Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Bratty Bloggers: What I Hate About Blogging



I've been blogging for about 10 years. Initially I had blogs that were cryptic streams of consciousness and random poems that I never expected anybody to read. They were like typed-up diaries for public consumption, and I had a pretty free-form approach to writing. I wrote when I needed to, because I needed to.

Fast-forward to 2016 and blogging is a colossal industry, with some bloggers making their entire livelihoods through their websites. This is a great and wonderful thing, and I'm absolutely not knocking the idea of making money from your blog. Whether you place ads, take on sponsored work or accept gifts for review, that's totally cool. If I had exciting brands offering me money to get stuff and write about it then I'd be totally on board. I'm the first to openly admit that I'm pretty jealous of any bloggers who get offers to promote products I love - and for a fee.

What I really, really, really can't stand is the number of bloggers who bitch and whinge all over social media about brands who dare to approach them without a metaphorical fistful of cash. I can't count the number of times I've seen tweets saying things like, "A brand approached me to tell me about their competition, but they aren't willing to pay. #nothanks". I even saw a girl asking how much she should demand from a PR company who sent her a press release. Then, on a blogger Facebook group, a girl asked: 

Advice: me again. Sorry to pester! 
😁
 I had an email off a company to do a post with clothing ideas from their site which enters me into a competition to win a voucher to spend on their site.

Am I right in thinking this is just a fancy way of getting backlinks?

In case you've ever wondered the same thing, brands do competitions like this for a number of reasons. 

Firstly because they want a more interesting/engaging/competitive post type than a simple sponsored post. A lot of people switch off or stop reading the minute they see the words "ad" or "sponsored", and this can help to circumnavigate that. 

Also, as you'll know from reading my post about hyperlinks (which is here if you need to read up), when a brand pays you to write a post, you MUST use a no-follow link. In other words, if a brand pays you to mention them, they get no SEO benefit from it. By doing it in the form of a competition like this, it allows them AND you to use regular links. Not only does this give them backlinks, but having links in your own blog to well-rated websites actually improves YOUR SEO score/DA as well, where no-follow links have no effect.

For small brands, it could be that they simply don't have the budget to pay you as well as giving you free stuff. Simple as that.

I explained this (not very well admittedly) in the comments, and the original poster was grateful for the info.  However, a little while later, another girl posted this:

it's a cost effective way for them to get links basically without doing much.

Now, in case you've forgotten or you're new here, I actually work in marketing. My day job includes doing things like running competitions (though ours are aimed at customers and the general public, not bloggers). Let me burst your bubble, random Facebook girl: competitions are a LOT of work. They take time, prizes cost money and creating all of the imagery, promotion and all that jazz all takes man power. It's a pain in the butt, frankly.

I guess what this boils down to is that I'm getting really, really tired of cynical bloggers trying to wring cash out of nothing, and publicly trying to "shame" brands for having the sheer brass balls to approach them if they aren't going to stump up wads of wonga. I completely believe in people being paid for their skills and their time, but if you're so inexperienced that you think you should be getting paid to receive press releases like someone I saw on a group the other day, honey, you don't deserve to be paid to blog.

If you have your email address public on your blog for brands and PR companies to approach you, then guess what? THEY MIGHT APPROACH YOU. Stop making yourself look like a dick by tweeting every time you get an email about a campaign you're not interested in. If you're not a massive, well-known blogger then you're probably getting a generic email that's being sent out to hundreds, even thousands, of other bloggers. Your blog might be your baby, but to big PR companies you are not a special unique snowflake, so don't expect to be treated like one. I work for a multi-million pound company, and we get these "Dear blogger" emails on a daily basis. Our blog is one of the top 100 pet blogs in the world. You don't see us whingeing.

I totally support people demanding to be recognised for what they're worth, but part of that is actually knowing what you're worth. If you have a tiny DA, a very young blog and you take your photos on an old Nokia brick phone, then don't expect to be paid top dollar to feature brands. Don't be a dick about it. Keep working at it, and maybe you'll be the next Zoella. Just be mindful that brands remember, and some marketing companies work for multiple brands. The PR you slag off on Twitter and chew out over email will remember your name, so if you treat people like dirt when you're small fry, they'll do the same to you when you've made it big.
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Six Things Saving My Life

(TW: Mental Health, Suicide, Self Harm)

I do what I can to make this blog a positive place, and it's certainly my intention to largely focus on the fun and whimsical aspects of my life. However, something happened recently which reminded me of some less fun stuff, and I felt compelled to talk about it.

For those of you who don't know I have Bipolar Disorder. I'm coping fairly well the bulk of the time. I'm medicated, I'm working on a care plan with my doctors and I'm doing a decent job of exorcising toxic influences from my life. I haven't self-harmed in four months, and it's been a long time since I was unable to go to work due to depression. It's mostly been good. Mostly.

That last two years, in some ways, were really great. In others they were challenging. Very, very challenging. In fact 2014/2015 were nearly the death of me, more than once. That's not a joke or a turn of phrase, I mean it very seriously. On two occasions in the last 15 months my suicidal thoughts almost became more than thoughts. I don't really want or need to get into the details of those hideous days. Misery is a self-nourishing monster, and sometimes we can break the cycle ourselves, and sometimes we can't. I'm in therapy and taking 100mg of quetiapine/seroquel daily, and this goes a long way to helping keep me safe. However, I would like to recognise some of the non-medical things that have stopped me from going to the darkest places in my mind.

My Band


This sounds like a cliché, but my band Trash Panda has been such an incredible outlet. Not just because writing songs about my heartbreaks and depression has helped me make sense of it all, but because I have made amazing friendships with these three boys, and knowing that I get to spend several hours a month making loud noises with them can help me push through dark days, and they're always there when I need them.

My Friends, Both "Real" and "Virtual"


I've been geographically isolated from a lot of my friends since I moved to the countryside, and that's been a challenge. I still see and talk to my uni and school friends when I can, but modern life is tricky and I'm terrible at staying in touch with people. I have kind of found my refuge in social media, especially within the blogging community. It's crazy that even five years ago it was considered a bit unusual and creepy to make friends on the internet, but right now, I don't know what I'd do without my "web friends".

My Pets


I have so much love for animals in general, but obviously there is a spectacularly special place in my heart for my own pets. I have seven bunnies, a beautiful dog called Buffy and a small tropical fish tank with bala sharks, tetras, minnows and a shrimp called Sid. Not only do they make me happy with their clowning, cuddles and mere presence, but taking care of them provides even my worst days with structure. During those grim periods where I don't want to face the world, I know I have to get up and feed my creatures and make sure all their needs are met.

Creative Efforts


I have read a number of studies about the psychological benefits of doing creative things. For me, I find a huge sense of pleasure and accomplishment in doing creative projects, regardless of what they are. Even just the activity can help engage me, especially when I'm having a manic episode.

YouTube


When I can't work up the energy to make things, YouTube videos can provide a distraction from my mutinying mind. Mindlessly watching playlists doesn't solve or cure anything, but it can give me something to focus on when I'd rather not concentrate on myself, and a little laugh goes a long way.

Family


My family, I think it's fair to say, aren't particularly clued up about mental illness. I went to boarding school when I was eight, and I've spent years hiding my mental struggles and breakdowns, so we're working on our communication. They're going to get involved in my developing care plan, and I'm trying to be more open about what I need. All that aside, being at home has been the best thing for me, especially last year when I hit some really deep lows. Rather than living alone and bunkering in when my depression really hits, having my family around me forces me to function a little better. They don't always get it right, and we all have a lot to learn, but they're trying. And more than that, they're my family. Even just watching TV with my mum or chatting with my brother about trivial stuff can make me feel a bit more normal, and that can help set me back on balance. And as much as we argue and rub each other up the wrong way, a hug from my family can really help on days when only a hug will do.

If you have any concerns about your mental health then please, please get in touch with your GP. It might not be a quick or easy process, but you deserve to have your mental health addressed and taken seriously. Don't suffer in silence.

If you want to learn more about my mental health why not take a look at my health blog, GREEN ABOUT THE GILLS?
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Friday, 22 January 2016

5 Times to Keep Your Mouth Shut

This week has been a bit interesting on Twitter. A couple of girls have taken it upon themselves to drag a friend of mine for offering various blogger services, and then subsequently slagged her off for writing a post championing sisterly support. One of these mean-spirited girls has now written a post effectively saying that she believes that offering unsolicited criticism is “healthy” and that instigating arguments is something she enjoys.

Well, good for you mate. If being bitter, underhand and vindictive is your thing, don't let me stop you.

I happen to be the kind of girl who grew up with the philosophy of “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all”. I was bullied physically and verbally at school, and a lot of that bullying came in the form of “criticism”. People making uninvited comments about my appearance, taste in music, preference for books or lack of social skills may have been interpreted as “helpful comments” from the bullies but on the receiving end, it just felt like being ripped apart by people who hated and derided everything I was. When you “criticise” someone, you could well be making fun of someone’s identity, or acknowledging and highlighting perceived flaws that they’re already well aware of, and sensitive about.

This face sums up how I feel about your mean opinions.
In short; when you say something negative about someone, they could take it badly. You’d think this was common sense, but some of the conversations I’ve had on Twitter this week would indicate contrarily. Some people clearly enjoy being unpleasant to others and social media gives them a platform to spread their nasty opinions to huge audiences.

HOWEVER, if you’re a positive sort of a person and don’t derive a sick sense of pleasure from publicly tearing other people down, here’s a handy list of occasions where you should probably keep quiet.

1. If you don’t like someone’s selfie
If someone’s posted a photo of themselves and you don’t like their eyeshadow choice or their fluffy coat, don’t say anything. If they haven’t asked for an opinion, don’t give one. Say something nice, or say nothing.

I see a lot of posts on social media of people (mostly girls) asking for help in choosing an outfit, or for a lipstick to go with what they’re wearing. In these cases you’re obviously invited to give an opinion, and by all means do so. Though, if you are a positive sort of a person, do it by complimenting the things you DO like, rather than criticising the things you don’t. Positive reinforcement is just so much better than negative.

Of course, if the reason you don’t like it is because they’re in blackface, pissing on graves or murdering babies then you crack on and shred them. But if you think their lipstick is too dark for their skin tone, don’t say a word.

2. If you don’t see the use in a service someone is offering
This is close to home for me this week. As previously mentioned, one of my friends was viciously subtweeted for offering blogger services, purely because someone didn’t see the value in it.

Now, I dye and cut my own hair, and I take control of my own personal grooming; eyebrows, manicures, body hair removal, I do it all at home. But you’ll never see me on a public platform being rude about beauticians and the people who visit them. By the same token, just because you don’t see the point of something doesn’t mean others will feel the same. By being rude about this service you run the risk of angering or upsetting both the provider and the users. If it’s not for you, that’s totally fine, but you probably don’t need to share that opinion with the world. They’re not hurting anyone by offering their skills, but you might be causing hurt by being dismissive about them.

3. When someone gets insignificant details wrong in a story
This is something my mum is particularly bad at doing.

Picture the scene: you’re at a family dinner and telling one of your favourite anecdotes, and all of a sudden someone cuts you off to clarify an inconsequential detail. It throws your flow. At best it makes you look like your memory is dodgy. At worst, you look like a liar. It makes you feel stupid, not to mention annoyed.

This kind of nit-picking is so unnecessary, and it doesn’t make anyone look good. Don’t do it. Don’t be that person.

4. If you’re not keen on someone’s wedding choices
Recently a very good friend of mine got in touch with me in a bit of a state. She’d been showing someone the engagement rings she likes, only for that person to be super disparaging, saying that my friend’s choices were “common”, “not expensive enough” and “not special or unique”. My friend couldn’t quite explain why she was so affected by this, but long story short she was very upset.

Some people know for years and years what they want from their wedding and their engagement. Your wedding is an important day, and the aesthetic choices you make for that day are a reflection of your sense of style, your relationship and your identity as a whole. So, when you criticise someone’s decisions about their wedding or engagement rings, you’re not just criticising that individual thing, you’re criticising the person. Also, if their partner bought the ring for them it could be the best they could afford. If you’re rude about that, you’re opening up a whole can of worms.

Their choice of ring doesn’t affect you in any way. If they want a fist-sized rock or an amethyst the size of an ant, that’s their taste. Likewise, if they want jam jars filled with pansies at their reception and you think that’s tacky then keep your trap shut and just don’t do it at your wedding.

5. Just after a break up
I’ll admit, I’ve fallen into this trap before, so learn from my mistakes guys! When a friend has just gone through a break up, it’s very easy to say things like, “We always hated him” or “She was always a bitch”. This might make your friend feel better in the short run, but it creates one hell of an awkward mess if they ever get back together with that person.

Also, even if they’re done with them for good, your friend will probably be quite emotionally vulnerable shortly after their relationship has come to an end. Any attacks on their former partner could be taken completely the wrong way. It’s probably safer to concentrate on taking care of your friend, rather than on cussing out their ex.


Ultimately, the internet is a free-for-all and you can do and say as you please. It’s just worth remembering that, whenever you open your mouth or press “send” you’re opening yourself up to criticism, argument and potentially some hate. The best way to avoid that is to keep it positive and only send out the kind of vibes you want in return. 


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Saturday, 9 January 2016

The "52 Weeks Savings Challenge" Won't Work - This Will

My lovely friend Laura from Inside Laura's Head told us that she wanted to try a money-saving challenge she'd seen on Facebook. The challenge, currently going viral on social media, suggests that every day you put away a small sum relative to what week of the year it is, for example for the first week of the year you save 1p a day, for the second week you save 2p a day etc. and the original poster claims that you'll have saved £667 by the end of the year. Laura was concerned that it was too good to be true.

Well, she was right to be concerned. I crunched the numbers with a couple of nifty formulae and I'm afraid anyone trying this challenge will be disappointed when at the end of the year, they find themselves with just £96.46. Not a small amount, I admit, but it's just a fraction of the sum people will be expecting.

I don't know if the original poster just got their maths a bit muddled, or if they're deliberately leading people astray. Either way, you can follow a similar pattern and end 2016 with £671.61 in loose change! If, instead of saving a daily sum relative to the week, you save a daily sum relative to the day you will save a lot more.

Let me explain that another way. On day one, you put a penny in your piggy bank. On day two, you put 2p away. On day 3, 3p etc. Even if you'd started on January 1st and did this every day until December 31st, the most you'd have to put away on a single day is £3.66 (it's a Leap Year, after all.)

I think putting away between 1p and £3.66 a day is still perfectly achievable and, unlike the other challenge, it will actually result in over £600 saved.




Now, if you want to save the full whack of £671.61 by the end of the year, you will need to "back date" your first deposit to account for the days missed. For instance, if you started tomorrow you'd need to start by putting away 55p, then continue as planned with 11p on January 11th, etc. Missing out ten days might not seem like a lot, but if you miss ten days at the beginning of the year, you'll also miss the ten days at the end. These are the days that you're saving the largest deposits, and while they're still only £3.66 at most, those ten days combined are worth almost £40! So if you take the hit and put away your "catch up money" now you'll end up with more in the long run.

I know this all might seem a bit confusing and bonkers, but I promise you the maths works out. You really can save over £650 in a year by saving less than a fiver a day.

What would you do with £671.61? I'm planning a holiday with the girls...


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Friday, 8 January 2016

10 Things to Consider Before Getting a Rabbit

You only need to take a quick look at my Instagram to see that I’m a big fan of animals in general. I love fish (and I have a small tank), I love both local and exotic wildlife, and I even have a soft spot bugs and insects. I’m not keen on arachnids, sloths or horseflies, but for the most part I have a huge emotional investment in animals. In fact, my day job largely involves writing pet care guides. In addition to my small tropical fish tank, I have a dog named Buffy, and I have bunnies. Seven of them. 

I often get comments on my rabbit photos from people saying how much they want one, or questions from people thinking about buying their first rabbit. I love my rabbits and I wouldn’t give them up for the world, but I feel like it’s important for any aspiring bunny owner to know a few things before they head off in search of a new pet.

1) One is not enough



If you’re home a lot and you are planning to keep your rabbit as a house bunny, then you can just about get away with having just one rabbit. However, if your rabbit is going to live outside, or if it’ll be home alone all day they need a friend. Rabbits get lonely, just like people do, and just as you need human friends as well as animal ones, your rabbit needs buddies of the same species. Bunny bonding can be a tricky process, which usually works better with two neutered (i.e. castrated/spayed) rabbits of opposite genders.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule; I’ve successfully bonded a neutered male with an “entire” one, and they’re the best of mates. I’ve also got a group of five, comprised of three unspayed females and two neutered males, and they get on very well. However, you are making more work for yourself this way, and the bond could be harder.

2) Rabbits need rescuing


When you walk into a pet shop, often the first thing you’re greeted with is a pen full of baby rabbits of different breeds, colours and sizes, so it’s little wonder that lots of people see the pet store as their first stop to finding a bunny. However, buying animals from pet shops can actually be a bit of an ethical nightmare. First and foremost, I recommend against buying animals from pet shops when you can rescue instead.

I never aspired to rabbit ownership and I took on my first rabbit (Thomas) because I got into conversation with his previous owner, who was desperate to rehome him. Since then I’ve rescued or fostered nine more rabbits from people who were giving them up for various reasons, and this was just in my local area. Ok, so rescuing means you probably won’t get a baby rabbit (called a kit or kitten) but adult rabbits can be just as affectionate, funny and adorable as a baby can.

3) Check your sources


As much as I advocate rescuing over buying, I would strongly recommend that first-time or inexperienced owners rescue from a shelter, not from individuals. Shelters will generally vaccinate, neuter and assess the rabbits they care for, so you know what you’re getting in terms of temperament. They may even bond two appropriate bunnies together, so you can adopt a friendly pair right from day one.

If you do decide to rescue a “pre-loved” rabbit from another owner, then you have to be prepared for potential health and behavioural problems. I ended up having an accidental litter of babies after adopting a pair I was assured were both female, only to find for myself that “Alice” was in fact a boy. He’s still called Alice though. I also lost one of my rescue boys to a kidney problem brought on by a very poor diet and care routine with his previous owner. Bottom line, if you adopt from another person, prepare yourself for heartbreak and/or hefty vet bills. Speaking of which…

4) Bunnies aren’t cheap


Having seven rabbits means I’ve got pretty savvy when it comes to buying things in bulk and grabbing things when they’re on sale. I have to be a smart shopper, or else the costs become completely crazy. To be honest, if I wasn’t currently living at home I’m fairly certain I’d be almost unmanageably tight for cash, and rabbits (depending on their breed and overall health) can live 8-12 years. This means, all going well, I’m going to be a rabbit owner into my 30s. A rabbit should be eating its own bodyweight in hay every day, as well as a small regular mix of veggies and pellets. As well as the basics like food and bedding, I also put money aside every month in case of unexpected vet bills. Which leads me on to…

5) Find a good vet


Not every vet you’ll meet will be particularly rabbit-savvy. Your local surgery might be great with dogs and cats, but that’s no guarantee they have much experience or expertise dealing with bunnies. You need to make sure there’s both a regular and emergency vet that you can get to easily for routine check-ups and in case of a sudden injury or illness. If, like me, you are relatively friendly with your vet you might be able to negotiate a package deal on your regular vaccinations (if your rabbit lives outside then you want to vaccinate them against myxomatosis and RVHD, both of which are deadly and highly contagious.) Unless you’re planning to breed (and you probably shouldn’t breed anyway) you should get your rabbits neutered if they aren’t already. This prevents pregnancy, but there a host of other benefits, like eliminating the risk of reproductive cancers or other illnesses.

6) Breeding is generally a bad idea


I have very strong and mixed opinions about pet breeding. I understand preserving breeds through sparing and responsible breeding is important, but that isn’t always what happens. I have had two accidental litters of rabbit babies, once due to a confusion over genders and once because of an opportunistic mating by two who were let loose by a neighbour’s child. My experience both times was pretty heartbreaking, and though I did everything I could and took my vet’s advice with both litters, I only have one surviving baby out of 17. It cast a bit of a dark cloud over my summer and while baby rabbits are very cute once they start growing fur and hopping about, many don’t make it that far. If you really, really want to breed I can’t stop you, but please think really hard about whether it’s the right thing to do. If you decide you want to then please get the advice of an expert and prepare for a very rough ride.

7) Winter is hard work


One of my favourite things to do in the summer is laze in the sun, in the garden, and just hang out with my rabbits. I love watching them play, munch on fresh grass and just generally do the kind of stuff that bunnies do. I don’t even mind cleaning out hutches when it’s nice outside. But I live in England. In England we get nice weather for maybe a month and a half of the year. This means that, for the rest of the year, I’m scrubbing grubby hutches in the rain, hail, frost and even snow. It also means that throughout the winter, I’m getting up 45 minutes earlier to defrost water bottles in the dark, change out extra bedding and make sure everyone has extra food. It’s cold, it’s gloomy and I have to do it in a sort of zombified auto-pilot. It’s not fun. If you would rather have the extra sleep then I don’t blame you, but it probably means you’re not ready for a rabbit.

8) Prepare to be dirty – a lot


If the idea of dealing with pee, poop and mud on a daily basis is an unimaginable horror to you, then you really shouldn’t get a pet. Other things I have to deal with daily are: getting hay stuck in my clothes, fingers and hair; spiders; slugs; snails; grubby shoes; and checking all seven rabbits have clean butts so they don’t get fly strike (where flies lay eggs in your rabbit’s fur, and your rabbit gets eaten alive by maggots – it’s revolting, painful, deadly, and very real). If you can’t picture a life where you have to deal with any and all of these things, then you may not be a rabbit person.

9) Your rabbit might not like you

Rabbits may look like passive little furballs, but they have personalities and opinions. You need to make peace with the idea that their opinion of you might not be too great. Most rabbits can be won over in time, especially when they come to realise that you are the Food Person. However, at least at the beginning, you can’t expect them to want cuddles and attention, and the majority of rabbits don’t like to be picked up. If you want a furry creature that will tolerate poking, prodding and posing for photos then get a teddy bear. Just like any inter-human friendship, you have to put some work in.

10) You’ll become a crazy bunny person


There’s a joke that goes: “How do you know there’s a rabbit-owner in the room? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” This has absolutely been the case in my experience. I’m bad enough, but any rabbit-owning friends and acquaintances I have made are just the same. Personally, I don’t care. They’re a part of my life as much as my band, my job and my other hobbies, so of course I’m going to talk about them. But just try not to be one of those people who uses even the vaguest tangent to show of photos of their rabbits. Nobody likes that person. Except on twitter, then it’s totally allowed.


I promise I’m not trying to put you off having a pet. Rabbits are awesome little weirdos and I love mine to death. It’s just incredibly important to think long and hard before you take responsibility for another life.


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Thursday, 7 January 2016

Using Hyperlinks: How, What, Where, When and Why?

As a community, we bloggers are getting a lot more switched on when it comes to the techie stuff. DAs, PAs, SEO scores and at least basic code are becoming a regular part of our language. This is brilliant, especially as, for most of us, this is something we’ve had to learn on our own. For my part, I picked up odds and sods of HTML when I was a teenager playing with Myspace templates, and the rest I’ve learned on the job as a content writer and working alongside SEO companies.

I think it‘s fantastic that bloggers are taking it upon themselves to learn basic coding and web design skills. I’m absolutely not disregarding the value of a professional web designer, but for bloggers just starting out, or running routine maintenance, it’s really helpful to understand at least basic bits and bobs of HTML. However, recently I’ve spotted a slew of similar errors, and noticed some general confusion surrounding one of the most commonly-used pieces of code: hyperlinks.

What’s a Hyperlink?

Starting at the beginning, a hyperlink is a handy little function where, instead of having a full URL displayed in a piece of text, you display a piece of text which, when clicked, takes you to a target URL. You’ve probably used them a billion times before, whether or not you knew what they were called or how to make them. There are basically four types of Hyperlink we’re going to talk about here: Basic, No Follow, New Window, and Image.

A Basic Hyperlink operates exactly how you’d expect: you click on it and you are directed to the target webpage, within the same window or tab where the hyperlink was. These basic hyperlinks can be seen by Google and other SEO ranking programs called “bots” which crawl your site looking through your content at code level. It’s these bots which determine your SEO scores, DA, PA etc. Having relevant, authoritative links on your own site, and having hyperlinks to your site elsewhere on the internet, can improve these rankings. This is why doing guest posts, getting involved in other bloggers’ projects or appearing on the websites of brands you’ve worked with can be beneficial for you.

A No Follow Hyperlink works in the same way, and you won’t notice a difference in how they function. However, under the hood there is some extra stuff going on in the code, which is quite important. The No Follow attribute means that, when the crawl bots find these links, they are told not to count it. Based on what I’ve told you so far this might seem like a terrible idea, but bear with me. Yes, having relevant, appropriate, authoritative links on your page is good. But the links have to be valuable. Linking to the same thing too many times in the same blog can be interpreted as spamming by the crawl bots, and you could be penalised. So, there are some occasions where you’ll want to include a link for reasons like user experience or for driving traffic to your blog from other sites where a No Follow link is your best bet. Basically, sometime you need readers to have access to a link, but you don’t want Google seeing it. More on this later. Also and this is very important you should always use a No Follow link if you’re linking to something you were paid to mention. So, if you’re doing a sponsored post on a product you must use a No Follow link. These are not my rules, they are Google’s rules. If a brand tells you to use a Basic link you have to refuse or you will be penalised.

New Window Hyperlinks, as the name suggests, opens the link you clicked (you guessed it) in a new window. This requires an added bit of code, and can be applied to Basic and No Follow links. Within my own blog I always pop this into my code. Again, you’ll find out why later.
Finally, Image Hyperlinks are used so you can click an image and be taken to another webpage. This image takes the place of the text in any other kind of Hyperlink, and can be used with Basic, No Follow and New Window links.

Phew. Next up…

When can I use Hyperlinks?

Hyperlinks are useful in so many contexts. You can use them within your own blog to link to relevant external content, such as sources, products or to your social media. These are called external links.
You can also use hyperlinks to send your readers to other posts, relevant to the one you’re writing, for instance if you’re writing a series or if you are following some kind of theme. For example, if you posted about being sent a skirt for review, and then you wear the same skirt later in an OOTD post, you could link to the review within the new piece. These are known as internal links.

You can also apply the same logic to images to turn them into “buttons” (like the ones you usually see in footers and sidebars, for instance my social media interaction buttons on the right). The code for this is slightly different, but I’ll touch on this later. You can use these images in your own site as part of the design, or you can create a button that advertises your blog, and place them on other sites. If you want to see my button in action, pop over to Holly’s blog where it’s sitting proudly in her sidebar.

And, finally, it’s becoming quite common for bloggers to whip up a nifty little hyperlink to leave in comments on other people’s blogs by way of a signature.

Why should I use Hyperlinks? And which ones should I use?

In your own blog, external links enhance user experience by putting all of the information readers want at their fingertips; you wouldn’t want to read a blog all about a product and then have to trawl the web to find it, would you? You want to be able to click once and find it immediately, and Hyperlinks make this possible without cluttering your post up with full web addresses. If you are linking to a specific page within a website (i.e. anything other than the homepage) you will usually want to use a No Follow link. If you are linking to a homepage (i.e. another blog, but not a single post) then it’s up to you, but I would use a Basic Hyperlink. Whether or not you want to enable the New Window part of the code is up to you, but I usually do. This way you reduce your bounce rate (i.e. people who view one page and then exit your blog altogether) and make it easier for people to read your blog while still open links as they go along. In fact, as a general rule, I like to add the New Window function to any links I leave.

By using internal links, you keep your audience engaged by presenting your blog as an unfolding narrative and helps you to make all of your content continually relevant. Internal links help to reduce your bounce rate, and when used sparingly and appropriately, they can help to improve your SEO rating. For internal links, you want to use Basic Hyperlinks, and it’s your call whether to use the New Window attribute, but I would. For the most part, for internal linking, you want to use Basic Hyperlinks for SEO improvement, however if you’re linking to the same piece a lot, or finding that you need to use a lot of internal links in one piece, use a No Follow one. Balance and moderation are important.

The logic behind using buttons over plain text URLs should be obvious: my sidebar would look horrible with a list of web addresses in it. The little buttons just look tidier, as well as making it clear which pages you’ll be linked to by using the relevant logos. You also need to know how to do this if you want a button to put on other websites: it’s all well and good to visually advertise yourself and your blog, but if people can’t click through to it they probably won’t bother. In your blog, for social media, use No Follows. Social media sites don’t need better SEO. They’re fine. When making your buttons you must add the No Follow attribute, because the same principal applies as is does to sponsored posts. If it’s been paid for, it must be No Follow, or both you and the person displaying your ad can be penalised.

When it comes to leaving hyperlinks in comments, I just think this looks a bit neater and more professional than leaving your full blog URL in a comment, and it can drive traffic to your blog. In this instance you can get away with using a Basic hyperlink now and again to help improve your backlinks and, by extension, your SEO score (especially on prominent blogs with good DA scores). However, if you comment a lot, you should tend towards using No Follow links. This is polite to the blog owner as it stops Google from thinking they have lots of spammy links, and it’s better for you because Google doesn’t think that you are a spammer while still driving traffic to your site. It’s a win-win.

How do I make a Hyperlink?

Finally, the important bit.

Within most word processing programs, and the posting features of most blogging platforms, there is usually a feature that allows you to create links automatically, without ever even having to think about code. On Blogger, for instance, you highlight the text you want to use, click the little picture of a chain link, and insert your destination URL. It even gives you the option to add the No Follow and/or New Window attributes for you. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
But hold up, amigos. Just because the computer CAN do the work for you, doesn’t mean it should. You’ll never learn if you let robots do all your hard graft. That’s how the androids will eventually take over the world. Ok, sorry, I’ll take my tinfoil hat off, but the point still stands. Knowing how to make these codes from scratch, whether or not you’ll regularly NEED to, can help you when I comes to bits of basic web design, not to mention troubleshooting if your automatic code isn’t functioning the way it should. It also means that if, and when, people are leaving busted code in your site you can get in touch with them and let them know how to fix it. That way you don’t end up with SEO-negative broken links on your site, and they will be happy with their sparkly, new, functional code.

So, how do you write a Basic Hyperlink?

<a href="http://www.bravemermaid.com/">Brave Mermaid</a>
That is a basic Hyperlink for my blog, which would display like this: Brave Mermaid. The highlighted text on the right can be edited to say whatever you like, while the URL on the left can be swapped out for the relevant target URL. So, say you wanted to link to a friend’s blog. You’d put their URL on the left and their name on the right, like I did in one of the above paragraphs for Holly.
If you want to make a No Follow link, you do exactly the same, except you add rel=”no follow” between the a and the href parts. In other words:

<a rel=”no follow” href="http://www.bravemermaid.com/">Brave Mermaid</a>

This will display like any other link.

To make either of these link types open in a new window, you add target="_blank" after the URL but before the text. So, for a Basic link:

<a href="http://www.bravemermaid.com/" target="_blank">Brave Mermaid</a>

And for a No Follow link:

<a rel=”no follow” href="http://www.bravemermaid.com/" target="_blank">Brave Mermaid</a>

And, finally, if you want to do any of these types of link, but have a photo instead of text, you pop your image onto an image hosting site, or host it on your own servers if you’re that way inclined (though if you are you’re probably too advanced to need this post) and grab the image code. This includes the image’s URL and any borders or dimensions. Then, paste that into the place where the text would ordinarily be (in my examples that’s the highlighted text that says Brave Mermaid.) Don’t just plop in the URL of your image or it’ll display the URL of your image as a hyperlink to your target URL and that’s just too noggin-boggling to cope with. Your image code should look something like this:

<img src="http://i1308.photobucket.com/albums/s602/BraveMermaid/button_zpsdunykv8s.jpg" border="0" alt=" photo button_zpsdunykv8s.jpg"/>

So, all together, it's going to look something like this:

<a rel=”no follow” href="http://www.bravemermaid.com/" target="_blank"><img src="http://i1308.photobucket.com/albums/s602/BraveMermaid/button_zpsdunykv8s.jpg" border="0" alt=" photo button_zpsdunykv8s.jpg"/></a>

If you've been paying attention, you’ll notice that I’ve included the No Follow and New Window attributes here, because that’s how you’re usually going to use these kinds of links. In situ, this just so happens to be my blog button, which displays like this:

 photo button_zpsdunykv8s.jpg

Things to remember!

If it links to something you were paid for, always use No Follow.

If you’re worried you’re linking too much in comments on other blogs, be selective. Use Basic links on bigger blogs, and No Follows on smaller ones, or ones you comment on frequently. Don’t be spammy. Nobody likes a spammer.

Check your code works, especially if you’re using it in comments. If it doesn’t display look at it. Have you made sure the full URL in the code? Excluding the http://www. will stop it from working. If you’re sure all your code is correct and it still doesn’t display properly in a comment, chances are HTML commenting is disabled on that blog.

Ask someone if you’re not sure. A second pair of eyes is sometimes all it takes. Proof reading is tricky enough, let alone in a second language. Because, really, that’s what code is: a whole new robot language.

So, I hope this has helped make sense of this common, but deceptively tricky, little chunk of code. If you have any questions please feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to help!

So, if you think you've nailed the code, why not leave me a nice hyperlink to your blog in the comments? Remember to make sure it works!


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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Equality Collection: Not So Equal

Clothes: BOB by DOP Model: Angela Scanlon Photography: © David Loftus
I loved Dawn O’Porter’s Channel 4 series about vintage and sustainable fashion last year. I loved it when she opened an online vintage and vintage-inspired clothing boutique. I loved it when she opened pop up shops. So when I saw the press release for her Equality Collection I think it’s fair to say I got a bit overexcited.

It started with so much promise; a print called “Love Wins” is described as a “funny and vibrant print featuring couples of all shapes, sizes, creeds, colours, sexes and even species”. That sounds cute. It looks nice in the little image accompanying the press release.

The “Boys Toys” print promotes genderless play, by putting typically “boy” toys into a print on women’s clothing. I mean, from what I can see it’s mostly a dinosaur print but whatever, I like dinosaurs! I’m sold!

And then there’s the “Women Are Boss” dress, using images of mums, office workers and women just doing stuff. That’s cool too – acknowledging that women can fulfil multiple roles is a great thing, and turning it into a print is an interesting concept. So far, so good.

And then, hidden away in the final paragraph, I see the words: Each piece is a limited edition with sizes ranging from 8-16*”.

Oh. Oh dear.

The UK average dress size is 16. As someone who could probably only just about squeeze into the largest size this collection has to offer, I still have to ask: what is “equal” about a collection that only caters to the UK average dress size and smaller? In fact, what is “equal” about a collection that features fat people on a fabric, but doesn’t make sizes that would allow real fat people to wear the print? Nothing. There’s nothing equal about that.

I think this collection’s heart is in the right place and the pieces themselves look lovely. Dawn O’Porter says in the press release:

Fashion and politics go hand in hand, the way women dressed throughout history changed the way they were able to live their lives. Anyone who denies that clothes are not powerful and a huge part of feminism is massively missing the point. Designers from previous decades created shapes and ideas that transformed what it meant to be female, and now I get to take those vintage styles and incorporate a modern sensibility. The Equality Collection prints are beautiful and funny, but they also carry a serious message. Our prints look fantastic, but they also have a lot to say.’

That’s all well and good, Dawn, but a truly “modern sensibility” would take into account the actual bodies of modern women, and as such women above a size 16 should be considered. Evidently BOB by DOP haven’t done this.

Plus size women are used to brands not catering to us. We’re used to being excluded from limited edition ranges and high-fashion brands. It’s frustrating and upsetting that the majority of retailers are happy to provide for women up to 5 sizes below the average size, but will only usually stretch to a size 18 on the higher end. The fact that this collection doesn’t have anything larger than a 16* on its own would be disappointing, but the fact that the clothing actually has fat people in the prints without providing fat people with an inclusive size range is borderline fetishistic. It’s definitely exploitative. It’s really just a complete fail.

If you're happy to put fat people on your clothes, you should be willing to put fat people in them too.

*UPDATE:

Since I published this blog, Dawn O'Porter tweeted me to say that her press release mistakenly stated the size range. Apparently they stock sizes 8-18. Except in the skirt. I argued that this wasn't really much better. She also said that the two plus size people clearly seen on the shirt in the image above are normal-sized people in "giant animal costumes". Draw your own conclusions from that one.
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Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Your Beauty Routine Is Killing the Ocean


In case my blog name and Instagram didn’t give it away, I love marine life. I love fish, I love marine mammals, I love weird deep-sea creatures and sharks. I want to be hugged by an octopus with all eight of their arms, and I think shrimps are cute. That’s why we really need to talk. You’re killing my friends.

I mean, you’re not doing it on purpose but you probably are.

Have you ever heard of microplastics? It’s pretty self-explanatory; microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic matter that come from litter and industrial waste, and are subsequently ground down by the motion of the ocean. Lots of microplastics come from eroded shopping bags and other things people throw into the waterways. These microplastics get into the gills and guts of fish with deadly consequences. A study of fish in the English Channel found that one in three fish were carrying microplastics in their system.

Now, I’m not accusing any of you of being litterbugs, I’m sure you have far better manners than that. However you could still be contributing to the problem. How, you wonder?

Glitter roots, bath bombs and facewash. Yes, really.

The glitter roots trend is kind of a marmite thing, you love it or you hate it. Even those who have tried it have admitted that it’s a bugger to wash all that shiny stuff out. But what they might not realise is that they are effectively rinsing a bunch of fish poison into the drain every time. The best way to try this trend without hurting marine life is to use edible glitter. If you really want to use plastic glitter then try and brush it out instead of washing, and consider using a plug filter when you wash your hair.

Bath bombs containing glitter or sequins have the same effect. But don’t worry, you don’t have to throw out all of your Lush goodies just yet because this is where it gets interesting. Lush recognised the danger of microplastics AGES ago and are instead using only edible glitter in their products, which is great. Crack on with your Experimenters and your Yogas, you can bathe with impunity. However some other brands will still be using plastics and should be avoided if you want to keep the oceans clean. Take a look at the packaging; my policy is if you can’t be sure then give it a miss.


And, finally, facewash. In particular I’m talking about exfoliants. All of those lovely face and body scrubs boasting about their high-tech “microdermabrasion beads” might make your face feel all silky smooth but they’re also choking octopuses. Any scrubs you use are washed off your face, down the drain and into the waterways, carrying the little plastic pieces with them. Don’t despair, not all exfoliants contain plastic beads so you won’t need to go all scaly for the sake of our fishy friends (see what I did there?) Just make sure your scrubs have naturally-derived ingredients like salt, sugar, nut shells and apricot stones. There are plenty of these available at all price points, though if you want to make sure you’re using all-natural ingredients you can very cheaply make your own with a mix of any oil (coconut is lovely) and brown sugar.

There are so many ethical concerns and questions surrounding beauty products, and this is one of the least publicised. One more way you can help is by signing this petition to prohibit the use of plastic beads in all cosmetic products in the UK.


So, from a mermaid to you, please stop putting plastic in the sea. The fish will thank you, and so will I!


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Sunday, 3 January 2016

Tidying: My Golden Rules

My Nemesis: The Cupboard of Doom
I'm not afraid to admit it: I am one of life's messy people. Some would blame my ADD and dyspraxia, some would call it an expression of creative chaos, my mum just thinks I'm lazy. I can deal with a certain amount of clutter and my clothing carpet doesn't bother me as much as it probably should, but even I reach a tipping point where I wake up in the morning, look around myself and wonder in horror who came in and trashed the place. Then I remember that it was me. I did it. I trashed the place.

Being a blogger, I do fall into the cliché trap of wishing my whole life was a copper and marble minimalist haven, but that's never going to happen. But, on days like this morning where I want to create some semblance of harmony in my boudoir I do follow a couple of simple rules:

Dress Seasonally

I know British weather is pretty changeable but for the most part you can assume that in Winter it'll be cold, in Summer it'll be warm and in between is a mystery. If, like me, you have more clothes than you know what to do with then it's wise to split and store them along seasonal lines. Things like jeans and t-shirts are clearly year-round wear, but floaty summer dresses and strappy sandals can probably go away until May. Likewise, your heaviest jumpers and thick-knit dresses can go into storage in the middle of Spring. I use massive storage bags from dotcomgiftshop which have lovely prints and are remarkably sturdy. 

Don't Be Shamed By Your Closet

I think it's fair to say that a lot of us have clothes that we see as "someday" items: designer jeans a size too small that were too much of a bargain to pass up, that dress you wore once after a stomach flu? Conversely you could have larger items you still love but are too roomy now. Bodies change shape and size throughout our lives based on your age, your hormones, your lifestyle and your overall health, and I know in my own case I can get quite disheartened by ill-fitting clothes, whether they're big or small. 

What's more, most of us simply don't have the space to accommodate clothing that we don't/can't actually wear. So, get yourself in a good mood and a positive headspace where trying on clothes isn't going to make you feel crappy (for me the timing of this is crucial) and have a dress-up session. Make three sections of things that are too small, things that are too big and things that fit you now. Keep the things that fit in your closet, put the others away, clearly labelled (or if your weight is stable and has been for a while, you can maybe consider donating or chucking some of these other items). This way, if your weight fluctuates and your current wardrobe isn't quite working for you, you know where to look to easily find something to wear that looks and feels great.

Out of Sight, Out of the Way

It's a simple rule, but a useful one. Your space is never going to stay clean and tidy if you have to do an assault course through storage to get to everyday items. If your system means that your pants are at the bottom of a pile of ball dresses then you're going to end up with a room covered in gowns, your knickers on your head and you will be banned from your local Tesco for life. Or something.

What I mean by this is that you need to make sure that the things you need most are the easiest to get to. If you have one drawer or box for all of your lingerie, keep the fancy stuff near the bottom and your everyday undies near the top. Separate all of your basic plain t-shirts from your logo/band/merch tops. If you have office wear, try to keep this in its own place so you don't get frenzied on bleary-eyed Monday mornings. Things that you have put away for the season can reasonably be put in more awkward, out-of-reach places, like under-bed storage, deep cupboards and lofts, if you have one. I can also apply this to going-out shoes, as I pretty much never go out. I'm a hermit and happy about it.

Folding is Your Friend

I'm not Buzzfeed so I'm not going to write a list of top thirty-three ways you can fold a pair of leggings, but the point still stands. There's more than one way to fold, and the obvious way isn't always the best one. If, like me, you have loads of t-shirts in shades of black and grey, but with very different logos, figure out a way to display them so that the design is showing. If you have multiple pairs of black jeans that are actually different cuts or lengths then find a way to display that within your closet. This way you don't have to pull out half of your clothing to find what you're actually looking for.

Dream Theme

We all like a clear decorative message, whether that's in Instagram, someone's blog or in a well-thought-out room. I'm no Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen (is he still a thing?) but I have vaguely themed my office and my bedroom. My office decor is grey, turquoise and copper and my bedroom is more of a woodland rustic theme, with stag bedsheets, lots of wood colours and natural finishes. Having a theme can make objects seem like they belong together, and that in turn can make the space look more complete. Colour themes work well, but a more conceptual category can work fine too. If nothing else, if will force you to look critically at any random purchase you consider in the future and might put you off an impulse buy if it won't fit within the otherwise flawless décor. But this approach isn't just applicable to new things...

Time to Say Goodbye

We all have sentimental belongings. Love letters, little knick-knacks, photographs, we've all got 'em. But, there comes a time where we have to decide: do we want to have a clean and serene space or do we want a bookshelf covered in ceramic teddy bears? Either answer is perfectly fine depending on your preference, but you can strike a balance. Take a cold, hard look at some of your bric-a-brac and decide for yourself if you really want to keep that rock your ex brought you from Kenya when you were 19 (true story). If you don't really want it in the cold hard light of day, be ruthless and get rid. If you think you want to keep something for posterity but you don't want to be reminded of it all the time, put it in storage with a reminder to look at it in 6 months to a year to reevaluate. If you want to keep it, and you want it on show, find some way to showcase it prettily and meaningfully. I have a specific shelf for just this purpose, and once the shelf starts to overflow I force myself to rethink how much gubbins I really need.

Remember Who You Are

It's all well and good listening to me harp on about shoulds and should-nots, but you know better than I do what your lifestyle requires. Pick and choose what suits you, don't be afraid to experiment with storage and display solutions to find what works best. Keep the ideas that work, and try something else if it doesn't. Also remember that I am still a messy person and as such I am not in a constant state of instagram-friendly feng-shui. But, hey, it's an excuse to put on some loud music and chuck clutter, which always feels pretty good once you're done!

How do you keep your world in balance? Are you a closet wizard or is your floordrobe bigger than mine? Let me know! I'm about to apply my own rules to my own room, so I'll keep y'all posted via Twitter!



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Saturday, 2 January 2016

Six Little Things That Bring Me Joy

Life is quite scary. It's very easy to make a never-ending list of big negative spectres looming large over all of our lives. Just watching the news or looking at a paper can be enough to induce anxiety, and it's sometimes really hard to find something to smile about. When this happens, I have a few things I like to fall back on to create a little bit of happiness, however temporary.

Hugs
I went to Build-a-Bear and made a bunny. A Star Wars bunny. I'm so on-brand.
I'm not an overly tactile person. I don't go out of my way to touch people, I don't like physical contact when I'm not actively seeking it and I can get a bit prickly if someone invades my personal space. But, correctly timed, a good hug can have immensely healing properties. There's a lot of science that says that you get lots of lovely hormone floods when you hug people, and I know it can make me feel better when I need it.

Bunnies

My fluffbag family never fails to make me happy. Ok, maybe I'm not so thrilled when I'm scrubbing hutches in the rain, or when one of them costs me lots of money at the vet, but spending time with rabbits is time well-spent. They are wonderful clowns, and they all have such varied personalities and quirks. 2015 was a slightly rough year for the bunny family, which makes them all the more precious to me.

Red Lipstick

When life gets you down, there's nothing like a kick-ass shade of red to make you feel a bit more pulled-together.

Star Wars

 Yep, I'm a consumer whore and I have no shame.

Drawing


Doodling has long been one of my coping mechanisms, and I have a few recurring characters, like Derek the Merbear. I'd really love to finish a children's book one day using these characters and my sketches. 

Aquariums

I love going to aquariums so much. I also love the sea, but I don't go too often, so I make do by visiting aquariums as often as I can. I love finding a quiet tank, sitting by it and resting my head at just the right angle, so I can imagine I'm actually in the water with the fish.

What makes you all glowy with joy? Let me know in the comments!


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