DIY, until you need some help

Today’s post is about how I managed to turn a simple computer upgrade into a week’s lost work and the equivalent cost of a brand new machine. And though I may have also ground another layer of enamel off my teeth in frustration, it got me thinking.

As a small business owner or sole trader you’re often expected to juggle all sorts of skills that would be the responsibility of specialists in a larger workforce. You’ll often manage your own books, market and promote your own services, manage your tax – the list is long and if you’re a sole trader it may be unwritten and endless – everything’s your responsibility.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t outsource. For some things it’s a necessity. Knowing where to draw the line is the art and science of running a business.

Whether you decide to throw time or your money, at your problems, neither approach is wrong. It depends on the stage of your business and which you have more of.

It also depends on your skill set. BUT how well can we judge our own skills in areas we’re not familiar?

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing

Here’s the rub – not being a subject expert, it’s the things you don’t know that you don’t know, that’ll hurt you in the end.

I like to think I understand how to put PCs together. But the reality is that I do to a point. (After laborious investigations, it seems my hard-drives don’t like my new motherboard – thanks to Geeks 2 U for eventually coming to the rescue).

Knowing when you’re beaten

We all have our specialities and we all live in a world of incredible complexity, that’s mostly hidden from us.

IT folk probably know this better than most, but as someone who works in the publishing industry, I see it too. Publishing information on the web or in print is a process and you get better at it the more you do it. If it’s your job and you do it for many years, you can expect to learn a thing or two.

At face value it looks like the sort of thing everyone could do for themselves. And it is. But if your specialty is somewhere else, don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Adwords users – Don’t Panic!

If you make use of Google’s pay-per-click Adwords program, you may have had a nasty surprise recently.

When I left the office last Friday the Adwords accounts I manage were looking the best they’d ever been. Saturday morning, was a different story.

The Quality Scores assigned to each keyword had plummeted overnight. One of the standard account management tasks is to ensure all your keywords have a Quality Score of 5 or above out of 10. Friday, they all did – with many 10/10 scores. Saturday at least half my keywords were 3/10 and only a handful were over my cut off point of 4!

My initial response was to start pruning by deleting the 3/10 keywords – until I realised the extent of the issue. I would have had to delete almost all of them!

If you’re in the same boat, we’re not alone. The current consensus seems to be that there may be a bug in Google’s bot that crawls accounts and assigns the scores. Everyone who has experienced this problem is continuing to see the same performance from their ads.

But conspiracy theories abound – is this a new algorithm? With no announcement? It’s probably a profitable mistake, with lots of advertisers forced to up their bids to regain footing.

No official word from Google. 

In the face of comparably overwhelming complexity and seemingly insurmountable inconvenience, the HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy always presented it’s users with the words – Don’t Panic! 

So now we wait. The alternative would be to delete what are still quite good performing keywords, despite their scores.

Google’s SEO starter guide

Google first published it’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) starter guide 2 years ago, but a new update has just been released on its Webmaster Tools site.

Download: Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

The beauty of the guide is, like everything Google produces, it’s simple and useful.

For those new to SEO it summarises everything you need to know, and for more experienced site owners there are some reminders – straight from the horse’s mouth – as to best practice for making your site Google-friendly.

The basics haven’t changed much since my SEO basics post in 2007. But this is a great document for bringing SEO to life, replete with cute little Googlebot cartoons and links to a wealth of resources. For example, below, Google engineer Matt Cutts explains the anatomy of a search result.

Some of the useful insights I took away for managing a large site:

  • A reminder of Webmaster tools’ handy content analysis section that points out if any of your meta tags are too short, long or duplicated
  • Some useful help on the importance of Google-friendly URLs
  • An explanation of 301 redirects and the rel=”cannonical” link element, which ensure duplicate URLs don’t confuse poor Googlebot
  • An introduction to the open source Sitemap Generator Script Google has helped produce (in beta testing phase) and image sitemaps
  • Google’s 404 widget for presenting useful and friendly ‘Page not found’ messages
  • A whole new section dedicated to Google’s separate mobile search functionality.

Tracking Google SERP

Each week I trawl through loads of material on blogs, newsletters and social media, to keep up with new developments online. Occasionally I find something that makes it all worth it. Here’s one such find.

How to automatically track Google search positions in Excel

This was a fantastic post on Search Engine People’s blog by Yoav Ezer. It’s about a tool he’s made, and provided for free download. It’s an Excel spreadsheet with predefined macros that allow you to track and graph the position of your site in Google’s organic search engine results pages (SERP).

How does that help me?

If you own a website you’re probably interested to know where it appears in Google’s search results when people do relevant searches.

One way to find out is to just do a search and see. That’s ok, but what if you have a large site, with many pages, and you want to track many keywords?

And of course, if you’re tracking something you want to see how it trends over time, so you’ll have to repeat this regularly and record the results.

The manual approach to tracking this soon becomes unmanageable. 

How does this automated tool work?

Basically the macro code in the Excel file is collecting the search results from Google for the keywords entered, then looking within this returned content for specific strings (links with your domain).

But to use it all you need to know is how to download the file and follow some simple instructions in Yoav’s post:

  1. Replace example domain name at the top with your web domain
  2. Enter the keywords you want to track across the columns (as many as you like)
  3. Clear the contents of existing reports
  4. Press Ctrl+Shift+U to update.
Excel spreadsheet

Tracking Google search engine results pages in Excel

If you’re confident editing macros, Yoav provides some background on how these are configured and the potential applications for tweaking the code for other uses as well. 

Once you’ve downloaded this tool and got it working, you may be surprised with the results. Are you even tracking the right keywords?

Using this in conjunction with Google Analytics (which can tell you which keywords are sending people to your site) can allow you to track your ranking for the best performing searches.

Google’s Keyword Search Tool can then help you find new keyword combinations around these words, that you can target in organic or PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns to ensure your site is making the most of search engine traffic.

Web analytics

Once you have a site up and running, the next phase is continual evaluation and improvement. That usually starts with web analytics.

Web analytics is the term often used for the study of your site stats and patterns of traffic through your pages.

Capturing stats is the first step. There are 2 basic methods

  1. using software that crawls your server log files (such as AWStats) or
  2. using software that tags your pages, so each time one is loaded the details are recorded (such as Google Analytics).

Google Analytics is free and an incredibly powerful tool. It allows you to easily track visits, visitors, pathways through your site, geographic targetting, funnels towards goals, time on site, bounce rates – the list goes on.

Getting Started

As YouTube’s owner, Google has a fantastic suite of resources and ‘how-to’ videos. One of the best places to come to grips with using the software is the Google Analytics YouTube Channel.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll find:

Some of the topics worth mastering include:

Advanced Web Metrics

For more advanced strategies I can highly recommend Brian Clifton’s book Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics. It covers everything from how to align your site or business goals with measurable statistics, to best-practice account configuration and the details, if you want them, of how to customise the tracking code with hacks available. 

Tracking downloads, mailto & external links

Here’s one of the best hacks I’ve found:

A limitation of page tagging is that when documents are downloaded (so a HTML page with a tag is not loaded) these events are not recorded. Similarly where a user clicks on an email link or a link to an external site, these don’t trigger a page to load from your site that can interact with Google.

This can be overcome by ‘event tracking’ – tagging the links that lead to the downloads using javascript.

Manual tagging is a time consuming practice but thankfully this is the sort of thing Brian’s website – www.advanced-web-metrics.com – provides a downloadable solution for (changes to the tracking code that automatically tracks downloads and other ‘events’).

Once you’ve established your goals and started to track your site’s visits, you’ll be in a position to see what’s working for you and what’s not.

Analytics takes the guesswork away.

Formatting with style

The ‘Styles’ function in Microsoft Word can save you a heap of time & money by doing all the grunt work involved in formatting text. In your document choose Format > Style to display the style dialogue box. In the drop down menu choose to list All Styles.

As you’ll see, Word has a huge number of predefined styles you can assign to headings, body text, bullets, tables & footnotes.

These styles can be assigned to the toolbar as a drop down list to make them even easier to access & use. You can also modify each of the styles to suit your needs.

Once you’ve set them up, you simply assign a style to each paragraph by leaving your cursor in the text and choosing the style (e.g. ‘Header 1’) from the menu. Hey presto – you’ve got a heading!

With a single click, each of your paragraphs can be given consistent formatting. Each style contains information on:

  • text alignment
  • tabs
  • paragraph spacing
  • font & size
  • colour
  • borders & shading.

Save on Typesetting Time

Not only will this ensure consistency of layout & encourage you to think about structure, it can also save time (& hence money) if your text is later typeset in a page layout program.

Whatever new styles your designer comes up with can be imported over the ones you’ve already assigned. This is a lot faster than scanning through the entire text to assign the styles all over again.

Be Consistent

To ensure you’re consistent you can set up your screen in Word to display the style of each paragraph in the left margin. Choose Tools > Options & in the dialogue box that pops up simply enter a value for the width of the Style Box (the default is 0, so it doesn’t normally appear).

Once set up, simply drag the border to a convenient size.

Search engine optimisation

Up to 80% of web traffic usually comes through search engines so SEO is a key to getting your site used. There are 2 basic types of search engines – directories & automated web crawlers.

Directories

Like phone directories, these are lists compiled, assessed & catalogued by humans.

This can have its benefits, but it’s hard to compete with the crawlers for sheer volume of sites indexed. You can submit your site using the links below:

Crawlers

Automated programs that crawl around the internet following links from site to site.

They compile reports on the links & sites found & send these back to their index. You can submit a site using the links below.

How Are Results Ranked?

The search engines won’t tell us exactly what their mathematical ranking algorithms are. Theories abound. Visit http://www.webworkshop.net/pagerank.html if you like maths & want to try to crack Google’s code.

We do know that searches rely heavily on links to gauge each page’s importance. If an engine finds 3 million sites linking to your page it will think the page is good (or at least popular). If there’s no-one linking at all, the search engine may even drop you out of its index as you’re wasting its space.

Anchor Text – A Presidential Example

The anchor text used in each link is also very important. If you use ‘Click Here’ as your link text you’re really wasting it. Links should be laden with keywords.

For example, a few years ago a large circle of websites linked to the Whitehouse page of US president George Bush, using the anchor text ‘Miserable Failure’. As a result, when Google was used to search for ‘Miserable Failure’ his official biography page ranked #1!

Useful Toolbars

FREE toolbars are available for download at http://toolbar.google.com (for Google) & http://download.alexa.com (for Alexa – an Amazon company).  These have features to show each site’s page rank & traffic.

1. Choose Keywords

What are the keywords about your subject that users most commonly search for? Find out FREE with Google’s Keyword tool (Google it).

2. Use Keywords

The ‘keyword density’ of your pages is important to achieve a high ranking. It’s thought best to focus each page on just 1 or 2 key terms. Repeat these in the title of the page, in <h1> heading tags & throughout the text.

An imprecise art? Not at all. Naturally, on the net you can find FREE tools to measure your results & report back with scores & rankings. Try www.keyworddensity.com.

3. Be Search Engine Friendly

Before you welcome crawlers to your pages you’ll need to tidy up. Crawlers can typically only read text. They can’t understand scripting languages like Javascript or PHP & using frames will often totally disorient them.

Remember, crawlers wander around following links. If all your links are images (not keyword laden text) or involve active scripting languages rather than simple HTML, you’re making their job hard, if not impossible.

Use the Lynx Viewer (text only browser) to see what your site looks like through the eyes of a search engine.

4. Introduce Yourself

There are actually too many search engines to mention them all or to bother submitting to them all. Many of them buy data off others & repackage it. If you submit to the ones listed above, you’ve covered the major bases & the others will (hopefully) find you.

5. Collect Relevant Links

This is time consuming. Try searching the web for small directories related to the topic of your site. You’ll be surprised at how many specialist directories there are & they exist just to link to sites like yours! Try searching by your keywords along with “add URL”.

Join small business networks. Apply for online awards. Use your imaginations! See how many links you’ve collected by typing “link: www.yourdomain.com” into a search engine.

6. Have Patience!

It can take weeks or months before the crawlers get around to adding a newly submitted site to their index. To check if you’ve been added type “site:www.yourdomain.com” into the search box. You’ll be shown all the pages from your domain that are listed.

If you have lots of other sites linking to you, crawlers may trip over you by accident sooner rather than later, but sometimes all you can do is wait…

What is copyright?

Copyright laws protect authors of original material. Their creations are their own intellectual property & they have rights. A copyright owner is the only person allowed to reproduce a work or to make it public. Copyright protection is automatic on original material. It doesn’t have to be registered & there are no other requirements. So, everything is protected by copyright laws!

Fair Use

While this is true, it’s generally considered fair use to reproduce small sections of a work for the purposes of reviewing it or referring to it. However, this is only OK where the material reproduced doesn’t amount to ‘a substantial amount’ of the original work.

As a rule of thumb, more than 100 words is usually considered an amount that requires a licence or permission for reproduction from the copyright owner. This is assessed cumulatively so several short quotes may amount to over 100 words. And if the original work is a short poem or song lyric then even a few words could amount to ‘a substantial amount’ & be protected.

Copyright generally lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years.

Who Owns Copyright?

The original creator of material is the copyright owner unless an agreement has been made to the contrary. So, for example:

  • ‘an author will own the copyright to his or her written words
  • a publisher will own copyright of the published edition
  • if you create material as part of your employment, your employer will usually own it
  • in the case of journalists & photographers who work for periodicals such as newspapers & magazines, a special split ownership occurs. 

However, rights may be assigned by being bought, sold or licensed. A licence to reproduce material may be exclusive or non-exclusive & may be limited by time or, to a certain territory or medium.

Moral Rights

On top of copyright law, the creator of an original work can take action against anyone who:

  • doesn’t attribute the work to its owner, or
  • falsely attributes it as the work of someone else, or
  • alters the work without indicating that it has been altered.

Organising a Licence

Publishing contracts assign the responsibility to clear rights with the author if he or she wishes to use copyright material. If you need to use copyright material in a publication you can normally contact its publisher to request permission. In addition, the Copyright Agency Ltd is a useful service that can organise copyright licences (at a cost) for certain material.

Protecting Your Work

Material that you have created will automatically be protected under copyright law. However, it’s advisable to include the copyright notice in your material to dissuade inappropriate reproduction.

Useful Resources:

 Remember: if in doubt, leave it out!

What IS a website?

The web was invented for posting text messages. HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language) was then used to incase text in simple tags such as <b> for bold text or <p> for paragraph breaks.

Programming languages used have evolved since then. As well as HTML there is the more dynamic DHTML, XHTML & XML, with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for basic layout & design. In order to get your browser to take action & DO things (like send emails, collect info from other sites or perform calculations) active scripting languages like ASP, java, PHP & CGI scripts are used.

To see what a website looks like, choose View > Source from your browser’s menu. You’ll see the code written in Notepad.

Creating sites from text in Notepad or Word is simply a matter of understanding the above programming languages. w3schools.com is a great place to start learning!

Search engine optimisation

Of course, there’s a quick-fix solution. Software, such as Microsoft Frontpage, Macromedia Dreamweaver or Adobe GoLive!, is designed to allow you to create & edit pages with a friendly graphic interface. These are known as WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) editors. You can use them to create from scratch or just to polish up pages you have coded.

It’s very ambitious for them to create perfect code based on your layout, so these can be a little clumsy, but they’ll save enormous amounts of time. They’ll also allow you the option to edit the code if you feel able & find there’s a problem or some mess to tidy up.

Free blogging sites such as WordPress are another alternative that effectively give you access to fantastic content management software for free. And free hosting. The only cost involved is extras and add ons to customise your site.

Getting Started

Once you’re able to create a basic HTML file you’ll have a site & the next step is to get it ‘hosted‘.

While the web is basically just a tangle of connected computers, it’s not a simple matter of hosting your site on your own machine. You generally need to host on a dedicated ‘server’ machine, which is purpose built, will rarely be ‘off’ or ‘down’, & will have plenty of bandwidth.
There are countless hosting packages available & most offer more space then you’ll probably ever need. Of course, there are cheap & even FREE hosting services available too.

Domain Registration

Most hosting packages will allow you to use a web address which is a subdomain of the host site. However, if you want your own distinctive address, you’ll have to register & pay for it.

Registrar sites like www.melbourneit.com.au are the place to go. Search for ‘domain registrar’ in an engine & you’ll find tonnes of options. Note that there are regulations regarding which domains can be bought. For example, a “.com.au” domain can only be registered by a commercial business that’s relevant to the name being purchased.

Once you’ve set up a site, the next step is getting people to see it. When you’re ready, come back & read our search engine optimisation tips.

Maxmise your time with macros

Macros are one-click magic tricks that many software programs can be taught.

Even a little time exploring how to use them can save you a LOT of effort.

Macros are simply sequences of commands that you can record & replay. They provide a fantastic way to clean up common errors & formatting problems.

If you’re an editor or performing any of the many mundane tasks involved in publishing, Macros are one of best time saving features of Word. Even a little time exploring how to use them can save you a LOT of effort. Macros are simply sequences of commands that you can record & replay. They provide a fantastic way to clean up common errors & formatting problems.

How do you do it?

The easiest way is to just switch on the Macro recorder (Choose Tools > Macros > Record New Macro). A dialogue box allows you to name & save your macro & to choose whether to assign it a keyboard shortcut or add it to the toolbar.

The next step is to manually perform the actions that you’d like Word to repeat. For example, do a global search for double spaces & replace them with singles. Once you’ve got the hang of it you can create more complex macros that take care of several style & formatting inconsistencies with a single click.

The possibilities are endless. Once you’ve finished simply switch the recorder off. Word uses a language called Visual Basic to record your macros. If you’re willing to invest a little more time you can learn to edit macros as scripts & really create some amazing tools.

Ready to Run

When you’re ready to unleash your creation on your next unsuspecting file, simply choose Tools > Macro > Macros & select Run in the dialogue box, or use your shortcut or toolbar.