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

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


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...


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
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.