#MicroBizMattersDay, New Website & More…

#MicroBizMattersDay, New Website & More…

So here I am, it’s 2016 and already February and I feel that I should write a blog post. I am a little out of practice but I do have so much to tell you that I really need to get this written before something else stops me from doing so.

Top on my list is, I have a new website, and new branding… My old company name has disappeared along with 2015, and I can’t say I’m missing it. I wanted something simple which I can use for years to come, my name isn’t going to change anytime soon, well no plans for it to anyway. What do you think?

The lovely Gaynor at The Smart Station did my new logo and banners, and I’m really pleased with how they’ve turned out. I met Gaynor at #MicroBizMattersDay in January, which is the next piece of news I want to share…

My very first non-virtual event as a virtual assistant was #MicroBizMattersDay on Friday 8th January. I left for London the day before, and had a really great couple of days in London. It was certainly not what I was used to, I was in the thick of people, traffic, noise and general UK chaos, nothing like my rural life here in France, but I enjoyed it.

The day was a massive success and I feel privileged to have been part of the whole thing, even if I did try and hide in the corner of The Green Room. This year I didn’t take part in the live streaming (which suited me fine), but I did get nabbed by Ed Goodman of The Cambridge Business Lounge while he was whizzing around the place on Periscope. Tina Fotherby of Famous Publicity also caught me on camera a couple of times too. I also did a quick interview with Nick Peters of Share Radio, certainly not used to all the attention!

You may have heard of some of these business celebs, I didn’t really get a chance to speak to many of them as they were busy doing interviews… Tim Campbell MBE (winner of The Apprentice), Emma Jones MBE (Enterprise Nation), Charlie Mullins OBE, Chris Percival, Penny Power OBE and the rapper Sway.

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I did meet some great people on the day, difficult to name them all… Tina and Tony did a fabulous job of organising the day, and I am really made up that they have invited me back next year when the day will be held on Friday 13 January 2017. You can watch all of the live streaming from the day, behind the scenes footage and some radio interviews on the #MicroBizMattersDay website.

It’s been a really busy time for me, in December I was asked to format two books, Shadow Tag and The End Game for New York Times Bestselling Authors, Raymond Khoury and Steve Berry. I was really pleased they came to me, and hope to work with them more in the future.

One of my favourite client’s *they’re all my favourites* Positive Sparks are now doing a weekly podcast, and after the event in London I took part in one with Phil talking about #MicroBizMattersDay and also my favourite apps of 2015. This will be a monthly thing for me, so do subscribe if you’d like keep up to date!

As well as taking on a number of new clients in January, and being snowed under with work… I did have a little time to do some dating (I know, not work related, but some of you like to keep up with me on a more personal level), and pleased to say I am now officially in a couple. So you can see, not a lot of time for blogging! 🙂

So it’s February, my new website is live, a few tweaks here and there, but pretty much finished. I have a few big website projects coming up this month, and lots of exciting things to look forward to in the months to come.

If you are in contact with me by email, then please do update your records with my new email address which you can see at the very top of this page.

…And do check out #MicroBizMattersDay if you’re a small business owner, next year we have so many exciting things happening, with live streaming from around the world… I can’t wait!

Top 5 CMS Systems – How to Decide on Which One for Your Website

Top 5 CMS Systems – How to Decide on Which One for Your Website

CMS Content Management System word cloud, business conceptAs a Virtual Assistant, a considerable portion of my work is in managing my clients’ websites. When it comes to website administration, some types of website are easier than others. Inspired by a recent client’s clunky old custom Content Management System (the bit that allows me to make changes, upload new content, and add new features etc.), I thought I would delve into some of the most popular, modern CMSs and give a quick-guide on their pros and cons.

Choosing the system best for your purposes can be difficult, but it is an important choice to make. Most people will not want to change systems after they’ve started with one, so let’s take a look at these top five content management systems to see which one is right for you.

WordPress

Best for beginners and small to medium sized websites, WordPress is the platform serving up most blogs and brochure style websites you see these days. An automated install on most hosting platforms makes setup a breeze and you can easily be up and running the same day you do the installation. Released in 2003 and now with over 68 million websites, WordPress boasts a huge and helpful community to turn to for support when help is needed and really is the world’s most loved blogging platform.

Easy to customise, user-friendly & SEO capable, WordPress loses some appeal due to its vulnerability to hackers, limited design options and plugins often becoming incompatible with platform updates, meaning if you’re going to update your WordPress installation you’d better be sure your installed plug-ins are compatible first.

Joomla

A stable, no frills CMS for consumers and small to mid-sized e-commerce sites and education websites; Joomla, like WordPress has been around for a while (released in 2005) and boasts a robust developers community around it’s free and open-source platform meaning if you have questions or are stuck implementing it, you’ll be likely to find an answer before long.

Joomla falls behind in the areas of SEO capability, granular access control and it’s less intuitive than WordPress but nevertheless has over 30 million downloads and is in use on sites such as Linux.com and Cloud.com

Drupal

Launched in 2001, the most difficult but the most powerful CMS, Drupal can fulfill the needs of high security, enterprise level websites such as whitehouse.gov and data.gov.uk where it’s currently in use. It’s very flexible but has a steep learning curve, few theme choices and lacks good free plugins. Like WordPress and Joomla, Drupal is open-source, free and developer friendly – if you’re already a capable php developer – while also boasting superior stability, scalability and capacity for proper SEO.

You’ll have to budget a lot more time setting up your site with Drupal than with WordPress or Joomla. Stay away unless you or your team are already capable with PHP… but if you are, this one is the best for when you’re asking a lot out of your website solution.

ExpressionEngine

While ExpressionEngine differs from the open-source free CMS described so far, it can be compared to, and has a leg up on WordPress by including ecommerce and membership without needing 3rd party plug-ins. A paid-application which includes support in the purchase price, you can structure your EE the way you want, as well as allowing for unlimited content types. WordPress design is essentially limited to themes available, and installs with 3 content types (posts, pages, media) while with EE you can define as many as you need without knowing anything about coding PHP.

With excellent scalability and a noteworthy security record (cough cough @wordpress), ExpressionEngine touts a number of partners on their website like Adobe, Apple, Disney, Ford, Nike, and more showing it is a CMS that can not only give you more power and flexibility with your blog, but is trusted among huge corporations.

Craft

Built by a company that got started making high quality plug-ins for ExpressionEngine, Craft similarly starts as a blank slate allowing you to structure your site as you want it to be while offering a few advancements like more advanced functionality when it comes to entry creation and editing in the control panel.

Craft offers several pricing options to fit your needs and support comes with your purchase price. Like each of these CMS there is a supportive community but Craft, being the “new kid on the block”, doesn’t have quite the robust add-on library, yet.

In my experience, all of these are good systems. The most important thing is to choose the platform that best suits your business, your customers and your own internal structure. Not all businesses are blessed with the scope for an in-house webmaster, if it falls to you, be sure you have researched, and chosen, a CMS that you feel comfortable working with. If you end up hating the process of updating your website, you will likely find yourself leaving it to languish. Fresh, relevant content and a good user experience is king. If you have that covered, managing your website will be a piece of cake.

Why Isn’t My New Website Showing Up In Google Search Results?

Why Isn’t My New Website Showing Up In Google Search Results?

ID-10011498You’ve built (or had built) a shiny new website and you’re excited about getting it out there in front of people who may want to buy your products, avail your services or simply read what you’ve got to say. But after a few weeks or months of it being live, you’ve still had nobody visit it other than the people you’ve promoted it to directly.

Concerned that your website could be missing out on vital organic traffic from Google and other search engines, you decide to look for it yourself using some of the search terms you think it may appear under.

And that’s when it hits you, you can’t find your website for love nor money and apparently, it doesn’t appear in Google anywhere.

There are many reasons why this could happen and you shouldn’t despair because I’m about to give you a few pointers, which will help get your website featuring in Google search results going forward.

Google Webmaster Tools

Search engine spiders crawl the Internet and look for new websites all the time. However, they can sometimes take their time discovering them, so it’s always best to tell Google directly that your new site exists.

The best way to do this is via Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) – a suite of tools designed for webmasters, like you and I. As well as allowing you to inform Google of your website’s existence, it also boasts a plethora of features to help boost your site’s search engine optimisation (SEO).

Here’s what you need to do as a minimum:

1. Go to http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools and login using your Google account. If you don’t already have one then you’ll need to register one.

2. Once logged in you’ll need to add your website. Click ‘Add Site’ and enter the full URL as shown below. Be sure to do this twice: with and without the ‘www’ prefix

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3. Now you’ll need to verify your site and prove that you actually own it. You can do this in one of several ways and GWT will give you a recommended method and several alternative methods. They all achieve the same purpose, so choose whichever you feel most comfortable with.

4. Open your newly added and verified site from the main dashboard and down the left hand side look for ‘Crawl’. Under this submenu you’ll see ‘Sitemaps’ and this is where you can submit your own website’s sitemap to Google, so that its spiders know exactly how your site is laid out. My own sitemap was created using a WordPress plugin, but there are many other online resources to help you make one.

Search Engine Optimisation

When the search engine spiders crawl your site they are looking for meta content, keywords and other relevant information, so they can report back to the main Google database what they’ve found. If your site is lacking in any of these then its database entry may not reflect its content or purpose.

While littering your site with keywords is definitely not best practice, it absolutely has to have some. Otherwise, how can you expect Google to rank it in searches? As a rough guideline, try and have your keywords in the title of your page, subheadings and naturally and evenly distributed throughout.

Whatever you do don’t try and shoehorn keywords in where they don’t look right. It’ll not just annoy your readers, but Google won’t appreciate it either. We keep hearing that ‘content is king’ and that’s never been more true than today.

Social Signals

Google doesn’t always discover the latest and greatest content and sometimes has to rely on signals from social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. If a particular article or piece of content is getting a lot of attention in terms of shares, likes comments, etc. Google may choose to rank it more favourably.

In a similar vein, content that attracts a high bounce rate i.e. a visitor clicks through to it and then leaves almost immediately may be frowned upon by Google. This is because the visitor obviously didn’t find what they were expecting when they reached the content and so Google may decide that it shouldn’t be ranked so highly for that particular keyword or phrase.

Providing your readers with high-quality content and information, which makes them want to come back again and again, is fundamental for improving your site’s chances of appearing in the Google results pages.

If you hire me to set-up and design your WordPress website, then this step is included, free of charge – get in touch for more information.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome to the World of Spokal

Welcome to the World of Spokal

Last week, I gave you an insight into my top 5 productivity tools. Whittling that list down to the final 5 was actually quite difficult and I’ll tell you why… When I started planning the post, I soon realised just how many tools and applications I use on a day-to-day basis!

In fact, it could have quite easily been “My Top 10” or “My Top 15” but I felt that that would detract somewhat from the overall impact and meaning of the list. That said, there was one other application that nearly made the list but didn’t – and there’s a reason for that.

spokal

You see, when I was composing the other post, I was in two minds about whether to include Spokal or not. In the end I chose not to, but promised myself that I would write a separate post on it.

Spokal – for those of you who haven’t tried it – is quite simply, brilliant! Basically, if you want a fast and easy way to create highly effective inbound marketing campaigns then Spokal is for you.

It works in unison with your existing WordPress website/blog and a host of other applications such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ Facebook and Mailchimp. From my point of view as a virtual assistant, the best thing about Spokal is that incorporates so much functionality into a single tool, which saves a huge amount of time and immensely boosts productivity.

Spokal has many features and I can’t begin to go into them all. Therefore, I’ll outline the three that I find the most useful – which was difficult to determine as every aspect provides real value.

spokal1

Content Creation

You’ll no doubt understand the importance of great content as part of an inbound marketing strategy and Spokal makes creating it not just easier but also more fun. That’s because Spokal features a content editor that is predominantly drag & drop.

Therefore, you can create exceptional pieces of content in just a few clicks using your imagination. Spokal even serves up a variety of Creative Commons images, from sources like Flickr, which you can use royalty-free and the relevant photo attributions are automatically created.

Also, the real-time SEO advice is great for anyone who is looking to really optimise their content for the search engines – aren’t we all!? It provides an SEO overview for your post as you create it and offers tips on how to improve your post’s SEO score.

The Twitter integration is really powerful and allows you to literally drag relevant tweets right into your content to add extra depth. Spokal will display a list of relevant tweets and you can choose the ones you want to include.

Social Media Sharing

With your high-quality and engaging content created, Spokal then enables you to schedule it in a highly efficient way. Basically, Spokal will automatically share your content based on a custom schedule that you define.

Again, the social media calendar is drag & drop, which makes the whole process much quicker. You can start building a comprehensive schedule in a short period of time. Once configured, Spokal will take care of the rest and you can concentrate on doing what you do best: running your business.

Furthermore, the Feedly integration allows you to curate content from other people in the same calendar, thus saving you a lot of time.

Twitter Builder

We all know that social media is no longer an optional extra to boost marketing. In fact, it now represents a significant part of our marketing arsenals and, when used correctly, can drive traffic, create more business and allow us to really engage our customers and potential customers.

Spokal’s Twitter builder is perfect for those of you who want to tackle the social network but aren’t sure where to start. It’s designed to get you leads and traffic more quickly than you would alone.

It’s designed to help grow your Twitter following on autopilot with genuine followers who have an interest in what you have to say. This allows you to forge new relationships and steadily engage more people to boost your brand’s reputation, ultimately driving more sales.

I’d love to hear if any of you have tried Spokal – or any similar tools for that matter – and if so what your experience has been.

Photo credits: Spokal

How to Protect your WordPress Website from Attack

How to Protect your WordPress Website from Attack

Is your WordPress website safe from the threats of the internet? Have you implemented the necessary security measures to ensure that your site remains online, even in the face of a cyber-attack? If the answer is “no” or “I’m not sure,” then keep reading.

Despite the internet being littered with posts about WordPress security, I wanted to write something too; especially as I know many of you use WordPress to power your own websites. After all, brute force attacks come without warning and I highly recommend that you’re suitably prepared.

WordPressPhoto courtesy of Nikolay Bachiyski(CC Attribution)

For some time now, I’ve had a plugin called Limit Login Attempts installed, which emails me after a certain number of login lockouts occur. This has been fine for the odd malicious login attempt but one evening last week, after being away from my computer for 15 minutes, I came back to over 200 email notifications! My website was under another brute force attack and I needed to lock it down before it collapsed under the weight.

My first port of call was my hosting company – TSO Host – who were fantastic as always. I got an immediate response and they suggested that they add a ‘deny from all’ to my wp-admin directory and whitelist my IP address. This sounded like a long-term solution, so I went ahead and gave them my IP and asked them to do this on all three of my WordPress websites.

Unfortunately, this morning, I decided to do some checking to make sure I could login to my websites, but guess what… No I couldn’t! It turns out that my IP address is not static and it had now changed overnight to something else. After doing some Googling, I found that my ISP wanted money for a static IP! Well after the lack of service from them over the last 6 months, I had no plans of giving them anymore of my money. Therefore, I needed another solution…

I had the restrictions lifted so I could now login again and decided to look into some different plugins – if you scroll down this link you will see the ones I investigated: http://codex.wordpress.org/Brute_Force_Attacks – it also provides you with a lot of other solutions if you’re more tech-savvy.

While looking through these plugins, I noticed that the one I had been using and, more importantly, relying on, hadn’t been updated in more than 2 years! This was a little worrying, so I decided to deactivate this one and try something new. I chose BruteProtect – it has some good reviews and is up to date.

I have installed it on all three of my websites, and will keep a close eye on it over the coming weeks. However, it already seems to be working well and blocked some malicious attempts immediately after installation.

Other Suggestions

There are some important steps you should ALWAYS take when using WordPress, which will reduce the likelihood of brute force attacks. So if you don’t plan on installing a plugin or locking down your directories, you should be doing the following at the very least:

  1. DO NOT use ‘admin’ as your username – if you have an admin username, then create a new administrator user and delete the ‘admin’ one. Most bots will try to get into your website by using ‘admin’ as the username. Other usernames that have cropped up for me have been ‘test’, ‘writersblockadminservices’ and ‘user’. Don’t choose something obvious to outsiders, use something obscure.
  2. Use a VERY STRONG password – you can generate difficult passwords from various places, I use LastPass on a daily basis and you can even choose the length. My WP passwords are around 15/20 characters in length.
  3. Keep WordPress, Themes and Plugins all updated – when new updates come out it’s a good idea to install them. By not updating them, you leave yourself vulnerable and run the risk of potentially being hacked. As I work with many client sites and my own, I use ManageWP to keep my websites all updated at the click of a button. As a result, I have never had any problems with updates on any of the websites I manage. The longer you leave updates ‘unupdated’ (is that even a word?) the more problems you will encounter when you finally do decide to install them – I speak from experience of a client site crashing because it hadn’t been updated in so long.
  4. Remove deactivated plugins and themes – if you’re not using (or you don’t plan to use) deactivated plugins and themes, then delete them. Keep your WordPress website organised and updated and you shouldn’t encounter too many problems.
  5. Delete spam on a regular basis – if you get a lot of spam comments, then try to keep them under control. You can get some great spam plugins (I use Akismet) that will do this for you – there really is no excuse. If you have a buildup of spam delete it; all of these elements lend themselves to an unstable WordPress website.

PasswordsPhoto courtesy of Stiftelsen(CC Attribution)

If you would like peace of mind that your WordPress website is secure and kept regularly updated, why not take a look at my WordPress Maintenance Plans.

How to Create Your Very Own WordPress Website

How to Create Your Very Own WordPress Website

wordpressOnce upon a time, websites were built exclusively by people in the know. A strong knowledge of HTML was an absolute must and websites were created using code alone.

Today, however, innovations like WordPress have made it possible for anyone who has a basic understanding of computers can build their very own website from scratch. This is why more and more people are documenting their day-to-day lives and even promoting their businesses via WordPress blogs.

And you can too with this beginner’s guide to setting up WordPress!

WordPress.org or WordPress.com?

Okay, let’s start by outlining the characteristics of WordPress.org and WordPress.com because actually they are very different in nature.

Here are a few reasons why:

WordPress.org

WordPress.com

Allows you to use your own domain name e.g. www.mydomain.com

 

Restricts you to a WordPress.com suffixed domain name e.g.

www.mydomain.wordpress.com

(unless you pay extra)

Requires your own web hosting Provides a free hosting service
Allows for endless customisations Restricts customisation (unless you pay extra)
Has no ads Is supported by ads
Supports thousands of fantastic plugins Allows just a few pre-defined plugins

 

Those are just a few differences between the two platforms and it really boils down to a case of flexibility and customisation. Cost is also a factor but, in theory, both offerings are free.

For the purpose of this guide though we will concentrate on the more customisable of the two – WordPress.org – and look at the necessary steps to get it setup.

Registering a Domain Name

The first thing you’ll want to do is come up with a great domain name for your new website. This is actually more difficult than you might think and it pays to spend a bit of time on this stage. After all, your WordPress website is going to have this name for many years to come. Try to think of several as there is a good chance someone may already be using one of your ideas.

There are tonnes of sites that allow you to check domain name availability and inevitably purchase one that you want. Godaddy.com, for example is one of the most popular and you can search for your desired domain name in just a few seconds.

Securing Your Own Web Hosting

There are literally thousands of companies who offer web hosting services and their packages and prices vary greatly. Just make sure that whichever one you choose meets the WordPress minimum requirements.

Whichever you decide to go with, be sure that the price is right for you. Any good web-host will happily help you choose a relevant package for your needs, so send them an enquiry.

Download and Install WordPress

The WordPress framework can be downloaded directly from their website and subsequently installed. WordPress is actually famous for its ‘5-minute installation’ which is one of the reasons why it has become so popular and a comprehensive installation guide can be found here. If, however, you are not confident installing it yourself, many web-hosts provide extremely convenient one-click WordPress installations. Check beforehand if the one you are considering using provides such a service as it will make your installation seamless.

Now The Fun Begins…

Open your internet browser and navigate to your domain name so you can see for yourself exactly what a fresh WordPress installations looks like. As you’ll find out, the standard offering uses a very basic theme by default, but the beauty of a self-hosted WordPress site is that it is hugely customisable.

You’ll probably be feeling relieved to have gotten this far and the thought of now designing your site may be a little daunting. Don’t worry though…

My inexpensive WordPress design service will remove any of the stresses associated with laying out your website. I’ll work with you throughout the entire process to ensure that the end result is exactly what you dreamed of.

Furthermore, my bespoke WordPress maintenance plans will ensure that your site remains fully functional and up-to-date. Many people setup a WordPress site and then neglect to maintain it because they don’t know how.

Don’t be one of those people!

Contact me right away to take advantage of my design services and maintenance plans today and realise your website’s full potential.

Photo by Christopher Ross / CC BY-SA 2.0

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