Author Archives: Paul Silver

Starting a bootstrappers group

In the drinks after the first Life Time Value conference last year, two different friends hinted that it would be great if there was a local meet up for people who were trying to start their own ‘product’ businesses. They were telling me partly because they were interested to see if I would come along, but mainly because I’ve organised various groups and events before, and they wanted me to do this one. After some humming and haaing, and checking another friend would come along, I said yes.

I’d been in a group of people trying to bootstrap their own startups before. In 2009 Jon Markwell (now co-organiser of the Life Time Value conference with Andy Croll) organised a weekly meet up for people trying to get their own product or service up and running. Even though I later burnt out on the idea I was pursuing then, I’d found the group very helpful. Even better, Jon said he’d both come to this new group and lend us part of his coworking space, The Skiff, to hold the meetings.

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Why start a SaaS as a freelancer?

I’ve been a freelancer for 14 years and am currently starting a Software as a Service (SaaS) to supplement, and perhaps replace, my freelancing income.

I’m quite successful as a freelancer. By that I mean I earn enough to pay all the bills and save some extra, supporting my child and wife while our son is young and it’s easier if she does not return to work, all in an expensive area to live in. We’re not rolling in cash, but we’re not in the “just getting by” category so many of our friends are in.

So, why start something extra? Starting something new is going to be a distraction, I’ll have to turn away client work that could have filled that time.

New challenges

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Secure certificate registration – ensure you choose ‘www’ or not

I’ve been helping a client move their website from their existing host to a new one, as their old host is closing down.

This was quite straightforward once they’d decided to only move the site I had written the code for, not another which was a complicated unknown entity.

The only wrinkle was they have a secure certificate to give them an https connection and we had to register a new certificate as part of the move. I did this through their host at their request, but hadn’t realised that most SSL certificates are specific to the domain, including the sub-domain. This was a mistake as they used the ‘www’ version of their address for their website, and I registered the new certificate for the non-www version.

To stop this being a problem, I put a redirect in to the .htaccess file to redirect all traffic to the non-www version on the secure connection:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.(.*)
RewriteRule ^.*$ https://%1/$1 [R=301,L]

The only further foible was as this was an existing site, Google had indexed the site, and shows the https version in the search results, even though the home page is not explicitly https. Now, because it points people to the https://www version of the site, it shows an unsecure error before showing the site, because the certificate isn’t valid for that on the new site.

Solution?

  • Used Google Search Console (AKA Webmaster Tools) to update the preference to the non-www name
  • Updated the DNS of the www. version to point to the old server while it is still working
  • Added the above .htaccess redirect on the old server to point everyone across to the secure version of the non-www address
  • Created a new XML sitemap of the site at the secure, non-www address and re-submitted it to Google Search Console
  • Wrote an apologetic e-mail to the client explaining the mistake
  • Wrote this blog post and linked to the new site address to help the non-www address get indexed

All this means – searchers go to the old host so no security warning, then get forwarded to the new host while we wait for Google to respond to the preference change. I hope it comes through quickly.

And now I’ll go back to my scheduled work a wiser, if more tired, man.

Sending a push notification to your browser or mobile with ColdFusion and Push Engage

Push Engage is a service which lets you easily send push notifications to a browser or mobile phone, using a little code on your website. It’s very easy to set up and they currently have a very generous free account, allowing you to send a notification to up to 2,500 browsers/devices.

I’m using it as part of some alerts in the background of a client’s website. They’re using ColdFusion, so I needed to work out the code to send the alert from them, the API documentation on Push Engage has an example in PHP, but it’s very simple to convert. Here’s a CFHTTP call that will send a notification:

<cfset api_key = “(your API key here)”>

<cfhttp method=”Post”
url=”https://www.pushengage.com/apiv1/notifications”>

<cfhttpparam type=”header”
value=”#api_key#”
name=”api_key”>

<cfhttpparam type=”Formfield”
name=”notification_title”
value=”The text for the alert title”>

<cfhttpparam type=”Formfield”
name=”notification_message”
value=”The smaller text of the message of the notification”>

<cfhttpparam type=”Formfield”
name=”notification_url”
value=”http://www.example.com/”>
</cfhttp>

I’ve already followed their steps for adding Javascript to a page on the website, visiting it using a browser on my computer and my phone and accepting notifications from the site. Now, when I trigger the page with this on, I get a notification a few moments later. Lovely!

Thanks to Dave Child for introducing me to Post Engage.

 

Worried about the Google mobile update? Check your Google Analytics first

If your website is not suitable for easy use on a mobile, i.e. it’s not ‘responsive’ or you do not have a version of the website just for mobile phone users, you will be affected by the Google update coming next week. Basically, if someone searches on their mobile phone, they won’t see your website in Google’s search results any more. However, if they search on their laptop or larger computer, they will see it as they do now.

I’m seeing a lot of scare mongering on social media about this and articles which are prodding people towards panic. Before you get too worried, please remember this affects:

  • People using their smartphones to search Google and find your website

Here is how you find out how many people that is, if you use Google Analytics:

Login to Google Analytics and go to the report for your website.

On the menu on the left, click ‘Audience’ (this will probably already be chosen,) then ‘Mobile’, then ‘Overview’

Google Analytics - mobile overviewThis shows you how many mobile users you have looking at the website. The screenshot above is for one of my personal websites, so the traffic generally is quite low. In this case, I had 102 visitors to the site using their mobile phone to view it in the last 30 days.

However, that doesn’t tell me how many will be affected by this Google update. For that, I need the number coming from Google’s natural search results. So, to find those:

Click ‘Secondary dimension’, then ‘Acquisition’, then ‘Source / Medium’

Choosing where people have come fromLook down the list and find the line which says ‘mobile’ and ‘google / organic’. If it’s not immediately visible, try making the ‘show rows’ bigger in the drop down list under the table of results.

Affected mobile visitorsSo for this website, I had 61 visitors come through Google search to the website on their mobile phones in the last 30 days. This website isn’t built in a responsive way, so basically I’m likely to lose that after the Google update comes out.

I don’t want to lose that, but then again, I’m also very busy at the moment and don’t have time to re-build the CSS and potentially the HTML of the website, so I’m just going to have to put up with that. It’s not great, but it’s 7% of my traffic. That’s not going to kill the website.

Checking through my client’s websites, I’m seeing mobile use between 15% and 40%, and traffic from Google’s natural search results – remember, the bit that will actually be affected by this change – being between 2.5% – 13% and one outlier at 29%.

If you’re a business and have Goals set up, it’s worth digging further in to Google Analytics to see how many visitors using their mobiles are converting in to customers – although this becomes tricky, as people often research on their phone, then buy on their computer.

If you’re thinking of doing a quick conversion to a responsive website, check your Analytics first. If you’re only going to lose a small percentage of visitors, it will be worth considering not doing a hurried conversion, but holding off and giving it some more thought and doing a better update when you’ve had more time to work out what you want done. Yes, you’ll lose some traffic in the short term, but doing a hurried conversion that doesn’t work quite right won’t get you any more sales anyway. Don’t react just because the update is coming in now, improve your website by making it work better on phones because you want to give those visitors a good experience of your business.