Category Archives: Digital Marketing

Digital marketing ideas, issues and updates that relate to small businesses and local search.

abstract image made from at signs

Do You Break These Email Rules?

I Must Have Written Millions of Emails

Over the years, I’ve seen, and made, all sorts of mistakes with emails. To fix them I’ve adopted seven rules. They’re so obvious it’s a pity I (and maybe you?) don’t always follow them :o(

I often break rule 5 trying to be friendly, especially in these COVID-ridden times.

If you want to read the explanations below, please go ahead. If you don’t have time, here’s the list. Click a rule to see a brief explanation.

Rules for Writing Effective Emails

Rule 1. One topic, one email
Rule 2. Main point up front
Rule 3. Don’t change the subject
Rule 4. Email when you’re fresh
Rule 5. Keep it brief
Rule 6. Take care with Reply All
Rule 7. Check your spam folder

Simple, innit? Do you always follow these rules? I try.

Rule 1: one topic, one email

The most effective emails contain just one question or message. Busy people receive 100s of them. They scan emails, so second and subsequent messages are often missed, rarely acted upon.
Back to list.

Rule 2: main point up front

For busy email scanners, if you want something to happen, ask in the first sentence. Leave white space afterwards for emphasis.

Add all the reasons you want below. Some may read them. Your main actor will probably be too busy. However, s/he will see you have loads of justification and might actually act. If there’s no justification s/he may notice that, too.
Back to list.

Rule 3: don’t change the subject

How often have you said to yourself, “I said that in my email yesterday”?

Did you change the subject? Did you start a new conversation in reply to something else? And did you Reply All? It’s convenient if you’re talking to the same group of people. Many people, seeing “RE:” on the same subject line once too often, won’t bother to read it.

If you want to talk about something else, start a new conversation. One with suitable words in the “Subject” field. See rule 6, too.
Back to list.

Rule 4: email when you’re fresh

Don’t email late at night, when you’re tired, or after booze / chocolate / whatever turns you on. I’m not going to explain this rule further. If you really feel the need, wait until tomorrow to press “Send”.
Back to list.

Rule 5: keep it brief

After you’ve finished writing that important email, read it again and see how many words you can remove without affecting the meaning. If it’s a really important mail, get someone else to do it too.

If it’s very short, why not your entire message easily into the Subject field?

Nobody likes spending time on unnecessary waffle. People will appreciate your brevity.
Back to list.

Rule 6: Take care with Reply All

For two reasons, do think about “Reply All”.

  • save people time by not sending them irrelevant copies to open
  • don’t copy people into conversations that don’t concern them – it can be embarrassing

If the original sender copied in other people, they intended them to be aware of the conversation, maybe join in. Reply All can, inadvertently, share information you regret, especially if you change the subject (rule 3).

Avoid wasting people’s time unnecessarily: “Reply All” only if you think the sender was correct. Back to list.

Rule 7: Check your spam folder

Email systems continually update their spam filters. This is great, but they sometimes think  mails you really want are spam.

Before you switch off for the night, look through your spam folder. Move non-spam to your inbox, otherwise links won’t work. Then delete the rest.
Back to list.

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.
how google chrome identifies a secure website

Encryption: Improve Your Search Position Step 2

Step 2 is About Encryption

digital encryption padlock on green screenThis time we’ll discuss website security, what it is, why it’s important, and what you need to do about it.

This is a long post, so I’ll summarise it.

The Internet is becoming more security conscious. Some web browsers now issue warnings when you visit a website that isn’t secure. The others will follow. Warnings put visitors off. If you don’t want to lose visitors to your site, you need to encrypt it.

The next post in this series will explain how we are encrypting all BlueTree CMS user sites.

Meanwhile, in this post:

But first, a story.

A Website Encryption Story

We just finished a new website for a client. Stuart was very happy with the design and content, but there was a problem. He checked it on his phone, only to be told that the site was not secure! His SSL certificate doesn’t match his website.

browser pop-up that shows when an SSL certificate is invalidNow, he doesn’t have an SSL certificate, neither does he need one – any more than anyone else, that is.

We traced the problem to his phone’s over-zealous software. Our servers host many websites, some of them encrypted. The phone software wrongly assumed that, because one of the sites has a security certificate, it must apply to his as well.

No website owner wants to see something like this when visitors go to their website. So we installed a correct, temporary certificate for him.

Why Encryption Matters

Clandestine forces are eroding the Internet ideals of free speech and openness. Internet freedom is under threat from wealthy individuals, corporations, hackers, even government agencies, with

  • fake news designed to mislead
  • trackers that collect personal details
  • algorithms that control the news we read
  • data collection to support identity theft and secret government snooping

Encryption is one way the good guys are fighting back. They’re persuading us to encrypt our websites. As one encouragement, search engines are starting to reward encrypted websites with better rankings.

Here are two more reasons:

  1. The GDPR Data Protection Regulation: if you collect any personal information on your website, it should be secured to reduce your risk of compromising it.
  2. My antivirus software, Webroot, puts a big green tick next to search results it deems safe. So do many others. You’ll notice that the search result below has HTTPS:// in front of our web address. This means the website connects securely with your browser. The “S” stands for “Secure”.search result with green checkmark showing it is safe to visit

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Benefits for You

Here are four reasons to encrypt your website:

  1. Your visitors won’t be put off by dire warning messages, like Stuart was
  2. Visitors will see at a glance your how google chrome identifies a secure websitewebsite is safe, because their browsers will display a closed padlock in the address bar; this is Google’s Chrome browser making it obvious
  3. Hackers won’t be able to snoop on your visitors
  4. Google will rank your website higher, some say as much as 5%

Many internet users are not tech savvy, so may not notice. Don’t expect this to last, however. How long ago was it that nobody understood the cookie message you now see on every website?

firefox insecure login warningWorse, if you’re asking for feedback, or collecting an email address, they’ll certainly notice something like this.

Chances are they’ll move away and you’ll lose their input or a valuable lead.

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Secure Websites Are Encrypted

My browser talks to your website using text messages. They’re structured formally, but you can read them using Windows Notepad or Apple TextEdit. Anybody can read them, including hackers.

you accessing our website over the internet cloudThese messages run over the Internet, AKA The Cloud. On the way, they pass through many servers. Servers are computers and can be hacked, exposing your messages to hijack.

Encryption converts the messages into gibberish using a cypher, possibly the oldest form of secret writing. Julius Caesar used a simple “Shift Cypher” in his correpondence. With a shift cypher, you swap each letter of the alphabet for another. “A” becomes “F”, for example, “B” becomes “G”, “C” becomes “H”, and so on. Each letter is shifted six along in this example. So BLUETREE becomes VFOYMLYY.

It’s fairly easy to crack. “E” is the most commonly-used letter in the English language…

Digital encryption is much more sophisticated, as you can imagine. It’s so secure that the US Government has tried to ban it – for some reason :-).

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Digital Certificates

Your website needs a Digital Certificate to make encryption work. Issued by a trusted authority, the certificate must be installed on your web server. The certificate provider verifies your website is owned by your company, and the certificate is proof that all was OK.

Once the certificate is installed, “HTTPS” will appear before your domain name in the address bar of each visitor’s web browser, and all communication will be encrypted. The S after HTTP stands for “Secure”.

When you look at a secure site, your browser will examine the certificate and establish that,

  1. a trusted party issued it
  2. it’s current and valid
  3. it’s related to the site you’re looking at (this is where Stuart’s phone software went wrong in the story above)

When it’s happy, your browser and the server will swap encryption keys, and you’ll be able to see the web page content. The keys are discarded at the end of your session.

There’s a complete explanation here that’s nicely written and easy to understand.

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In Conclusion

Encryption matters. All websites will be encrypted eventually. Steal a march on your competitors by encrypting yours now.

The time is right. The world moves on, the Internet world faster than most.

  • Our certificate cost over £100 a year ago and you can now get one free
  • Anti-virus software and web brosers are starting to identify non-secure sites, which they call “unsafe”

As the software evolves, some make mistakes, as Stuart discovered. Recent developments mean we can avoid this happening to your website.

In a later post, we’ll explain what we’re going to do about it, and how our plans will affect you.

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

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!

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Website Warning

example of a mobile-friendly websiteOn this page you can read about:

  • Google’s warning, and what it means for website owners;
  • What makes a website mobile-friendly;
  • Ways to check your website;
  • Three methods of mobile-friendly implementation;
  • Google’s mobile-friendly web page testing tool;
  • What to do next.

Google’s Warning

Google has announced a change in its search algorithms. From April 21st, 2015, websites that are not mobile-friendly may appear lower in mobile search results than those that are.

Google thinks mobile-friendliness is important, and rightly so. Searches on mobile devices outstripped those on desktops and laptops last year. See the stats here. We monitor clients with nearly 70% of website visits from mobile devices.

They send webmasters an email when their web crawler, “googlebot”, finds pages that don’t comply. The mails arrive from the Webmaster Tools Team, with subject, “Fix mobile usability issues found on [website name].”

What Makes a Website Mobile-Friendly?

Mobile-friendly websites change their display to suit the user’s device. The same content will look different on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. It should be easy to use on any of them.

Is Your Website Mobile-Friendly?

Easy Ways to Check

You can check your website by looking at pages, first on your laptop or desktop, then on a tablet and smartphone. They should respond well to the mouse on your static devices, and equally well to taps on touch-screens.

For a more thorough check, use just your lapfloating pane controltop by changing the width of your browser window. If you’re viewing full screen, click this button next to the Close button, top right.

This makes a smaller window that you can re-size by dragging the corners, sides, top or bottom. Hover your mouse over the right-hand edge of the change-window-widthwindow until you see a double-headed arrow, like this. Hold down the left mouse button and move it slowly to the left. See how (if at all) your web page changes its appearance as the width reduces.

If it isn’t mobile-friendly, and the right-hand side disappears, then you have work to do.

mobileAdGraphic480x240

Methods of Mobile-Friendly Implementation

For an example, try squeezing your browser window with this web page. As the device gets smaller, the browser gets narrower. See how:

  • three images re-size and drop one below the other;
  • then the images shrink to fit;
  • the width of the text reduces;
  • the menu, contact and user log in buttons change position;
  • the get in touch button remains visible always.

This is what’s known as a “Responsive” website. Word on the Digital Marketing block suggests that responsive sites will appear higher in search results than those using other methods. Google defines two more methods:

  1. “Dynamic serving”, where the server sends different HTML depending on the user’s device;
  2. “Separate URLs”, which requires owners to maintain two separate websites, one called www.example.com and the other, say, mob.example.com.

If you’re into the detail, see Google’s guide to mobile-friendly websites.

Mobile-friendly Web Page Tester

You can check any web page using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing tool. Just copy and paste any web address into it.

Google’s Webmaster Tools now have a Mobile Usability section. It tells you which pages on your site fail the test, and why.

example of a false positive result from Google's mobile-friendly testBeware of False Positives

Google’s tool can make mistakes. Here’s an example, the owner of which will remain nameless :-). Google thinks this home page “awesome” but actually isn’t.

You see their cookie policy warning; nothing else. This obviously works for googlebot, but isn’t much use to human visitors.

The web page uses a third-party cookie policy script that googlebot thinks is a whole page.

What to Do Next

There’s no need to panic. It’ll take a while for googlebot to crawl the entire world-wide web. And if your business doesn’t rely on Google searches, you can relax for longer. However, with more than half of all searches done from mobile devices, you’ll still want to make this change.

NB: this only affects mobile searches, your website should still look OK – and retain its position in search results – on static computers.

  1. Check your website using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing tool.
  2. Keep checking your position in search results on your mobile phone. Make sure you’re not logged into your Google account when you do this, as Google shows you what it thinks you want to see, not what a new visitor would see.
  3. Ask your web designer to make your website fully responsive. Make sure they fix the whole site, not just a few pages.

If they’re busy, there are some things you may be able to do yourself, using your own CMS, to tide you over. NB: you’ll still need to get the job done properly, as soon as you can.

  • make sure your fonts are big enough to be read easily on a smartphone;
  • don’t put touchable buttons or phone numbers too close together;
  • remove Flash animations, which are not supported on all mobile platforms.

If you want some help, give BlueTree a call. 0117 339 0095.

How to Check and Improve Web Server Response Time

Introduction

In our previous post, we dealt with the time it takes you web pages to travel over the Internet and into your browser. We also discussed why fast response is important. Now it’s time to look at the other element of website response time: server response time. In this post we examine,

  • how to find out if your web server is slow,
  • how to fix the problem.

Is My Web Server Too Slow?

What Is “Too Slow” and Why Does it Matter?

Widely available research tells us that, variously, half of Internet users will leave a web page if they’re not hooked within three seconds, or two seconds… The longest I’ve come a cross is eight seconds.

So, taking the easiest target, if your web page takes 8 seconds to load, half of your potential customers will have already left by the time it appears. With average conversion rates of 1% or less, that means you need over 100 clicks on your ad to get one person interested. And remember, this is just interested, not a real customer by a long way.

So, 8 seconds is far too slow. NB: 8 seconds covers both server response time and page load time. Try 2 or 3 seconds instead for the server alone.

How to Check Server Response Time

Method 1: Ping It

“ping” is a command we use to monitor clients’ server up-times. Handily, it also tells you how long it took to send a tiny packet of data across the Internet and receive a reply.

You need to know your web site’s IP address, and how to use a command prompt. I use Windows 7, so I click the Start button and type cmd into the search field. This is the old DOS window, for anyone who can remember that far back.

Windows cmd showing ping command

  1. At the command prompt, type ping, followed by your website’s IP Address, followed by Enter or Return. E.g. “ping 78.31.107.141”.
  2. You see the time our server took to respond, 32 milliseconds.
  3. To close the cmd window, type “exit”.

Method 2: Pingdom

Fortunately, there is an better way.

Pingdom is a service provided by a Swedish company. It tracks website performance and downtime. Not only does it take away all the hassle, it also keeps history, and shows charts of your site’s performance over time. It’s free for occasional use on a single website.

  1. Set up an account, log in, and identify your website for checking.
  2. Let it run for a day or more.
  3. Log in to your dashboard, where you can see an up-to-date summary: down-time and server response time.
    a section of the pingdom dashboard, showing downtime and response time over your chosen time period.
    This shows there’s been no downtime over the last 24 hours, and the response time was fine too, average 386 milliseconds. That’s very good.
  4. Click the icon I’ve indicated “choose report” and select Response Time.

Poor Response Time Example

chart showing average hourly response time for February sixth.

NB: this chart comes from a different website, which we won’t name. It shows hourly average response times on Feb 6, from 00:01 hours to 24:00. You can see that, after 6pm or so, response time was OK, well below half a second. However, all through the working day it took over 3 seconds just to get a response from the server. You can hover over a point on the graph and Pingdom displays the detail (white box, top of picture).

This is not a good result. Sadly, this website’s graph looks similar every day. Users are losing interest.

pingdom get startedTry Pingdom’s free tool on your own website! Go to their website and click Get Started Now.

TIP. Several people with whom I’ve discussedpingdom logout button Pingdom had trouble logging out of their account for the first time. It isn’t dead obvious how to do it. Look for the “on/off” symbol, towards the top of the screen, to the right of your login name. Being yellow, it’s hard to spot, but it turns red when you hover over it.

How to Fix The Problem

OK, we’re talking about the carriers, here, everything that happens between your browser and the website you want to view. We covered the website’s contribution in an earlier post.

There are two main components: the speed of your Internet connection and the time it takes the web server wake up, find the web page you requested, and send it back.

Step 1: Is it your Internet Connection or the Websites’s Server

Because Pingdom pings from a fast Internet connection, we can ignore the download speed issue. If Pingdom sales a site is slow,then it’s on a slow server. If Pingdom says the site is OK, and the ping command from your own device shows a slow response time, then your Internet connection is the problem.

Step 2: How do you find an ISP with satisfactory performance?

We need to stress that most web hosts, most of the time, will provide satisfactory performance. You might suffer a bit at peak usage times, but that’s all. Here’s a good way to find one.

  1. Find other business’s websites, people you know, and use Pingdom for a day or more;
  2. If they’re OK, ask who their ISP is;
  3. If they’re not OK, point them at this post ;-).

You could also look at PC Pro’s annual web hosting awards and pick one from around the top of the list.

Web Pages Should Load Fast

How to Measure Your Website’s Speed

In this post we examine the importance of making your web pages load fast, the effect of slow pages on usability, and a little bit about how to improve things.

Page Load Speed is Important

Ever had to wait ages for a web page to load? What did you do? Hang around, or look for something else? The modern world, fuelled by the Internet, is making us all very impatient. This study into user reactions to slow page loads was published as long ago as 2009; imagine what the figures are today!

  • 47% of people expect a web page to load in two seconds or less.
  • 40% will abandon a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load.
  • 52% of online shoppers claim that quick page loads are important for their loyalty to a site.
  • 14% will start shopping at a different site if page loads are slow, 23% will stop shopping or even walk away from their computer.
  • 64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their site visit will go somewhere else to shop next time.

chart showing bounce rate vs increasing page load speed

chart showing how pages per visit drops as page load speed increases

Now here are a couple of charts to emphasise the point. They show bounce rate and the reduction in pages viewed per visit, compared with page load speed.

Bounce rate measures the number of visitors who arrive at your page and then immediately go away to another site. The inference being that they didn’t like what they saw (or couldn’t be bothered to wait for another page to load).

Source: Web Performance Today.

Apart from frustrating your visitors – the very people you want to impress – there are other implications, too.

 

  1. Search engine spiders will give up if a site loads too slowly, so your pages won’t be indexed in a timely fashion.
  2. Slow pages depress your AdWords “quality score”, or QS; this in turn increases your cost per click, adding to on-line marketing costs or reducing the number of times your ad is displayed.

How to Measure Page Load Speed

Google thinks the speed of the Internet is so important they’ve developed a tool called PageSpeed Insights to measure it. It’s easy to use. Just go to PageSpeed Insights, enter your website’s address, and click the go button.

enter your website address and click "analyse"After a few moments thought, the tool will rank your website, scores out of 100, for both mobile and static (those conected to a landline) devices.

score out of 100 for mobile and static devicesInsights’ focus on mobiles has intensified over recent months as mobile devices account for a rapidly-growing proportion of all Internet traffic.

So you can see our scores here, above. Now try yours!

What the Scores Mean

So what is a good score? Whilst 100/100 is perfect, presumeably, the law of diminuishing returns will ensure that few sites ever get there. I’d say that:

  • over 90: awesome,
  • over 80: great,
  • over 70: might be fine,
  • under 70: better do something about it.

bluetree.co.uk usually scores 96 or 98/100 for static computers, 86 0r 88/100 for mobiles. However, when first developed it scored only 78. We experimented with the new design to see how close we could get to the magic 100/100. You can read all about our experiments here.

Easy Speed Up for Your Website

The PageSpeed tool kindly offers a list of suggestions on how to improve your website. Most of them are a bit techie for many people, but some of them are obvious – and easy to remedy:

  1. Images can be very big, and very slow to load, so:
    a) don’t have too many,
    b) make sure they’re the correct size,
    c) compress them to make sure the files are as small as possible.
  2. Make sure there are no surplus characters, or spaces at the end of lines and paragraphs: it’s easy to introduce extra characters (and extra download time) if you copy and paste from Microsoft Word, for example.

How Fast is Your Web Server?

One last thing: we’ve been looking at what you can do to to improve your website download speed. That’s changes to your website to improve the transfer speed. There’s another element that’s harder control: your web server.

This is just as important. We’ll look at how to measure server response in our next post.