Getting onto the front page of Google

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It's every business' delight to get on the front page of Google - without paying for advertising. I achieved it this week for my client CATitude.  As I've mentioned before in this blog, Sharon of CATitude runs a cat-sitting business on Sydney's lower north shore. She is a startup who has performed thorough competitive analysis and her direct competitors in her geographical niche aren't many. Getting a good response from search engines should not have been a difficult task. Our biggest hurdle was pushing Google to respider the site once it was built. We'd put a custom 'coming soon' page in place and it took almost four days following completion of the site to encourage the search engine to swing by again. Other pages in the site were showing up in searches, albeit on page 3 and beyond when you typed in a search such as 'cat sitting services Sydney lower north shore'. One way to encourage a respider is to join online directories and get your social media happening. Sharon started to advertise her business on gumtree, I got busy adding CATitude to other directories and search engines. Needless to say we had already tweaked as much as we could for Sharon through Google Analytics and Webmaster tools and got Google+1 happening. We did use some other SEO secrets but well, secrets are secrets, and Sharon has paid for my service so secrets they shall remain unless you'd like to hire me too. As I write this, CATitude is on the front page of Google not for just 'cat sitting services Sydney lower north shore' but for the more general search of 'cat sitting Sydney', where there are MANY competitors. As with any search engine there is no guarantee how long it will stay on page one; we have coached Sharon in making sure new content is added frequently, which does help. But for a startup business who has just secured its first client as a result of an internet search, it's gratifying and rewarding. Another of my recent SEO jobs has been to elevate the search engine results for Harris Crime Prevention Services, and that site is also currently on the front page of Google when you search for 'security consultants Sydney', which is owner Leon Harris' preferred search term he wanted improved results for. He was already doing well with 'CPTED consultant Sydney' (a specialised area of security and crime prevention) and it's been a long hard slog inching him up to the front page. SEO isn't something you do once and forget about. It's like a plant or tree, it needs regular nurturing. Typically I will put in several hours initially establishing a SEO presence for a client as well as building SEO into the content of the site itself. It's a complex animal as search engine algorithms change and improve on a regular basis. If you're wondering why I no longer do sites for $495, SEO is the reason; it takes time and keyword research. It's also worth the money, if you do care about getting a good search engine ranking. I would recommend that clients revisit their SEO status on a regular basis, particularly if their site is slipping back in the search engines. There is always some tweaking we can do to get you back up there.

A busy October with two new sites up and running: Eastwood Chamber and CATitude

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Phew... ever get those months you don't get to draw breath? I seem to have a had a lot of them in the last couple of years and October 2011 was certainly one with the Eastwood Chamber of Commerce rebuild and CATitude cat sitting site both coming online. Firstly, the Eastwood Chamber of Commerce website. I had built the existing one in HTML and it was looking tired and dated, so a makeover into WordPress was called for. A key feature of the site had to be the ability for the Chamber to add and edit pages not only in English but Chinese (simplified) and Korean, as the Eastwood shopping precinct is truly multicultural. Eastwood Chamber of CommerceThanks to the Sitepress Multilingual plugin, adding the ability to have Chinese and Korean pages was a breeze. A bit of a tweak in the PHP database made sure the characters displayed properly. The translation works throughout the site, taking into account info on posts and pages, but also dates and other information. Lovely. Now for CATitude. I loved this job. Being a cat person, searching through image libraries with client Sharon to find the perfect photos of cats to enhance this site was a task made in heaven for me. This is another WordPress site, using an extremely easy to use yet good-looking template. The brief was light, bright and white with accents of blue and also an acid green. We chose images that blended with that cool, modern colour palate, with plenty of deep-etched or isolated cat images. Clients can book a consultation online, book Sharon's services and pay for them online without leaving the site. CATitudeCATitude offers a cat sitting service on Sydney's lower north shore, so you can leave your cats at home while you're away. Cats get terribly stressed when you put them in boarding facilities, so Sharon visits up to twice a day, feeding, brushing and playing with your cat or cats. Having worked with Sharon to build this site, I can recommend her; she's studied cat psychology, has a remarkable Siamese who is almost human and she LOVES cats. Yours couldn't be in better hands. As she says, it's all about the cat.

The greengrocer’s apostrophe – a fellow ranter shares my pain

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I've long admired Imre Salusinky's articles. Back in the 90s I used to read his column in the Australian Financial Review. Now he's with The Australian, and a regular contribution to its The Wry Side column. Imre also writes a regular column in the weekend edition, and this week's column is near and dear to my heart. Imre is ranting about the inappropriate use of apostrophes, and, briefly, the misuse and lack of use of the semi-colon; one only seems to see the semi-colon as part of a winking smiley these days. Here's the link to Imre's blog post, but I'll quote my favourite bit below. "THE apostrophe is the plaster gnome in the garden of written English: ubiquitous, decorative and often unnecessary. While the semicolon (or "winking comma") is disappearing because younger writers don't understand how to use it, its evil cousin the apostrophe is spreading like privet. But success may prove the undoing of the "flying comma", with experts saying the time for a comprehensive weeding program has arrived. When a colleague recently pointed me to the website of a Melbourne outfit called Craig Thomson Entertainment, I was struck less by the coincidence in the company's name than by the labels on the links to its various services, which include: "duo's," "venue's" and "wedding's". This is the famous "greengrocer's apostrophe" (or, arguably, "greengrocers' apostrophe") so named because the superfluous apostrophe is reputedly a common feature on hastily scribbled blackboards advertising today's prices of "apple's," "tomato's" and so on." I do love the idea of the "greengrocer's apostrophe". That description encompasses the widespread misuse in the retail industry of this humble but pretty item of punctuation. I urge you to read the entire article - and think carefully about your punctuation in everything you write!

Follow us on Facebook!

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Facebook logoArion Productions has (finally!) started a Facebook page where we'll be sharing our news, business news, web tips and more. You'll find us here so come along and hit the Like button. You won't be bombarded several times a day with stuff you don't want to read or can't be bothered reading, but I hope you'll find our content interesting and want to share it around. See you on Facebook! Cheers, Sabrina

Having trouble viewing YouTube videos? This could be the answer

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I love using a Mac. But sometimes things don't 'just work' the way you expect them to on Apple's finest. This morning I was checking a video on YouTube using Safari and I couldn't play it. I couldn't play any video. While I could see the thumbnails, the video area itself was an unrelenting black screen which didn't respond and was to all intents and purposes dead. I pondered for a moment whether the latest system update could have affected it, but then decided a quick search was in order before I started muttering and growling. Usually someone else has had a similar problem and found a solution, which was indeed the case. So here is a fix I found on the Google Support Forum:
1) Right-click (or control-click) on the Safari icon in "Applications" folder.
2) Choose "get info" from the contextual menu.
3) Select "open in 32-bit" in Get Info, and then close the pane.
4) Re-launch Safari. The videos should play now.
This fix worked for me - good luck if you're experiencing a similar problem!

Websites: Harris Crime Prevention Services

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Harris Crime Prevention ServicesHarris Crime Prevention Services has been a client of mine for several years now through a couple of website iterations. It was time to take Leon Harris and his team of specialist security consultants into the era of CMS, giving them the flexibility to update their site whenever they want. The new Harris Crime Prevention Services website built by Arion Productions was launched today. Leon wanted to increase his SEO ranking, particularly for the highly sought after 'security consultants sydney' keywords. We've already got him to number one on 'crime prevention consultants sydney'. Having a blog and increasing his social media presence will help out here. Google takes social media accounts, the number of shares, likes and retweets into its calculation now. Have a strong social media presence and you'll stand more chance of getting on page one.

So it’s not just me then – late payers ARE a problem. The AFR says so.

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I was talking to my accountant earlier this year when I did my tax return and we got onto the subject of late payers. I have two or three of them, some debts going back more than a year. He, having hundreds of clients, has considerably more. If I'm fuming about people not paying me for services and websites rendered (and I am!), and his anger is in direct ratio to mine, I'm surprised his brain hasn't exploded. It seems people are scared to take their money out of the bank to pay bills. Assuming they have any in there, that is, late payers hurting the cash-flow from smallest company to largest. My accountant told me of one of his clients (anonymously) who has plenty in the bank but won't pay their tax bill, preferring to leave the money earning pitiful interest, and taking a slug from the tax office of 12% interest on the balance owing. This same company owes my accountant thousands. Again they have the money in the bank but will they pay him? Will they hell! He's lucky to get $500 every couple of months from them. He and I it seems are not alone. There is an article in today's Australian Financial Review. Read this. Late Payers a Growing Problem says AFR Note that large businesses and government agencies are paying slower. This has a direct impact on small to medium enterprises, and considering SMEs make up to 80% of registered Australian businesses, these are dire times for all of us who own a business. Late payments trickle down the line and have the potential to put us small guys out of business. Maybe I'm too nice. I pay my bills. On time. Including the tax man. Even if it leaves me with not much in the kitty until the next client comes along. It's the way I was brought up; the deeper into credit you get, the harder it is to get out. The GFC may be over but believe me, we are still feeling the impact and late payers are an obvious indication. How many of you out there with your own business are experiencing trouble with late payers? And what are you doing about it? Have you called in debt collectors or taken legal action to recover debts? Will your late payers agree to go onto a payment plan, paying you some each month, and stick to it? What's your next move? And when do you think the economy will start to recover? Answers on a postcard please (or just leave a comment).

How to resize Acrobat PDF files on a Mac

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I had the task this week of resizing two Adobe Acrobat PDF files for a website, so they would be around 950 pixels wide - a task that was a bit of a puzzler as Acrobat doesn't allow you to change/scale the size of your pages and resave the file. In the case of these two PDFs I didn't have access to the original files, which were created in InDesign. I tried a few things. I tried to trick my full version of Acrobat into printing to a PDF with the size scaled, but Acrobat was smarter than me and told me to 'save as' instead. Naturally the size didn't scale. I tried opening the files as individual JPGs through Photoshop and resizing. The original files opened up as around 1300 pixels wide, which is a bit too wide for viewing through a web browser on many computers unless you have a largish widescreen monitor. Of course, browsers like Firefox will simply open the PDF using Acrobat itself externally from the browser, so zooming isn't a problem, but Safari likes to cleverly open PDFs through its own browser window, and the initial view of 1300 pixels wide was ungainly to navigate. Photoshop didn't produce the results I wanted, so I tried using other suggested programs to work on the files. Illustrator was a non-starter, trying to replace fonts I didn't have with fonts I did, which would have changed the look of the file from the original. Finally I tried opening the PDF through Preview, which is a standard program on Apple Macs. At last I had a solution! Preview allowed me to scale the image AND save as a PDF from its Print menu. By scaling the pages to about 70% of the original, I could produce a file under 900 pixels wide, a great match for my website. If only Adobe would add a page size/scale feature to Acrobat, I could have saved more than an hour of messing around and google searching for solutions that didn't work. If you're looking for a way to resize/scale PDF pages for a website, try Preview. You'll keep the quality but not the real estate.

Does Telstra/Sensis just not get it or are they cunning? Musings on a phone book

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TelephoneI couldn't tell you the last time I looked up a name in the hard copy of the Telstra/Sensis White Pages. It sits in our garage, under a box full of plant seeds. If I want to know a number I usually look it up online or ring the free Australian service 1223. Don't ring 1234, it costs you a bomb. My mother, however, is in her eighties and just can't get the hang of computers. For her, the phone book is King. With the hard copy she can see who's missing from the new edition; at her age her friends aren't as plentiful as they used to be and if she hasn't heard they've gone into a nursing home or the great beyond, the phone book is a source of intel. So she was horrified to learn that households no longer automatically receive a free copy of the White Pages on their doorstep every July. Now that most people use either the internet or one of Sensis' directory lines (remember 1223, people!), phone books have passed their use-by date. If you want one, you have to phone Sensis and order one. So Mum did. She was cheerfully told that the directory she'd receive would be one book rather than two, and in a new, more useful compact form so it didn't take up as much space. It duly arrived and the reason for its compact size was obvious - the font used is so tiny that even I, who can read perfectly, had trouble focussing on it at first. Mum, recovering at that point from a cataract operation two days earlier, was only able to read it using a magnifying glass and a torch shining onto it. (Why a torch? Oh, those blasted low-wattage energy saver lights we all have to use these days. You can't read anything in her kitchen/living room let alone the phone book.) Now sit back and think of this. Who doesn't use their computer or a smart phone to look up  The likelihood is, seniors like my Mum. They are the prime audience for the hard copy phone book, but Sensis in its wisdom hasn't taken into account failing eyesight, cataracts and the other eye diseases older people are prone to. It has completely misread its main audience. Or has it? Could it be a more cunning plot? Did the smart marketing people at Sensis, keen to save a buck or two on printing costs, decide on the tiny print, realise oldies couldn't read it and then think, "Oh, wait! That's not a problem at all. They'll just ring 1234 Directory Assistance if they can't read the book and we can charge them a couple of dollars out of them every time they do." Call me cynical, but I bet the previous para is a pretty close précis of what went on in the Sensis marketing meeting.  What do you think?

Make my day. Here’s a pen.

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old letterWith typewriter production all but dead (apparently it's struggling to hang onto the earth around the grave with one feeble hand on a tussock of grass), the MamaMia site posted an article todayabout the almost lost art of letter writing, by hand. With the rise of the internet and social media, the only people likely to write a letter by hand are those who don't own or operate a computer - ageing relatives, typically, who just can't get the hang of it or don't want to know about computers. Time was when receiving a personal letter was exciting, especially if it was from a friend in a far-flung place. There was the texture of the paper for starters - my aunt in Surrey used beautiful thick, creamy paper - and depending on the writer, handwriting that ranged from spider-crawled-out-of-an-inkwell to elegant pseudo-Copperplate. My grandmother was a prolific letter writer and kept her family and far-flung friends up to date with family happenings. I had a long-distance relationship for a couple of years in the 1980s with a guy who lived in Canada, and we'd send long letters full of our daily lives and photographs to each other. Our letters were stuffed too with newspaper and magazine clippings we thought the other may be interested in. Occasionally the letters would be just that, simple letters with no insertions, but I kept them and read them over and over; even the nasty bust-up ones that signalled the end. I binned the lot during a big life purge about five years ago, with some misgivings, but it was a cleansing feeling as far as those bust-up Dear Jane letters went. Treasured though are letters and cards from my long-gone father and grandparents. When I see their writing - each one individual and packed with their personalities - I can hear them speak the words on the paper. Their voices flood into my head and I can see their faces. That's something you just don't get with email or social media even when, as with Facebook, there's a face right in front of you. Then there's the postcards. Luckily we have friends and family who still send them, as it's nicer to get a picture and message we can stick on the fridge for a bit rather than read "OMG! In Barcelona! Does anyone know a good tapas bar?" on Twitter or Facebook - a message meant for as many readers as possible. The postcards are personalised for us alone. Nice. Being so used to using a computer for just about all correspondence these days, I find writing letters by hand quite difficult. My handwriting doesn't keep up with my brain, whereas my typing almost does. The joy of using a computer means you can edit and delete your work until you get something with which you're happy. I'm guilty of sending printed letters to family and friends as a result. Yes, the dreaded Christmas Newsletter! However I do personalise it and edit it for each person, usually older relatives. I did write by hand to my cousin Bruce last year (using, I might add, my fountain pen) but because I'm impatient didn't tell him half the news I would have in a word-processed letter.  And of course there's email and social media, and hitting the send button is far less work than walking down to the post office. When I write handwritten letters these days I actually draft it on the Mac and then copy it out when I'm happy with it. Daft? Maybe, but it's the way I organise my thoughts. Finding good writing paper these days is a challenge, too. There are some awful and twee stationery sets on eBay, but as for plain-printed linen paper, it's a hard call. I did have some thick parchment-coloured A4 paper put aside which I've guillotined down into a more personal size for handwritten letters. I'd like to think that the odd letters I write give their recipients something in the mail other than bills and junk advertising; certainly I enjoy the ones I receive. Here's a challenge: This week, write a letter to a friend or relative. Surprise them. Make them smile. Give them something that perhaps, in this throwaway and delete-button age, they may keep for at least a little while. (This post cross-posted from Caroline Sully's fiction)