Love Your Maison

A busy husband and wife team managing some of the many gites and holiday homes in the area. They needed a simple showcase and highlight the services they offer. These range from garden maintenance and lawncare to keeping a home spick and span so that upon arrival the owners can enjoy their stay without the worry of garden and housework. loveyourmaison.com

Using an attractive stock background that sufficiently resembles the local French countryside so as not to raise objections 🙂 I implemented a theme with a side menu to give a nice square content area. I guess I was working with the “maison” theme, solid and regular etc but ultimately I just wanted something attractive that would showcase some of the services theat Martin and Karen offer. The slide show effect of the photos they provided along with some stock photos enlivens the site and gives a good sense of the business.

How I work

Build it and they will come? Unfortunately not. A web site is not so much a product, more of an organic process, it must be built, for sure, but to be seen by search engines it needs to be active.  My workflow means that I build the site that you want and, for a small monthly charge I not only host it but keep it active with small changes that you request and regular security checks and updates to keep it safe and alive. I also establish a relationship with you. I send you regular reports summarising the activity on your site,  number of views, how many are new etc (and if you ask I can let you have a further breakdown on each site page and where access has come from).

I develop using WordPress, some 25% of the web is built using this content management system or CMS.  Actually, the web was always and is still HTML (now HTML5) it is just extra functions that make it do fancier stuff like galleries, store and organise your content (stuff), that WordPress does for you (via php and javascript mostly). WordPress is Open Source which means that, it is not a commercial enterprise pleasing shareholder and prone to takeovers and even going out of business.  Being open source means that, rather than being coded by a bunch of random geeks, it has a well disciplined team of hundreds of wizard programmers who take WordPress places it needs to go, handle any security issues promptly and provide willing help in the friendly and supportive WordPress community. I’ll talk more about WordPress in another blog sometime.

I can offer my services so economically because whilst I could code what I needed, I seldom need to spend days over what can be obtained in minutes. Built on the foundation of WordPress is a whole ecosystem of add-ons – themes that give a background style (albeit infinitely changeable), plugins that give whatever functionality you can imagine (and with over 40,000 plugins available there’s more than I can imagine). Some of the good add-ons are premium, ie are licensed annually, so some special functionality, such as specialized eCommerce, can incur an extra annual cost.  Some of these premium add-ons allow me to develop beautiful sites designed exactly how I imagine, quickly and reliably.  Before I discovered some of these add-ins, laying out a page (such as jordanlancaster.co.uk) took days to get exactly right. Now its not just quicker it requires so much less compromise, if I want a certain layout, I can achieve it in minutes, giving me more time fo consider the design and branding.

My background has been working with many individuals and small companies, developing software and training their staff. This experience leads me to identify with a particular type of user, one who just want “it” done and the decisions about things they don’t fully understand made for them. This is why my service is fully managed. For me the advantage is that I can keep all the sites secure (using Wordfence) as well as all the software up-to-date. The recent “Panama Papers” leaks were possible because of out-of-date software leaving a security hole that keeping the site updated would have plugged.

Apparently 80% of websites are being accessed by a mobile device. So it is important to be able to respond to the differences in device size. “Responsive” web sites adjust to the device that is being used to view it. You can shrink the browser window to get an idea of how this web site responds. Of course many new features such as video headers, wide “hero” images across the page, slide show and so on, become very popular and if the site requires it, or the client insists, I will include such features. However there needs to be a compromise between speed of the website and design. I try to go for a balance since it is worth remembering that Google and other search engines rank according to site speed.  Responsive design is also a Google factor as is proper keyword usage. Google will downrank a site that has excessive duplicate keywords so “keyword stuffing” no longer works.

I use All in one SEO as an add-on that guides me through the necessary processes of optimising my sites for search engines. From keywords and metadata to submitting the sitemap. I also setup the Google Search console.

Delia Wallace Virtual PA

Ok I’ll come clean, she is my wife. That being said she was no walkover in creating her new site. She had high expectations and lots of feedback from her clients and work colleagues. We worked on a fairly minimal theme but pretty. It is a simple static web site that enable those interested in her services to find just a little more background and hopefully get an idea of Delia’s personality. In summary showcasing some of her art as well as the personal assistance she can offer online. deliavirtualPA.com

We decided that the need was for a minimal yet functional look. Branding was a tough one, Delia’s love of art made the idea of something of her own as a logo seem a good idea. Her Nautilus shell was right-sized and pastel coloured and so I think works well on a minimal white background. The use of a script font was a choice to de-formalise somewhat. Too much looks gimmicky in my opinion but we feel we’ve struck the right balance here. A picture of Delia herself looking her usual happy self, rotated slightly, again to deformalise, adds a balance to the otherwise spare home page. Keeping the home page uncluttered is helped by the ‘click here…’ linking to the About page which, although it is on the menu the link in the text gives a flow to the background information being presented on the page.

The other pages are more typical of such subject matter though the motifs of font and the narrow orange bar on the header and footer are intended to tie each page together. The About and How Can I help… pages also have more of Delia smiling out of the pages and lastly on the contact page is a recent favourite piece of her artwork.

Passwords

I’ll admit there are sites I don’t bother using a good password, where I’ve been forced to “join” when all I want is some information. But if you need to give them ANY confidential information, especially payment info (even if they’ll always be sending to YOU), if its personal use a good password. Surprisingly, writing it on a post-it and sticking it yo your screen (at home that is) is probably as safe as anything, I mean is a burglar is at that point he could probably get all the personal details he wanted without even turning your computer on. Still, if everything else is secure, you should be a bit more circumspect about your on-line security too.

Never use anything too obvious (“password” is one of the most common passwords!), avoid personal info that can be found elsewhere such as your birthday, maiden name etc.  For websites where I won’t be entering personal data I’ll uses a non-obvious but memorable password, perhaps the same one. I have lost nothing if such a site gets hacked. Once they starts to need personal data (and if this they ask for details they don’t actually need in the name of greater security or perhaps just for their marketing, don’t use the real data, give a false birthday etc). I often take the web site and apply my own recipe to it that make it hard to guess. How to remember them all? Since most problems with stolen details happen on-line you can write a list and stick it on your desk, sounds unsafe I know but if a burglar is much less likely than a hacker. In fact if websites ask you for personal info, don’t be too truthful since if they are hacked then the hacker will know your birthday, mother’s maiden name, pet or whatever so lie.  See below for on-line storage of these details since if you have “lied” you will need to remember.

All places requiring a password will have an “I forgot my password” link. This will usually send to your email. So it is REALLY important that your email password is secure!

If you are offered a second level of security such as secret questions, don’t use real or obvious questions (if you get to choose these) and answers. Favourite pet Mother’s maiden name could all be found with a bit of research so be canny.

Use the second level of security that sends a code to your mobile if the site is important for instance your bank.

Personally I use a password manager, lastpass is good and free. You’ll need a really safe long master password that you’d enter once when you turn your computer on and thereafter it will ask if you want to save new sites and remember existing ones. Use its “generate password” option and it will generate something like ([email protected]#{[ which you will never remember but lastpass will. Away from your computer? Just go to the lastpass website and login.

Other passwords managers are available, some with your browser, not a lot of good if you are out and about (though Chrome does have a facility to store online). Anything online is hackable but on-line password managers have very good encryption. And changing your password periodically is a good idea and if you use a manager, much more “manageable”. Changin your password manager password periodically is also advisable. I often use a long sentence, some nonsense and write it down somewhere. Other password managers are available but  I like <a href=”http://lastpass.com”>lastpass</a>.

If you must use your own non-automated passwords, you could do worse that your own memorable “encryption”. For instance I might have created a password for amazon that was the first letters of “I spend too many pounds on amazon!” = ISTM£OA!

Until there is a convenient iris identifier, dna mapper or fingerprint reader that cannot be bypassed by chopping your hand off or plucking your eye out (someone else doint it to you I mean!), passwords will be necessary, and you will be forced by sites who want to protect themselves (an indirectly, you) to create ever more complicated passwords. For me an online manager is ideal, but at very least store yours in a password protected zipped spreadsheet.