2014: Reflections on a terrible year

If you're among my closest friends, you may have noticed I've been pretty stressed this year. HSBC can take the blame for most of that - when, in January, they offered me a mortgage unprompted over the counter, and then told me being self-employed wouldn't be a problem, I stupidly thought I might end up with a mortgage from them.

Ten months later and with the help of the excellent Contractor Financials, I finally managed to buy my first house, too late to get properly moved in before Christmas, with the result that I've spent the past six weeks basically living on a bed and no other furniture.

I'm not totally miserable, by any means - I'm happy to have a place of my own and all that, it's just unfortunate that it took at least six months longer than it should have done, and all the time spent chasing the bank(s) for a decision left me with a backlog of work that I still haven't quite caught up on (sorry, clients).

So that brings me to 2015 and my promises to myself and to my clients for the new year.

Regular clients get priority - no more delaying regular delivery of work in order to fit in short-notice one-off orders.

No more huge, repetitive orders that eat into my very soul. If more than about 25-30 pages are needed with basically the same long-tail keyword phrase, I'm not going to do it anymore, it physically hurts me every time I take something on like that.

And I think basically, those two things should get me back to working at my best. It's been a tough few months but I'm already making amends, and now I have my new place (and will finally get the last of the furniture I need in January) I'm in a much better position for getting the work done.

Small businesses in particular, I want to help you - whatever your budget is, I'm sure I can help you use it in a way that will have real results.

Get in touch and let's work together to make 2015 a much better year for all concerned.

Poundland's NYE prize draw might be the best ever

There's nothing quite like a good competition - and Poundland's newly launched social media prize draw is undoubtedly a fine example of how a great prize doesn't have to eat into your business's bottom line.

It's a simple enough retweet-based prize draw:

...and if you follow the link to the Terms & Conditions, you can see exactly what's in the hamper. It's brilliant.
  • one pack of 30 half pint plastic tumblers
  • one pack of 20 large tumblers
  • one 50g colour hair spray
  • one pack of 8 plastic cocktail glasses
  • one pack of 80 white napkins
  • one pack of 30 white paper party plates
  • one pack of 18 silver paper party plates
  • one pack of 250 straws
  • one pack of 40 colourful disposable shot glasses
  • one pack of 40 clear disposable shot glasses
  • one inflatable guitar
  • one inflatable microphone
  • one pack of 50 balloons
  • one pack of 18 silver plastic cutlery set
  • one pack of 80 white disposable cutlery set
  • 6 packs of 100 cocktail sticks
  • one curly wig
  • one straight wig
I'm not too sure who would need 600 cocktail sticks, but I suppose it depends how many pickled onions you plan to put on sticks.

The thing is, assuming all of these are Poundland products, that's a total prize value of £23. At retail price, not cost price.

I'm not dissing the competition at all, I've retweeted and followed Poundland and I'll be delighted if I win - I just think it's a genius prize.

The tweet cost them nothing (well, assuming they didn't hire a social media exec especially for this) and the prize can't have cost much more than £10 max at cost price.

As I write this - less than 15 minutes after they tweeted it - it's been RT'd 50 times and favorited by 8 people too, and at least some of those (including me) will have followed Poundland on Twitter as a result of the tweet.

No doubt the retweets and follows will continue to grow - how many would you need to make it worth £10 for a tweet?

Wish me luck, I really want those wigs.

Alyssa Smith: "We don't need to be Bill Gates"

If you follow me on Twitter, it's no secret that I'm a big fan of jewellery entrepreneur Alyssa Smith.

Admittedly her product range is aimed mainly at female customers, but I'm still holding out hope for a bespoke design as soon as I'm in a position to place an order!

In the meantime, it's been great to see Alyssa's public profile grow and grow, thanks in no small part to her endless and tireless efforts on Twitter, endorsements from celebs like Suzi Perry, and occasional appearances as the back end of a bus.

Now she's not only international on the web, she's also national on the TV, following an appearance on Channel 4 News.

My first impression as I watched this was that Alyssa had almost been put there as a target for the 'no' side of the debate - as though being a successful entrepreneur makes you the bad guy when so many others fail.

But in the end it turned out to be a fair and balanced discussion of the value of education even for those who go on to create a job or business of their own (like me!), the topics - like business finance - that are missing from university degrees when preparing people for self-employment, and the risks involved with trying to go into business on your own.

Like Channel 4 News, who chose Alyssa's quote as the title for this segment on their website, I especially loved the line "We don't need to be Bill Gates", which sums up my own approach to self-employment perfectly.

I'm not trying to be a billionaire, I just feel lucky that I get paid for doing something I really love doing, and I price my services accordingly - enough so that I can afford to pay my bills and live reasonably comfortably, but not so much that I'll be able to retire in 2015.

The fact is, if I'm not getting paid to write, I write other stuff for fun anyway, so I may as well have enough work to fill my day, hopefully without getting swamped.

Maybe that's one of the most important things in an entrepreneur - a genuine desire to work in their chosen profession, and to give it the effort it requires.

From what I've seen of Alyssa, she's definitely not lacking in effort, and it's great to see she's being rewarded for the blood, sweat and tears I know she's put into her business.

Visit Alyssa Smith's website here or follow her on Twitter.

So here it is... Merry Christmas?!

It's Chriiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!!!!!

OK yes, I know the 'winterval' is not yet upon us, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be starting your marketing campaigns now.

As I've pointed out in the past, the Christmas 'buy cycle' is a laggardy one, and you need to factor in lead times for:
  • shoppers' travel plans home for Christmas (1 week)
  • delivery/collection (at least 1-2 weeks, maybe 4 weeks or more)
  • shoppers' browsing (1-2 weeks)
  • your own restocking delays (typically 2-4 weeks)
  • organic SEO efforts to take effect (anything from 0 days to 4-6 weeks)
Read that list from bottom to top, and you have your run-up to Christmas in chronological order, but add up all of the delays and you've got a lag time of around three months on any online marketing you choose to carry out for Christmas.

Factor into this the simple fact that you don't want your campaigns to come to fruition on Christmas Day itself, and that your initial marketing efforts are likely to need to be spread out over 4-6 weeks in their own right, and you soon find yourself in the middle of summer, planning your Christmas campaign.

Or you should do, if you want it to be successful...

Riding the Buy Cycle

Think I'm exaggerating? Take a look at this Google Trends chart of searches for 'Christmas gifts' and 'Christmas presents' over the past few years...

Not surprisingly, the drop-off after Christmas is precipitous, and search volumes remain very low for the first half of each year.

But volumes start to rise exponentially in August, roughly doubling in each subsequent month until Christmas arrives, and there's no trend like a rising trend if you're trying to make money.

Early Adopters

Does anyone seriously start their Christmas marketing campaigns in August? Erm... well, yes they do, actually.

In fact, my local pub had Santa hats on its ale pumps in July, along with a 'Book now for Christmas' hoarding and leaflets on the tables.

Yes, really.
You might think this is too early - and when the landlord started singing Christmas songs on the karaoke (I'm not joking) it did get to be a bit too much - but when they're booked up for Christmas while the other bars and pubs are cutting prices, it will be worth it.

It's not just bricks-and-mortar businesses that are getting on their Buy Cycles early this year:

Beth is a 'safe pair of hands' when it comes to marketing copy, so it's good to see her clients are already putting her talents to work on their Christmas campaigns.

And she has her own valuable insight on how to build up towards Christmas without being quite so obvious as wearing Santa hats in July - her post 'The C Word' is well deserving of a read for more evidence-based reasons why you should start early, and how best to go about it.

Beat the Crowd

So what are the best options for organic SEO campaigns in the run-up to Christmas 2014?

Looking at the Google Trends data again, it's clear that worldwide, people prefer the term 'Christmas gifts' to 'Christmas presents', but in the UK the two are on roughly equal terms over the years - so include both of them as primary keywords in your on-page text content.

In the UK, the past decade has seen a clear shift away from mass-market shop-bought gifts, towards more independent, artisan and even home-made presents.

An outcome of the turbulent economy and people's desire to save spending money? Or a return to traditional values of 'It's the thought that counts', rather than a materialistic consumer market?

Either way, it's worth focusing on the bespoke or hand-crafted elements of your products wherever possible, to tap into this clear breakout trend.

Beyond that, the old rules apply - 'top Christmas gifts', 'gifts for men', 'gifts for Christmas' and 'gifts for her' are all rising trends at the time of writing, so get your copywriter working now on your Christmas Gift Guide, and make sure it's distributed to your email subscribers and posted on your website well before November arrives.

We Are The Slackers

We are the slackers.
The immature entrepreneurs;
we are the will-not-stay-laters,
the go-home-on-timers,
the overtime haters.

We are the jackers.
The stick-your-jobbers;
I'll make my own,
wear my own clobber,
work from me bed
and forget all the bother.

We are the worthy.
The set-our-own-pricers;
the get-haggled-downers,
the get-paid-laters,
the where-did-my-money-goers;
the late-cheque paycheck blowers.

We are the cash and the flow.
The sausage and the sizzle.
The legwork and the admin.
The boss and employee.
The name on the door.
The place where the buck stops.

We are the slackers,
given half a chance
to pause for breath amid the dance
of work and invoice,
pitch for jobs of perfect size
to fill the day but not the night,
keep the deadlines not-too-tight
but do the job and time it right;
not so much motivation, more of a fight
to stay on course, to stay on track,
to do the work and send it back
at the right time, on the right day;
and then sit back and hope and pray
our invoice does not go astray;
that this client, at least, will choose to pay.

We are the jumpers who ask 'how high?'
then leap for you into the sky
while you throw pennies at our feet,
each shiny coin a tiny treat.

We are neither organ grinder, nor monkey;
yet when clients call the tune
we rush to be their dancers;
we are the Freelancers.

In-Depth Articles in Google Search Results

Sometimes when you search for something on Google, you are presented not only with the usual organic results, news headlines, images and so on, but also with a grid entitled In-Depth Articles.

Google's own example for this is a search for 'censorship', and running the search confirms that In-Depth Articles appear on Google UK search engine result pages (SERPs), although you may have to scroll down to see them.

Clearly a first-page ranking in the organic results is better than inclusion in the In-Depth Articles, as long as this grid continues to appear at the bottom of the first page rather than the top.

But if you are trying to improve your SEO for a highly competitive keyword, and Google are currently including In-Depth Articles for that term in their SERPs, it might be wise to publish one or more detailed pages of content dedicated to that topic, and see if you can leapfrog your way to this often-overlooked front-page part of the SERPs.

How do I get there?

Luckily, Google offer very clear guidance on how to improve your chances of inclusion in the In-Depth Articles box.

There are no guarantees, and any SEO agency that promises results with 0% doubt is lying to you, but follow Google's own guidelines and you maximise your chances of having your page included.

First of all though, make sure you have a good page of content to start with - I would recommend a word count of at least 2,000 words, based on what Google are already including in the In-Depth Articles box, and that really is a bare minimum.

It should be well written, on a clear subject area, properly researched and structured well with subheadings etc - you can include some opinion if appropriate, but what you really want is a literature review, or something that looks like a detailed Wikipedia entry.

Once you have that in place, there are certain other things to consider...


Would it be appropriate to split your article over several pages? If so, there is specific pagination markup to use, to allow Google to crawl those multiple pages as parts of the same single article.

I would personally advise against this - it's an unnecessary complication, and the In-Depth Articles I've seen in Google's SERPs (such as the ones on the 'censorship' results page, for instance) tend to be on a single page.

There doesn't seem to be much value in splitting an article over several pages, except to boost your total page views so you have stronger-looking analytics results to show to advertisers; there's no obvious benefit to users of your site in this age of high-speed internet access, when even a large article should load in full quite quickly.


One of my absolute favourite issues at the moment, Schema.org is a set of markup that tells the search engines additional information about your content.

This can include author information, references to opening times, review scores, and so on, addresses and contact details, and other additional data that is invisible to visitors to your site.

Again, I can add this markup to your content for you - and this time I would advise doing so, if you are aiming for inclusion in the In-Depth Articles box.


Finally we have a clear SEO benefit for websites with Google Authorship implemented, as this is a recommendation for those aiming for inclusion in In-Depth Articles.

I can not only help you to set this up using one of Google's approved methods; I can also prove to you that it is working correctly, using Google's own testing tool, even before your Authorship details have started to appear on the SERPs.

Again, this is something I would recommend implementing, even if you are not aiming for inclusion in In-Depth Articles.


Your content should not be behind a 'paywall' or in a subscribers-only part of your website.

I don't actually expect this to be an issue with the vast majority of my clients, as you need to be akin to the Financial Times to really even consider a paywall, but it's something for you to consider when deciding where on your website to publish your in-depth content.


Whereas Google Authorship has (until recently) displayed a headshot of the author in search results, In-Depth Articles prefers something more corporate.

As such, you should make certain to use Schema.org markup on your content page, to highlight an image as being your company logo - in turn raising the likelihood of it appearing alongside your article in the In-Depth Articles grid.

I would recommend this if you are aiming for inclusion, and again I can help you to make sure your content contains the correct Schema.org markup.

What do I do next?

If you want to know more, read Google's own page describing these guidelines.

Writing something genuinely in-depth is not for the faint-hearted, and I would expect to charge my full rate for a 2,000-word researched article complete with all of the relevant Schema.org markup etc.

There is no 100% guarantee of inclusion, either - that's up to Google to decide - but either way you're going to end up with a highly optimised page (or pages, if you've opted for pagination) which should perform well in search either way.

I would urge everyone, even if not considering In-Depth Articles, to read up on Schema.org and implement it as soon as possible if your content could benefit from it.

Not many people - especially small businesses and amateur webmasters - are using Schema.org yet, relatively speaking, so it could give you a clear competitive edge in the SERPs.

Contact me for more information on In-Depth Articles, what I can do for you, or any general enquiries at all.

Now We Are Three...

Friday was my 31st birthday (June 27th, 2014) and that means something special for my career as a freelance writer, too, as July 1st 2014 will be the third anniversary of the day I officially went freelance.

That might sound like the two are not really related, except for being within a few days of each other, but there is an intrinsic connection that will never, ever change.

And that is because the last day in my agency job (June 30th 2011) was also my first day back after taking a break for my birthday.

I arrived back to find that nobody knew what work I was supposed to be doing, and as I'd handed my notice in anyway, there didn't seem much point in giving me anything to do - so I left there and then, nearly a month ahead of schedule.

An early start to my freelance writer career was probably one of the best birthday presents I got, and it's still kinda nice to get my Facebook 'happy birthday' notifications in the same week as my LinkedIn 'business anniversary' notifications.

It also means my birthday is always a time to look ahead to the next year of my business, and assuming Google don't abandon Authorship completely, that's one of my key areas of focus for these coming 12 months.

Very few of my existing clients are making use of Google Authorship - especially using my own name, rather than a pseudonym - but it's a good chance to gain an advantage in Google Search results.

Even if you don't think it affects your ranking (and I'm still not certain either way, although Google insist it has no ranking value...) having a byline alongside your search result gives it legitimacy.

The latest rumours seem to hint at Google streamlining the inclusion of Authorship in the search results - getting rid of the passport-photo-style headshot image and the indication of how many contacts you have on Google+, but retaining the byline, which is the actual valuable part of the whole process.

I've been offering for some time to help clients set up Google Authorship, whether or not they want to use my profile or one of their own in-house team - but I'm hoping this year that the streamlined inclusion of author bylines helps Authorship to mature as a long-term part of the search landscape.

And as an experienced and quite capable writer of online content, I'm hoping more clients take advantage of the option of having my byline placed on their pages when they publish articles they have paid me to write.

No doubt in a year's time the entire search landscape will have changed once again - I certainly can't imagine Google+ going mainstream without a major rethink of its functionality - but in the meantime, it's good to have something to work towards in my fourth year of Phronesis Freelance.

The Science of Staying Positive

You should never dismiss a metaphor just because it's 'meaningless' - analogies help us to put all sorts of things into perspective, and when you take your example from a rational world like those of maths and science, it can help you to tackle the more irrational challenges you face, such as your inner demons and emotions.

Take the example of 'positivity', for instance - in terms of emotion, it's quite an abstract concept, and you might not be certain of whether you mean 'positive action' and being proactive about your problems, or 'positive thinking' and simply hoping that they will somehow be resolved.

Either can be helpful, letting you think more positively about a situation that's out of your control, or encouraging you to take even difficult actions to resolve a problem that's still within reach.

But in science, particularly Physics, there are very specific definitions of positive and negative, and of neutral too.

Positive Fundamentals

In an atom, for instance, there are positively charged protons, neutral neutrons, and negatively charged electrons.

And y'know what? Those negative particles are TINY compared to the others - roughly 5.5 x 10-4 units, where one unit is the mass of a proton or neutron.

That means you need almost 2,000 electrons to equal the mass of a single positively charged proton.

What's more, those negatively charged electrons are held in place by the positive charge of the protons, orbiting the heart of an atom just as the Earth orbits around the Sun, and equally powerless to break free.

In fact, electrons are so 'insignificant' that they don't contribute towards the atomic number OR the mass number of an element on the Periodic Table.

You might begin to think that negativity doesn't really have much of a place in the universe...

Forces of Attraction

But wait, what about magnetism, right? The attraction between opposite forces that keeps those electrons in orbit, and inherently binds positivity and negativity together in an uneasy partnership?

Well it turns out there's an even stronger force that binds positive and neutral particles together - so strong, in fact, that its name is simply the Strong Force (or the 'residual strong force' when you're talking specifically about protons and neutrons).

It's been around since the beginning of Time, it's the strongest force there is, and it doesn't give a damn about negativity - it's 137 times stronger than the electromagnetic force that holds opposite charges together.

So the next time you're feeling down, remind yourself that negativity is WEAK and positivity is STRONG - and that the strong force, which holds positivity at the heart of every atom in the Universe, has itself existed FOREVER, and always will.

Need a Writer?

Do you need a writer? More specifically, do you need a freelance writer? Somebody who can produce written content for you as a one-off or regular order, when you don't need enough to justify taking on a full-time or even part-time employee?

You might want to go via an agency - and that's fine, I work with a few great agencies based around the UK, and would be happy to recommend one that I think suits your needs, or is geographically closest to you.

But if you just need a writer you can work with one on one, hiring a freelance writer directly can work out cheaper (sorry agencies, but you know it's true!).

I have been writing my entire life - I learned to type, propped up at a computer keyboard, before I could actually sit up unsupported, and I could hand-write in block capitals before I started school. I've been writing stories and poetry since I was a small child, and it's over 15 years since I built my own website for the first time.

There are not many people out there with the credentials I hold - a BA(Hons) in Language, Literacy and Communication from the University of Manchester, where I previously passed three semesters of an Astrophysics degree before I decided to become a writer. I'm still a full member of the Institute of Physics, and relish the rare opportunities I get to write about science; I'm also a member of British Mensa, with an IQ in the top 0.5% of the population.

Writing is second nature to me, which means I tend not to overthink things - and that usually leads to a very natural-sounding end product, which is ideal for blogs and general web content.

SEO also comes naturally, and if you have challenging long-tail keywords that can be difficult to include in a grammatically correct sentence, I'll do a better job of it than most people.

I've worked in-house at an online content agency (for 5 years) and I've been a freelance writer since 2011, so I've seen things from both points of view, and I've seen how SEO in particular has developed over time, with the rise of smartphones and tablets, and browsers other than Internet Explorer.

CSS, RSS, XML and PHP were all a long way off when I first started building websites, and although I'm a freelance writer, not a web designer, I know enough to include SEO-friendly markup where necessary, if you need that too.

The list goes on, but the basic point is this: Google want your website to have good content, which means you should want your website to have good content, if you want to attract search traffic. Good content needs a good writer, and that is what I am.

You don't need the world's biggest budget to get results - and £100 a month spent on SEO will often outperform the same money spent on a newspaper advert or flyers posted through people's doors.

So, even if you rewrite your existing website text as a one-time only effort, let me help you make it the very best that you can.

3 Steps to Keyword Success

People think SEO is magic, but it's really just logic - the right words in the right places, and you WILL rank highly, unless you've chosen a hugely competitive key term to target (which, uh, makes it the 'wrong' words).

But how do you know what keywords to target? Well, there are three very simple steps to take, to hone your broad, short-tail keywords into precise and realistic long-tail key phrases.

1. Google Trends

First up, it's Google Trends - this gives you a place to start, and importantly it can also give you a headstart over your opposition.

Visit Google Trends and type in a broad keyword relating to your website - at this stage it doesn't matter if it's a very competitive term, as you ultimately won't be targeting this keyword in your SEO efforts.

As an example, let's use SEO, and limit the data to results from the UK over the past 12 months.

The graph and regional interest data are often quite interesting, but they're not the useful part for our purposes - that comes at the bottom-right of the page.

The Queries box shows you which search terms are being used by the most people, and if you click through to the Rising list you can also see which terms are currently rising in interest and activity the fastest.

For example, at the time of writing, some of the breakout terms include seo optimization (+70%, and note the US English spelling convention of '-ize' rather than '-ise'), seo expert (+60%) and seo check (+50%).

These would all be fairly easy to incorporate into a well-written and relevant page, but Google Trends allows you to see exactly which words, which word order, and which spellings are being used in the real world, right now.

So you choose a few key phrases from this list, and the hard work of developing a long-tail SEO strategy is done for you, without having to come up with any phrases of your own from scratch.

2. Google Analytics > SEO

Google Analytics is your friend. Free to install and to use, it's a powerful enough analytics platform for most basic to intermediate needs - and it is certainly fully featured enough to help you hone an SEO campaign.

For this part of the process, expand the Acquisition list at the left-hand side of your website's Analytics dashboard (that sounds way more complicated than it actually is - just log in and look for Acquisition, once you have the Analytics tracking code working on your website).

Next expand the Search Engine Optimization list, and click on Queries.

The data here shows you which search queries your website was included in the results for - it's real data, compiled from real people's searches, and although the figures are not 100% accurate, it still gives a good idea of how you're ranking on some real-world key words and phrases.

If you spot a particularly juicy phrase on this list, that's great news - it means, somewhere along the way, you've published some content that Google deems worthy of including in its search results for queries containing that phrase.

But at this stage, it's unlikely that you rank highly for your preferred key phrases - unless you've managed to do some very quick optimisation of your page content, that is.

You really want to be aiming for a ranking in single figures, i.e. in the top nine organic search results for your target phrase, so if this report says your ranking is 10+ you'll probably want to publish some more well-written content containing that target keyword or phrase in the right places.

Over time, as you do this, your ranking should improve on the phrases you target, and believe me, a single well-written page CAN be enough to get you into the top five positions on Google.

Keep checking back to see how well you're doing, and to identify more potential target phrases for future SEO efforts.

3. Google Analytics > Keywords

Finally, once you're confident that you're ranking highly for your target words and phrases, look under Acquisition for the Keywords list, and click on Organic.

At first this may look like the SEO report we were using above, but the key difference is this:
  • The Google Analytics SEO page is based on your inclusion in Google search engine result pages, or SERPs;
  • The Google Analytics Keywords - Organic report is based on search queries which led to an actual clickthrough to your website.
This means that, whereas the SEO page gives you an idea of what people are searching for when they find your website, the Organic page tells you which of those search queries actually drive traffic to your site.

Now you have a dilemma - do you continue to target these performing key phrases, in order to avoid slipping down the rankings, or do you devote your attention to developing more of the other phrases for which you currently don't rank so highly?

My answer would be to do both. Include new phrases chosen from the SEO report in the primary keyword positions on your new pages (near the top and near the left-hand side of your content, basically).

But also include a few mentions of one or more of your performing key phrases from the Organic report - these don't have to be in those prime positions on the page, as you're obviously already ranking for the term, so just mentioning it anywhere should be enough to remind Google that it's still relevant to your website.

And that is it. Trends, Analytics SEO, and Analytics Organic - the three Google reports that can logically develop you from a single competitive short-tail keyword, to first-page rankings on well-performing, real-world, long-tail search queries that your competitors may not yet have discovered.

Hayfever Eyes

For anyone suffering from the high pollen count - you are not alone.

I've been taking the pills, but
I've got this feelin' that won't subside
I'm feelin' blue and I need to wipe
My crying eyes
Now I've got that blurry sight

With these hayfever eyes
One puff of pollen and I start to cry
I've got hayfever eyes
I feel them aching and I'm almost bli-i-ind

I'll get some water and rinse them out
Don't want to feel like I'm in a drought
They feel so dry
Now I've got that blurry sight

With these hayfever eyes
One puff of pollen and I start to cry
I've got hayfever eyes
I feel them aching and I'm almost blind
I've got hayfever eyes
Now they're bloodshot where they should be white
I've got hayfever eyes
I feel them stinging and I wanna di-i-ie

I need to see
This is not what eyes should be...

I've got hayfever eyes
One puff of pollen and I start to cry
I've got hayfever eyes
I feel them stinging and I wanna die
I've got hayfever eyes...

Don't poach your own goals

Rooney, you goal-poaching, spam-faced, bald-spot-plugging, pie-gobbling, own-man-tackling, never-scored-in-a-World-Cup granny botherer, what the hell was this, tackling your own teammate just to blast it clean over the bar??

In the interests of having an excuse to post this here, and not just to rant about England's most naturally gifted overhyped and underperforming player of all time, let's make a totally reasonable, not at all strained comparison with PPC advertising. Yeah, that'll work.

So you've invested in good-quality website content, you've included SEO keywords in all the right places, and you've achieved front-page organic search rankings for those primary keywords.

You're doing well - you're skipping past your competitors like so many Italian defenders. So why oh why would you bid on those same primary keywords in your PPC ads?

I can see why people do it without thinking - "hey, we can totally DOMINATE the results if we bid on them too!" - but it's not what PPC is designed for, and it's a waste of time and money: time, because it means the time spent on improving your organic rankings was a waste when you're just buying your way into the sponsored results anyway; and money, because you're paying twice for your front-page result, once for the SEO work to get into the organic listings, and again for a sponsored ad placement.

PPC is NOT a way to rank for terms that you have successfully optimised through natural/organic methods; it is a way to buy a front-page position until those organic methods start to show results (and it can take a few weeks, especially for a brand-new website).

Spend on the two correctly and you create a two-pronged attack - a charge down the middle with your SEO efforts, and a man out wide with your PPC placements.

Bid on your own successfully optimised organic keywords, though, and your search marketing strategy is akin to a fat bald man nicking the ball from your feet to blast it into the stands. England might not be better than that while Rooney's still in the starting line-up, but you can be the better man.


Dark the hour may be;
and growing darker all the time.

But in the deepest of darkness
the smallest light shines bright;
its pallid glow enough to throw
off the blanket of night.

And through the inky blackness,
I will not stumble blind
but stride out with the vision
of eyes held open wide.

With saucer-plate pupils, I will study
these unfathomable depths;
and in the faintest light of dawn
I may find hope yet.

Chin up, and head held high,
never falter, never stumble;
never looking to the ground,
no fear I may tumble.

Once more into the breach;
once more into the fray.

Stride out, once more, into the darkness
and seek out the dawning day.

How do you pronounce router?

Just a quick note on one of my personal bugbears - the pronunciation of 'router' in British English.

There are two main meanings of ROUTER in UK English:
  • a network ROUTER decides the ROUTE taken by data around a network;
  • a woodwork ROUTER is used to ROUT a channel into a wooden surface.

Now, in US English, 'rout' and 'route' are pronounced the same - and rhyme with 'out' (as far as I know).

But in UK English, 'route' is pronounced 'root' - so a network router should be pronounced 'rooter'.

If you're talking about a 'network ROUTer', and you're in the UK, you either sound like an American, or you sound like your powertools have a Wi-Fi connection.

Actually, that would be pretty sweet...

Grabbed by the Googles - Privacy Taken to Extremes

It's a bad day to be Google. Especially in Spain, where all hell is about to break loose - the EU Court of Justice have ruled that people should be able to tell Google what they can and can't include in their search results.

The ruling has been made under the guise of data protection, and it only applies to personal data that is no longer relevant - specifically in this case, a 16-year-old property auction brought about by a bad debt.

But it has far-reaching implications, as the court ruled that original publishers of information, such as newspaper websites, do not have to delete out-of-date pages, but that Google must not include them in search results once the information on the page is no longer relevant.

How you define relevancy goes to the very core of how a search engine works - if you're searching for information about whether an individual has ever been declared bankrupt, for instance, should that individual have the right to prevent that information from appearing among your search results?

And how can it be fair to apply this ruling to Google - even if it is applied equally to other search engine operators - while at the same time acknowledging, as the court did, that the website on which the information is published has done nothing wrong and doesn't need to delete or alter the information?

"Om nom nom tasty privacy" - Clancy the Troll, via floodllama

To be honest, this ruling leaves me feeling like I've been wasting my time all these years.

First off, I'm a freelancer - and I do tend to think it's fairly relevant if a potential client has a history of payment problems.

Second, I live a lot of my life online, and I don't think it's right to give individuals absolute power over the search results returned when you Google their name, it undermines net neutrality and sets a frankly dangerous precedent.

Third, I spent five years working in a news agency, and still regularly produce news updates for clients; and I think it is essential that matters of public record, like bankruptcies, should remain publicly accessible even if they are embarrassing.

On top of all of that, the European Commission are describing it as some kind of victory for citizens, as it reinforces the 'right to be forgotten' and gives EU residents a degree of control over their own online reputations.

Well that's all well and good, but a victory for the individual is a defeat for every other EU citizen who might have a legitimate reason to want to know about their past indiscretions.

The fact is, you can't rewrite history, and if you don't want people to think you're a dick, don't sue Google - just don't be a dick in the first place.

Read the full EU Court of Justice ruling here and watch the European Commission press conference below.

Repair Kik login problems with BlueStacks

Kik Messenger is undoubtedly a useful way to keep in touch with people, but Kik login problems can leave you feeling stranded, with no clear instructions on how to repair your installation or your account access.

The instructions from Kik themselves simply say to uninstall and reinstall the app, and if that doesn't work they blame your internet connection for being too slow, even if everything else is working fine.

My own experience of Kik login problems began last week when I received a 'hello' message from an unfamiliar account.

I don't know if that's directly to blame, or if it was just a coincidence, but I immediately stopped being able to receive messages, and in particular:
  • I could send messages, but Kik Messenger didn't tell me they had been received.
  • I could receive push notifications on my lock screen, but the message didn't show in the app itself.
The first thing I tried was to log out and back in - which, on Kik, is basically the same as resetting your account.

And that's where it all went spectacularly wrong; I couldn't log back in, because Kik said it was 'taking too long to download my contacts list' and I couldn't register a new account because, again, 'Oops. This is taking longer than usual.'

Finding a way to fix Kik Messenger took me about four days of fairly continual effort, but I managed to recover my Kik account in the end - it's not an entirely easy process, but if all else fails it might be worth a try.

BlueStacks App Player

My theory was that if I could just log into my account on a different device, I could tweak the settings, change my password and find a way back in on my phone too.

With no desktop version of Kik Messenger though (and I'm not one of those people who has three different smartphones lying around), I needed an alternative way to log in.

BlueStacks App Player is an Android emulator that effectively gives you a virtual Android tablet, which runs in a window on your PC or laptop.

Best of all, you can get Kik Messenger running in this window, allowing you to troubleshoot your account properly.


Download the BlueStacks App Player installation program, run it and follow the instructions.

You will be offered tick boxes to allow the program to connect to the App Store and so on - I'd suggest leaving these ticked, as you're going to need to install the Kik Messenger app once BlueStacks is up and running.

I found the installer to be a little buggy, so if it hangs at any point just close it and restart it - if you've tried everything else to fix Kik already, it's probably worth sticking with this method in spite of the potential hiccups.

Installing Kik

Once BlueStacks is running, it should be very easy to add Kik Messenger to your list of apps - just click on the Search button and search for Kik as you would on a smartphone or tablet.

Run the app and log in using your normal username or email address and your Kik password - hopefully it will work.

When you're into your account (assuming it works) check for any suspicious-looking recent messages. I deleted the conversation from the unfamiliar contact, and it fixed my entire account.

I don't know if it was a virus or anything like that, but it snarled up my account good and proper, and simply deleting it on the BlueStacks emulated version of Kik Messenger instantly fixed everything.

As soon as you have your account working on BlueStacks, and have deleted the most recent messages you received just before your account froze, go back to your smartphone and try logging in again - hopefully everything will be fixed.

Still Having Problems?

If you can't log in to your Kik account even on BlueStacks, consider resetting your password, in case your account has been hacked.

Visit the Kik reset password page (make sure you are on Kik.com and haven't been redirected to a spoof or hacker page before typing in your password).

If your account has been hacked and your email address changed, you may not be able to reset your password, but you should be able to register a new account and re-add all of your old contacts.

Once you manage to log in, Kik Messenger should restore all of your contacts, so it should be easy to start messaging people once again.

Just be aware, at present when you log into your Kik account on a different device, you lose your conversation history - but that's got to be better than being locked out of your account entirely.

'Job for copywriter'

This morning I received an offer of work, which came in an email with the subject line 'Job for copywriter' and in the To field, 'undisclosed recipients', which probably means it was sent out en masse.

Here's the email in full:


I found the post you placed in Internet that said you were looking for a writing job. As it just so happens, we’re badly in need of people with writing skills at the moment.

We’ve got a lot of projects at the moment and are planning more for the future. The main ones are in the areas of gambling, web hosting, Forex, and women’s issues (from pregnancy and birth to fashion and interior design).

The maximum rates are slightly different for each topic, and whether or not we offer them depends on the quality of the work that's submitted. Once you write a couple of test articles (which you will get money for, of course) we can agree on exactly what the price will be. The rates based on the slightly unusual system of pricing per 1000 characters, but each word is approximately 5 characters, so it's pretty easy to do the math, it just takes some getting used to. The prices are:

Gambling - $2.50/1000 characters (approximately $1/100 words)
Hosting - $4/1000 characters (approximately $1.60/100 words)
Forex - $5/1000 characters (approximately $2/100 words)
Women's issues - $3/1000 characters (approximately $1.20/100 words)

We pay out twice a month for all work that passes our system of screening. We have a team of in-house editors who know quite a bit about each of these topics, so we don’t pass articles that are obviously the product of half-reading a single Wikipedia page.

You can earn as much or as little as you want, since our projected volume is pretty high (about 400 articles a week). Additionally, you can build yourself a really solid portfolio in any of these topics, since our standards are quite high. However, if you need any help we’re always ready to give it to you. A lot of our previous writers have gone on to land much higher-paying gigs on the strength of what they wrote for us.

So, if you’re interested in the offer, please e-mail me back. I’m sure we can have a mutually productive and beneficial working arrangement.

Thanks for your time,
<Name Redacted>
Senior Editor, <Company Name Redacted>

I'm not really sure what I make of it. My first instinct was that the rates are an insult - from $10 to $20 per 1,000 words - but actually they're not so far from what I worked for when I first started freelancing.

I guess the alarm bells ring because of the need for proper research - I'm not averse to 'spinning' a Wikipedia page if the budget is tight and there's a decent page about the relevant topic, but I'm less willing to haggle when in-depth research is needed and the copy has to pass quality control before payment is approved.

That's not to say that I don't aim for good-quality copy, just that I tend not to agree to terms that give the client carte blanche to refuse to pay on any perceived problems with what I produce, whether I agree with them or not.

Anyway, if you happen to find this post and you are interested in writing for these people, let me know, and I'm sure I can put you in touch with them.

Social Media: Do you want it?

How does social media make you feel? Threatened? Empowered? Connected? Or is it just something you feel like you should get to grips with, for the sake of your business?

To Erika M Anderson, better known to her fans as EMA, it's a worry - not because of how she has been treated on social networks, but because of the experiences of others.

Her upcoming album, The Future's Void, is set for release on April 7th 2014, and its centrepiece is 3Jane, a track about losing your soul to the internet.

"No one was really ever that mean to me on the internet. I never had that 'thing' that happens when you wake up one morning and somehow your life is ruined because a mortifying picture goes viral or a 'funny' tweet becomes horribly misread. Sure, there were bitchy things in the comments of videos, but organized trolls never unleashed a wave of death threats on me, and only a few people suggested that I kill myself.

"So the internet never actually did that to me. But it did that to somebody. And now we all have this stupid crippling fear that someday it will happen to us. And the likelihood increases as you move from relative obscurity to becoming more broadly visible on the internet. There are more cameras on you, more chances to be quoted saying something stupid, and more people out there who relish seeing successful people disgraced and dethroned.

"Do you have that fear yet? Do you want it?"

- EMA, The Future's Void

EMA's words are a protest and a warning - both to herself, and to others - not to let online experiences get out of hand.

In EMA's case, she adds that she has found herself trying too hard to conform to expectations in the past, leading to over-sexualised, pouty photoshoots she barely recognises as herself.

Are we subjecting ourselves to peer pressure and paranoia that is actually self-inflicted? Or are there genuine expectations out there among our fans and in our customer base?

When you're staring down a lens - whether it is being wielded by a photographer, or attached to the front of a webcam - it can be hard to know for sure.

Is it any wonder that businesses (including performers and, yes, even writers like me) sometimes go wrong?

I've stumbled in the past due to misjudged tweets and misquoted articles in the press - and I've expressed a fair few opinions that other people might disagree with (often quite vehemently).

But I think my soul is intact, so far.

Other Testimonials

Sometimes I can't name a client, or positive comments are passed back to me via an agency... this is my page for anonymised versions of that feedback, which is otherwise as close to the original wording as possible.

July 31st 2015

"Excellent website copy written to a fantastic standard."
5/5 stars

March 20th 2014

"Client loved what you did with the intro page - carry on that man! (Actually, he called us 'awesome', so you are, officially, awesome, Bob! :-) )"

Time to update embedded Google Maps

The new Google Maps launched in February, and should be nearing the completion of its rollout on to desktops all over the world - read Google's announcement here.

But if you have a Google Map embedded into your website (and you should, if you have a physical location for people to find), it might be worth double checking that everything still looks as intended.

In particular, this is important if your business's marker on Google Maps is not quite in the right place.

Last month I looked at how to move a marker on New Google Maps, and used my dad's patio slabs business as an example (you can visit his blog here).

The map above should show the marker for Regal Concretes in exactly the right place - I know, because I put it there - but since the updated version of Google Maps launched, I've had to do some maintenance on the version of the map shown on my dad's blog.

That's because, until the marker was moved to the right place, I was using latitude and longitude coordinates to show it on the embedded map.

Under the old Google Maps, this wasn't a problem, as the lat-long coordinates were not displayed anywhere; but since the update, the embedded map (which is admittedly not huge) had a caption at the top-left AND one alongside the marker, both displaying the full lat-long coordinates of my dad's premises - not especially useful.

Having moved the marker to the right place, I was this time able to simply centre the map on my dad's business name, and embed a new version - I also opted for a road map view, rather than a satellite view, as map view is much sleeker under New Google Maps.

If you have embedded Google Maps on your blog or website, check them asap - making a new one is as simple as searching for your business, clicking the cog at bottom-right, and choosing the 'share or embed' option.

With such a simple process, there's no excuse for having an outdated map centred on a misplaced marker - so check it today!

Postman Splat

Postman Splat, Postman Splat,
Good job you don't live in a flat.

Early in the morning, just as day is dawning,
He drives into your front room in his van.

Everybody knows his bright red van.
Everybody screams as it drives... right... for... them... daily.

You can never be sure if there'll be crash! Bang! Headlights through your door...

Postman Splat, Postman Splat,
Good job you don't live in a flat.

You're up in your bedroom, doesn't leave much headroom,
If you survive then you're a lucky man.

Getty Images goes 'free to use'

There are approximately six million bloggers in the world who have prayed on at least three separate occasions for Getty Images to go 'free to use'.

I've made that statistic up, but the significant thing here is, if anything, I probably underestimated it.

So, unsurprisingly, my timeline's been pretty full over the past hour or so with the news that Getty Images HAS gone free to use.

In fact, that's a slight exaggeration - Getty Images is now no more of a free stock photo library than YouTube is a DVD collection; they've just done the sensible thing to hang on to control of more of their content, and it looks like this:

Important things to recognise:
  • this is not, in any way, a 'free stock photo'
  • it IS an embedded iframe, which may cause security alerts and compatibility issues for some visitors
  • you cannot remove the attribution from the bottom of it (not legitimately, anyway)
  • Getty Images can deactivate this functionality or alter it at any time
That means if you use embedded Getty Images widely across your blog, you run the risk of a huge headache if, at some later date, this functionality is altered in a way that makes it unsuitable for inclusion on your pages.

Importantly, you are also expressly forbidden from using these images for commercial purposes; whether that extends as far as marketing blogs is not entirely clear, but it definitely (probably) rules out sales pages.

Plus points:
  • this is infinitely better than stealing Getty Images' content, either the watermarked previews on their site, or their images used under licence elsewhere
  • it gives you legitimate access to a genuinely vast selection of professional stock photos, free
  • it's really easy to do - just click the embed icon beneath a picture preview on the Getty Images site, and copy the code into your blog post
  • you don't host the image yourself, meaning no extra bandwidth usage on your website hosting account
(Speaking of bandwidth, Getty Images have some pretty odd ideas of how to represent such an abstract concept...)

Do we like 'free' Getty Images? I'm not sure yet, but personally I'd rather use an image I can host myself wherever possible.

You won't, for example, be able to set a Getty Image as your post's 'featured image' in WordPress, as you don't have the image file itself to use.

Likewise, if you use CSS to set images as backgrounds to divs or spans or other elements, you won't be able to do so with Getty Images - you're strictly limited to embedding them as iframes.

Given that you have to attribute the creator of the image (via the footer in the iframe, which you have no control over) you might be better off just using something from Flickr that requires attribution.

Or there's Morguefile, which requires no attribution at all.

Or Wikimedia Commons, which generally does not require intrusive attribution on your page.

Or Google Images, filtered by usage type.

In all of these cases you should be able to find images you can use directly for commercial purposes - even adapt and edit if necessary - and that's much better for many people than simply embedding what is little more than a watermark-free preview.

For more about how to find free stock images (genuinely free to use images, not just embed code like Getty's), visit my full post here.

Move a Marker on New Google Maps

Some businesses (like mine!) don't have physical premises as such - and certainly not any that are ever visited by customers in person.

But if you do have a business address, it's increasingly important to make sure it is listed accurately on services such as Google Maps.

With the new Google Maps, moving a marker is not so easy, but it's still not impossible - you just have less direct control over where your marker ends up.

Gender Bending in 140 Characters or Fewer

So a curious thing happened yesterday; the comedian Dara O'Briain suggested that female panellists on BBC shows should be treated the same as male ones, and was reported as having said pretty much the opposite.

The Guardian, for instance, ran with the headline Dara O'Briain hits out at BBC ban on men-only panel shows, opened with his reference to female panellists as appearing to be the "token woman", and the first sizeable blockquote was this one:

"I wish a tenth of the energy that was put into the women-on-panel-shows debate was put into women in computer coding, in which there are hundreds of thousands of jobs in Europe, and 11% of them are done by women."

Mixed Messages and Risky Backlinking

This week I received an enquiry from a potential client - I'm not going to name them or give away anything identifiable, but in general terms I think their enquiry is worth a little discussion.

Firstly, because it seems to suggest that I'm ranking pretty highly in the search results (I think that's how they found me) and, indeed, as far as I can tell I'm now the top result for one of my main target keywords, 'didsbury copywriter', on Google.

I've seen some shuffling around on other key terms too, which is as it should be - as I frequently say, SEO isn't something you do once, you've got to keep at it to stay on top.

But the main thing that caught my eye here was what they were asking me - and other freelancers and SEO agencies - to actually do for them.

The enquiry was a call to tender for a decent-sized ongoing SEO contract, with only one definite requirement:

Pitch content to B2B publisher sites, e.g. blogs and industry websites, with the intention of obtaining links back to the client's website.

Uh oh. Does that sound familiar?

It sounds to me a little like what Matt Cutts described two weeks ago.

Or what Duane Forrester wrote about last week.

So I replied, in no uncertain terms, firmly recommending that the client reconsider their SEO campaign and steer it away from intensive link-building efforts, to focus instead on on-site content-building and on-page SEO (which still work, and always will work - good-quality content is the purest form of SEO).

Their reply was confusing, to say the least (I've paraphrased only slightly, to preserve anonymity):

"We're not worried about being penalised by Google for unnatural link-building, as we are not link-building ... Writing the content is not our priority; our priority is getting links built."

Eh? "We are not link-building, we're just prioritising link-building"??

I know I said I've paraphrased, but believe me, that is the message without any change to its general sentiment, it made no more sense than that.

Let me take this opportunity to say:

  • If you are spending four-figure sums on building links, you're engaged in unnatural link-building;
  • If you are engaged in unnatural link-building, both Google and Bing are likely to frown upon it;
  • If you talk in riddles, I'm likely to frown upon you too.

That being said, if you're looking to move away from unnatural link-building practices, I can help you build your own on-site content (on-page SEO still works, mmmkay?) and help you to rank highly using methods that Google will never penalise you for.

Food for thought :)

Restrict search results by date on Bing Search

Ever since I made the decision to give up on Google (when their organic Web Search results pages became so cluttered with ads that not a single organic result appeared on my screen without me scrolling), there has been one major problem with using Bing Search instead.

I got to grips with using loc:gb (Bing's way of limiting results to UK-only websites) in place of location:uk (Google's equivalent, and only supported on Google News anyway, not on Google Web Search).

I've come to terms with the fact that, if I want to search for images that are subject to a Creative Commons licence, I have to switch to the US version of Bing Image Search, not the UK version which I have set as default.

But as most of my work involves writing timely blog/news content for clients' websites, the thing I've really missed has been the ability to restrict my results to the past day, week, month or so on.

Until now...

The solution I'm about to outline is not particularly elegant, but it works without having to switch to a different country's version of Bing, or delve into advanced search settings.

All you need to remember is the following, seemingly random sequence of characters:


Append it to the end of your Bing Search results page URL (which probably ends with &sk= by default) and you can limit your results by one of the following time periods:

d - the past 24 hours (or 'day', if you prefer...!)
w - the past week
m - the past month (not sure if this means 28 days, 30 days, exact calendar month etc)
y - the past year

So to limit results to the past week, you would paste &tbs=qdr:w on to the end of the URL.

It's a slightly awkward, messy hack, but given how messy Google has always been at limiting or sorting by date/recency, I actually don't find this method to be any less convenient than ploughing into Google's Search Tools bar only for it to claim that sorting by date means there are now zero results.

As far as I know, there's no GUI setting in Bing Search at the moment to access this functionality, but I've tested it and pasting the parameter on to the URL manually is working for me at the moment.

One more nail in the Google coffin; one more (for me) essential function I can now do with Bing. Hooray!

Update: If you find it hard to remember that URL snippet you need to add to your search results, you might want to do what I've just done.

Hit ctrl-d to bookmark/favorite this page, place it on your favorites bar, and name it &tbs=qdr (you won't be allowed to include the : but hopefully you can remember to add :d for day, :w for week, etc.).

You should now have a little link on your favorites bar, which displays &tbs=qdr as a handy reminder, and if you're ever totally stuck just click it to come to this page for a full reminder of what you need to do.

You Can't Put Your Muck In Our Dustbin

The latest instalment of Things I shouldn't put on a 'professional' blog.

2014 has been a bad year for bin collections. There's a fascinating opening line for you - buckle in, this one's gonna be a thrill ride!

When you're a borderline alcoholic (like me!), Glass Bin Day can be quite an important date on your calendar, especially when the 'glass bin' also has all of your empty cans and plastic bottles in it.

In short, everything you've drunk for the past fortnight goes in the same bin. Add to that all of your other packaging waste, and it can get pretty full, pretty fast.

Guest blogs put in the frame by Google

or, What's in a name for guest contributions?

Google's head of webspam Matt Cutts has put the cat among the pigeons once again, this time by declaring "stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done".

This rather bold statement comes in response to a spam email he received, offering free content for his blog in exchange for one or several 'dofollow' links placed in the article text, in order to pass PageRank to the target page.

You have to wonder about the kind of person who would target Matt 'Head of Webspam' Cutts with a spam email, but that's another matter entirely - the question here is, Is guest blogging dead?

It's nice to have a much more specific question to ask than the usual Is SEO dead? (no, it's not) but whichever side you're on, it's impossible to entirely disprove the opposing argument.

Turn off Date Autocomplete in Word 2007

This has been bugging me for a while now - in Word 2007, when you type the year, you're given the option to 'autocomplete' the full date in American format.

Now, this is probably useful in a lot of circumstances, but for me it's never, ever useful. First of all, I would format that date 07/01/2014, not 2014-01-07, and second of all, I just don't insert dates in either format into the vast majority of my documents.

What I do, though, is start my documents with Client Name Jan 2014 (or whatever the relevant month and year might be), and when I hit enter to insert a line break, I get the month and day tagged on to the end of that header whether I like it or not.

"It's in Settings, under Autocorrect/Autocomplete..." No, it's not, I've looked. Believe me, I've looked through every setting for anything relating to autocomplete, autocorrect or autoformatting dates, there's no toggle option for this in Word 2007.

So what's the solution? Herb Tyson has the answer here, but as it requires you to write a Macro, I've recreated the process below with screenshots for those of you who are not familiar with programming in Visual Basic (don't be scared, it's easier than it sounds).