Thursday, 31 December 2015

My Goals for 2016

I am not big on New Year's resolutions but goals is something I can get behind, something I can work towards. A friend of mine listed a number of goals he wanted to accomplish next year and I thought that was such a great idea. I would like to do the same.

The thing I like about goals, rather than resolutions, is in order for a goal to be effective they need to be quantitative. Even if it is a single goal, it is either completed or not.

I am on maternity leave right now with a lovely little boy and a preschooler so I think it would be best to keep my goals relatively light for next year. Mainly because getting anything done is an accomplishment in itself these days. Seriously, I don't know how single parents do it and that is another thought for another day.


Writing Blog Posts

I would like to start writing blog posts again. It has been a long time since I posted on any blog and at times I do miss it. Being able to talk about something can be very therapeutic sometimes.

My bog post writing goal is to write a minimum of one post a week. Keeping it light and do-able.

Write to Someone

I am seriously the worst at writing letters to anyone. You would think with all the technology about it would be a breeze to do. I guess I just prefer to talk face to face. I think that is why my emails tend to be short and to the point. Unless I am trying to explain something, something technical perhaps, and then that is another story.

I did try something like this once before after I read an article talking about the importance of keeping in touch. They suggested to write to a family member or a close friend once a day; write to your mentor once a week; and to write an email to your boss letting them know what you did today. It was an article that encompassed a few different areas of your life and I found it an interesting read. I should try to find that online article again and provide a link here when I find it.

I would like to pick this up again but perhaps reducing the frequency might work out better for me.

My correspondence goal is to write to someone once every other day.

Re-Decorate the Living Room

Lots of light comes through and lightens up the living room provided by one very large window and a patio door from the adjacent kitchen, which makes for one very inviting room. We never really finished decorating the living room after we moved in a few ago and some of the furniture does not work well with the current colour scheme.

My living room redecorating goals are as follows:
I am going to post some unwanted furniture on Kijiji
Bring someone in (or do it myself) to finish the trim
Buy some furniture that would works nicely with the current space

Read More

I can see a lot of people saying they would like to read more. I already read a lot I think. Well, more than some and certainly not as much as heavy readers. Certainly enough to say I read, I guess.

I think I would like to read less fiction, maybe restrict those to only audio books while I commute to and from work, and read more non-fiction books that pertain to technology, dogs, or parenting. Two topics always of interest to me and one I want to know more of so I can play a better part in raising two decent fine young men.

My non-fiction goals are to read 1/2 hour to an hour a day on one of those three mentioned topics. And, audio books count, especially now while it is hard to get any sleep while one of my boys is still an infant. Boy oh boy, I am telling you, I am looking forward to the day when my infant starts sleeping through the night.

Yes, my goals for 2016 are fairly light and my reasoning is thus: I also want to spend time with my two boys.

I think my goals can be manageable and I am going to try and see how it goes.

Thank you Steve Bedard for posing the question on your personal blog. Forget about New Year's resolutions, I challenge you to set some goals for 2016. What are your goals?

Monday, 22 July 2013

Drawing More Visitors to Your Website using Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

I am often asked by people how they can improve and draw more visitors to their website. These days having a nice clean looking website is not enough to get listed within the first few pages of a Google search let alone on the most sought after top-half of the first page of a Google search result.

Why is the top-half of the first page of a Google search the most sought after spot? Because it is the first thing people see after ‘doing a search’. Most people will scroll to the bottom of the first page and a few will visit page two and three but results beyond the first three pages are rarely looked at. Therefore, it becomes highly important to get as close as you can to the top of the first page of search results.

It is not hard but it takes some brainstorming, research and tweaking on your part. There are two main components search-engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo (and there are countless others) look for: the domain name and the meta-tag details for each of your web pages. And, there are three main meta tags to have and tweak.

Lately I have been watching baking competitions lately so let’s say I have a friend, Jane Smith, who wants to start a website about baking. She wants to write articles about different baking techniques, share recipes, and sell organic vanilla beans online.

The Domain Name

The domain name is the name of your website and it usually begins with a www prefix and it is more important than you realize; so choose wisely. If you want a .com address, you have to think creatively to find an unique address because .com domain names have been around for a long time and are very popular. Search engines tend to give a lot of weight to domain names based on the keywords in the web address and the website’s popularity.

So my example friend, Jane, wants to use www.smithsbaking.com because that is the name of her website; and both the domain name and the title include her last name and her subject matter. For most people, that is enough and they then concentrate their efforts on the Meta tags.

Jane also wants to sell lots of online orders selling her organic vanilla beans and decides to have an additional domain name that is forwarded to her website. She acquires www.organicvanillabeans.com and gets some help forwarding this domain to www.smithsbaking.com because when people type ‘organic vanilla beans’ in a search engine she has a greater chance of her website being listed right at the very top of the first page of someone’s search result when they type the search term ‘organic vanilla beans’.

Having additional domain names is not for everyone but it can serve a temporary or a long term purpose to draw more people to your website. The only drawback of having multiply domains is it can be costly to acquire and renew each year.

Meta-Tag Details

Editing the Meta tags to each web page is the best and cheapest way to draw more people to your website.

I hope you noticed I said to edit each web page. Often what happens is a person provides information to for the Meta tags for the front page of their website (because they are following the directions of a template for example) and then the same tags are copied throughout their website. Search engines robots that scourer the internet for new or updated websites will skip searching deeper into a website if they find the exact same Meta tags for every single page. In the case of Jane’s baking website with a side business of selling organic vanilla beans, her side business may likely be skipped altogether and may never get indexed with search engines. So the key is to make the Meta tags unique to every single web page within a website.

There three main Meta tags to have and edit frequently and they are the title, keywords and description.

For the title meta tag I often suggest to use the title of the page itself followed by the name of the website. For example, “Jane’s  Baking Recipes | Smith’s Baking” or “For Sale Organic Vanilla Beans at Smith’s Baking”. Please note I tried to place as many keywords about the page within the title itself. If someone searches for the phrase “baking recipes” then the page titled “Jane’s Baking Recipes  - Smith’s Baking” will most likely be listed higher in a search result than “Recipes  - Smith’s Baking”.  Read more…

Keyword meta tags should be a list words or phrases unique to your website separated by commas. If we take Jane’s baking website as an example, she may want to use “baking recipes”, “baking techniques”, and “American style baking” as possible examples. Read more…

The description meta tags should be a brief paragraph no longer than 250 characters describing what a visitor may find on the page. While there are a growing number of search engines that capture a longer description, it is best to side with caution by making each description compact, to the point and limited to 250 characters. I strongly advise the description to the first page be a short description about the whole website. When possible try to use as many keywords within the paragraph as possible. Read more…

Getting listed closer to the top of any search result also depends on the popularity of a website (how often a website is visited by people) and how often the website is updated. Popular websites usually have very descriptive and concise titles, keywords, and descriptions (for each or at least their main pages).

In order to get your website listed high in search results it is important to spend the time to tweak each and every web page you have by making the best title you can think of and including a well put together list of keywords phrases and coming up with the very descriptive and concise description. These three Meta-tag elements together can help you make your website a popular destination on your subject matter.

I hope you have found this helpful when editing your website. Make sure to follow the Read more… links for more in-depth information on Titles, Keywords, and Description meta tags. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or drop me an email, I would love to hear from you.

Constructing Meta-Tags: Titles

This post is a continuation of Drawing More Visitors to Your Website using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) where I explain in greater detail constructing web page titles and their importance.

Web page titles should be an extremely brief description of the web page content teasing a potential visitor to read more. And if possible, the title of the website should also be included.

Let’s say Jane Smith who recently decided to create a baking website now needs to write some web pages. One page she is working on is about baking recipes. At first she uses “Recipes | Smith’s Baking” but then changes it to “Baking Recipes | Smith’s Baking”. By making her title more specific, people doing a search for “baking recipes” will have an easier time finding her website.

The more concise but informative you can be about your title the better.

After working on her web pages some more, Jane realizes she has a number of recipes with peanut butter in them and decides to make a whole page all about baking with peanut butter. An example of an ideal title could be “Baking Recipes using Peanut Butter | Smith’s Baking”. Now her web page has the potential of being listed higher in a search result when someone is looking for recipes with peanut butter in them because she incorporated some of the keywords of her page in the title.

Today’s web page trend is to have the title of the website included in each title and it does look rather nice when you see these web pages listed in search results with the title included. “Baking Recipes | Smith’s Baking”

In my examples I often use “ | ” to separate the title of the web page and the title of the website but you have many options. Other symbols could be “ - “, “ / “ or even a comma; while others choose to incorporate the title of the website with the title of the page by using the word “on” or “at”. I often advise people to visit other popular websites to get ideas. Whatever you choose be consistent of your choice throughout your website.

You can see what it looks like right away by hovering your mouse over the tab of your internet browser like Microsoft Internet Explorer; see image.  What you see there is how your page will appear in a search results.

The title of the front page is usually just the name of the website, “Smith’s Baking”, but does not have to be. Some websites use a catch phrases often referred to as a tag line along with the title of the website like “The best home town baking anywhere in America | Smith’s Baking, “Hmmmm.. Something smells so yummy at Smith’s Baking” or “Smith’s Baking has some of the best baking recipes anywhere”. The ideas are endless and it should be needless to say leaving the title as “Index” is unadvisable.

In the HTML code, the tags you are looking for are <title> and it should end with </title>. Fill in your title of the web page in between those HTML tags. Remember to be creative and unique along with descriptive and concise.

I hope you have found this helpful when editing your website. Make sure to read Drawing More Visitors to Your Website using Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or drop me an email, I would love to hear from you.

Constructing Meta-Tags: Keywords

This post is a continuation of Drawing More Visitors to Your Website using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) where I explain in greater detail constructing web page keyword meta-tags and their importance.

Keywords are a list of words or phrases about your web page. Each page should have a different list of keywords that reflect that page. Search engines like Google use keywords listed in web pages to find the best matches to search term(s) people use when searching for websites. Search engines will most likely skip web pages if your list of keywords phrases is non-existent or is a poor list.

Let’s use Jane Smith baking website as an example. She has a web page about baking recipes and she needs to put together some keyword tags. Her keywords are as follows:

“baking recipes, American style baking recipes, free baking recipes, home style baking recipes, guilt-free baking recipes”

Jane has another web page all about baking with peanut butter and her keyword list could be as follows:

“peanut butter recipes, peanut butter baking recipes, low-fat peanut butter baking recipes, crushed peanuts baking recipes, crushed peanuts”

Notice my keyword list consisted of phrases and not just single words. The two examples of keywords had a total of five keywords each. Depending on your website, single words as keywords may be appropriate but phrases are usually used.

An example of a poor keyword list would be
  • Using the same word(s) over and over again. “baking, baking, baking, baking, baking” Search engine frown upon this.
  • Having a really long list - having more than five lines on a page as an example. Many search engines will only take in a limited number of characters and stop looking at your exhaustive list.
  • Worst yet: Not having a keyword list at all.
Steps to keep in mind:
  • Try to use descriptive keyword phrases just like the ones you would use when doing a search yourself.
  • Try to order your list of keywords starting with the best ones listed first and ending with the not so great ones at the very end of your list. This way you don’t have to worry too much of possible character number limitations to various search engines. They will all capture your best ones at the beginning.
  • Find all the unique words in your page and incorporate them in your keywords. For Jane’s wonders of peanut butter baking recipes web page, some of her unique words she found in her page were peanut butter, baking, recipes, peanuts, crushed peanuts, low fat peanut butter and peanut butter substitutes.
  • Use commas to separate each keyword phrase.
In the HTML code, the tag you are looking for looks as follows: <meta name="keywords" content="insert keywords between the quotation marks" />

With Jane’s peanut butter baking recipe example, her HTML code will look as follows:

<meta name="keywords" content="peanut butter recipes, peanut butter baking recipes, low-fat peanut butter baking recipes, crushed peanuts baking recipes, crushed peanuts” />

Remember to be creative, descriptive but concise, and list the most important or the best keyword phrases first.

I hope you have found this helpful when editing your website. Make sure to read Drawing More Visitors to Your Website using Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or drop me an email, I would love to hear from you.

Constructing Meta-Tags: Description

This post is a continuation of Drawing More Visitors to Your Website using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) where I explain in greater detail constructing web page description meta-tags and their importance.

The description meta-tag of a web page should be a brief descriptive and concise paragraph about your web page. Most search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo will use this paragraph underneath the web page title when listing your web page in search results. Think of this paragraph as a way to make your web page link stand out and encourage potential visitors to come visit your web page.

Treat your description tag as a complete paragraph with corrected spelling, grammar and punctuation; just like you would the content of your web page.

Incorporate as many keywords as naturally possible in your description. This is helpful to raise your web page in search results by matching keywords found in your description (and keyword list) to words people might use when utilizing a search engine like Google.

Limit your paragraph to 250 characters or less. Some search engine can capture up to 350 characters or more but if you limit your description to 250 characters then your description won’t be cut off by the majority of search engines currently used.

The description for your front page should be a paragraph describing your whole website.

In the HTML code, the tag you are looking for looks as follows: <meta name="description" content="insert description paragraph between the quotation marks" />

Here is an example of a description meta tag for a web page about baking recipes with peanut butter.

<meta name="description" content=" Baking with peanut butter is easy and can be so delicious. Try out one of my many baking recipes utilizing peanuts, a wonderful and versatile ingredient." />

I hope you have found this helpful when editing your website. Make sure to read Drawing More Visitors to Your Website using Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or drop me an email, I would love to hear from you.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

New Project: Go Paperless

Lately I have been on a ‘go totally paperless’ kick. I am an avid note taker and I have been for years. I take notes on ideas, thoughts, and just about anything I want to remember or do later. I am also the Queen of checklists. Seriously, ask my spouse! I carry a notebook in my purse at all times for such things. These days I have been carrying my trusted notebook and an iPad, and frankly lately I am thinking this is crazy. Technology has progressed over the years and there has got to be something out there that is going to meet my needs and replace my trusted notebook.

1. I have been doing a lot of research thus far on styluses I want to try out and iPad applications I also may want to use. One of the many questions I have for myself is (1) what do I want to do exactly, and (2) how am I using my paper notebook now?

2. I want to take notes. I want something that I can use a stylus with to hand-write my ideas, thoughts, and notes without the letters on the screen being one to two inches high, because if the letters are so big then you can only get one or two notes down before you have to start another page. What if I am at a meeting or at a lecture where I want to or need to concentrate on the speaker? I want to write notes down without having to concentrating too much on how I am getting the words down and how the letters are fitting on the page. Notes may include lists, flow charts, diagrams, and the list can go on here.

3. I want to be able to import images and write on them. A perfect example of this happened to me yesterday when our Handy-person came over to fix a few things for us. I wanted these floating shelves I got from Ikea installed in the baby room. I wanted one shelve flush to the adjacent wall and the second one underneath it but over to the side part way. I needed some help expressing what I wanted. ‘A picture is a thousand words’ as the cliché goes so I grabbed my iPad, snapped a photo, and imported the image in an iPad App (I recently downloaded to try out). I used my index finger as a pen because I do not have a stylus yet and drew two lines to show approximately where I wanted these new shelves to be hung. My on the spot edited photo explained exactly what I wanted quickly and now my shelves look great.

4. I want to be able to draw out diagrams as well and then add comments to them.

5. I want to be able to save ‘pages’ as PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) files. This is critical must have feature.

6. And lastly, I want to be able to import PDF files and write on them like I am making comments in the margins or filling out an application like I would if I had printed out the document and sat down with my pen.

Thus far, I have a pretty distinct wish and needs list. So my journey begins, to go paperless I need to find a stylus that is right for me and an iPad app that is right for me.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Online Fundraising Auction using UrberCart (Drupal module)

The Havanese Fanciers of Canada (HFC) wanted to hold an online fundraising auction to raise money for their rescue, Havanese Fanciers of Canada Rescue, Inc. They work with local shelters, veterinary clinics, and tireless volunteers across Canada assisting Havanese or Havanese-typed dog needing a second chance or some minor help. Their online auction is call Havanese Rescue Benefit Auction.

One of their fundraising efforts involves hosting an online auction. In the past, they would hold these online auctions between a defined time-frame and email their bids in. One person would receive each bid and manually edit web pages as bids came in. In the beginning, this process wasn’t too bad but by the end came, the process became a mere nightmare for the person at the receiving end of bids. This person would have to deal with late bids; bids with little to no information on what they were trying to bid on; people asking who bid last and instructions if so-and-so does a bid on item X, then out-bid them for me; and the list of follies of manually running an auction goes on.

There were two prior years where they have done an automated online auction and they were done on a Drupal 5 (the latest version at the time), and a different product/auction module. The developers of this auction module admitted their module was Aces in their previous version 4 and would consider making the same improvements in version 5 of their module if someone would step up and pay them to develop it. On behalf of HFC, I sent them an email of inquiry and it was far too pricy to bother taking it forward anywhere. I even researched who else was interested in seeing their module developed to split the costs but these other organizations were just like HFC who do not have a lot, don’t get a lot, and do the absolute best with whatever they get.

The club wanted to do another online auction this year. I did recommend eBay for the easy and simplicity of it but cost was and still is a large factor to any decision they make. Despite eBay’s ease of use, large audience, recognizably, and able plug-in modules its eBay’s cost was one the clincher for us. Here are a few reasons discussed: (1) EBay’s cost are hard to justify for a very small auction; (2) Most eBay’s audience are looking for deals and this is opposite of the club’s goals; and (3) the club currently asks donors to pay for shipping costs which is opposite to the eBay culture.

Their hearts were set on an online auction that was both close to free as possible and somewhat automated. Research began for an auction website to subscribe to, or an auction Drupal module to install and configure. I did find something in UrberCart, a Drupal module actively developed by UrberCart, http://www.ubercart.org/what_is_ubercart.

Havanese Fanciers of Canada Rescue’s website, http://www.HavaneseRescue.ca, is currently on Drupal 6 series core platform. Drupal is content management software allowing many editors to update the website at the same time. The very basics of UrberCart are enabled and configured to do just the following: (1) provide auction products, (2) payments using check or paypal, (3) automated notice system to inform bidder of items they were out-bid on and items they won. These were their requirements for an online auction.

Even though the club is using a small portion of the UrberCart module, it is able to provide so much more to other websites: shipping and handling, purchasing multiple quantities, taxes, product attributes, many other product types (roles, files, etc). You can read up more about UrberCart at http://drupal.org/project/ubercart or http://www.ubercart.org/. Also there are a number of add-on modules develop by other developers to add other functionality.

Because Drupal is a content management software allowing multiple editors to dig in, many of the project’s committee members were log in and got involved in posting new products, reviewing products and bids, and participated in some practice bidding prior to the live auction. This really gave committee members to get their hands dirty, get a real feel for the auction, clear up, and make corrections anything that may not fit with their goals, the website flow, and so forth.

Bidders appreciate the automated messages and they are sent during every cron job, so to make sure people get their automated messages within a reasonable amount of time, the cron jobs frequency was temporarily changed to every 15 minutes. Bidder are receiving their automated messages once per item and within 15 minutes. So far, this has been working out well.

Their auction is currently running until March 25th. We will be sending out an online survey afterwards to truly evaluating the real success of the club’s use of this module. So far, committee members are dealing with resetting passwords, which has nothing to do with the UrberCart module, and they are receiving many positive feedback.