This is an extract from an essay collection, just published on the Kindle, called `Notes From the Margins.

In this one, I look at how social media was hijacked by trolls, both professional and amateur and an ever growing band of Twitter and Facebook Police squads now trawl social media, looking for easy peasy convictions. The net result is that anyone with something to lose in life; career, mortgage, relationship, reputation etc. simply doesn’t dare express any type of opinion on controversial subjects. Freedom of expression is being surrendered voluntarily, because we live in fear of a careless tweet costing us everything we have worked for.

Here’s a brief extract;

But the saddest truth of all is that social media networks once empowered those without a voice to speak openly, not especially in Europe and the USA, but in countries where dictatorships held sway, and that brief flame of free thought, and speech, has been all but extinguished.
Look at the Orange revolution in Ukraine, the fall of the Mubaruk dynasty in Eygpt, or way opposition to regimes in Libya, Tunisia, Russia or China has used social media. Ideas were debated, demonstrations planned on FB, Twitter or other networks. News travelled faster than conventional TV and radio news organisations could disseminate it. Think about that tipping point when Sky News, the BBC and other networks began using hashtags in bulletins and trained their old fashioned reporters how to use Twitter, Blackberry Messenger and other tools to gather news faster than before. In that moment, social media changed the world because it empowered the voiceless. People became their own editors, en masse, arguably for the first time in history.

kindle books on culture, politics, opinion

Just a collection of opinions.

Yet that wonderful blossoming of free speech has been eradicated by government censorship, as the rise of IS has prompted all kinds of government agency spying. There is also a sinister acceptance that social media is intrinsically `bad’ amongst the general population. It is being painted as a hiding place for troublemakers, terrorists, stalkers, trolls, would-be lone bombers etc.
We now have a new willingness to denounce others. Recent UK government orders to public sector workers that they should `blow the whistle’ on colleagues is just the start of it. Soon, within a decade or so, Orwell’s vision of people spying on their work colleagues, neighbours and friends, and then accusing them anonymously, will become reality. Those who see `abuse’ on social media and refuse to alert the authorities by ticking a box, will find themselves accepting a Police caution, which means they will fail a CRB check for the rest of their working lives. In the last three years (2011-14) some 300 people in Wales alone have had legal action taken against them by the Police for comments on social media.
That is the second reason why free speech is being abolished; your career is at risk because of ONE ill-thought remark, or a click of a `Like’ button after one too many beers. This is a censorship by implied threat on behalf of the state – tweet at your peril, you may lose your job, pension and the roof over your head. So shut up. Nobody, except the very rich and powerful, will dare to speak out on social media in ten years or so. The danger of financial ruin, perhaps even jail, will be too great.
You are free to post endless `Je Suis Charlie’ photos online, but should you dare to express a strong view on Islamic extremism, obese children eating too many Frosties, gay visitors at boarding houses and so on, you may be arrested by the social media Police. In the end, we will only be free to speak about trivia; celebs, sport, fashion, soaps – the dull, palliative opiates of our culture.

You can buy the full collection of waffling essays, covering topics like the inexorable rise of an Islamic Caliphate, the strange crucifixion of Jeremy Clarkson, or how angry white guys with Go-Pros spoiled cycling for everyone, here;*Version*=1&*entries*=0

SEO guidelines and content marketing tips

SEO is two things; good, original content, and funny woodpecker photos.

In the latest round of search engine tweaks, Google says that mobile searches will now feature more news results, rather than the frankly irrelevant results, that a typical search on your iPhone or Android device might bring up.

There is a distinct problem with phone searches on Google in my view. Far too often the results feature photos near the top of page, when you haven’t asked for photos. Ditto video clips. If you’re looking for a very detailed answer to a technical question, then a phone search is often frustrating, and ultimately a waste of time. You just don’t get the answers you want, unless you fire up a PC or laptop. Then the search results are more relevant, more focussed.

Why this should be, remains a mystery to me, but anything that can be done to improve phone searches can only be good news. However, the thing is, not all UK news sources are useful.

For example, most regional UK newspaper sites are appallingly written, littered with basic spelling and grammatical errors, plus they feature a selection of spammy adverts and sponsored advertorial links, disguised as `news’ at the foot of each page. Surely these spammy links break the early Penguin and Panda updates from back in 2012? Why is Google giving high page rank to regional news sites which cannot publish a story without placing three or four adverts within the tedious, often childishly written, copy?

Here’s another example; The Mirror site now carries sponsored news stories on the tragic, broken lives of those people willing to prostitute their personal lives on the Jeremy Vile – sorry, Kyle – TV show. This is NOT news. It’s a blatant advert for a TV channel and some might say it demeans The Mirror, the tabloid that likes to boast `makes you think.’

Other national newspapers are also keen on making their sites pay by featuring all manner of PR related content – I will say it again, this `content’ is not news.

It isn’t unbiased, it often isn’t that informative and frequently has recycled quotes and facts trawled from previous web searches. In short, there isn’t any real journalism going on; no fact checks, no original phone call quotes, no rival points of view mentioned. No depth of insight. It’s `churnalism,’ not journalism.

If Google can filter out this type of `news’ result, then phone searches will improve for users, but I doubt it. Expect more spammy content, more dreary, `celeb’ and reality TV show news and ultimately, expect more disappointment when searching for the info you want.

Like most monopolies, Google’s grip on search engine tech isn’t a good thing in the long run.

google seo updates, new algorithm changes

more news content in phone searches could be a good thing, but what is `news’ these days?

Is being listed on Google News essential SEO?

Always remember, not everyone looking for your business uses Google News

Recently Google emailed webmasters to remind them that they can apply to have their site listed in Google News. There is a tickbox check list, where you describe what your `news’ site is about, add author info – links to G+ author profiles are good too – and link to a `Contact Us’ page.

But is it worth it? Will it boost your page rank for your target keywords?

Hmm, that’s a tricky one and the short answer is `It probably will help your SEO, but the cost in manpower, cash and time might not be worth it.’

Brands Don’t Always Need to Be Publishers

That’s the first thing to remember. Global companies selling mass market products and services like Nike, Virgin, Pepsi, Samsung, TUI travel or VW cars need to publish because they have stories worth telling. Blogs, You Tube and Vimeo videos, social media channels and old fashioned press releases and news features – yep, all on the check list.

But some brands don’t need to try and be `news channels’ and hire content creation teams of editors, video specialists, presenters, event bloggers, tweeters and more.

seo tips and advice for business

Does Rolex need a news channel? Nope, they have thousands of news channels doing that work for free.

For example, if you were Rolex, would you need to produce lots of news, so that you always had something in Google News’s 30 day-ish archive?

No, you would not, because your target customer isn’t trawling the web looking for Rolex bargains, or a new franchise hut opening up next to Nando’s at the retail park. Your Rolex buyer is on a yacht somewhere, planning the downfall of a business rival using secret surveillance, table dancers and a tame journalist on the Sunday Mirror.

Besides, you have about 800 luxury lifestyle bloggers in the UK alone desperately recycling any Rolex content they can in order to generate web traffic, plus 50 watch magazines, upmarket business titles and newspapers etc all covering any snippet of Rolex related news that appears on the horizon.

All you need is a clever PR agency, not an army of news editors located in a Swiss bunker creating daily content.

Brands That Offer News Should Tread Carefully

It’s one thing hiring journalists, bloggers and photographers, but you need to make sure they are SEO trained, and understand how to walk the line between PR spin and useful, accurate product infomation.

Once you start out trying to create `something that goes viral’ you’re sunk. Follow old fashioned news guidelines; who, what, why, when etc. Tell a succinct story, stick to the point and always – I mean always – add at least three superb copyright free photos, or a professionally produced video clip.

Once you skimp on production costs by outsourcing, then your brand suffers by association. Your news channel looks cheap, then so does your product.

SEO guidelines and content marketing tips

SEO is a process. There is no `quick fix.’ Any agency who promises instant results is lying to you. Fact.

Finally, always remember that Google doesn’t archive news stories for long, so all that cash you spend on editors, writers, photographers etc could be for minimal coverage.

You might be better off investing in making your website more interesting, interactive or doing more special offers, competitions or dealing with customer complaints better on Twitter and Facebook.

Don’t forget Google Plus too – few people use it in the UK, but it has a disproportionately large effect on your site’s page rank and overall visibility.

Using G+ is like harnessing an SEO tidal surge – all your boats will rise.


Google recently rolled out a `Pigeon’ algorithm update in the USA, which aims to give higher page rank to

seo tips - add g+ for better page rank for small businesses

Add some G+ content if you want a good organic search result.

local businesses. So when people browse for restaurants, dry cleaning, florists, pizza, motorcycle spare parts, days out etc. they should see more local search results on P1, not just the nearest branches of the big brands.

We can assume the same Pigeon search tweak will start to affect UK traffic in the next month or so, which makes it even more important that small businesses in the UK get on G+ and add ALL the data they can.

Your opening hours, phone number, map location, photo gallery of your products, email – plus some interesting blog posts – should all be showing up on your G+ channel.

Case Study: PJ’s Jewellers Wins New Customers With G+

If you’re not on G+ then I can say that your search results could be negatively affected, and a recent SEO experiement proved this theory.

Although PJ’s Jewellers are already on Facebook and Twitter, I added a recent series of posts on G+, plus a reasonably sized photo gallery, updated opening hours and correctly located the Google Maps pin, as Google didn’t recognise the location of the shop at all.

This was because the shop was located on a street that was long since made into a pedestrianised walkway. So if your shop or office isn’t showing up on Google Maps, don’t wait for the Google car to pass by – get the info updated yourself on G+ asap.

Also started a Pinterest channel and linked some posts to the PJ’s Twitter feed.

Early indications are this activity has made a useful difference to the ranking for PJ’s Jewellers in Warrington, depending on the keyword search term of course.

Now a local search for `PJ’s Jewellers’ brings up all the G+ data on the right hand page of P1 on Google and more importantly, people visiting the shop are saying they’ve seen PJ’s Jewellers on Google, or “I googled `sell your gold for cash in Warrington’ and your shop came up.”

how G+ social media helps small uk businesses

G+ map pin, biz info, fresh content and photos all helped bring in new customers.

Other positive results include;

`Jewellers Warrington’ on Google Maps now shows the shop, previously there was no pin visible at all.

Over 1100 page views of the PJ’s G+ pages during July

PJ’s are still getting customers from Facebook and the site is also performing very well for the business.

The Yell site has years of traction behind it, or `trust and authority’ as Google calls it for algorithm purposes, so for many small companies in the UK a mix of old fashioned, proven marketing methods, plus utilising all the social media channels you can afford to do, is arguably the best way to get good results from online marketing.

There is no `magic bullet’ with SEO, but when Google Pigeon rolls out in the UK, it could be wise to have your G+ site fine tuned, with 100% accurate business info listed, and some interesting content on there.




If you’re in business then two things will bug you when it comes to modern smartphones; battery life and er..battery life.

second model yotaphone, russian, smartphone, new, uk price, eink, twin screen mobile

Second generation Yotaphone has a more useful rear e-ink screen.

There really is no way around the problem that lithium batteries have created for modern mobile communications. They just don’t last long enough and take ages to recharge fully.

Until that `Back To The Future’ Flux Capacitor thing is invented, we are stuck with rubbish battery life. That’s a pain, because smartphones help you keep up to date with emails, view and download photos, video clips, take part in conference calls and much more. They actually help people to get work done, not just fanny about on Facebook all day long. True. No really, I’m not making this up.

Trouble is, an iPhone 5 can be down to under 20% battery power in just a few hours at show, seminar or off-site meeting. Try shooting video then uploading it, or emailing it to the office – yep, just watch that battery percentage sink towards oblivion faster than James Arthur’s latest single.

Then you’re reduced to plugging in your phone charger, assuming you can find a handy socket, and then waiting an hour for some life to seep back into that lazy-ass, lump of lithium greyness inside your phone.

That’s why I think Yotaphone are onto something with their dual screen idea. Sure, having an e-reader on the back of the casing is nice for Kindle fans, but if you’re a Project Manager, IT Support specialist, or just that old fashioned thing; an entrepreneur, then you’ll appreciate a screen that can display texts, app updates or email messages, even when the battery is nearly dead.

When the battery does finally expire, you can save the most recent image on the rear screen, say a Google Map of where your hotel is located, or your e-ticket for Easyjet.

new yotaphone has curvy design, 8mp camera, dual screens

New Yotaphone is more curvy, less `candy bar’ than the first version. Is it a winner for business users? Maybe.

Like the Yotaphone 1, the second version – currently in development, but should arrive this autumn – allows you to set the second e-ink screen to display updates from social media channels, apps, different email accounts etc. according to how much privacy you require. Then, assuming you want work related emails to be displayed, you can set the length of time they stay on screen. Handy.

The second incarnation of the Yota also has full touchscreen function on the rear screen, not just on the lower part of the screen, as on Yota 1.

You see, Yota are thinking like business people on the move, in an ever-quicker paced, connected world. The existing Yotaphone retails at £419 in the UK, so expect this new model to come in around £450 when it launches.

Yota runs on Android OS btw.


The reasons for any author to give Kindle, or Nook, Apple’s iBooks, Kobo etc a whirl, come down to just two for me; decent royalties and just the sheer joy of having a voice.

circles in the sand, Paris Dakar e-book

Circles in The Sand – great memories from a crazy off-road race.

As an old print author from the 90s I’m used to pitching a book idea to publishers, then waiting…maybe having a meeting…and waiting. If I got lucky, they sent me a contract and about 18 months after the book came out, I got some royalties.

The upside of that old school publishing model was that the publisher typeset and designed the book, added pretty pictures, had it printed, then marketed the words of wisdom with a press release, sending review copies out maybe. Or just slashed the cover price and put it on their website in January, with a big yellow HALF PRICE! sticker on the cover. That works too.

Essentially, that old Victorian publishing model hadn’t really changed much in over 100 years, except for the rise of the paperback, and printing and binding of books has been farmed out of the UK for about 20 years or so to cut costs. Kindle has changed everything.


That’s the beautiful thing.

You, the author, get to set the cover price, around the world. There’s nothing stopping you setting up a website dedicated to your own quartet of zombie-love, sci-fantasy or pirate-wenches-on-speed sagas. Rope in your friends to do some reviews, try the Kindle lending library thing to give readers a taste of your magisterial prose and vividly descriptive sex scenes. Nice.

Now I haven’t got around to writing some oddball fan fiction as yet, having published a little book on the heroes and vilains of motorsport, plus Circles In The Sand, a memoir of my Paris-Dakar press trip back in 2001.

John Deacon Paris Dakar bike racer, enduro rider

John Deacon – Dakar racer, back in the day.

Writing it brought back powerful memories, the faces of riders like John Deacon, now sadly passed away, the poverty of Africa, the raw, sculpted beauty of the Sahara. I can still smell the danger of Bamako in Mali. You have to feel it, to write it. Nail it down.

The satisfication of seeing a few dozen people actually pay hard cash and download the book is addictive. Kindle royalties have winged their way into my bank account, like pennies from digital heaven. OK, yes, we are talking pennies…but hey, it’s a start.

So if you’re a decent writer and feel the need to get 80,000 words on why capitalism is simply asset-stripping the middle class in Britain, or you have a bodice-ripping 18th century romance on the go, then I strongly recommend self-publishing. Seeing 70% royalties heading your way, instead of the pitiful 8% that publishers fob you off with, is worth the faffing about using Kindle’s US spell-checker.

Gutenberg gave Europe the technology to print and disseminate the word of God, instead of having monks laboriously write it out by hand. Then people published their own pamphlets, or notices entitled Ye Outlaw Knowne As Robin of The Hood. In short, the printing press itself became the catalyst of what we now call, the `knowledge transfer.’

It let ideas out into the wild; words became weapons, stars that inspired, chronicles of life, the ledger of trade.

Digital publishing offers that same quantum leap forward in potential. It is, of course, another double-edged sword, like Gutenberg’s inky template, but Kindle and its ilk offer each of us a distinct voice, empowerment, and a democracy of thought and expression which is the foundation of civilisation. We must never lose it.

If you run any kind of online business then you’ll have been approached by companies selling retargeted adverts. My own view is that retargeted ads are a waste of time and money. But for those who don’t quite know what I’m waffling about, let me explain a little more.


retargeting ads do they work case studies

Those ads which follow you around may not actually work.

In plain terms, these are the creepy adverts that follow you around the internet. They use cookies stored in a web page, so that next time you browse for anything, you might see ads for something you looked at say two days, or even two weeks ago.
Can your Website, Blog or Company make money from Retargeted Ads?
Yes but the amounts will be tiny. For example, one site I’m involved with earned just 70p in a month. That site has over 2,000 unique visitors a day – it isn’t an obscure blog, like this one. So you need huge traffic numbers to get respectable money.

Someone has to click the ad, and then buy something, for the company selling the ad service to get paid. Your blog, magazine or company then gets a commission payment.
Retargeted ads are, in effect, a `race to bottom’ as regards online advertising. The other important point to remember is that just like Affiliate Window, or similar services, the middlemen are skimming off the cream of the cash, you’re getting the pennies.

But Aren’t Retargeted Ads Better than Old Banner Adverts?


adverts that work, banners and print

In theory, people come back to your page. Unless they get deeply annoyed at your stalking, or just weren’t interested in the first place.

Possibly. But here are two things to consider; firstly the success of banner ads is judged in terms of clicks, nothing else, which is ridiculous.

Nobody clicks on a TV, radio, or print advert, but do big brands spend big money on all those old fashioned types of advertising? Hell yes. That’s because advertising works like a kind of osmosis, or as marketeers call it, `brand awareness.’

You keep seeing adverts for Santander, Cadbury’s Nokia, Ford cars etc. and after a while that seeps into your subconscious. You begin to `trust’ the brand; you believe it’s a `big’ company, so their products might be worth a look and the company might care enough about its reputation to stand by its guarantee.

So a banner ad can still work like a digital billboard, or newspaper advert. In fact it can work better, as it can move images and text, offering a kind of Gif-like experience to the casual web shopper.

London Business School Study – More Clicks on Generic Ads
A 2013 academic study by London Business School found that consumers were in fact more prone to clicking on generic brand ads, not the specific, narrow focus, retargeted ads served by the cookie creeps watching your every move online.
Read the pdf of the research here by the way
The study itself is of limited value, as it chooses to use hotel room searches as its test methodology. People who look for hotel rooms are generally not casually wandering the internet. Instead, they want a room, they often know the dates and the short list of locations too – they are highly motivated consumers.


john lewis bear ad good example of brand values

A good ad translates brand values in a few secods, it makes consumers want to repeat a good experience. Being stalked isn’t a good thing.

The study found that the percentage of those consumers who looked at reviews sites like TripAdvisor, before looking for rooms, only converted at a rate of 6%. That means 94% of people did NOT click and buy a room. Despite all the advertising, of every type.

To me, that highlights how hazy, and unrelated, some search results – and adverts – still are, how badly written many website pages STILL are, and the basic human nature at work in this process. At heart, we don’t always know exactly what we want, but we are willing to be persuaded, tempted, and shown something new and exciting.

If you’ve Already Rejected Something, Why Do You Want to see it 87 Times Again?
There’s another good question for the pedlars of retargeted ads.

To find the answer, we must go back to human nature territory once again, because it boils down to what makes us human; if we look at a web page it doesn’t mean we want to buy that product or service. We are not shopping all the time.
Even if we do browse to shop, that doesn’t mean the company making those smartphones, shoes, cars, bikes etc. has won us over with their badly written, slightly pretentious blog, or `news’ story, cobbled together by a posh intern called Lucinda Chummy-Stringpuller.

So why would we want to see the same ads displayed on almost every other page, as we subsequently browse the net? After seeing the same ad on another ten pages, it goes beyond annoying. Many people will be utterly determined NOT to click on the `stalker’ advert which now loiters in the corner of the page, like a pleading puppy.

Brand Affinity is More Likely to Work Than Just Mapping Your Browsing History


jaguar rebranding

Jaguar once stood for `old chap at a golf club, bit Arthur Daley.’ Then Jaguar was rebranded. The cars got better too.

Case Study: I once booked a room near the NEC using I now get an email every BLOODY WEEK from them, telling me there are deals on rooms in Solihull. Does it not occur to brands that I might want to stay somewhere else in the UK, or even abroad?

There’s much more to online marketing than just using cookies and software to look at someone’s browsing history. Yes, it offers a gold mine of data, especially if you can capture a year or two’s worth. But it isn’t a well rounded portrait of the actual person and that means retargeted ads cannot work very well.

Sometimes the ad will be served at exactly the right time; payday just gone, family event on the horizon, necessary purchase of clothes, gifts, hotel etc. has to be made that day.

I’m not saying it can’t happen. But the odds are always going to be long.

Instead, look at how old fashioned adverts on TV and in print continue to focus on brand values and human relationships. It is, in the end, the sheer fun of a day at Alton Towers which sells the experience, or the undeniable luxury feel, and design of a Mercedes, which makes people aspire to own one.

There are many links in the daisy chain of buying. Consumers are different, complex and fuelled by emotions like fear, desire, status, trust, guilt and more.

Finally, just imagine if someone from Debenhams followed you round the High Street and kept tapping on the window as you visited Next, H&M or River Island? You would punch them – hard. That’s what retargeted adverts are; an irritating sales monkey on your back.

And who needs that?