WordCamp Vancouver 2016

sparkjoy-staff-at-wordcamp

Everyone here at Sparkjoy is excited about the upcoming WordCamp Vancouver! Whether you are a total beginner or an expert WordPress developer, these informal gatherings have something for everyone. WordCamp is a great place to share ideas and get to know other members of the WordPress community.

We are proud to have been a sponsor of this event for the last 5 years, and are happy be a sponsor again this year.  We hope to see you there.

WordCamp Vancouver 2016 will take place on Saturday, August 27, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. It is being held at the BCIT Downtown Campus, which is located at 555 Seymour Street, Vancouver.

Create SEO-friendly blog posts

There is a wonderful correlation between writing good content which captivates your readers, and having good SEO. In this post, we want to give you some tips on how to create SEO-friendly blog posts by focusing on having captivating content.

Think before you write

Take a moment and think about the message you want to convey. What is that you want to tell your readers? What is the main purpose of the text? Do you want your readers to take any action at the end of the post, and if so, what? If you know the answers to these questions, it can help you stay focused as you create your awesome content.

Have a clear structure for your post

A well-written post, like a well-written essay, needs a clear structure.  Every post should have an introduction (where you introduce your topic), the body (where the main message is written), and a conclusion (where you summarize the most important ideas). You can write down what you want to include in each of these sections to create a nice summary of your post. Having the structure planed out can definitely help you create SEO-friendly blog posts that are engaging and fun to read.

Use paragraphs

Your first reaction to seeing “use paragraphs” was probably, “yeah, everyone uses paragraphs.” This is very true, but we don’t all use paragraphs that make sense. Each paragraph should have a main idea or subject. Don’t just start a sentence on a new line because it looks nice, there should be a reason for starting a new paragraph. Ask yourself what the main idea of each paragraph is. You should be able to summarize the main idea of each paragraph in a single sentence.

Use headings

Using headings will structure the entire page. They are important for readability, and also for SEO. Google uses headings to understand the main topics of a long post, which can help your rankings. Having good headings will help people scan your page and understand the structure of your articles. But make sure you follow good heading structure; H1 for the page title, H2 for your main headings, H3 for subheadings under the main headings, etc. Look at any Wikipedia article to see an example of how to use headings and subheadings.

Let other people proofread your post

Having another pair of eyes take a look at a post is always helpful. Before you hit that nice, big, tempting Publish button, ask someone to read your post. If she/he understood the main idea of your post, this is a good sign. A friend might also catch typos you’ve missed, and can help point out sentences that aren’t formulated correctly.

Optimize the length of your post

“They” say Google likes long articles, so whenever possible try to have a minimum of 300 words. Of course, you aren’t just writing your awesome post for Google, you’re writing it for actual people to read. Readers might be less interested in reading your post if it is too long, so try to keep it to around 700 words long. But don’t sacrifice quality to make it shorter; if it needs to be longer than 700 words, let it. Compelling content is the most important thing.

Link to previous posts

Do you have any older posts that discuss the same topic? Great! You should definitely link to them. Firstly, because your readers will very likely be interested in them. Secondly, it makes your post stronger because you show more authority on the subject. And lastly, linking between posts can help your ranking in Google.

Add content regularly

When you add new content to your website frequently, it shows Google that your site is active. When you have an active website, Google will crawl your site more often, which can have a positive affect on your ranking. If you have an inactive website. Google will crawl it less often, which can have a negative affect on your ranking. Adding new content regularly doesn’t have to mean daily either, it can be once per week, once per month, once every other month, etc. Pick a schedule that makes sense for you, and do your best to stick with it.

Use the Yoast SEO plugin

We have added the Yoast SEO plugin to your site. This plugin helps you create SEO-friendly blog posts and pages by analyzing your content to make sure you are using your focus keyword in the right places, and have easily readable text.  For more detailed information about how to use this plugin, read our SEO tutorial.

Conclusion

Gone are the days where some SEO tricks would help get your site to the top of the list. These days, you have to start with compelling, readable content. Good content means more people are likely to share your post, look at the other parts of your website, and most importantly, return to visit your site again. The more visitors your site gets, the better it looks to Google, which means your ranking improves.

Screenshots – a “How To”

Sometimes users run into issues with their website or email – error messages full of cryptic chatter and numbers that don’t make any sense, or fields and check boxes that only a wizard could get to the bottom of. In these cases, we like to see exactly what our clients are seeing, and the easiest method to do that is to take a screenshot (also called a ‘screen capture’).

A screenshot is a picture of whatever is showing on your screen at that very moment. These are easy to create and send by email – and it saves having to describe what you’re seeing!

PC Users

Method One – capture the whole screen

Make sure the thing you want to capture is fully visible on your screen.

  1. Press PrtScn (a key on the right side of your keyboard – it might also be called Prnt Scrn or Print Scr).
    NB: Once you’ve pressed PrtScn, Windows will not give you any feedback about the action, but the screen has been copied.
  2. Open the Paint program (Windows key > type “Paint” into the search field > click Paint).
  3. Paste the copied screen (Ctrl + V).
  4. Save the screenshot (Ctrl + S).
    NB: You can choose the file type at this stage – choose either .JPG or .PNG)
  5. Attach the screenshot to an email, and send it to your support team.

 

Method Two – capture a specific part of the screen

  1. Make sure the thing you want to capture is fully visible on your screen.
  2. Open the Snipping Tool program (Windows key > type “Snipping Tool” into search field > click Snipping Tool).
  3. Click New.
  4. Hold left mouse button and drag top left to bottom right over the part of your screen you want to capture.
  5. File > Save As…
    NB: You can choose the file type at this stage – choose either .JPG or .PNG).
  6. Choose where to save the file.
  7. Save.
  8. Attach the screenshot to an email, and send it to your support team.

 

Mac Users

Method One – capture the whole screen

  1. Press Command-SHIFT-3.
  2. Screenshot is automatically saved to your desktop.
  3. Attach the screenshot to an email, and send it to your support team.

 

Method Two – capture a specific part of the screen

  1. Press Command-SHIFT-4.
  2. Hold the left mouse button down and drag the crosshair pointer from top left, to bottom right of over the part of your screen you want to capture.
    NB: If you want to resize the area you just selected, hold down on the spacebar, or Option button, or Shift button and resize until you’re happy with it.
  3. Release the left mouse button, and the screenshot will be automatically saved to your desktop.
  4. Attach the screenshot to an email, and send it to your support team.

The screenshot will help us understand and diagnose issues more quickly so you can get on with the work you need to do.

Canada’s new anti-spam law: are you ready?

As of July 1, 2014, Canada’s new anti-spam legislation will come into effect. The new law is designed to help combat the overwhelming amount of spam messages that most of us receive in our in-boxes, or on social media, everyday.

Here is an overview of what the new law is, how it affects your business, and what you can do to be in compliance with the new law by July 1.

What is the anti-spam law?

Bill C-28, aka Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), is a new law that regulates commercial electronic messages (CEMs). CEMs are “any electronic message that encourages participation in a commercial activity, regardless of whether there is an expectation of profit.” and include the following:

  • Newletters sent via electronic means to individuals
  • Private messaging on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Text messages via mobile devices

The new law will deter and, in time, eliminate much of the unwanted spam – especially those instances where the spam is a fraudulent attempt to gain personal information for the purposes of identity or financial theft, and/or to install malicious software on a users computer without their knowledge or consent (computer viruses, Internet browser add-ons that are opt-out only, etc.).

How does the new law affect me?

If you send out CEMs – regardless of whether you’re using the message to make money – this law affects you.

The new law will require that you, as the CEM sender, “obtain consent from the recipient before sending the message and will need to include information that identifies the sender and enables the recipient to withdraw consent.”

If you currently have names and email addresses on your mailing list that were not obtained with explicit consent via an email opt-in, you have two options:

  • Before July 1, 2014: you can email the recipient and obtain consent by simply asking if they’d like to remain on your list. If they say no, you must remove them.
  • After July 1, 2014: you will have to call or mail (via post) the intended recipient to obtain consent. If you email to ask for consent after this date, it is considered a violation of the new law.

For many businesses, this could be a difficult process as it can be hard to know who opted-in to messages legally, and who didn’t. In these cases, it might be a good idea to email your entire current list before July 1 with a new opt-in message to obtain consent. It’s possible to lose a few people with this process, but chances are they were the people who were added without their consent, or aren’t interested and are therefore not your target audience.

How will I reach new people once the law is in place?

Currently, email lists are often populated/created via buying email lists, and harvesting information from business cards, websites (blogs, business sites, etc.), social media sites, sign-up sheets (for contests, sporting events, etc.), and any other publicly visible way of seeing or obtaining contact information. Beginning July 1, many of these methods will be in violation of the new law.

Reaching new people is as easy as telling them via your website, Twitter feed, FaceBook page, LinkedIn profile etc., that you would like to communicate with them via email sometimes, and where to go to opt-in to those communications.

What exactly am I supposed to do to comply?

Recipients must receive an email asking them to confirm their choice to receive CEMs from you – and you must state clearly who you are, and what the recipient is opting in to. Once the recipient clicks “confirm” – you’re in the clear.

In each communication from you, there must be an opt-out/unsubscribe option. This option must unsubscribe the recipient without delay, and there can be no barriers to opting out (e.g., you cannot force a recipient to explain to you why they want to unsubscribe in order for the unsubscribe action to be successful).

What happens if I am not in compliance with the new law?

It could happen by accident that someone on your mailing list didn’t give consent, and you missed deleting them – mistakes are going to happen, but there could be repercussions. There are three government agencies enforcing this new law:

  • Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC),
  • The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada,
  • The Competition Bureau.

Non-compliance might result in warnings or investigations from any or all of these agencies. By July 1, 2017, individuals will be able to take legal action against businesses or other individuals who are not compliant with the new law. This can result in class-action lawsuits. Fines for those who are found guilty of not complying could face fines up to ten million dollars per violation of the law.

Where else can I read about the new law?

This post gives the basics of the new law, but there is a great deal of information out there:

Industry Canada – Q&A about CASL

CASL Survival Guide (by Elite Email)

Government of Canada – Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

Government of Canada – Full text of Anti-Spam Law

Online security in the age of spammers and hackers

Not that Sparkjoy clients need to worry about website security – we’ve got you covered there – but what about the other sites you visit; especially the ones that require passwords?

If you use the Internet everyday, chances are you have places you go to habitually: email, Facebook, Twitter, news sites, RSS feed readers, online banking, and even online gaming. All of these sites require you to sign in; your login name and password are essentially a secret knock that proves you’re you before the site lets you in.

However this security method, among others, is only as good as your password and your understanding of how the seedy parts of the Internet operate when they try to get this information from you.

What are the bad guys up to?

Spam: unsolicited bulk messages, usually in the form of advertisements. This is most commonly sent as emails (junk mail), but also as pop-up ads, splash pages, instant messaging via texts or online chatting (in-game chats, forums, social media sites, etc.).

Hacking: A hacker is “someone who seeks and exploits weaknesses in a computer system or computer network”. There are many types of hackers, but it’s the “black hat” hackers that most people worry about: these are the people cracking the password to your email account, banking website, or government sites and sharing out personal and sensitive information.

Brute-force attacks: this entails attacking encrypted data to check all possible keys or passwords until the correct one is found. These attacks can slow a website down to a crawl as the attack hits the login repeatedly looking for a way in. Think of it as the electronic version of a battering ram at the castle keep doors.

Phishing: an attempt to acquire sensitive information by posing as a trustworthy entity (company, person etc.) via email or phone. These are the people who send emails claiming your bank account is compromised and if you just email them your banking information they’ll fix the problem and save you from being charged a huge fee. Another common ploy is the phone call that begins, ‘Congratulations! You’ve won a trip to [exotic location]!’ followed by a request for your credit card information to hold the seat, room on the plane, or place on the cruise boat.

419 Scams: These are the ‘Nigerian money scams’ that claim thousands, or even millions of dollars are being held in trust, and all you have to do is let them use your bank account as a transfer spot – money in and money out – and they’ll give you a huge payout as a thank you. These are also presented as lottery, rental, romance, pet, and employment scams (among others) all in an attempt to get you to send bank drafts (cashiers cheques), cash, or your personal banking information.

There are almost certainly other nefarious things going on, but these are the most common – and all of them can be reasonably guarded against by a little common sense and good practises.

What can you do?

One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is to choose a secure password for the sites you visit.

Here are some common examples of bad passwords:

  • -“abc123” and other short and easily guessable letter/number combinations
  • -birthday or anniversary dates
  • -names of spouse, children, pets, or self
  • -using the name of the site the password is for (e.g., “ilovepizzapizza”)
  • -names of hobbies (e.g., “xboxisawesome”)
  • -holiday dates (e.g., “1031” for Halloween, or “1225” for Christmas)
  • -passwords shorter than the allowable length (i.e., if you have the option of creating an eight character long password, don’t only use four of the available characters)

These types of bad password choices can be cracked in under two minutes using a computer program designed for the purpose.

How do you choose a good password?

There are several ways to choose a good password:

  • -Use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols up to a minimum of eight characters (e.g., *SfHk90*).
  • -Use a “passphrase” that includes letters, numbers, and symbols (e.g., ^I<3P1E^).
  • -Use a password manager program like Dashlane to choose – and remember! – a secure password for you.
  • -Create the longest password allowed – the longer it is, the harder it is to crack.

 Good password practices

  • -Use a different password for each site.
  • -Change your passwords every month or two.
  • -Do not leave passwords written down and lying around.
  • -Do not share your passwords with others.
  • -Use multi-factor authentication where available (i.e., a second code or password is sent via text or phone before you can login, or this can also be used to recover a lost/forgotten password).

It’s important to be aware, and even a little wary.  Most sites and people are legitimate, and that can make it difficult to know which ones aren’t, but it’s important to get into the habit of asking yourself the following questions before giving your personal information to anyone: ‘Who I am really sharing my personal information with? Why do they want it? What will they do with it once they have it?’

Facebook: 10 ways to engage people beyond the “Like” button

Facebook is a powerful way to reach out to your existing customers, and create new ones. When you start out, it’s exciting to see people “liking” your content and leaving comments, and it’s easy to look at the numbers on a Facebook post and think, “I got so many “likes”, I must be doing great!”

We don’t want to worry you, but, there is a lot more to Facebook than simply collecting “Likes” – especially if those “likes” are not translating into brand recognition and higher sales. So, how do you do it? How do you aim beyond the “Like” button and really engage in meaningful and memorable conversation with your customers? It’s easier than you think.

1. Keep it short

People don’t read anything word for word, they scan for the most salient and relevant points based on what they are looking for, and move on. When writing a Facebook post, treat it more like you would a “tweet” on Twitter. Be concise, say what you mean, and let people react. If you have more to share, link to it on your website.

Facebook text comparison

 2. Use short links

Long links in Facebooks posts are not only unsightly, they are hard to read and distract from the message of your post. Use a free service like Bitly to shorten the links.

 

 long link versus short link comparison

3. React to comments (the good and the bad)

Every Facebook post is a chance to interact with your audience – but many businesses don’t, they talk at their customers and don’t respond to comments. While Facebook isn’t about face-to-face connections, it’s still about connecting. You don’t have to respond to every comment, but if someone takes the time to write something more involved than, “Wow!”, you should acknowledge it. This is especially true if you receive negative comments: address them as soon as you see them. Let the user – and all the other users – see that when issues crop up, you deal with them in an upfront and professional way because your customers matter.

If you’re looking for a really great example of how not to handle negative comments, this article regarding ‘Amy’s Baking Company’ is a good read.

 

Example of an apology post

4. Use more (relevant) photos and link thumbnails/cover photos

Facebook pages and posts that use photos generally get more “likes” and shares than pages and posts with no photos (or bad/irrelevant photos). Use clear and well-lit photos that are relevant to your page (in terms of your cover photo) or post.

Ideally, your picture should be original, but if it isn’t, give full credit to the photographer or artist – and don’t forget to obtain permission to use the work if it isn’t licensed under Creative Commons. Facebook can give the illusion that everything creative can be freely used, but using other people’s work without permission or credit is plagiarism.

5. Create chances for user participation

People love to share their opinions about things: what they like, what they don’t like, how they feel, what they want… so use this to your best advantage when creating posts. Ask questions, conduct a poll, run a “caption this photo” contest – not only will this engage your audience, they’ll feel like they matter to you as individuals.

6. Use real people

Facebook is used by real people to look at real things made by, or about, other real people – so why not share their stories publicly? Encourage people to post photos and comment – you could even hold a contest. Ask for their stories related to your product. Don’t forget about the people you work with – they work hard to make your business great, so why not share some of their stories and pictures too?

7. Offer advice

There’s more to business than charming dollars out of wallets: what problems or issues are you solving for your customers? What can you help them accomplish?  What are you offering them that enhances their lives, well-being, happiness etc.? How does what you offer resonate with them on a personal level? Once you can answer those questions for yourself, share your answers on Facebook.

8. Use a conversational tone

As mentioned previously, Facebook is about connecting real people to other real people – but if you hold people at arms length with stiff and formal language, it will be a lot harder to engage with them. Sounding professional doesn’t have to be stuffy and boring.

9. Sneak peek/exclusive content

Everyone likes to feel special and like part of the “in” crowd, so give your audience that feeling by sharing a little hint of what’s to come for your business. Thinking of adding a new product? Developing something really cool? Tell your Facebook fans about it – and let your excitement and enthusiasm shine through.

example of a sneak peak post

10. Ask for likes and shares, but be creative

It’s OK to ask people to “Like” or “Share” your posts and page on Facebook, but you have to be clever about how you do it. Flat out requests  such as, “Please ‘Like” this post!’ will generally be ignored, or clicked on quickly with no user retention (i.e., easily and quickly forgotten with no further interaction). Phrasing the request as a chance to offer an opinion, or participate in something is far better.

 

So, you’d like to have your own website…

You have this thing that you’re really passionate about. Maybe you’re a realtor or a doctor; or you’re making some really cool art; or running a B&B; or writing short stories, or making movies; or even just blogging because you have things you want to say to the world. What better way to put yourself out there than on a website of your very own!

But then you think, “I’m not sure how to make a website. Or how to make it look nice. Or what sort of stuff I should put on it. And, I haven’t got a clue how to look after it – what if something goes wrong?” And you talk yourself out of it. Your business doesn’t really need a website anyway, you think. Those short stories and movies are really just for you – it doesn’t matter if no one else reads or sees them. Everyone and their brother has a blog – why should you even bother?  And there they go, dreams and enthusiasm that you aren’t sharing because of one teeny little barrier.

Well, we think that not only should you have a website, you should have a really great website: one that you’re excited about; one that makes you want to show the world what you’re up to – one that reflects you and your passion.

We can build you a site like that. In fact, we’d be delighted to build you a site like that.

Here are a few of the things we do:

  • Web design (all WordPress, all the time).
  • Site maintenance.
  • Interactive elements to engage users.
  • WordPress updates.
  • Troubleshooting.
  • Site security – no hackers here!
  • SEO, so the great Google machine – and your users – can find you.
  • Content – editing and/or writing.
  • Events and ticketing.
  • Shopping carts and payment systems.
  • Newsletters with personalised branding.
  • WordPress training for individuals or groups.
  • Site optimisation for mobile and tablets.
  • Managed web hosting – we do more than just rent you server space.

We do all these things for our clients and, because it’s your site and we think you should have the know-how to take charge of it, we’ll also train you to use WordPress. Don’t worry, it’s so easy to use that most people can learn the basics in less than an hour.

Not to toot our own horn (we are totally tooting our own horn!) but, we really excel at these things and enjoy doing them, so let us use our expertise to help you. We’ve got everything you could need under one roof: programmers, designers, writers, and hardware/software wizards who keep everything running smoothly so you don’t have to worry.

Give us a call, or drop us a line, and let’s chat.

Managed web hosting: worth its weight in gold

You’ve seen them, those splashy ads blinking away at you on your monitor with things like: “Sign up for web hosting with us! Do it now and you pay only $10 a month – and you get the first six months free!” in bold neon colours. Doesn’t that sound like the most fantastic deal? Super cheap web hosting that will barely make a dent in your morning coffee-and-a-muffin fund – how could you say no?

Well, before you say yes, we’d ask you to consider the following: most web hosting companies offer web hosting and not much else. Sure, you’ll have assurances of optimal speeds, reliable server uptime, and some reasonable level of security but that still just adds up to renting a bit of space on their server, and all they take care of is keeping their hardware running smoothly – it’s service at its most basic.

We believe in a much more robust and full-service approach: managed hosting. We’ll still take care to keep the hardware running as smoothly as possible – optimal speeds, reliable server uptime, and security are important – but we’ll also take care of your actual site, too:

  • WordPress updates so that you’re always running the latest version.
  • Website tweaks and changes as needed or desired.
  • An extra layer of monitored security to keep malicious attacks from spammers and their ilk at bay.
  • Site backup and restoration – sometimes things go wrong, having a backup is crucial.
  • Technical support for hardware or software related issues.

With regular web hosting, your site problems are your site problems – and this leaves you in the position of having to find a web designer or programmer to fix the site, or a content and SEO specialist to tweak the content, or some other outside professional to help you. We think all those people, all those specialities, should be in one place – and with us, they are. One phone call or email for any problem is all it takes.

Our basic managed web hosting package starts at $20/month – most of our clients have this package. For clients whose sites will need a lot of managing – extensive site changes and assistance – we also offer monthly retainer packages starting at $100/month. We want to do more than just rent you some server space – we want to see you and your site really shine.

We admit it, it’ll bite into the morning coffee fund a little more than the other guys, but peace of mind has its own value – and we think that’s worth the price of even the best coffee.

Site Statistics – what your visitors are up to

We all like to look at our site statistics: Who’s visiting our site? How often? Where are they from? What sort of search terms are they using to find us? How many people visited us last Wednesday?

Sparkjoy has just made it even easier for you to look at all of that information in one place; simply log in to your site, and look for the Google Analytics Dashboard widget in your site’s Dashboard.

Your Dashboard is the first thing you see when you log in, and it looks something like this:

screenshot of WordPress Dashboard example

You may need to scroll down to find the Google Analytics widget, and it looks something like this:

screenshot of google analytics dashboard widget

For a more detailed explanation on how to use this widget, look at this tutorial.

Everything we can learn about how visitors find and use your site, helps us help you make your site even better. And the better your site is, the more visitors it will attract – how great is that? (Hint: it’s pretty great).

All the best,

Sparkjoy Studios