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Search engine optimisation? Four questions answered.

As part of our sister design business Create Services we often get asked about search engine optimisation. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions.

What is it?

In simple terms it means setting up your website in such a way that the internet search engines are more likely to display it early in their results when relevant search terms are used – and by search engines we largely mean Google since they handle around 70% of all searches (Yahoo does around 15%, Microsoft Bing about 10% and others 5%). Search engine optimisation is not the same thing as Adwords, which is Google’s brand name for paid advertisements on their search results pages.

Do I need it?

It really depends how you expect the majority of your visitors to find your website. It may be that the most of your clients will be directed to it via other media, such as having your website address on letterheads, business cards, etcetera. Of course if someone searches specifically for your company name you would expect any search results to include your site in the first few entries, but that should happen with any well designed site provided your name is not very common. It’s the people who search for words associated with the type of business you do, or your general location or a product you sell, people who might never have heard of your business before, that optimisation is aimed at. So, does your website need to capture the attention of those type of people?

How do I do it?

Ah… if only there was a simple answer to this one! Google is notoriously secretive about the methods they use to order search results. One thing that is known is that the number of references (links) to a website on other websites not associated to it, is used as a measure of how popular a site is. So well known sites, which are referenced all over the internet, will tend to feature higher in the results. But it’s also something that is largely out of your control. You can encourage or pay other sites (especially any professional bodies you might be a member of) to publish a link to your site which might help a little, but really it’s only by being around and established for a while that you’ll accumulate enough links to have any impact.

Providing original content which does not simply advertise your business but is a useful resource for people can help in getting links. For example a care home website might provide a page ‘five things to think about when choosing a care home’ which would be a guide for people making the difficult decision to have an elderly relative looked after. Use social media and link to your site regularly from your accounts there.

Besides having the site well-designed and standards-conformant (which is a given for any site we build), the most important thing you can do is make sure that the text on your pages reflects accurately your business. In addition to the text that any visitor sees, you can also add some hidden information (meta-tags) to the pages which search engines will pick up.

I’ve heard there are tricks you can use to get Google to rank my site higher?

People are continually trying to find new ways to ‘beat’ Google’s system. There are two problems with this approach. Firstly it’s difficult to assess how well any of these ideas actually work. You need several months of data and even then you can’t be sure that some other factor hasn’t changed in the meantime. But more importantly, if Google decide you are artificially trying to boost your place in the search results they may blacklist your site completely, meaning you end up achieving exactly the opposite of what you set out to do.

You have to laugh

An outrage took place at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday. ‘Islamic terrorists’ dressed up in the costume of war and well-armed with the weapons of war took the fight to their sworn enemy and killed… a bunch of cartoonists??? A great victory for caustic reviewers of comedy everywhere.

Prophet Muhammad sent down a special message from paradise with his apologies “I’ve tried to get them to lighten up but no, they keep going on about how no-one should make fun of me as if I was the one with no sense of humour! Get it straight, I thought a lot of that stuff was fucking hilarious, especially the ones with the Pope”.

So, our brave satirists paid with their lives and we mourn their loss and grieve with their families. But in their passing we now see the jihadists for what they truly are.

An absurdly silly bunch of people who can’t take a joke.

Je suis Charlie!

Have a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

It’s that time of year again, but this time, rather than dwell upon the meaning of the festivities I’d just like to offer a little perspective and I can think of no better way to do that than with the lyrics of Monty Python’s Galaxy Song

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs Brown
And things seem hard or tough
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft
And you feel that you’ve had quite enough

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned
A sun that is the source of all our power

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour
Of the galaxy we call the milky way

Galaxies

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide

We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point
We go round every two hundred million years
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, the speed of light, you know
Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth

Credits: Eric Idle & John du Prez

If you’d like to watch the song as originally performed by Eric Idle, here’s the video:

From everyone at Careimages, enjoy the holidays.

Harvester restaurants: food for the thoughtless

If you want to know what kind of society we live in today, read this link http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/severely-disabled-teenager-turfed-out-4550908 and weep. So here is the situation; a cretin among the diners complains about the noise coming from the table and a manager who should know better but does not (mainly because he has not been trained properly by the company he works for) asks the profoundly disabled person to leave the premises.

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Not so sweet: Harvester’s treatment of customer
This is not just about HR or PR (although the £100 gift voucher offered by owners Mitchells & Butlers as compensation is as humiliating as the order to vacate the restaurant). No, this kind of incident is all too common in a society where glamour replaces substance. Drivel like The only way is Essex and I’m a celebrity bombard us with sounds and images that confirm a warped message which tells us ‘we are how we look’. The restaurant manager like many ignorant folk before him, presumably felt he was ‘only doing his job’ in protecting the said cretin who complained from the zombies who were not only ion the space, but also the face of proper humans.

And here is the moral of this story. We cleared the long stay subnormality hospitals 40 years ago in order to give people with profound disabilities a chance in life. Those dismal workhouses for imbeciles, spastics and crazy people gave way to small units where people were supposed to live as independently as their abilities would enable. The rows of lavatories without doors gave way to ensuite bathrooms. And yet, 40 years on, how many cinemas, theatres, football stadia, pubs and clubs are really wheelchair friendly? How many cab drivers can be bothered to stop for a disabled person? And how many capable people with challenging behaviour and learning disabilities do we encounter in work situations? How many more disabled people are turfed out of restaurants?

So in the interests of equality for all Mitchells & Butlers’ customers we challenge the company’s external relations manager Sally Ellison to go onto the company blog and write a full and frank apology to Megan and her family. No, not one of those media course apologies with a humiliating £100 voucher, but one that recognises that the company have failed one of its customers and what they propose to do about this failure. And more importantly, explain why the restaurant manager was programmed to take sides with the cretin who complained and humiliate a disabled woman.

Change of address

With effect from Monday 20th January 2014, Care Images has a new office address:

qrcode
Ground Floor,
94 Leonard Street
London
EC2A 4RH

Our telephone number – 020 7254 1500 – remains the same, as do all our email addresses.

You can put our details straight into your smartphone with the qrcode alongside.

A very merry Christmas and happy New Year

Christmas tree

Seasons greetings to all!

Christmas is here once again and as the frenzy of last-minute shopping reaches its peak, one could be forgiven for forgetting that it is a religious festival as opposed to a retail one – or is it?

For Christian religions it is a celebration of Christ’s birth. However, the date itself is only symbolic and was simply piggybacked by early Roman believers onto the existing week-long midwinter festival of Saturnalia, which itself was a pagan carnival of excess. Even that though has deeper roots, since it marks the winter solstice, the shortest day. What could be more natural than celebrating the start of the retreat of darkness? Something that is common across many religions.

Sadly, darkness or depression is something that afflicts a lot of people, not only now, but throughout the year. But at a time when the majority are celebrating, the feeling of isolation can be particularly strong.

So, from all here at Careimages, enjoy the festivities, try to bring a little light into other peoples’ darkness and in the words of the late, great Dave Allen, “May your God go with you”.

Get your message across without breaking the bank

When we set up Care images all those years ago (when a camera was under a curtain with a puff of smoke coming up behind the photographer) our aim was to provide affordable and realistic images of care to the sector and its suppliers. And we like to think we have succeeded with a raft of local authorities, charities and design agencies subscribing.

Gin and tonic
Gin and tonic: A realistic view of communicating in the sector
Care Images grew out of our other company, Create Services, which produces publicity and marketing materials for the care and charity sectors. Due to a dearth of UK-based images of care and community in the generic image bank market, we thought the only way to resolve that problem was to set up our own bank of images. Basically we were getting tired of representing UK adults with physical disabilities through the ubiquitous American man in a wheelchair throwing a basketball through a hoop. The way I put it then was something like this: “Istock and co have an seventy year-old woman in the Florida sunshine looking like she is fifty, we have a lonely seventy-year-old woman in a cold room in London reaching for a bottle of gin”.

It’s interesting to reflect the reality of how local authorities, charities and the care sector get their message across. Create Services continues to work in these sectors (as well as with clients outside them) and in our work we come across vast differentials in how communications are approached. There are hundreds of thousands of charities in the UK ranging from huge multi-million pounds turnover to one person in a back room putting hours of work into a cause he or she believes in. And of course there are thousands of visual communications agencies serving the sectors. But I do wonder if going to one of the ‘cool’ Soho-based branding agencies is the right way for the bigger charities to spend their money. Add to that the amounts that are regularly spent on high print and web projects and it is easy to see how the minus columns can grow out of proportion. Is a charity really getting added value by

What the blue-chip companies do with their money is between them and their shareholders but what charities and local authorities do is another matter entirely. And with so much free communications available on social media it is more important than ever not to waste resources. It seems to me that the sector is disproportionately representing at the top and bottom ends of the communications spectrum, from a poorly constructed and designed website for a small care home at the bottom to lavish TV, film and print ads for the big charities at the top. We serve the middle of the market and we have a very loyal client base to prove our worth to their brands.

I worked 15 years in social work and understand the funding constraints of the sector. But it is entirely possible to get really good communications materials without breaking the bank. So if you think you might not be getting the kind of value you deserve, come to the experts in promoting care for design, print and web..just as you have been doing for images. For really good free advice please contact us through enquiries@careimages.com or hello@createservices.co.uk

In the name of freedom, all the news that’s unfit to print

The issue of freedom of the press is one where the ink will just not dry. I generally agree with Nick Cohen but on this one I fear he has lost the plot.

All the news that's fit?
If left to its own devices and self policing, the media moguls will continue to govern the country (and I include the Guardian, BBC et al with the Murdochs in this). Think about it, ‘freedom of the press’ is a no negotiation mantra trotted out by an interesting alliance of left, right and centre. What this unholy alliance conveniently forgets is that the press has very little freedom. Whether it be pathetically going on bended knees to advertisers, PR agencies or think tanks (listen to Today on the radio each morning and count the number of reports from think tanks on the news slots), the press does not have as much ‘freedom’ as we like to think.

I rather like the idea of Big Brother poking its nose into the disgusting pig’s trough that is the UK media and spewing out the sh*t that poses for ‘responsible journalism’. But ‘hang on’ cry the hacks from the red tops, ‘if we’ve done something illegal, then Mr Plod and his mates will be feeling our collars’. Quite so, but for me it’s not enough to cower behind the safety of ‘free speech’ knowing that only the rich and famous will take legal action; the good folk who have no money and who have been named and shamed in the red tops and beyond, have no recourse to expensive lawyers.

I’m not well qualified to know if headlines like ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’ is in the public interest or if it falls within the boundaries of free speech. And I realise that regulation could be the start of a slippery slope that ends with a single newspaper called Pravda. But there has to be a middle ground, which curbs the enthusiasm of a press mob seemingly out of control. I hope that the cross-party agreement works, but I fear that the double edge sword called ‘freedom’ can draw a lot of blood.

Mind the age gap; let’s start giving older people the respect they deserve

There is no need for an introduction to this story from The Guardian.

Work experience: Older people have a lot to offer
The ubiquitous Mr Aso, as the article points out, has a track record for insensitivity. This latest tirade against the elderly is actually an extreme example of how societies are increasingly ‘valuing’ older people. Yes, it’s true that as we get richer and more savvy about health, so people in developed countries live longer, and this is a cause for celebration, not an excuse for propagating a form of ageist cleansing.

It’s not just about the economic and social impacts of populations that lives longer. As I go about my business in London, I see older people marginalised by a society that is designed and fine tuned to give younger people economic and social power. What used to be taken as given, that a younger person would vacate a seat for an elderly passenger struggling with shopping is now met with a grunt or shrug as the said younger person continues to carry on his or her obsession with the nonsense to catch up with on FaceTwitter.

The job market is also becoming a no-go area for people who who have the audacity to reach 50, never mind 70-plus. Despite evidence pointing to the ’employability’ of people with knowledge and experience, companies and organisations prefer ‘high-flyers’, some of whom, as we know are responsible for bringing western economies to the brink of collapse as Matthew Syed points out in his excellent book ‘Bounce’.

All of this is unfortunately a sideshow to the main act of how care for the elderly – both health and social – is being compromised by government cuts. This Daily Telegraph article is one of many that adorn the pages of our broadsheets.

And in the scramble to save money, it seems that the budget axe falls first with the ageing population.

The government had better watch its step. Countries as diverse as The Netherlands, Israel and India, to name just three, all have designated political parties representing older people and before the likes of Mr Aso have their way and see funeral companies’ profits soar, they may like to consider that in democratic countries, ageing people still have the vote.

Seasonal greetings to all

Being a web-based company, Care Images never rests and we are open for business 24/7/365. That said, at this time of year we do wind down and enjoy the festivities (let’s hope The Great Escape is screened again!)

Snow scene
A Happy Christmas from Care Images
Many of our clients are people who spend their working week helping vulnerable people, some of our models are living with the consequences of cuts to services and benefits. The current coalition government appears to have a policy of blaming the poor for the incompetence of the rich (bankers smugly carrying on their bad work). Everyone involved in care – practitioners and service users – will be affected as the axe continues to fall. And yet, despite the government’s policy, there is an enormous amount of great work out there enabling people to lead fulfilling lives. We regularly field calls from social service departments and charities telling us they need images to highlight the excellent work they are doing and we hope, in our very small way, we are helping promote the image of care.

We wish our clients, models and supporters seasonal greetings, and we look forward to being of service in 2013.

Best wishes
Mark Rivlin and Tim Brown