Author Archives: Victoria

About Victoria

Website builder, Marketer, Google Analytics enthusiast. See more here : About Victoria & Clare Associates

Website Relaunch for designer swimwear brand

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Marianna G Swimwear is an exciting new designer swimwear brand.  We had previously built a website for them using the WordPress content management system and the Woocommerce online shop system, and they were keen to bring a new look to it for 2015.

We worked with the lovely Terry Bailey of Bailey4Design and Marianna G to pull together their design ideas into a website and online with a fresh new simple feel, where the stunning product photos would not be eclipsed by fussy design elements.  The WordPress layout was pared down to  a stylishly minimal effect very different from any default style, and tested extensively on multiple platforms and devices.

MGhomepage

 

When website hosting goes bad

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Most smaller businesses don’t think much about where their website lives on the internet. Often that’s left for the website designer to sort out.

Sometimes people buy hosting because someone saw an ad with a big cheap price tag prominently displayed,  and thought “that’s cheap, it will do”.

Nobody mention performance, backups, security or intelligent tech support that's not reading from a standard script. That could spoil everything!

Nobody mention performance, backups, security or intelligent tech support that’s not reading from a standard script. That could spoil everything!

In general I find people spend way more time and effort choosing colours and fonts and picking out their domain name, than they do thinking about the hardware that makes their website work.

Full disclosure: we sell website hosting to our customers. Some people prefer to get the hosting bundled with other services, but that’s not the main reason we sell web hosting.  The main reason we sell web hosting is that dealing with randomly chosen cheap web hosting is very often very timeconsuming and frustrating.

Here’s the story of a website – not developed by us – that we were asked to help with.  The original problem was:
 The website  was producing random errors when the site owner edited a page.

Erk!  Where did my site go and why have I got this error message instead?

Erk! Where did my site go and why have I got this error message instead?

  The errors happened regularly, but were very hard to reproduce – sometimes editing a page would cause information to disappear from the website, sometimes it wouldn’t.

We spent hours testing different kinds of changes, to try to work out if changing THIS field would cause a problem.  No?  OK, make a note,  try changing THAT field.  Check the code, check the database. Make a note.

This kind of testing is expensive because it takes so long –  and these errors were extremely frustrating for the website owner, who never knew when the site would have a hiccup and lose information that she had carefully entered into it.

The website that could not be copied.   To try to determine what the problem was, we tried to install a copy of it at a different location, so we could safely test without creating problems with the live website.   But the copy would not install properly.  It kept producing worrying new errors, that we did not see on the original website! It was all very frustrating.

Both of these problems eventually turned out to be the SAME problem.  And that problem was…. The hosting was really slow.

"We're in no rush.  We'll leave this page to load while we make a cuppa, and come back to read it later"  said NO CUSTOMER EVER.

“We’re in no rush. We’ll leave this page to load while we make a cuppa, and come back to read it later” said NO CUSTOMER EVER.

I’d noticed when making changes that the website was often slow to respond, and I suggested that a change to faster website hosting might please website visitors and offer a better experience.

But I had not realised just how much impact this was having on the whole system.   When the website owner tried to update her website, if it was a busy time, there was a good chance that the website would lose information rather than saving it.

When I tried to copy the entire site to a new location for testing, the connection would drop before everything had been retrieved, so that the copy of the website I took was not complete.   Because the copy was missing vital information, it could not run properly and showed a series of weird errors.

This led us to the alarming conclusion that this site was also … The website with no backups.
Although the website had a nice friendly-looking ‘backup’ button, and the site owner had been regularly hitting the button and storing the downloaded file in a safe place, the backup was worthless. Because the website was so slow, the backup routine was simply not catching everything.

So,  the website, which had had months of time and effort and not a little money invested into it, could be lost very easily.  If the cheap hosting company had gone bust, if the website had been hacked, if the hardware had failed – everything would have disappeared.

This isn’t the only case where I’ve seen this.  The slow buggy website as a result of cheap bad hosting is alarmingly common.  It can cause security problems too – I had one this year that was on very cheap hosting, where I found a  pile of secret forms that looked as though they were trying to collect credit card data.  I think they were installed by a hacker who had probably been using another account on the same shared server.

And all of this because nobody thinks about hosting.  Nobody considers that a website which started out with a handful of visitors and maybe thirty pages of information, now had hundreds of visitors looking through and interacting with thousands of pages, and that the needs of the site had changed.

Is my web hosting up to the job?  If your website is a local business site, aimed at small numbers of local customers, and probably you will never have more than 4-5 people looking at it at once,  then your webhosting needs are pretty minimal.

If your website doesn’t change much, if there are no forms to fill in, no database or dynamic personalised information, then the demands you place on the webserver are small.  Even if the server is a bit busy, probably your website will be perfectly useable.

But if your website has a content management system or a shop – if your website might get popular – then your web hosting should be planned so that you can easily scale it up.

Even web developers tend to assume that hosting should be cheap.  But bear in mind that hosting doesn’t just need to go ticking along at the good times.  It also needs to have a plan to cope with increased popularity,  a team of engineers who can stand things back up when it falls over – even if it falls over at 3am on a Bank Holiday Monday.   It needs backups, and the backups need testing.   None of these things is cheap, and you don’t set them up once and then never look at them again.

Next time you need hosting for a web project, ask the hard questions : how is this backed up?  How do I test that?  What happens if there’s a hardware failure?  How many people can I reasonably expect to see my website at once?  Are the backups kept separately from the website?  If the entire datacenter has a problem, are my backups inside it?  Ask to see another site using similar hosting, and find out how fast it is – the Pingdom Speed Test is handy.

Try Pingdom's great speed checker to find out if your website hosting is faster or slower than other sites on the internet.

Try Pingdom’s great speed checker to find out if your website hosting is faster or slower than other sites on the internet.

You’ll almost certainly end up paying more for web hosting than you think you ‘should’.  But if you do it properly the first time, you’ll never know how much time and money you just saved yourself.   And that’s a good place to be.

A new website for Cadson Manor

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Cadson Manor offers five star gold B&B and four star self Catering accommodation, and is run and owned by Brenda Crago from her family home in South East Cornwall. The original website for Cadson Manor had been created over a decade ago, and although it had been updated periodically, it was looking very tired and did not reflect the quality brand and experience that Brenda has created.

The brief was to create an elegant, soft, relaxed look for the website, with a floral motif to fit in with the fresh flowers and gardens that are a distinctive feature of a stay at Cadson Manor. We were also asked to re-write the content to give the website a more enticing feel and better search engine friendliness. We created content about golf, local history and places to visit around the area to make the site feel more complete.
Cadson Manor
Click to see it live.
The site does of course adapt to different display resolutions and works well on phones and tablets.

You may notice the parrot on the floral motif subtly shown in grey top right – this was inspired by the Cadson Manor parrot Jewson, who is sometimes introduced to those guests who would like to meet him. We felt Jewson was part of the unique charm of Cadson Manor, and should be reflected in the design.

Google My Business and directories for Simon Earp Building Contractors

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A common problem for many ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses is that although they are great at what they do, what they do doesn’t translate very smoothly to the online world.

One example – literally dealing with bricks and mortar in this case – is our new client Simon Earp Building Contractorsprofilepic

They are a family run building company, producing well-built, beautifully finished houses and extensions across Cornwall.  Their expertise lies in making sure that their customers have water-tight roofs, not building an exciting online experience.      All they want or need from the internet is to make sure that their customers can find them, and that when they do, they can see a good range of photos of the kind of work they do and the quality of the work available.

Exterior18

To make sure this will happen, we have set up a Google Plus / Google My Business page for the company (currently, as I write, awaiting the confirmation postcard before it goes fully live – although the business can boast 30 years experience,  because the company had no online presence at all before their first website went live last month, we could not do confirmation by telephone.)   We’ve also checked that the local and national directory services know about the business, and of course told them about the new website too.

Businesses like Simon Earp Building Contractors can lose out in a world where everything is online.  But it’s not a big job to get this sorted out with the help of web professionals, and once everything is set up, the business should not have to spend a lot of scarce time on maintaining it.   If your business is in a similar mould, we’re happy to have a chat with you about the options available.  And if you are in Cornwall and are in need of a new roof or a wonderful balcony, you now know who to call!

Google rolls out ‘My Business’ – what a relief!

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We talk to a lot of small local businesses, and something we usually recommend is that small businesses should claim their ‘Google Places for Business’ record.  This is the record that should show up when you google your own company name, with a link to your location and the opportunity to enter other details – here’s ours:

googleplaces
Usually at this point, the business owner we are talking to groans loudly “Not Google Places!  It’s SO confusing!!!”

So, you’d be forgiven for groaning again, when I tell you that Google Places has been replaced, rolled into the new Google My Business.  But don’t despair – the new My Business setup is a lot easier to use, and seems likely to reduce the problem many small businesses have where they have ended up with multiple Google accounts, and no idea what is connected to which account (One business we’ve been working with recently had 7 Google accounts for the business!  It was very confusing.)

You now have a nice unified dashboard for managing your Page, all in one place.

mybusinessdashboard

 

So, if you’ve been boggled by Google Places / Google Local in the past, why not give it another go?

Check out the official Google announcement here

Get started with Google My Business here

Still boggled?  If you’d like to talk to us about getting your google My Business listing sorted out, why not drop us an email or give us a ring on 01822 835802?

 

 

.UK domains are coming – does it matter?

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For many years, website owners in the UK have had a choice of domain names.   Commercial companies registered domain names in the form  myname.co.uk  domains, while non-profits were encouraged to choose .org.uk, universities branded themselves .ac.uk and schools had addresses in the form myschool.sch.uk

But all that is changing.   Nominet, the organisation responsible for managing the registration of all UK domains, have decided it’s time to let people do away with .co.uk or .org.uk, and register just myname.uk.  You can read more about this here.

So what does this mean if you already have a website and a domain name?   Well, if you are happy with your myname.co.uk domain, you don’t have do to anything.   You’ll have the choice to register myname.uk – in fact, Nominet have made it easy for you to protect your brand, and have probably already reserved your right to the equivalent .uk domain to your .co.uk for you.

So once the new names come out  in June,  you can either grab your new .uk and keep it as a backup, or switch to using it,  or leave it for five years knowing that nobody else will be able to grab it as you have first dibs.

Annoyance for Non-profits

The situation is slightly less cheery for non-profits who own .org.uk but not .co.uk domains. If you are a non-profit running a website with your myorganisation.org.uk domain, and someone else has the myorganisation.co.uk, then the owner of the .co.uk gets the rights to the new .uk domain.   This applies even if the .co.uk isn’t being used and is just parked, showing cheap adverts or not working at all – a .co.uk registration trumps a .org.uk registration in the queue for rights.

Does any of this actually matter?  

Many businesses currently trading with .co.uk domains will feel that they need to buy the .uk as well, just to protect their brands.  This means increased registration costs, although the cost of one additional domain is hardly going to break the bank.

Some Internet users are almost certainly going to get confused – was there a .co. in that web address I saw or not?  Some people will no doubt end up at the wrong website.   But this is a less important fear for any business with a reasonable presence in Google search results.  Typing in the web address is a much less common approach to navigating the web than it used to be, most people are perhaps more likely to try a search for the company or organisation name than to type the entire domain name.

With this in mind, I would recommend at the moment against switching your existing website over to a .uk address, if you are already using a .co.uk.  New domains almost always have less search engine presence than old ones, and switching domains generally means some lost traffic, even if you do it absolutely by the book, and have redirects set up.

If you already have a .co.uk domain, then by all means grab the equivalent .uk for brand protection if you want, but don’t switch to it as your primary domain.

If you don’t have a domain of any kind yet, and are just starting out on your website adventure – well, a .uk domain might just be worth a try!  But personally, I think I’d want to register the .co.uk as well.  .co.uk has a lot of history behind it, and it’s going to take a while for the British public to really get used to the new name format.

 

How can I make my logo fit nicely on my Facebook / Twitter page?

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Otherwise known as: the Wonder of Whitespace.

I see so many otherwise professionally presented facebook or twitter profiles where an organisation logo has ended up with the ends chopped off, or squished to fit, that I thought I’d write this quick guide to getting that right.

A standard Facebook or Twitter icon, is square, like this one: SONY DSC

A facebook icon is (at the time of writing) 138px on each side, when it’s shown tavataon your own page, although it may be resized down to 50 x 50 pixels or even 32 x 32 pixels when it’s shown elsewhere within Facebook, like this :

 

A Twitter profile image could be shown when it is clicked on at a decent size – say  300 pixels square.  But when it appears on your profile, it’ll be just 73 pixels square, and in someone’s tweet stream, it’ll be chopped down to a mere 50 pixels (and given rounded corners too!)  And if it’s a ‘other people retweeted this’ type logo, it’ll be right down to 32 x32px – the smallest size shown here:

twit-pic-tiny twit-pic-sm twit-picI think the first thing that’s obvious from that is that you need a fairly simple image that will be recognisable at small sizes – one with strong blocks of colour can work well.

But, what if you have an image that’s in landscape format, or that is way too tall and thin to fit a square box?  Well you have two choices.   You can chop bits off until it’s square.  This can work well with photos :

SONY DSCBut can be disastrous with logos:

lg-rect-logo-hex-cropped

The answer is, add more space.  You can do this with an online tool such as http://pixlr.com using the  Image – > Canvas Size command.  This expands the area within the image by adding whitespace.

So you start with:

WELOVETHETAMARVALLEY-wideThis is 180 pixels wide, so I adjust the canvas size  to 180 x 180 pixels, to get:

WELOVETHETAMARVALLEY-sq1

Which you can now upload to Facebook and Twitter, and it will sit neatly within your icon box, and not get chopped or squished – it’s a bit larger than the provided space, but it is the right shape, which is the key.  The image must be at least 180 x 180 to upload to Facebook – you may choose to make it larger, although if you have gone for a simplified image that will resize well to tiny sizes, there’s not a lot of point in making it huge.

You might want to make the best of the space available to you, and pop in a simple item to make it fill the box a bit better, such as:
WELOVETHETAMARVALLEY-sq2

And that’s still just about readable at 50 pixels square.
WELOVETHETAMARVALLEY-50x

If you have more flexibility in how the image is shown, you could try playing about with the text size and arrangement a bit, like this:
WELOVETHETAMARVALLEY-32x-nobridgeWELOVETHETAMARVALLEY-50x-nobridgeWELOVETHETAMARVALLEY-200x-nobridgeAlthough a big brand would simplify things further, to an instantly recognisable very simple shape that could be of any  size, this can be tricky for small businesses that find it harder to build instant recognition.

Protect your reputation & customers : be aware of security issues

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It’s a mean old world out there.

You may be running a smallish local business, focussing carefully on delighting your local customers and doing the job better than your local competition, but if you are connected to the internet – and who can afford not to be these days? – you may inadvertently connect to some very unpleasant people who would very much like to use your computer, website, email or social media accounts for their own dodgy purposes.

If you are using a content management system such as WordPress or Joomla to power your website, you have a lot of power that the bad guys could potentially be using. I was just moving a new customer’s WordPress website to new web hosting, and I took a quick look at the files, just to make sure that a couple of items I didnt’ recognise were being currently used by the website rather than being old things left over from previous projects that were no longer in use. When I looked at them carefully, I realised that they had been placed within the website by someone who was clearly up to no good. Some of them were virus infested, others were designed to collect credit card numbers.

How did those bad guys get into the website? Well, there are several possibilities, and it’s hard to pin down which was definitely the culprit.

The Hosting
The site was hosted on very very cheap hosting – probably skimping on security and updates – so it’s possible that someone had got into the server hosting the site and had done bad things to all the sites that were hosted on it.

A Dodgy/insecure WordPress plugin?
Or it could be that someone wrote a WordPress plugin with the deliberate intention of using it as a way in to websites that installed it. Or, perhaps more likely, it could be a plugin that accidentally left a security hole that was later discovered and used to affect this particular site. Be very careful about where you get WordPress plugins from, and if you are not at the point where you can look at the code of your plugins, and see what it’s doing for you, stick to widely installed regularly updated plugins, with a lot of users.

Password Stolen or Guessed?
It could be that a password was sent insecurely in email, and someone picked up the details, either on the email’s journey through cyberspace, or after it arrived on the owner’s computer. Never send passwords by email. It could be that the password was simply guessed – this is why password programs tend to insist you choose a nice long password containing numbers and capital letters. Yes, they can be harder to remember, but they could save you an awful lot of time and trouble.

Cheap hosting is not worth it on many levels. It’s insecure, it’s slow (so customers get a bad experience). It’s well worth spending a little more and getting hosting that won’t kick you in the back. And if you are running any system that uses plugins or apps or third party add-ons of any kind – don’t just click ‘install’ without thinking. Every one is a risk. Only use the ones you really need. And, change your password!

We Love the Tamar Valley – a new Drupal 7 website for Tamar Valley Tourism

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We Love the Tamar Valley is a new website project created for Tamar Valley Tourism, a group that brings together businesses in the Tamar Valley that have an interest in tourism – from holiday cottages, to bed manufacturers, to top hotels, to farmer’s markets. We were delighted to win the contract to produce this site – we have lived and worked in the Tamar Valley for 13 years, and it’s always great to be promoting a product you believe in!

tavata

The site was created to replace an older website which had been custom built in php and mySQL. It was a bit difficult to manage, and wasn’t attracting the traffic it needed. We decided to create the new site using the Open Source Drupal 7 content management system as a framework. This approach meant that we could pull together a powerful site with a number of different ways to manage and navigate the content, and do it relatively quickly. The downside was that the content had to be copied over to the new Drupal site, but as all the content needed to be checked and refreshed anyway, and we were keen to add to it, this was one way of ensuring that all of it was looked at.

All of the 200+ member businesses will have their own password-protected access to the site, and there’s also a site administrator who reviews and approves content. This was another reason to go for a Drupal 7 based approach – we were able to build customised login systems and instead of providing a standardised content management interface, we could provide forms with a lot of control over the help text provided and the way each form element worked. This is one disadvantage of the WordPress content management system, much as we love it – it’s relatively difficult to customise the administrative interface, so if that doesn’t fit what you want to do with it, it can be fiddly to provide people with a way to enter information that is clear and easy to use.

Mailchimp is very nifty, but his big brother Mandrill is even better for integrating with websites.

Mailchimp is very nifty, but his big brother Mandrill is even better for integrating with websites.

One task the website has to do is to allow invoices to members to be emailled, managed and reports produced, and we also had to make sure that a weekly email roundup of news from members could be sent. To make sure that emails reached their destinations, we enlisted the help of the brilliant Mailchimp service (highly recommended, and free for low volume use) and also brought in Mailchimp’s big brother Mandrill – a system designed for integration with websites, and for sending personalised, transactional emails, which works really well with Drupal.

Another nifty tool we used was the Open Framework Drupal theme. We chose to base our unique look and feel around a previously developed theme as a framework, because this approach allowed us to quickly develop a very flexible site that was responsive, so it adapts easily to different devices, from mobile phones to laptop computers. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we used the framework and concentrated on customising the design and building content and photography that visitors would find exciting.

The site is not exactly finished – it probably never will be! We don’t believe in finished websites, but in websites that grow organically over time that can adapt to events. We’re pretty clear that the new We Love The Tamar Valley site will be able to do that excellently.

Photo preparation workshop coming up on Tuesday 25th

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Would you like to make your photos look more striking, add text or take out that awkward item that spoils the whole shot? Learn how to use free software on your own computer to give your photos the wow factor at a half-day training workshop from Tamar Valley Tourism.

Photo-editing workshop, Callington, Tuesday 25th February, 10am to 1pm. Courses organised by the Tamar Valley Tourism Association (TAVATA) and presented by Victoria Clare of Clare Associates Ltd.

Photo preparation demonstration

The courses will take place at Langman’s Restaurant in Callington, and there are still spaces available on each. The cost per session is just £35.50 per person.

The content will be:

• Understanding resolution, compression and choosing the right image format.
• Composition & cropping.
• Using unsharp mask, saturation & histogram adjustment to improve the lighting, colour and sharpness of your photos.
• Adding text
• Using black and white, sepia, and other effects.

Important note
The course will use a free editing program suitable for:
a Windows XP, Windows 7, or Windows 8 computer,
a Windows 8 Surface tablet
a Mac with Firefox, Chrome, or Safari 7.
A Chromebook

Your computer will need the Flash plugin. The software will not work on an Ipad or Android tablet. You should bring your computer with you.

To book your place, call Jill Price on 01579 370835, or email Jill at admin@tavata.co.uk .