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Guaranteed Google rankings: Are they possible?

Published on October 20, 2010
Tags: SEO

We're often asked if it's possible to guarantee a number one ranking on Google, with clients showing us references to companies that claim they can. The following video, direct from Google, helps to dispell the myth that no. 1 rankings can be guaranteed. Should you be approached by a company claiming they can guarantee positions in this way, you should beware.

This is not to say that optimisation cannot work for a site because it can - and does. We have many clients that have benefitted from search engine optimisation campaigns. But, any SEO campaign should be undertaken in an ethical manner with realistic expectations as to the placement results. Good SEO involves a good working partnership and a high level of understanding between the client and the optimisation company. When that's in place, you'll build a business plan that is achievable and successful, with search engine position you'll be happy with not just tomorrow, but in the months and years to come.

Should you be looking for search engine optimisation services, contact us today for a free no-obligation quote.

By Chelsey Evans

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Can you be sure your web designer is doing a good job?

Published on October 4, 2010
Tags: Web Design London

Time and again, we've seen clients who have had a bad experience with their web designer. Sometimes it’s obvious; the web design is broken, the functionality doesn't work properly, there are massive delays on the project, or the website designer just disappears.

Other times, though, things may not be so easy to spot but could have equally serious implications for your web site and for your business.

You run a business though, and you shouldn’t have to concern yourself with what goes on behind the scenes.  So what is it that you need to look out for and more importantly, why?

  1. Poorly written, insecure code. This is the most common problem we find when we’re reviewing code written by other web designers. It you have any kind of database on your site (such as a content management system or ecommerce web site), or any kind of customer login facility, this can be the most serious issue you need to concern yourself with.  Poorly written code can make your site vulnerable to SQL injection and HTML injection attacks which can lead to situations such as hacked, virus-infected web pages being displayed on your site through to far more serious issues such as the theft of customer data – which can also put you at risk of prosecution under the Data Protection Act.

  2. Business logic mixed up with controller code. Code should be written in a structured, layered format with a layer for the database, a layer for the business logic (the rules and functions about how data gets in and out of a database), and a layer for the presentation (what actually gets displayed on visitor’s web browser). Actually, there’s a bit more too it than that, but that’s the core of it in simple terms. Very often, poor programming will mix the layers together which can make management of the code extremely difficult, can make the code unreliable, and can make it difficult to provide fixes and updates to.

  3. Bad coding practices. Code can be written in a number of ways and it depends on the developer’s training and preference as to how they might write individual functions and pieces of code. A developer with a strong background in coding methodology and who keeps their skills regularly up-to-date will generally write code better than someone that may have learnt in a more ad-hoc way and doesn’t continue with any ongoing training. Poor coding practices can lead to the situations mentioned above, as well as poor-performing code that can affect, for example, the speed of page loads (which affect Google positions) or the speed of on-site searching.

  4. Lack of commented code. Generally, good practice dictates that when code is written, each function within the code should be commented. This helps any other developer who updates the code to better understand what the code is intended to do, and how changing it will affect other parts of the website. Lack of comments indicate a lazy approach to coding, and can make it almost impossible for another developer to pick up the code and successfully make changes without having some other documentation (such as a technical specification) to work with.

Sadly, unless you are familiar with code you’re not likely to be able to spot the above four issues so how can you tell whether your code is well written or not:

  1. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t forget the old adage that if it’s too good to be true then it probably is. In web design, this is certainly the case. Whilst you may be working to a budget, don’t pick the lowest quote if all of the others are considerably more expensive. If you are going to outsource overseas then do be aware that the majority of poor code reviews that we conduct are from well known overseas outsourcing countries. That’s not to say that every company in an overseas location is incapable – there are good ones out there – but the prevalence of poor coding habits, driven perhaps by the educational process for developers, is higher.

  2. If your project has had problems, get your code reviewed. If you project has been troublesome, running late, or your developers have had problems fixing bugs when you raise them then consider having the source code reviewed by a third party. Very often, there are obvious warning signs such as these that things are not going to be ideal behind the scenes. The sooner in the development process you are able to do this, the better.

  3. Don’t pay everything upfront! It sounds obvious, but it does happen. Typically, you may be asked to pay 30% on project commission, 40% when the beta site is delivered and 30% on project conclusion. Most developers won’t release the full code until you’ve paid in full, which is fair, but you should be able to ask for a portion of the code at beta which can be reviewed by a third party. Then, if problems are found with the code quality you can either ask your developer to rectify them or reach an agreement to close the project off at a discounted total fee and move to another developer who can conclude your project.  It’s worth noting though, that a reputable developer may review your original developer’s code and tell you that you need to start again. This is the worst news to receive, but it is sometimes a necessity to go back to the beginning to get it absolutely right.

If you are currently looking for a web developer to complete your web site because you’re experiencing difficulties with your existing supplier, contact us today for a free assessment and no-obligation discussion.

By Chelsey Evans

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Is your website ready for the UK VAT change from 17.5% to 20%?

Published on October 1, 2010
Tags: Web Design London

As you’ll no doubt know, on 1 January 2011 the UK VAT rate will change from 17.5% to 20%. Many businesses now run websites where VAT is an integral part of their web site, and we have already started planning to update clients’ web sites where necessary. In fact, we’ve even started receiving new requests from companies that aren’t our clients!

Most of our clients have the ability to change the VAT rate on their web site design themselves, which is of course by design! But, that’s not always the case on some static sites, or even if self-management is possible some clients may not feel confident with making the change themselves.

This is where we come in. If you know your site needs updating to support the 20% valued added tax rate, and either your site doesn’t allow you to do it or you don’t feel confident in doing it, contact us today. We’ll review your site and advise you if we can add you to our schedule and if a charge will need to be levied or if we can make the change for free.

Do hurry though, because our VAT change to web sites list is filling up fast!

By Chelsey Evans

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Why choosing the wrong optimisation company could mean the end of your web business

Published on April 30, 2009
Tags: SEO

It's a sensational title, I know, but the underlying message it delivers is true; if you work with the wrong optimisation company to improve your search engine rankings you could end up being blacklisted for months or even years by the search engines.

"So how do you decide who's good and who's not?" I hear you ask. Well first, let's just step back to look at some key elements of optimisation:

  • On-page optimisation techniques. These include changes to the TITLE and META tags, the page content, the links between pages and the links out to other sites.

  • Inbound linking. These include links from directory sites, sites related to your industry, a few sites not related to your industry, blogs, social networking sites, and more.

  • Articles and content. These include on-topic articles about your business or industry that can either be placed on your web site or on a 3rd party site with a link back to your site.

This isn't a complete list, but it is fair to say that they do represent a large proportion of what is done. Three bullet points makes it sound quite simple and quick to do. However, the reality is quite different ' optimisation is a highly complex and highly intensive processes. It is neither quick nor easy to be a master in achieving top placed rankings for your company.

So when you come to judge a company's ability to optimise your site, look out for the following:

  1. Price. If it is too cheap to be true, then that is probably is the case. We have heard of clients who have paid for cheap optimisation deals only to find that the whole task has been done completely using automated tools are about as effective as doing nothing. Optimisation is a manual task that can only effectively be completed with manual intervention and review. Of course, automated tools can assist with some support tasks but can never be the mainstay of the campaign.

  2. Speed. Be wary of companies offering guaranteed Google listings in a matter of days as the primary feature of their service. The only way this can be achieved is through pay-per-click advertising. Indeed, we have seen clients that have paid for such services only to find that their so called 'optimization' campaign was nothing more than pay-per-click though and through.

  3. Techniques. There is good optimisation, bad optimisation and ignorant optimisation. The first of these are companies that will do everything by the book, never using techniques that will likely cause the site problems now or in the future. Bad optimisation is the opposite; companies that deliberately use unethical optimisation techniques that might generate you the results in the short term, but in the longer term will result in your website being banned and blacklisted by the search engines. Finally, there is ignorant optimisation. These are companies that just give bad or outdated advice - not through any attempt to deceive but simply because they haven't kept up with the latest changes in optimisation (a frequently changing industry). Such companies may inadvertently cause your site to be penalised by the search engines and at best will not help you to see the returns you desire.

Whilst Price and Speed are relatively easy to spot, Techniques is much harder unless you are technically aware. So how can you identify a bad or ignorant optimisation company?

  • Ask for examples of positions achieved in highly competitive fields. By highly competitive, we mean that if you search for a term and there are 1-2 million or more search returns.

  • Next, ask to speak to the clients that they are demonstrating positions for. When you contact them, find out how long it took to achieve those positions, how often the SEO company provides reports on positions, how often they offer advice on how to improve the positions further through things that can be done on the site.

    What you are seeking to find out here is that the client's top-placed positions didn't happen overnight but over a period of months (or even years), that they have been maintaining those positions for some while, and that the SEO company provides at least bi-monthly reporting and at least quarterly advice on site improvements that will help with better positions. This demonstrates via a non-technical means that the SEO company is using best practice ' it isn't an absolute, but does provide you with a good rule of thumb

  • Visit the client's web site with the top positions and select Edit -> Select All from your browser's menu bar. When you do this, does any text on the page suddenly appear where previously you couldn't see it? This is a very old practice, but some companies still believe that it works for top-placed positions. If you see this, find another company.

  • Finally, ask the optimization company how they build links. Do they (a) Use automated programs to build links (bad), (b) Manually build links from selected websites without investigating the sites that they link from other than making sure it has good 'PageRank' (bad), (c) Manually build links from selected web sites, checking each site to ensure that it is reputable, has a good inbound link structure of its own, is related well to your industry, and has good 'PageRank' (good).

If you select a search engine marketing company well, you can expect high ranking positions and a long and prosperous relationship together. However, if you select badly the effects can be long-lasting and potentially devastating. For example, it is known that Google has the ability to store copies of your site from the day that you created it. This means, copies of all of the techniques you have used to optimise it. We also know that Google actively penalises sites for breaching its best practice guidelines in ways that deliberately and unethically try to manipulate the index. On that basis, the next logical step is that as the volume of sites grows, Google could start to give sites that have always been ethical in their approach better treatment and positions that sites that at some time or another have used more dubious methods. On that basis, we recommend that from the earliest moment you seek out an use only the best, proven optimisation companies that you can find.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google Gmail Down - Service Outage?

Published on March 1, 2009
Tags: Web Hosting

On 24 February 2009 at approximately 10am GMT we lost access to Google Gmail. We have an office in Greece where I'm based and Gmail was completely inaccessible. All other sites we access were fine. I then remote controlled onto a couple of servers we have in London, UK and tried from there. Both came back with identical messages; server error.

So, is the outage due to a Google Gmail issue on a large scale, or possibly due to ISP / routing problems? I've raised the issue with an account manager we have at Google, and if / when I hear more, I'll post it here for you!

11am GMT, 24/02/09 Update: PocketLint posted an article regarding the GMail downtime, and comments to the article appear to suggest this is a global problem affecting the Gmail site but not direct access via desktop email clients.

12.30pm GMT, 24/02/09 Update: Service appears to have been restored now, although no notification for the outage has been provided by Google.

More generally, as cloud computing and software as a service become ever more popular, one must wonder; is there a higher duty of responsibility and care upon service providers to ensure 100% uptime because we, as end-users / clients, trust our businesses to them?

By Chelsey Evans

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