Tuesday, 16 December 2008

What content types can Google search?

SEO is so much more than trying to get pages or text to rank highly in search engines. With the large variety of content that can now be searched with 'Universal Search' (Google's term for providing something more than just text results) it's worthwhile making sure all the other types of content you publish are correctly optimised.

Top of a Google search results page
Text page in Google search resultsText
OK, the basic thing that all search engines cover. If you have text on your site, a search engine spider will read it and often index you. Text pages are returned in search results if the search keywords match their content and ranked according to the usual SEO factors including linking, keyword density, commitment etc.

Images in Google search resultsImages
Google Image Search "analyzes the text on the page adjacent to the image, the image caption and dozens of other factors to determine the image content." (image search FAQs). Some of these other factors may well include alt tags. So ensure your adjacent text, image caption and alt tag are all keyword relevant and targeted to the keywords you wish to rank for. If you are a news site and want your image to appear in Google News, ensure it is inline.
Video in Google search resultsVideo
There are a number of things you can do to optimise videos. Especially important now video results are being returned in the standard Google search.
Flash page in Google search resultsFlash
It was announced back in July that Google will index flash (SWF files). The original Google blog post has some more information on exactly how it works.
PDF in Google search resultsNormal 'text and images' PDFs
Google will search and index PDFs much as it does HTML. There's lots you can do to optimise your PDFs for search engines.
Scanned PDF in Google search resultsPDFs of scanned docs
Google have started indexing PDFs of scanned docs by using text recognition software (OCR) to 'read' the text. Announced at the end of October it's definitely worthwhile getting any PDFs of scanned docs online if you haven't already. Forgetting Google they may well be good content for your users anyway that will encourage linking.

News page in Google search results
Products in Google search results
The previous 6 results summarize the main content types available online that can be indexed however also included in 'Universal Search' are a number of other types of content such as Google News and Google Product Search (formerly Froogle) that I haven't mentioned above as the on page optimisation remains the same - the results themselves are text - however it's essential you go through the necessary submission processes to get on these 'vertical search' engines (search engines providing something specific - the opposite of universal search really).

To list some vertical search engines:
  • News aggregators - Google News has submission guidelines. Also make sure images are inline as mentioned earlier. Don't forget other news aggregators such as NewsNow.
  • Product search - Google Product Search as mentioned above, there are also many other search engines and sites that will list products.
  • Business searches - Google Maps: Local businesses can add their details so they come up in searches. Yell.com: One of many traditional online business directories
  • Blog searches - Get a blog and appear on a whole of host of search engines including Technorati and Google Blog search. This will also tap into the world of social bookmarking - which any page can do but blogging started it.
  • Google has loads more including Google Book Search. Plus even more really specific searches but I think they are mostly done via various partners so you probably can't get on these.
  • Mobile - And then last but not least it's worth considering search optimisation for mobile. With increased mobile internet usage search engines are going to have to start providing mobile friendly results.
  • and many more...
Related posts
Is structured data the future of search? (Mar 2010)

Monday, 15 December 2008

4 basic video SEO tips

Since before YouTube launched in 2005 video has slowly become a bigger and bigger part of the internet. Video specific search engines have cropped up including Blinkx and Google Video, the latter feeding its results into the main Google search listings.

Video is another way to reach your users so the search optimisation of online video is nearly as important as the SEO of text.

Metacafe and YouTube1. Exposure - Put your videos on video sharing websites such as YouTube and Metacafe. You can of course put videos on your own site either via flash player or YouTube embed code but the advantage of video sharing websites are their large amount of video hungry users.
Google Video and BlinkxVideo search - You'll appear in video search websites such as Blinx and Google video if your videos are on YouTube or Metacafe but you can add your own Media RSS feed of your videos to these sites too.
(Clearly rainbow coloured logos are a prerequisite of having a video search site).

Useful link - Here is a list of video sharing and video search websites plus the relevant links to their submission pages.

2. Keyword optimisation
Screenshot of YouTube video titleOptimise video much like you would images.
  • Include keyword rich and relevant titles and descriptions - in the case of video sharing sites this is what appears as the page title and description in search listings.
  • Adjacent text is also likely to affect the video SEO. Google explicitly states for images that they analyze "the text on the page adjacent to the image, the image caption and dozens of other factors to determine the image content." I don't think it's presumptuous to assume this may also be a factor in video SEO.
Closed Captions Logo3. Closed captions and transcripts
When included in the video closed captions are an option that can be turned on by the user. This includes things such as subtitles but also environmental sounds, musical score, different languages etc.

These are of great benefit to users and vital for accessibility. Closed captioning allows your video to reach a far greater audience. YouTube explains how to add closed captions.

Their benefit to SEO is not obvious outside of the fact that the most usable and accessible sites tend to invite the most links.

However separately available video / audio transcripts CAN be particularly good for SEO, in addition to the embedded closed captions. If you have the transcripts then include these for download (as PDF) or even on a separate web page. This provides text that can be indexed not only extending the reach of the video but producing good content. More on this here.

4. Alternative HTML content - with the recent addition of flash indexation by Google you can use the SWFObject code to put alternative text behind the video for SEO.

Audio
Google Audio Indexing (GAUDI)We may at the moment just be stuck with the above optimisation methods but it's possible Google may start reading your video's audio tracks in the near future. Google have started beta testing GAUDI (Google Audio Search) on their YouTube political channels. It’s an audio search of YouTube videos. They take the audio tracks from videos using speech recognition technology and automatically convert them to text.

Useful links: ReelSEO - Fantastic video SEO site that I’ve just discovered.

Related posts
How to optimise your PDFs for SEO

Friday, 12 December 2008

Why do companies use illegal advertising?

Just discovered my uni dissertation looking at why companies use illegal advertising and thought it worth putting online.

Please reference me if you need to use any of it; however it has references throughout so you can probably just go back to the source material. It's also written in 2003 so horribly out of date.
 Executive summary
“Last year, the Advertising Standards Authority dealt with complaints about a record number of advertisements. Over 13,000 people wrote to the Authority about advertisements.”
(Source: "Legal, decent, honest and truthful" an introduction on a booking form for a CIM lecture on 8th May 2002. Chartered Institute of Marketing Scotland.)
This project asked the question why is it necessary for companies to act in such a way when the very people they are trying to reach are the people who are complaining about what they are doing?

Some of the most memorable adverts of recent years include an Opium poster campaign that was banned for being offensive and degrading to women.

Opium perfume advert with a naked Sophie Dahl
(Image source - BRIERLEY, S. (2002) The Advertising Handbook, 2nd.ed. London: Routledge. p.221 figure 14.3 © Yves Saint Laurent: Steve Miese)

Despite being banned, the advert created “an enormous amount of extra publicity for the Opium brand.” This project discovered whether illegal advertising such as the Opium advert is necessary to both the public and the advertising industry. Within this was considered the role of the self-regulatory authorities and how their roles and the powers available to them need to change.

Ethics was closely considered within advertising campaigns and the extent to which ethics must figure in every company’s communications.

The specific example of the tobacco industry was also considered who are no longer able to advertise and solutions to this problem and the validity of this restriction discovered.

Related posts
Globalisation within construction - CIM PGDip Emerging Themes Assignement (Aug 2011)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

What page errors? Soft vs. hard 404s

One of the websites I look after demonstrated its amazing crapness to me the other day when I discovered the supplier that ran it / produced it for me hadn't configured it for hard 404s, they'd used soft 404s.
  • Hard 404 - tells your web browser that the page you've tried to access does not exist. Precisely it tells the browser that the server (website) exists but it couldn't find the page you wanted. More on 404s here.
  • Soft 404 - the page you're trying to access still doesn't exist but instead of telling you so it returns a 200 response code. Now it may well show you, the user, an error page similar to a hard 404 but it also might just redirect you to the homepage so you don't actually know whether the page is broken or not. More importantly it doesn't tell your browser the page doesn't exist.
T-shirt with the 404 error code on it
Do geekier t-shirts exist?
Now substitute 'browser' for 'search engine spider' in the above definitions and hopefully you can see that by having soft 404s instead of hard 404s search engines will just assume that all these dead pages exist (or just get confused, not crawl you properly and ruin your search rankings).

If on the other hand you return hard 404s search engine spiders will know that page doesn't exist, won't index it and will move on. There's also no reason why a hard 404 response also can't show a nice pretty page explaining this to humans - such as Google's 404 page.

Now back to my example, Google had reached a page on my site that didn't exist (due to a link to a dud page on another website) and instead of ignoring it, had indexed it and it was appearing as the first hit on Google for my site name. So users clicking on this link went straight to an error page - not good.

By changing the soft 404s to hard 404s Google won't index this page, and my home page is the top hit on Google for my site name - better.

Not sure what your site returns? Think of a page that doesn't exist on your site, i.e. www.mysite.com/thispageobviouslydoesntexist.html, and enter it into this handy online tool that will tell you the HTTP status code (that's the bit that says 404 or 200).
UPDATE: If the above tool doesn't work try this one from gsitecrawler.com.

Never use soft 404s, it's the first thing I check on any website build. It's amazing how many sites still use soft 404s, such as Wikipedia. Maybe there is a good reason for it? Somebody care to tell me?

Useful link - How to make a snazzy 404 page that's good for SEO

Monday, 24 November 2008

Blogs need multiple authors to succeed

I read this nice review of the internet's top blogs and what we can learn from their success a couple of months ago and have tried (with moderate success) to incorporate some of the thinking into the blogs my company runs.
Number of blog authors on the internet's top blogs
Image copyright - SEOmoz

There are lots of blog articles called "10 top tips to create a great blog" but how do we know whether any of it works? Well the facts contained within that review are just that, facts. They are the state of play in the blogosphere today so pay attention; it can't all be good luck, big brands and Perez Hilton.

The one phrase I take from the whole thing is the following:
“Can't do it all by yourself? Neither can the experts. 80% of the top blogs have more than one primary writer.”
This is so obvious, the advantages are clear:
  • More people, more posts, more content
  • Get different view points on the same subject
  • Attract different audiences by having this varying content
The strategy for any company with a number of blogs should be obvious. Take all your bloggers and ask them to categorise all their posts by subject. Then turn these subjects into your blogs rather than the bloggers. So if you have a number of internet marketing bloggers create blogs on specific subjects such as SEO, PPC, usability, email marketing etc.

Search engines look for content based on keywords. Therefore a blog based on a subject area contributed to by a number of bloggers will work better than a blog on a variety of areas written by one blogger. It will also be more useful for your readers, which after all is the point of all this, isn't it?

Friday, 21 November 2008

A tea mat with sugar and milk preferences

For part two of my tea-related internet sites I bring you the amazing tea-stain.com! Enter your colleagues names and tea (or coffee) preferences and get a mat for your tea tray.
A tea stain mat and a Chomp bar
Which would you choose?
Chomp or mat?

Never again will you have to scribble down everyone's needs on a manky post-it note or god forbid, try to remember what everyone wants.

The only thing that makes this invention maybe less clever is the fact that when you make your tea-stain mat you'll find they want £5.99 off you so they can post it out. I was expecting a PDF so I could print it out myself! Grr...

And what happens when someone is made redundant (a real risk in the current economic climate)? Do I have to go back to tea stain and spend another £5.99 removing them from the tea mat? And with less people in my team the price we'll have to pay each for the joy of having a tea mat will increase. I know that many people in my team will baulk at the suggestion that I want £1.20 off them to update our tea mat. You could buy 12 Chomps for that price.

This invention has failed at the final hurdle I’m sad to say...

Back to the manky post-it note - now that WAS a good invention.

Other tea-related internet sites
Part one - A random tea-maker generator
Part three - A tea colour chart on a mug

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Only print specific sections of a web page and save the world

P*ss off advertisers the world over by only printing out the bits of a web page you want.
PrintWhatYouLike.com logo
The oxymoron that is
environmentally friendly printing

To be fair I’ve been doing this for years and single handedly saving the rainforests and defending pandas by copying any text from a site I want to read in a non digital format into Notepad and printing from there.

However you often want more than just the text (like pictures) and you've only a big red LED light where your laser printer should have a green LED light for presence of magenta ink and you know that printing all the adverts on a web page will push it over the edge.

So for you I present "PrintWhatYouLike.com, save the money, save the environment, print what you like". Really if I felt they were truly serious about saving the money and saving the environment they wouldn't be encouraging printing at all but I guess they're half way there and "save a bit of money, and a part of the environment" doesn't have the same ring to it.

Thanks to my colleague for forwarding me the link, it's really straightforward; the site lets you input the URL you wish to print then remove page elements before printing, such as MPUs, side bars, removing background. It also works the other way round - you can just select the bit of the page you want and isolate it. Internet Explorer did crash when I tried big manoeuvres when printing my own blog such as removing the background or isolating one blog post. Firefox on the other hand coped perfectly and quickly.

I rarely print stuff and when I do I just do my copy and paste to Notepad trick - plus a lot of sites have print style sheets these days which cut out clutter anyway but nevertheless it's a clever gadget with a good heart. Just remember to only use it in Firefox.

Friday, 17 October 2008

How to optimise your PDFs for SEO

Optimise PDFs for search engines, much as you would any other page on your site. PDFs are returned in Google search listings just like HTML pages.

Optimise PDFs for search engine results pagesHere is a simple guide to optimising PDFs, to summarise:
  • Keyword optimise, keep relevant, as you should any page on your site
  • Text can be indexed, images can't, keep it texty
  • Ensure PDF is not duplicate content
  • Set a reading order
  • Hyperlink to the PDF on your site with the PDF title
  • Hyperlink within the PDF with relevant anchor text
  • Include a company footer
  • Input meta data - a step by step guide to inputting PDF meta data
  • Ensure the file size is not to big
  • Relevant file name - although not mentioned in this guide, choosing a relevant, clear file name is also important. This will become the URL (i.e. www.site.com/my_guide_to_scratching.pdf) so if it is obvious this may encourage clickthrough from search engines. It will also help you find the file in your back office and analytics!
Related posts
Tips to optimise videos - SEO
Growing strange cacti - a keyword optimisation test

Thursday, 16 October 2008

What www.google.com does for SEO and keywords

I've just put www.google.com through SEOQuake (a handy Firefox plugin that provides keyword density and meta information) as part of my previous post about page title tags. I wanted to see whether Google used the <meta name=title> tag or not (it doesn't).
Google Queen Elizabeth logo doodle
Search royalty

What i found was the following:

Title tag: "Google"
Meta keywords: None
Meta description: None

Keyword density
Number of words on www.google.com: 56
Just 3 words are repeated more than once and they are:
  • "Web"
  • "Search"
  • "Google" (and "Google" is also in the title tag)
It's that simple. Google's home page is very clear about its purposes and I am in no doubt that the fact the above three words are the only duplicated ones is not an accident.

I wouldn't recommend leaving out keywords or descriptions for any site, however i also wouldn't tell Pele how to play football. Google owns search, they can do what they want, and when it comes to their home page the content is all that matters. I'm sure they might have a couple of links to boost their search rankings too...

Related posts
Growing strange cacti - a keyword optimisation test

The difference between <title> and <meta name="title"> tags

Use the <title> tag for your page title. Don't bother with a <meta name="Title"> tag.

How i've got this far and not realised this is a mystery. It's only on the back of an email to one of my suppliers in which i asked them to change all the automated titles on my website that i discovered this. I asked them to change the "meta title tags" so they did. They took my word to the letter and so just changed the <meta name="title"> tag leaving the <title> tag as it was, not much help.

Thanks to a really helpful description here, i now know the difference.

The title tag appears in your HTML like this:
<title>Your page title</title>
The meta title tag appears in your HTML like this:
<meta name="title" content="Your page title">
The <title> tag is what feeds your browser title and is also what will appear in Google, see how i've subtely circled where the <title> tag appears in the two screenshots below.

screenshot of web browser page title

screenshot of a google search result with the page title highlighted

As far as i can tell from a wide number of forums, blogs, SEO advice sites the <meta name="title"> tag is pointless. It is possible that some search engines (but not Google, Yahoo, MSN) use it but i wouldn't bother with it all.

This point is further backed up by looking in the source code of the top sites on the web, the following sites do not contain the <meta name="title"> at all, they just have a <title> tag:

Saturday, 4 October 2008

What font / text size online and how to set it in the CSS

Setting website text sizes seems like a fairly straightforward subject. Yet I thoroughly confused myself for a good couple of hours while trying to figure out how to answer my friend's question. I finally found my simple answer - Set your font sizes in CSS and use percentages or em units.

In metal type, the em was the height of the metal body from which the letter rises
Colour by numbers
has never been this easy
This all came about as my friend sent me an email asking, "What's the appropriate text size for websites?" My first thought was, "Clearly I’ve received an email not destined for me, I’ll now redirect it to someone who actually knows something about building websites," but then realising all my techy friends would answer me in a language light years beyond my understanding I’d figure I’d try work it out myself.

Now as I’ve discovered this question is completely unnecessary once you understand how text size should be set in CSS.

You can set the size of your text in three ways:
  • Units: ems, points and pixels (I had no idea what em size was either, look it up on Wikipedia)
  • Pre-defined keywords (like small, medium, large)
  • Percentages
As far as I can tell most websites seem to use a combination of all 3 methods, indeed when it comes to using units some websites also seem to use a bizarre combination of ems, points, and pixels, effectively hacking text size into the web design.

Clearly this is not the way nature intended websites to be built. The W3C suggests you use a size of 1em (or 100%) and also states that you should never use point size or pixel size.

Changing text size in Internet ExplorerNow there's a reason not to use point or pixel size. The first and probably most important reason would be that by restricting yourself to an absolute length you are preventing people from changing text size themselves using the text size function in their browsers.

The second reason would be because a specific set size, ie.10pt or 5 pixels, may look good on your computer in Internet Explorer but open the same site in Firefox, Opera, Chrome or Safari and the size may look smaller or bigger as different browsers render text differently. The same may happen across different computers and operating systems.

As the W3C page says, if you want different sizes throughout your page - like a bigger heading, smaller footer text - then set the base text size to 1em (or 100%) and then adjust the other elements by a percent of the base. This means that regardless of your computer settings everything is in proportion. So to have your main text at 100% you may want your main heading (h1) to be a lot bigger so you set that to 150% for example.

Go to the W3C site for more information on CSS and specifically setting font sizes in CSS.

Related posts
SEO problems of white text on a dark background (Jul 2008)
Improve and check your website's readability (Mar 2009)
Check your web design in different browsers online (Jun 2009)

Monday, 29 September 2008

Google and Max Zorin, Bond baddies set on world domination

With the launch of the first mobile using Google's Android software it got me thinking how far Google have managed to infiltrate our lives. With Android, it's a further invasion into my everyday life, Google will be following me away from my computer and into my pocket (if i have a mobile with Android of course).

This gradual world domination reminded me of someone, a James Bond villain, back in the days when Bond villains were psychopathic and wanted power more than money, it was Max Zorin. Don't follow me? Let me elaborate with bios for both Google and Zorin:

Christopher Walken as Max Zorin
Max Zorin
Larry Page and Sergey Bring as Google
Google
Profile
Born 31 March 1943, in Dresden, as a product of Nazi medical experimentation during World War II, in which pregnant women were injected with massive quantities of steroids in an attempt to create "super-children." The few babies that survived grew to become extraordinarily intelligent — but also psychopathic with manic blood lust and unpredictable mood swings.Born in January 1996, as a product of experimentation during Larry Page's research project, in which search engines were injected with massive quantities of backlinks in an attempt to create a "super search engine." Initial experiment 'backrub' was killed off to create Google, an extraordinarily comprehensive web giant - but also psychopathic with manic start-up company acquisition lust.
Well spoken and extraordinarily intelligent, but with a sharp temper and a clinical background, Zorin rose to become a powerful businessman in the microchip market bent on crippling his competition and forming a monopoly.A corporate philosophy based on the principle that you can make money without doing evil, but with privacy concerns and cookie abuse, Google expanded quickly through a total of 53 acquisitions, crippling their competition and being accused of monopoly.
His business dealings are shady, to say the least, and the villain will brutally close a business deal if ever negotiations do not go his way.Their business dealings are shady, to say the least.
His wealth is undisputable and associates with a range of businessmen from a variety of countries to gamble on the most unlikely investments - often with outstandingly lucrative consequences.Their wealth is undisputable with total equity of over US$22 billion and over 19,000 employees from a variety of countries to gamble on the most unlikely investments - often with outstandingly lucrative consequences.
Despite his massive entourage, Zorin harbours a compromising secret - he has been informing on the UK and American governments; passing information to the KGB in exchange for a silent helping hand in business.Despite their massive entourage, Google harbour a compromising secret - personal data on anyone who has ever walked within 6 feet of an online computer; possible worries over passing personal search data to girlfriends, close friends and your mum.
Scheme
In the hopes of casting a massive monopoly on the US and global microchip production, Zorin plans Operation Mainstrike to afflict a "natural" disaster by flooding the San Andreas fault, which runs under Silicon Valley, the world's primary source of microchips.In the hopes of casting a massive monopoly on the US and global digital world, Google plans Operation Googleplex to ensure every digital item from mobile phones, to video, to software is Google-ised taking out Microsoft, the world's primary source of digital domination.
Zorin attempts to buy off Sutton Oil and even the executives at San Francisco City Hall in order to conduct his manic plan. Unfortunately, his lust for winning and dirty cheating at horse racing leaves him open to suspicion by the Jockey Association and in turn, MI6.Google attempts to buy off Viacom and even the Scottish Premier League in order to conduct their manic plan. Unfortunately, their lust for winning and dirty eating at the donut store leave them open to suspicion by the Jockey Association and in turn, the U.S. district court judge.
007 uncovers a trail of dodgy deals, rash and ruthless buy-outs and even murders - all in aid of furthering his manic lust for death and destruction.Felix Lighter, to this point a character in the left hand side of this table, flicks between narratives and uncovers a trail of dodgy deals, rash and ruthless buy-outs and even April Fool's Day jokes - all in aid of furthering their manic lust for world domination.
Zorin's plan is foiled by Bond and Zorin's former lover and henchman May Day, who joins Bond's side after Zorin attempts to kill her and his men and sacrifices her life to ensure that the bomb set by Zorin could not trigger the quake.Google's plan is foiled by Lighter and Google's former lover and henchman Yahoo!, who joins Lighter's side after Google attempts to kill it and its exclamation mark and sacrifices its life by joining Microsoft to ensure world domination can not be completed.
Zorin is later killed in a confrontation with Bond, when he falls into the waters of San Francisco Bay from one of the support cables of the Golden Gate Bridge.Google is later killed in a confrontation with Lighter, when it falls off its home page and lands as a footer on MSN search.
Gadgets
Beyond the chateau, Zorin travels in style, onboard attention grabbing zeppelins - the largest of which is fitted out with a very expansive boardroom, sleeping quarters for all and a nasty staircase that sees disagreeable business associates slide to their death.Beyond the Googleplex with its giant rubber balls, swimming pools, dinosaurs and spaceships, Google travels in style, onboard attention grabbing architecture - the Zurich base of which is fitted out with a very expansive boardroom, sleeping quarters for all and a nasty staircase that sees disagreeable business associates and hungry employees slide to lunch.
Personal appearance
Blonde hairWhite background
Blue eyesBlue gees, red oh and ees, yellow oh and green el
Quotes
"For centuries alcemists tried to make gold from base metals. Today, we make microchips from silicon, which is common sand, but far better than gold.""Too few people in computer science are aware of some of the informational challenges in biology and their implications for the world. We can store an incredible amount of data very cheaply." - Sergey Brin
"You discharged her, so she and her accomplice came here to kill you. Then they set fire to the office, to conceal the crime but they were trapped in the elevator and perished in the flames.""We are currently not planning on conquering the world." - Sergey Brin
Sources: Bio lovingly nicked from Wiki and Bond fansite. Quotes nabbed from IMDB.
Sources: Bio fabricated with the help of Google, Wiki and my fertile imagination. Quotes nabbed from here.

Obviously this is all completely untrue and inaccurate, besides, Google will return in...

Moontaker, The World Is Not Enough

"From the most exotic locations on Earth, Google will take you out of this world!"

Related pages
Don't let Google boss your website around
Should Google News pay publishers for their content?

Monday, 22 September 2008

Manipulate the BBC's most emailed stories

The BBC's 'most emailed' stories is based on very small numbers. So small in fact that by emailing yourself a few times you can manipulate the results, apparently...

BBC's most emailed stories widgetI read about this in the latest issue of New Scientist (scroll half way down the page to “Rigging the ranking”).

Chris McManus in the above article managed to get an old story to appear at number 4 by emailing himself 5 times. I've just tried this (albeit at 10am, which may be a relatively busy time) and emailed a random story to 12 different people and it hasn't appeared.

I would say this sort of manipulation is clearly on the wrong side of the SEO law so i'm not going to recommend it but it's interesting nevertheless to see that a site as large as the BBC still only has very small figures to make up it's most emailed stories, if McManus' story is indeed true.

Looking at this on Wikipedia provides a link to a PDF article from the International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security called Statistics Hacking - Exploiting Vulnerabilities in News Websites (by Amrinder Arora) which identified BBC vulnerabilities back in March 2007. There must be spammers out there capable of manipulating this on a large scale, hiding their proxy, using multiple emails e.t.c.

I can't imagine the BBC are oblivious to this even though they have left it for over a year so i'll let you know if they come knocking on my door.

Related posts
BBC increase most read stories to top 10
Online popularity culture is killing good journalism - writing content for the benefit of most read and most emailed widgets
Feedjit widget provides your site's most popular pages

Friday, 12 September 2008

Remove an O from the Google logo

So Google becomes Gogle with a simple bit of URL playing. This is originally in a great post on SEOmoz.

UPDATE: They've fixed this, it no longer works as of May 2009 :(
  1. Type anything into google search.
  2. When you get your result append the following to the end of the URL string:
    &num=100&start=990
  3. Then watch as Google drops an O out of its logo (the logo at the bottom of the page).
screenshot of Google losing the O from it's logo

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Google's link: operator not an accurate backlink checker

Don't use Google's link: operator to get your backlink count. Use Yahoo Site Explorer or Google Webmaster Tools.

This may be due to my own SEO naivety but up until recently I trusted the link: operator from the standard Google search to be providing me with a list of mine (or my competitors') backlinks. However I read the following on SEOmoz today:
"...Google made their link query useless in 2003 and MSN disabled theirs earlier this year."
I recoiled in shock that nobody ever told me this and set out to find out the truth.

The official word on this from Google's Matt Cutts reinforces the pointlessness of the Google link: operator:
"The link: command has always returned a small fraction of the backlinks that Google knows about, mainly for historical reasons (e.g. limited disk space on the machines that served up “link:” data)."
So how do I accurately measure backlinks?

  • Yahoo Site Explorer - Any SEO expert worth their salt points straight to Yahoo Site Explorer as the king of backlinks because unlike Google Webmaster Tools you can check competitor backlinks.
    Other services include export result to TSV, exclude on include internal links, search specific URLs.
    It doesn't prioritise link weighting and it also includes links designated 'nofollow'.
  • Google Webmaster Tools - A really tidy backlink checker that lists backlinks per page that you can look at and download. Your site has to be validated on Google Webmaster Tools to access this so you can't check competitor sites.
    Like Yahoo it doesn't prioritise link weighting and it also includes links designated 'nofollow'.
For my blog URL the results of each tool can be seen below:

Backlink checkerNumber of links
Yahoo Site Explorer20
Google Webmaster Tools25
Google Link: operator1

As you can see there was still variation between Google and Yahoo. A quick look showed that Google had picked up a few more links from Technorati than Yahoo did. Despite this, either tool will provide an accurate measure of trends – whether you are getting more or less backlinks each month and how quickly they are accumulating.

There are other backlink checkers out there but I’m just mentioning these two as these seem to be the most accurate from all the sites I’ve visited. If you know of others, please let me know.

Also an honourable mention to this extensive analysis of external links I found on my travels.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Increase Google page rank by domain commitment & love

Get the Google loveDomain strength or commitment is essential to improve your Google ranking. But there's no quick fix, this is the one bit of SEO that can only be fixed by time and patience.

Google's algorithm is always going to be a mystery, like the ingredients of Coca Cola or how Colonel Sanders gets his chicken so crispy. Many have had a crack at figuring it out, in fact I keep coming back to a SEOmoz article from two years ago which although just a guess is likely to highlight the main factors in the Google algorithm.

At the heart of it all is the mystical page rank but I won't talk about that. What I want to look at here is the oft forgotten 'domain strength' or your commitment to the web. It's unclear quite how important Google believes this to be but I’ve been reminded about it by various respected SEO professionals at a couple of conferences so far this year. And the SEOmoz article above puts it on a par with inbound links.

What Google sees as commitment is your site's importance to a particular subject over time using the following criteria:
  • History: How long has your URL existed online
  • Future planning: How long is your URL bought for / got remaining
  • Consistency: Has the site provided the same information for its entire history. If you try and change the focus of a site Google may not like you.
    • Extreme example: Don't have a site selling cars for 5 years than change the same domain to a site about how to care for children.
    • Also it's worth checking the previous usage of any domains you buy to find out what they have been used for previously as well as whether they might be associated with spam / banned from search engines. There are a number of ways to discover your domain history.
  • Authenticity: Are you trying to cheat or spam search engines in any way? Whatever you do with your website be honest to the search engines - if it was previously a spam site, tell them and ask for re-inclusion. Be patient, pick a good domain then stick at it for many years.
Like a good relationship, your love-in with Google can only improve with age.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Add Google Analytics to blogger

Check out this post on how to add Google Analytics to blogger sites.

It's really simple and the post above is a step by step process. Essentially all you need to do is add the Google tracking code directly before the </body> tag in your HTML template.

I'm already on Google Analytics as an administrator for my work websites so obviously didn't want to add my website profile as everyone at work would see it. That's when i discovered that just because you may have administrator access doesn't mean that you have your own 'Google Analytics account' - you just have a login. Within Google Analytics you can have access to a number of different accounts.

So if you're in the same situation as me make sure you click 'Create New Account...' in the top right of Google Analytics then you can edit who can see it, who has access and get tracking code specific to you. You will also become the main contact for that account as you input your name and details.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Can Cuil take search volume from Google?

Cuil launched today. Set up by former Google workers it's another search engine.
Two boxers fighting, one wearing the Google logo and one with Cuil and Search Wikia logos
Will Google get beaten up?
(Original image from Wikimedia Commons, additional editing by Ed)
Will it be better than Google? Difficult to tell. Will it matter? Probably not.

The problem now for rival search engines to Google is not just creating an awesome search engine to compete with Google but getting people to leave the 'Google method' of searching.

We're so used to how Google works, what it looks like, the results it gives, that even if Google is sub standard to another search engine, it still gives the results you want 99% of the time, it's simple to use and we trust it. Going to Google, typing in your search, pressing enter, flicking down the results, picking the right one is as second nature as answering your phone when it starts to ring.

Any new search engines hoping to bite into Google's share will have to be so good that people will happily put up with having to learn a new way to search (however slight the changes may be).

For example, when you search in Cuil you get results in 3 columns (or 2) with pictures. Already I'm slightly annoyed at how I'm having to look horizontally and vertically for the results / it doesn't give as long a URL string as Google (just as much as fits and ...) / there's a category search i don't understand / the text is a little smaller / it takes a few fractions of a second longer (probably due to search volume on it's first day).

Now if the search results are significantly better - ie. you find exactly what you are looking for - then Cuil could start to get a fan base from the millions of people who depend upon search engines to do their jobs but will this ever migrate to the majority of all web searchers? Plus for the first few searches I've done there isn't a lot of different between it and the Google, so why move?

Another search engine that's still plodding along is Search Wikia. I'm a big fan and regular contributor to Wikipedia so i have a lot of hope for their user led search engine. I'd like to think that Open Source will always win due to the sheer quantity of contributors. However it's only the recent upgrade last month that's made me even consider that this could start taking search volume from Google.

I'll keep testing all three for like search terms over the next few months and keep a tally of which helps me most. Which will win, well I'll keep an open mind.

Google can't last for ever. The world will run out of electricity at some point.

Visit the sites: Google | Cuil | Wikia Search

Related posts
Introduction to WolframAlpha search engine (May 09)

Friday, 25 July 2008

Online popularity culture is killing good journalism

Sites with 'most popular' box

BBC
Times Online
CNN
Reuters
New York Times
The Sun
Sites without 'most popular' box

Guardian
CNET
Telegraph

Don't quote me on the above information but it was correct when i looked
Pretty much every news site has a 'most read articles' and a 'most emailed articles' box somewhere on every page - indeed i wrote a post about a plugin that did just that a few months ago.

Journalists writing online are increasingly paid or incentivised based on how many hits they get. I was at a conference held by one of the UK's top online publishers just two weeks ago where i was told that all the journalists are incentivised on clicks to their articles as well as general site traffic.

Now this isn't surprising. Most online publishers make money from advertising. The more hits you get the more of an attractive proposition you are for advertisers. And if you are charging on a cost per impression basis then hits are your mainstay - or Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in buzzword business-speak.

The problem with this, as stated in a Lee Siegel interview i was reading in New Scientist this morning (subscription only), is that:
"Popular culture is becoming popularity culture, where quality no longer matters. News, for example, is becoming a popularity contest as never before."
By trying to ensure all your contributors are aiming for popularity through high hits and high email referral there is a real danger that news may start concentrating on quick wins. The subjects that get the most people's attention, that can be read quickly, and that provoke an instant reaction start to take over from often longer articles, that are well researched and present a deeper opinion but may take longer to digest.

The problem with this from a purely SEO point of view is that it is no coincidence that these high hit 'popular' articles are known as quick wins. Yes they get the traffic on the day of publication and may result in higher unique users as more non-regular visitors come to your site attracted by the bait, but that doesn't necessarily mean they attract many links that last - and this is how you get long term sustainable traffic.

Good articles that last are often just as relevant two years after publication as they were when they were written. These can continue picking up links from external sites long after the popular story about a high profile celebrity is forgotten about.

I DO think that journalists need to be incentivised on different metrics as writing for the web is a different matter to writing for offline publications BUT part of this strategy needs to take into account your long term link building strategy and the importance of building up a number of resource articles in your web archive.

One way out of this fall into popularity contests is the 'top rated article' box that some sites (such as the register) have started to employ but i still don't think this is the perfect solution as some of the best articles and those that get the most links are the ones that polarise opinion. It's clear that publishing still hasn't quite grasped the potential of the internet.

Related posts
BBC increase most read stories to top 10
Manipulate the BBC's most emailed stories

Monday, 21 July 2008

SEO problems of white text on a dark background

I wanted to find out how Google treats white writing on darker backgrounds. Design issues aside I'm looking at whether there is any impact on SEO of the colours you choose for your website.

Well first off, the Google spider is colour blind as far as i can tell. It just jumps from link to link regardless of what colour they are. There is an exception to this of course and that is invisible text - if the spider detects the same colour text and background (for example white on white) it may well note this and ban your site from the listings (more on invisible text). So maybe not as blind as i first thought, but the spider isn't going to not visit your content just because of the colour.

However Google doesn't just rank your site on whether it can reach your content - it's concerned with links, and links appear if your site is relevant and easy to use.

Easy to use site = More links = Higher ranking

As to whether you use white on black or vice versa it’s all down to contrast – too much is hard to read and too little is equally hard.

The following points are from this massive discussion on background and text colours:
  • There is a trade-off between contrast and readability: too little contrast makes things hard to read, but too much contrast creates so much vibration that it diminishes readability.
  • Black is the worst dark colour to use as the contrast is the most (too) extreme
  • Screens aren’t white text – they are shining white light – very different to reading on paper
  • Unless you have a print style sheet that changes it to black on white you’re going to use lots of ink printing the page
  • Most images on a black background create a very high-contrast situation that is more difficult to look at for a long time than lighter backgrounds
So none of this condemns light text on a dark background but make sure you do check that your site is easy to use / read and is accessible before settling on your site's colours. Personally I'd stick to dark colours on light backgrounds.

There's a contrast checker here if you are colour blind - for non-colour blind readers i don't think this is a huge amount of help; if you're in doubt whether the contrast is big enough then it isn't, I don't need a contrast checker to tell me that red on pink is 'sort of' contrasting. Plus this doesn't say 'that is awful!' when you choose black on luminous yellow.

And finally, yes black backgrounds do use less electricity than white backgrounds. So it's your choice, but just don't make something that causes dizziness, fainting or looks like one of those Magic Eye drawings from the 1990s.

Related posts
What font / text size online and how to set it in the CSS (Oct 2008)
Improve and check your website's readability (Mar 2009)
Check your web design in different browsers online (Jun 2009)

Monday, 14 July 2008

Spammers target web nerds with Homer's email address

Now most spamming, even clever spamming, tends to reek of spam to even fairly innocent web users. But this recent scam reported on the Register (full details of the scam) about using a screenname from a Simpsons' episode, that was originally in use by none other than writer/producer Matt Selman, was particularly crafty.

I'm actually quite impressed with the ingenuity of these spammers but they've fallen at the last hurdle by picking on someone their own size!
  1. They've thought of a really clever way of contacting people where the person is likely to trust them and they can send them a personal message without it being picked up by a spam filter.
  2. Then they've sent them a message advertising a 'web only' Simpson's episode that links to spam.
  3. What they forgot was that the only people who watched this episode and then added chunkylover53 to their buddy list were nerds!
Don't target the most streetwise web users around. Nerds talk to each other on forums, they check before they click, and then they post blog articles (and another) about it to warn others.

You need to be targeting the elderly and the young, not walking up to 15 rugby players and asking for a fight.

I've always wondered why such technically adept spammers don't earn big money working for IT firms, now i know why. D'oh!

Related posts
7 top tips to avoid email spam, phishing and fraud

Friday, 11 July 2008

Convert video files online

The following two websites will convert your videos into different formats online - without any software downloads - such as converting flvs to mpegs or avi files.

There are decent programmes out there to download that convert files and i imagine they are probably better at it and more customisable than online convertors however that's a post for another day once I've got my head round them all.

Yesterday I had to quickly change an flv into a format so that it could be placed into a PowerPoint presentation, unfortunately the video programme i have (Adobe Premiere Elements) won't import flvs (although it will export) and i don't have admin rights on my work PC to install programmes so i needed another option.

Lizard from top of media convert website I first tried media convert which converts files 'while you wait'. You might have to do quite a bit of playing with the settings as some files don't convert particularly well into others plus the site isn't particularly user friendly. Anyway i successfully converted the flv into an avi and an MPEG that worked perfectly well. Also the site logo is a lizard or possibly a chameleon - lovely.

Chameleon from top of Zamzar website Secondly i also gave Zamzar a go which does the same thing as media convert except you provide an email address and a link to the file is emailed to you once processed. This is a lot cleaner and user friendly than media convert although to the point of making things so simple it seems to limit the amount you can do about the various conversion settings. I successfully got the flv converted to a WMV using Zamzar. And this site also has chameleons on it.

Take your pick, neither are going to set the world alight in terms of video quality or techie functionality but a quick life saver they might be.

Related posts
Download YouTube clips and a bit about flv files (Nov 2007)

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Flash being searched by Google

It was announced today by a number of news sources that Google and Yahoo (where's MSN?!) have been working with Adobe to get SWF (Flash) files indexed by their respective search engines.

Any text included in these SWF files will be indexed by Google from today apparently, and by Yahoo at some point in the future.

One of my main problems with the use of Flash extensively on websites has been that it cannot be indexed by Google and so is of no benefit to SEO. And if noone is visiting your site then what's the point of having some funky flash graphic on it anyway?

However from a creative point of view i think Flash can look fantastic and do so much more than HTML. If it can now also be successfully indexed then i take it all back bring forth the era of flash websites...

...hmm.

Useful link: Google blog post on improved flash indexing

Digital editions should be killed

Digital editions don't provide the functionality of a website and you are wasting your content by using them.

What are they?
Digital editions are online magazines that physically look like a print magazine.

Example of a digital magazine, iGizmo, Issue 7

These have been on the scene for many years but I've so far managed to ignore them and tried to convince others to do so too. I've never had a specific reason for this dislike beyond the feeling that doing something that looks like it's offline online seems wrong. To be honest I'd thought they'd go away but they haven't, in fact they seem just as popular as ever.

So I've recently been looking at them in more depth, well if advertisers are willing to spend money on them and people are willing to read them or even pay for them then i can't ignore them.

Examples include the lad's mag Monkey (NSFW) and a whole host of print titles which you can get in digital magazine format (men's health, business week, hello...). They come in two main types - reader-based and browser-based - the former requiring a download and the other online (with the use of flash).

No search engine indexation
My first problem with digital magazines is their inability to function with search engines. They are flash, Google doesn't like flash. However I'd heard that some suppliers of browser-based digital magazines are also providing a HTML page for each flash page so allowing the magazine to be indexed by Google. I wanted to find out more.

So i rang up a digital magazine supplier (CEROS) and battled through the sales spiel until i was passed to a technical member of their team to properly explain what they did to produce this page and what it looked like. I learnt that they are just outputting the PDF (which is what a digital magazine is made from to begin with, and flash graphics and animation is added in later) to HTML. Simple!

Well yes and no. Simple is what it does - it just takes the text in the PDF and puts it into a HTML page that looks like a simple text file. Not pretty but does the job - some of it will be indexed. All the flash content put in after this process (such as animations) won't have any HTML equivalent unless you type it in yourself.
Normal page of digital edition with full flash, java script and imagesHTML page of digital edition, just the text
Normal digital edition pageHTML digital edition page (click to enlarge)
Yes, it is black text on a grey background but then i guess it is for search engines only...
This is essentially hacking apart a PDF file to turn it into a website. The time and energy doing this would seem better spent copying and pasting every page into notepad and saving every image and then creating a website with the functionality of, well a website.

Update: Google now indexes flash, this doesn't change my opinions though.

Recreating offline experiences
Why shouldn't you recreate offline experiences online? Well the following are my reasons why and I'm not alone:
  • Zooming: If you want to read you have to zoom in to the page and move the page around - This seems ridiculous when you can fit an article with images on a well designed webpage and see it without any zooming, just a scrolling down of the page to read more.
  • It's not interactive: The beauty of the internet is its interactivity. You can't comment on digital magazines (mostly), it's difficult to link to it, you can't print it without using up all your ink.
  • It's a dead end: The internet is a city and you surf from website to website like you would walk from house to house. Digital magazines don't share this world, they're a web cul-de-sac.
  • Where do you go from here? Your digital magazine is a static screenshot. They'll be no dynamic links on the side of your digital magazine articles linking to newer articles. Once it's done it's done.
  • Usage: Why would i want to flick through a virtual magazine with turning pages? I know I'm online, I realise this is a computer and I'm looking at a screen.
  • Browser function: Digital magazines are flash - you can't press the back button on explorer when you turn a page and want to go back.
  • Accessibility: I'm not sure how accessible these are but looking at the HTML page i'm not hopeful
Longevity
Content is king online. Good content will gain links over time, the more good content in your website the better you will perform in searches. More good content = more good links = higher Google ranking. But if you are putting your fantastic content into a format that is not as compatible with Google as a normal HTML web page and it doesn't lend itself to being linked to you are wasting that content.

So if you're thinking about using digital editions only use it if you want something short term - it may well provide instant hits when emailed out, and immediate revenue from advertisers excited by its interactivity. But long term, putting good content in a search engine friendly format will gain exponentially more hits over time and building relationships with advertisers on your website may well provide more revenue over time.

Friday, 27 June 2008

New domain names allow hilarious play on words

Dot cotton from eastenders So, ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the net regulator, has voted to relax the rules on "top-level" domain names such as .com or .uk. Potentially allowing anyone to put anything after the dot - all requests will go through Icann. You can't buy these domains but you can 'apply' for them and your application will be subject to their evaluation process. Well if anyone can, ICANN can.

I've never even heard of ICANN, sometimes i think that all 'not for profit' organisations are just one huge organisation with a massive network of websites and brand names that changes to suit the story of the day.

Anyway i'm going to send in some applications, so far i've decided to apply for the following:
  • .cotton
  • .dash
  • .matrix
I'll be a millionaire by Christmas.

Friday, 13 June 2008

How to complain to the police about an eBay seller

This was quite a useful guide on eBay that I linked to from my 'I was scammed on eBay post'. Unfortunately it's been removed so i've just copied and pasted it here from the Google cache. Originally written by eBay member groundhog.day on the eBay reviews & guides section with the title 'How To Complain To The Police About A Seller'.


It is an inevitable consequence of eBaying that from time to time you will encounter a rotten apple attempting to sour the whole barrel.

Although this is a relatively rare occurence it helps to know the best way to get the Police to take you seriously.

This is how I recommend folk approach the Police to report a seller they believe has behaved dishonestly.

-------------------------------

The first thing to do is to ring your local Police station and make an appointment to see a CID officer - don’t frustrate yourself by arguing your case with a desk clerk in reception - they are programmed to dismiss cases of non delivery as civil matters.

When you attend the Police station you will need to have hard copies of any emails you have received in relation to the auction, if possible make sure these emails display the headers. If you don’t know how to make headers show - ask, they’re important.

Print out a screen shot of the auction you won and add to it your proof of your payment.

You should also make sure that you can supply the Police with the user names of other winners, together with the item numbers of all the sales. You are building a case that can’t be dismissed as a civil matter - bear in mind that third party emails won’t be able to be accepted. In other words, emails forwarded to one member from another victim cannot be considered as part of your complaint so don’t waste time gathering them.

The Police Officer that you speak to will hopefully be aware of the intricacies of eBay - almost every Police Station now has at least one specialist Officer with knowledge of the site - however it is possible that they won't be available.

Just in case the detective you speak to isn't au fait with eBay, bring the contact details on the following page with you - he or she will need them to contact eBay.

http://pages.ebay.co.uk/safetycentre/law_enforcement.html

Once you have received a crime number be prepared to relay it to any of the other buyers who you are able to contact. They can add that information to the details they supply to the Officer who takes their report.

Whilst all this is ongoing you should, of course, continue with the relevant eBay standard protection claims.

Finally - be realistic about what you are hoping to achieve.

The wheels of justice are notoriously slow but they do turn and they will get there eventually so don‘t give up.

Good Luck.

:0)

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Do rel=nofollow tags on internal links benefit your site's SEO?

Well yes, using rel=nofollows on your internal link structure is an advanced SEO technique but it can help to improve your SEO. [See update at end of page, it's likely this technique no longer works].

I asked this question on LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago and what follows is a summary of some of the responses I received and other research I’ve done online.

What is it?

“A site may have many pages that have the opportunity to get crawled and indexed in the SERPs (search engine results pages). You're also looking at near infinite choices for how you interlink all those pages. Out of all those permutations, there is one configuration that is the most optimal from an SEO perspective.

That's because it maximizes the flow of link juice (e.g., PageRank if you're speaking purely in Google terms) to your most important pages and minimizes (or cuts off completely) the flow of link juice to your least important pages.” - Stephan Spencer at Search Engine Land

By adding rel=nofollow to a link you are telling a spider not to follow that link. This was invented to be used in comment fields to prevent comment spam. However as all it does is prevent link juice being passed on, SEO specialists have realised it can be used (completely legally, Google even approves it!) to sculpt internal linking structures.

Example: If you have 100 internal links on a page you are diluting that page’s link juice. By adding rel=nofollow to 90 of the less important links the 10 that remain have 10 times more link juice and subsequently benefit the pages they link to more.

Site structure
Before I get onto the use of rel=nofollow it’s worth considering that this technique is used to fine tune internal linking structure. There’s no point in fine tuning your internal linking structure if it’s sculpted incorrectly in the first place.

“The size and shape of your site's navigational hierarchy is your blunt instrument and rel=nofollow is your scalpel.” - Stephan Spencer at Search Engine Land

“One of the most powerful, and most underdeveloped, on-page SEO tactics is rejigging your internal hierarchical linking structure to optimise the flow of link juice.” This makes sense from an SEO point of view but also from a user point of view – if all your information is arranged in a logical structure it will make for a better user experience.

Using rel=nofollow
So if your site structure is as perfect as you want it, you’ve tried card sorting, user testing and the hippo (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) is happy then it might be time to look at using rel=nofollow.

First check you have a good xml and HTML sitemap on your site. As Tom Griffin stated in the LinkedIn answer, “The goal is not to block the page from being indexed - the goal is to funnel internal authority throughout your site in the smartest way possible”.

Then you need to select which pages on your site you identify as the most important (and least important) for the relevant keywords you target. This in itself is a worthwhile task for any webmaster. There could be many pages on your site which rank highly for certain keywords but are underused due to being buried in your site structure. The links from those pages could be a massive boost to other pages on your site.

Next is the big one - look at the pages themselves and identify all the links. Clearly this could be a mammoth task even for a site of a few 100 pages so start with the biggie – the home page.

I haven’t tried this yet but I’d recommend creating or using some sort of database or record of which links are on or off (rel=nofollow) to best understand the impact you are having on your site structure. As mentioned above you don’t want to risk creating a dead end and cutting off a page.

Real life examples
SEOmoz have implemented rel=nofollow on their site and witnessed a 20% rise in traffic. However others are more sceptical; Matt Cutts from Google says that nofollowing your internals is a 2nd order effect. It will best optimise the traffic you have rather than gain you more. Essentially he believes there are others things you can do first for a better return on investment.

Conclusion
And my final question on LinkedIn was why aren’t the big sites doing it?

Bbc.co.uk, theregister.co.uk, look in their source code and you won’t find one rel=nofollow tag. The only answer I can think of (and the only answer I got on LinkedIn from Brian Rogers) is that if you have a perfect link structure and your pages rank very highly due to large amounts of external links what difference will fine tuning your internal links make? Or maybe it’s just too complicated?

So to summarise, it’s worth it and it works. How worth it is something only you can decide and, to bore you with clich├ęs, this is only one tool in the SEO armoury.

Update, June 09: Apparently Google now ignores pagerank sculpting such as this. More on Google's Matt Cutts' blog.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Pretend to be Tom Cruise with Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface is like that screen computer that Cruise uses in Minority Report. Except it's horizontal and you don't get to wear a glove.


At prices starting around the £3000 mark it's not quite consumer friendly but i'm hoping these will start springing up in public places in the next few years so we can see whether they work as well as that video makes out. Only through use will we actually discover if they provide a benefit.

I can't at the moment see how placing two phones on Microsoft Surface and shifting e-photos visually is any easier than selecting the photos on someone's phone and bluetoothing to another. Although an easier way to split the bill will be nice, will it stop stingy friends though?

Hopefully there will be a way of customising Microsoft Surface to understand what you want just from the actions you do. For example, it's 8am in the morning and you place a bowl of cereal on the table - Surface navigates to the breakfast news; it's 11pm you place a cup of tea on the table - it navigates to a football website; it's 11pm you put two cups of tea on the table - it plays romantic music.

It can't be long before people develop video games for Microsoft Surface, air hockey would work well, shove ha'penny would be even better. And from the marketing perspective it could be a way of advertisers really understanding their consumers. For example, a consumer places the book they're reading on the table, it surreptitiously scans the barcode and then shows adverts related to that subject matter. Much hilarity will then ensue when you try and fix the advertising by selectively putting different books on the table.

I found a hotel press release about using Microsoft Surface in hotel rooms that states you can pay for things 'all with the drop of a credit card'. If Microsoft Surface works by just placing a credit card on it you'll have to be very careful where you put things down. You're tired, you get in to your room, you drop your wallet on the table, bam! You've bought a massage and a continental breakfast.

Now watch Tom Cruise using it, with a glove:

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Getting more hits from Google News

This week i've been mostly looking at Google News.

It's a common story - you've ensured that all your news is in the right format for Google News, you've submitted your site, waited 2 months, realised that it's still not appearing, submitted again, gone on to Google Webmaster, checked for news errors and finally your site appears on Google News.

If you're anything like me you sit back and admire your work and watch hits finally start to dribble in from the god of news aggregators. 'At last i can tick this off my list', you say and go and do some real work.

Google News single article search result
Image 1 - Google News single article search result

Google News multi articles search result
Image 2 - Google News multi articles search result

Well don't give up so soon, there are a number of methods of improving your performance on Google news and increasing clickthrough.

First off is getting images to appear alongside your images. Why? Well it will make your stories look prettier (image 1), which is always a trigger for web surfers.

Secondly your image may appear on it's own, for example when stories from different sites are batched together with one image (image 2) - this is just another opportunity to get your story seen.

Google indicates the following tips to get your images indexed:

  • Label your images with well-written captions.
  • Make sure that your images are fairly large in size.
  • Use images that have reasonable aspect ratios.
  • Ensure that your images are inline (not clickable).
  • Place your images near their respective article titles.

Other 'secrets of google news exposed' from the Google News Blog contains other gems such as:

  • Don't update your article after posting it - Google News Crawler only visits each article URL once.
  • Ensure every article contains text - not just video or images.
  • Use webmaster tools to check for errors.
  • Provide a news site map.

Well that's enough to keep me going for another month or two. Next week i look at why many news publishers now have a shrine to Google.

Update: I've since found another tip, make sure you're one of the first publishers to release an article on a specific story. I'm still not sure quite how much (if any) priority Google gives to the quickest off the mark but getting in there first does mean your story is more likely to be seen when there is less competition / less stories on the same subject.

Related pages
Should Google News pay publishers for their content?

Friday, 11 April 2008

SEO Suite 8 review: What does it do?

SEO Suite 8

According to the Apex website, SEO Suite 8 is a ‘comprehensive’ Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) programme doing a variety of SEO functions.

Some of the functionality of SEO suite 8 is new to me and quite useful (such as the external link checker) however much of it can be found in numerous free tools on the web.

The cost of SEO Suite 8 ranges from £75 to £300 pounds for a number of different versions. I tested the trial version (which is free) for about 20 minutes and there is also more functionality over and above the core functionality I will look at below.

On the sites I carry out SEO on there are already initiatives in place that cover a lot of the functions of this software – such as directory submitting from an online list monitored via an excel spreadsheet, a linking policy done in much the same way, a manual check of internal website structure, tags and links plus reporting done through a separate analytics programme.

As a result I won’t be buying SEO suite 8 but it’s not as bad as my cynical mind expected it to be.

Following is a break down of all the functions and overview of what they do.

SEO suite 8 is split into 4 tools:

  1. Site Optimizer
  2. Site Submission
  3. Links Building
  4. Reporting

Site optimizer consists of:

  • Keyword builder
    • Input in a keyword and it will give you more related keywords. Same thing as Google Keyword Tool or Quintura does.
    • Plus a ‘keyword library’ – which is where the list is stored, much like copy/pasting into Excel.
  • Site optimizer
    • Based on the keywords you input on the previous page this will scan your webpage(s) and tell you the keyword density
  • Page creator
    • I didn't use this but apparently it creates a page containing all the keywords. You could just do this yourself.
  • Meta Tag Editor
    • Hook SEO suite up to your website, enter in the meta tags you want and it will change them all. Again you could just do this without SEO suite.
  • Competitor Analysis
    • Do the same for you competitors and compare where you lie, what keywords they use etc.

Site submission revolves around submitting to search engines

  • This has a list of search engines. Essentially it’s a browser that will take you to each of these search engines where you go through the normal submission process.
    • Of course if you get people linking to your sites you may well get indexed without resorting to this. (click image below to enlarge)

Screenshot of SEO suite search engine submission page

Links building does what it says on the tin.

  • Backward Link checker
    • Find sites that link to yours. Do this in Google by entering "link:www.yoursitename.com" into the search box. Update: This is actually inaccurate, read how to get backlinks here.
  • Competitor Link checker
    • Find sites that link to your competitors. Do this in Google by entering "link:www.yourcompetitorssitename.com" into the search box. Update: This is actually inaccurate, read how to get backlinks here.
  • Internal link analysis
    • In their words "this will analyse your internal linking structure to make sure that it complies with search engine standards. This will help to increase your link reputation." - I couldn't figure out exactly what this did, think it shows amount / proportion of links.
    • This seems a bizarre and slightly pointless way of checking site structure - card sorting and user testing (video on user testing) are probably more useful – however i could be wrong.
  • External link analysis
    • Checks your external links – this will check all the links to your site and look at the keywords contained within those links. One of the few functions of SEO suite I really liked. (click image below to enlarge)

Screenshot of SEO Suite external link analysis page

  • Link directory creator
  • Reciprocal link creator
    • "It will send "personalized" reciprocal link invitations to all potential link partners" – much like sending a "personalized" email to a list of websites.
  • Article submitter
    • I wasn't actually aware of this technology – it will submit articles to popular ezine websites. I've never seen an ezine website but imagine this submitter tool to be along the same lines as the link directory creator.
  • Link partner checker
    • Become an SEO Clouseau with your link partners. Once you've entered in your link ‘partners’ (the sites you've asked to link to you) this will check their site to see the link actually exists.
  • Link validator
    • I couldn't get this to work but if it checks internal links then it may well be useful. This would mean alerting you to links on your site (both internal and external) that return dead pages, 404s etc.
    • This is something that Google Webmaster tools also does, just not very well.

Reporting

  • Web Ranking
    • Set up regular reports to monitor your 'ranking' on search engines.
    • I've always been a bit dubious of the word 'ranking'. Surely what’s more important are whether people are clicking through, not leaving your site, visiting other pages within it, buying products, reading articles etc. See my post on measuring SEO effectiveness.
  • Page Rank
    • Gives you Google page rank for all your URLs.
  • Link popularity
    • I got bored by this point but the promo is just as informative as this post on the matter telling me that "[checking your link popularity] can be done easily with the SEO Suite" no less than twice in a three sentence paragraph.
  • Index checker
    • What pages are indexed on which search engines, not just Google.
    • Ranking on each engine, not just Google.
  • Submission report
    • Remember that submission you did earlier? Well here's where you find out if it worked.
  • Site statistics
    • Didn't get into this but quite a stats package with everything from hits to unique visitors. Much like Google Analytics, webtrends etc.