When your TweetMeme goes 404 on a WordPress site, here are some tips

Posted by | Social Media, Websites | No Comments
I had the interesting dilemma of TweetMeme failing on one of the sites I manage over the weekend. If you're using the TweetMeme plugin on WordPress to send your posts to Twitter you may encounter this problem. You'll see a question mark instead of the number of tweets, and when you try and tweet a post using the TweetMeme button you'll be directed to a 404 page on TweetMeme's site. I did what anyone would do; reinstalled the plugin, updated it to the latest version. The problem still persisted so after hunting around to see if others had the problem and how they fixed it, I can offer this solution which will probably work for you. Firstly, check your .htaccess file via FTP and make sure that any links there are relative, not fixed. If you don't know much about .htaccess or FTP, ask your webmaster or hosting service for help.  If you're not using a huge range of plugins, this probably won't be the issue anyway. The real issue is more likely the permalinks on your posts. Permalinks, for those who don't understand the term, are the addresses of your post which show up in the address bar of your web browser. If you include punctuation marks such as apostrophes, or more than one dash in row, for example, you will force an error. Those extra dashes and in particular that apostrophe made TweetMeme throw a wobbly. The UTF-8 code behind those characters was something it didn't recognise. If that sounds like gobbledegook to you, don't worry about it, knowing the finer points of the theory aren't important. Knowing how to fix it is. If you're getting TweetMeme errors look at the permalinks on pages the errors are occurring, and get rid of commas, apostrophes, extra dashes, question marks, exclamation marks and other punctuation. Make sure the permalink doesn't end on a period or full stop.   Your permalink may now look a little odd grammatically but the improved code behind it will make it easier to tweet about and may assist some of your other plugins to work better too.

Websites: ALVA

Posted by | Portfolio, Services | No Comments
ALVAThe ALVA team wanted a site where they could feature their news on the front page and update themselves very easily. With this in mind I kept this site as simple as possible; it also looks very fresh and clean. And the gallery I've used simply rocks. They have great fun at their events with photos to prove it, and the gallery allows them to show the pics off to advantage with very little client effort. Find the site at www.alva.org.au

Free websites – you get what you pay for.

Posted by | Marketing, Services, Websites, Writing and Editing | No Comments
FreeThis year I've seen a couple of campaigns designed to get Aussie businesses online with free websites and free domain names or free lessons on building your own. I won't mention them by name simply because - well, it's bad for my business! I don't build sites for free (but mine ARE affordable). However with anything that's free, you get what you pay for. (Note that you can have a blog site with static pages hosted on WordPress, Typepad or Blogger, and you can access a range of templates, all for free, however you can't host these sites on your own standalone domain name, and this post discusses sites hosted on your own domain name.) Yes, you can get up and running with your own website all by yourself, but I would suggest that if you go down that route, contact someone like me for assistance with graphics, SEO, and as part of that SEO copywriting. These days anyone can put a website up. You might have the best product in the world, but unless you know a bit about how keyword analysis works, how search engines work, and how to write copy that will use the system to your advantage, you're not going to get found. SEO is a real art, and with search algorithms changing at a rapid pace in line with website evolution, you need to constantly tweak your copy and keywords. I've seen so many small business sites let down with poor grammar and punctuation over the years that I highly recommend having a copywriter help you with your website material. The worst offenders are apostrophes: often popped in where they don't need to be and left out where they do, incorrect tenses and misuse of plurals. Poor grammar and punctuation looks unprofessional. Competition is tough out there. As well as SEO-friendly copy on your site and great graphics and images, telling your own story could make the difference between people buying your product or someone else's. People remember stories; they engage with them. Simply saying "Buy my widget because it's the cheapest" won't differentiate you from the competition, even with a good price. Saying "Buy my widget - I developed my widget as a result of there being nothing on the market that quite did the job. It took me ten years of experimenting to get it right, to tailor it especially for our local market and local needs..." is far more memorable, human and compelling as a sales pitch. People can relate to you and trust you. Look and feel is also a big part of the web experience. You not only have to grab your readers' attention with copy in the first five seconds, your site has to look professional and coherent. With free websites you are often constricted as far as design goes; apart from your logo there won't be much to differentiate you graphically from another business which has taken up the free site offer. Most free sites have a very limited number of templates and unless you're a whiz with coding or know someone who is, a limited number of options you can do with those templates. Often too you may be limited as to the number of pages or menu items you can list on your free site. You might not be able to expand your site in the way you want down the track. Free sites mightn't let you feed in your twitter and facebook feeds or offer a range of widgets and plugins. These are all items to think about if you're considering taking up a free site offer with your own domain name. Unless you're a marketing, copywriting or graphic expert, consider spending some money and getting professional help with your free site, or take the plunge and have a unique site developed. Domain names are cheap at the moment - from $9 a year and hosting with the fab Crazy Domains guys starts at $54/year. I can start you off with a micro-site to which you can add your own pages and menu items from $495, and it won't look like a free site built on the same template 50,000 other Australian businesses are using.

Workaholic? Never! Oh, wait on…

Posted by | Lifestyle | No Comments
pressure!Have you ever thought to yourself, "I'll never be a workaholic, I value my time too much", and then found yourself working after dinner or at weekends? You're not alone, especially if you're a small business owner. Trust me, I've not only been there, I AM there. I used to enjoy switching off at the end of each day, but that's a luxury these days. I think the rise and rise of technology puts more pressure on all of us to be connected, to be always available. I'm sure you've had people leave repeated text messages, voice messages or emails for you, wondering why you are out of range for an hour or two. You could be in a meeting or conference, but whatever the reason you're simply not there when people want you to be. The trouble is, many of us put up with it. Do you:
  • let people ring you outside business hours - have mobile phone, will travel...er, be available?
  • check your emails before going to bed?
  • check your emails before breakfast?
  • stuck in meetings all day, you work into the night to catch up on projects and tasks?
  • view weekends as the perfect time to work without constant interruptions from mobile phones and emails?
  • use your smartphone or tablet to check your email/professional social media accounts at restaurants?
  • work when you're on holiday - after all, most hotels and resorts have good broadband, so why not catch up on work?
If you've said yes to at least one of these, you're well on your way to workaholism. It's time to take stock, fellow workaholics. The old cliche that nobody ever went to their grave muttering that they should have spent more time at the office is very true. Finding the courage to switch off is the hard part. How do you put your foot down and change the status quo when people are used to you being available constantly? If you can manage to minimise your meetings, you'll free up time. See if your clients or colleagues are willing to conference call on Skype rather than meet in person. It's more likely you'll stick to the agenda if you're not chatting face to face. Working from home can keep the interruptions down too if you're able to do it. If you're not sitting at your desk in a corporate office then nobody can walk past it and interrupt you. If you're using Tungle to organise appointments, block one day a week off and turn off the phone. Use that day to work on your projects so you can have a night or weekend off. On a corporate Outlook system, same thing - block a day off. Often corporate cultures require their employees to work over and above the standard eight hours a day; it impresses the bosses and makes you look like you want to go further up the corporate ladder. Think about this: if you're working an extra hour a day with no overtime or salary increase or other appropriate benefits, the only entity doing well out of the situation is the company/your boss. You, my friend, are getting ripped off in your efforts to adhere to corporate culture and play the company game. Is it worth it? Really? Is there a possibility that if you get promoted you could change the corporate culture to allow your people in your department  including yourself to work reasonable hours? Again, technology has changed the corporate culture to make us work longer and harder, simply because the tools are there to enable it. So...what are your thoughts on workaholism? Is it affecting you? If so, what have you done about it? Have you changed jobs? Importantly, have your managed to change your lifestyle to one that lets you relax when you need to?

When good sites turn bad. Canonical loops, white screens of death and more

Posted by | Services, Websites | No Comments
Until now I've managed to avoid the dreaded 'WordPress loop' which, like a naughty imp, attacks WordPress sites for a variety of reasons including website builders like me trying to get too clever. There are several loops you can get caught in - the Canonical redirect infinity loop is a popular (and very UNpopular with us lot) example. Add one plugin too many, or indeed change from standard permalinks to pretty permalinks, and you might get a message like this: “Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.” Or this one in Safari: “Too many redirects occurred trying to open this document.” There are some excellent plugins around that help fix this dire loop. Mark Jaquith's Disable Canonical Redirects plugin is probably the best and easiest to use. So when a client's site starting looping last weekend after I upgraded to the latest version of WordPress, I confidently installed the plugin and thought all would be well. After all, I'd backed up the database. Or so I thought. Things went from bad to worse. The initial site Canonical loops were all fixed up, with internal links working perfectly, but neither the client or I could log into the site. We were caught in a login loop. No matter how many times we cleared caches and history, at each attempt at logging in we were simply redirected back to the login screen. Nothing I could find online seemed to solve the problem no matter which browser I used. I got into the back end via FTP and removed all plugins, including the Canonical Redirect one. So then the site crashed. Big time. White screen of death. Nothing. Except my extremely red face. I contacted the host, a US-based company which shall remain nameless, but they were little help and didn't respond to my help desk emails. In the meantime my client had bought hosting at Crazy Domains as we'd intended to shift the site there anyway. It's local, the help desk is local, the backend system is CPanel X which is fantastic for maintaining your site, and the hosting rates are very affordable for small business. I recommend Crazy Domains to all my clients; if you need help those guys are really on the ball. So we pointed the domain name to the IP address at CD, and I installed WordPress. I jumped onto PHPMyAdmin and uploaded the backed up database. Or tried to. The system wouldn't accept it.  By now I was getting nervous. We'd wasted nearly a day already trying to fix the site up. Moving the WordPress site database should have been an easy process. Rather stressed and furious, a male version of meThe guys at CD help tried everything for another day to get the old database to talk to the new, and I had visions of burning the midnight oil rebuilding the entire site from scratch. Finally their head techy told me the old database wasn't a proper backup. Simply exporting from PHPMyAdmin doesn't create a backup of a WordPress site that PHPMyAdmin can read when it tries to reinstall it. Poor Crazy Domains, they must hate me; up to six calls a day for three days trying to get this wretched thing to work. So... back to the US host I went, this time using an online chat facility where all they could recommend was exporting from PHPMyAdmin. I explained why that didn't work and they suggested trying Navicat in the end. I downloaded a free trial of Navicat for My SQL and it's seriously good. $500 worth but I have it free to try for 30 days. There's plenty of documentation, and it's a simple to use, quality product. Realistically I didn't have to do much in the way of RTFM, it's quite intuitive. It took another chat line conversation to find out what the US host's port for the SQL server was, and finally, oh finally, I had a proper, working backup that the Crazy Domains server accepted with open arms. (By the way, Crazy Domains and any host using CPanel X provides you with a proper backup facility via CPanel X. For free. Great if you are doing single site backups.) But I still couldn't log in and the site's home page and all other pages were still glowing white with nothing on them. The air around my Mac was turning blue in response. Finally I reinstalled WordPress, crossed my fingers that the backup would upload again safely (it did), and all was well. The site was back online. My widgets hadn't kept their place in my sidebars, but that was the only difficulty I had. I could feel my blood pressure falling gracefully.

Working solo doesn’t mean going it alone

Posted by | Lifestyle, Marketing | 2 Comments
Some of us don't like the sudden shift from working in a building full of people to working on your own. In my case it was one of the best things about starting up my  micro business. I can't work when I'm surrounded by people and constantly being interrupted. I've found a lifestyle that works for me. Having said that, it's important that, when you leave a team situation to working solo, you find someone compatible to bounce ideas around with, to keep your business creativity going. One of the best ways of meeting your idea-bouncing buddy is a business association such as a Chamber of Commerce or industry group. I'm part of Ryde Business Forum and much of my business comes from word of mouth contacts from other members, or direct meetings with other members. I'm also involved in joint projects with some members; pooling our complementary skills has given us the strength to address projects we might not have been able to win or manage on our own. You can't expect clients to drop at your doorstep, you do have to go hunting. When I started my business ten years ago I had ten probable clients on my list, all of whom promised me work in the industry I'd just left. None of it eventuated. The work came from Ryde Business Forum members instead. It wasn't instant, but it's been constant, and it's growing. You can also pick up work and meet fellow solo spirits from online connections - yes, think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and also websites like Flying Solo, which is an excellent source for micro business owners. Notice how people comment on posts? Get commenting back. Start chatting. See what happens. Social media is growing rapidly as a source for business leads and potential clients and partners. Yes, you can lose yourself for hours once you start reading blogs or finding out more about the people you're following on Twitter (or who are following you for that matter). But if it brings you a good contact, it's time well spent. And you probably enjoyed yourself and learned something along the way. I do recommend getting help if you're going to seriously use social media as a business tool - there are some fantastic social media coaches around and we can recommend one for you - as implementing a professional social media strategy will target and refine your social media usage. If working from home isn't a suitable option for you and you think you'll go crazy with only the dog for company, consider a serviced office. You'll have your own space but will meet other tenants in common areas, which could be useful in the bouncing-ideas-off category. My husband was in that situation before he moved to Sydney, and enjoyed meeting up with other people in his industry over a cuppa at the serviced office canteen. Serviced offices ARE expensive, so factor that in. Depending on the services you choose you can have a professional receptionist, access to admin staff and much more. Virtual offices give you the benefit of a receptionist and access to facilities such as admin/secretarial staff without the cost of the real estate that goes with it. Some virtual office firms like Servcorp (another RBF member) have boardrooms for hire so you can impress your clients. However... I can't count how many clients I meet at cafes for a discussion over coffee. Have a look around you next time you're in a coffee shop and work out how many of those tables are actually hosting a business meeting. Boozy lunches are a thing of the past. A chatte over latte and a muffin is the new short black. So, working from home means you, er, can have your cake and eat it too! What have you found good and bad about working from home or in a solo office? Has it been the best thing you've ever done? Or the worst?

How do you protect your website images from theft?

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Client's image I've recently completed a rebuild of a client's site at www.gel-ice.com.au. If you look at it you'll see the images on the site all sport a large watermark in the middle. My client has been the subject of image theft in the last twelve months, with his images appearing (along with all his text) on someone's else's site. His images and text have been stolen and his copyright violated. The thief had set up a site to sell very similar if not identical products. My client pursued the other company both with a local solicitor and one in the country where the thief's business is located, with pretty good results. I notice one of my client's original photos is still being used on the thief's site, but the website copy has been changed. My client isn't alone. The very nature of the internet is sharing information. In my previous post I talked about content farms, which take what's not theirs and blatantly repost it. So how do you protect what's yours? Putting the copyright symbol on every page, or even the word copyright on every page should theoretically protect you, however copyright laws vary slightly from country to country. In order to protect my friend at the Gel Ice company, I decided to put a large watermark on each image using a simple action I created in Photoshop. Watermarking is probably the most effective way to stop your images being used by the unscrupulous. I considered the following options first:
  • stopping viewers from right-clicking and downloading an image. Well, yes, you can do that, but people can still click on Print Screen and grab an albeit low res copy of your image. However as I'm using WordPress, that little bit of javascript isn't compatible with my system
  • using Digimarc digital watermarking. Again, there's the Print Screen option. And the truly devious out there know how to get around Digimarc should they download a Digimarc image
I could have put a watermark indiscreetly along the bottom of each image, but if anyone wanted to steal the image and use it, most of the images could be cropped without interfering with the key object in them - the gel ice pacs. So it was all guns blazing with the watermark. It ain't pretty by any means but if it protects my client's intellectual property, that's a good thing.  

Google declares war on ‘bad’ sites

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I read on the redoubtable Mashable yesterday that Google has declared war on 'bad' sites that are nothing more than content farms. You know the ones: you key in a search term in Google, go to a popular result and it's a page of auto-RSSed links, content lifted blatantly from other sites without acknowledgement or simply very poorly written and questionable content. You might as well not wasted five seconds you'll never get back clicking on the link and glancing at the page. War on spamWhile the changes in Google's algorithm will initially apply only to the US (but we'll get it eventually), it's great news for the rest of us who do have genuine original content on our websites. Any changes that help my clients is fine by me. We work hard to write SEO-friendly content for our client sites; when you're tweaking content every word is vital if you want to get a good search result. Google has been trying hard to rid spam sites from its search engine results, and is succeeding somewhat. If you clicked my link in the last sentence and read the article, you'll have seen this: "Google’s new classifier is designed to detect spam on individual web pages by identifying spammy words and phrases." Bear this in mind if you constantly repeat keywords on your website pages. Okay, if you're a genuine person or business you probably won't be affected by the new anti-spam algorithm, but repeating a keyword more than a dozen times on one page won't help you up the search engine rankings. I use SEO Scribe to analyse my blog posts. I've mentioned it before. Fab tool that really makes you think about what you're writing and what your keywords are. It can help you identify keywords. And it tells you when you've used a particular keyword too many times. Search engines CAN penalise you if it looks like you're rorting the system. Your keyword density should be about 5.5% of your written content, Scribe says. What would you like to see Google do next (apart from offer a proper help service, via telephone, with real human beings on the other end to help you with misbehaving Google products?)

New CamCard app could make saving business cards a thing of the past, unless you’re an iPhone 3 user

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I read this article in the Australian today about a clever new smartphone app that could make hoarding cardboard business cards a thing of the past.  This clever little chap is called CamCard. To quote The Oz, "This app streamlines the tiresome task of taking contact information from cards and entering it into an electronic contact book. It uses a smartphone's inbuilt camera to capture an image of each card and then applies clever character recognition algorithms to extract details and store them in the phone's address book.   "During a test, CamCard recognised a variety of business cards, including some with dark backgrounds and dominant logos. After taking a photo of a card, the software took about three seconds to process it and populate a new contact book entry. Occasionally the app struggled to differentiate between titles and company names, however its character and number recognition capabilities are excellent. The app also allows you to dial, send a text or email a contact while viewing their card's image. The "lite" version retains a limited number of cards, a full version is available for $11.99." I like a new gadget, I do. So I downloaded the CamCard Lite version (saves three contacts in the first week and one per week thereafter) and set to work with my iPhone 3. Everyone who has an iPhone 3 knows the worst thing about this phone is its camera. Try as I might, I couldn't take a decent photo of a clean, clear, white background business card with my phone. One has to have the phone close enough to fill the screen with the card. The downside of this is that with the iPhone 3 it appeared to be too close to focus on the card. CamCard told me the text on the card was unrecognisable at every attempt I made. I was taking the images in clear light, too. So it's back to typing in contacts manually for me. I'd be interested in hearing from really truly users who have downloaded this app and are trying it on their smartphones. Drop me a line if you think it works just fine. Especially if you too have an iPhone 3!

Have mobile apps had their day?

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A recent noshup of entrepreneurs in New York City has seen the prediction that mobile device apps have had their day, and will be superceded by simple mobile websites, according to this article by Spencer E Ante in The Wall Street Journal. Mark Ferdman, who runs Pushkart (which offers discounts for local merchants through an application for the iPhone and other smartphones) bit a chunk out of Apple, saying "Steve Jobs has done a great job of creating a marketplace that is unnecessary." The dinner in question (fettuccine with duck confit anyone?) was a semi-regular movable feast called Mobile Mondays, the second MM to be held in New York. At the dinner NYC entrepreneurs chewed the fat (indeed the duck confit) about issues they have in common. They're passionate about their geographical location and wouldn't dream of moving to Palo Alto, California, to start up and run their high-tech businesses. The statement about apps is interesting and thought-provoking. Apps were developed to make the smartphone experience easier. A fair percentage of them don't rely on you, the user, having 3G access to use them. So if apps gradually fade away in favour of websites (how full circle is THAT?!), you'll have to be connected and drawing on your data limits all the time. I wonder if Mark Ferdman has shares in a major telco? 🙂  In an ideal world 3G access would be cheap as chips and you'd never be without signal. But our world is far from ideal. OK, over to you. Are apps dead or dying? Would you prefer to use a dedicated app on your smart device or mess around with a website?  Share your thoughts below.