Author Archives: Dave Fielden

Customer Reviews: BlueTree’s Christmas Present 2019

Reviews Are Good For Business…

bluetree christmas tree and messageWhatever else they do, small business websites exist to enhance the business’s reputation. They provide proof that it exists and does things that people want and appreciate.

The most important reputation-enhancing item is a compliment from a happy customer. That’s why we usually include them on websites.

… But They’re Hard to Come By

A happy customer will often leave a meeting with the intention of leaving a review. However, back at the desk there’s always a stack of things to do and your review usually drops off the list after quite a short time.

Make it Easy to Do

google my business write a review buttonGoogle has simplified the way we ask for reviews. Now, all you have to do is to send your happy customer a link to your Google My Business – or GMB – page, and ask them to scroll down to the “Write a review” button. Google will help and encourage them to do the rest.

(Don’t have a GMB page? It’s easy and free to get one. Click here to see how.)

You can send the link in an email or include it on a web page, with suitable anchor text (the phrase “Click here to see how” above is anchor text).

How to Find Your Link

share icon from google my business pageGo to Your GMB page, click the Share button and copy the link. Select your anchor text and paste it into a hyperlink in your email or on a web page.

Here’s our version of what your customers will see when they tap or click it.

 

TIP: Google will notify you when anyone leaves a review. Always leave a nice reply – it’s your opportunity to impress a  potential customer. And anyway, it’s polite to do so, isn’t it.

Two More Things

  1. You’re not supposed to offer rewards. Some people do, but if a competitor were to report you to Google, your website and GMB page could disappear from search results. Might be temporary, might vanish permanently.
  2. Don’t worry if you receive a bad review. Reply with an apology and an offer that puts things right. Few of us get things right 100% of the time, as anyone who ever made a mistake will tell  you.
google images logo

How to Find Images for Your Website

google images logoIntroduction

When maintaining a website, it’s important to use original material.

  1. never copy content from anyone else’s website
  2. use your own images, photos you’ve taken or graphics you’ve commissioned, and to which you own the copyright

It’s not quite as simple as that though. Plagiarism is allowed to some extent: see “The Golden Rule” on our website copywriting advice page. And you may use other people’s images, so long as they permit it.

Not everyone is a great artist or photographer, so in this post we’re looking for photos, sketches and diagrams.

Licensed Image Resources

The online world is awash with beautiful paintings and photographs for you to use, all subject to licence restrictions. If you use a licensed image without permission, you are open to prosecution by the copyright owner. Big image libraries, and companies big enough to have a legal department, do monitor plagiarism on the internet. And they do go after people who use them without permission. I know, it happened to one of my clients. This doesn’t usually lead to a court case, but it’s still a nuisance as you’d need to swap your content very quickly.

Even if it isn’t completely new, it’s best to make sure your content is largely unique and doesn’t violate anyone’s copyright. Your own photographs are the safest.

Free-to-use Image Resources

There are websites that publish licence-free images. You can use these on your website without fear of retribution. If you decide upon a great, popular image, then you’ll see it in other places on the internet. You may decide to pay for a less popular one to differentiate your website from the pack.

TIP 1: check your competitors’ websites before choosing.
TIP 2: download the highest definition images available as this gives the most flexibility

An internet search will reveal plenty of websites offering images online, some free to use and some you have to pay for. Here are four we’ve used in the past.

  • iStock: massive range includes movies; good filtering; the most expensive in this list
  • Pixabay: the image search on this site often reveals paid-for images on other sites, but very clear licence terms with their own pictures
  • pxhere: each picture has very clear licence terms and attribution requirements
  • Shutterstock: 30-day free trial, then £1.99 per image, cancel anytime

Be sure also to check the website’s terms of use. Some require that you credit them when using one of their images.

How to Use Google to Search for Free-to-use Images

Google will filter its image search by licence terms. It will deliver images from the libraries I mentioned, plus countess other sources. Again, be sure to check the licence if you choose one of these.

  1. Search for your keywords and click or tap Images
    google search example
  2. Select Tools
    google image search tools
  3. Now click the Usage rights drop-down
    google image search usage rights
  4. Select one of these depending on whether you want to modify the image or not
    goggle image usage rights selector

    How to Check Who Else Uses Your Picture

    It’s a good idea to check, not least becuase a competitor may use it. Google helps here with its Image Search. Go to images.google.com and click the little camera to the right of the search bar.google image search

     

If you already downloaded the image, you can upload it on the “Upload an image” tab. Otherwise drag it onto the box or, if that doesn’t work, copy/paste the image URL into it. Usually, clicking on an online image will take to to its location on the internet where you can copy the URL from the address bar.

Conclusion

Good luck with findiong great images for you website, but do remember:

  • check licence restrictions and permissions carefully before choosing
  • download the highest definition available so you get a clear picture on you website.

Look out for our next post on image optimisation: essential for fast page load times.

sitemap.xml in fancy writing

Improve Your Search Position: Step 1

Introduction

This is the first in a series of posts that aim to explain how to move your website up search results, above your competitors.

No need to worry. This is all quite easy and many content management systems allow you to do much of it yourself. You might need to contact your web designer for one or two of the trickier bits.

We’ll include these topics over then next weeks and months:

  1. XML sitemap (explained below)
  2. Encryption
  3. Keywords and phrases
  4. Local search business listings
  5. User-friendly sitemap
  6. On-page optimisation
  7. How to use hyperlinks
  8. Off-page optimisation
  9. Currency

If this sounds a lot, just remember the golden rule: you only need to do enough to stay one step ahead of your competitors. Keep checking.

XML Sitemap: What’s in This Post

Here we’ll explain what an XML sitemap is, how to make one, what to do with it, and the consequences of not having one. The image above shows an example.

The XML sitemap is the first thing you should address to improve your search position. In this post:

What is an XML Sitemap?

An XML Sitemap is a page on your website that humans don’t see. Search engines use it to help find all the pages on your website.

To look at yours, type your domain name, followed by “/sitemap.xml” into your browser address bar. E.g. go to www.yourdomain.co.uk/sitemap.xml.

You should see a file that lists all the pages on your website, wrapped up in some code. The example above has the URLs (web page addresses) in bold. Check to make sure the file contains all your web pages.

Yours may be formatted more prettily than this, but that doesn’t make any difference. It may also have other parameters (e.g. <priority>, <lastmod>…) but it’s the URLs you need.

Some XML sitemaps contain links to other files, also XML sitemaps. Click the links to see the actual sitemaps. Our CMS testbed, Portishead Pretzels, works that way: one file describes the website, the other our blog. The URLs are bold again.

<sitemapindex xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9>
<sitemap>
<loc>
http://www.portisheadpretzels.co.uk/sitemapmain.xml
</loc>
</sitemap>
<sitemap>
<loc>
http://www.portisheadpretzels.co.uk/blog/sitemap.xml
</loc>
</sitemap>
</sitemapindex>

How to Check or Make Your XML Sitemap

BlueTree CMS, our Content Management System, automatically maintains your sitemap.xml file as you add, delete, or rename pages.

Some other CMS’s will maintain it, too. Joomla and WordPress users, for example, can install a plug-in that does the job.

Failing that, every time you create, rename or delete a page, create a new sitemap using an online tool like this one. Then upload it to your website’s root directory.

How Webmasters and Search Engines Use Your XML Sitemap

Your web designer will submit your XML sitemap to the major search engines when your website goes live. They usually do this as a matter of course. It only takes a few minutes. You don’t usually need to ask, and you probably won’t have to pay extra.

Once submitted, your site will be on the search engines’ radar and they’ll keep up with changes you make.

Just because you tell them your site exists, doesn’t mean they’ll index all the pages immediately. They will begin to crawl your site. If they think your pages are worth it, they’ll index them. They’ll also follow links in them to other pages and decide about them, too.

Here are some reasons why pages may not get indexed.:

  • website too new – it may take some days or weeks to index all your pages
  • private pages secured with a password
  • sitemap not up-to-date
  • broken links in your website resulting in 404 “page not found” errors
  • your web server was down when the search engine tried to crawl it
  • page content duplicates other pages, or parts of pages, anywhere on the worldwide web
  • the content is confusing, perhaps because of poor structure or grammar
  • content considered not to add anything useful to the worldwide web
  • search engines told not to index page(s) using a robots.txt file
  • URL parameter errors

If you’re not able to fix problems yourself, contact your web designer. They will probably offer to survey your website for not too much money.

What to Do If Your Site Has No XML Sitemap

Contact your web designer.

If you have no XML sitemap, it will probably take a while for search engines to realise you have a website at all. The only way they’ll find your site is if they discover a link to it elsewhere on the Internet.

However, once they’ve discovered it, they’ll crawl it and, over time, index your (worthy) pages.

Later in this series we’ll explore other ways to tell search engines about your site. However, we recommend an up-to-date XML sitemap as your first step in the race to get ahead of your competitors.

Google Maps Business Reviews

How to Leave a Google Maps Review

Why Leave Reviews?

five star ratingRemember the last time you looked for a restaurant in a strange town? Did you check the reviews?

Sadly, we’re often more motivated to leave a bad review than a good one. People appreciate reviews, but need a good balance to make sensible decisions.

Even a bad  bad review is good. It’s an opportunity for the business to improve and to make a conciliatory offer to regain your goodwill.

When Did You Last Leave One?

When was the last time you left a meeting thinking, “These guys really know what they’re talking about. I’ll leave them and review when I get back to the office.”

And then forgot all about it?

It Doesn’t Take Long

It can take as little as 10 seconds and just leave a star rating. If you have a little more time, write a few words, of praise or criticism.

If you took a photo, so much the better. A picture’s worth a thousand words.

How to Leave a Google Review

google maps sign-in buttonGo to Google Maps. Make sure you’re signed in to your Google account, top right

google-maps-searchThen, top left, start typing the name of the business you want to review. Google will start listing local businesses as you type. Select the one you want from the list when you see it there.

You’ll then see the business details in the left-hand panel. Some way down the page, on the left, click on:

write a review on google my business

 

That’ll lead you to a panel like this,

 

review entry pane, with star rating and comments box

 

Click on an appropriate star (right-most means five stars :o) to indicate your star rating.

If you decide to write something in the “Describe your experience” box, don’t forget to say how you benefited.

 

Other Places to Leave Reviews

We don’t have time to leave lots of reviews. Since Google is the most popular, leaving it here will mean it’s seen by the largest number of people. There are many other places, should you feel inclined, the most useful are probably:

  • Trip Advisor, for restaurants and hotels and travel generally
  • Yelp, because Apple’s Map uses it

The Importance of NAT on Your Website

website legal graphicNAT or NAP, Your Website May Not Be Legal

Whilst looking for an example to show a possible new customer, I noticed one client’s website was missing the company name and address.

You guessed it: NAT – Name, Address, Telephone number. Or NAP if you drop the “Tele”. AKA Business Information.

On this page you can read about:

  • legal requirements for showing NAT on your website
  • why you probably need it anyway
  • how to stop hackers scraping it
  • how to maintain it with BlueTree CMS
  • what to do next

Rules for Business Information on Websites

Your website is an official business document, like an invoice. According to the Companies Act (2006), whether your business is incorporated or not, with one exception, your website must display your Company Information. The actual information required varies by the type of registration, but all include:

  • the registered name or trading name
  • registered or trading address
  • registration number and place of registration (if registered)
  • sometimes, trade organisations to which your business subscribes

The only time this doesn’t apply is for unregistered sole traders, trading under their own name. However, it’s still worth including because:

  • in these internet rip-off times, it helps to prove your business is real
  • search engines use it, among other things, to decide your site’s “authority”, so it affects your position in search results
  • business directories, a useful SEO tool, use it to qualify their listings and some won’t list you without it

business info block from BlueTree CMSMoreover, it’s very easy to do with BlueTree CMS – and to protect that important data from web crawlers that generate spam.

BlueTree CMS has a spider-proof, “Business Information Block” feature that handles your name, address, and phone number.

NAT Tips

Get this right at the start and you won’t find that, later on, you have a big review exercise that you’ll never start because it’s too big and too boring.

  1. always use your full trading name, including the “Ltd” bit
  2. make sure your information is consistent everywhere on the internet

You may not be too worried now, but at some time you’ll see competitors above you in search results. If you don’t get all this right, search engines may penalise your website, or maybe not display it at all.

  • Domain Registration: search engines check the Business Information on your website against that of the “Registrant” in your “whois” data
  • Business Directories: search engines check against other sources, too, including directories like Yell, Thompson Local, and 181
  • Correct Business Information: a search engine may prefer to display your business information, perhaps wrongly, from its favourite directory if the version on your website is different

Web Crawlers and Spam

Whilst it’s largely irritating, not dangerous, spam is  a big time-waster. Worst case, someone may use it to steal your business identity.

Don’t just type your Business Information into your web pages. Make sure your CMS protects it from “spiders”, the computer programs hackers write to crawl the web and collect such information.

How to Spider-Proof Your Business Information

website settings dialog in BlueTree CMSFirst enter your NAT, just once, in the Sitewide Settings panel.

The CMS will use the data to display your pretty Business Information Block, like the one at the top of this post. It contains:

  • the trading name
  • your address
  • your phone number: click to dial on a smartphone
  • your email address: click to open a new mail with your address in the “To” field
  • optionally, a thumbnail Google map, centred on your postcode, which opens full size in new window, when clicked

You need only display your full Business Information in one place, but you may want to put NAT, in whole or in part, on several pages, to make it easy for customers to get in touch with you. You can include this block, as many times as you want, anywhere on your website, by typing,
—-Contact—-
on a separate line, just like that, with no other characters.

And, anywhere on your website, even within a paragraph, if you type that same telephone number with no spaces, BlueTree CMS will convert it to a clickable link, hidden from web crawlers. It will do the same with your email address.

Your Business Information Is Safe

Whilst humans will be able to read your Business Information, web crawling software will not. There’s more than one benefit:

  • less spam and fewer time-wasting phone calls
  • the information is consistent across your whole website
  • if it ever changes, update it only once and all your pages change immediately

What to Do Next

Disclaimer: We are not lawyers. We offer the information on this page in good faith but please don’t rely on it. Take legal advice.

1. Establish Requirements for Your Type of Business

Registered businesses must display more than this basic information. The requirement for partnerships is different from that for limited companies, for example. Search for a phrase containing your registration type, e.g.

website business information required for [registration type] site:gov.uk

The “site:gov.uk” parameter will ensure you see results from the UK Government (apart from the ads), just to be on the safe side. If you omit it you’ll see results from solicitor websites, too, which is fine but maybe not definitive.

2. Check Your Domain Business Information

Often forgotten, your domain registrar holds a copy of your Business Information. Check yours by typing your web address into this page at whois.com. The registrant (hopefully you) is able to change this if it’s wrong.

3. Check Your Business Information Elsewhere

This is the subject of our second post in this series. If you’d like a notification when it’s published, please sign up using the “Find this useful?” button, bottom right.

References

  1. Companies Act (2006)
  2. Online domain registration check
  3. What to do if your domain registrant isn’t you

Christmas E-cards with a Difference

 What’s The Difference?

Many people give to charity instead of sending paper Christmas cards. We do it too.

What if we could find a very special charity? One that:

  • treats the causes of poverty, not the symptoms
  • has transparent overheads, not taken from donations
  • has none of its money trousered by warlords or corrupt politicians
  • helps people work their way out of hardship
  • uses your donation over, and over, again

mmalemna-ayamThis charity is a crowd-funded bank that lends money to African entrepreneurs. Ten people donate £10 each and the charity lends £100 to start a business. £100 goes a long way in Africa.

This is Mmalemna Ayam. She wants a loan to grow and sell more onions to help feed her family.

When she repays our loan, we can lend it again to someone else.

Deki is Our Charity at Christmas 2016

deki logoRead all about it on their website. Tap “Play Video” and take just one minute to find out how it works. Then tap “Make a Loan” or “Donate” and help change somebody’s life :o)

And you can buy gift vouchers, so your family, friends, and important acquaintances can help more entrepreneurs work their way out of poverty.

SEO Tip

When you’ve visited Deki’s site and made your investment (or even if you haven’t), come back and leave a comment on this page. Comments increase the authority of a page like this. The more comments, the greater the authority.

That increases the value of our link to Deki.

Three Free Tools: Test Your Website Now

Google’s Recent Mobile Friendly Algorithm Update

your website on all devicesOver 50% of people now search on mobile devices, so no-one can afford to ignore this issue.

Even some apparently mobile-friendly websites fail these tests. Is yours one of them?

Google and Bing take this very seriously. Seriously enough to provide simple tools for you to check your website. Google’s recent update penalises websites that aren’t mobile friendly. For searchers using using a smartphone or tablet, it will reduce your page rank. If your landing pages aren’t mobile-friendly, it may stop displaying your ads on mobiles.

Take five minutes and use these three simple tools to check if your website is losing business for you. Best of all, they’re free!

The Three Tools

Nobody wants to visit a website that takes ages to load, or that they can’t see properly when they get there. Check your competitors’ sites (and your web designer’s :o), too: make sure you stay one or two steps ahead…

  1. Here’s Google’s mobile friendly web page testing tool. Your web page must  pass this test. However, I have seen false positive results, so use tool number three, too.
  2. Google also helps fund the Web Page Speed Test, at www.webpagetest.org. Your web page should become visible within four or five seconds, tops. You’ll lose viewers – and potential customers – if it doesn’t.
  3. Tool 3 is your own Common Sense: take a look at your web page on a smartphone – but maybe not your own! Explained below.

Have a go now. If you have any questions, I’ve added explanations below. Neither of the first two tests is definitive, so make sure you use the third as well. The speed test needs a little thought, so maybe read that bit, even if you don’t read the rest.

an ezesite website on a smartphoneTool 1: Google’s Mobile Friendly Test

Type your home page URL into this Google tool, click Analyze, and wait a few minutes for it to check your site. You’ll see your page in a mobile phone, like this, if your page is mobile friendly, or “Awesome”, as Google describes it.

Or try Bing’s Mobile Friendly Test, if you prefer. Take care to paste your URL into the lower of the two search fields as the top one performs an Internet search. Caught me out the first time I used it :o)

2double7 is a local taxi firm and they have a BlueTree website. All BlueTree sites (well, those less than a few years old) are mobile friendly. We take steps to make sure of it during the build process.
Try 2double7’s by copy/pasting this URL into the tool www.2double7.co.uk.

If want to you try ours, remember it’s encrypted (that’s another story) so you may need to enter the whole URL, https://www.bluetree.co.uk.

google's response to a non mobile friendly web pageIf your website isn’t mobile friendly, you’ll get a different result. I picked a local, Portishead, non-mobile-friendly website at random. I won’t say who’s it is :o).

Suffice to say, it’s not a BlueTree site.

If you use a CMS, you could maybe help by making the text bigger. However, if you get a result like this, you need to talk to your web designer pretty soon if you want to stop losing 50% or more of your visitors.

Tool 2: Web Page Speed Test

Since writing this post, Google has published more evidence of how slow mobile downloads impact usability and viewer satisfaction.

This is the web page speed test tool. Here are a few things to think about before using it.

Speed Test Controls

  1. Test Location. Select a server near where your website is hosted. For us that’s UK, and any UK selection will do. You may find your website is hosted overseas somewhere, so check with your ISP. If it’s hosted outside the UK, the page download speed will be slower. Even though bits and bytes travel at the speed of light, the further away your host is, the more switching computers there are between you and your visitors.
    Update: I’ve since noticed that, sometimes, no UK test centres are listed. If this happens, just chose the nearest, or try again in a few days time. Location makes a difference, but only a small one.
  2. Select Browser. The browser choice affects the speed with which your page is “rendered” so it makes a small difference. Bear in mind that phones work at about one third the speed of a recent laptop, so the structure and coding of your web page are much more important than the browser you select.
  3. Next click on Advanced Settings.
    1. Connection. This is the speed of Internet access that’ll be used for your test. The slowest UK mobile phone service is 3G. Speed varies with provider, device, and signal strength. Even if your own connection is faster, select one of the 3G connections to see what your average visitor will see.
    2. Number of tests to run. Results vary, so we need to run several to get a fair reading. Choose an odd number, because the tool selects the median value, or middle result. You need an odd number to get one of them in the middle. The more runs, the more representative the result. The maximum is 9 in the free version.
    3. Repeat view. Web browsers store web pages locally to speed up repeat views. This avoids having to load pages again if a visitor comes back, saving time and bandwidth. I usually check “first view only” as this is the test that represents a first-time visitor. If a visitor returns, they must want something, so they’ll wait longer anyway.
    4. Capture video. Check this box to see a movie of your web page loading. It’s worth looking at the video. One site I checked showed a load speed in excess of 25 seconds, but it began to display after six.
    5. Keep test private. The website keeps all results for a while, so you, and others can see them. Check this box if you don’t  want your results public. You can still see them.
    6. Label is optional. It allows you to identify a particular test later. Take a look at the test history tab when you’re through, and you’ll see the reason for it.
  4. Now click the yellow START TEST button. Your test may be queued and you’ll see how many there are in front of yours. The test will take a while, and the screen will refresh after each iteration. You don’t need to watch it, just keep your browser open while you’re doing something else.

Speed Test Results

web page speed test result for a BlueTree client's websiteTo keep your visitors happiest, the “Start Render” time should be less than four or five seconds. That’s when things start to happen in earnest, and your visitor sees something.

This is 2double7’s result. The start render time is just over three seconds, whilst the whole page loads in just under six. For 3G, that’s very good for any page, especially good for a big page like this.

A red or orange box, top right, shows improvements your web designer can make. Green A is perfect, F is fail.

If you select a slow connection, such as Slow 3G, the First Byte Time may be orange or red. This is because it includes the time to make first contact with the server. It depends, in part, on the speed of your network. All you or your web designer can do about it is to choose a good ISP to host your site, and locate it in the UK.

Your web designer can set HTTP Keep Alive, which maintains the connection, once made, for the page load duration. It should be green A. Every time the connection breaks, your visitors’ browsers must incur the First Byte Time again.

Compress Transfer is a server-side setting, and WebPageTest.org doesn’t always notice it. If your page has a red F here, check it again using this HTTP Compression Tester, also free. If that reports all Ok, then it is OK.

BlueTree CMS does Compress Images automatically when you upload them, so they can’t be compressed any further. You may still trigger the dreaded red F. It’s worth asking your webmaster (BlueTree included) if you don’t get a green A here.

On a BlueTree website, Cache Static Content will usually show the red F, By caching content locally, your visitor will see your web page faster on subsequent visits.  Problem is, should you update your page, something that’s easy and frequent with BlueTree CMS, your visitor will see the old version and not the update. Lets’s face it, who ever thinks to refresh their cache? Your pages should load so fast that you don’t need to worry about caching them.

The X, to the right, indicates the site doesn’t use CDN, or a Content Delivery Network. Multinational organisations ensure fast delivery by using servers located in each country. Remember earlier, when you chose the country in which your website is hosted? 2double7 serves a local market, so they don’t need to worry about this. There’s no CDN code on 2double7’s website.

How to View Speed test Results

Go to the median run (it was run 5 for this example) and click on “Watch video” to see what a real visitor will see. Download the video to send to your web designer if you’re not 100% happy.

Tool 3: Common Sense

A false positive result from the mobile-friendly testLook at your web page on a mobile phone. It sounds dead obvious but do it anyway, and borrow other people’s phones.

  1. Beware of caching. Web browsers keep a local copy of recently-viewed pages in a “Cache”. Next time you visit, the page is displayed more quickly, from the cache. This why the speed test offers first and repeat view options. To get a true result for a first-time visitor, ignore the first result and refresh the page. Or ask friends to look on their phones, so long as they haven’t looked at your website before.
  2. You may get a false positive result from the mobile-friendly test. The tool rated this site mobile-friendly, but only checked the Cookie warning. This page isn’t mobile friendly.
  3. If a big photograph occupies the top half of your page, that’s all you’ll see on a smartphone. Not everyone will bother to scroll down to your your message.
  4. Some web pages contain movies, or cycling photographs, at the top of the page. These look very nice on a laptop, but may be all your visitors see on mobile. How many will wait around to see the whole show and get your message?
  5. Make sure it looks the same on different phone brands, especially Android and Apple. Many businesses use Windows or Blackberry phones, so if that’s your target market…

What To Do If Your Website Isn’t Mobile Friendly

joke: smiley face

Send the movie your website designer and ask for a quote. Or, if you’d like to change to a BlueTree website, get in touch, or leave a comment below. Our ethical pricing policy means you may find it costs less than fixing your current one!

Apple Maps Business Directory for Windows Users

Progress Report, 21 April, 10:45h.

This has turned into a long list of everything I did wrong. I guess few people will want to read it all. However, we’ve distilled it into a page of advice on how, currently, to get your business on Apple Maps. Expect both that page and this post to change as Apple Maps develops, as I’m sure it will.

We’ve now managed to claim two businesses on Apple Maps Connect: our own and that of a client. It hasn’t gone well. There’s just one thing left to do: remove a client’s duplicate listing. We’re waiting for Apple to do this.

Maybe the Time is Right to List Your Business on Apple Maps

Apple Maps iconApple Maps got off to a bad start when they launched it in 2012. Not only that, Google Maps already had an enviable reputation, so Apple users tended to download Google’s map ap and use that instead.

However, things have changed. The latest version of Apple Maps is much improved and now there’s little to distinguish it from Google Maps, apart from personal preference. There are those, like ZDNet, who say it’s overtaken Google.

It’s hard for Apple users to ignore. Even if you download Google’s ap on your i-Phone, Apple Maps remains the default. If you ask Siri for directions, Apple Maps always provides your route.

Your Business On the Internet

With more than half of all searches being done on mobiles these days, every business with a local target market needs to appear on on-line Maps. This means you must either create, or find and claim, your business listing in their directories.

Google is obviously the first one to tackle, as it is the most used. It’s also the easiest, as Google maintains its own directory of local businesses, called “Google My Business”. They’ve been running it for years, and the process is generally slick and problem free.

If you haven’t done so already, read how to claim your Google My Business page.

But with a projected 1.5 million new iOS devices due to hit the UK market this year, it’s worth the effort needed to claim your place in Apple’s business directory.

How to Get Your Business on Apple Maps

Until quite recently, Apple has used a variety of sources for business data. These include Yelp, FourSquare, Booking.com, and a whole host of others. This meant you had to claim your listing in one or more of them to appear on Apple Maps. Now they have provided a way to get your business on Apple Maps directly.

As a Windows/Android user, it looked quite straightforward, but managing images has proved to be a bit of a challenge. Setting up the business page proved easy enough, but:

  • I can see our own entry on my PC, but I can’t find a way to see those of our competitors;
  • Managing our images was a bit of a nightmare – and it seems impossible to sort out :o(

This post maps (;o) our journey through the process. There’s no need to read all this if you don’t want to. Go directly to our new resource page, “How to Get Your Business on Apple Maps.

Getting BlueTree on to Apple Maps.

1. Ages Ago: Create an Apple Account

This proved easy. Mark already has one.

2. Claim the BlueTree Business Pageview-my-business

This was relatively simple, too. Just go to Apple Maps Connect and click the orange button. It asks you to enter some details and searches for your business. Since BlueTree wasn’t in the directory, it offered to let me create a new entry.

3. Create a New Entry

bluetree-home-imageThis was quite simple, too. I won’t go into detail here because it’s cover in our advice page. But were we happy with the result? NO!

This is what the top of our page looks like! Tucked down at the bottom right is a tiny message, “Photo from Yelp.” We’ve had a Yelp account for ages.

4. So How Does This Work?

This is our logo, a square thumbnail, and the the wrong shape for this space. It does appear in our Yelp listing. There’s another image on there which is much more suitable.

the same website on a smartphone, tablet and a desktop computerIt’s roughly the right shape and it says something about our websites: they are mobile friendly.

So, this raises a few questions.

  1. Can I change the image on the Apple Maps page?
  2. Did it take the image from Yelp because I hadn’t added one when I created the page?
  3. The logo was the second image loaded onto the Yelp page; would changing the sequence on Yelp fix the problem?
  4. And what’s the best size for the image anyway?

5. Plan for Finding Out

  1. Don’t bother to try and change the image on Apple Maps; you can’t.
  2. I didn’t upload any images to Apple Maps, and I can’t remember if I had the opportunity. I’ll ask a customer if I can claim theirs to check it out.
  3. Try changing the sequence of the images on BlueTree’s Yelp page.
  4. Examine Apple’s code to find out the size: it’s 798 x 250 pixels. Whether this is the optimal size, I don’t know. Perhaps if I were an Apple user…

5a. Change the Images on Yelp

Well, the first thing I notice is, you can’t change the sequence. I’ll have to delete them and re-instate them in reverse order. Here goes. Oh dear! I can delete the image I want to use, but not the logo image. Maybe that’s because it was the first uploaded, or perhaps because it’s used by Apple Maps?

Looks as though that’s the end of the road.

5b. Start Again from Scratch

We have permission from a kind customer, Force 9 Business Solutions, in Quedgeley, Glos. We recently converted their site to use our ezeSite CMS, and now we’re in the process of revamping it.

Force 9 don’t have an entry in Yelp, so maybe we’ll get to upload our own images? We didn’t.

how to request a pinAll went swimmingly until we reached the phone number validation stage. To make sure you have a real business, Apple phones the number you’ve entered and dictates a four-digit PIN, which you type into the web page. Since they expect this to occur within 1 minute in the first instance, must be done by
computer.

Should this process not work, you get the opportunity to try again. And again. And again. The only snag (apart from the fact that it hasn’t worked) is that the time between retries increases. The retry time got past an hour before I gave up.

In a typical software-developer way, they don’t help; just let you waste loads of time guessing.

  1. They don’t tell you what’s wrong;
  2. They don’t tell you anything’s wrong;
  3. It just doesn’t work, leaving you to puzzle it out:
    1. Did I type the number incorrectly?
    2. Does the phone number match the one on their website?
    3. Did our office staff miss the call?
    4. Does Apple’s system just not work sometimes?

Eventually, the penny dropped! Force 9 has an 0333 phone number. This is non-geographic, and that’s not allowed (although it is; explained later).

To prove this, I changed their phone number to ours, at BlueTree. That validated immediately, so the system does work. I submitted the page for authorisation. However, that proved to be a mistake, too.

A couple of days later, I received this email from Apple:

Apple's email, requesting images showing the office, confirmation of phone number and location on map.

Obviously, the phone number no longer matched the the one of Force 9’s website. I corrected it, back to the 0333 number.

After searching around, on of the Force 9 guys found an old office photograph that we’d used on an earlier version of their website. It showed the front door and the plaque next to it with their name on it.  I also opened the map as if to move the pointer. That seems to cover the points they raised.

The authorisation took so long that I started to suspect it wasn’t going to work. After all, they only tell you when something works, it seems. And we didn’t have a geographical phone number…

After six days the authorisation arrived. Now, if you go to Gloucester, and ask Siri to take you to Force 9, up will come their page!

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. I asked one of F9’s directors to search Apple Maps using his i-Phone. Despite the fact that Maps Connect didn’t find it earlier, Force 9 now has two listings! First the new listing that I created. The other, with the wrong address and the map pointer in the wrong place and an old phone number, has obviously been there a while.

We’ve requested that Apple deletes the incorrect entry, but nothing’s happened yet … after three days.

5c. Force 9’s Images and Yelp Directory Entry

The optimum size for Yelp’s images is 650 pixels wide, 410 high. It crops a square thumbnail out of the middle, horizontally, so it uses a 410 px square in the main display.

Apple’s main image seems to be 798 x 250 pixels. It expands or shrinks the Yelp image to fit. You can’t control this process.

I didn’t claim Force 9’s Yelp entry so Apple Maps would use its default image. This turns out to be an satellite picture from their map, with Force 9’s pointer dead in the middle. NB: make sure you get the pointer in the right place!

force 9 default image on apple maps

Force 9 on Apple Maps

As you can see, it’s far from ideal, as the huge warehouse next door dominates the picture.

Conclusions

It would appear that this process is still under development. Google’s process is far slicker, and you get to control it far more. Apple is not competing yet, so expect the process to improve over time.

It’s still worth claiming your Apple Maps listing, should you be allowed. The number of new Apple devices being sold, and the rising popularity of mobile search, make it a no-brainer. Once you’re listed, they’ll no doubt announce “major improvements” to the process as they catch Google up.

To avoid making the mess of it that I did, please read our help page, “How to Get Your Business on Apple Maps“. Good luck!