Woodland walks close to my Norfolk home

When my nose isn’t pressed firmly to the grindstone of work, which it tends to be nowadays, I often have a 60 minute to 90 minute daily sabbatical of a dog walk with the most recent addition to the family, a rescue border collie, who is delightful.

Working from home is wonderful, but when I was first anchored here, I had to force myself to go out.

Not because I’d developed some sort of Boo Radley social fear, but simply because I was totally focused on copywriting, social media management for clients (and myself) and freelance web design.

Adopting a dog in September 2018 changed all that.

I can’t stay glued to my Mac in my foxy home office when there’s a tail-wagging daily frenzy which translates into – “Put the work down and get me walked.”

Gladly too.

4 miles most days in all conditions is good for body and mind, I meet and chat with people, whereas without a dog, some Nimby would no doubt be calling the police about a tall, careworn man, who wanders woods daily.

If you know Bradwell and Gorleston, I’d recommend this walk. It’s got advantages in that it’s easily accessible by car or on foot and is impressive as the A143 and A47 (A12 as was) are not audible en route.

There’s a new road, connecting the A47 and A143, where we live on Bluebell Meadow and a 150 yard stroll takes me daily to a deserted footpath that passes just 4 houses on its 3 mile length and takes in mud, puddles and woods, which the dog, Cassie, loves, even when asked to sit in arctic conditions:

The route takes you south along the muddy bridleway, and when you pass two cottages on the left, that’s your cue to turn left for Bluebell Woods, which is decked with bluebells in April and May.

A stile crossed, with a big house to your right, you can go across the field, or turn left into the woods. I mix it every day to keep it real, generally preferring the field traverse.

In the woods, you can’t go wrong. There’s a part signed Keep Out which leads to a dead end anyway near Hobland Kennels, and you can wend round Beacon Park and actually leave the woods near the Captain Manby. 

I tend to head back to the new road, and again, it’s a walk that I enjoy most days as you witness seasonal change close at hand. 

Back on the new road, or Nurburgring, as I prefer to call it, as 30 mph seems to be flouted by every driver on there, and the few, who stick to it, are overtaken relentlessly by bellend drivers, it seems to me.

You can then cross the pruned wood to Woodfarm lane and weave back to Beccles Road via a bridlepath next to Ormiston Venture (Oriel High as was) or cross the field and footings of the next Persimmon phase.

There’s wildlife in abundance – pink-footed geese, various birds of prey, Muntjac deer and squirrels. Lots of squirrels. 

I’d recommend it and if you see me en route after reading this, say hello to me. 

I’m not a Norfolk local but I am northern and friendly. 

Are you exploiting the millions of zombies?

I am a zombie. My daughter is, my wife and son less so. We are the living dead.

Walking round with fixed stares.

Stares set on screens – living life through a lens, vicariously, whatever you want to call it.

Not alone though as most of the population seem glued to smartphones and the internet. It’s revolutionised life, changed business cultures and destroyed, perhaps, the high street as we knew it, 20, 30 years ago.

You either embrace your zombie clientele or end up as a footnote in history, like Woolworth’s, BHS, Toys R Us, the Goliaths amongst the Davids who’ve all crashed and burned in recent years.

Any business needs to be online and active on social media – whether that’s a start up or an established brand.

Look at Greggs – would their vegan sausage roll have made such an impact without that PR exercise on social media? I doubt it.

Few may go online and order a pallet of Greggs’ vegan sausage rolls, but anyone walking through an identikit town in Britain may wander in there to see what the fuss is all about.

That sausage roll campaign would have got nowhere without viral online marketing, with Piers Morgan chipping in, with the general population not knowing, perhaps, that the same PR manages him and Greggs.

They have an app too and a delivery service with active social media channels.

Life in 2019 for any business needs to be like that – social, digital and disruptive (a word I dislike).

If you’ve got the germ of an idea for a business in Gorleston, Great Yarmouth, Norwich or elsewhere, sit and make a plan. Write down ideas. Develop a brand. Get found on social. Build a tribe of followers. Be likeable.

Oh and get a website from this freelance web design Norwich expert.

You can even pay online now for it, after you’ve chatted with me.

How to get found on Google in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston?

There’s riches in niches, clearly, and I’ll grab a knife, carve that humble pie and eat a slice now, because, I admit to being wrong. There. Said it. A native of Yorkshire admitting fallibility is unheard of. But I’m wrong.

You see, in my aim for SEO dominance with this venture, I went for low competition and medium to high search volumes and ignored the low search volumes. 

Confused?

Let me in explain in simpler terms.

1,000 people per month search for web design Norwich and I wanted a piece of this. 100 people per month search for freelance web designer Norwich so I targetted this search phrase too.

You might want to be found for dog groomer Gorleston, childminder Bradwell, window cleaner Great Yarmouth, removal firm Norwich – you get the idea.

So what happened when I narrowed my scope down, so to speak.

The tactics worked and this freelance web design and copywriting company is now appearing on Google for those – admittedly you’d get repetitive strain injury clicking “Next Page” or “More Results” to find me for web design Norwich, but I’m on there after a concerted content and social campaign in just 8 months.

This is where I went wrong though as in the past three weeks, I’ve had four firm enquiries about freelance web design from people who’d searched web design Great Yarmouth. Google told me there were only 10 searches a month for that term so I ignored it.

Not any more though.

What I’ve learned whilst eating that pie is that:

  • Search volumes is not the Holy Grail of optimising your content. Competition is. The number of firms competing in Norwich, my nearest city, is much higher than here in Yarmouth, Gorleston, Bradwell and yet I’ve taken on new clients who found me online locally.
  • Social media matters just as much. I promoted a post locally on Facebook and Instagram for a modest tenner about where I live, Great Yarmouth. It was, I hope informative and engaging, and not sales oriented and again two messages have resulted from that £10 promotion. One asking about writing, another about web design.
  • A website audit (which I offer free) will tell you about SEO and SMO (Social Media Optimisation – if there is such an acronym) and I’ve learned that a business ignores social at its peril. Your client base, your readers are scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn and that subliminal, guerrilla, stealth marketing takes place there. You engage them on the apps, by offering something of worth, and then, when they make a decision to buy, they choose you, as web designer, estate agent, undertaker or whatever.

So I was wrong this week. Now I’m going for niches and all out on social media to keep me in the lifestyle I’m accustomed to: a BMW that does 26 miles to the gallon, San Pellegrino on tap, and gluten free humble pie. 

If you’re not appearing on searches and have no idea where to start, get in touch with me. I can get you found online for car hire Great Yarmouth, removal firm Lowestoft, tattoo artist Gorleston or indeed in any other field of work in any other part of the country.

I may have been wrong this week, but most of the time I know what I’m doing and I do it well. 

Put me to the test when you’re ready. 

Are you actively pursuing 5 star Google reviews?

I’m of an age when I remember the thud of Yellow Pages and the BT phonebook landing though letterboxes, the free newspaper (which I carry now from the welcome mat to recycling as it lands) and the days of buying newspapers, which seems so arcane, that I actually pinch and zoom when I stumble upon one.

Long opening sentence aside – my point is this.

Marketing has changed with the internet and won’t ever be the same. If your business is stuck in the 70s to 90s, it will slowly die. Marketing is on social and search engines, predominantly.

This brings me neatly to Google reviews. Did you know that having a business verified on Google Maps and Google My Business is a ranking factor, along with your presence on social media. Did you know that a Google review positively affects rankings, particularly on maps?

I’m 8 months old as a freelance web designer Norwich next week.

Don’t see me as a foetus though, as this 8 month old business has previous as a solo copywriter and in 12 months in a web design partnership.

I know too that the best review strategy is still P2P, people to people, word of mouth, but a close second is social and search.

Your business needs to be registered on Google, through sitemap submission and signing up to Google My Business, who then send a postcard (how 1975) with a code to verify. It stops people setting up businesses on maps at fake addresses for SEO, obviously. Your website needs to be fast to load and responsive too.

When you’re signed up for Google (Analytics, Bing, Apple Maps, Yelp, Yell, Thomson Local, local business directories), you then can focus on getting 5 star reviews.

My advice is clear.

If you don’t politely direct clients to write a 5 star review, they won’t usually do it. You have to tell them with screenshots and instructions how to do it. I do this regularly and only one client so far has refused – yet without irony, asked me to do some website changes to the next day. Which I did.

They are vital because the number of reviews appears on Google Maps – I’ve 23 of them.

People like to check out reviews before a purchase, I’ve been looking at Bose Quiet Comfort 35 ii headphones (praying my wife doesn’t read this!) and like any inquisitive human, have read reviews of them on John Lewis, Amazon and review sites. I’ve not bought any. Yet. The reviews though assure me it would be a good decision.

Whatever products or services you are selling, you need to build trust with a Google review policy. Contact me if you need more advice.

What does responsive website design mean?

Responsive website design is probably a term you’ve heard of and even perhaps know what it means.

I won’t keep you hanging – responsive means it fits to screen on mobile, desktop and tablet.

I used to naively think that a web designer created a website and hey presto it rendered correctly on all devices. If only. I, in common with other Norwich web design companies, build a website on a desktop machine, then have to work through how it appears on a smartphone, laptop and tablet.

I’m quite methodical in making them all render well.

A website is toggled off coming soon and I view it on my Note 9, Dell laptop, and iPad Pro and adjust images, text sizes, icons and menus accordingly.

Effectively, a page, like the Home page is designed and checked three or four times and every page undergoes the same process.

So many websites are still unresponsive – meaning on your iPhone or Samsung or Pixel you have to pinch and zoom and resize when a responsive website design, done right, does all that for you as a matter of course. Does yours?

This responsive website design Norwich freelancer can sort it.

It’s vital obviously because if 83% of internet activity – whether you’re on the apps of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or asking Siri, Google Assistant or surfing on Chrome or Safari, your website not only needs to feature on social and search but also appear right on mobiles and tablets.

I am also offering now a fully comprehensive free audit of your website. This evaluates your page speed, page size (should be under 5MB), your social media optimisation (mine gets a cross for low activity on YouTube, which I’m addressing) and a bulleted list of priorities. Which you can tackle.

This comes with no strings attached – all I need is your email address and domain name to check and you’ll get a free PDF audit in no time. Contact me now – [email protected]

Great Yarmouth, a town I live in

Seaside towns have a bad reputation: think Blackpool, Bridlington, Rhyl, Great Yarmouth, Hastings. Seasonal tourism, low paid jobs and a poor transport infrastructure, generally.

We moved to Gorleston, a major town, south of Great Yarmouth, 11 years ago and have since moved to Bradwell, a generally modern suburb, and I feel like it’s home now. People in Norwich get a bit sniffy about the place, but there is lots to recommend it, apart from just the climate, so here goes.

BEACHES

No word of a lie, but the beaches here are as good as any in Britain. Perhaps. Gorleston beach stretches for miles and the ground has few pebbles and the sea has a handy shelf you can happily wade into without being submerged. Admittedly 11 years ago, we swam in it, come rain or shine and now, never, but you get my point? It’s a town that is so on the way up that Danny Boyle, no less, filmed his Beatles movie here from the Pier Hotel.

No matter how often I walk along the beach or promenades, I never tire of it. Been wonderful for our physical health too after the dreadful air pollution of living near Scunthorpe.

Great Yarmouth beach is no slouch either and has its own dunes, piers and golden mile of amusements, with terrific historical resonance. The Barrack estate housed Napoleon’s troops. Queen Victoria was a regular visitor here and Dickens set parts of “David Copperfield” here. There’s blue plaques aplenty with a 13th century gaol, some superb museums and two theme parks, with listed attractions – the Snails at Joyland and the wooden rollercoaster on the Pleasure Beach.

Horsey Gap, Caister, Winterton and Hopton all have fine beaches too.

They’re one of the reasons why, when I get itchy feet, to move, I stop and think of what we’d leave behind.

CRIME

Bearing in mind, I’ve lived in crime-ridden places like Oldham and Bolton, Norfolk is Edenic in comparison. Never been the victim of a crime in 11 years here – it feels and is safe. My home insurance and car insurance testify to that too, so it’s not apocryphal.

CLIMATE

Winters tend to be mild and short in duration with sunshine and dryness stretching from March to early November. Rain is rare too. As is snow. When I look north for relocation, I do ponder rain and light levels, as I used to suffer from SAD in other areas, until we headed east.

BUSINESS

The area is largely dominated by tourism and the off-shore industry. The cost of property in Great Yarmouth is relatively affordable compared with the south east but rises inexorably as you head to Norwich or north Norfolk, where average prices in places like Cley and Blakeney exceed £1 million. Wages are low here though (apart from offshore) and seasonal. The town and borough is definitely deprived, and could do with massive investment for local employment with higher wages. It’s perhaps why the term “web designers Great Yarmouth” or “freelance web designer Great Yarmouth” has such low search volumes, yet Norwich, just 35 minutes away, has huge search volumes for “web design Norwich” and competition.

I do like living here though. The beaches and climate are brilliant. The road network and infrastructure pretty poor, but I’m beginning, for the first time since moving, to see it as home. 

Given my predilection for serial relocating, 11 years in Great Yarmouth is a Personal Best.

I am now happily anchored here. 

 

Was George right to shoot Lennie?

I realised when the reptilian Gove removed “Of Mice and Men” from the curriculum that my days were numbered in a classroom. I’d taught it for over 20 years and seen the old and newer versions of the dvd repeatedly.

I realised too, when I set up this business, that the days of coaching students on zoom, micro-macro on descriptive writing, or presenting a balanced argument on the perennial essay on school uniform, were over.

Writing was to remain with me in this business – it was its primary purpose when I set it up four years ago now, but I had to learn how to write to sell, to persuade people to buy goods and services and not train some hormonal teenager in how to sell an argument about vegetarianism or such like.

I’ve learned loads in four years – if that doesn’t sound too technical – and one lesson is this: the title is king.

If I don’t go in my MSN junk email box for a few days, it’s spam city and I have over 200 emails waiting to be binned. I do scroll through though and check which ones to move to my inbox and not mass destroy, and invariably these have some importance or have an arresting subject line.

It’s the same with blogs.

The title matters.

This one hits upon a successful formula in that it asks a question. Its length of six words is good too for SEO. Too long and Google truncates it. Too short and it looks lame.

There’s a power word in there – shoot. And an uncommon word: right. It scores 69% which is decent but you need to aim for 80.

A blog title needs a balance of all four, apparently.

I could do better though with this replacement headline.

Much better.

What happens when murder becomes a matter of survival?

That scores 82 and I could actually get it higher with some uncommon words.

Now I don’t at all claim to have invented this tool. I found it online and used it frequently in early writing days and irregularly now. But if you’re writing blog posts, email campaigns, marketing copy and want better click throughs, start with this tool.

If you want the crib sheet too, without the hassle of finding it online, it’s below.

Happy headline writing.

2019 begins as 2018 ended – excellently.

Christmas this year was a bit of a damp squib as 12 year old daughter, Ruby, was forced to admit that she knew Santa was fictitious and she knew last year too. I became suspicious when I saw the letter to Santa had been replaced by a full Amazon basket, which irked as I’m weaning myself off exploitative companies.

New Year was similarly lacklustre – they both lose some appeal when you accept that drinking is no longer the main agenda item for 2 weeks.

2019 though has begun as 2018 ended – brilliantly.

This web design Norwich freelancer continues to accrue website deals on what seems like a daily basis. Bragging yes but truthful? Yes.

The only fly in the ointment so far has been deceit from an estate agent I write for (or used to write for) and still owes me money with the usual dog ate my homework excuses.

This irritates me, as I did the 750 word piece at the start of December, yet am still awaiting payment. Ordinarily I’d be accepting of this, but given that this estate agent near Derby, expects 24 hour turnaround, it’s a bit rich to take 31 days and counting to stump up.

Most clients though are great. I’ve met five in 4 years who I would not work with again – 3 of this group are estate agents, unsurprisingly perhaps. But, some of my best clients like Nick, Chris, Stephen and Julia – are all estate agents and great ones to work with.

I have high hopes for the rest of this year too, as my radar for spotting bellend clients is now finely tuned. They probably say the same about me, I know.

I’ve not written any resolutions – as I’ve been resolute in 2018 personally and professionally.

The success of 2018, with 100 website designs, is a target for this year.

6 days in, I have 5 new website projects on the go, with quite a few others bubbling under.

That makes up, in part, for quite an ordinary festive period. 

I’m looking forward to next Christmas too, as we will be spending it on a walking holiday in some remote hilly corner of Britain.

Have a great 2019.

The literary heritage of Norwich and Norfolk

I don’t claim to be a native of Norfolk at all. We moved here for careers in teaching and a coastal lifestyle 11 years ago and it’s a good place to bring up children and live.

The roads are antiquated and that warmth you get from conversations in the north is conspicuous by its absence, but it’s home, more so to our two children than us and I can see its attractions as a place of literary pilgrimage for quite a few well known authors.

Let’s start with Charles Dickens – ok he lived in Kent, but he did live in Blundeston, Suffolk for a while and having read Claire Tomalin’s biography I marvelled at his walks into Norwich from there – a good 20 miles each way. He also set “David Copperfield” partly here and captures the accent and dialect of Great Yarmouth remarkably well, though I’ve yet to finish reading this voluminous novel.

More recently, Ian McEwan studied creative writing at the UEA and his work resonates as he was for a few years my favourite novelist. In fact, when we got married in 1999, the wedding cake depicted three books: Enduring Love, The Child in Time and Amsterdam.

All three are tragic yet they represented facets of our early relationship.

John Boyne, author of “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”, was another student at UEA and his holocaust novel was inspired by the fences he saw when looking from his windows in his accommodation in the Golden Triangle of Norwich.

Lastly, though I’ve not researched this properly, is Kazuo Ishiguro, also at the University of East Anglia, and his time here marked in at least one novel: “Never Let Me Go” with North Norfolk, the rich honeypot of east Anglia featuring prominently.

Norwich bills itself as a “fine city” and the UNESCO City of Literature and it is a fine place, not just in terms of climate, but also in its vibe. It does have an underbelly though with the highest percentage of homeless people of any town per head of population and Riverside Road is apparently edgy at weekends, but in visiting Norwich regularly most weeks, I’ve yet to see anything that alarms me, apart from the onerous car parking charges.

It’s why when I dream about moving up north to County Durham or Northumberland or the northern Pennines, I sometimes stop and think. Norwich is a great city to live near and have a web design company based here, and do I really want to sacrifice this weather, this coastline, the lack of casual conversation for hills and longer chats on daily walks with my border collie? The jury is out.

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