Websites

Websites: Eastwood Chamber of Commerce

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Eastwood Chamber of Commerce This is another site we have revamped from an original we built a few years ago. Eastwood Chamber staff wanted the ability to update their own site, and they also wanted one that looked more up to date. WordPress was an obvious platform, and the theme we chose has a specific Events post feature which automatically ceases to display invitations once the event date has passed - a perfect choice for a Chamber of Commerce. In this case we also provided the capability for the site to display several pages in Chinese and Korean. The number of multiple language pages is small at the moment but may grow with the site. We've covered more about this site in our blog. Thanks 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.
Devine Law at Work

Website: Devine Law at Work

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Devine Law at WorkElizabeth Devine with her law practice Devine Law at Work has been a client for several years, and we persuaded her it was time for a rebuild so she could manage her own site through the WordPress CMS and also enhance her site with a business blog - something she'd been considering for a while. We chose a theme which handles FAQ beautifully with an easy-to-use custom FAQ module as her site has an extensive FAQ - likewise events, as Elizabeth is a popular speaker on legal and IR/HR law matters. We're confident Elizabeth is going to really enjoy editing her site and adding blog posts. At the time of writing, November 2011, the site has only recently been launched.

Google+ for business – grab your page now

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Google+Google announced this week that it had extended Google+ to allow users to create pages for their company or organisation. Get in quick, particularly if you have a business name that could be confused with someone else's. Why should you? It's an extra SEO boost for your company, as you can link your own website with your Google+ page. Andrew Cherwenka of The Huffington Post explains it rather nicely in this article. We know that Google wants its new service to not only rival Facebook but knock it out of the water. Google+ is a cloud service whose file-sharing abilities are a boon for organisations as it works hand in glove with Google Docs - and we know that Facebook doesn't have an equivalent. Picture a group of contractors, all working on the same project, sharing their files in real time on Google+. They are all in the same 'circle' and people outside that circle can't see or access the file. Rather than emailing files back and forth, files are checked in and out in real time. For small business, Andrew Cherwenka has a comment to gladden your heart: "Google Plus makes it pretty easy to sort followers into groups (they call them Circles) and send targeted, relevant messages to these smaller audiences. Brands can create robust content calendars with posts intended just for certain cities, ages, gender and languages. Imagine Pizza Hut sending a family dine-in update to 35-year-old mothers in Toronto and a take-out offer just to 22-year-old guys in Thunder Bay. To brands, that's gold." We're experimenting with the new business page for Google+ at the moment. It's superbly easy to set up. Within five minutes of setting the page up we had it linked to the sociables section on this website. Finding the contacts to go in circles is slightly harder. Unless your contacts fill in relevant information and add an image you can recognise, you may well be adding the wrong John or Jane Smith to your circles. We'll keep you posted.                  
CATitude

Websites: Catitude

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CATitudeOur own cat herder Sabrina Ferguson loved working on 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 her. First of all we created the CATitude logo based on Sharon's requests for look, style and colour. Colours decided, the website evolved quickly, with a delivery time of three weeks from shaking hands on the initial deal. 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. CATitude 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.

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.

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!

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.

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

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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.

Free websites – you get what you pay for.

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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.

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

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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.