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Posts by Jon Cook
2013 was incredibly busy in my personal and day job life. Unfortunately that meant my online activities took a back seat and this blog took an even further back seat!
My resolution for 2014 is to get back online but not at the detriment of my personal or day job. As with most people I can spend a fair amount of time “fannying” around reading forums and watching cats doing stupid things on YouTube. By cutting out this wasted online time I’m looking to increase my productivity and push on with online income generation.
There are going to be 2 massive milestones in 2014, number 1 will be the birth of our second child who is due to make an appearance in April. The second is my 40th birthday which is in June….eeek! I honestly still feel like I’m in my mid 20′s so it will be interesting to see how this psychological milestone effects me
I hope my readers have a cracking 2014 and I look forward to what the year ahead has in store. One of the biggest things on the UK domain name horizon is going to be the release of the .UK extension. This new extension holds a whole host of opportunities and I look forward to grabbing them and taking them for all that they are worth!
The days of taking an exact match domain (EMD) and throwing a few pages up has been killed off by Google and its ever evolving search algorithm.
If you’re reading this in 2013 or 2014 then now more than ever it’s about authority websites. These are sites that are viewed as the “go to” places for a particular niche and should be full of good content and exploit social media and things like youtube.
To this end we decided to take an undeveloped name that we had and to pass it over to Niche Networks to create an out of the box authority website. We paid £100 for an authority site which consisted of 20 unique pieces of content, premium wordpress theme and a bespoke Yahoo Q&A plugin. Depending on your niche then they offer a video offering but in our case it wasn’t relevant.
The domain we chose was www.FirstTimeHouseBuyer.co.uk which was a name that we had done nothing with since acquiring.
The new website was created within a week of placing our order and on the whole the experience was excellent and one we’d repeat in the future. Some of the articles were similar to each other but in hindsight I should have maybe given more of a brief and asked to receive a list of the article titles before they were created.
So far things have been going well. We’re leaving the site to age naturally over the next six months and are slowly adding extra content. We’ve had a couple of guest posts on the site and have monetised with a simple adsense block in the header for now.
The logo was quickly knocked up by someone on fiverr.com and is used on the Facebook and Twitter accounts associated with the domain.
If you’ve got any questions then please use the comments section below or use the contact page.
An area that I’ve always found lacking is getting our sites, stories and articles mentioned and talked about on the various social media platforms. Post Google Penguin I decided to run a couple of competitions to try and create some social chatter about our sites.
The first competition we ran was on our Cake Tins website. The Queens Diamond Jubilee was always going to be a big hit with cake makers so we ran a competition for people to submit photos of cakes that they’d made for the Jubilee celebrations. We promoted the competition on our Facebook page and it was also handily posted to HotUKDeals competitions section. The competition generated a fair amount of inbound traffic and although we only had 7 entries I thought the traffic (and subsequent sales) were worth it. Many people run a “Like” us or RT us to win. In our experience these have very little impact on generating useful traffic as people will use automated scripts to enter the competition. By setting our barrier to entry higher, having to make a cake and include our URL in the photo of it, we knew we’d keep out this low value traffic.
If you want to see more about the Cake Tins competition then you can view our original post here – Win Amazon £25 Gift Voucher and our winners announcement thread here – Jubilee Cake Competition Results
We have just launched our second competition and this time we are trying alternative promotion ideas. Our Low Power PCs Website is running a competition to win a Raspberry Pi Computer – Raspberry Pi Competition We’ve gone for a YouTube submission entry for this competition as we are hoping to generate some creative entries. Again this will lower the number of entries but the people visiting the site are our target market so are certainly worth more to us as customers.
We don’t run a Facebook page for this particular website so we used the excellent service at Loquax to get our competition known about. This simply involves filling in a form which is then validated by the team. If you competition meets their requirements they will then list it and push it out to their subscribers. Our particular submission was reviewed and accepted within an hour of listing, very impressive!
As our core market for a Raspberry Pi are “tech” people I am finding relevant tech blogs and letting them know about our competition. We point out the limited supply and tech buzz around the Raspberry Pi and tell them how we feel their readers will be interested in the competition. We tried to ask the official Raspberry Pi twitter account to retweet our competition but these requests have fallen on deaf ears, not even soliciting a response of NO!
Has anyone else successfully used competitions to spread the word of their site? How have you found it and what’s the strangest thing you’ve offered as a prize?
The Media Server
The starting point and the heart of my TV and Movie solution is my Windows Home Server which is based on the now discontinued HP ML115 G5 server. I chose this server as at the time HP were selling these at the rather excellently discounted price of £159.99, a complete bargain for an HP Server I’m sure you will agree!
The server has an AMD Opteron™ 1352 Quad Core Processor 2.10 GHz with 2 x 2GB Crucial ECC RAM and has the following disk configuration (as at 20th May 2011)
I’ve been running this setup for the past 2 years so obviously things will have moved on. Windows Home Server 2011 is about to ship but loses out on the Drive Extender (ability to throw any old hard drive in and have it present as 1 large disk) although there are add-ons available to replicate the version 1 functionality.
The reason I chose Windows Home Server (WHS) was for its ability to handle my PC backups automatically. This means that in the night it wakes each computer and laptop, backs it up and then puts it back to sleep. These are complete disk backups of the PC’s so if a hard drive fails on the PC then WHS can create a DVD to recover the OS and restore the files. The other critical feature was the ability to add a mish mash of drives and for them to show as a single large volume. This makes managing data a none issue for the end user and with the ability to turn on folder duplication I know that my data is mirrored over multiple disks to give resilience against a server hard drive failure. If a disk fails I can just shut down, pull the drive, insert a new one and then boot it back up. No need for matched drives that you need in a RAID configuration which again makes this a great end user solution.
On the server front HP have released the smaller form factor HP Proliant Microserver which they’ve been plugging away with a £100 cash back rebate. This sees this server available for £121 from some retailers once the cash back has been applied.
For my clients I am running the tiny Acer Revo Apire nettop computers. I currently have the R3700 in the lounge and the R3610 in the master bedroom. These Ion and Ion2 nettops are both capable of decoding 1080p content. These are both running 2GB ram, 250GB hard drives with Windows 7 Home Premium on them. The Revo’s came supplied with wireless keyboards and mice and I’ve added a Media Centre remote control to allow for easy arm chair navigation.
The Revo’s come with a v-shaped desk stand or alternatively they can be mounted directly to the rear of your TV. I use the HDMI connectors to rig them to my surround system which then passes through via HDMI to the TV.
Both of my Revo’s have gigabit ethernet connections which connect via Netgear GS605 gigabit switches to the server. Although these boxes have wireless 802.11n I prefer a hard wired connection for stability and bandwidth.
As mentioned the clients are all running Windows 7 Home Premium and this include Windows 7 Media Centre (W7MC). W7MC allows you to view photos, movies and live / recorded TV. You can also listen to your music including music from iTunes.
I am running the following additional bits of software or W7MC add ons:
Nevermiss.tv – Access to BBC iPlayer / ITV Player / 4OD etc as well as the Catch Up TV service
Media Browser – Superb media interface for your TV and Movie archives. Incredibly rich both visually and with the information it can display
Remote Potato – Remote access of your media as well as being able to set recordings when out of the house
vmcMote – Ability to browse my music collection on the iPad and create playlists to play on either the lounge or the bedroom system. Great app for when you’ve got friends around!
Meta<browser> – This handles renaming, image and information retrieval as well as trailer downloads for Movies and TV episodes. This is set to watch certain folders for new content and will then handle the renaming and image and information retrieval automatically.
Watching Live TV
The TV solution that I am using gives me the best flexibility for recording programmes that are available for each of the clients to access. I decided to go for DVB-S2 TV card to be able to receive both Standard Definition as well as High Definition Freesat and Sky channels. I purchased the TechniSat SkyStar USB HD box which is a mere 10cm x 10cm x 2.7cm in size! This box is connected directly to the R3700 in the lounge via USB and this makes it available within media centre as TV source.
I already have a master plan to move the TV cards to the server so instead of configuring the card directly I purchased the TVSource and Network Pack from DVBLogic to allow me to share the tuners between the client PC’s.
Once this was configured I used My Channel Logos to enhance the look of the Electronic Programme Guide.
All recorded TV is captured locally and then the WHS Connector software handles the movement of the files to the server for viewing by both clients.
(The slow down in live TV on the youtube clip is caused by the screen capturing software)
TV Series are stored on my server in the folder structure TV Collection > TV Show Name > Season x > Episodes. Using Meta<browser> I have artwork grabbed for the TV show, Series as well as Episode stills. I also have synopsis information as well as cast listings and duration.
I use Media Browser to browse and select the shows and episodes that I want to watch.
Movies / Films
As with TV series I use Media Browser to browse and select my movies. By this point Meta <Browser> has also hopefully grabbed a trailer for each of the movie files. This means that when looking for a film to watch you can see the cinematic trailer for it and decide whether you want to proceed or not.
All of my music, including iTunes, sits on the media server ready for access via any of the clients. These can either be accessed from the Music section in W7MC or as explained you can use vmcMote with an Apple iPad to browse and create playlists that will play on whichever client you choose.
With the recent Google Panda update we’ve seen a lot of our websites move around in the Google listings. A lot of our sites went up but 1 or 2 have taken a slight dip and so we were looking at tools to analyse our website against our competitors with the aim of optimising them for the search engines. A drop in your site ranking clearly leads to a reduction in visitors and therefore sales revenues suffer……bad times.
After some research we were pointed in the direction of Advanced Web Ranking which has recently undergone an upgrade to version 8. Advanced Web Ranking was recommended by several webmasters and SEO experts so we decided to grab the 30 day free trial to explore it for ourselves.
How do I get started with Advanced Web Ranking?
The first thing you need to do is create a new project and a wizard will guide you to enter the website that you wish to analyse, you can add your competitors websites into the mix further along.
From your website name AWR will pull back some suggested keywords and allow you to add, edit and delete to create the keywords you wish to monitor.
On the next stage of the wizard you can select the search engines you wish to run your analysis against. This is particularly useful if you site targets many different geographic regions.
Finally you give the project a name.
Now the software will go off to each of the search engines, pass in your keywords and return the results. If you have lots of websites and lots of keywords this can take some time to happen, remember it’s still going to be faster than you doing manually!
Once the analysis has ran you can look at various metrics about your website,
Website Rankings – This shows you web ranking for a selected website, keyword and search engine. If you have multiple websites (for instance if you are analysing your competitors also) then you can see who is ranking for which keywords.
Keyword Rankings – This shows your keyword rankings for a selected website and search engine. You can show just 1 of your keywords or make a multiple keyword selection.
Search Engine Rankings – This view shows an overall picture of where your website ranks over the various search engines for the selected keywords.
All of the “Rankings” views show the results in a plotted graph type of fashion. This is ideal as when you run the analysis again you can compare how your performance has changed over time.
Top Sites – For a selected keyword and search engine you will see what the websites are that are ranking above and below you. Useful to understand who you competition is for a particular keyword.
Overview - This gives an easy to see snapshot table of your rankings across various keywords and search engines
There are lots of other types of reports and analysis and it really is worthwhile grabbing the trial to see what Advanced Web Ranking can do for you.
Under the Tools section of the software you can run some very powerful Optimization and Research analysis to compare how you site ranks for various SEO attributes. Are you keyword stuffing, missing out on your keyword in your domain name or URL? Using Advanced Web Ranking you can see exactly how your site ranks against another for these various SEO indicators.
What version of the software available?
There are 4 editions of this seo software that provide various different bits of functionality. The different version are:
- Standard – Click to see latest features
- Professional - Click to see latest features
- Enterprise – Click to see latest features
- Server – Click to see latest features
Each of these version runs on either Windows, MAC or Linux so whatever your operating system you can still take advantage of this excellent software.
This really is a great tool for the SEO professional or a serious webmaster who are looking amongst other things for a keyword research tool. The automation available makes tracking your websites performance over time a simplified task that frees up your time to work on other more profitable tasks! We are already reaping the rewards of using this software and are sure that it will easily pay it’s investment back within 3 months.
Anyway don’t take my word for it, download the 30 day free trial and give your comments below.
A lot of the time I spend on the internet is devoted to making money however there are a few projects that I want to highlight that aren’t focused on making money.
Firstly there is my website The-Pier.co.uk which is a web site dedicated to the piers around the UK. This was the first website that I set up and was created as I was living in Brighton at the time. Most of the content was paid for with more recent content being written by “friends of pier” organisations or other interested bodies. Often these groups are interested in safe guarding and publishing their local piers so I often spend an evening trying to find a group for a pier that we haven’t got covered. A quick introductory e-mail often leads to the opening of a dialogue in which the groups offer to write a 500 – 1000 word article on the piers history and facilities. In exchange I offer a link back to their “friends” page so people interested can get further information. Although this site isn’t about making money the inclusion of adsense generates a steady income stream of about a £1 a day. That’s £365 per year and all I try and do is add pier related news to keep the content updated and fresh.
Stone is the small town in Staffordshire that I currently live in. There were some websites for the local area but these were old and stagnant. I engaged with the owners of these sites but they weren’t interested in bringing a fresher and more useful experience to their visitors so I setup stoneweb.org.uk. Unfortunately I just didn’t have time to develop the site as I wanted but I did spot a guy called Jamie Summerfied who had setup a blog on wordpress.com. After an introductory e-mail and a discussion of where Jamie wanted to take alittlebitofstone.com I offered him some hosting on my excellent tsohost cloud hosting account. I also offered my technical skills and we set about migrating the blog from wordpress.com to a hosted wordpress installation. Jamie had already found a theme he liked so it was just a question of adding in his bespoke requirements and it was good to go. Since launch we’ve added a forum to the site and Jamie has also linked it to a facebook and twitter account. Jamie runs paid advertising slots for local business to offer their services to this hyper-local site.
When we moved from Brighton to Stone we were finally in a house with a garden. The previous owners had left a bird box attached to the back wall of the garage so it was great to see in the spring of 2007 that we had blue tits nesting and using the bird box. When the birds left the nest in 2007 I decided that I would like a closer look inside the bird box so installed a miniature camera and created a website to post information and videos about the goings on in our bird box! 2008 was our first year of running the camera and website and we are now on our fourth year. I had to replace the camera in 2010 and am going to have to do some further changes in 2011. Ideally I’d like to swap the bird box for a new box with a window to allow colour recording. This however has me concerned that if we change the box the birds may not come back the following year There is a sprinkling of adsense and easy content units on the website and these bring in a little income each year.
It’s far to easy too focus on money money money. If you can spend a little bit of time on “other” projects it will help keep you sane and stimulate your creativity!
I was looking at ways to increase the conversion rate on one of our websites so I was on the lookout for some software to help me “see” what the visitors were doing.
I know that a lot of this could be gleaned from Google Analytics but what I was looking for was a more visual representation of exactly how the visitors were navigating and using my site. Following a bit of research I came across Mouseflow.com (affiliate link) and decided to try out their service.
Now I often think you can tell how good a company is if there is a free version or a trial to allow you to evaluate it. Thankfully in this case there is a free version which allowed me to have 100 free recordings a month for a single website.
As my sites use wordpress as the underlying system there is a handy wordpress plugin from mouseflow which means configuring and setting up a website is a doddle! Once signed up you simply choose to add a website and complete the sites URL. You will then get a snippet of code to copy and paste into the wordpress plugin or into your sites HTML.
Once done you will get an e-mail to tell you that recording has begun on your website and you can now view the recordings on the Mouseflow.com website, it really is that simple!
Here is a breakdown of the features of mouseflow:
- Playback of Visitor Browsing Sessions – You physically watch the user scrolling around, clicking and see their keyboard and mouse inputs. Information available to see are Browser / Operating System / Date of Recording / Duration / Time on Site / Number of Pages Visited / Country / Screen Resolution / Language and Time Zone. You can also choose to skip inactivity so if the visitor has wandered off to make a cup of tea and then returned the playback will skip the periods where there is no movement on the mouse or keyboard.
- Click and Movement Heatmaps - A great way to see the hot spots on your pages and which parts people are drawn to or shy from.
- Link Statistics – See analytics about how people hover over links or how a particular link converts, there are 6 measures in total.
- Viewport Maps – Show you in detail how people scroll down your sites. How many people get down to that juicy nugget at the bottom of the page?!
- Visitor driven Page Analytics – See real page bounce rates, how long pages take to load, what the users see above the fold etc.
Since the trial I have made changes that have directly led to an increase in conversions. Being able to literally see a visitors frustrations helps me maximise the website design and layout to give a better end user experience.
I have now upgraded to the small package as that allows for a more useful 1000 recordings per month. This costs a reasonable 10 euros per month (plus VAT!) and all of the plans can be seen on their pricing page
(Although my content may include affiliate links I don’t review products because of this. I always choose products and services that I have / do use and find useful in my business on line)
Ever since I re-themed my monopod website I’ve been looking at ways to expand the content that the site contains. I decided to add a “Submit a Review” page to the site in the hope that people would wander by and leave some interesting reviews.
Needless to say after a month I hadn’t received a single hit on the review page so decided to go out and engage monopod owners to provide reviews. I considered visiting one of the many photography forums but felt uncomfortable pestering people on someone else’s site to ask them to come to mine and complete a review.
This was when I decided to tap into the wonderful world of twitter. With only 140 characters to play with I composed the following tweet :
Fancy writing a review of your monopod in exchange for a link back to your website / portfolio? http://bit.ly/d6oBeI
I then used twitters search function and searched for “monopod”. It was then a simple task to go through each of the tweets to see in what context monopod was mentioned and if relevant I @mentioned the user with the message above.
You can see the resulting content in the monopod reviews section on the site and I must say that I’m really impressed with the level of responses that I’ve received.
I will be trying a similar approach with some of our other sites and will update you all on how well that goes!
Has anyone else used Twitter in a similar way to get end user generated content?
With our Windscreen Wipers website sitting in the top 3 for the keyword Windscreen Wipers I had expected a good steady stream of sales. The reality is that the site sells windscreen wipers every single day but I think from the visitors it could be so many more!
I decided to try a new approach to see if I could improve sales and so installed Live!Zilla , a free live chat tool. The aim was to see how many people would request a chat and so I could see whether people were just having issues finding the correct product.
It takes a little bit of setup to get this free tool setup but the instructions provided were excellent and I was able to get the live chat status images working fine on our website. I configured myself as the only operator and waited for a wave of chat requests……needless to say they weren’t forthcoming! In over a month I didn’t get a single chat request from a visitor!
When you aren’t signed in the chat icon prompts the visitor that they can leave a message and this led to 3 visitors doing that. When I compare this to the number of people who use our “contact us” form then the live chat message wins 3 – 0!
The chat software gives basic geo visitor information with more accurate available for an additional fee. Using this information I tried to initiate a chat with UK based site visitors but again this was fruitless! Live!Zilla lets you co-browse (see what the site visitor is looking at) so i could send them a targeted message but nothing I tried worked!
For now I’ve given up with the live chat model although I am still running it on the site. The thought was that if the site received a lot of queries I could outsource the operators (overseas perhaps) and pay them based on the commission of the sales they referred. Needless to say that plan is currently on the back burner but I won’t give up!
As a free live chat tool I would give Live!Zilla 10/10 and would definitely say it’s well worth a try if you’re in the market for a live chat tool!
Maybe the type of site doesn’t lend itself to a live chat tool? Has anyone else successfully used such a tool to aid sales and increase conversions?
Our portfolio of live websites has reached approximately 30 so we decided to revisit the look and feel of the websites in the hope of improving conversions. Following a previous recommendation of Dan Harrison from WordPress development specialists WP Doctors, we had been using Artisteer to create wordpress templates for our affiliate marketing sites. Although Artisteer was incredibly flexible in what it could deliver we were after more functionality and so looked for a suitable base premium wordpress template to deploy and build upon.
We found an online shop style template from Elegant Themes (*Affiliate Link) that displayed product prices against each of the items but unfortunately this would involve us manually updating thousands of products each day! They obvious solution to this was of course automation! We were already using Easy Content Units which meant we already had an automated way of pulling the cheapest price and retailer information but we wanted a way to push this data into the wordpress database so the theme could extract it for our visitors to see.
We approached Dan of WP Doctors to initially discuss whether our ideas could be turned into reality! Dan provided a great sounding board for our ideas and suggestions and countered our thoughts whilst extracting additional information we hadn’t even considered! This collaborative approach to defining our requirements meant that once development began Dan knew exactly what was required and what was to be delivered. Throughout the project Dan gave me status updates and delivered the agreed work within budget and on time. With Dan’s help we deployed the plugin to our monopod website www.monopod.org.uk and we’ve been extremely happy with the way that the plugin performs. We will now look to roll out the template and plugin combination to some of the other websites in our portfolio. The theme we are using is quite resource hungry so we are looking to improve the usability of website for our end users. If anyone has any tips to offer on acheiving this then feel free to comment on this post or contact us via the contact form.