Monthly Archives: September 2007

How to improve my blog for me me meme

I got a shout from Maurice over at his Cayman Islands blog on a a blog improvement meme started by Dane.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for some time. There is quite a bit on this blog that I think could do with a little attention, or at least make for a bit of a discussion.

General layout

For starters, I’d like to introduce a fluid theme (that’s one that stretches to a users screen size). My fixed theme is great, I love its look Ive used it for a while, its a great looking design and an impressive job. However, I’m losing out on a lot of screen real estate that could be used in better ways. I often feel like Im writing on paper and using huge margins left and right. I wonder if others feel similarly. Many of the good blogs I read these days use a layout that’s tailored towards the bigger screen resolutions.

Of course, my main reason for not doing so sooner is that I’ve made a hell of a lot of modifications to this existing theme which will be a bit of pain to add to any new layout.Add to that the need to upgrade to WP2.3 and I find myself losing the will to live.

Comment form usabilty

I’d also like to improve the usability of my comment form. Sebastian has some good reasons for doing so over at his SEO blog. I’m also going to take another look at my comment template and see if I can ajaxify some of the componants. I’d also like to alter the way I communicate my comment policy. As it stands, I link to some rant from within a big pile of words that are a bit of a mouthful – it isn’t an ideal solution. It might help to stick the words in a little pop up somewhere perhaps and drop the rant maybe.

Subscribe to comments

I’m not too happy with my subscribe to comments option either and find that my position has shifted somewhat from my original little rant. I thought about giving people a cookie option to choose. I thought about an onload event too whereby some div opened up asking 1st time visitors how they’d like to be treated, do they want follow up emails to their comments or do they not. I’m still undecided and kind of find myself thinking about going back to the default unchecked option. The problem always was that there are pros and cons on both sides and well, I sided with one that felt ok at the time.

Interacting with existing visitors

It could also be a good idea to give regular visitors some additional insights into say, how many people had read an article they’d commented on, what locations they’d came from, who was linking to the page that sort of thing. This could be a useful hook to grab a new subscriber or registration even. I can see the subtle attraction of an <? if(user_registered) { ?> show more stuff <? }?> option.

Writing better stuff that people will want to read

I’ve said it once I’ve said it twice I’m no Shakespeare . I do tend to waffle on and fly off on tangents that began in the recesses of my cannister and bounced off of the insides of my noddle a few times. I’d like to write a few more factual informative pieces, case studies things like that. Maybe make them available as a subscription or registered user option.

I try and avoid too many topical issues. I try not to follow the crowd and parrot a different version of what someone else out there is saying already. I think that by staying individual and true to who I am then some people somewhere will carry on reading me and as more stumble across my stuff then that reader base should grow.

I had 180 subscribers earlier which is really cool and a small indicator that I’m doing something right somewhere. I never really thought about getting lots and lots of readers here, but must confess to feeling a tiny degree of satisfaction that people around the globe find some of what I say interesting enough to hit a little button somewhere.

Getting out and about more

You can improve your blogs visibilty by getting out and about and commenting on other peoples stuff. I really need to do this more and expand my little circle. I tend to read the same people daily and whilst this is a good thing (they write interesting stuff) I do find that I might be spending too much time reading them and not enough time reading others.

I try not to be one of these people who targets A-listers or people with big established subscriber bases but it does need to be said that this is a good tactic for getting yourself better known. If you bang on the right doors hard enough and in the right kind of ways then eventually they might just open and send you a boat load of traffic.

Alas, such an approach doesn’t really fit with who I am, I’m not too good at it, I’m just not one of lifes schmoozers.I did give it a conscious try some time back but found myself thinking, hang on, what am I doing, I’m only commenting because he has a lot of readers, and heck they didn’t even acknowledge what I said, what the hell am I doing, so well… end of. I’m sure it looked far too transparent, sheeat the manipulative SEO strikes again.

Henceforth, the modus operandi is, one of if I talk about someone or comment on their stuff I’ll do so because:

  • They are discussing something that I’m genuinely interested in that has relevance to what I’m discussing and my readership
  • I simply like them or respect what they stand for and what they do and how they do it
  • I disagree strongly with an opinon or policy and need to let them know why.

I’ll probably see my blog’s subscriber base grow more slowly as a result, but I don’t really care so much. I’d rather grow my base on the back of being true to who I am, than as a result of being some comment attention seeking brown nosing whore.

It really is possible to grow a successful blog without being so.

Anyhow I feel myself beginning to waffle so I’m going to tag….a few people I’ve seen around at Sphinn I think, and see what happens, thanks for listening.

Ben Shana Bob Marty and Tancy01

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Getting noticed in a sea of endless chatter whilst avoiding the schizophrenic monster

Most bloggers and site owners want to be heard.

Lets have it right, who really likes sitting in the corner chatting away to themselves? Blogging for most is a conversational medium. For some it isn’t of course, but for most who do get it, they actually want to engage with other like minded humans who have an interest in what they write about.

The same can be said for other site owners. Those who run businesses desire to have conversations with peoples wallets and purses. Informationists and academics want to have conversations with their lessers and their peers, everybody wants to chat it seems.

Getting your site noticed through social mediums

There are a number of ways that people notice what we say.

We can talk about other people in the blogosphere and link through to them. Bloggers are curious beasts, blogs like wordpress for example, come complete with a dashboard that pulls links from Technorati. Technorati gets these from the various pinging services that are ‘pinged’ when a wordpress user publishes a post.

Ok its state the obvious time for most but it needs saying nonetheless.

By seeing who is ‘talking’ about us, we can then go over and participate in the conversation. If we say something worth listening to, then we might even gain a few new visitors and overtime a good subscriber base.

We also get noticed when we leave a comment on someone elses blog. People can read what we say and if sufficiently interested can click on our sig link and visit our blog.

We can also tag our posts with related keywords. By doing this we help social aggregators classify our content. People who subscribe to these tags or classifications might then notice a relevant or interesting post in their feed readers and decide to pay us a visit.

We can also participate in well trafficked sites that are relevant to our topics and participate in the groups and conversations that develop. Forum type sites with established communites topical to our content, social media type sites, like Stumbleupon Bumpzee Mybloglog and Blogcatalog .By doing so (as in the scenario above )we draw attention to ourselves and might even get a click through to our little personal hives of inactivity.

Pushing the envelope and going that little bit further

Of course, to take such an approach takes a lot of hard work time and effort. We don’t just build up a rep overnight. It takes time to build a subscriber base, we gain these by getting noticed and building a readership. As we get more involved in some of the principals of building traffic, we might well get into things like logfile analysis, user click through paths, traffic referals and other metrics that show us who is coming to us and from where.

We might notice that our post about our topic close to our hearts is getting a lot of traffic from a particular source this will often be a search engine. Some of us might get a little fascinated by how all this works and delve a little deeper. We’ll do a little seacrh on the Internet for stuff about blog promotion or website promotion or blog marketing and encounter this thing called SEO . We might then read up on it and think to ourselves ah, so I just got to get me some links of the right kind and write about stuff in the right way and kazaam, more traffic will follow.

So we set out on our road and begin to modify our tactics somewhat to fit in with the plans of those who seem to know what they are talking about. We might begin to behave in imaginative ways that we might not have behaved in otherwise. We begin to think like a search engine bot and forget who we are as we find ourselves signing off as ‘Big Money Keyword’ or ‘What I Do keyword’ in our blog posts or social interaction signature links. Some of us have huge sucess too; we get a little arrogant and brag about how great our content is and how marvellous our abilities are. We effectively say, ‘hey its easy to game the search engines and here’s how’

Searchbots have human faces 

It’s tempting to think of search engines and algos as some cold non aware construct oblivious to all that goes on around it.

Would it be right to think of them in terms of a simple series of ifelse statements and databases with indices and bits and bytes? No of course not, they are of course much much more than that.

Google for example has a team of people dedicated to ensuring the integrity of its index. It can’t just sit idley by and allow a situation to develop that gives an impression that they are easy to game or manipulate. The fact may well be that technically they are. It may well be that given the right amount of resources and commitment to a topic that anyone on the planet can rank for anything they so wish, but hell it doesn’t happen in isolation and you’d better not stand there and say, hey look at what I did. If you do, then you are opening yourself up to some greater scrutiny. Do not expect the people behind the search engine technology to sit by and just let you get on with your ‘I’m the dogs bollocks boasts’ they can’t and they won’t.

It is their baby, their show, their index.

Don’t break the golden rule

I might be helpful to paint a little crazy world anaolgy – Consider a big house owned by a schizophrenic monster .

She owns a house with a lot of food in it created by a magic larder that is stocked by a bunch of unsuspecting farm labourers, she has so much food that she doesn’t know what to do with it.

She manages to sell a lot of it, but not all, she accepts too that every once in a while a percentage of this food will taken by people who don’t pay for it in the conventional sense. This isn’t so bad as these people help in other ways; they help fix up the house and make it look a little more attractive and presentable to those who do pay.

The house has lots of these helpers, new volunteers arrive daily standing outside shouting ‘hey I can do the ironing, or the painting or the cooking’. The house has a continual long line of people all queueing up to do their bit for free food.

These queues stay long because those who are already inside eating obviously like their jobs and their free food so much, that they don’t ever want to leave.

There are only a maximum of 10 of these places at any one time. However, there is also a golden unwritten rule which says you can never ever brag about the free food you get. If you do, and she hears you then you might just be kicked out and forced to wait in line again like all those others who don’t like to pay.

The golden rule is that if you are doing wll in the search engines then you just mustn’t mustn’t brag about it. They know what they send you, they can flick the switch at a whim and you have no say whatsoever. They aren’t a democrasy, they aren’t accountable, they can do what the hell they like and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.

She is always listening, always paying attention, remember that and you’ll be just fine.

Build your own traffic sources, create buzz, create your own sustainance, plough your own field, grow your own crops. If you happen to get invited in for some free food, then great enjoy it while it lasts, but don’t get too comfortable as its a cold long wait in any queue.

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Ghosts in the Google Machine and Seeing Double

David over at science text alerted me to a story that I missed regarding Google and some strange accounts of ‘indexed’ websites that don’t exist installing malaware and viri on Google user machines.

  • Some searches (very specific phrases, and I won’t list any of them right now – Google knows which they are) return results with a large number of .cn (Chinese) sites.
  • The .cn sites are often scraped content from legitimate U.S. websites
  • The legitimate sites are being ranked below the scammed .cn sites for these competitive keywords.
  • Just another hijack story?

    Nothing so new there, we’ve all read accounts of scraper sites outranking ‘legitimate’ sites for their content often by use of a 302 ‘hijack‘ . It’s pretty easy to scrape content and slap a few ads around it here and there, and in fairness to the engines it’s not the easiest thing to eliminate, especially in a world of rss and syndicated content.

    I’m going to be a little lazy and summise that those clever so and so’s use a little commonsense and hook up with the various ping services that blogs like wordpress use when publishing new content. This would you’d think give them a good way of being able to establish who published what 1st where and when. Grab the timestamp , put it into a database and bob’s your uncle. This way, any duplicate content that followed wouldn’t be classed as the original source and would be ranked beneath that of the original.

    Don’t trust the authorities…

    Ok so not every website out there has a ping script installed so perhaps the above scenario is indicative of a problem within the Google ranking machine with its reliance and trust in link data and authority scores. If site A happens to have a higher trust level than site B, and Site A decides to use content from site B, then in a scenario where Site A is indexed more frequently than say site B (because of its higher authority score) then there is a very real chance that Google will decide that the rightful owner of the content is Site A and not the original publisher site B.

    Google advise people who syndicate content to embed a link within it so that its googlebot sees a link back to the original source and handles it correctly.

    Syndicate carefully: If you syndicate your content on other sites, Google will always show the version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer. However, it is helpful to ensure that each site on which your content is syndicated includes a link back to your original article. You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to block the version on their sites with robots.txt.

    Whilst this may well work fine and dandy for people who are behaving themselves, it’s clearly inadequate for those who are not.

    It doesn’t take too much effort to strip an href out of a piece of html. Web scripting languages come complete with all manner of string functions that enable a person to do all manner of imaginative things with some text or HTML. A person looking to rank higher with someone else’s content can rank higher up in a SERP and deprive the rightful owner of both kudos and traffic.

    Has this aspect of their systems contributed to this problem? Is it soley attributable to this particular flaw in their algo? I doubt it, but at the end of it all it sure looks like its contributing.

    List my non existent domain please

    The amazing thing about the story from the site calling itself googlewatchdog is that it appears that someone has managed to fool the googlebot completely, getting it to list domain names that do not even exist.

  • The .cn sites don’t appear to be hosted ANYWHERE. They are simply redirected domain names. How they got ranked in Google in such a short period of time for fairly competitive keywords is a mystery. Google’s index even shows legitimate content for the .cn sites.
  • It appears that the faked sites are redirecting the Googlebot to a location where content can be indexed, while at the same time recognizing normal users and redirecting them to a site that includes the malware mentioned earlier. This is an obvious violation of Google’s guidelines, but the spammers have found ways to circumvent the rule and hide it from the Googlebot.
  • These sites are numbering in the millions for many different keywords and phrases, and appear to be developed on an automated basis. Because of privacy laws, it’s hard to track down who owns the domain names – Google has the power to do so, but there has been about exactly zero information from Google about the problem so far, and even many SEO experts and webmasters are not picking up on it.
  • I’m sure that this has made quite a few people sit up and think hmmn how mad is that. How did they do that then. People can spoof user agents and redirect people or bots all over the shop. They can cloak content and have in the past confused the Google technology into believing that an indexed page resided at one place, when in fact it resided elsewhere. This commonly became known as the 302 hijack a phenomenon that Google stayed silent on for some considerable time, refusing to concede its existence. There were literally hundreds upon hundreds of posts at places like Webmasterworld and the busier webmaster and SEO forums from people complaining about how their content had been replaced by other domains using it as some kind of bait and switch tool.

    Yet this one seems different. Very different indeed in that somehow they’ve managed to get around all the accepted safeguards causing Google to output stuff that was at best inaccurate and at worst decidedly harmful to the recipient computer.

    There is of course always the possibility that the people concerned are unaware of an errant piece of scumware that is simply hijacking their browsers and taking over the Google SERP from David’s piece quoting Dr Jenny Oliver

    “I can’t remember what I put in to search with,” she told me, “as I was idly surfing last night, my Mac was suddenly very busy for several seconds as if installing a program.” She rebooted very quickly after that, but her net connection seemed to have become ominously slow.

    Yet this was after she had clicked and not before. Perhaps she was already infected is a chorus I hear from behind, yet David does go on to say that he too saw it with his own eyes on his own pc, seroundtable also provide a screenshot and a little more background and it seems that the Spam team are aware of the issue too.

    If it is true, then its a big step up from the conventional means of manipulating the Google index. To get into the results for such well known keywords is a bit of a blackhat coup de force and of course a huge headache for the Google technology team too.

    How long before this is plugged? God knows. It’s fair to draw the conclusion that we are very unlikely to hear Google say “Yeah, our index isn’t impregnable, spammers can get right on in and do what they like” It’ll either be bluntly denied or dismissed as some kind of browser hijack. We will no doubt see… Interesting nonetheless :)

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    MBL loses user due to forced account merge

    I was browsing with firefox earlier over at MBL and decided to edit my profile. It was at that point the login screen was forced on me asking me to sign up with my Y! ID or if I didn’t have one the option to create one. I didn’t want to do this so I guess that for as long as my IE7 cookie lasts, I’ll be able to browse about and respond to PM’s and all that stuff. I did use the mass message tool to tell people I was offski and that I could be reached, followed, networked or whatever else you want to call it at, Bumpzee, Sphinn, StumbleUpon, Digg, and Blogcatalog so there thats that.

    I knew it was coming, but today it happened. It’s no big deal, but I’ve decided not to merge my Y! and MBL identities. 

    Why? Well, no real reason other than I don’t want to and to be honest MBL had kinda lost its sheen for me. I’m sure that a lot of the people there still love it to bits and get a great deal of use and satisfaction from it and well,  good luck to them too, it’s just no longer my bag. 

    I don’t like having things forced upon me, I like choice and options, I don’t get why they felt the need to make this a mandatory thing.

    Call it grumpy, call it what you like.

     I’m sure they’ll cope just fine without me! ;)

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    Brand Building – How social media sites help build your brand

    Anyone who’s been paying attention to anything worth paying attention to recently will no doubt be aware of the many social media resources out there today. Facebook, Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit, Del.ici.us, Myspace etc blah blah blah. I’m sure you don’t need an exhaustive list (thats’ for another blogpost perhaps)

    Anything that’s frequented by large numbers of people in an area that you have an interest in should be something worthy of your consideration. If it isn’t then you are missing a huge trick. The opportunities for connecting with real people are just waiting to be snapped up. People want to connect with like minded people with like minded ideas. They’ll enjoy becoming familiar with the guy who stumbles stuff they like, the guy whose icon is always on a story somewhere.

    Getting out and being sociable

    The guy who is Stumbling or Digging or Sphinning or Bumping blog stories will at somepoint make it to the top of a list somewhere, his ‘brand’ will become increasingly associated with the ‘products’ that he is pushing. As time progresses he may even be seen as some maven, the opinion former, that guy who spots ‘good’ things and brings them to the attention of others.

    Lets look at my friend Lyndon a Cornwall SEO. Lyndon also writes great linkbait articles . Lyndon is a top Stumbler, Digger, and Sphinner. He doesn’t Sphinn or Digg or Stumble just any old tosh – no, he pushes items that are interesting and have something to say. It is one of the reasons why he has a good little network going on in all 3 places. Unsurprisingly enough, a knock on effect of this promotional love is that his friends invariably talk about him.

    Interesting SEO Expert Video Interviews from SES

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    Making the most of the social media tools

    Good social media sites like Sphinn have the added bonus of helping your brand, or in this case Lyndon’s by getting his face on to the pages of Sphinn that are frequented the most.

    Sphinn’s home page shows their ‘Hot Topics’ these are the stories that are currently receiving the most ‘Sphinns’ from people reading blogs that are Sphinn enabled.

    Practically every day this week I’ve seen Lyndons face on the front page. In other words myself and practically everybody else with a finger anywhere near the carotid artery of search marketing may at somepoint have noticed that guy with the red boat race peering out at them.

    Sphinn wise, Lyndon has made a number of noteworthy inroads. He is already a top Sphinner on their ‘Greatest Hits’ page. By being a top Sphinner, he also gets a little kudos from his peers, the page linking to his profile also gets a dofollow link just one page deep from the Sphinn homepage. The Sphinn homepage is a well connected site that gets a lot of link love. By getting his link on to the their greatest hits page, Lyndons own site benefits from the resultant link love.

    A look at Lyndons profile is also revealing. It shows that he is an active Sphinner. 80 comments 585 Sphinns, 48 Submissions with of these 35 going ‘hot’. Topics that go hot are usually promoted to the homepage. A direct benefit of getting Sphunn by Lyndon is that your story, whatever it is, will end up before the eyes of all manner of knowledgeable and connected people in search. What price a home page ad on Sphinn today I ask?

    A combined look at his submissions and latest activity shows that he averages around 2 submissions a day. He joined the site mid July and has averaged around 9 Sphinns a day. Each little Sphinn helps bump that story up in the Sphinn attention hierachy. Those that benefit, remember such things and will usually act accordingly.

    Lyndon is in good company too, he certainly isn’t alone. People like Andy, Maki , Chris, Sebastian, Loren to name but a few all actively sphinn and submit stories. They do so simply because they understand and recogniose the value and importance of the social side of this kind of stuff. They all write good stuff that receives lots of attention too. A net effect is that in all cases without exception, their brand awareness is increased. By associating with good stuff their reputation is enhanced.

    What are you doing to build your brand and enhance your social media reputation?

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