Monday, 30 June 2008

New Software Directory Launched

SliQTools have launched a shareware download site. Thousands of software packages are listed offering a mix of shareware/ try before you buy software and freeware/ completely free software for downloads.
SoftwareLode accepts listing submissions from software authors worldwide. All submissions are reviewed before being accepted into the directory. SoftwareLode only accepts submissions using the Association of Shareware Professional's PAD file format.
SoftwareLode allows users to submit reviews on downloaded software. Authors can apply to have their software reviewed and given an award by the site owners. In addition a number of advertising options are provided allowing software titles to be given more prominent advertising slots.
Feel free to browse the software directory and download one of the many titles available for free.

Friday, 20 June 2008

4 Tips for Making the Most of a Hyperlink

When getting a link to one of your websites you need to make the most of the link - not all links are equal. Here are my 4 tips for getting the most benefit from a link in terms of SEO:

Place the link on a page with higher PageRank

This means the link will have more PageRank to pass to you and will hopefully help push you up the ranking in search results.

Try to place the link on a page with only a small number of other links

When passing PageRank to other pages, the rank of a page is divided up between all the outgoing links on the page. If there are a lot of links on a page, the benefit passed by each one is reduced.

Place the link on a page on a similar topic to your own

For example a link from a page talking about shoes to one with a topic of finance is probably worth less.

Make sure the link text reinforces your keywords

For example, if one of your keywords is "Greek Holidays", make this the text associated with the link using the href element.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Keyword Research Tools for SEO

The following links point to great (and free!) tools to research popular keywords and longtail keywords for web pages.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Tool for creating a sitemap for a website

As my website grows larger and acquires more pages I want to give Google all the help I can indexing my pages so I submit a sitemap using Google's webmaster tools.

I've been looking for a good tool to create a sitemap for my website for a few months on and off.
I found a few shareware programs but the majority of these would only scan the root directory of my site or cost more than I was prepared to spend for something I would only use 3 or 4 times a year.

However, I've now found a site with a great, free sitemap generator:

It scans subfolders and also works quicker than the shareware programs I've been using. It also exports sitemaps in a number of different formats including compressed and uncompressed sitemap format as well as ROR sitemap format.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

SliQ Invoicing and Quoting 1.4 Released!

SliQTools have released version 1.4 of their invoicing software SliQ Invoicing and Quoting.

Version 1.4 is available as a free upgrade to any existing purchasers. To upgrade to 1.4, all existing owners have to do is download a new trial copy from the SliQTools website and install 1.4 on their PC.

SliQ Invoicing and Quoting can be configured for different currencies and tax rates.

A fully functional 30 day trial of SliQ Invoicing and Quoting can be downloaded from the SliQTools website.

Version 1.4 of SliQ Invoicing and Quoting is still available at the same price of £24.99.

A number of useful features have been added in version 1.4:-
  • Multiple invoice templates are now supported.
  • Service Invoices as well as Product Invoices are now supported.
  • Discounts (% and amount) can now be applied to invoice items.
  • Standard discounts can be stored.
  • Remittance slips can optionally be included on invoices and statements.
  • Payment details information can be stored.
  • Customer and product data can now be exported and imported allowing data to be shared with other copies of SliQ or external applications.

All the useful features of SliQ 1.3 are still present in the new software release. SliQ supports a range of sales reports and includes the ability to create esimates/ quotes, credit notes and statements or ageing reports.

All items can be emailed from SliQ as PDFs. New copies of invoices or quotes can be raised and quotes can be turned into invoices with a single button click.

To visit the SliQTools site and find out more, go to

Friday, 13 June 2008

What makes a good software tester?

Good software testers are a rare breed. There are also different sorts of testing and often a person can be good at one kind of testing but not at another. Here are some basic tips for choosing testers:

Don’t rely on a single person to do all the testing

Relying on a single person is putting all your eggs into one basket. You’re just asking for trouble. It’s very easy to get bored while testing and one person will, perhaps without realising it, miss important tests or features.

Don’t rely on the product developers to do all the testing

The product developers are simply too close to the product to see the wood for the trees. They will know the product back to front and will use the product features in the way they expect the features will be used. The product developers may not test the product in ways it will end up getting used by real customers.

Don’t rely on external developers to evaluate features

Using external people is good. They won’t be so familiar with the product. Using other developers though isn’t ideal. They are so computer literate they will, probably subconsciously, work around difficulties or things which might not be obvious to less savvy users.

Use women as well as men

Women often make very good testers. Women can be better than men at working in a detailed way. In my experience they are also less embarrassed in asking for help about something they don’t understand. This is a key skill for testers. The worst thing that can happen is a feature gets into the field, a problem occurs, and you find it was spotted in testing but not reported because the tester worked around the difficulty.

What’s a Software Bug?

If you ask this question to a software developer, you might get the answer …

"One man’s bug is another man’s feature"

Not everyone’s a software developer though, some people actually pay money for software and are called “customers”. Customers take a different view. They might say:

"This bug makes me not want to buy your software"

… or, perhaps worse …

"I wish I’d never bought this software"

There is a class of problem which everyone will agree is a bug – software developers and customers. These problems usually involve software crashing or refusing to run. To summarise, there are two main types of software bug or problem:-

  1. Something doesn’t work the way the user expects (or wants).
  2. Under certain conditions the software crashes and stops working.

By performing thorough testing of software before releasing it to customers, the number both types of problem can be minimised. If you want to sell software, conducting a proper and thorough testing phase prior to every release is essential.

To reduce the likelihood of the different types of software issues, different types of testing need to be performed.

To eliminate type 1, detailed step-by-step testing of the software needs to be performed. For small software development products or teams, thorough black box testing should suffice. This means that all features of the software should be exercised with a range of possible data and inputs to see if any problems occur.

To eliminate type 2, beta testing must be performed. Beta testing involves asking people outside the development team (or even company) to evaluate the features to see how useful and usable they are.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Software Bugs, Software Releases and Version Numbers

Occasionally the inevitable happens and I get a problem report on my software products. Usually this doesn't happen frequently, e.g. for the whole of March, April and May 2008 I haven't had a single problem report.

When a problem is reported I have to weigh up how serious the issue is and how many customers are likely to be affected. In one sense all customers could be affected by a software bug, the question comes down to how many people are actually likely to run into the issue.

One thing that helps is how long a software release has been in distribution before the problem is reported. If the release has been in the field for a few weeks - or hopefully months! - I can have more confidence there's no need for a knee jerk reaction. If this is the case I can avoid a global release to all registered customers.

Whatever happens, if a customer has reported a problem I will either try to find a workaround that we are both happy with or provide them with a new software release. I do this whether or not the customer has paid for an unlock code or is still using a trial copy of SliQ Invoicing and Quoting.

If I make a special release for a single customer I use an intermediate version number for my products. Normally I use 3 digits to number software versions. For example:


but if I do a release to a single customer I will use a 4th digit on the version number in the application's software version resource. For example:

if a problem was found in version 1.3.1.

This way, when I come to do a full public release of software, I can avoid documenting the intermediate versions in the Release History on the product website. I can just document the major, public releases: 1.3.0, 1.3.1, 1.4.0

Of course, one question will always be: what's the difference between a bug and feature that doesn't work the way a customer expects? This is a topic for a different post however.

What is Google Pagerank?

Put simply, it's Google's measure of the importance of a web page or put another way, a measure of how likely you are to find a web page by randomly clicking on hyperlinks online. Google gives a web page a PageRank value between 0 and 10 with 0 meaning least important and 10 meaning more important.

This is the Google definition of PageRank:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important".

Basically having more hyperlinks makes a page more important in Google's eyes. Incoming links from important pages count for more than links from less important pages. In a simple sense, if two web pages contain the words "Red Bananas" and a user searches for Red Bananas on Google, the page with the higher rank will appear first in the search results.

However, things are not quite this simple. If things were this simple, there would web pages stuffed with multiple links to other pages in an attempt to improve placings in search
results on Google.

Apart from Google itself, no-one knows how PageRank is calculated. Google now say that their ranking algorithms are more sophistacted than in years past and the content of pages is now more important than previously. However Google still assign and publish pageranks for websites 3 or 4 times a year so Pagerank must still have some relevance.

These factors are likely to affect the importance or weight passed by a hyperlink.
Multiple links from one page are devalued, i.e. the second link probably counts for less than the first link.

  • Site-wide links are devalued, e.g. a link from every page in a 10 page website probably counts for less than links from 10 pageson separate websites.
  • Reciprocal links are devalued. Many people now consider these worthless. This gets around the mutual voting scenario.
  • A link from a page containing unrelated content counts for less, e.g. a link from a page talking about holidays to a page talking about nuclear physics, counts for less than a link from a page on another site talking about holidays.
  • A link needs to say why it links to another page to give more credit, i.e. the link text needs to be appropriate to the topic of the page being linked.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Choosing Keywords for Web Pages

Consider these factors when choosing keywords:-
  1. The keywords should accurately describe the products or services you offer.
  2. Are the keywords ones people actually search for?
  3. The best keywords are ones people search for a lot.
  4. Can you find competitive keywords, i.e. ones that aren't used too frequently on other sites.

Some of these factors conflict.

As an example, if you are a travel agent selling holidays you might choose think holiday is a good keyword. After all, you are in the business of selling holidays and lots of people will search online for holidays. However, there are so many web pages containing the word holiday that you will unlikely to appear high in any search results. So although "holiday" will be included in lots of search terms, it is not a competitive choice since it will be used in masses of websites.

Instead choose a few more specific terms. Such as:

  • french holiday specialist
  • travel agent shrewsbury
  • discount package holidays
  • last minute package holdays
  • adventure holidays in spain

Build up a list of keywords and phrases you think people will type into search engines then include these in the text of your web pages. The best way to include the words is in a way that seems natural to the human reader.

Having read this far you might think ...

"What's the big deal? I'm a travel agent of course I'm going to include phrases like adventure holidays in France". I don't need to think too much about keywords, all I need to do is write about my products."

... and you would be correct, except there are methods to highlight your keywords so that they are emphasised to search engines. This will potentially raise your pages up the search results. If a competitor website is optimised to reinforce a certain keyword and your site is not then the odds are you will appear lower in the search results.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Favourite Tools for SEO

This post contains links to some of my favourite SEO tools.

Keyword Density Checking

These tools check for the occurrence and density of keywords in websites.

Measuring your PageRank

Tools that can be used for measuring the current PageRank of a web page.
Google Toolbar - installs a toolbar into your browser and includes the option of displaying the PageRank of pages you visit.

Predicting your future PageRank

These links provide tools that attempt to predict your PageRank. Note: The tools are for curiosity only and the predicted values are sometimes wide of the mark - they aren't really SEO aids.

Google Results for Multiple Countries

This tool allows you to see how a website performs in multiple countries. There is no single "google" and the results from Google data centres for different countries can be very different.

Find out who owns a competitor domain

This tool allows you to find out who own a domain. The report also provides an SEO rating.

Find Blogs on a particular topic

This tool allows you to find blogs on particular topics. Posting comments on blogs can give you free backlinks.

Tips on Writing Web Page Copy for SEO

The copy or text you write in a web page is vitally important for good search engine results. You need to include a good range of keywords. The keywords will be the ones you have calculated people will use when searching for the services you offer on Google, MSN or Yahoo. There are a number of strategies you can use to choose keywords and to write your web pages to emphasis or highlight the keywords to search engines.

There is no penalty for having too much text on a page and if you have written less than 300 words it is unlikely you will have included a good range of keywords for SEO. When writing the text on the page, always write for a human reader but also bear in mind SEO. Include more text and also include long tail keywords. Long tails are keywords that are searched for less often but if you include more long tails you are likely to get just as many, if not more, hits from the long-tails as your main keywords.

A good way to look for keywords is to analyse competitor sites. A set of keyword analysis tools can be found at Use the tools to find what 1, 2 and 3 word phrases appear on your competitor's web pages. Include the same phrases, where appropriate, on your own pages.

Here are my tips for writing text on a web page:

1. Include alternative ways of saying the same thing, e.g. an invoice software/ invoicing software/ software to create invoices.

2. Include the words in different orders, e.g. a man’s hat/ a hat for a man.

3. One method of adding keywords is to include a column listing benefits or features.

Good ways to ways of including alternative ways of saying the same thing are:-

a. alt text on images

b. title text on a hyperlink.

4. title tag

Use the title tag to hold as many as 3 keyword/ phrases separated by or -. For example:

invoice software billing software

The page title is probably the most important on-page SEO elements and ensure your most important keywords are at the beginning of the title.

5. h1 tag

This the most important header tag. Place a h1 tag near the top of each of your pages and make sure the keywords agree with the page title, e.g.

title = Invoice Software Billing Software
h1 = Invoice Software

6. h2, 3, 4, 5, 6 tags

Structure your pages by separating the text into topics. Use a h2 title for each topic. h3, 4, 5 and h6 can also be used to emphasise keywords.

7. Place important text near the top of the page, e.g. the first paragraph after the h1 tag should contain your main keywords.

8. Use bold or strong to emphasise keywords - Google picks up this as well as a human reader.

Strategy for Selling Software

If you are setting up a software development company and want to sell your own products, one route for selling software is to package your products as shareware. Shareware is a form of software distribution whereby customers can use your software for free for a trial period - it's a kind of try-before-you-buy means of selling software. Historically, shareware has quite often been associated with low-quality or simple software but this picture is changing.

If you want to sell software as shareware, make sure your software products have a sizeable market. It is essential to ensure that your software product will has a value in your chosen market - either because the software has unique features or is better than competitor offerings. Don't rely on a selling strategy of simply being cheaper than your competitors. These days, a lot of people realise that if they want to buy software they will possibly use for a number of years then cost isn’t a key factor when deciding to make a purchase.

Your sales and product development strategies must be based on writing a non-trivial, valuable program. There is a lot of cheap software - even free software - available. There are lots of big companies with large development resources allowing people to use software either for free or for a trial period. The distinction between fully-fledged commerical software and shareware is becoming increasingly blurred. Make sure your software has features that people are willing to pay for.

When selling shareware try to fill a niche and make a quality offering. One example of a niche is an “easy-to-use” version of a larger, more complicated software package. Note the key phrase here is “easy-to-use”, not trivial or cheap. People will pay to have complication taken away from them if the software offering still does an effective job. There is a risk here that some people will provide feedback indicating that your product is too simple and too inflexible. You must be careful in deciding which new features to add - are you willing to sacrifice simplicity and ease of use?

Many people will have made purchases they later regret simply because the product was cheap, e.g. a cheap power tool. Often, sooner rather than later you will have regretted the purchase, either because the product turns out not to be up to the job or breaks easily. People soon learn to spend a bit more money and get a product they know they can live with and continue to use for more than a couple of days. Selling software as shareware is a good way of reducing the risk of this happening with your software products - people can try out and live with your products for a period before deciding to purchase.

Small software companies can add value by offering good pre and post-sales support. A small software development company can often offer better support than a larger software company. Large companies can be unresponsive to support calls or can’t hold a meaningful discussion with a potential customer. With small companies there are few barriers between the company owner and the customer. Both sides can benefit from this - the customer can make his case and get a decision quickly and the company owner has a chance to build a relationship with the customer. Building a relationship with a customer may lead to future sales, for example if you release a major upgrade of your software.

When setting a price for your software product, don’t charge so little that you are literally working for peanuts. If a business’s products are too cheap, some customers may believe that the since the company does not value their own products why should the customer.

Read Selling Online for tips on software promotion via a website.

6 Things to Consider when Selling Software Products online

If you want to sell a software product online, the obvious route is to sell via your own website. If you want to sell software this way, you need to optimise your website to make it perform well in searches.

There is no easy solution for optimising a website to get good rankings in search engine results. No quick fix or magic trick is possible that will guarantee frequent visitors to a site and convert large percentages of your visitors into paying customers. The task of optimising a website for rankings, visitors and sales is an ongoing story of continual refinement and updates.

To sell a product online, at least 6 factors need to be considered:-

  1. Do you have a product that has a reasonable market?
  2. Determine how people search for your product or type of product. Do they use Yahoo or Google, what keywords do they look for?
  3. Make sure the copy on your website emphasis the most frequently used search terms - plus long tail terms.
  4. Make sure the copy on your website emphasis the most frequently used search terms - plus long tail terms.
  5. Write the copy for your website to convince customers to buy your product.
  6. Images are also important - or at least the names of your images are.

Point 6 can be very important. Google searches images and uses the image filename. Lots of people look for example images of invoices and I get a few hundred hits a month on my website for images of invoices and invoice templates.

Long-tail search terms are very important. For example, on my main website the search terms are invoicing software, invoice software and billing software. I’ve done research and found that these are the main search terms in the US and UK for my type of product. However, these search terms account for only 15% of my visitors. The rest of my visitors come from long tail terms that may only be mentioned once in the whole website. I don’t always deliberately put long tails into the text, I just write text, e.g. in the Support page or the Release History page that simply gives a good variety of words and phrases. I also examine competitor sites to see if they have combinations of phrases that I haven't included. I don't do any keyword stuffing, I just modify an existing phrase to include the long tails.

Due to the way search engines work, the people who find your website will already be interested in your product, or at least in the problem your product helps with. My feeling is that your website should then describe the benefits your specific product offers, i.e. why using your product will make handling security easier, quicker and cheaper for users. Be as specific as possible about the benefits so the visitor can easily understand how they can take advantage of your product.

The other thing to remember is that Google Pagerank isn’t everything. Pagerank doesn’t guarantee a page gets visitors. Monitor your web stats and see if any changes produce a rise in the number of visitors. Make refinements and see what effect they have.

Also consider whether you should rely entirely on search engines to get customers. Are there alternative methods of advertising your software? Can you get resellers for your software in other countries. For my invoicing software, virtual assistants make good resellers as they do invoicing for clients and I add features to make the software more suitable for their use.

Read Sales Strategy for more information.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

SliQ 1.4 Beta Test Rework Nearing the End

After almost a month in beta test/ rework, SliQ 1.4 is near complete and should be ready for release this week.

The beta testers provided excellent feedback about the usability of some of the features. This shows the benefits of good, independent, objective testing. It took some motivation to reopen the package and rework some of the features - especially the help file - but I knew the tester was making very valid points.

The new release is ready for final test again. 2 days should do it and then 1.4 will be released in stages over the next week or two.