Thursday, January 31, 2013

FFWD - Brown sugar squash and brussels sprouts en papillote

It's Friday again, and for French Friday with Dorie this week, our recipe is brown sugar squash and Brussels sprouts en papillote (ie veges in a bag).

The recipe is to chop up butternut pumpkin (I used Kent pumpkin as there were no butternuts at the supermarket) and apple, toss with Brussels sprouts, olive oil, salt and pepper, sprinkle with brown sugar, then steam in a foil bag in the oven for 25 minutes or so.

I wasn't really sure about this, but then I tasted it - and like wow - I really enjoyed this.  The brown sugar and apple gave the vegetables a pleasant sweetness.  I served my brown sugar squash and Brussels sprouts en papillote with salmon baked in the bag with coriander, lemon juice, lemongrass, salt and pepper:

This was a delicious dinner, and quick and easy to make.

For dessert, I had this delicious brownie cupcake baked by Yvonne from my Pilates class:

To see what the other Dorie cooks thought of brown sugar squash and Brussels sprouts en papillote, visit the LYL section of the website.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

WWDH - Spinach and cheddar souffle

This week's Wednesday with Donna Hay recipe, Spinach and Cheddar Souffle, was chosen by Margaret.  It comes from p8o of Modern Classics I.

As expected, this souffle contains spinach, cheddar, eggs, milk, flour, butter, salt and pepper.  I substituted the butter for margarine to try and be slightly more healthy, and I used frozen spinach.  I didn't have any breadcrumbs to line the ramekins in which I baked the souffles, so I used semolina instead.

The end result was nice enough, but I didn't find it very filling - it is not really a complete meal in itself.  I probably won't make this again.

To see what Margaret, Kayte and Chaya thought of this souffle, visit their websites on Wednesday US time.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Daring Bakers - January 2013 - Gevulde Speculaas

Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! Delicious!

I have never heard of Gevulde Speculaas (stuffed speculaas) before, and I know for a fact that I have never tasted it, so I was curious as to how this adventure would turn out.  Gevulde Speculaas is a traditional Dutch pastry, as Francijn, our host this month, is Dutch.

The speculaas spice mix is quite extensive, as follows:

cinnamon 40 to 60 % of the total amount
ground cloves 1 or 2 parts
mace ½ or 1 part
ginger ½ or 1 part

white pepper ½ or 1 part
cardamom ½ or 1 part
coriander ½ or 1 part
anise ½ or 1 part
nutmeg 1 or 2 parts

I used some of everything, but substituted black pepper for white pepper.  If the mix sounds a little confusing, Francijn helpfully explains how to mix it as follows:

Take at least 1 or 2 teaspoons of ground cloves, ½ or 1 teaspoon of mace and ½ or 1 teaspoon of ginger.

Add to taste ½ or 1 teaspoon of white pepper, ½ or 1 teaspoon of cardamom, ½ or 1 teaspoon of coriander, ½ or 1 teaspoon of anise, and 1 or 2 teaspoons of nutmeg.

Measure or weigh the amount of spices you have now, and add an equal amount of cinnamon.

You have no idea how heavenly these spices smell together - you really should try making the spice mix for the aroma alone.

My first test was to find mace - I had all the other spices already.  I could not track it down in any of the Melbourne supermarkets that I tried, and in the end by a stroke of luck, I remembered the Middle Eastern grocers near my work, which carry a wide variety of spcies.  There I finally tracked down the mace.

The dough and almond paste came together pretty easily (except for the slight spillage of my precious spice mix), and I refrigerated them for a couple of days to develop the flavours, as suggested by Francijn.  I did need to use about a quarter of a cup of milk for my dough to come together.

My next challenge was in assembling the speculaas.  It is summer here hence rather warm inside, and dough and warm weather are not good friends.  The dough wanted to stick to the paper I rolled it on, even when I refrigerated it after rolling, and the almond paste violently resisted being incorporated into the speculaas - in the end, I abandoned rolling it out and smooshed it over the top of the base dough layer.

Despite the less than smooth assembly process, I was pretty happy with the end result:

And another view which shows the almond paste filling better:

My Gevulde Speculaas smelled heavenly in the oven and tasted devine - I was a very happy girl.  The speculaas smelled just like Christmas, and I believe that this speculaas would make a wonderful addition to the Christmas cookie exchange.

Thanks to our host, Francijn, for introducing this Dutch specialty to us.   To see what the other Daring Bakers thought, visit the slideshow on the Daring Kitchen website once it has been loaded.

I have now been a Daring Baker for five years - scary!  My first challenge was Lemon Meringue Pie - you can find my post here.  I seemed to be very excited about it - perhaps it is time to make that pie again.  Much has changed in my life since then, not all for the better, but it's amazing how resilient we are.  What were you doing five years ago? 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Google AdWords Tips for local business

Google Adwords can be a great advertising channel to boost your online sales. Purchasing ads through Google is a viable option to get your website to the top of Google search results by successfully bidding on keywords. Let us quickly take a look at some effective tips on how to efficiently use Google Adwords for your local business to generate more leads and improve your online sales.

Track your conversions

As Return On Investment (ROI) is going to be at the top of your list, you need to ensure that you keep track of what is giving you the highest conversion in your website. Although monitoring the click-through rates in your website is an important step, you need to realize that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you are going to monitor only the click-through rates, then it means you’re not utilizing your resources properly. Use Google Adwords to monitor all the e-commerce transactions in your website. Take a detailed look at which area of service or keyword combination is getting converted more and is giving you a higher ROI. For best results, you may also track the non-monetary elements such as downloads, enquiry forms, newsletter signups etc. Identifying and focusing more on the profitable areas is the key to a successful online marketing campaign.  

Manage your ads and bids

Develop ad groups for multiple keyword variations relevant to your services and manage the ads and bids accordingly. One great way to use Google Adwords effectively is to distinguish between the research group and the sales group. That is, a visitor who lands up on your product information page should be treated differently from a person who visits your sales page. For instance, someone who is has done an online research for “treadmill stores in Chicago” is more likely to purchase your product than someone who looks for “best treadmills”. So, you need to vary your bidding strategy according to your target consumer.

Attractive ads

The design of your ad can make a huge difference to your Adwords campaign. Catchy words or images will not only grab the eyeballs of prospects but also get you a high CTR ranking thereby boosting your ad’s quality score, minimizing your cost-per-click (CPC), and guaranteeing your ads a higher placement in the Google search results. This, in turn, results in a high ROI for your website.

Ad Extensions

Ad extensions can support your existing ads for improved results. It is for this reason that most e-commerce sites use product extensions for their ads. The ad extensions will display titles, images, snippets, and prices of your products. It’s worth incorporating seller ratings, call extensions and sitelinks for your ads. Typically, seller ratings work wonders when your ads get a higher rating. The sitelinks can be useful to display additional links pertaining to your area of service and the call extensions are meant for call-to-action purposes. 

Custom Landing Pages

Most website owners make the mistake of directing all their ad links to their home page. This is one thing you need to avoid. Instead, have some of your ad links pointing to your landing page and some of them pointing to the other important pages in your website. It is worth designing an optimization strategy wherein you have specific keywords and anchor texts pointing to your landing page. But ensure that the backlinks are more relevant to their target URLs.

Michael Rae, a freelance writer for - offers full home security to help protect your family, assets from burglary and other crimes. adt securitysystems

Arnotts Iced Vo Vo Tart for Australia Day

Today is Australia Day, and accordingly, I want to celebrate it in style.  And what better way to do so than to pay homage to an Australian icon, Arnotts Iced Vo Vo Biscuits.  If you have never come across the Iced Vo Vo before,  you can read about it on the Arnotts website.  Australia's former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, mentioned the Iced Vo Vo in his 2007 election victory speech, further cementing the Iced Vo Vo's place in Australian culture.

My tribute to the Iced Vo Vo comes courtesy of this month's Australian Good Taste magazine, which sports a rather eye-catching Arnotts Iced Vo Vo Tart on the cover.  I bought the magazine on the strength of that cover, and made the Arnotts Iced Vo Vo Tart - a celebration of the Iced Vo Vo comprising a crushed biscuit base (including crushed Iced Vo Vos), topped with marshmallow and raspberry jelly, and decorated with whipped cream and coconut: 

The recipe is available online here.

I undoubtedly had fun making the Arnotts Iced Vo Vo tart, and it looks stunning, but taste-wise, it wasn't my bag.  The whole thing was a tad too sweet for me, and I am not a fan of whipped cream.  However, others gave it a warmer reception than me, so you just need to consider - would I like to eat biscuit, marshmallow, jelly and cream or not? (Note that this tart tastes nothing like an Iced Vo Vo biscuit, which is comprised of biscuit, jam, icing and coconut, and is pretty tasty for a store-bought biscuit.) 

Regardless, it does look so pretty:

To my fellow Australians, Happy Australia Day!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

FFwD - Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles

This week's French Fridays with Dorie selection is Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles - in Australia, that translates to prawns and cellophane noodles.  Basically, this dish comprises prawns, onions, garlic and mushrooms in a tomato sauce served on glass noodles.  It appears to be an amalgam of Asian and Italian rather than French, but what do I know.

My mushrooms were Shitake mushrooms, as that it the only form of dried mushroom that my supermarket carries.  I also threw in a few sliced button mushrooms because I had them in the house and wanted to use them up.

I bought Australian banana prawns (instead of imports), and had the usual joy that one experiences when peeling and deveining prawns.  I will never get to used to the goo in the prawn's head, and I cannot forget, now that I know, that the "vein" is actually the prawn's poo shoot - ahem.

Thankfully, I had just the right amount of tomato passata left in the fridge from another project, so I didn't have to buy any especially for this dish.

Peeling and deveining aside, Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles was quite a tasty dish.  I kicked mine up a notch with some mango and coconut chutney from Kitchen By Mike.  As an unrelated side dish, I boiled up some green beans.

I would make this again - it is rather a nice way to serve prawns if you happen to have some around.  To see what the other Dorie cooks thought, visit the LYL section of the website.

Boosting Customer Relationship Management with Social Media

Quite frequently, we see business managers and their subordinates using CRM tools to report numbers rather than use them as tools for what they were primarily meant to accomplish – build great relationships to bring in more business and revenue for the enterprise. Although the number of tools available is vast, there is still something that only humans can accomplish. Giving a personal touch and understanding your customers is very important and that you can do by using Social Media.

Sending out messages and pieces of messages is not all that is to CRM. In fact, there is a vast array of to-dos that will help your business maintain good relationships with customers, and that is not the end to all either. The other use for Social Media is retaining customers. The most anathematic thing that one can do to Social Media is high pressure selling. Experienced Social Media veterans will vouch for that in no uncertain terms. In addition to using Social Media for marketing there are many other things to which you can use it; chiefly, for acquiring new customers, retaining existing customers, taking current relationships to a higher plateau, reinforcing your brand image, social proofing and finally presenting yourself as an authority in your chosen field.

The worst mistake one can do when using Social Media is taking the different aspects to it in a piecemeal manner. What is actually required is a holistic approach from a potential or existing customer’s point of view. Top on such an approach is to engage them in a meaningful way. Give up your temptation to pushing information the hard way from you to your customer. Instead, make it a point to listen to what your customers may want to say; their needs and expectations will give you the much needed insight into building a long lasting relationship that both can cherish for a long time to come.

One of the biggest advantages inherent to Social Media is they let you interact at a personal level. This means you will be under obligation to answer your customer’s concern and queries. More than the queries itself what you will need to accept is criticism in a constructive manner. Accepting criticism has advantages; they give you the right insight, let you make changes to your products or services and send back messages to show that you are really changing for the better.

Collecting information and making a detailed analysis is just one part of the story. To be an effective customer relations manager you need to act upon the information you gather. Often it means, making structural changes to your business. You may have to reeducate your marketing staff, production managers and public relations officers. You can also take your efforts a step higher by promoting contests and polls in Social Media. A small reward and fair playing field is all that you need to ensure that everything in Social Media concerning your business goes smoothly.

It may seem alright to put your best foot forward in any Social Media customer retention efforts, but they will be of little use unless you document your efforts efficiently. Having voluminous data spread across thousands of documents hardly helps anyone, least of all Social Media managers. You must sooner or later consider buying software that keeps a tab on every effort you make. You can use them to make an analysis periodically to change tracks or keep pushing with your current efforts.

Heather Protz, a freelance writer for - offers full home security to help protect your family, assets from burglary and other crimes. adt security reviews

Social Media Monitoring - Best Practices

Social Media Sites provide an ideal platform for businesses to interact with their consumers, on a more direct note. If you look at it from another angle, the consumers for the first time in ages will be able to talk to the suits and bosses of the company whose products they are using in their day-to-day life. The Social media sites have given them that freedom and you as a business owner have to respect that.

There are three things of note here:
  • Learn
  • Respond
  • Market
First things first, get to know your customer. Read what they have to say. It is a feedback that’s worth millions served to you for free straight from the horse’s mouth. Look for a trend, there is always a pattern. The same set of feedbacks and same set of grievances, when they pile up, make a note of them and pass it on to your respective departments.

Make sure to tell them that you have noted their grievances and you are going to respond.
Now, respond. Definitely, do. When you do that, you earn reputation and trust, which is the basis for any successful business.

And now, once you have gotten the necessary trust and a proper ‘note and feedback’ mechanism, you can start marketing your wares to these ‘web-active’ consumers.

Now, let’s break it down.
  • While responding be extremely polite and to the point. 
  • Be professional as you would be in a ‘board of director’s’ meeting. These people are more important, or are as important as your immediate bosses or partners. In case of negativity, don’t be hostile as it would throw a ‘bad light’ upon you. Deal with it in a professional manner, and earn their respect.
  • Encourage suggestions from the public, as it would help you understand their mindset more clearly.
  • Discuss possible business ideas. It will help you generate feedback instantly, and make adjustments at an early stage.
  • This platform is ideal for judging your popularity, in various areas. It’ll help you target them, and formulate future plans in accordance.
  • Answer questions from your consumers. By ignoring them, consumers will lose faith in your dedication. 
  • Abolish hearsay, by clarifying rumors, and dispelling negativity, directly.
  • If your consumer has a complaint in regards to your service/ product, make sure to provide solutions to fix it. Also, remember to keep them posted throughout the process. Transparency is the key here.
  • Interact with your consumers on a regular basis. It’s not only good for your business, but also gives them a feeling of ‘truly being cared for’.  This will lead the way to loyalty in customers.
By employing the various suggestions, one can do wonders to their business, by generating brand loyalty, amongst their consumers. However, one needs to radiate enthusiasm, in order to generate an equal response. Your dedication makes a huge difference, and it’s what will drive your business to heights you imagined.

This is a guest post is brought to you by Samantha Kirk, a writer for Centurylink Internet. Samantha provides up to date content and information for high-speed internet, phone services, bundles and other Centurylink offers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

BWJ - French Apple Tart

This week's Baking with Julia assignment is French Apple Tart from pp379-381, a recipe by Leslie Mackie of Macrina Bakery.  I am honoured to be the host of this challenge, so this week, I have set out the recipe to make this tart below.

This tart looks very pretty, and it tastes fabulous while still just warm.  The pastry, which contains shortening, is crisp and light, allowing the apple filling to star.

However, if you would like to make this tart,  be warned - unless you want to go to bed in the wee small hours, you can't whip it up straight after work unless you have done some serious prep work first.  I made this on a Sunday, and from go to woe, it took all morning on and off.   The dough has to chill before it can be rolled out, then it has to chill again in the pan.  You have to peel, core and slice a lot of apples, and bake some of those apples for the filling.  I used a food processor to make the crust, and although you don't have to, it certainly saves some time.

This tart was definitely worth the effort, as the end product was absolutely delicious - the mashed apple filling was  almost custard-like in nature, it being so creamy, and the sliced apples on top give the tart its beauty and "wow" factor.

Without further ado, here is the recipe:

Flaky pie dough (p31)

(I have converted the original recipe into metric and quartered the amounts, as required for the tart.  I have also stated the recipe for a food processor only.)

154g pastry flour or all purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
44g cold unsalted butter
75g solid vegetable shortening, chilled
1/4 cup ice water

Place the dry ingredients in the food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse just to mix. Take the top off, scatter the chilled cubed butter and shortening over the flour, cover, and pulse again, working only until the fats are cut in and the mixture resembles slightly moist cornmeal. Add a little of the liquid and pulse a few times, then add more liquid and pulse again. Continue until the mixture has curds and clumps and sticks together when pressed between your fingers. 

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or for as long as 5 days.

When the dough has chilled, roll the dough on a lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of baking paper, as I did) into a circle about 1/8 inch thick and fit it into a 9 inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Let the crust chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

For assistance on making your tart shell look good, refer to the Baking with Julia video.

To blind bake the tart shell, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit/200 degrees Celsius/gas mark 6. Fit a piece of baking paper or foil into the tart shell and fill with pie weights, rice, or dried beans, and bake the tart for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the crust to a rack to cool while you make the filling. (I removed the rice at 20 minutes and let it bake for another 5 minutes without the weights so that the inside of the tart shell could brown up; cf the recipe which states that the weights should stay in even while the tart is cooling.) 

Reduce your oven temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit/190 degrees Celsius/gas mark 5.


6 Granny smith apples
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 teaspoons (approximately) fresh lemon juice

Peel and core the apples, obtaining 10-12 slices from each apple. ( I cheated and used my corer-slicer tool, which gives 8 slices per apple.)  Place the apples in a bowl and toss with the sugar, flour, cinnamon, vanilla, and bread crumbs. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Spread the apples on a jelly-roll pan and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the apples give up their juices, start to form a sauce, and are soft enough to mash.

Scrape the apples into a bowl and mash with a potato masher or a fork. Taste and add more lemon juice if you think it needs it, then cool the filling for 15 minutes.

Spoon the filling into the tart shells, ensuring that the filling remains below the rim of the tart shell.


2-3 granny smith apples
1 tablespoon  fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

Peel and thinly slice the apples. Toss the apples with the tablespoon of lemon juice to keep them from browning. Arrange the apples in a circular pattern starting from the outside, slightly overlapping the slices.

Work around the pie until the filling is completely covered. Brush the apple slices with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes or until the top is glazed and the apple slices are edged in black. (My oven was never going to darken the tart on top, so I just baked the tart until the nominated cooking time was over.)

Serve the tart dusted with powdered sugar (icing sugar) if desired (I didn't bother).

Leslie says that this tart is best served warm from the oven.  Most of my tart is currently chilling in the fridge, so the proof of the pudding will be revealed tomorrow. 
To see what the other Baking with Julia participants thought, visit the LYL section of the Baking with Julia website.

Friday, January 18, 2013

5 Strategies for Maintaining Fresh Blog Content

The writer and their bloc are ever at war with each other as the writer tries to maintain a flow of good content despite stalls in creativity, newsworthy topics, or insightful takes on situations.

Today’s trends in SEO with Google Author ranks and a consumer base that is looking for more and more specific content mean that quality content is at a premium for bloggers. Maintaining readers means giving them something to hold their attention before they dart away to another site.

However, the Internet is providing more and more aids for the blogger in fueling creativity and providing content while old standby methods for writers in the pre-interweb world can also offer some assistance. Here are five strategies for keeping your blog fresh with good content.

1). Be an informed expert in the topics your blog handles

Find the major blogs, writers, and news sources on your blog’s topics and dutifully follow their sites and Twitter accounts. For a blogger, it’s actually important to budget time on something that may not be directly tied to a post in order to stay informed and an expert on your chosen fields.

Now, when trends or stories come up, you have already been informing yourself and developing opinions and takes that will be interesting to your readers.

You may also keep a document open in which you jot down the major news and trending stories of the day as well as some of your thoughts on each. When it comes to writing time you now have an outline and template for the various topics and takes you might explore on your own blog.

2). Involve your readership

Besides having the effect of improving your blog’s community, doing a feature such as a mailbag, Q and A, or an interview will provide fun, interactive content where someone else can be the driving creative force.

You can get a better sense through articles like this of what your readership is interested in while easily producing a blog post that won’t require a lot of creativity or work on your own part.

It’ll be important that you are following step number one and are filled with a wealth of knowledge that may not necessarily have appeared in blog posts but can easily be applied in response to a reader’s question or asking an interview question.

3). Stash articles and projects in your personal queue

Is there a major story or trend developing within your blog’s sphere of topics? It may be a major topic that you could research and slowly tackle with a multi-part series of articles on your blog.

After all, one thing your blog can uniquely offer a reader is a developed and articulated theory or explanation of an event or trend they find interesting. If you release a series of articles tackling a topic in pieces you also create intrigue and reason for readers to come back or other websites to link your work as word gets around that you are taking the time to tackle something with a lot of depth.

Similarly, there may be articles that are not time-sensitive that you have the time and inclination to write on at any time. There will be “rainy days” on which you either don’t have time or content to put up on your site. If you take the opportunity to write up and stash articles when you have time and ideas you can have a store of content to use on occasions when there isn’t any exciting news or content to share with your readers.

In some instances you might combine these ideas, slowly stashing a long, developing series on a major theme that can be released at your own discretion in accordance with your own needs.

4). Bring aboard guest posters or writers

If you have the money and resources, you may be interested to hire a writer that can provide a fresh take on situations and help bear the burden of maintaining the site with fresh content.

In lieu of that option, you can bring aboard writers that will write guest posts on your site in order to promote their own sites, author ranks, or brand. Typically the offer of a platform for them to write for an established audience or install links is payment enough for the free content they can provide for your site.

5). Give yourself an assignment to cover or track for your readership

Let’s say that you are writing a blog that focuses on local government issues, and there’s a major initiative in someone’s campaign that may be initiated in the local government.

You could devote an article once a week to tracking the progress of the idea, the developing responses to the idea, etc. Every blog topic is likely to have developing stories that can provide constant writing fodder for the blogger.

What’s more, you can pull in readers that are interested in that story and appreciate your frequent and regular check-ins on its development.

Keep an eye out for stories that can be tracked long-term and determine if you can make a regular habit out of checking in on them and providing yourself with content.

The easy access the Internet provides for the blogger to obtain information and news allows for strategies that can keep a blog filled to the brink with content and content ideas if the writer is organized enough to deploy these resources. Do the work of organizing news and ideas so that you can have informed insights and then your readers will be eager to rely on you to do the same for them.

Author Bio: IanB writes for 1 Business Guide, where you can read up on business news stories.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Has Your Internet Marketing Strategy Overlooked the Importance of Value?

If you've been practicing any type of internet marketing for any period of time, then you probably already know about the importance of quality. You need to deliver high quality in your content, in your web design, in your ad campaigns, and in your social media efforts.

With all of this focus on producing quality, however, have you stopped to ask yourself if you’re offering anything of value? It’s easy to think that quality and value go hand-in-hand, but this isn't necessarily true. For example, WebpageFXSEO could decide to offer a high-quality car detailing service to their list of services, but it’s not going to have much value for their clients, who are looking for superior web design.

Defining Value

Value is simple to define yet difficult to pinpoint. It’s almost an abstract concept and differs from one person to another. In simplest terms, value is something that fulfills a desire or need adequately enough that a person feels his or her investment of time or money was well spent. Since each person has his or her own idea of value, how do you provide it in your Internet marketing strategies?

Offering Value

First off, you need to realize that you’ll never be able to please every visitor that ever comes across your website. That said, you can think about your typical audience in relation to the niche you occupy and then come up with a list of items that may be useful – and valuable – to them. Some ideas include:
  • Produce informative, helpful content that either answers a question or solves a problem.

  • Offer free downloads of e-books, reports, newsletters, or videos that address a need.

  • Host webinars or question-and-answer sessions in which you can answer questions from your visitors

  • Include a resources page that gives links or contact information for other quality, relevant organizations or websites

Generally speaking, the more generous you are with your information, resources, time and expertise, the more value your audience will feel they get from visiting your site regularly.

Why Value is Critical to Your Success

No one likes to feel as though they've wasted their time or money on something that didn’t meet their needs. If you fail to deliver value, it’s almost a given that you’ll lose a potential conversion. What’s more important, however, is what that person may tell others.

Remember that the Internet works to spread information. Whether that information is positive or negative about your business or website makes no difference to the Internet. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to make everyone happy; instead, give your best efforts to provide value to the widest range of potential visitors possible.

Adrienne is a blogger and aspiring writer. When she’s not blogging about tech and social media, you might find her practicing her French, whipping up some recipes she found on Pinterest, or obsessing over vintage postcards and stamps.

FFwD - Chicken liver gateau with pickled onions

French Fridays with Dorie this week ventures into the slightly scary - Chicken Liver Gateau with Pickled Onions.

This did not appeal to me at all, and the chicken livers were not that easy to find, making this a double challenge.

Despite my misgivings, I went ahead and made it (though there was no way I was going to make the tomato sauce to go with this - gross me out!).  One thing - it was quick and easy to make - just blitz everything together in a food processor and bake.  Here is an inside look:  

I ate it warm because Dorie made it sound appealing - like a custard.  On cooling, it is  more like pate.

I liked the onions, and the mouthfuls of gateau I ate with the onions were fine. Sans the onions, I found the gateau rather bland - kind of like a strange sausage sans spices, and definitely nothing like a custard.

I liked it much better cold, when it was indeed like a pate.  However, I am not a fan and won't be making it again.

To se what the other Dorie cooks thought, visit the LYL section of the website.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Expert Advice: Measuring Social Media Success

Let’s say you have a beautifully designed website and have implemented both Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Social Media Optimization (SMO) techniques with a lot of planning. And it is showing some results in the form of increased online sales. Have you measured whether the methods are producing the anticipated returns? And how do you measure the efficacy of social media techniques?

As far as your knowledge goes, there are no set parameters to check the success of social media techniques for business enterprises. Measuring the success of any advertising strategy can be very complicated and may not necessarily give accurate answers. Knowing whether the SMO tools you have employed are influencing minds and creating brand value for your goods and services may be difficult to quantify. So here are some expert tips for measuring social media success:

What you should measure
When you want to create brand value for your products rather than just sell, a new approach is essential when implementing and measuring SMO tools. Reaching out to potential customers is the way to go. Collecting and collating random information about Returns on Investment (ROI) is not going to help. It is first necessary to know which data should be collected and then measured to make the exercise worthwhile. You should focus on measuring the following:
  • Time spent in creating the interest of potential customers,
  • Expenditure on contacting the potential buyers,
  • Time and money spent in follow-up with potential customers,
  • Time spent in holding their attention and obtaining feedback,
  • The number of potential customers who actually transacted online purchases,
  • The number of referrals the existing customers has provided.
  • The number of repeat customers who have displayed brand loyalty.

Ways to measure social media success
There are some fantastic tools that can help you gauge whether your social media strategies are working effectively and producing the desired results:

Google Analytics – Using this service will help you keep a track of the activity on your website. It is an analytic tool that collates very comprehensive information. With Google Analytics you can check how many web users visit your site each day. How they heard about your company, the demographics of the visitors, their attention span, how many transacted online business, etc. are the other details collected.

My Top Tweet – This is another tool that analyzes the success of your social media marketing techniques. You can find out how many of your tweets received the maximum re-tweets. It also calculates the top 10 tweets that were shared the most. You can also find out which ones were re-tweeted the most. This tool has dual benefit. You get upfront opinion on your own brands and firsthand information on your competitors’ brands.

Wildfire’s Monitor – This is a superb tool that measures the effect of your presence on Facebook and Twitter. It measures the number of check-ins, likes and followers for each page, whether it is yours or that of your competitors.

Klout Score – When you want to know how many potential customers you have been able to influence, this is the tool you should use. It also measures the extent of your influence and the expanse of the network you have influenced. It maps your activity for 90 days on social media, the time you spent, the effect it had on other web users, etc. This can then be cross-referenced with the increase in online sales during that period.

HootSuite – If you are facing a major dilemma with multiple brands requiring varied strategies which you need to monitor regularly, this analytic tool is your best bet. It tracks activity of numerous accounts and sites and collates data in one place that you can access easily.

The reason why you have implemented social media techniques is to drive in greater inbound traffic to your website. With these measurement tools, you can find out whether you have acquired a new customer; whether you have sustained the customer’s attention; whether the interest resulted in the transaction of an online sale; whether the methods have generated brand loyalty; whether the existing buyers have referred others who have added to the customer base; etc. The analytics will help you quantify your present success and help you plan your future marketing strategies.

This is a guest post by Roy Fernandez of, a site that offers savings and current information on comcast cable and internet, click here to know more, as well as other services.

Condensed Milk Biscuits

Don't you feel all warm and fuzzy when you remember the treats that your mother used to make when you were a child?  I often think that those treats taste the best because of the memories that they evoke.

One of the treats that my mother used to make quite often for us when we were children was Condensed Milk Biscuits.  The recipe for these sunny little biscuits came from a cookbook compiled by the mothers group at my kindergarten.  It was produced on A5 paper, with recipes typed up on a typewriter.  The pages were printed on one side only, and bound together with staples.  Ah, those were the days!  My mother was rather miffed at the time because they didn't publish any of her recipes, but being a  good supporter, she bought a copy of the book, and hence a few treasures  came into her recipe repertoire, including the Condensed Milk Biscuits.

These biscuits are as simple as can be to make, but taste really good.  My Pilates instructor dubbed them "Bomb-Shelter Biscuits" because there are no eggs in the recipe - which I hadn't even thought about when I made them.

To make them, you will need:

225g butter or margarine
4 tablespoons condensed milk
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
(or add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder to the same quantity of plain flour if you don't have self raising flour)
1/2 cup custard powder

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Beat together the butter and condensed milk in a bowl.  Sift together the custard powder and flour in a separate bowl, then combine with the butter mixture until a soft dough forms. 

Roll teaspoons of the dough into  balls, then roll in white sugar.  Place balls about one inch apart on a lined baking sheet, then flatten slightly with a fork. 

Bake  the biscuits in the preheated oven for ~ 15 minutes or until cooked through.  Cool on the baking tray.


Expert Tips to Ramp up Online Sales through Affiliate Marketing

One of the biggest advantages of online marketing is that you don’t have to carry a physical inventory. Carrying physical inventories also mean investing in goods, a warehouse and an office. There are however better ways to make money; just like so many affiliate marketers have discovered. As an affiliate marketer, you are relieved from receiving stocks, manufacturing and even distributing goods that you have managed to sell online. The other benefit is you can run a one-man show sitting in the comforts of your home. The profits you will make, though small in percentage terms, can collectively be big enough in the long run. The key to success therefore is to ramp up sales as much as you can.

Not everyone who set their hearts on affiliate marketing succeed though. The reasons for failure are many, but chief among them are failure to see marketing trends, improper selection of products, inadequate margins from affiliates and a general failure to entice buyers into availing your services. Ramping up online sales through affiliate marketing is not rocket science. For most part it is commonsense and a desire to succeed. Do not expect miracles to happen overnight. Like in any business, it takes time and patience to see sales flowing in.

Here are some expert tips you may want to try to ramp up sales.
  • Do not pitch your hopes on just a couple of affiliates, however renowned they may be. Putting all eggs in one basket is not a great strategy. Working for a large portfolio of affiliates will ensure that you stay afloat even if your affiliate goes bust. Businesses going bust are not uncommon. The other advantage of working for a wider selection of affiliates is that you will be able to multiply sales proportionately to your efforts.

  • Affiliate payouts can be vastly different. Big payouts are good, but you also need to see how stable the prospective affiliates are. Since you cannot enroll with all affiliates, if you sense the possibility of conflict of interest, choose the one that gives you optimum results and in proportion to your time, efforts and money expended.

  • Some affiliate programs may be too good to believe. It is not uncommon to see some of them paying as much as 75% and even above. But, that should not scare you away into believing them to be scams. Anything is possible in the world of affiliate programs, and to keep yourself safe, all that you need to do is run a background check on the affiliate program promoters. Chances are your sales can shoot through the roof.

  • Running a contest linked to sales is a sure-fire way to garnering bigger sales, and to that, you don’t have to depend on your affiliates’ support. You can cover up the extra expenditures from profits you will make from the increased sales. If your payouts from affiliates are large enough, consider issuing coupons and codes. You can even use the services of websites that specialize in coupon sales.
  • Visuals like videos and images make big impacts on prospective customers. A DIY video for make-shift sheds can for example, encourage even skeptic buyers into falling for your products. Instead of hard selling, keep your sales pitch a little subtle. The first step is to convince how useful your customers will find your products and then do sales talk. 
Every affiliate, undoubtedly, has pressure to ramp up sales and that is understandable. But, being too pushy and talking too much about yourself and your products is not what brings in sales. The real substance that multiplies sales is always proportionate to the information you provide to your customers, and that, never forget.

Andrea Walters, a freelance writer for – The Nation’s Lowest All-Digital Price Provider. with dish packages

Five Ways to Enhance the Visibility of your Local Business

If you own a website and realize that it is your gateway to make your business bigger and better then you really need to work on improving the visibility of your website. If this is done, it will automatically enhance the visibility of your local business. Although some serious and expensive strategies could be adopted, there are other easy ways too and let’s look at five ways that will help you achieve this.

Take advantage of Google Maps
Google Maps is a popular tool and it is available for mobile platforms too. Although the tool is designed for finding your way through suburbs, it is great for mining information about local businesses too. Listing your business on Google Maps is easy and the best part is that it is free. When someone searches for or navigates to a particular area, Google lists the local businesses in that particular area and drops a pin on the geographical location too. By briefing about your business and the services you offer, you can improve the visibility and attract customers.

Getting listed on local directories
Local directories are a great way to improve the visibility of your business. Directories usually have a high page rank and once listed, there is a good chance that your business will come up in search results. It is believed that more than one third of the businesses these days are generated through online listings. That is a huge number and it is wise to take advantage of it. Moreover, directories also have reviews written by customers, so keep an eye on what is being said about your business. Just like Google Maps, getting your business listed on directories is also free in most cases.

The power of social media
If anything is certain, then social media is here to stay. Most of the social media sites are free and give you the option to create profiles for your business. By sharing information about offers and services, you can get the word out and reach a large number of people. You can also consider giving out special promotions and coupons to those who actively share information about your business. Social media platforms are easy to set up and moderate. By effectively using the power of social media, you can generate potential customers and improve the visibility of you business

Print the URL of your website
Consider printing the address of your website on your products, shopping bags and wrappers. This might not mean a lot now, but will help you a lot on the run. Moreover, printing the website’s address on your products improves the credibility and helps you in getting the word out.

Optimize your website for search engines
As we discussed earlier, your website is a gateway to your business. By optimizing your site, you can drastically improve the visibility. There are a lot of professional services whom you can approach to get this done. Although this is slow process, it is very effective on the long run.

Although there are a lot of other ways to improve the visibility of your local business, these five are proven ways.

This guest post is brought to you by Nicole Wilson of, a site that offers savings and current information on servicewith time warner.

Social Media Etiquette: 5 Tips to Behave Online

Proper etiquette does not end with real-world interactions alone. With the rapid growth of the internet and popularity of social networking sites, good manners stretch out to virtual world interactions as well.

While most of us understand and comply to the commandments of social media etiquette, some others still prove that they have yet to learn what behavior is acceptable and what is not.

The following tips are common sense, social media practices every netizen should abide.

Think before you click.
Before hitting the post, tweet, share, or send button, ask yourself these questions: Does it have spelling or grammar errors? Is it appropriate? Will it offend anyone? Will I feel alright with anyone seeing this? Will anyone else care? Once you hit that button, make sure you’ve thought it over more than once. Editing published posts or retrieving sent mails lessen your credibility.

Reply accordingly.
When someone comments on your post, reply accordingly - especially if it’s a question. Don’t leave your friends and other readers hanging with a question. If someone comments positively, show appreciation by replying or liking. If you don’t respond or provide feedback, most likely they won’t bother reading your posts anymore and completely ignore you.

Don’t make social media sites a complaint forum.
Venting out is a perfectly normal thing to do. But bombarding negativity by complaining about your work and your personal life now and then is not. Constant complaining will make your friends and followers stay away from you. Furthermore, ranting about your work might put you into big trouble. If you need to vent something, play safe and do it somewhere private.

Keep private matters private.
Yes, social networking sites are communication tools that can spread news fast like fire. But if you need to inform a close relative or friend about bad news, don’t announce it in public. If you need to deliver sensitive issues such as death in the family, loss of job, never post it on his or her wall. Instead, send a personal message or call.

Don’t spam.
I mean to say don’t overshare, post chain status updates, comment on every post, retweet every tweet. Do you think your friends enjoy seeing your name pop out in their newsfeed every five minutes? Constant bombardment is really annoying because it prevents your friends from seeing or responding to other people’s statuses.

For me, the tips mentioned earlier are five of the most important social media practices every netizen should follow. But these are only a few, do you have anything to add?

Share them here.

About the author: Melissa Page is a passionate writer and social media contributor who works with My Life, a site that helps you manage all your social network updates and emails in one dashboard. When she’s not busy writing, she plays bowling with her friends.