourselves, as individuals.

But what is all this cloud thing, anyway? How do you when you are in the cloud? Is it technical or complicated? And so, with the terms cloud/cloud computing bandied about everywhere we take a look at what all the fuss is about…

What IS cloud computing?

It really is quite simple – instead of accessing and storing data and programs on your computer (that is, its hard drive), you use the Internet. In other words, the cloud is the internet and everything you want to use or store can be found there; you connect to it when you need something and it gives out what you ask for.

Local storage is…

… the term used to describe the process of saving/storing and accessing programmes or information on your hard drive. Everything you need is physically close and access to it is simple and easy. In fact, this is how many of use traditionally started to use to computers and are probably still doing so.

But, storing things through cloud computing means that no matter where you are, you can access the information or data stored there. It all sounds a bit magic and, unless you have an innate sense of the huge processing capabilities of the web, it probably is just too complicated and big to understand.

What it does off is the ability to be truly mobile when it comes to accessing information you need. Remember the day when you were at a meeting and realised you had forgotten your USB pen and you needed the information ASAP? You needed someone to email you a copy and then you needed to access your email…

You can save yourself all this stress and hassle by signing up to the many different apps, drives and programmes that allow you to log in, securely, no matter where you are. Some of these magic apps and drives – such as Google Drive – allow you to share this information with selected people, such as colleagues, friends, family etc., too hence the need to send emails with humongous attachments could also be a thing of the past.

As long as you have an internet or data connection on your smart phone etc., you can get to your stuff.

Business and individual users

Large corporations have a different type of ‘cloud’ to access to the one talked about here – cloud computing as described is the type that individuals and small, possibly medium seized entities will access. Huge companies have something slightly different but functions along similar lines called ‘software-as-a-service’ or SaaS.

There are many other examples and some business have taken the leap, with all their computing needs now being in cloud services, rather than having a room full of servers, expensive software that needs updating and a department full of IT specialists…

Some cloud examples

On one hand, we have simplified the notion of local computing and cloud computing in to two distinct separate entities, but just when you think you have a handle on it, along comes another example that blurs this distinction.

For example, with the Microsoft Office 365 programme, this is ‘loaded’ on to your machine and is therefore a local computing example BUT, as part of that package, it also utilises the Microsoft Skydrive which is a cloud-based programme.

However, here are two common cloud examples and we intend looking at various other cloud-based applications in future posts as well as …

  • Google Drive – we have already mentioned this and is one that people are finding increasingly useful. You can use this on your laptop, PC, tablet, iPad smart phone along with many other devices. There are many other examples from Google including the Calendar, Reader, Voice etc.
  • Apple iCloud – this has been at the centre of the very recent controversy around celebrity accounts being hacked and items, such as photos, removed and used elsewhere on the web. It can store media files, and also as a way to synchronise mail, contacts, calendars and other applications etc.

Common applications that are cloud-based that many people use are DropBox, Open Drive, SafeSync etc. But there are also many useful applications that businesses use, such as accountancy cloud packages, as well as managing projects and time – and it is these applications and platforms that we will look at in future posts!

The pros of cloud computing (this vary from business to business, and person to person… always pays to do your research as to what you could  get out of each cloud service for you)

  • Cost reduction – it may be possible to lower costs through opting for cloud services simply as it minimises the investment needed in both hardware, software and, in some cases, high-tech IT people; you will need far less resources to manage it.
  • Use what you pay for – just like your energy bills, as a business you pay for the space you use, in some instances; if you need more, you buy more.
  • Levels the IT playing field – whereas at one time, only the big hugely profitable business could afford to invest in sophisticated technology, cloud computing has made it more accessible to the smaller businesses and sole trader.
  • Collaborate and communicate – there is no doubt that the greatest advantage is that businesses can collaborate and communicate so much easier across vast distance, global in fact!

But there may be some cons too…

  • Availability – if the cloud service ‘goes down’, when will you able to access important information? Clearly, there needs to be a backup plan.
  • Ownership – there seems to be some issues in some cases about who owns the data and what happens to it if you close the account etc. Again, this needs to be a well thought out consideration.
  • Security – again, there have been questions raised recently that seem to point that nothing is safe on the web from being hacked but maybe, by following advice it is possible to make it harder for people to steal your data. However, industry experts have suggested that providers of cloud based applications need to ‘up their game’ in terms of security.

Is cloud computing for you?

It can offer many different things to different people but like all business ‘purchases’, do you research and get the right package and you too, could soon be walking with your head in the clouds!

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Avoid Google’s Wrath…

Thankfully, not all relationships in life are as fickle but as we near the end of the first full week since Google Authorship disappeared (see previous post ‘Storm in a tea cup?’) what the announcement will have done is create speculation and double-guessing of what Google could have in store for the future of search engine optimisation.

Which got us thinking here at Locally about SEO, websites and when things go sour between your website and Google.

It’s an odd relationship

One sided, in many aspects – you spend money, time and nervous energy creating a website that customers will love and buy your services and products – it feels like you do all the hard work. You constantly covet the favour of Google as, after all, if they like you, your website could be catapulted to the stars…

But, some people, in their desperate attempts to climb their way up this ladder, take a wrong turn; Google punishes them and down they fall. Even worse, once you have fallen out of favour with Google, it is incredibly hard to get back in (…although, for those of us with a slightly skewed vision of the online world, it seemed that some huge corporations have managed to buy favour back…)

And so, here is Locally’s guide to avoiding being told off/punished/scolded/call it what you will by one of the most powerful search engines in the world today…

  • Plagiarism

Just like you were flung outside of the head’s office at school for copying someone else’s work, the same is true for the content on your website. Using duplicate information from somewhere else on the web completely goes against the underlying principles of the Internet, as far as Google is concerned – users don’t like it, it’s useless and it is a hindrance to originality.

Locally’s Top Tip: Don’t do it!

  • A web address that doesn’t fit

This means that a company, business or person needs to select a Uniform Resource Locator (URL or web address) that best suits their business. Google will give you credit for this when it searches for results zillions-of-times-per-second across the globe. The more apt your URL, the healthier Google will rank it.

Locally’s Top Tip: do you research not just about your name, but all the component parts of a URL

Things that don’t work

Included under this title are links that do not work; we’ve all clicked on what looks like a great resource only to be met with the ‘error 404’ code. These dead links, and other broken bits, do create a disadvantage for your website but on a scale of 1 to 10 – 10 being the worst thing ever – it is fairly low down the scale.

Locally’s Top Tip: keep your website fresh and maintained.

Absence of Key Technical ‘bits’

Sitemaps and Robot.txt files are just two of the ‘technical bits’ that many people do not understand but they are essential for when Google crawls your website looking for it needs in order to know what you are and who would be interested in your site. Having a greater knowledge of SEO can help…

Locally’s Top Tip: ask us how we do all the background techy bits…

Keyword phrases – using them TOO much!

We all know the importance of key words, phrases and the like but it is possible to over use them! This sends a rather wonky signal to Google who sees it as you stuffing your text with keywords, which means it probably makes very little sense. Your content (and your writing) needs to be genuine and disciplined.

Locally’s Top Tip: in a 500 word blog, post or article, your keyword should appear no more than 5 times (and even that is pushing it in such a small space! 4 times works better…)

Bizarre H1 header tags!

This is usually the title of a post but what can happen is that they are used across the website/post/article and it all becomes a little bizarre, with whopping titles leaping off the page. Try to keep your desperation under wraps and use them sparingly, with the biggest profit.

Locally’s Top Tip – identify when a H1 tag really needs to be used…

S-L-O-W response times

Just like we moan about waiting for the shop assistant to get off the phone etc. the same is true when it comes to surfing the web. Naturally impatient, any website that takes longer than a nano-second to load is an instant turn-off. Google feels the same; it shares the pain of the user and so dumps you down the rankings. Sorry.

Locally’s Top Tip – get expert help on why your website is taking so long to load…

Trying to hide things

When text is hyperlinked, it appears a different colour from the surrounding text. The user can choose to click on it or not (we do it in our blog posts – it means we’ve come across something that offers more info on what we are blogging about, and think you may be interested in it too). Quality and appropriate links are great BUT, what some have done is change these links to match the colour of the surrounding text (the user doesn’t know they are there) but Google does and it sees this as over-stuffing and not playing fair.

Locally’s Top Tip – don’t do it! Keep you link visible, useful and relevant.

Cloaking

This is a really poor exercise that upsets users and that is when they are deceived by keywords that when clicked, takes them to a website that has nothing to do with the content of the original website, business etc. It is frustrating, can be embarrassing depending on what the link is to and Google hates it.

Locally’s Top Tip – nope, don’t do it.

Spamming links!

This again is a source of huge frustration to users hence, Google comes down on it like a ton of bricks and this is using links on your web pages that have absolutely nothing to do with your website. Google take this very seriously and, in all honesty, is very hard to come back from.

Locally’s Top Tip – this is a definite no-no.

And so, we see that if our websites follow certain rules, feel and look ‘genuine’ then its climb up the rankings may be slow, but it will be a quality step each time, rather than precariously teetering on every rung.

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Storm in a tea cup or something you need to take note of?

The “Google Authorship is Over!” headline and what it means for your website

Here at Locally, we like to keep all our online, local businesses up to date with the goings on of search engines and how they will, or will not, select your website for in their rankings. And one announcement that seems to have thrown the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons – in other words, it caught the tech world off-guard – is Google’s announcement that Google Authorship is over.

Whilst those ‘in the know’ all sucked in their breath, tweeting and emailing their surprise to one another, us lesser mortals have been wondering if this has any implication for us, for our constant, yet brave struggle to outrank the big bodies when it comes to search engine ranking and whether we need to really do anything…

Scratching our heads, we take to the Internet and research the whole thing, only to end up more confused. Some may say that is has no implications but others may be more cautious… in this post, we attempt to explain the whole episode and what, if anything, it means for your online business.

Let’s start at the beginning: what is Google Authorship exactly?

Acronym alert! SERPs means search engine results pages: the further up the SERPs you are, the increase in website traffic you should get (as you are more visible)

You will have noticed across a whole range of websites the G+ button, the Google plus account that some people and businesses have. If you have a G+ account, you will have a profile and circles of people, from family to friends and circles for acquaintances/colleagues/business associates… in fact, you can create your own circles as you wish.

When you find something you want to share, you can share it on this platform and send it around everyone, or a selected few; in other words, G+ is a sharing platform.

As part of this platform, you could also tell Google you were an authoritative writer, blogger or sharer of information… in other words, you ‘owned’ an ‘authorship’ (however, as we will see, this was not quite all that it was cracked up to be…)

Hence, whenever you search on Google for ‘search engine optimisation’, at one time the top few results in SERPs would be authors you would eventually become familiar with as they are seen as an authority on the subject. What would spring up is their photo and some of the blogs they had written on the issue.

Now, clearly, it is Google’s ‘baby’ and so some of us opted for a G+ account; you can customise your profile, add a delightful thumbnail photo that shows your best side (but there were rules on this – the photo had to be good quality, not a cartoon or any other kind of graphic; this was all about authority, don’t forget).

And it is these photos and additional information that has, it seems, been creeping up the ranking in previous years. But many of us were simply unaware that there were additional steps to getting the very best out of this account; this has all changed now…

… BUT, it only worked if the person verified their accounts (told Google they owned it) and only 12% of people using G+ are thought to have done this. On researching the topic of Google Authorship, we looked into how authors verified ownership of their G+ accounts and it seems it was not easy…

In a nutshell, Google authorship was a nod to the reliable, trustworthy information, blog etc. that searchers would find useful.

And…?

Well, Google has stopped placing weight behind these authorship accounts and have effectively removed them as signal to its algorithm. The effects seem to have been immediate, whereas you would have seen results with photos or graphics, you will now not see these.

BUT, it seems that companies/business/people with G+ accounts are still figuring in these rankings. Which seems a bit odd but look on it as a minor tweak which could affect some people, but for others it may not make too much of a difference.

Why is Google getting rid of ‘authorship’?

Well it seems, according to Google that it was not giving its users what they wanted; it was distracting; and they’ve done their research too. By not having the results high in SERPs (some people say that authorship was removed in October 2013…), it did not reduce traffic to sites nor reduce the number of clicks on ads.

In other words, no one really noticed. Google have since said it was an ‘experiment’ that last three years and they have been tweaking it along the way.

As a result, Google have released results from 3 years of data collection that show it was not working how they envisaged it would because…

  • Those that did set up Authorship did not do so properly – in other words, profiles were completed
  • Users did not find any value in it

Right, what do you need to do?

Well, it seems that this announcement has caught people off guard and wondering if it is all a ploy by Google to get people on to G+ as they are using these results in SERPs; some people see it as an aggressive tactic to get people to use G+ as most people doubly-serious about their rankings will do anything to get the edge.

What not to do – panic!

This is not a massive change to search engine optimisation for some people but, it may be worth looking at Google+ as another platform to add to your website as a means of being able to share your content, offers, business, ideas etc., especially if you do not have an account yet. SEO experts are currently leaning towards this idea simply because one thing that has been noted is that blog posts by G+ authors are coming out near the top of the rankings.

If you have a G+ profile, you may need to make sure you are using it but, Google are currently telling us that the results are not much different when it comes to SERPs it is always worth keeping an eye on any changes that this search engine creates – after all, it is used billions of times every day across the globe.

The basics have not changed: quality content, regularly updated on your website and plenty of social signals via your chosen social media platforms – it is still a marathon, not a sprint.

Coming up next: top tips on how to not be punished by Google and then we are off to the Cloud…

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SEO, spidering, page rank and tags – know what they are all about?!

What is Search Engine Optimisation?Search engine optimisation (SEO) – a basic guide for all local, online businesses

Yup, you have all heard those words and we have all sagely nodded, pretending we know exactly what is being talked about; we’ve sucked in breath at what seems like an opportune time in the conversation and rolled our eyes to register our disapproval at something we think we should do… when really, as a local plumbing or luxury spa resort, we haven’t the foggiest what is being debated.

The stock answer tends to be ‘our web design people do it’ and, with a flick of the hand, we have washed all SEO responsibility from ourselves. We assume the web design people are doing it; they could be but, it does pay to know what it is you may have agreed to (as some of it may cost you money!).

SEO – what is it?

SEO stands for search engine optimisation and it is the process by which a search engine – such as Google, Yahoo etc. – push your website to the top of the pages that a searcher will see when they are looking for something. Get it right, and your website will be at the top (or near it) on the results page and that is a really fabulous place to be.

There are lots and lots of articles on what SEO is, attempting to shed off the veil of uncertainty and mythical powers such as in this article http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2014/jan/16/what-is-seo-how-website-google-visibility

The search engine – a creature with mythical powers

Unseen, yet powerful, the search engine has an immense power in the background that spends all day and all night, wondering around the Internet, all-seeing and all-knowing. And these are some of the things they do:

  • Spidering – not the hairy-knee’d tarantula type but more a description of the research phase of a search engine’s cycle. It takes a quick look at all or some of the pages on your website and then it will group it along with other, similar websites. So, if you are a beauty therapist, your website will be placed with all the other beauty therapy websites.
  • Page rank – this is when Google or another search engine after indexing your website, will assign a certain level of importance to it. The more reputable and authoritative the search engine believes your website is, the higher the page rank.
  • Search results – this is the list of websites that pop up when a user has typed on a phrase or words they want to search. The users types in ‘gardeners London’ and it will throw a whole load of websites into a prioritised list that it thinks best matches the search that user is making. These are the natural search results, as opposed to the sponsored adverts.

Many companies and local, online businesses want to improve their performance on these search engine rankings, not surprising when you consider how searchers use the listings; how far past page 2 do you look?!

How to improve your ranking


1. Key words and phrases

These are the words that point the search engine to you website, telling it in one word or short phrase what your company is about. The start of this process is quite simple – simply match the words that are obvious such as an accountancy firm would use ‘tax’, ‘book-keeping’. ‘Self-assessment returns’, ‘small business’, ‘VAT’ etc.

But, the second step in this first process is to delve a little deeper in to how customers would search for a company offering a product or service like yours. There is a technical trick to finding what their keywords are so you can match theirs… (right click on a text area, this will open a new window of code; at the top of this box you may see their hidden keywords).

2. Use these keywords on your website

This is where the ‘marathon not a sprint’ bit comes in to play and why so many online business invest in professionally written articles and posts. You can, of course, write blogs etc. yourself; if a key phrase is ‘website designer Gloucester’, then you can create a blog that has these key word phrase peppered through it (Note the word ‘peppered’, not over stuffed!).

Companies tend to be a little over-zealous about the number of different keywords and phrases in an article. One blog is not going to cut it – you are looking at creating a series of blogs and posts that have these keywords in them… the marathon, not a sprint bit!

3. Links

There are many articles on the use of links on websites but stay away from the whole buying links as this sends the wrong message to the search engines, especially Google and once you have a black mark against you, it can be difficult to claw your way back.

So, in your articles and posts you add some links to other authoritative websites (like we do in our posts). They need to be appropriate and fit with the content and have an obvious reason why they are there. Like keywords and phrases, just stuffing them in is not the right way to go about optimising your website for the search engines.

4. Measure

Many websites, serves and hosting companies have the ability to measure the number of visitors to your website and you should start to see an increase as soon as you start to make these changes. Some people say that when you posts your articles and blogs is important; potential customers tend to be browsing in an evening and over the weekend, so having your articles online before these times is a great way of tapping into a ‘market’ (Monday morning, some experts say is the time people are least likely to be surfing the web, with later on in the week is the ‘best’ time).

But, this is an never-ending task… once you have completed this cycle, you need to start again!

And this is why http://www.jeffbullas.com/2013/01/11/5-big-reasons-to-monitor-your-website/

SEO is the process of getting your website as close to the top of the results page as possible. There are many other technical aspects to getting your website noticed all of which can be helped along with some expert input, such as meta tags and more.

Is your website search engine optimised? If not, what help do you need?

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