Getting visual publicity about #EUVAT and #VATMOSS

Sorry to keep banging on about #EUVAT and #VATMOSS, but I have some exciting news to tell you!

I belong to and regularly read, contribute and share in a vibrant Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DigitalVAT2015/ where I find out as much as I can on this subject. After all, this does affect my livelihood. The power of everyone coming together to learn, share and support during this moment of crisis is commendable and exciting, and I’m totally appreciative to be part of this community.

I have a friend, Jill Wigmore-Welsh, who lives near me and who has a contact in the BBC, as she used to regularly speak on the radio. She made some enquiries and arranged for a reporter for BBC South Today to come and visit her, and also me, as examples of nano businesses who will be caught up in the #EUVAT and #VATMOSS legislation.

Reporter from BBC South Today interviewing me about #EUVAT and #VATMOSS

As you can see it was a bit cramped with me, the interviewer and camera man squeezed into my little office!

They were there for an hour, resulting in about two minutes of reportage. I was very pleased, and also thankful to Jill for arranging this. Their main focus was on the time and cost expense incurred for a nano business caught up in this affair, so the other ideas, concepts and requests the campaign is working towards were not included.

But that doesn’t matter. What is important is that more awareness is generated about our plight regarding #EUVAT and #VATMOSS to another audience other than the Facebook group, Twitter storms (we managed to rank #4 in the world!) and people blogging about it in as many places as possible. Read my post in BritMums in a vain attempt to get more Mumpreneurs aware of their circumstances from 1 January.

Here is a video of the BBC coverage I took with my iPad:

It is typical that this problem falls at the end of the year when so many micro and nano businesses will be taking time off for the Christmas period, but I expect with the power of social media we will all be able to keep in contact and remain updated with as much information as we can before we start the New Year when #EUVAT and #VATMOSS comes into force.

How I will not allow VATMOSS to destroy my blogging courses

VATMOSS or VATMESS making selling blogging courses difficultI haven’t been idle since I last wrote about the EU VAT legislation due to come into force on 1 January 2015.

I’ve been finding out as much as I can about this, to prepare me for the way ahead. OK, the powers that be may be determined to prevent me from selling my blogging courses, by putting in front of me as many barriers as they can, but I will not succumb.

Human clicks

The main catalyst to not charging VAT is human intervention. The more of this that I place within the transaction and delivery of my blogging courses means I need not charge VAT for them.

Human intervention is when I physically do something rather than it being automated. For example, I will have to manually send emails containing elements of my blogging courses. This means I will have to actively click the send button for a personal email from me to you, created that day specifically for that purpose.

Anything that is prepared in advance and automatically set to go out via an auto responder system is subject to VAT.

Human input

Obviously I will have to prepare my blogging courses in advance, such as training videos, Slideshare presentations, e-books in pdf format and other teaching material. Anything prepared in advance is deemed not to have human input, and therefore will be VATable.

Even though the video and Slideshare can be viewed via my blog’s pages, the pdf and e-books will be delivered in such a way that requires downloading them onto your computers so you can read them. For example, if I include a pdf within an email, the very process of gathering it from the email is deemed as downloading, and therefore VATable.

The answer is to make my videos, Slideshares, e-books and pdfs that accompany my blogging courses as complimentary, as you cannot add VAT to something that is free.

Human interaction

Any blogging courses that contain a forum or social media group, for example in Facebook or LinkedIn, goes a long way towards human intervention.

This is because the VAT men deem this as providing personal input within a live format. This does not include paid-for pre-recorded elements, and the interaction and engagement provides the live online contributions. It is, of course, a great way for learners to interact with their teacher, learn more, and have their queries answered promptly.

This may not be suitable for every blogging courses’ users, as not all may want to or can participate in this way, so facilities for Q&A via a chatroom or regular emails would also be a good alternative.

Human presence

Including live teaching is another strong contender towards making blogging courses VAT-free. Live webinars, teleseminars, Google+ hangouts, Skype calls and offline events such as workshops and seminars are deemed as not VATable.

Also since online live event booking systems do not incur VAT, I need to set up a paid-for live webinar to teach my blogging courses. I would then offer the pre-recorded educational materials: the videos, Slideshares, pdfs and e-books, as complimentary bonuses that accompany the live teaching.

Teaching online has to become virtual face to face or audible live events at a prescribed time. Recordings can be made, but they need to be treated and delivered also as complimentary bonuses.

Human payment

Monetary transaction automatically completed online from a payment system with an EU citizen may incur VAT. So this needs to be accomplished manually to prevent this.

To pay for my blogging courses, anyone from the EU will have to contact me via email with their payment details, which I will physically enter into my payment facility.

I will have to set up a system that determines and separates EU citizens and gathers the necessary data to prove their country of origin. This has to be kept for 10 years.

Human sacrifice

Not being able to automate my blogging courses is like going back into the dark ages. This disallows the ease and convenience of automatically delivering my blogging courses to whoever and whenever I want.

In the past I could set up an e-course and a learner could pay for and actively start receiving it immediately. It would not have to rely on me to start the process in motion, and physically be there every day to manually send them the next instalment.

Now my blogging courses will have to be delivered at set times. Learners will have a particular time and place to receive their live learning. The process of delivering bite-sized pieces of the course automatically at regular intervals will become a thing of the past.

Because I’m only human….

I may have got some of this wrong, or missed out details. If so, let me know in the comment boxes below – we all have a right to know.

The EU VAT men may make my life a misery, but I will not be beaten. I will rewrite my blogging courses to include as much human intervention as I can. In fact, this might not be a bad thing after all!

Keep a close eye out for my next course – details coming very soon. If you haven’t already done so, sign up to my community to be the first to know.

How to build a successful blog by connecting

These guest posts are coming in thick and fast! Enjoy this one from Ryan Chester:

I’m sure by now you’ve noticed the great job this blog does connecting with you. It almost feels like at times you know the Alice personally!

Well this wasn’t by accident, but by design. The same is true for any successful blog, because the goal is to create a personal connection. A successful blog wants you to know we are listening to you and addressing your concerns. The reason is in essence we’ve built a “virtual friendship.” We help each other grow and excel!

I can’t even count the times I have been asked how we create this growth and engagement so consistently to attract new customers and readers, and do the same for our customers as well. The strategy is very simple and requires a few easy steps:

Step #1: Become human

When you begin reading a blog the person behind the blog is usually a foreigner to you, right?

That’s why it helps to have a short bio available on the side, a more lengthy about you page, and even a picture!

Don’t be reclusive. Open up! Make it easy for your readers to get to know you. Just go make a short bio or better yet right a few paragraphs about yourself.

As a large blog with many contributors or a business blog, you need to create an “About Us” page that has a bio for each of your authors.

Just to give you some guidance on the about page, try some of these pointers:

  • Give your Life Story! – Write a brief description of your life: Where were you born? Where do you live now? Include exciting or inspiring events that led you from hardship to success.
  • Don’t hold back – People relate to underdogs, don’t hide your past mistakes or failures. Give examples of how you overcame obstacles to become who you are today.
  • Show yourself – Humans are visual creatures, we like to “put a face to a name”. Use a photograph of yourself or an avatar (a cartoon version of yourself). A video might be even more enticing to readers, even though I know some people might hesitate to include one.
  • What drives you – In the same way you help your clients with their content, your readers can help you as well. Use your About page as a forum to talk about your goals and future plans. For example, I discuss my desire to create a non-profit organization to help the less fortunate.

Step #2: Show how you care

Just like you, your readers are human. Build loyalty by going above and beyond their expectations. We all encounter hardship and if you aren’t willing to help them out when they need it, how will they see how special you are?

Respond to their comments personally and engage them. When a reader asks you a question, make sure you take the time to answer it and even ask one back.

And don’t stop with prompt responses on your own page. Grow your web presence by commenting on and responding to questions on Twitter, Yahoo Answers, or Quora. Make sure to include a link back to your blog, so the readers that you help will become your readers and may spread your content on the internet through comments of their own and sharing your links.

Your relationship with your readers doesn’t have to begin and end with the comments section. If one of your followers has a problem in their personal life that you are in a position to offer your advice or assistance with, you should do your best to help them out. Keep your email open to them as well, of course not your personal (to avoid spam), but blog email.

We had a young reader who had a program issue that he could not overcome for his first client. The reader didn’t directly ask us to help, only if we had ideas for to tackle the problem, but we still provided him some of our internal programming scripts at no cost. Sometimes you have to recognise when you can help, and when you can help someone with a big achievement that will leave them forever thanking you and your company. Talk about brand love!

We have many stories like these two we have shared with you today. Our point is that we relate to our readers as if they’re family. No, we are not here to solve all of your problems. But we believe in paying it forward, so if we are in a position to offer more than just advice.

Step #3: Open communication builds bridges

A lot of blogs are missing a key element: a contact page.

This is because many bloggers don’t want to be bothered.

We take a different approach. In our opinion, if you don’t make yourself available to your readers through open lines of communication, you will limit them in terms of getting to know you – which we have already established as being critically important in maintaining and building your readership.

We have a contact page, and make it apparent on our blog to reach out to us whenever. We have listed our contact information along with direct emails to us. We let people know where and when they can contact us. Although, it is also alright to say what not to contact you about.

If we are going to be unavailable for any period of time, we let our readers know this via our Contact page. We offer them an alternative way to communicate with us, such as directing their questions to our assistant and providing them with her contact details.

The bottom line is – if you don’t want to interact with your audience than why are you blogging? Build a relationship with each of your readers, and you will see your traffic go through the ROOF! This is opposed to tossing information out there and sitting back hoping someone buys something.

Step #4: Realistic approaches

Even if we didn’t make money from blogging, we would still do it! Why?

We don’t blog for profit, instead we blog because we enjoy connecting. We enjoy sharing knowledge! At the end of the day, a candle doesn’t lose anything by lighting another candle.

Nothing makes us happier than hearing how our article helped someone.

There is money to be made in the blogosphere, but if that is your main goal, chances are you will find yourself overworked and unhappy. The most popular blogs in this space, such as TechCrunch, Mashable, or Copyblogger, were started because their founders saw a void in the marketplace and wanted to help others.

Conclusion

Follow the steps above, and you won’t just build an audience. You will build a family of followers, a real “social network”.

Don’t be discouraged if your audience doesn’t spend money right away – that’s OK. If you can’t turn your followers into friends, your traffic is going to decrease – affecting any cash flow you do have. Maintain your reader relationships and your business will prosper.

Don’t start a blog just to increase your traffic.

Start a blog to increase your connections.

–oo0oo–

About the author: 

Ryan Chester, connecting with me through a guest postRyan Chester is a digital marketing connoisseur. Having helped AnnexCore.com’s Fortune 500 ranging from General Electric, Accenture, Twitter, and many more companies across the globe access create success with search engine optimisation, email marketing, pay-per-click campaigns and countless other improvements.

Connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

How moving house is like writing a blog

You’re welcome to read this guest post by Heather Roberts:

We spend a lot of time writing a blog and figuring out the things that make it interesting and relevant. We tackle a lot of issues in the process and when we are truly devoted to it and what it has to offer, it takes a lot of time from our lives over the course of time. It may sometimes feel frustrating when you can’t put your words in the right way, but it all boils down to the incredible amount of preparations we need to do in both this and moving our homes to a new location.

In many ways writing a blog is like moving. At first, things may seem easy and relatively predictable as a concept: you wrap all your belongings up, you take your books down from the shelves, throw all you clothes into boxes and label them with their contents and so forth. Things feel pretty straightforward, but you will soon find out that you may be in for a lot more preparations than you though you need to handle. Soon all your perceived organizational skill feels like it just flew out the window and you’re stuck in complete chaos during the writing/moving process. You may soon figure out that in the long run you will get it all done with ease, that you really don’t need to worry about the little details and that you will soon get it all in writing/prepared for the big day ahead.

Understanding the audience

When writing a blog, one must know what their target audience is and what they can offer them to make the blog relevant and interesting. This is the bread and butter of the online world, since our words can be lost in the chaos of information and the flow of ideas dominating it if we don’t have a clear idea of what we’re doing. The same thing applies to moving your home, but in terms of the items you’re moving. You will need to know their dimensions, whether moving companies will allow them on their vehicles. You will also need to make sure your new home has enough space for them by making a floor plan to work with. Both cases require a good bit of research and a keen understanding of the subject matter, especially if you’re trying to reach audiences far away or move your home abroad. Understanding is key to a flawless operation or blog either way.

Building relationships

Writing a blog is more than just putting your ideas out there, it is about building a powerful connection with your audience and building contacts just as much as it is about the theme of your blog. In many ways with moving things are the same, but from the side of moving companies building a framework of connections between themselves and their clients. They need to understand more than the simple mechanics of the business, but also their own “audience” as well. This is of course subjective, since blogs can take many shapes and sizes while the moving process remains fairly rigid due to its nature and requirements, but the connection is there none the less.

Persistence

Being persistent in your content and its frequency is a key to making a blog that lasts and doesn’t lose the interest of its readers. This requires the sacrifice of free time and overall really focusing on the quality of the posts and content provided, which is absolutely necessary if you want to persist in the long run. The same goes for the moving process and what it has to offer. Ensuring you go through everything before a move, step by step and organizing everything is an absolute must that requires diligence and accuracy. Some may even see hints of active meditation in packing and preparing for a new future in a new home, so it would come as no surprise to those with an organizing talent that both activities require focus and determination.

About the author:

Heather Roberts is a content writer from London, UK. She has great flair for decoration and interior design. She is searching for new challenges and hence often moves to different places. Heather writes about removals and storage services like those of Notting Hill man with van.

Will you help me win another #UKBA15 award this year?

National UK Blog Awards 2015

It’s time to vote for me again!

This time last year I had tentatively entered my blog into my first blogging competition, the National UK Blog Awards. They had approached me via Twitter and had suggested I sign up to try and win an award.

This was a big adventure for me, as I didn’t think I had any chance of winning, but it was great to have a go.

And of course it was the first year of the National UK Blog Awards, so they were also finding their feet in trying to attract enough attention and blogs to make it happen.

A great success

Of course what is incredible is that I won the Digital & Technology Category award!

I really didn’t think I was in the running, as so many of the other entries were of a very high calibre, towering above my little blog and its posts about helping beginners to understand about blogging.

And the Awards themselves were a great success too, with over 900 blogs entering to try and win 28 different categories. Check out their video (I’m featured about 3 minutes in):

How can you help me?

All you need to do is to find my two entries (one for the Digital & Technology category, and the other for the PR, Marketing, Media & Communications category, of which I was one of the runner-ups) and fill in your name and email address:

PR, Marketing, Media & Communications category:
http://www.blogawardsuk.co.uk/candidates/fairy-blog-mother/

Digital & Technology category:
http://www.blogawardsuk.co.uk/candidates/fairy-blog-mother-2/

And that’s it! Voting ends on Wednesday 3 December 2014, and then it’s up to the judges. The winners will be announced at a posh hotel somewhere in April 2015.

I do hope you can vote for me! I know it’s time for another blog to win an award next year, but there’s no reason why I can’t give them a run for their money!

Why I (and others like me) will have to withdraw digital products in the New Year

E-courses for beginner bloggers as digital productsI’m going to have to take down my beginner bloggers e-course from 1 January.

This is because it is a digital product, and digital products are much misunderstood by those who deal with VAT matters, and how they are delivered by small businesses and entrepreneurs.

What am I going on about?

Well, this week we were scandalised to learn that from the beginning of next year, anybody from the EU states buying digital products will have to pay VAT.

But not just UK VAT, EU VAT, which will have to comply with the country of the purchaser. If I sell digital products to a EU citizen, I will need to complete a VAT return within 20 days of the sale to the purchaser’s country’s tax system or I will receive a hefty penalty.

There is a HMRC scheme called MOSS (Mini One Stop Shop) which is designed to help businesses sort out the VAT requirements in all 28 EU states, but forces them to become VAT registered in the UK. This is regardless of income as the upper limit to require VAT registration will be scrapped.

What is affected?

This applies for pre-recorded digital products such as an e-course delivered via email through an automated system, but not for ‘live’ delivery, such as a webinar, as this involves ‘personal input’.

This applies to e-books, e-courses, pdf products, recorded training videos and resources, music or audio downloads and software, but not for physical goods, emails and online bookings for event tickets.

This applies only for digital products sold as B2C, business to consumer, whereas B2B or business to business is not affected.

What other problems are there?

I’m not going to become VAT registered, since I cannot afford to hire an accountant or incur any other administrative costs. My income is well below the £81,000 level previously required to be registered for VAT.

If I am to be compliant to sell digital products, I will need to have in place provision for EU buyers, or I will have to find a way to avoid selling to them. It will not be easy to filter these people out, neither is it a good idea to be discriminatory against EU citizens.

Also payment systems such as Paypal are unable to provide details of each purchaser, nor the data required for these transactions, such as their location or billing address, IP address or bank details. This has to be submitted with the VAT return and records kept by the purveyor of the digital products for 10 years.

Also because I will need to retain these records, I must be registered with the ICO for data protection reasons. The ICO is at the moment overwhelmed with applications, so goodness knows how they will cope with more coming in from the New Year.

It’s worth realising this is a worldwide phenomenon, as anybody from any country dealing with EU buyers will have this problem.

What I can do about it?

Apart from taking my e-course off my website for the near future, I will need to investigate other marketplace platforms to deliver my e-courses for me. This is because I will be dealing with them as a B2B (business to business) transaction, and the other party will have to deal with the VAT issues.

I could deliver my e-courses as a paid-for live webinar, which doesn’t fall under this jurisdiction, and then offer my training programme as an added free bonus. This isn’t as satisfactory, as I like to deliver my e-courses in small bites over a period of time, not all at once within an hour!

I could adapt my e-courses into an e-book and sell it through platforms such as Amazon or Smashwords, which would be as a B2B arrangement to absorb my VAT issues. But then this wouldn’t be able to include my video training and other resources.

I have already been proactive and signed a petition to get this reversed. I strongly advise you to also do this! HMRC and the Government are woefully ignorant of how many small (and tiny) businesses partake in selling digital products, nor do they understand the processes and that this practice isn’t confined to the ‘big’ companies. Neither can websites, sales pages and social media promotion activities avoid being seen and accessed by EU citizens.

Sorry this isn’t a normal post about digital products

But I do think this is information that should be shared, and with as many people as possible. It is an unacceptable situation that will drive many small businesses to give up. Many of these are solepreneurs who won’t be earning huge amounts of cash, so won’t be viable (like me) to be eligible for VAT registration.

It’s such a shame that financial matters like this are implemented by officials who haven’t bothered to do enough research in the right areas to find out how much impact this will have on small businesses throughout the UK (and abroad). Some bloggers are saying that it is as if the powers that be don’t care about sole traders and one-person-businesses, as if they are ‘below the radar’ and don’t really matter to the British economy.

Well, let’s see what the government thinks when all these business owners who cannot sell their digital products any more apply for income support from the state, or register themselves as unemployed, because they have been driven to give up what they do because of this VAT requirement. That will certainly scupper their statistics!

References

http://onemanbandaccounting.co.uk/eu-vat-changes-2015/

http://huffingtonpost.co.uk/soozi-baggs/new-eu-vat-regs-seriously_1_b_6177222.html

http://idea15.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/how-vat-moss-is-the-end-of-small-enterprise-in-britain-and-how-we-can-change-it/

http://wordsthatchangetheworld.com/2014/eudigitalvat/

Let me know your views in the comment box below:

Homepage elements: what you need to include (or not) and why

About six months ago someone suggested I should write a post about what should be included on a homepage.

So I captured my homepage into a jpg, took a good look at it, compared it to a load of other blogs and websites, and decided it was rubbish.

My homepage as of May 2014

Even though Fairy Blog Mother® had just won the Organisation Digital & Technology Category of the National UK Blog Awards 2014, I still shuddered whenever I looked at my blog. Something desperately needed to be done.

I really felt I couldn’t write such a post when my own homepage was so awful. So I’ve been busy since then, investigating, creating and trialling many versions, and this is what my blog’s homepage looks like at the end of October 2014:

My homepage as from the end of October 2014

And the jury is still out. If you are reading this post in the future, it will probably have changed again!

I know I use my own graphics within a DIY theme, but that is what gives it its charm. Being a Graphic Designer turned Digital Marketer, I wanted to implant my own slant on web design, and be able to apply anything new I had Iearned about digital marketing, which includes what should go into a homepage.

Think of your visitors first

One big mistake some people make is that they think they need to include EVERYTHING on their homepage.

This is a bit like setting up a car boot stall and displaying all your goods all in one go. But this will result in confusion, your visitors won’t be able to understand or appreciate exactly what the business is about, they won’t know what they should do next, and more than likely will leave as rapidly as they came.

What a wasted opportunity. The last thing you want is for your homepage to put your visitors off; you need to encourage them to stay.

Give them something to do

Actually there are three things a visitor to a homepage needs to do:

  • Recognise and be reassured they’ve come to the right website
  • Immediately understand exactly what the website is about, or what the blog post trying to say
  • Do something constructive that helps both the visitor and the website’s owner’s objectives. This could be as simple as deciding to read what’s in front of them, before clicking to read your latest blog post, browsing via the navigation bar, or signing up to your newsletter.

And this all has to happen within a second, even with the third point. It’s certainly not three seconds any more, because people can turn away well within that time.

And if there is any confusion at all, which can even occur due to the design or ambiance of the website, you will have lost your visitor, who will more than likely never return.

Let’s start from the top

The area ‘above the fold’ on a website’s homepage is extremely important, as it is what people see first. This needs to include as much information you can give your visitors before they have to scroll down. Also you also need to be aware that laptop screens are much shallower than PC screens, therefore you shouldn’t waste this opportunity to showcase as much as you can in this area.

At the top of your homepage there should be a banner (or masthead) that introduces the website’s business title, or blog’s subject or niche. If the name presented doesn’t explain exactly what is in the tin, you will need to include a strapline to clarify, enhance or explain the website’s title. This should be descriptive, concise and helpful.

Showing the banner and navigation position at top of my blog

Navigation bars traditionally go across the page, either above or below the banner. This is because visitors usually expect to find it there, and during that short second they are scanning your homepage, they will be taking in as much information as they can, which will include the pages or sections they could explore.

Other elements that should be presented near the top are contact details if you’re a business, such as a telephone number and email address:

Showing contact details in Appletree's banner

or social media buttons if you’re a blogger that regularly participates in social networking and wants to encourage people to visit. Some clever designers incorporate these into the banner:

Showing the social media icons in the Windsor Emporium banner

or alternatively place them as close as they can to the banner, as I have done with mine.

Don’t waste your space

Remember space above the fold in your homepage is at a premium. It should contain as much information as possible to clarify what the website or blog is offering, but it should not be distracting.

In the old days this are was taken up with a descriptive picture. Or even an image that just looked nice. Nowadays this space contains a video or a slideshow. Apparently it’s important to have a moving visual presentation to explain your business.

This is fine if the video is short and dynamic, or the slideshow is regularly populated with new new and appropriate material. But if the visitor is impatient, and hasn’t time to listen to a video, or can’t be bothered to wait to read all the slides, this can be seen as a meddlesome distraction that takes up valuable homepage retail space.

My old homepage contained a Doodle video, which was supposed to be quirky and fun, and I even customised the YouTube screen to entice people to click. Even though it lasted just over a minute, most of my visitors didn’t bother watching it. If you have the time to see it, take a quick gander here, it is worth it!

Being the killjoy that I am, I suggest it would be much better to present a static image (or even interactive) display of what you have to offer instead, which is much more easily scanned, appreciated and understood within a short time.

Show your wares

Below my navigation bar I have inserted three widget spaces that advertise what activities I am offering, which also appear on most of my other pages. I have made them as visual as possible to draw attention to them.

Three widget areas that showcase what I'm doing

I also had this feature on my old homepage (as you can see above), but they were very dull, and nobody clicked on them.

Since then I’ve learned that these need to be eye-catching, ask a question that relates to the visitor, and ideally should contain a call to action, which unfortunately these don’t. My next phase would be to work out how to include this to make more visitors click on them.

Recently I explored The Streamline Pro Theme on the Genesis Framework by CopyBlogger for a client:

Streamline Pro Theme by StudioPress

This is from the example page, which shows three boxes that can be directed to specific pages or sections within the website.

What I like about them is their big orange call to action buttons: Read More. In fact wherever you click on these sections, it goes to its destination, but it’s those buttons that really make you want to click on them.

So I tried my own version of a call to action here:

My call to action images on my homepage

Hmmm, still work in progress. Previously these images just looked like the other pictures above, so my visitors didn’t realise they were clickable. But by adding in the red call to actions in the top left hand corner, hopefully this will induce visitors to notice, click and enjoy what’s on the other side. We shall see.

I’ve also included a similar call to action at the top of this blog page (yes, I know it’s not the homepage, but hopefully you will forgive me):

The call to action at the top of my blog page

With a big red button telling the visitor what to do.

Sometimes you need to include instructions to get a response. Never assume your visitor will understand which images should be clicked on, or even wave their mouse around to see whether anything is interactive. The magic words ‘click here’ can do wonders if appropriately applied.

Benefits and features

Whilst doing further research for this post I came across the concept of showcasing features versus benefits. My homepage certainly advertises lots of features using my purple imagery:

My homepage is stuffed full of features

What is missing is promoting some of the benefits I could offer. Most likely your homepage will consist of text rather than imagery, and in fact this is more appropriate to include suitable keywords for SEO purposes. But remember that your visitor will be scanning rather than reading, so use clear bullet points rather than copious text.

But really your benefits should be highlighted in your website pages or within your blog posts. Use features to attract your visitors to venture further into the site to find out more, where you will have more room to explain the benefits in plenty of detail.

Provide some incentive

Sidebars should include additional information that encourages the visitor to find out more about the website or business. Here you can place a subscription or newsletter sign-up form, accompanied with a delicious image of the prize attained if you succumb. Its best position would be at the top, to capture the visitor’s eye while it roams around the homepage.

I know this isn’t the case with my present homepage, even though it was with my old version. The search facility, unnecessarily repetitive remnant social media icons and the National UK Blog Awards 2015 badge have taken precedent. Maybe subconsciously these have more priority than my newsletter subscribers? Hmmm.

Actually showing off consumer proof of your expertise and prowess on your homepage is a good thing. Look where I advertised my blogging award, right under my banner! And also I have included widgets in my sidebar and underneath my content that randomly shares my testimonials, presents badges of blogs I’m pleased to be associated with, and links to my latest blog posts:

Show accolades in your other widgets

You may have noticed I’ve moved my sidebar from the left to the right. Previously it was considered necessary to have the most important elements presented as close as possible to the top left hand corner, as that is where the visitor’s eye starts its journey. This seemed more appropriate for my newsletter sign up forms (I had two then, even more confusing for my poor visitors!).

But – it hindered people from reading the main content, which ultimately what is important in a blog. A left sidebar closed the site inwards, whereas a right sidebar appears to be more airy and welcoming.

Can my homepage be too long?

This used to be a bone of contention, especially when space above the fold attracted more attention. But with the advent of smart phones scrolling has become the norm. And there are some new themes that virtually reveal the whole website when you pan down.

But don’t fall into the trap of the car boot seller, by including absolutely everything on your homepage. Get to understand your target customer or audience, know what they want from you and what you can offer them, and present it as efficiently as possible to avoid confusion. Remember simplicity and clarity is key.

Only the correct incentives will encourage a visitor to scroll down. If vital stuff is unavoidably presented in a lower position, include anchor links disguised as call to actions near the top. In fact make sure it’s as easy as possible to explore the site via bright call to action buttons or images, in addition to what is presented in the navigation bar.

What do you think?

Let me know your views, and if you write about your homepage in your blog, include the link in the comments below.

Did you know I’m sharing my expertise at BlogFest 2014?

mumsnetOut of the blue I got an email from MumsNet, which was a very nice surprise. They wanted me to join one of their roundtable sessions at BlogFest 2014 to share my expertise.

Initially the subject they suggested was going to be the Social Media one, but after I had sent in my photo and biography, they quickly realised I would be more suitable for the Techie Tips and Tricks roundtable instead.

You can check out my bio here, I’m in the fourth row! 

Actually I’m secretly pleased to not be doing the Social Media roundtable, as I’m probably not as prolific as other bloggers. But what I do know is that images have a big impact if you want to get noticed, and the badge provided by MumsNet for BlogFest 2014 is a great way of drawing attention within social networking. So I got to work:

Facebook comments about me going to BlogFest 2014

I love it when I get noticed on Facebook, and as you can see my announcement that I’m attending BlogFest 2014 got some attention. I’m not a big Facebook fan, ultimately preferring Twitter, in which you can also put up images to draw attention to your tweet. There was a session when my tweet scheduler offered a week of using images for free, which I jumped at, but then I was left with the dilemma which images attracted the most attention.

Actually images should be a prime focus also in blogging. I regularly guest blog in Birds on the Blog and I always look carefully in Flickr for a suitable image that is not only copyright compliant but also will capture the attention of a passing audience.

Anyhow, back to promoting BlogFest 2014. I’ve been a bit relaxed on Twitter since the summer, but it’s always nice when you get a positive response:

And it looks like there’s another person going to BlogFest 2014 – thanks Jo!

Having the opportunity to speak at conferences is always a huge boost to me. It’s not just the free ticket, it’s the chance to speak to other bloggers, be in an environment where everybody has the same subject on their minds, and to get to hear other experts and learn what they know.

This summer gone was a very successful time. I won the Organisational Digital and Technology Category at the National UK Blog Awards 2014; watch this video (I’m featured at 3 minutes and 15 seconds in):

And I have entered myself for the Organisational Digital and Technical Category again for 2015, so watch this space as public voting will open in mid November.

I was also shortlisted for the BiBs (Brilliance in Blogging) Awards and got to deliver a workshop at the BritMums! Live 2014 conference. Below is a video delivering the contents of my workshop (if you’re ready for a quick coffee and chocolate biscuit break):

Oh dear, that’s quite enough, I need to sit down (fanning myself with an iPad, the closest thing to hand, as my computer’s keyboard just won’t do the same trick). I’ve often been told I don’t promote myself enough, so here’s some to keep me going for a long while yet!

So – if you want to listen to me, come to MumsNet’s BlogFest 2014 in London on 8 November and stay to hear the roundtables in action! I look forward to meeting you.

Great content writing: how Panda continues to look kindly on it [Infographic]

During my daily trawling throughout the net, I came across this fabulous infographic I had to share with you. It gives an excellent visual summary of how the latest Google Panda update (4.1) affects bloggers. It looks like there’s still a glimmer of hope on the blogging horizon, especially those who make a real effort to produce their best great content possible.10 Hidden Gems from Google’s Leaked Quality Rater Guidelines [INFOGRAPHIC]

Via: AudienceBloom.com

And I also need to acknowledge I first saw this infographic on this post: http://keepupwiththeweb.com/google-panda-4-1-rewards-quality/ – well worth reading, and written by the sumptuous Sherryl Perry, who I follow most avidly, and certainly writes lots of great content!

Now, what is my take on this? No, this is not being presumptuous, it’s just another blog writing tactic I’ve been investigating lately as part of my blogging made easier e-courses I’ve working on this autumn – watch this space.

Anyhow, back to the infographic.

Use expert writers

Expertise and authority count a lot for Google. The amount of quality content that is found in a post can certainly boost your brownie points, and this is aggregated through the writer really knowing their onions. Added benefits will arise if the blog contains a lot of similar high-profile stuff as great content, revealing a lot of knowledge delivered in a suitable and forthcoming manner.

To overcome this, perhaps more research is in order before placing fingers on keyboard. Posts should contain a lot of information that is valuable and beneficial to the reader, whereas skittish contributions that lack any substance may see short shrift.

Update old content

Your blog needs to be constantly updated. Actually it’s good practice is to go through your old posts and rewrite some of them, both the really good ones and those that have failed, to create different or better great content, especially if you have obtained more expertise in writing and knowledge in the subject since.

As long as you change the title and the permalink, you could republish this regenerated content as a new post, which will certainly help towards producing more fodder to keep both readers and search engines happy.

Link to sources

Linking within content has always been a good thing, but now emphasis is placed on relevant links, presumably outbound (but I’m sure this could also be adapted for internal links too), to sources of authority and credibility placed within what you write. Google claims this will develop more trust by showcasing the authority, but certainly linking to high-ranking and quality websites as points of reference, particularly if it is extremely relevant to your post’s subject, will place you more in Panda’s good books.

Bad, inappropriate and irrelevant links have always scored low to Panda. But now it seems more emphasis needs to be directed to where these references are going, in relation to the post’s subject and readership.

Get positive reviews

This is all about reputation. And reputation seems to come from getting good reviews for your great content, especially on recognised review sites (mentioned above in the infographic). But how else can this reputation be gained? Does sharing and engagement on social media count? Obviously it would be fabulous to get a flurry of comments after the post, but we all know that this practice has been dwindling at an alarming rate recently.

Reputation is enhanced through social networking, engagement and recommendations. It seems that bloggers need to work harder at getting their great content recognised, valued and shared, in order to attract more attention from Panda. But what about those who are just starting, or aren’t able to accumulate a load of subscribers or followers, but still produce fabulous work? The answer is to get off your high horse and start engaging, sharing, commenting, discussing, liking and more.

Question: no mention of Google Authority here, so how much does this influence the new Panda update?

Pay attention to detail

The secondary message here was to focus on user experience within your blog. Apparently how the reader reacts to other stuff apart from the posts can have an affect on Panda. For example, I can think of instant recognition of the blog’s or post’s subject as soon as the reader arrives, the ease they have in being able to read and understand the post, whether it is easy to find links to other relevant posts within the blog, or use the navigation to browse other pages.

I also maintain a visitor, even if they’re not a reader, should have something to do on the blog to keep them there. Involvement results in staying power. Sharing and liking buttons, comment boxes and relevant internal links will help reduce bounce rates. Subscription facilities or incentivised sign ups to newsletters or other products will enable visitors to return another time. Gone are the days of just delivering great content and a pretty theme; interaction is key.

Consistent quality

Obviously a well maintained blog bursting with great content that is readily available for existing and future readers will be a desirable place to index. Dark blogs cannot rely on their old material to help them out any more, especially as Panda now focuses on old content being updated and reissued.

This means if you want your blog to please the new Panda update, you need to get cracking. Guilty here as charged, as I don’t write enough for my own blog, due to a lot of guest blogging elsewhere. Consistency is better than flurries of activity followed by fallow spaces of nothing. Give the spiders something worthwhile to chew on, and you will be justifiably rewarded.

Become trustworthy

A blog shouldn’t only be a post listings site any more. Panda would like to see more static pages, in particular a well-written About page and some sort of contact method so visitors and readers can connect or ask questions. This additional great content is just good practice. If you want your blog or website to flourish, let alone your business or objectives, you need to provide more relevant, valuable and worthwhile pages to keep the punters happy.

Another way of maintaining your relationship with visitors and readers is to show where they can find you elsewhere. Any blogger worth his or her salt should have at least one account on a social media platform, and anyone who visits your blog, human or robot, should be given the opportunity to check this out. This should be packed full of great content as much as on your blog, being another source of great and relevant information about your chosen subject or niche.

The trustworthy bit comes from allowing the rest of your life to be explored. Your blog shouldn’t be your be-all-and-end-all. By being more transparent and open, you will enable your followers to like, know and trust you better, which can only be a good thing in the long run.

Keep up standards

Good writing, perfect spelling, appropriate grammar and suitable sentence syntax, which all contribute towards attention to detail, will obviously place your blog in a higher level. You don’t have to have studied your subject up to a PhD – in fact it is advisable that if you have, it is imperative not to deliver at a similar level, to avoid alienating your readership – but standards need to be maintained to safeguard respectability, reputation and credibility.

There’s nothing more distracting and annoying than reading a post that obviously hasn’t been edited properly (oops, I’d better play particular attention here), but it’s worth bearing in mind people have different styles and some may not have English as their first language. The answer is to pay attention, check your work thoroughly, wait a bit before publishing and get help if necessary from a proof-reader. It will pay dividends in the end.

Good design

This is a bit of a repeat of the user friendly experience I’ve mentioned above. Obviously if the blog is well designed, it will be much easier on the visitor’s eye, and may encourage them to stay, read and investigate further. Attractiveness is relevant, especially if it is in tune with the kind of reader you want to attract. A black background with fiery red imagery isn’t very amenable for the older woman reader, whereas pink and fluffy won’t impress a load of businessmen.

If you want to take this further, there are plenty of psychologists and designers out there to advise you as to what will encourage better retention of visitors and readers. But don’t forget the ultimate reason, great content. A blog is somewhere to read fabulous stuff that will help you, answer your questions, change your mindset, educate you in what you didn’t know, deliver a point of view, set a trend. A well-designed, clearly presented and easy-on-the-eye template will only assist towards better success.

Maintaining expertise

This one is for multi-author blogs. It is difficult to maintain standards and ensure expertise, but with a good set of editorial guidelines, clear rules and adequate vetting, there is no reason why a blog with many writers cannot deliver a fantastic experience stuffed full of great content.

It is also a matter of consistency. Keep everything relevant, maintain standards, watch what is delivered, supervise content and safeguard against inappropriate behaviour, both from the authors and the readers, and Panda will be happy to index somewhere that regularly provides great content to the Blogosphere.

Let me know if Panda has affected you recently. Ideally if you were aware of the points set out above, and had done something about it, you needn’t worry too much. But as always, you can’t rest on your laurels. Remember great content writing is always imperative in blogging; you just have to get better at it!