Saturday, 30 June 2012

SEO tweets for twits from an ex twit: second step to web domination

Keep at it, spin that wheel... let me know if I should get wiggy with it

Yesterday I was having a conversation about SEO in a professional forum and realised that not all companies know what an SEO specialist is. I did a google search and found an article revealing that SMEs don't invest in SEO because they don't know what it is nor recognise its commercial value. It's nearly two years old and is a tad biased but it still rings true. It reminded me of when I was an inhouse subeditor and people didn't have a clue what my job was. They didn't know that articles are not published as they come from the reporter/writer, they are nearly always rewritten by the features editor then checked and rewritten to fit the design by a subeditor, who also writes the heads and sells. And yes, one article came once on a piece of paper torn from a notebook and it was handwritten in green ink.

Back to SEO, so who is an SEO specialist? Unless massively talented and with the brain the size of a computer it's not just one person. There are links & optimization people, content writers, social media consultants, marketing consultants, web designers. Some offer ancillary services in cooperation with other professionals, others work with big digital agencies as contractors (that would be me!). Apologies if I forgot a specialism here, feel free to correct me.

However there seems to be a misconception out there that only the links people are SEO specialists. That might have been fitting (but only just) prior to Panda and Penguin updates, where a lot of dubious practices were stamped out (i.e. links galore but poor content). Having gone through the restructuring of two content websites (as a writer, not an SEO specialist), I can tell you it's not the case any more. So if you don't know what hit you (i.e. a Panda or a Penguin), read this great article on how to assess your website.

Now, if you still don't have a website and my previous post (containing a link to an article on how to build one on a budget) didn't inspire you, read this recent article about infographics. Apparently, 80% of customers trust a company more if it has a web presence. Now, again, there might be a bias there, but with high-street sales languishing and online sales going up, it's not far from the mark. 

So if you are building or thinking of refreshing  your website, do consider investing in SEO. Hire a copywriter, designer, link specialist or a social media consultant (or all, depending what you need) and raise your game. I showed you how to find the keywords your competitors use, now gather the ones that are relevant to your business (blitz your site and pick all the services, products you offer) and send that brief out. 

Many SEO specialists have different packages on offer, so there might be something in your price range. If you don't have any budget, visit and take the DIY approach. I warn you (and I'm talking about my own website here), it's time consuming, so if you think that your time is better spent getting clients and looking after your regulars, I'd outsource this out to the relevant SEO specialist  (designer, copywriter, social media marketing bod, link person). If you need a full makeover, then you might need to find a digital agency that caters for small businesses (so you can afford an SEO A team of your own).

So you might well ask me: "Why didn't you hire a specialist but spent hours reading about SEO?" It was a career move, transitioning from print media to digital and from journalism to marketing/advertising. I haven't got a marketing degree so you might say that I studied at the University of Google.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

SEO tweets for twits from ex twit

That's me struggling to keep up with digital innovation - I might have
left the rat race but I'm still racing in my own private bubble

First step to web domination: study your competition and raise your game. Amazingly I had to explain how to find out a competitor's keywords to a marketing expert in a professional forum.

STEP ONE: to feel the force go to the source
In Chrome go to the wrench, choose tool and view source of any website. Sometimes keywords are hidden but you still get the section names and perhaps a bit of content. Below I pasted a relevant example, "courtesy" of If you have a different browser it's probably under "View".

name="description" content="Low prices on digital cameras, MP3, sports equipment, books, music, DVDs, video games, home & garden and much more. Free UK delivery on Amazon orders."/>
name="keywords" content="digital camera, LCD TV, books, DVD, low prices, video games, pc games, software, electronics, home, garden, video, amazon"/>
</span> Low Prices in Electronics, Books, Sports Equipment & more</i><span class="webkit-html-tag"><i>

Right, now you have the keywords, you can do keyword searches using Google Analytics and see if there are better keywords you can add, aside these. Keywords don't thrive in the void, so do make sure your content delivers what you are promising.

Haven't got a website? Haven't got a budget? Read this

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Breastfeeding in public in the UK - do you dare?

Breastfeeding in public, do you feel comfortable?

Breastfeeding aids manufacturer Medela is circulating a press release on mums' perceptions of breastfeeding in public. As the UK is a bottlefeeding country [most mums try breastfeeding but after six weeks or so there is still a massive drop in the breastfeeding rate according to the latest Infant Feeding stats] people are not very keen on seeing women breastfeeding in public, especially if the baby is a bit older (six months upwards). I'm not sure why - after you get the hang of it, breastfeeding can be quite discreet [personally I used a Pashmina to make a "tent" but still felt eyes were on me anyway].

Mums on Twitter and Facebook were canvassed to find out what they thought about breastfeeding outdoors. This revealed that an amazing 90% of [breastfeeding] mums have breastfed in public. However, only 63% of these mums had felt uncomfortable doing so. More than 40% of mums felt uncomfortable because people gave them 'funny looks' while they were feeding. One mum said: 'I found public feeding was stressful, people can’t help but look...' Worryingly, 26% of the mums we asked were concerned that if they were feeding inside a café or restaurant they would be asked to leave [which is now illegal bty]. One mum said: 'I was once sent to a single cubicle toilet and expected to feed my baby sat on the loo!'

Sioned Hilton, Medela’s lactation consultant, has some tips for mums who want to breastfeed while out and about. She suggests [quite sensibly] that finding a quiet place or practising at home can help. "More than a quarter of mums said they felt uncomfortable because they couldn’t cover up properly, but as Sioned advises, wearing a good nursing bra or a breastfeeding vest can make this much easier." [Sorry to butt in but do make sure that you are wearing the correct size as a too small a bra can, in the worst case scenario, lead to blocked ducts and doesn't help with attachment as your baby won't be able to take a good amount of breast in the mouth. Also be wary of some too discreet breastfeeding tops as they won't bare enough breast, making latching on harder if you are still on a learning curve.]

Medela's press release continues: "It is not all about the mum though - the public have an important role to play too, if they can recognise that breastfeeding is completely natural, mums won’t have to worry about funny looks or comments. Interestingly 21% had never received any negative feedback while feeding outdoors, proving that slowly but surely people are becoming more accepting." [Hooray! but why there are still people on forums suggesting mums to go to the toilet as it's private, it's not the same as doing a No. 1 or No. 2. And why some bottlefeeding mums are suggesting breastfeeding mums should express after six months and give bottles? Not everybody can express successfully and at this stage you'd be better off using closed beakers, not bottles.]

"Breastfeeding friendly cities are springing up across the country and many cafes and restaurants now display a badge welcoming new mums, so with a little more awareness and expert advice, Medela hope breastfeeding in public can be a peaceful experience." [I have to relate a funny thing here: the Middle-eastern cafe where I used to live in London - yes, one with smoking pipes on display, had a breastfeeding friendly logo. I kept wondering if they wanted to be helpful and inclusive or provide "tittillation" to their customers because the clientele was male.]

Breastfeeding friendly places in the UK

Beware of fake slings! As babies are allowed to Olympics in a sling, apparently there are rogue sling businesses out there. I am not sure if to laugh it off or be worried about this statement.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Testing, testing... Vertbaudet childrenswear

Happy Price Pack of Four
Long-sleeved Tees, £14

Michela wears one of the tees
under her school uniform
Showing off the cardi's heart
motif and a fave bag
Happy Price Short Cardigan, £12

Just the ticket for chilly summer days

Styling her party outfit

Allons, les enfants: matching face paint at
the French tea party in Cambridgeshire

French fancy: pretty and practical for climbing
A nice PR person from Vertbaudet offered me the chance to pick a few items from their online catalogue and publish an honest review of the items, which was a nice thing to say, unlike PRs who think they can buy  a blogger's opinion by throwing a few freebies. So I will be at my sternest. I love freebies and I really miss my magazine freelancing gigs where I could dive in cupboards full of stuff, or buy items at charity sales organised by the ed team (although sometimes the charitable motive was a bit thin, such as financing the staff's Xmas party, which considering the size of those companies - we are talking multinationals - was a rather mean managerial move). Better change the subject or I will tell you all about the Xmas party that was postponed to February by a multinational magazine publisher to save money (and yes, it was before the recession).

But enough of my sour grapes and back to children's clothing. I originally wanted a boy but I got a tomboy, which is just great as I get the best of both worlds. However, my little tomboy is starting to love pretty pink things, which is a bit of a challenge as all her clothes are worked hard on climbing frames, soiled by snacking (I need my energy, Mimi) and sometimes ripped by stray nails, screws or hooks (you'd think the health and safety brigade would be more vigilant).

When I got the email from Vertbaudet I was quite excited as I love anything French and waited with excitement for the postman to deliver. We didn't have to wait long, but of course the weather was foul so we had to be patient until we got a dry, sunny day. As it happens, it was the day we were going to a French tea party at a local community centre, so a good chance to test partywear.

True to my thrifty nature, I picked value-for-money items that my daughter will wear and wear. The materials are good and mostly cotton (save for some elastane), the sailor top is of very good quality cotton while the long-sleeve tees are of thinner cotton, perhaps because they are actually underwear. The cardi is very good too, it reminds me of one I had as a child when quality was a priority rather than price.

My daughter loved the items, the pink shades are tasteful (some pink stuff is so garish it hurts your eyes) and they felt nice on her skin (so she says). My only concern with ordering online is sizing, my daughter is tall but has short arms, so it's tricky to figure how what fits unless she tries it on. These clothes fitted nicely, although we had to roll up the sleeve, but this happens with all clothes (the alternative is to buy a size under but then they might be bit tight and short in the chest area).

Overall, I think the Happy Price range has a very good balance price:quality and those white long-sleeve tees will work well under Michela's uniforms on colder days when she doesn't want to wear the school's blue cardi.

So I'm pretty pleased. The ultimate test will be how they fare after a machine wash - I will update you about that. I always respect labels and sometimes I wash at a lower temperatures than suggested so I am disappointed if colour fading and excessive shrinkage occur.

In the meantime, feel free to leave your opinions on  Vertbaudet  products, below...

About Vertbaudet and their SUMMER SALE
A French favourite, Vertbaudet launched in the UK in 1997. They not only sell children's clothes, but also retail maternity and nursery products. And yes, they do sell schoolwear, too. Vertbaudet cater for both sexes and has a very long age range, from birth up to 14 years. They are having a summer sale, right now, with up to 60% off selected items and 30% off full price items.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Blog woes - what can I (you) do? Britmums Live to the rescue!

I participated to two hangouts during Britmums Live last Friday. I'm the one with the comedy poncho [this is my partner's view, personally I think it's a hyper-cool Spaghetti Western look, thank you very much]. 

For some reason the sound is a bit iffy here and there, so I have decided to sum up what I learnt through these two sessions. I will be brief, if you are gagging for more, just watch the videos. Disclaimer: comments in [  ] are my own opinions, not panel of experts' views.

The themes in a nutshell (in no particular order): 
  • the challenges of monetizing a new blog [nobody knows you, who are you???]
  • how to submit your writing to a literary agent or publisher [do some research, please]
  • how much promotion is needed to be spotted [how long is a piece of string?]
  • how you can get more followers [I suppose bribery/emotional blackmail are out of the question?]
  • how you can raise your game
  • how to blag products [sorry, I meant blog about products - after all we are giving away advertising space out of the goodness of our heart for a pittance, sorry again, I meant enthusiasm about the brand]

  • be passionate
  • have your own style
  • share good content and great pics
  • be regular [not in the toilet department, we are talking blogging here]
  • promote your blog using digital media platforms
  • build a community
  • get traffic by talking to people [don’t plug your blog too much, though, nobody likes blogging bores]
  • get into discussions and conversations [not virtual scraps, easy tiger!]
  • aim for a clear design so the blog is readable [no green-coloured fonts, please]
  • don’t rush to submit if you want a book deal. Polish and get a good digital presence
  • get people to follow you [sadly stalkers don't count]
  • study your competitors and do better
  • ask for bloggers to guest-post 
  • product reviews are a big no-no if you want a book deal [I surely know that having being booted out of Mumsnet Bloggers for posting too many reviews... but then shouldn’t I write what I want???? It’s my blog, right I am doomed to blogging purgatory!]

PS: I really felt the G+ force there and I will try to use google+ more. 

Silent Sunday: full English breakfast on a plate

Silent Sunday

Thursday, 21 June 2012

How a banana cures piles, plus views and news

Old wives' tales for the digital age? 

I'm all for self medication (natural remedies, not drugs!) so I was quite intrigued by How a Banana Cures Piles. I don't have piles right now but it's worth noting down just in case it works! This article is a list of weird remedies, such as wearing socks in bed to beat insomnia, eating a sugar cube to end a hiccup and coughing to ease the pain of injections. I'm going to try some just for the fun of it.

Samsung Bike Week 2012 - deflated like an old tire? 
Who is giving a damn about it this year? Not much media coverage so far and the events in Cambridge, the cycling capital of the UK, are disappointing to say the least. Most are linked to cycling-to-work initiatives, nothing for families at all. Now I know why I couldn't sell my feature on family cycling. Nobody gives a damn and it's all about the footie and the Olympics.

War on separate bedrooms syndrome 
Lovely photo but not really representing the press release's target market

Since pregnancy I have become a light sleeper so a separate bedroom is a must for me. According to a press release from The Sleep Council, one in four couples now sleeps in separate rooms, so the council is offering tips for sharing a bed, which is weird - separate bedrooms equal higher sales of beds and accessories. 
The argument: “Sharing a bed is the ultimate intimacy and research from America suggests that this intimacy helps to lower stress hormones and encourage feelings of safety and security. Unfortunately, over time, all sorts of practical issues can get in the way and – particularly among more mature couples whose children may have left home – the call of the spare bed becomes increasingly difficult to resist! The result is a growing number of couples sleeping in separate rooms and unfortunately that can be the beginning of the end for many marriages.”
 The tips (and warning bells for your relationship - my comments in italics): 
  • Both partners going to bed at the same time at least three nights a week. Different body clocks mean many couples tuck up at different times – alarm bells should sound when that starts to happen every night of the week.
  • Ensure the shared bed is comfortable for both partners. Modern technology means even couples with different preferences can find a bed that suits them both thanks to zip-and-link or zoned mattresses. Where duvet hogging is an issue, separate single duvets can work wonders. Separate duvets can also work for bed sharers who have different temperature requirements.
  • Buy as big a bed as budget and room size allow. 
  • Ensure the bedroom is an oasis of calm and tranquillity – i.e. no tellies or any other technology likely to distract attention away from sleep and intimacy (what about the children???)
  • Make sure window coverings effectively block out the light. Long summer days may be welcome in many ways, but light can have a detrimental effect on body clocks and sleeping patterns (steal that light-blocking blind from your child's room)
  • Remember that caffeine, alcohol, smoking and exercising or eating too close to bedtime can all make it more difficult to grab a great night’s sleep.
  • When snoring becomes a significant and ongoing problem, seek help. 
  • ‘Roll together’ is a sure sign the shared bed has had its day and needs replacing. It may be a charming characteristic in the early, heady days of a relationship but, like snoring, it’s one that all too soon wears extremely thin. A new bed will end the bickering.
 If you can't be bothered to read the above, this is the "sale message": buy a new, huge, technologically superior bed and use single duvets. If you sleep in a separate room, your marriage is in trouble. And no, snoring is not a good excuse to make a dash for the guest room.

Chilli Pasta Bake (courtesy of Philly's press office)

Serves 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

300g extra lean minced beef
1 large jar ready made chilli con carne sauce
300g penne pasta
100g Philadelphia Light with Garlic & Herbs
1 egg
150g tub 0% fat Greek yogurt
40g reduced fat cheddar cheese, grated
Salad, to serve

1. Heat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Heat a large frying pan, add the mince, brown then add the chilli sauce. Cook over a reduced low heat for 5 minutes.
2. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the pack and drain well. Mix with the chilli sauce to combine and pour into an ovenproof dish.
3. In a bowl with a whisk, mix the Philly, egg and yogurt and half of the cheddar cheese. Pour the Philly mix over the top of the saucy pasta and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 20 minutes until browned on top. Serve with salad.

Parental pinch: families reduce spend on kids' activities

New research from Capital One reveals that a third of parents is planning to reduce the amount spent on their child’s extracurricular activities. At present, these activities cost UK parents £50bn every year, but this looks set to fall dramatically.

·         1.3 million parents will reduce spend on children’s sporting endeavours
·         1.1 million to cut back on music, art and cultural extracurricular activities
·         800,000 parents to reduce children’s participation in academic extracurricular education

Children in younger families are set to bear the brunt of these cutbacks, as 52% of parents aged 18-34 plans to spend less this year on their child’s activities.

Cutbacks on children’s activity spending over the next 12 months
Number of UK parents planning to cut back
Average amount spent per month per activity
Leisure activities e.g. cinema
Birthday parties and celebrations
Sporting clubs and classes
Non-educational school trips e.g. ski holidays
Music/art/cultural clubs and classes
Extra-curricular academic studies e.g. tutoring
Educational school trips e.g. history museum
Girl guides/ scouts/ brownies

Capital One's money-saving tips:
  • §  When organising activities for children, take advantage of discount voucher websites such as ‘Groupon’ or ‘Quidco’ as you can often save as much as 70% on meals and days out
  • §  Make the most of free activities that are appropriate for all ages, from museums and galleries to street festivals
  •  §  If you use a credit card, make sure you are rewarded for your spending by making the most of cash-back offers and other reward schemes
  • §  The most convenient supermarket is not always the most cost effective. It often pays to shop around and take advantage of reward points offered for loyalty.
Notes: Research conducted by Opinium Research amongst 2010 UK adults in 2012. All figures are based on the percentage of survey respondents answering this option. The survey is representative of UK adults aged 18+. ONS population figures show 49,924,000 adults in the UK in 2012, therefore all figures are based on percentages of this figure.

Not sure about this one as I'm spending more now that I have a school-aged child!

New search engine for kids

A recent government report highlighted that a third of 10 year olds had viewed explicit material online, with children as young as 11 becoming addicted to online pornography. With many parents aware of how difficult a task it is to constantly track the websites their children are visiting, has been created to ensure that children are kept safe when online. The new search engine creates a safe environment within which children can browse the web without being exposed to explicit content or adverts. 
I gave it a go by keying poo (I know, lame) and got a list of swimming pools, then tried cock horse (now renamed hobby horse not to expose kids to lurid pics) and got zero results. Result? You have a go...

National child safety week
Ei Electronics sent me a press release to state they are the UK’s leading manufacturer of fire 
and home safety products and will once again be supporting this year’s national Child Safety Week, which is organised by the Child Accident Prevention Trust and runs from 18-24 June 2012. 
Each year, 1 million children under the age of 15 are taken to accident and emergency units after accidents in the home, with the most severe of these accidents relating to burns and scalds involving fire or hot water. Child Accident Prevention isn’t about wrapping children up in cotton wool, it’s about identifying and understanding potential accident risks in the home and taking some basic safety steps that will keep your child safe and give you peace of mind. Although numbers have fallen, fire is still one of the biggest killers of children in the home. Thick black smoke from a fire can fill a home and kill in less than a minute, which is why early warning is essential. 

Then there was a tedious spiel about smoke alarms, at which point I switched off. I do have plenty of smoke alarms in my house and despite the good points made at the start the rest is too boring to read. A case of a press release written with an engineer in mind not stressed, busy parents with lots of stuff going on in their lives and limited attention span...

Back-to-school retail season... Already? 

School is not out yet but supermarkets are having uniform wars. Apparently you get get the whole kit for £4.50 at Tesco. See price comparisons here.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Homeworking, telecommuting... it's high time we use remote technology

My home office - overlooking the garden
and with a back-friendly chair

I have been going on and on about homeworking for a long while, ranting on LinkedIn about employers' archaic mindsets, the "bums on seats" culture, breathing on employees' neck fetishes and so on. Since I became a parent I have been mostly working from home but had a few inhouse jobs just to see what it was like a few years down the line (and get out of the house a bit). These experiences just confirmed what I already knew: many jobs can be done remotely given the right equipment and  software. Pre-millennium there were several articles about remote working, we will be doing it more and more and yes, management research proved it's profitable for a company to hire remote workers, bla bla... but it all fell on deaf ears as old-fashioned, narrow-minded management styles are still the norm twelve years later.

I once asked somebody why the job I was doing inhouse couldn't be done from home. Why, I'd even charge less and everybody would be a winner. Basically I sat there typing for a whole day and the directions were given by email from somebody sitting two metres away. I didn't get a proper answer, because obviously I could have done that job from home!

If you ask this question in the media/marketing sector, the standard response is: you need to connect with your colleagues, go to meetings, brainstorm together, etc. Well as an inhouse freelancer I have been to very few meetings - in several years' experience I can still count them using my 10 fingers.

So here are the top seven reasons (off the top of my head and in no particular order) why telecommuting or homeworking is the way to go. Feel free to add more or disagree!

1) Environmentally friendly
Imagine the energy savings (less commuting, lower utility bills at HQs and less materials/resources used). This will bring less congestion on our roads and public transport that can cope. Can you imagine what it will be like to commute to work using the tube when the Olympics games are on? Less traffic on the roads means less pollution too. Carbon emissions down on all fronts. It will also reduce housing pressure in very congested cities.

2) Safer
Yes, there are quite a few accidents caused by people rushing to work. And if you are making that trip every day, chances are you are not that alert and take things for granted.

3) Healthier
Commuting to work is stressful, air conditioning spreads bugs and there are several work-related health injuries every year. Working from home might be lonely at times but at least you can choose a good work station (a good chair is a must), take breaks when necessary and even work if you are a bit under the weather (you can just be in your PJs and get plenty of hot drinks from a much cleaner kettle). It's also great for work/life balance as you gain more time by not commuting and, with a flexible timetable, you can work while raising a family.

4) More profitable for the employer
I won't go into details but there is research proving it's more profitable. Think about less sickies, not needing to provide for an employee in terms of equipment, insurance, health and safety, more motivation for the employee (much less guilt for working parents)... Ethically it's a better proposition than subcontracting to a poor country to exploit its cheaper manpower. Research also shows that firms who apply corporate social responsibility measures have a competitive advantage too.

5) Saves time and as time is money....
I already mentioned saving time by removing commuting, there is also the fact that office work is less productive as there are more interruptions.

6) Fairer and inclusive
Aside working parents, but what about the elderly, those with health problems and the disabled? They are unjustly excluded because of health and safety issues in terms of equipment and access to the workplace. Working from home would be possible for them.

7) Less staff turnover and preservation of knowledge
Let's face it, people move jobs not only because they want to go up the career ladder but also because of location. They might decide to buy a house in the country or work for a company with more central offices... And keeping staff is crucial as losing them means a loss of knowledge - you need to hire somebody else and train them up again while the employee who is leaving has precious information about your business you might not even be aware of. Again, there is research in knowledge loss and how to prevent this....

I'm not saying that every job can be done remotely, but a huge majority can! What can persuade employers to embrace remote technology? Targeted employment policies, more bonuses for green practices? Feel free to air your views here (positive and negative, I won't bite).

UPDATE: I found this article about it:
H&S directives here:
A word of caution:

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Jubilee fun for kids and printable goodies

Diamond Jubilee bingo

Diamond Jubilee card game

If you are having a Jubilee street party or would like to download activities for the kids to enjoy during the half term, Tinyme is providing some pretty games and decorations.

Diamond Jubilee cupcake decoration
Tinyme sells school labels and a variety of personalised gifts for kids. Every festive season they offer celebration goodies for kids to download. I was too late to post about Easter, but their cute Jubilee set is unmissable! You can download these lovely jubbly Jubilee fun activities by clicking here.

If your child is into colouring, don't forget to visit Activity Village, where you can download and print out some crayontastic colouring pages.

Happy Jubilee weekend!

Friday, 1 June 2012

When clichés make you click

Tired old clichés, who needs them? Nobody and especially not William Safire to whom the quotation "Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague" is attributed. 

A few weeks ago I discovered a very moving campaign that makes clichés look fresh and inspiring. Aptly called the Lifecycle Video, it features cyclists in a variety of situations. Call me a soppy pedaller but I found this very touching!