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June, 2009 - Microsoft UK Schools blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The UK Schools Blog
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June, 2009

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Schools wasting money on ICT – phew, not true

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    The Guardian today wrote an article about school funding, which was prompted by a new Audit Commission report ‘Valuable lessons’. The message was that “hundreds of millions of pounds are being wasted”.

    I was a bit alarmed to see that amongst the savings, they were quoted as saying that there’s a potential £110M to be saved from ICT budgets:

    image

    That shocked me – because that implies that over 15% of the ICT budget is mis-spent.

    Fortunately, when I went to the original Audit Commission report, I discovered that three small letters had been left out of the Guardian report. They were N, O and N. ie the Audit Commission said schools could save £110M from non-ICT budgets.

    So, having got over that heart attack moment, I then started to look through the report to see what it did say about ICT spending in schools.

    Firstly, I looked in the summary for head teachers, which mentions ICT just twice :

    Firstquotes

    Regular reviews of high-cost goods and services, such as administration and ICT, will reveal whether they are meeting the school’s aims and objectives, and whether services are meeting the performance levels expected. The reviews will also help the school with decisions about future suppliers. Different options for service provision can be considered and your school’s governing body has an important role Endquotes


    Firstquotes

    …schools can improve economy and efficiency by ensuring that they have considered…the deployment on non-education staff. In one example, a school employed a full-time ICT technician and generated income from this by contracting with other schools. Endquotes

    With a third reference to the Becta Best Value guidance for procurement information

    So then I looked at the main report

    There are a pair of charts, showing growth in expenditure over the last 4 years – which shows that in both primary and secondary schools, ‘ICT Learning Resources’ has been one of the areas of spend with lowest growth, and with a small group of overall spend.

    And then a single sentence about the fact that only half of schools review their ICT investment in relation to improving learning and raising standards (Para 75) and finally a plug for using e-procurement to purchase (not just ICT, but lots of things. However, they noted that they have not analysed whether it is more cost-effective).

    It appears that the Audit Commission don’t see ICT as a major opportunity to achieve more efficiency and effectiveness, compared to catering, cleaning and caretaking, and non-ICT learning resources. And they applaud the schools that are showing entrepreneurial spirit by things such as sharing ICT technicians across schools. Which is nice to know if you’re a network manager in a school, and you’ve got a BSF steamroller heading your way! Download the report and send it to your head (appropriately highlighted!)

     

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Good Blogging Guide – Part Six – When things go wrong

    • 1 Comments

    Hopefully this is the chapter you’ll never need. So I’ll make it short!

    image Imagine the scenario.

    You have been blogging for a while, and you have the support and encouragement of other people in your school/local authority. Things are looking good. What could possibly go wrong?

    One of the common things is that somebody somewhere says something inappropriate online, and then somebody in your school comes along and says “Well, you’re an expert in the Internet, can you fix it?”. It could be something like a comment on a YouTube video, or Facebook, or even a comment on your blog. Or somebody else writes a blog post referring to yours, and saying what a half-wit you are.

    What do you do?

    AirForce Blog AsessmentFortunately, official help is at hand. Instead of having to spend hours/days/weeks explaining to your head teacher why you can’t block YouTube/Facebook across the whole country – or having to defend your blogging - then how about using this flow chart from the US Air Force?

    It deals with the steps in responding (or not) to a negative blog posting about them. I have found also that it is incredibly useful to use when talking to people who don’t yet fully understand the implications of social media, and the community habits. After all, if an organisation as big and hierarchical as USAF can deal with online communities with a simple flow chart, then it makes an effective point.

    It starts with “Has someone discovered a blog post about your organisation?” and walks through scenarios of people, which it refers to as:

    • Trolls
    • Rager
    • Misguided
    • Unhappy Customer

    It then provides common sense advice for dealing with each situation. As a set of rules of engagement, it’s simple to understand and clear to work through.


    The diagram is self explanatory – and ideal to share with colleagues. You can download a PDF of the Air Force Blog Assessment.

    If you’re interested in reading more about the USAF’s social media interactions, then read WebInkNow’s article about it, or take a look at the US Air Force Live blog

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Good Blogging Guide – Part Five – No lawyers please

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    This isn’t a reference to litigation, or any of the legalities of blogging (for things of that flavour, read Friday’s post on a blogging code of practice). Nope, this is about writing style. It’s about being clear and simple.

    image

    The title ‘No Lawyers Please’ comes from people I’ve worked with in the past, who seem to be completely normal people until they put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard. Suddenly, their whole character changes. Whereas they speak like anybody else, they write as though they are Charles Dickens or a High Court judge. They have perhaps been taught by somebody who believed that unless a word had 15 syllables, it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

    I would have been fairer if I’d called this ‘No educational policymakers please’, because I’ve noticed that there’s definitely a pattern to announce new policies in a way that befuddles with language. And looking in the mirror, perhaps ‘No technologists please’, because we’re also guilty of using language which is hard to work out and full of acronyms.

    The key to remember when you blog is that most people look at it on their screen, and will scan it quite quickly before they move on to another thing. So you have to grab them quickly, and not put them off too soon.

    My quick rules for this are:

    • Be as personable as you possibly can (often a challenge for me!)
    • Write the way you speak
    • Don’t use language to make you look smart
    • Drop the superlatives if they’re not deserved
    • If it’s confidential don’t write it down

    Be as personable as you possibly can

    Well, I know that this can be tricky. How much of your life and self do you want to talk about? How many people are interested? I think we all make our own decisions on this, but I’d say that if you think about your reader, you shouldn’t go wrong. For example, if I write about my children, it is within the context of the story that I am telling.

    • When my eldest daughter got told by her teacher that the video she had produced for the World War II timeline homework had to be redone as photos stuck to cardboard so it could be ‘assessed properly’, I thought that was relevant to my blog in context
    • When my youngest came home from school having spent her Science lesson counting Tesco vouchers, I didn’t rush to my blog to wail about it.

    Get the line right and you’ll hopefully write a good read and come across as a person not just a literary genius. Get it wrong, and you could be blogging into a vacuum.

    Honesty here: I have no idea if I get it right or wrong, but sometimes when I’ve wandered too far either way, I’ve had comments, but often I get people talking to me about something I’ve written in a positive or constructive way, which I take as being good feedback.

    Write the way you speak (and don’t use language to make you look smart)

    Just use the same language. The web has a very short time span in which to grab your readers, and hold them. Shorter words and simpler sentences help. This rule doesn’t apply in every situation – but if you think your readers are coming through, on their way somewhere else, then the easier it is to understand what you’re saying, the more likely they’ll stick around or come back.

    There are some tools you can use to help with this. The easiest one is the SMOG (simplified measure of gobbledygook) test, which gives you a rating for your readability. You simply paste in your text, and then it will calculate the SMOG level. And you can use that to work out if what you’ve written will be understood by your reader.

    It isn’t foolproof, but it is a handy and simple test.

    NIACE have a online SMOG calculator, which is straightforward. Basically, the lower your SMOG score, the more readable things are. They also publish a great readability booklet called “How to produce clear written materials for a range of readers” which covers much more than writing style.

    For general guidance, here are some typical SMOG levels (generally, the lower the number, the easier it is to read):

    • The Sun - 14
    • The Daily Express - 16
    • The Telegraph and The Guardian - 17+

    I did a couple of quick tests on some materials. I thought I’d point the finger at myself first, by testing the other posts in this series:

    • Good Blogging Guide Part One – 18
    • Good Blogging Guide Part Two – 15
    • Good Blogging Guide Part Three– 15
    • Good Blogging Guide Part Four– 17
    • Good Blogging Guide Part Five – 16 (that’s this one)

    I’m not unhappy with 15-17, that’s about right for writing to people in education (degree-level) but if I was writing for a very wide audience, I’d like to aim for 14-15. And considering the booklet on Readability scores 17, then I guess it’s okay)

    And to make my point about educational policy language:

    And finally, the way to tell if you’re using language to make yourself look smart? Personally, if I have to ask somebody a spelling then I know I’m using a word I don’t normally use…

    Drop the superlatives if they are not deserved

    I remember when I first joined Microsoft, after 20+ years of working within British companies, I found it a little odd that colleagues would declare things awesome or super-exciting. Especially when coming from a workplace where good was counted as high praise. Over time, I’ve adjusted, and have even gone so far as to describe one thing as cool (but my daughter stopped that straight away).

    Worldwide research has shown that the UK education audience don’t really like unjustified superlatives. So if something is good, then say it’s good, not amazing.

    Of course, if something is brilliant, then say so. But if you call everything brilliant, you’re probably going to lose readers faster than gaining them.

    And don’t get me started on people who use too many exclamation marks in emails! And people who use three!!! At the end of every sentence!!! Doesn’t it make you cry???

    If it’s confidential don’t write it down

    No more to say on this. People who’ve broken this rule and been found out never need reminding twice. If you need it, then see Good Blogging Guide Part Four for more context.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Building a school website in SharePoint

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    SharePoint has become an established standard across a large number of schools, local authorities and Regional Broadband Consortia. It is the platform underneath Glow in Scotland, and many of the learning platforms in use in schools. I think one of the key reasons it because it can provide a way to integrate all of the different IT systems across the schools – from your MIS to your learning platform, as well as everyday document management.

    Less people are using it to run their external website, ending up with schools with two different web systems, which results in students and staff having two different places to refer for information.

    Esher College have standardised onto one technology, and are using SharePoint for their external site too – with help from Parabola Software. Although they have three portals – one for the public site, one for student and one for staff, it is possible to link information between the portals and provided the user has access rights it’s seamless.

    I’d be interested in hearing about schools using SharePoint for their external website – just add a comment to the blog, and give a link to yours.

    (For more inspiration, take a look at this list of Top 10 SharePoint 2007 sites, with examples from outside of education, worldwide)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Good Blogging Guide - Did I get onto the first page of Google?

    • 3 Comments

    On Wednesday I wrote a blog post on how to improve your blog’s position in search engines, as part of my “Good Blogging Guide” series. It was all about search engine optimisation for blogs, and gave some simple to follow strategies. My goal was to demystify Search Engine Optimisation (SE) by writing an ‘SEO in plain English’ guide.

    As a throwaway idea at the end of the post, I thought I’d better try and demonstrate that it works – although I wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out. This is what I said:


    Can I really prove it works?

    Let’s experiment shall we...

    Currently my blog doesn’t show up at all when you search for ‘seo in plain english’ or ‘search engine optimisation for blogs’  – which isn’t a surprise, because I haven’t pressed publish yet. So let’s see if anything has happened by the end of the week

    Check for yourself here:

    SEO in plain english (currently 163,000 results)

    Search engine optimisation for blogs (currently 26,500,000 results)

    So what happened?

    I can’t actually believe it! Hence my over-the-top, intended-to-be-humorous, created-2-minutes ago, graphic:

    image

    By Wednesday afternoon, about an hour after publishing, the second search was already showing up on the first page of Google.

    By Thursday morning, the second search was on the first page still and the first search was on Page 3

    And now it is the end of the week, I just checked to see what has happened:

    The first search, “SEO in plain English” is now on the Google third page, at position 3 (amended to reflect Thom's comment)

    image (I’m thinking that to get above a website called “seoinplainenglish.com”
    would require a miracle – although the site appears to be dead, so there’s a chance)

    And the second search, “Search Engine Optimisation for blogs”, is on the Google first page too, at position 1 and 2:

    image

    And other phrases? Well, the whole series has also turned up on the first page at position 2, 2, 5 and 7 if you search for phrases like Good Blogging Guide (for which there are 2 billion pages!). It also makes it to page on of Google when searching on the tenuous phrase blogging page one of Google

    It has suprised me – I hadn’t really expected to see that kind of result. I’m going back over my blog to “SEO” some other bits! After all, it was only four simple steps. (Or maybe I should go and write the book…)

    * Apologies to my colleagues in the Bing team, who will be smouldering about the fact I’m talking about Google. Take a look at my original post to see why.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Are you going to the Learning Gateway conference in July?

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    For those who are going: I’m now writing my presentation on Information Security (where, if I mention losing USB memory sticks, I’ll be very clear to make sure I say Leicester City instead of Leicestershire, unlike this week at the SIMS Conference), and so if you’re going to be there, add a comment, drop me an email or a tweet to let me know what questions you would want answers to.

    image

    For everybody else: If you’re into SharePoint and the Learning Gateway, it’s likely to go down as the most relevant CPD event of the year. I’m sure that your head will want to find the money once they’ve realised that it can help you to help your school with hitting DCSF targets for online parental reporting and learning platforms, make staff collaboration easier and even help you plan ahead for remote possibilities like a swine flu outbreak in your area!

    Full details of the Learning Gateway Conference are on my earlier blog post. It’s not a Microsoft event (Alex Pearce from Great Barr School is making this all happen!) but there are a few Microsoft people speaking, and I have been bumping into various people who are all going to be there.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Good Blogging Guide – Part Four – Code of Practice

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    We’re moving along now on the ‘Good Blogging Guide’, having looked at audience, objectives, and search engine optimisation for blogs. But these three areas are about things that you do. There’s another aspect that is important too – about the environment that you blog in. For example, do you blog as an individual or as part of your organisation or school? And if you’re blogging as an individual, are you separated from your professional identity?

    So this chapter, the Blogging Code of Practice, is designed to help you to discuss, positively, blogging with other people in your organisation, so that you can create the support network you need, and agree the guidelines that are appropriate. (And if you’re a school leader, and one of your staff is starting to blog, some guidance on how you can work together to protect each other!)

    image

    A code of practice for teachers blogging?

    Don’t worry, I’m not going to provide one! I believe very strongly that online participation – whether it’s blogs, forums or Twitter is a personal thing. You’ll know that if you’re a regular reader of the blog or my Twitter feed. Although I’m blogging in my professional capacity, it is still me that’s blogging, not an automaton. However, I’m also aware that people will look at what I say and sometimes interpret what they are reading as “Microsoft’s opinion”. So I have to be careful how I express opinions sometimes, and need to know what is and isn’t acceptable.

    I think that if you’re blogging in the public sector, the same situation exists. Having a code of practice is about having an agreed set of guidelines to protect you, and your school/local authority/organisation.

    The good news is that it doesn’t need to be onerous, and there are existing examples that apply

    Here are for examples to help you (a) consider your own and (b) to use to guide others (eg your head teacher or local authority) to get an effective code.

    imageThe Civil Service Blogging Code


    Most people are surprised to learn that there’s a code for Civil Servants to follow on blogging (and general social media participation). And the fact that it’s brief is a second surprise.

    There are 9,421 words in the Code for MP’s Allowances (the Parliamentary Green Book), and well over 400 in our employee code for the protection of laptops. So would it surprise you to learn that there are only 78 words in the Civil Service code for online participation?

    The code was announced last year in Parliament by the MP Tom Watson from the Cabinet Office, and the code was published. Unfortunately the link it was published on is now a dead link (doh!), but after quite a bit of searching, I’ve found the place they’ve now published it (and it has a new preamble to it ).

    The Civil Service code for blogging

    And here’s what it says:


    Principles for participation online

    1. Be credible

    Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.

    2. Be consistent

    Encourage constructive criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times.

    3. Be responsive

    When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.

    4. Be integrated

    Wherever possible, align online participation with other offline communications.

    5. Be a civil servant

    Remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation. Wherever possible, disclose your position as a representative of your department or agency.

    Considering how tortuous some public sector documents can be (If I never have to read another procurement document in my life, I will die happy!) this is a model of clarity, simplicity and brevity. I think it makes it very clear what you have to do to meet the needs of the organisation you work for when blogging.

    Microsoft Blogging Code

    There are only two words in our blogging code:


    Blog Smart

    Basically, it means that the company expects me to exercise good judgement, and ‘be smart’ when I’m blogging. I also interpret it to mean that all the same principles and policies that apply to our normal public interactions generally also apply to blogging. For example, if I know something that is confidential internal information, I wouldn’t blog about it, and equally I wouldn’t tell somebody I met at a conference or my neighbour.

    So if 78 words for the Civil Service blogging code were a surprise, then I guess 2 words in our code are even more surprising.

    Don’t take either of these as being simplistic – they are not. They are simple. Simple to understand, simple to follow and simple to monitor.

    In both cases, a lot of people will have had a lot of input and taken a lot of time to get there. As Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”, neatly capturing the experience that it’s easier to write more than less.

    As an aside, here's Intel's Social Media Guidance. Anybody know of others?

    The UK Education team’s blogging guidelines

    When I originally started blogging it was just me, doing my stuff. But over time we’ve expanded out the number of blogs written, and also have some written by teams. So although this one is written by me alone, (along with the Further Education blog), then Higher Education blog is one I write jointly with Dominic Watts (our Higher Ed business manager); Kristen & Stuart write a Teachers blog and Mark A’Bear and I write an Education Partners blog.

    Partly because people wanted some guidance, and partly to ensure consistency for the readers when a team blog is written by more than one author, we created our own blogging code. To be fair, they are more like writing-style guidelines, because they are aimed at making sure that the experience for the reader is consistent.

      • Always write as an individual, to an individual
      • Wherever possible, express an opinion
      • Tell them how they could use what we’re providing
      • Don’t just link to another resource without something specific for our audience
      • Always put everything into the audience context

    The aim of the guidelines are to make sure that we don’t drift into writing corporate-speak, which people can sometimes do accidentally (or sometimes because they think it is expected). Or simply turn into a parrot of other information, or weblinks, from other Microsoft sources. My personal bar is “Am I adding anything specifically useful for schools in the UK?” If not, I won’t blog it.

    A Code of Practice for blogging in education

    I was interested to see the East Lothian Council Social Media code, which is provided for staff in their schools to encourage and support them to engage online. Again, the focus is on simple, clear and straightforward advice, and it covers style issues as well as the good practice issues


    Best Practice Guidelines for Staff

    • Keep secrets and be mindful of what you say

    • Be respectful to your colleagues

    • Get your facts straight

    • Be Interesting – writing or talking is hard work - let's not add to this by making the reading difficult too

    • Write what you know – add value

    • Quality matters – respect the ELC EDUCATION identity and values

    • Provide context to your argument

    • Engage in Private Feedback

    I haven’t seen any individual school blogging guidelines or codes, but I’m sure there are some out there too.

    A call to action

    It’s taken me almost 3 hours to write this blog post, and I still feel I’m only scratching the surface. Do you know of other sources for good practice blogging codes for schools? Are there any aspects that should be in the perfect blogging code within education (to encourge as well as protect)?

    Either add comments and links to this post, or ping me on Twitter to help move the discussion forward. It may even be possible to create the definitive ‘Starter for 10’ code for education.

    I know this is a topic that plenty of people are interested in, because I have been asked about it so many times – which is why I’ve written this “Good Blogging Guide”. So help colleagues move the conversation forward

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Good Blogging Guide – Part Three – Getting onto Page One of Google

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    I think this chapter of my “Good Blogging Guide” could be a book in it’s own right – and there are plenty of books which just cover this subject - in fact, there are plenty of companies whose sole purpose is to sell you the answer to doing this. And I know I’m not in their league! So this chapter is about making your blog search-friendly – giving you a few direct tips to make sure that what your write is likely to improve your chances of being found when a potential reader goes to their search engine of choice.

    The reason I called this chapter “Page One of Google” is because in the UK, over 90% of all searches are done through Google. So being on the first page of another search engine isn’t anywhere near as useful as being on the first page of Google. Although other countries use a much wider range of search engines, it appears to be Google all the way in the UK. Which is a little worrying if you can’t get onto Google’s results page – does it mean you don’t exist on the web?

    When I first started blogging, I didn’t care about showing up in the search results. I was writing for a few specific people, who knew where my blog was. But over the months, I noticed that more and more of the traffic for my personal blog was coming from Google. They weren’t looking for my blog, but ended up on it. (And it had a very unfortunate side effect when I described a town in Canada in less than glowing terms, and my reference to it came up as the first link when you searched for it. Yup – I got an email from the Chamber of Commerce that time!). Now, when I write I try to think “How can I help people to find the info I’m writing, if it’s relevant?

    This chapter is all about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) - an acronym that’s bandied about all over the place. Basically it means the same thing as this chapter title. But there is so much mystique around it, that I think it’s time for a basic “SEO in plain English” approach. And it’s entirely my point of view – four basic steps which I’ve boiled down from hundreds of different snippets of advice, and sitting through presentations where seasoned professionals have talked about how to do this stuff. But I like simple things, so I’ve boiled this all down to my four steps for SEO in plain English (hopefully!). You’ll also find that they are very specific, because that’s the kind of person I am – I like clarity.

    image

    Search Engine Optimisation for blogs

    1) Keywords and Key Phrases

    I approach this from the point of the reader/searcher, and ask myself “If I was trying to find the information, what would I type in a search box?”, and then I make sure that I use that phrase in the text. And I do the same for closely related phrases. Let’s take a worked example:

    Imagine I am writing about my school’s learning platform implementation

    Key phrases people might search on:

    • Implementing a learning platform
    • How to set up a learning platform
    • Guide to setting up a learning platform

    So that gives me some phrases that I can use – perhaps using one of them for the title, and other phrases in my writing. But of course, there are plenty of other phrases and words that people might also search on, which I want to use. Things like:

    • Learning Gateway
    • Online reporting for parents
    • Real-time parental reporting
    • VLE
    • Obviously this list could become quite long!

    And finally, a list of verbs that could go with it:

    • Training
    • Supporting
    • Implementing
    • Setting up
    • Designing
    • etc

    But obviously, it wouldn’t be sensible to try and include all of this in your blog posting, because it would be (a) obsessive and (b) not helpful to your readers. But the process of making the list might help you to identify a couple of key words/phrases you want to use to help people find your blog post. And you must absolutely make sure that you think about this through the eyes of the reader, not yours. ‘Learning Platform’ is a really good example to use – because you can bet that parents don’t use that phrase, and in fact probably don’t even use phrases like ‘online reporting for parents’. So make sure you get the phrases or keywords that your particular audience uses.

    2) Make the post title work for you

    I don’t quite know why, but this simple step seems to work very well.

    • Your post title should be 60-70 characters long
    • You should use the key search terms at the beginning of the post

    Let’s work an example through this. Let’s take a typical post title from a post on this blog in January:

    • The netbook Wall of Cool at BETT

    I need to decide the key search terms, and get them to the front of the post title. I think in this case ‘netbooks’ and ‘BETT’ are probably key – and I think I’d add ‘schools’ too (because if people want netbook info for schools, then I want them to find this post).

    My second version is:

    • Netbooks for schools at BETT on the Wall of Cool

    This should help people find the post if they search on ‘netbooks for Schools’ or ‘netbooks BETT’. But it is still focused on education – I’m not trying to get it to show up all over the web on irrelevant searches for netbooks.

    Next, I need to get it to the right length, of 60-70 characters. I use Windows Live Writer to write my posts (which is both free and brilliant!), so I can highlight the title, and click Tools>Word Count. Which tells me it is 48 characters long. So I just need a few more.

    My third version is:

    • Netbooks for schools at BETT – rated on our very own Wall of Cool

    Which leaves me with a post title that has the keywords at the front, and is 65 characters long, and which is actually more informative for everybody than the original!

    Maybe I should go back and change the title of the original post!

    3) Use target keywords/phrases in your post

    Remember Step One – identifying the right key words or phrases? Now’s the time to make sure you’re using them properly.

    • Use your target keywords/phrases 3 times in your post

    And for more effect, use them in your outbound links. For example, rather than writing…

    You can find out more about netbooks at BETT in my earlier post

    …you should write…

    You can find out more about netbooks at BETT in my earlier post

    4) Get links back to your site

    This isn’t about the way you write your posts, but about the way that your whole blog moves up the search engines page rankings. There’s a quantity and a quality rule here.

    Quantity

    Getting lots of links back to your site helps – other people referring to it in their blog posts or websites – as that will move your blog up the search rankings. One effective, and popular, way of doing this is to add comments to other people’s blogs (but, please, make them worthwhile comments!), and adding your blog’s URL in the post of the bit where you leave your website details.

    Quality

    A single link from a highly respected website is much more useful than a dozen links from less respected websites. And by ‘respected’ I’m talking about the relative importance ranking given to them by search engines. The various website rankings are a closely guarded secret, but if you get a link from the BBC website to yours, that’ll be a lot more valuable than a link from your friend’s new blog!

    Does this all really work?

    • I started this series of “Good Blogging Guide” posts on Monday afternoon, and by Monday evening if you searched for ‘Good Blogging Guide’ it was appearing on the first page of Google (4th item) and Bing (1st item). And by Tuesday, it was 4th and 5th on Google, and 1st and 3rd on Bing. And on some of the key phrases, like ‘Why audience is key to good blogging’, it was coming up top in Google.
    • In January, I wrote a series of posts (and updated our website) about the Home Access Programme – but I knew that lots of others would also be writing about it. So step one, the keywords, got me thinking about key phrases like ‘Home Access Programme’ and ‘Home Learning Package’. At the end of the first week, it was 2nd/1st in Google for these phrases, and even now, despite there being 147,000,000 search results, it’s 5th for ‘Home Access Programme’, and 1st and 3rd for ‘Home Learning Package’
    • I wrote a series of posts about Windows 7, specifically about how it will help schools. And if you search on key phrases like ‘Windows 7 for schools’ or ‘Windows 7 in education’ it will come up on page 1, and normally as the first item.

    But the key point to emphasise is that I’ve tried to use these rules to help people find relevant content. If people are interested in a ‘Good Blogging Guide’, then hopefully the content is useful. Similarly for Windows 7 – the information I’ve written is written for education, so it’s relevant. I’m not going to suddenly include a reference to a famous celebrity to try and trick my way up the search rankings, because it wouldn’t help searchers, and it wouldn’t serve my readers very well!

    Can I really prove it works?

    Let’s experiment shall we...

    Currently my blog doesn’t show up at all when you search for ‘seo in plain english’ or ‘search engine optimisation for blogs’  – which isn’t a surprise, because I haven’t pressed publish yet. So let’s see if anything has happened by the end of the week

    Check for yourself here:

    SEO in plain english (currently 163,000 results)

    Search engine optimisation for blogs (currently 26,500,000 results)

    Updates:
    Wednesday 2pm (1 hour after publishing) already made it to page 1, number 4 for the second search
    Thursday 7am - the second search has now moved to number 1, page 1; and the second search has made it to number 3, page 3

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Good Blogging Guide – Part Two – Have an objective

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    On we go, after yesterday’s Chapter One, on Audience, let’s hit Chapter Two – “Have an objective

    image This is going to be a very short chapter, because there are some very simple rules that you can follow to make sure that there’s actually an objective (or “point”!) to your blog posts. There are two questions that work, whether you are writing a blog post, or a presentation, or letter or any other form of communication.

    And the questions are about what you want to happen at the end in the mind of your audience?

    • What do you want people to think?

    • What do you want them to do?

    That’s it. No magic. I have used this for years – before I sit down and write a presentation, I get a clean sheet of paper and write down 2 or 3 bullet points underneath these two questions. You’d be amazed how easy it becomes to focus on writing your presentation, and also it means that when you’ve finished, you can come back to your piece of paper and check that you’ve hit your objectives.

    Sometimes I do this check, and find that I’ve wandered off into writing a completely different presentation, by mistake. Other times, I’ve found that I’ve got 20 minutes to present a one-hour presentation. These questions helps me to kill the 40 irrelevant minutes.

    This works really well for blog posts too. And it is ideal if you have a vague idea - if you’ve got an idea for a blog post, but don’t know how to approach it.

    Or even better, if you’re blogging in an organisation, and you have somebody else giving you blog post ideas which aren’t right for your audience – if they fail the “think/do” test, then probably they aren’t right for your readers.

    I quite often use this, because people approach me all the time and say “you should really put this onto your blog”. Sometimes it’s people in positions of authority over me. But the “think/do” test helps me to keep irrelevant stuff off the blog.
    Last month Microsoft won an award for The Best Workplace in Europe. And somebody said “You should blog that”. But given that most network managers work in what could only be described “The xxxxx Workplace in Europe” (choose your own xxxxx word: hottest; most cramped; untidiest; darkest), then unless my ‘think’ objective was ‘jealous’ then it’s not for the blog!

    Typical “think/do” examples are:

    • Think: This is clever  Do: Download the software
    • Think: I can use this  Do: Try it in a lesson
    • Think: This is contentious    Do: Add a comment
    You may wonder, what was the Think/Do for this blog post?

    Think: That’s simple, easy to remember and might work

    Do: Try it on a presentation and on a blog post, and see if it is helpful

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    What is a learning platform – a video introduction

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    I love it when I find a guide to a complex technology, written in plain English. Or even better, a video. For a while, the standard has been set by the Common Craft team, using paper animations, but I think Chris Thomson and Aaron Bowler from the Sheffield East City Learning Centre have set a challenging new standard.

    Their video “What is a learning platform” is a triumph in simplicity and cuteness – and is perfect for a technophobe audience of teachers or parents.

    What is a Learning Platform video

    You can read more about their work on their Electric Chalk blog

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