Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What is SEO?

What is SEO?
“SEO is a practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines via Organic (Non-paid) search terms. “

At the beginning of time SEO stood for ‘Search Engine Optimization’. 

Now it really stands for ‘Search Experience Optimization

User Friendly Websites

With the evolution of intelligent search engine algorithms, emergence of social media and the continued influence of personalised search (see Google Plus and now Facebook Graph Search), we now (and always have) have to make the site ‘User friendly’ too.

What do the Search Engines want?

What does Google want?To provide the best user experience possible. That means they want to show the best and most relevant answers to the questions people are searching for.

As Search Marketers or Website Designers; we want to do the same. That’s the goal.

First I want to explain how Search Engines work.

Google have stated that it looks at over 200 factors when deciding where to place websites in their SERP’s. (Search Engine Results Page)

To break it down to really simple terms (well, simple-ish), we will look at just 4 factors.

Search Engines basically rely on 4 things:

  1. Crawling
  2. Indexing
  3. Relevance
  4. Authority

Search Engine Spider - Googlebot1. Crawling

Search Engines, (using computer programs called ‘spiders’) crawl millions of websites.
They find more websites by following (or crawling) the ‘Links’ they find on those website pages. And so on.

2. Indexing

Search Engines store the information they find (websites and what is contained in them) in their index. The Search Engine Index is like a huge filing system for all the websites it finds on the internet. 

Kinda like a your local library.

If you have a new website or you have an existing website but no other website on the web is linking to you, Google or Bing may have trouble finding you.

If the Search Engines cannot find your website, they will not store you in their index. If you are not in the index, then you are no-where and you may as well not exist L

You have to ensure that the Search Engines can actually find you and include you in their index.
Search Engines are like huge libraries
If your book isn't here then no-one will ever read it

It’s like writing a book and not putting it in the library for people to take out and read. If you are not in the library you will never be read. Period. We need to get your website in the Google Library or the Bing Library.(and then promote it like hell!)

There are 2 things you can do to get Indexed by the Search Engines.

  1. Create amazing content which will attract other sites to link to you.
  2. Submit your site to Google/Bing.

If you are a new website then the 2nd option is the way to go because you probably don’t have that much great content yet and it may take a while before another site links to you.

So you should proceed with submitting your site to the Search Engine directories. It’s easy and free. Follow the links below to submit your site.

Once Google has indexed you (you can check this by using the ‘’ parameter in Google) you will now have to focus on getting onto the First Page of the SERPs.

This is the difficult bit. 

Because Google shows between 7-11 websites per page.

So to get on the first page on Google, you will have to be in the top 7 best websites for that particular search term.

Tough no?

There are 2 main aspects of how Search Engines show results.
  • Relevance
  • Authority (Popularity)

3. Relevance

Website content. Is it relevant to the search term?Is your company, product or service relevant to the search term?

If your site does not at least contain the words that people type in ‘search’, then it is not even in the race to be found for that search.

(e.g.) Search Term: ‘lavender soap’                         Company: (fictitious company. I checkedJ)

If someone searches Google for the term ‘lavender soap’, Google will search the web (it actually searches through its own index) for pages that are relevant for the term ‘lavender soap’. 

If the company sells ‘lavender soap’, it will hope that Google will find it when it searches its index. then wants Google to show in the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs)

To make our website relevant, we have to do many things. I will explain just two of them:

  1. Choose a ‘Keyword Strategy’ for your website.
  2. Place those Keywords in specific places on your site

Keyword Strategy

With your potential customer in mind, think of what they would type into Google if they needed your company to solve their problem or answer their question. 
keyword strategy
  • Choose the keywords that best describes what you do as a company.
  • What products to you sell?
  • What service do you provide?
Choose these Keywords for your website.

Where do we place these ‘Keywords’?


With your Keyword Research complete, use one main keyword per webpage. (You can then target long-tail keyword terms in you blog posts)


If you can, try and include the search term in the website URL (eg) (although keyword specific URLs are less relevant than they used to be in the past, they are still a good SEO practice)

Title Tag

Ensure the Page Title has the search term in it. Page Title = Page Name

H Tags

Ensure all your H Tags (H1, H2 etc) have the search term in them. (or better still, have a variation of it in them) H Tags are basically headings and paragraphs titles in your content that break up the text to enable an easier read.

Alt Tags

Ensure you have at least 1 picture per page with the keyword in the alt tag. Naming your pictures to the relevant search term is another factor that will increase on-page relevance.

Site Architecture

Make it easy for the Search Engines and Users to navigate your site. Clearly defining your site architecture will allow the spiders to easily crawl your site and thus reach all your pages. This will allow the user to find exactly what he/she is looking for without getting lost in the mire.
        • Best Architecture - Top down, 3 levels deep (max).

don't make users angry. Make site navigation easy
Don't make users angry. Make it easy for them to find what they are looking for.

4. Authority

Is your website or webpage an authority on the subject?

How do the Search Engines find this out?

The Net is a popularity contest. Just like Prom Night
We totally crushed it. Holler!
They find this out by counting how many other websites have linked to your website. (among other things)

Basically, the Internet is a popularity contest. The most popular websites are the ones we see in the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Page).

THE most popular website for a specific ‘Search Term’ is the website that is Number #1 on the SERP’s

How do we become popular? 

Create Amazing Content

A website without amazing, unique and ‘remarkable’ content that provides value, answers questions, solves problems, or is at least entertaining, will have a hard time moving up the SERP’s because no-one will want to link to it.

Creating amazing content on your (i) Homepage, (ii) About Us page, (iii) Products or Services Page may be difficult to do. These pages are your bread and butter. Optimise them with your keywords and make it as interesting as possible.

A proud Bill Gates. Bings Supreme Commander
Good Stuff. I'm proud of you. I will reward you.
Where can you create this amazing content that will get you those valuable links?

Your Blog

Your Blog is an invaluable piece of weaponry where you can be as creative and entertaining as you want. 

Your Blog will enable your company have a personality and engage with potential customers via commenting.

If you talk about yourself, your company or try the hard sell in your Blog, then people won’t read it and they will switch off.

Once you have created this amazing content, we need to optimise it and share it through Social Media, RSS Feeds, Article Submissions etc.

By sharing it via Social Media, we can reach the most people possible and in turn drive those people to our site.

Please read more about the benefits of Blogging for Business in my post 'The Importance of Being.....A Blogger'


So what have we learned about SEO?

We know that SEO helps us…..
SEO Helps your site 'Get Found'
Where is it? Oh....
  1. Get our site crawled and indexed by the Search Engines.
  2. ‘Get Found’ by potential customers.
  3. Find the terms people are searching for and to use those terms throughout our site to engage the user and create a relationship.
  4. Use these terms in our blogs so people (i) read our amazing content (ii) share it (iii) like it (iv) link to it.
  5. These Links are a vote of confidence from other websites. Once the Search Engines see these votes of confidence and see that our website is relevant to those Search Terms , it will reward us by moving our website up the SERP’s.
  6. Keep creating great content that people want to read. The more content we produce, the more chances of getting found, the more chances of getting these valuable links, the higher up the SERP’s we will go. Search Engines reward fresh up-to-date content.

If you always have both the User and Search Engine in mind when creating a new website and/or content, then you will be rewarded by more visitors and ultimately more paying customers.


SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines via Organic (Non-paid) search terms. 

Great user experience baby!
That was awesome. I'm going to tell all my buddys

Once you have the visitor on your site you have to engage them enough to keep them there, keep them coming back and ultimately start moving them down the sales funnel. From TOFU to BOFU.

You are trying to provide the best user experience possible. Do that and I have no doubt you will succeed.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Importance of Being..... a Blogger!

The Importance of Being..... a Blogger!

Aidan Lawlor - SEO & Search MarketerAt the moment I am looking for a new role within the Search Marketing World. 

I am currently in the middle of an interview process with a major marketing firm. 

Part of this interview process involves a role play. So in preparation for the role play and going by the information I was given by the company, I have done some research and come up with what I think is a definitive list of reasons why blogging is necessary for business:

  • Why Blogging is so important for business?
  • Where to come up with valuable content?
  • How long it will take to write posts?
  • How long it will take before you start seeing results?

I must give thanks to the following people and companies for information I have used below. Half of it has been curated from really great sources and the rest is my own thoughts on the matter.

So thanks to HubSpot for all their great e-books (I’ve used a lot of their stuff below), Markus Sheridan, Search Engine Land, and Jeff Bullas. If you find some of your gems of wisdom below and I haven’t mentioned you here then I truly apologise. It is unintentional.

The brief was as follows:
  • An marketing employee will be charged with writing 1 blog post per week.
  • They have no experience creating content.
  • They want a little more understanding around blogging.

    • Why Blogging is so important? Why a company MUST do it!
    • What you can write about?
    • What value it will bring your company?
    • How long it will take to see results?

Here we go...

Why is Blogging Important?

  • Companies that blog have 55% more website visitors
  • B2C Companies that blog get 88% more leads per month than those that don’t
  • B2B Companies that blog get 67% more leads/month than those who don’t (all data provided by HubSpot)

This data shows that blogging is a critical piece of inbound marketing which brings better business results.

SEO Benefits of a having Blog 

    The Benefits of Blogging for SEO
  1. Helps you Rank in search engines because fresh content is rewarded by Search Engines
  2. Helps you ‘Get Found’ when people search for industry-specific products or services that you are writing about.
  3. Enables you to attract organic traffic (free traffic. Non paid)
  4. Helps familiarize people with your business. Increase brand awareness.
  5. Great content will get you inbound links.
  6. People want to link to something that will educate, entertain, and provide value to them and their peers.
    • People don't necessarily want to link to companies or products. That’s impersonal. 
    • People like to know who wrote the article, what’s their background and if they are influential. Links are the backbone of good Page Rank and in turn this will pass link juice from your blog to your main site as they will be on the same domain. (always have your blog on the same domain as your website or as a sub-domain) 
    • Make sure you own your own domain. Do not use a blogging platform unless you host on your own domain or use a 301 redirect.

Blogging creates more webpages to get indexed

How Does Blogging Help Me in Google & Bing?

Every time you write a blog, you’re adding 1 more page to your website.
So the more blogs you publish means more pages on your website.
With more pages on your website = more pages get indexed by the search engines. Which they then display in their results which in turn will increase your chances of being found by users. 

Once on your Blog, we want to turn these prospects into paying customers.

Lottery Ticket

More blog posts gives you more chances of winningIf you think of your website as a Lottery Ticket. With a blog, it is like having another lottery ticket.
And the more blog posts you have = the more lottery tickets you have. Which increases your chances of winning.
And winning means = More people finding your website when they use Google/BING/Yahoo
More traffic = More opportunities to create relationships = More chances of winning customers

Google Plus

Google Plus for Blogging
By creating a (i) Google+ Profile for the Blogger and (ii) Company Google+ Page and linking both to the company blog/website will increase CTR.

When the Blog is found in the SERP's it will have a nice head-shot and a little bio about the author (rel=author). This will get more people clicking on your blog than just having a simple Blog Title and Snippet. 

Human nature after all is curious. Having a picture of the author will help future customers relate to the company. It will give the company a personality which in turn will help create a relationship.

How Does Blogging Help Me and My Company?

Blogging PersonalityEngage Customers in a Dialogue and have a Personality

Have a conversation with your prospects and create relationships by allowing them to leave comments on your blog.

Be a Problem Solver

Name the biggest problems your customers have. Write about those problems and solve their problems.

Albert Einstein

Be a Thought Leader

Use your blog to showcase your expertise on a given subject. Inject your knowledge of the industry into your blog posts.

Write about Topics that Differ from your Industry

Allows you to write about topics not necessarily associated with your industry. It gives you the freedom to write from a personal perspective and maybe link two otherwise not connected topics that will help users better understand what you offer and how you can help.

Blogging Earns TrustEarn Peoples Trust

71% of people say blogs affect their purchasing decisions. So, if they trust you they are more likely to use your service or buy a product from you.

Enables you place Calls-to-Action in order to Generate Leads

By placing CTA’s that are contextual in a banner, in your blog post itself or sidebar allows you to show the user what else you can do to help them. The reason you are writing the blog is to get people to your site. Once there we need to offer them something. After all “If it don’t make money, it don’t make sense”
Make sure you are matching the content you have written to the offer you want to highlight.
All this increases CTR and hopefully win you paying customers.

“CTA, is a banner, button, or some type of graphic or text on a website meant to prompt a user to click it and continue down a conversion funnel”

Blogging is like fishing with a net. Huge reach.



What Will I Blog About?

What will I blog about?This is one of the biggest questions asked by newbie Bloggers when asked by their company to contribute 1 or 2 blog posts a week for the company blog.

It can strike fear into anyone. To sit there in front of a blank computer screen can a very daunting task.

Finding topics to blog about is one of the BIGGEST challenges bloggers face. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

  • Remember - We blog to educate. 
  • Think of your reader/potential customer when you write. 
  • Try and answer questions or solve problems or at least be entertaining J

(As I did this report for a Recruitment Agency I have given some examples for that industry below)

Start Your Blog by:

Answering Some of the Most Popular Customer Questions.

  • How to I create the best resume? What format is best?
  • 5 Tips on creating the best cover letter. What words to use what words not to use?
  • LinkedIn Profiles: 10 things you must do to get that dream job.
  • 3 biggest interview mistakes that you must avoid.

Reviewing Industry Trends.

  • What are companies looking for in new employees?
  • Degrees? Masters? PHD’s?
  • Are they looking for a good work life balance?
  • Hobbies? 
  • Personality? 

Doing Brief Interviews with Experts from your Organization.

Everyone has a story to tell. Any conducting interviews with colleagues will not only give you great content you might actually learn a bit too and create a better bond and office environment. Who knows? You may learn a lot more about the people you spend every day with.

Using Long-Tail keywords.

(e.g.) Dental Hygienist Resume Best Practices. For an industry like recruitment the most sought after words will be highly competitive. So start by targeting the long-tail words.  This will increase your chances of the landing on the first page of the SERP’s and once there, getting quality links from high PageRank and Domain Authority sites.

Repackage old content to blog Repackage Old Content.

Old brochures, old company stories, old whitepapers, old e-books, videos & webinars. See can you update them to make them relevant for today’s market.
Do they still answer some of today’s questions?
If not….update them!

Think of Any Question ever Asked to Anyone in your Company from the Outside.

Write them all down. Get all the answers. Publish! You’d be surprised how much information that you can get this way.

Brainstorming for better ideas


When you suggest a blog post to the brainstorming group, people will react if they are interested in the topic. If they don’t react to it, it’s not really going to drive that much interest for the larger audience either.

Guest Blogging

They will gain exposure beyond their normal readership and attract inbound links that can help them rank better in search engines. Guest blogging is also a great way to begin a co-marketing partnership and build a strong relationship with industry influencers.


You need to make sure that you’re adding some layer of value for your reader by curating the information in the first place. Most people are going to be really flattered if you want to share their content. And it’s a great opportunity to build a relationship with them.

Blogging Calendar

Create a Content Calendar

By having a calendar you will be able to plan ahead and not panic when the time comes to write another post. Planning ahead will also allow you to think about your post and will enable you to write a better piece

Photos can be a great source of blogging content Take your camera everywhere

No-one said it had to be all text. Take some interesting photos of your office environment, funny scenes, day-to-day business. People like to see the human side behind a company. By taking photos you can show the world that you are not a big commercial entity but a place where we think about improving people’s lives. Lives like ours.

Does Blogging take a long time? How Long Will it Take to Write a Post?

It all depends really. 30mins to 2hrs for your first few posts but after that it should get a lot easier.

Ask the potential blogger if he/she read any blogs now?

If they do read blogs. You can ask them….

What attracts you to the stories?  

The Titles?
The Author?
The Format?

If you can get them to understand why they read certain articles and stories in a magazine or newspaper, you can get them to start using these writing styles in their own blogs.

What entices them about these stories?

This will help them to understand how to structure their own blog.

Coffee and Blog instead of Coffee and NewspaperTo educate them further about how to write blogs and how to format them so people read them, you can start by asking them to read blogs about their industry and also blogs about things they like to do in their spare time (hobbies, interests etc.)

Instead of reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee for breakfast. We want these 'creative geniuses' to read blogs. We want to substitute the newspaper with blogs. Get them reading as much as possible and after short while they will begin to see what works and what doesn’t.

How Long Will it Take to See Results?

3-6 months. It may take shorter. It may take longer. But going from experience I believe 3-6 months is the standard time frame before you start seeing a big jump in traffic to your site and also an increase in Page Rank and ultimately an increase in Domain Authority.

Blogging is now part of your daily job. It is not a campaign. It doesn't end.
This is not a marketing campaign. This is never ending. It doesn’t have a start date and end date.

This is part of your day-to-day job from now onL.


Blogging Take Aways!

What will Blogging do for my Business?

  • Helps get you indexed by the search engines which in turn helps you get found by customers.
  • Enables you to have a voice and a personality.
  • Enables you get quality inbound links.
  • Enables you improve PageRank and Domain Authority.
  • Paid Search, once used, is gone. Gone forever. Paid Search is for the short term.
  • Blogging is FREE and will have a greater positive long term effect on your business.
  • Enables you to solve customer problems and in turn build trust.
  • Enables you to create meaningful relationships.
  • Enables you generate leads and win customers.


Now get cracking and start creating 'remarkable' content that educates and provides value! You can do it!


I hope I have given you some insight on the benefits of Blogging for Business.

Why a company, business or individual who wants to be successful needs to BLOG.

If you think I have missed anything in my post then please let me know.

If you agree with me or if you disagree with everything I have said then please leave a comment.

Any comment good or bad is welcome. If you would like to share this with anyone then please do so too.

Aidan Lawlor

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Wooden Spoon & The Irish Mammy

The Wooden Spoon

The world over, the wooden spoon would symbolise a great tool in the preparation of any nutritious meal. Or even a mock or real award, usually given to an individual or team which has come last in a competition, and occasionally given to a runner up.

The Irish Mammy

Irish MammyFor the Irish Mammy however, the wooden spoon is something altogether different. For the Irish Mammy is a different animal entirely. Loving, generous, fool-hardy, bashful. All these attributes could describe any mother on the planet. 

But the Irish Mammy has many strings to her bow and along with these admirable traits, she processes a strict, stern and disciplined 'Modus operandi'.

Weapon of Choice

Harry Potter and his wand. Similar to the wooden spoonIn the hands of an Irish Mammy, just as Harry Potter uses a stick and turns it into a magical wand, the Irish Mammy transforms this indispensable cooking utensil into a weapon of fierce destruction.

For many years of my childhood, my brother and I lived in fear of the top drawer opening up and out coming the 'Wooden Spoon'. For we knew it wasn't for any baking or cooking it will be used. It was destined for our backside.


Lucky for my brother and I, we were very quick and the swipe of the wooden spoon nearly always missed by the nearest of margins. There were times that my mother was quicker. I always thought that 'she must be practising' because, as time went by, the better she became. Like a apprentice swordsman from yesteryear practising morning and night for the hand of the beautiful maiden. No longer could we escape by the skin of our teeth.

My mother had become a Master Spoonsman (spoonswoman)

Many a wooden spoon was broke over our backsides over the years. There must be a dozen or more shallow wooden spoon graves in our backyard now. It's like a cemetery back there.

Classical Conditioning

The Wooden Spoon. Weapon of choiceLike the sound of a bell would start the dogs salivating rather than the smell of the food in I.P. Pavlov's classical conditioning experiments. The sound of the top drawer opening would spark fear in my bother and I.

Do this day we joke about this while having dinner together be it for Christmas or a special occasion. When my mother has to get something from the drawer she would slowly lift out her old 'weapon of choice' and slyly smile while looking at both of us. Very funny mammy!

Of course times have changed and it is no longer acceptable to hit or even spank your children. And thank God for that. But those were different times.

Wonderful Childhood

My mother wasn't and isn't a masochist. We had a wonderful childhood and I think we have both turned out decent people. I am proud of how we were reared and I will take a lot of the vales and methods with me which will help me be as good a parent as my mother and father.

Nowadays, when the wooden spoon has been removed from the drawer, it is only used in the preparation of a wonderful meal or sweet treat. Thank goodness.

I wonder if there are any substitutes for the wooden spoon used today? Or was there another method of discipline your parents used on you? Please tell. I'd love to hear them.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Simpson’s…Why We Need Them. Why I love them.

For the Love of the Simpsons

The Simpsons Title
Every day, people the world over regale each other with their favourite moments from the show over the last two decades. Everyone from parents to toddlers, businessmen to builders, die-hard fans to casual viewers have opinions on arguably the finest television show of all time. As a long time fan of the show I’m not here to educate anyone on the shows genesis. Or challenge anyone to a quoting competition of their favourite lines in a self gratifying attempt to find the ‘biggest fan’. I simply think now is as good a time as any to ask a very obvious but complex question. Why is it so popular?


The Original Simpsons
Why are ‘The Simpsons’ just as popular now as they ever have been since their first TV appearance in 1987? Perhaps even more so. But crucially, in a world where the majority of the planet has almost instant access to any form of entertainment, from the wholesome to the macabre, why has this simple family based sitcom maintained and possibly increased its popularity in the face of relentless competition from the Internet and Digital TV? Why?


Simpsons sitting on the sofa
Is it because the shows creators employ state of the art animation? Categorically no, the people behind the show are actually proud of their ‘imperfectly hand-drawn doodles’. So much so that while they acknowledge the excellence of contemporary computer animated shows and films they believe their creation’s imperfections are endearing flaws indicative of the care and attention that only comes from hand-drawn animation. The weekly global viewing figures of 60 million people would prove them right! So then surely it must be the comedy writing team behind the animations that keep the show flying high? Partially.


At the peak of their powers the dialogue created for the yellow-skinned folk of Springfield has been nothing short of genius. Biting satire, sizzling social commentary and side-splitting slapstick all delivered with digital watch timing. However, at times, the humour in the show would have been momentarily surpassed by other prime-time stalwarts such as Friends and Seinfeld. And indeed at times the show can even seem dated when compared to the razor-edged wit of South Park and Family Guy. But still The Simpsons remain both the industry reference and benchmark of TV comedy, animated or not. Why? In truth there is no one answer short of a heady mix of serendipity and synergy.

Lisa SimpsonWhen you add the unique ‘imperfectly endearing’ animation style to some of the funniest and sharpest writing ever broadcast you already have the makings of Alec Guinness…I mean Genuine Class, sorry I was never as good as Lisa at that anagram game. However there are other reasons too.

Arrival on our Screens

In the same way that Oasis arrived onto the music scene at just the right time, when people were craving something new and fresh, so to did The Simpsons arrive onto our TV sets just as we were about to switch off because the standard template of the television sitcom had become stale. Animation had reached an impasse and more importantly the most popular characters were impossible to relate to. Prehistoric families and talking cats based on Sergeant Bilko can only divert the attention for so long. Also the ‘live-action’ sitcom had practically reached saturation point. Every channel had endless episodes of nameless shows with laughter tracks and a sickeningly trite and happy ending, complete with a climatic and nauseatingly wholesome message to accompany the fade-out theme tune.
The Simpsons win an award 
Suddenly the clouds parted (literally) and the yellow glow of hope came not from Irelands missing person, the Sun, but from two simple words flying into our sitting rooms, ‘The Simpsons’.  

It’s the Theme Tune that does it…

Whatever the reasons behind their sustained success and popularity, all the analysis and theorising stops the moment one hears that theme tune. Whatever kind of day you’ve had or whoever you’re with, the chances are you will feel centred and at ease wherever you are in the world once the opening credits roll. You know for the next 22 minutes at least you are with friends. Not the Central Perk frequenting type mind you, though a side-swiping parody of the group of New Yorkers is not out of the question! But perhaps the safety and security one feels from seeing everyone from Homer to Comic Book Guy do their thing is key to the shows longevity. After so long on the air the audience no longer thinks of these people are animations, they are characters, ‘real’ people. You know how they are going to react to any given situation. Even though they have not aged in 20 years you have grown with them as they have overcome obstacles, made a stand and always found themselves back at the same point at which they started that particular episode….of their lives.


That’s the key, whatever happens during the show you know these people, you identify with them, can relate to them and moreover you know by the time the credits roll everything is going to be okay. When you add quick fire jokes and slapstick humour into the mix you pretty much have the best half hour of anyone’s day.

The emotional and comedic (not to mention physical) heavyweight of the show is of course Homer and is probably the ideal example of how the show has won the world over and continues to do so. Widely acknowledged as the greatest TV personality of all time, his appeal is as broad as the Atlantic but occasionally there are moments of incredible depth and genius. In my opinion the greatest example of how all the shows different aspects come together to form perfection is not a moment of wonderfully timed comedy.


Homer says goodbye to his mother
For me the greatest achievement of the shows creators and writers is to have majority of the civilized world empathise completely with a badly drawn eternally 38 year old balding American man. For all his countless social faux pas’ and moments of comedic genius, the one moment when Homer beautifully illustrates his global appeal and realism is at the very end of an episode when he is reunited with his estranged outlaw mother voiced by Glenn Close. As his mother must leave him behind or face serious jail time she wishes her loving son a fond farewell and drives away in a van with her hippy compatriots. Homer begins to wave and continues to sadly do so long after the van and his mother have disappeared over the horizon. Then with the addition of soft melancholic wind music they scene switches to a wide shot of Homer sitting quietly on the bonnet of his car staring upwards at a starry sky as a shooting star flies over head. No words are spoken and even the credits whizzing by cannot deflate the sense of empathy one feels for the lonely clown. Anyone who has had their rib tickled and side’s split by Homer Simpson’s antics over the years cannot help but feel for him as he is once again separated from his loving mother. That’s the shows genius.

20 Years of Entertainment

Through the 20 years of goofs gaffes and jokes galore the creators have given us realistic and well rounded characters that are not bound by real-time or real life boundaries. As we have laughed and cringed with them over the years we have unknowingly fallen in love with the Simpson family and their supporting cast of hundreds. True they are cultural icons for the modern age on a global scale but far more importantly than that; they are part of our everyday lives as much as our friends and family are.

Solace in Simplicity

The Simpsons ta'da' end of showWhatever is going on in our lives we know it will always be safe and fun to swing by 742 Evergreen Terrace. Where no matter what happens, who’s fighting with who or what the emergency is, we will go through it with them and in approximately 22 and a half minutes later we will be back where we started, ready for the next adventure.

If only real life was as simple, fun and safe.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fairtrade Coffee. Is it Really Fair?

Fairtrade Coffee in Dublin

Bewleys of Dublin - Coffee ShopAround five years ago you would have struggled to find a good cup of coffee in Dublin. Most places that sold coffee either didn't have the equipment or the expertise to do it the right way and more often that not you would be handed a cup of burnt, tasteless suds, with some coffee in there if you could find it. You could literally blow half the contents of your cup away with one big Jack and the Beanstalk puff! Times have changed. Or should I say, the demand for good quality coffee has increased as our Irish palettes have matured.

Is it Really Fair?

Now in Dublin there is a coffee shop on every street. Maybe 4 or 5 even. And the quality has definitely improved. We also have a selection of shops and restaurants selling Fairtrade Coffee. I often wondered what this actually means. I knew it had something to do with paying the coffee producers an agreed minimum price which would ensure good working conditions for the coffee workers. But that is all I knew. So I wanted to investigate further. So here's what I found out.

Fair Trade

Fairtrade Logo"Fair trade is an organized social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. The movement known as fairtrade indicating the certification advocates the payment of a higher price to exporters as well as higher social and environmental standards. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, coffee,cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, cotton, wine,[1] fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers, and gold"

The Fairtrade brand is by some distance the largest of the fair trade coffee brands. Packers and suppliers in developed countries ((eg) Europe/North America) pay a sum of money to enable them to use the Fairtrade brand and logo.

These suppliers can then charge as much as they want for the coffee. The coffee must come from a certified Fairtrade cooperative, and there is an agreed minimum price when the coffee market is oversupplied.

Ethical Cynicism

There has been some cynicism with regard transparency of how and how much of the money is directed to the workers and the co-operatives. "Consumers have been shown to be content paying higher prices for Fairtrade products, in the belief that this helps the very poor. The main ethical criticism of Fairtrade is that this premium over non-Fairtrade products does not reach the producers and is instead collected by businesses, employees of co-operatives or used for unnecessary expenses. Furthermore, research has cited the implementation of certain Fairtrade standards as a cause for greater inequalities in markets where these rigid rules are inappropriate for the specific market".

Coffee workers hard at work in the fieldWhen I was backpacking around Latin America some years ago I visited some amazing coffee plantations. In fact, I was brought to one famous plantation called Finca Filadelfia in Guatemala for a date with an ex-girlfriend. We hired mules and trotted through the plantation at altitudes of 6000 feet. It was, and is still an amazing place. Filadelfia is not part of a co-op and are not part of any Fairtrade group. I visited many coffee plantations in Latin America. Some Fairtrade and some not. In my eyes they all looked very similar. In saying that, I didn't interview any of the manual workers about working conditions, minimum price paid and so on.


What I'm try to get at with this piece is that not all Fairtrade is fair. We cannot believe that just because it has the packing and the logo then we can be rest assured that the money is going towards helping those in under developed countries. That's not to say that it is not. I'm just saying that you have to view everything from both sides of the fence. But I do believe that it is in essence a good cause and if administered correctly, is and will be of great help to those who toil hand-picking the coffee, providing them with good working conditions, a fair price and above all a higher standard of living.

Latte CoffeeI would still choose Fairtrade Coffee over regular coffee in the hope that the extra money I spend for my cup will eventually trickle its way down to the many impoverishment families who labour on these plantations daily. It's a hope I pray happens.

What we can do in the meantime is request more transparency from Fairtrade themselves regarding proof that this money reaches those in most need of it.

So I for one, will continue to sip on my Fairtrade Latte in support of the Fairtrade movement until such time someone can convince me otherwise with hard facts.

The Ethical Silk Company tailoring is done by the Nano Nagle Tailoring Unit in Theni. Theni is a trading town located in the state of Tamil Nadu, in the very south of India.

In running the tailoring production of The Ethical Silk Company through the Presentation Sisters, you can be ensured that the tailoring ladies are getting well paid and work in very comfortable working conditions. 

The women attend the Nano Nagle Tailoring Unit Monday – Friday, 9.30am – 4.30pm where they are trained in tailoring and 3 of the ladies who have completed the training are working on The Ethical Silk Company products.