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Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham presenting at The Heath Business & Technical Park 24th November 2016

Liverpool and Manchester Mayoral candidates Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham visit The Heath offices

It was fascinating to see the joint presentation from Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham yesterday, as they made their pitch for becoming the Mayor of Liverpool and Manchester respectively.

What struck us as refreshing was that neither of the candidates appeared to be approaching this as a strictly political appointment. Granted, there were Labour Party officials supporting the roadshow but the narrative spoke mostly of cooperation and collaboration, particularly between the two Cities.

They both spoke of working closely with whoever got the role of Mayor and would look to incorporate the Mayors of Lancashire and Cheshire as well to create a coalition that had a significant voice in National politics.

Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham presenting at The Heath Business & Technical Park 24th November 2016

 

Sure, there is, and always will be, a rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester but both Steve and Andy talked about the two cities working together with Cheshire and Lancashire to create a North West Powerhouse. Working on the basis that there is more that unites us than divides us, they spoke particularly about focusing on business to drive the growth that the North West needs for the future.

Leaving apart the rivalries that will always exist, especially on the football pitch, the realisation that collaborative working between the two cities and Lancashire and Cheshire would create a power base larger than London is a vision worth supporting.

We were lucky enough to ask a question and Andy Burnham picked up the mantle to answer it. The question was asked by Jonathan Guy;

You mentioned opportunities arising from Brexit in your speech, so could both of you tell us one opportunity that you think will come from Brexit?

Andy’s answer was that he felt that the removal of EU regulations around procurement would fit into that category. The sweeping away of EU restrictions on procurement would be instrumental in helping to develop local businesses and would be a kick start for growth across many SME’s in the region. After Andy’s full and articulate response Steve’s answer was “Whatever he said!” which elicited a huge laugh from the audience.

Whoever gets the final job in 2017 as Mayor in these two cities, we hope that the vision and opportunities outlined by these two candidates get towards reality as it promises huge growth opportunities and benefits for all firms in the North West.

The Custodian Of Marvels

Interview with ‘steampunk’ author Rod Duncan

As a bit of a departure this week we are privileged to have something of a scoop on the Aqueous Digital blog.

This week we have an interview with the excellent author Rod Duncan who is responsible for the ‘Gas Lit Empire‘ series of books and who was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award in 2014 for the first in this series, ‘The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter’.

I’ve know Rod for many years and having read his recent ‘steampunk’ novels I was struck by how he was able to reinvent a modern day Victorian version of England and make it so real. On that basis I started by asking him about who his writing influences were when he was growing up.

If you had to pick a single influence, which author would you say most compelled you to become a writer?

Douglas Adams – though it is an unfair question, since no single author compelled me to become a writer. But when I was fifteen, I heard the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the radio and for the first time became aware of authorship. Someone made that, I thought. A single human being came up with all that magic – dreamed it up out of his head. How amazing!

Growing up, which was your favourite book?

I was late in learning to read. I didn’t read much until I was in my late teens. But I did have stories read to me. My father was a big science-fiction fan. He read to me from Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. He also read Sherlock Holmes stories to me. So perhaps it’s no surprise I now write science fiction set in a Victorian-esque world.

Some writers suffer from creative block; what do you do to generate fresh ideas?

Creative block doesn’t come from a lack of fresh ideas. Not for me, anyway. It comes from being overly critical of one’s own work. I see it this way – there are two writer personalities inside each of us. One is the creative genius. The other is the critical editor. They vie with each other for supremacy. If the creative genius is too powerful, you tend to write large amounts of rubbish. If the critical editor is too powerful, you can never get started because nothing seems good enough. We call that writers block. The trick is to get these two writer personalities balanced. Good writing flows when they are in an equal partnership.

Fresh ideas generate spontaneously when you are writing. The more you entertain them, the more readily new ones arrive. But if you are blocked, you’re not writing.

How difficult was it to get your first novel published?

The first novel is something of a myth. Most novelists will have gone through a period of writing things that never got published before they reach the breakout moment. So my ‘first’ novel was actually my fifth. I guess that probably answers the question of how difficult it can be to get published.

What would you say are the key differences between writing for print and writing for the web?

Stand in a bookshop and watch people browsing. You’ll see them glance at the cover and the back blurb before turning to the first page to read. They’re trying to decide whether it will be worth their time and money. If they decide to buy it, there will be a significant commitment.

That interaction with the first few pages of the novel forms a kind of contract between writer and reader. The writer is saying, I will provide you with a book that maintains this style and genre and lives up to this promise. The reader is saying, OK, I’ll commit to this story, intending to stick with it to the end. If it gets slow or confusing for a chapter or two, I may still read on, trusting that I am being prepared for something worth the effort.

When someone reads from the Web, there need be no such contract. If reading a novel is like a marriage, this is a one night stand. If it stops being fun or interesting, all you’ve got to do is click and you’re gone.

Both forms of writing need to be concise. Both need to be as good as they can be. But you can’t easily play the long game with writing on the web. You can’t give the reader a slow build-up, knowing that their intensity of experience will be worth it in the end.

How much has the internet changed the way you write?

The Internet has changed the way I research. If I want some obscure piece of information, I don’t need to plan a trip to the reference library. For example, things like Google’s Ngram viewer allow me to figure out how word usage has changed over the last couple of hundred years – vital for me in writing a Victorian-esque novel.

The Internet also allows readers to get in touch. People even send me messages before they finished reading the novel, to let me know how they’re getting on with it. That brings me a lot of joy and encouragement.

How important is the blog tour in sci fi/fantasy?

Science fiction and fantasy writers are also science-fiction and fantasy readers. We’re privileged to be part of a community. And that community is well networked online. The blog tour – writing a series of guest posts on other people’s blogs – is a natural way of participating in that community. It is part of a conversation that continues in conventions and through social media. Which is a long way of saying that I think the blog tour is very important.

How many articles do you have to write and what sort of response do you get to what you write?

The number of articles can vary widely. To give it a ballpark figure, I’d probably hope to write between ten and thirty posts to come out over a period of a couple of months. Ideally that would form a tight cluster leading up to the publication of a new novel. I’m always hoping that next time I’ll meet that ideal!

As for the response – the only metric I have for that other number of friendships that are forged through the process. I ‘meet’ people that way in the virtual world, stay in contact through social media and hope to meet them face-to-face at conventions.

It may be that I end up selling more novels that way. But if that ever became my primary motivation for writing guest blogs or participating in social media, my readers would surely sense it. I don’t think it would work. For me, it’s all about relationships. That’s why I have a twitter account and a Facebook page. It’s part of the conversation. And so are my novels.

Have a look at my Twitter feed @RodDuncan and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. The Facebook page is here:  https://www.facebook.com/gaslitempire/

Where did the idea come from for the Gas Lit Empire?

The Gas-Lit Empire is an alternate history that began a couple of hundred years ago. I won’t say exactly what caused it – that’s one of the secrets you’ll unravel if you read the books. But the result was a Luddite inspired revolution. With the Luddites in control, science and technology have been artificially held back. Time has passed but the world still looks much as it did in 1900.

The idea for it came originally from the built environment of Leicester, where the story begins. If you walk around the city today and look carefully, you’ll see hints of the Victorians who built it. I remember walking down a backstreet and seeing a place where the road surface had been damaged. A thin skim of asphalt had crumbled away, revealing cobblestones underneath. It was as if the Victorian world and the modern world were both present.

That gave me the seed of the idea. But it was when I ‘discovered’ the protagonist, Elizabeth Barnabus, that the idea turned into this extraordinary adventure story.

In your latest book, what surprises do we have in store for us about Elizabeth Barnabus?

The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter was the first book in the series. That introduced Elizabeth and the strange world of the Gas-Lit Empire. The adventure continued in book two, Unseemly Science. But as readers pick up the story in book three, the Custodian of Marvels, they still don’t know exactly how the Gas-Lit Empire began. Nor does Elizabeth. But through her most dangerous exploit so far, she is about to find out.

How did you feel to be nominated for the Philip K Dick award?

Amazing! It is one of the most prestigious juried awards in science fiction, so to have reached the shortlist was a great honour. I had a wonderful experience going out to Seattle to the award ceremony and reading an extract from the novel in front of the great and the good – including George R.R. Martin. In the end, I didn’t win it. But I don’t feel bad about that, since the very wonderful Meg Elison got it for her novel The Book of the Unnamed Midwife.

What is next for you in your writing career?

I’m writing another novel set in the Gas-Lit Empire. I’m keeping the details of that under wraps for the time being. Meanwhile, I continue to work on screenplays in collaboration with other writers. A horror film that I co-wrote is in production. It is called Acid Daemons. You can find out more about it here.

Thanks for that Rod, it was great to chat to you and we wish you all the very best with your latest project.

Lilyan

Aqueous Digital Grows Again!

LilyanWe are proud to announce that we have grown once again, with the new arrival of Web Designer and Photographer, Lilyan Petrov to the Aqueous Headquarters.
Lilyan is a demonstrated achiever within the media industries, with an outstanding knowledge of visual communications and brand promotion. He has strong backgrounds in both web design and photography and is fluent in several languages at full working proficiency including Bulgarian, Russian and English.
Lilyan has years of experience working in the digital industry, and has a bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Digital Photography from the University of Chester.
We are delighted to welcome Lilyan to our growing team and we have already set him to work designing and building websites for clients.
If you would like to have a chat with Lilyan, or just want to discuss your digital marketing or web design options, give us a call on 01928 5666777.

SEO

The Ever-Changing World of Link Building

Link building is dynamic and ever-changing, but it is still an integral part of any form of digital marketing, and should be one of your SEO priorities. What started as a simple ‘who shouts the loudest wins’ with very few rules has slowly been becoming a super-strict game – with the rules strictly enforced by the mighty Google.Google

It may be all well and good finding ‘quick wins’, but the ugly truth is most of the time these are short-lived, short-term and ineffective solutions, and although Google is just a machine, it’s unlikely you’re going to ‘fool the system’ for too long.

We’ve said it time and time again and we stick by it, the best practice for SEO should always be do it right the first time.

That being said, what exactly is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when it comes to link building? This is something that seems to change on a regular basis, and we spend a fair bit of time keeping up with the rules as Google churns them out. But for now, there are a few rules you should always abide by when it comes to link building, as dictated by Moz.

One of the first rules they touch on is something we’ve been preaching for a while now – which is beware your anchor text. When it comes to websites being penalised for their backlinks the common factor often seems to be the anchor text, and you should be particularly aware when you control the anchor text. Google knows when you control the anchor text and that is exactly what they are looking for, and self-controlled links with over-optimised anchor text are subject to devaluation and penalisation.

With regards to this, you should be even more cautious with links that scale, such as widget links, author bio boxes, etc. Combining these two elements leads to a bulk amount of poor links that are even more prone to devaluation and penalisation.

You should never ask for anchor text, whenever you do this, regardless if you try to diversify the way you do it, you create over-optimisation and a predictable pattern, which more often than not will lead to a lot of red flags being raised. Letting people link to your site however they choose, whether it’s how you want it or not creates a much more natural link profile, which is ultimately what you are looking for.

And one of the final “avoid” rules from Moz is avoid site-wide links, which again is something we have been preaching to our clients for years. The only obvious exception would be site navigation, but besides this site-wide links of any kind, particularly site-wide anchor text footer links should be avoided at all costs.

The key point out of all this, despite the ever-changing rules and dynamics behind it all, is to keep link building. Google is continually changing its algorithm and rolling out new updates and rules, but this doesn’t mean you should ever give up on link building. Link building has always and we suspect will always be an integral part of search engine optimisation.

Read more about the dos and don’ts of link building or watch the video over at Moz: http://moz.com/blog/the-rules-of-link-building-whiteboard-friday

Google

Google Title Update changes how your site appears in search

Google have updated the way they show your title snippet in the Search Engine Result Pages, calculating based on pixel width rather than number of characters. This makes a lot of sense, as with many fonts including Arial, characters are different widths, particularly when using capital letters; however it does make it hard for Webmasters to have control over their search snippets without thorough planning.

Google calculate the pixel width of the characters used in titles with a limit of 512 pixels, truncating anything over this limit with the use of an ellipsis. They are also now using a larger Arial font at 18px compared to the previous 16px, despite still truncating based on 16px. The upshot of this change is that text is no longer truncated at word boundaries (before or after a word). Google may resolve this so that titles are chopped off at word boundaries as before, rather than in the middle of a word. It’s also worth noting that Google appear to remove non ASCII range characters from the beginning of the text when displaying in the SERP view.

You can read more about the changes and a good way to calculate what your SERP snippet will look like over on Screaming Frog: http://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/page-title-meta-description-lengths-by-pixel-width/

Making a Splash

Welcome to our New Aqueous Digital Website

The new Aqueous site has arrived with a splash!

Digital marketing and SEO have changed drastically over the past few years and in the process so to have we, and with the New Year round the corner and our recent ‘evolution’ we decided it was about time our website had a makeover too.

We wanted the design to reflect the way our company has grown and evolved over the past few years, and decided an overhaul to a brand new design would be the best course of action. Everything has been completely refreshed including a shiny new logo, layout and site content, updating everything including our image.

Another essential point is the site is now better configured for all devices, with a fully responsive design, as more and more people now use mobile devices and tablets to browse the internet.

Our aim was to make the digital site the core of our brand, clearly focused around the four key areas of our business: SEO, PPC, Marketing and Local. All whilst ensuring the site is visually appealing, responsive in design for compatibility with all devices and reflective of our evolving business.

Feel free to browse around our site and let us know what you think? We will be adding more content throughout the year and will aim to keep you abreast of all the latest developments in Digital Marketing and SEO. If you want to keep up to date then follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ by clicking on the logos below.