Sunday, August 31, 2008

New website image

Well it is finally up. The new fresher look and more pages and articles, you can view on and more importantly there is more movement up the rankings, not unfortunatly with the home page but many of the sub pages. The Attraction page has gone from 92 to 35, the Mervent zoo from 33 to 27, Vouvant is streight in at 69 and the home page is at 9 for the term 'gites with pools vendee'
The site is still waiting to indexed or what ever as there is still no move monent.
I'll keep you informed.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Website update

As I mentioned last week I will keep you updated on the progress of the page ranking for website that I am trying out my theory on. I have to report that so far no movement, but that may be as expected as it will take the google robot time to find it and validate its findings this can take from two weeks upwards.
On another front our site has seen some great improvement on several fronts. Firstly the new fresher look website is nearly ready to put up on the server with a lot more pages added for viewers with information on the Vendee and secondly on the increase in rankings of the different pages, namely for odd terms like ‘restaurants in fontenay le comte’ #2, ‘5 bedroom gite vendee now at #2 and the two star movers ‘group accommodation Vendee’ and 5 bedroom gite with pool both at #1 not to mention on page 2 for a whole lot of search terms. Will this be enough to stop advertising on those big websites that rank highly for thousands of search term, probably not but it is encouraging.
The end of the mad season is within sight so thoughts now turn to next years advertising and works needed around the complex. Niggling little break downs that kept re-occurring need to be sorted to make next season better both for me and my customers. The leak on the indoor pool has been traces to the bond de fosse where a split was made in the outer casing by using the wrong length screw. This will mean emptying the pool and putting in a new bond de fosse, well relatively easy it is time consuming, but will save a lot of expensive water and heating costs. As for the advertising I’m still not sure which way I’m going to go. The temptation is to reduce the advertising on the big sites to 1 or 2 and then make up with PPC if needed, or leave it as is for another year. Keep watching these pages to find out.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Website Ranking

One of the perennial problems of owning gîtes is how to attract customers. It is possible to spend a small fortune on advertising and it’s usually too late to do anything about it if the advert fails to bring in the clients.

There are many different media you can use to advertise on, Local press, national press, internet agents, ppc, or your own website. They all have their drawbacks, few have any ability to change in mid stream and they are all expensive. In recent years large internet companies have evolved, who you pay to place your adverts on their site. They in turn advertise on the internet pumping thousands of pounds into search engine optimisation (SEO) trying to out rank their competitors. As usual the problem is which one do you choose? You can search for the most popular search terms and go with the company that came up most regularly on the front page. There are two problems here, firstly the better they do on the search results the more expensive they are, secondly you will find that these sites are like mini Googles, in that you can find yourself on one of 15 or 20 pages. Though they rotate the adverts, the majority of the time you are not on the first one or two pages, and as with most search engines nobody searches more than a couple of pages. Using PPC (pay per click) can work but unless you understand in depth how to use this you can land up paying out a fortune with no return.
Generally speaking having your own website can work and at least you have somewhere to send potential clients for more in depth information. The problem comes in getting it ranked especially with Google who have 80% + of the market. You have two choices, you can spend a fortune employing experts to optimise your site and there is no guarantee that it will work, or you can take the do it yourself option taking courses and reading up on how to achieve SEO. I am in the process of trying the DIY approach and to a point it seems to be working, but be under no illusions you will need to have the time to put into it.

I am currently trying a new approach, instead of doing it on my existing website I have decided to put up a new site and try out my theory there. Before I started the SEO my website was at 64 on Google for the search term gîtes vendee. After a couple of days of work on the site it had dropped off the radar, but now it seems to be climbing back up the rankings, so we will have to wait and see.

Keep reading the blog and I will keep you informed of the progress, and if it works I will use it on my other site.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Black Spot oh Argh

Swimming pools can be a problem, sometimes things occur with them and you just don’t have the answer. I’ve worked with pools, both in their construction and maintenance for nearly twenty years and, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I am rarely stuck for a solution no matter what the problem is. I in fact regularly receive telephone calls from other gîte owners or their agents to discuss various pool problems and I am seldom stumped for an answer. All that changed though when my friend Tate phoned me up and said that he had black spots on the bottom of his pool, which were getting worse by the day, and refused to be brushed off.

As I wasn't sure what he meant I took a ride over to his place and lo and behold there they were, and true to his account no amount of scrubbing would remove them. Being at a loss to explain the problem let alone suggest a cure, I took my leave of Tate and headed back to where I knew I would find the answer. I thought it was algae, but I had no idea what algae, and what should be done about it escaped me. I decided to take the advice that one of my English neighbours had once given me. Besides running several gîtes in different areas of France, he also sells young willow plants for ornamental hedge building in his spare time. I can say that, from my horticultural days, I do know a bit about willows and knowing my neighbour Pete I knew that he almost certainly didn’t, so I asked him what he did when customers asked him for information about things concerning willows. His simple answer was I Google-it, this is a bit of information that has stuck with me and so I got straight on to the computer and Googled "black mould on swimming pools.

There were as expected hundreds of websites offering information and cures, but what I discovered was somewhat surprising. Firstly Black Spot Algae is not algae, it’s a bacteria, and secondly, and not so surprising, it is tremendously difficult to get rid of. Before I go any further I must point out that Tate’s pool is tiled and in general Black Spot Algae is only a problem for tiled pools as the bacteria cannot get a grip on liners and fibreglass. After searching many sites and even more pages it became clear that this was certainly a problem that was going to be difficult to solve. Invariably the websites said that the only way to remove the bacteria was a lot of hand scrubbing, as the bacteria gets its roots into the grouting between the tiles and then forms a hard crust on the top which is resistant to chemicals and all but the most vigorous scrubbing. I don’t know about you but on a pool that is 2 meters deep I cant envisage doing this without sub-aqua equipment and a strong back, neither of which I process.

My initial solution was to test out one of my theories, which at least stood some chance of working, as it would have been the method that I would have employed had the pool been empty. It was to use a pressure washer. Easy enough in the shallow end, but the deep end presents an altogether different scenario. Undaunted I attached the pressure gun, with duct tape, to the end of the telescopic pole that is used to brush the pool, taped the trigger in the “on” position and used the on-off button on the machine to control the operation. It worked a treat with the one exception, which was that it quickly covered the top of the water in the pool with the hard black caps of the bacteria making it difficult to see what I was doing. This meant that I had to stop once or twice to allow the skimmers to clear the caps away; it wasn’t that bad really, it was a hot sunny day, and lying by the pool in the sun chatting to Tate was, as always, a pleasure. Having finished and then cleaned the pool the filtration system needed to be thoroughly back washed and then the pool shocked with high doses of chlorine and anti bactericide.

I must emphasise that this is a quick and temporary fix, during the winter the pool will either need to be emptied to cleaned more thoroughly, which as it is a saltwater pool I’m reluctant to suggest, or it will need a stronger chemical treatment. I do have an idea what chemical to use, but if it doesn’t work I will have wasted another year and I’ll have to go through the same cleaning process during the summer. This bacterium truly is one of the most persistent and if you get it all I can say is good luck, but watch this space.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fleas and other things

I have previously talked about the security perimeter that my cats have posted around my gîte complex. It doesn’t matter whether you like cats or not, if you live in rural France, living without them can cause all manner of problems. Besides the obvious advantage of keeping the rodent population, except lerots, under control they also keep other less obvious pests away. My friends and even my farmer neighbour are amazed at my vegetable patch, they all wonder why I have no damage from rabbits, hares which this year did severe damage to the local sunflower crop, and birds. I explained it’s quite simple “I have Cats” not only that but they are” feral cats” which means they are never allowed in the house or Gîtes and I only give them sufficient food to keep them loyal, working on the maxim ”keep them lean and mean”. My theory is that there is a mutual respect between the larger mammals and the cats, and in any event why have your baby rabbits and hares close to a gang of cats when there are much safer locations. This applies to larger species like foxes which are quite common in the area but not around me.

Cats are quite protective of their territory and of course their young. In one instance a very large hunting dog had got detached from the rest of the pack and hearing voices on the patio came around to investigate. At the end of the patio near the bushes a couple of young kittens were playing, the dog suddenly caught sight of the kittens and started to advance quite rapidly. The mother cat who was out of sight behind the dog saw the danger, she took off at lightning speed in a large arc around the dog and behind her kittens, she then flew at the dog stopping only a foot or so away standing on her hind legs with her front paws, claws out, waving furiously at the dog her mouth was open showing her teeth and she was hissing loudly. The dog didn’t wait to check out the situation it obviously felt that discretion was the better part of valour, turned tail and ran off into the distance never to be seen again. Neither my guest nor I had ever witnessed any thing like this before, but I’m sure it’s proof of why there are so few pests around.

You may well be asking what any of this has to do with fleas; the answer is that cats can have a down side. There are guests that don’t like cats or are allergic to them, this is one of the reasons why they are not allowed in the house and being feral cats they are a lot more timid, though if offered food this can quickly change. The other problem is fleas, it is true that feral cats do seem to be less susceptible than domestic cats to fleas, they seem to have an immune system which kills them off, I regularly check my cats and there are rarely any fleas to be found, kittens however are an exception, as they do not seem to get this immune system for several weeks, which in its self is not usually a problem. However mother cats like to have their kittens in quiet dark areas and the back corner of a shed or barn is ideal. After a couple of weeks they move the kittens to a new home, and this is the nub of the problem. The young kittens will have attracted fleas and when they are moved most of the fleas are left behind. With lack of a host the fleas often lie dormant or even multiply, only to come back to life weeks later. Now this is the time that they can become a serious problem, with no cats about they will spread out looking for a new host. They can quickly be picked up on clothing and transported into the house, once inside the house however they run riot trying to feed on anything (and that generally means anyone) that they can find. It is no consolation to know that once they’ve bitten you they drop off and die but it is good to know that inside they are reasonably easy to control. With all the windows and doors closed a simple “Flea Bomb”, which can be purchased from any Pharmacy and even some supermarkets, can be let off. The bomb takes 4 hours to work properly it is supposed to last for 6 months and you need a bomb for every 50 m³. You can also use Flea Smokes but you need to leave the building closed for 24 hours.

Out doors the problem is however more difficult to solve as they can spread themselves around. The most effective treatment I have found is to spray the ground with a strong solution of bleach. Another theory that I have is that Fleas are attracted to cats so if I put the food bowl where the out door infestation is, the fleas will attach themselves to the cats and the cats’ immune systems will do the rest, though I’ve yet to put this theory to the test.

Fleas are never a pleasant subject but I hope one of these remedies will help you if you have the problem.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A moles tale

Anyone who has owned a rural property in France whether it be a small cottage, a farm, a gîte or a château and has read the literally mutterings of Peter Mayle in his "A Year in Provence" will probably have recognised that many of his stories are less than accurate. Possibly he collected odd stories that he had heard while sat in bars or restaurants, and dusted them with a sprinkle of poetic licence. There are two stories in particular that always raise a chuckle when I read them especially as I’m fairly sure that I know the truth behind them.

The story of the old farmer who was frequently disturbed in the night with rats running above his ceiling, in an attempt to stop them the farmer regularly fired his shotgun up into the ceiling at them. My suspicion is that far from being rats the scurryings were much more likely to have been made by Lerots, which according to the dictionary are dormice. These pretty little creatures look like small bush babies with large bushy tails and black and white markings around their eyes.

They are rarely found near the ground preferring to stay up high out of the way of predators, and they are the only rodents that can penetrate the defences of my cats, They like to nest for the winter in the insulation of my roof and wall space, and their scratching last thing at night and first thing in the morning can indeed be very annoying. I have often banged the ceiling or wall with a brush but have so far resisted the urge to get out the gun. In 17 years I have only found them inside the house on two occasions, once when a larot entered the house through the wiring conduit only to meet a quick and shocking end. And I only found that out because I needed electric and he had unfortunately tripped the circuit. The second time was when I opened the door one evening to find one traversing the wall, he came inward with the door trying several times to get back around the corner and up to safety. For some considerable time he refused to come down, although eventually out of sheer necessity he did make an attempt, which failed miserably and saw him falling to the ground, gathering himself together he was straight back up the wall to safety clever little bugger. I have often sat on the terrace on a September evening with friends and watched them scurry along under the eves until they find an entrance into the roof space, so Mr Mayle come clean on the rat story.

The second story which beggars belief is his tale of eradicating the moles. To ask us to believe that diesel was poured down a hole and lit catching the neighbours’ garden, which was on a much lower level, alight, is to ask us to spread the bounds of credulity far too thin. It is obvious that he’s got the wrong end of the tale, for a start diesel is almost impossible to light without using a lighted cloth or paper, it would never run down hill without being absorbed into the ground and if you light it at the top it will burn slowly from the top, so the story seems very unlikely to me.

There is however some truth hidden in this tale. It is for instance possible to smoke out moles by lighting a diesel rag and letting it smoulder in the hole. On one occasion I had mole problems and my fumigation system did in fact include diesel, however it was the smoky engine on my lawn tractor that did the trick. I connected an old hose from a vacuum cleaner to the exhaust pushed it down the nearest hole and waited expecting to see hoards of choking moles come up for fresh air. In fact all I got were dozens of smoking chimneys all over the lawn. I hurriedly rushed round heeling them in, and after about an hour it seemed like the whole two acres of lawn were alight. The fortunate outcome was however that the moles disappeared. Whether that was because they died under ground, which I seriously doubt, or whether they simply didn’t like the smell of diesel and so packed their bags and headed for cleaner pastures, I will never know. They did not return again until the following spring, but by then I had a new weapon altogether.

The subsequent spring one of my regular customers arrived and said I have brought something with me to eradicate your moles. He produced a beautiful antique 9mm shotgun and explained that he had had a large collection of guns but because the law was getting very difficult for gun owners, he had asked the police to take them all away and destroy them, all but one, the one that he gave to me. Oh! What a joy, from then on until a couple of years ago moles just weren’t a problem. I would simply wait until the moles started working, luckily they are punctual little critters feeding in the early morning and again at about 4.00 in the afternoon. All I had to do was spot were they were digging and then creep up quietly stand over the hole with the shotgun and when the soil started to move pull the trigger. It was about a 90% kill rate, I would then dig them up just to make absolutely sure they were dead.

I have stopped using the gun of late, as with the expansion of La Grange I no longer have anywhere handy to keep the gun in safety. So now the gun is stored away safely so that visitors won’t find it and I keep the cartridges in a different location. The only problem with that is that if I remember where the gun is I forget where I’ve hidden the cartridges, or vice versa. So it looks like I may have to revert to Smokey Joe.