Tag Archives: SEO

Public Showcase and Engagement Blog Wiki Thing

Today’s Use Case for the Collaborative Tools Project is a difficult one to give an accurate title. It can be thought of as a site that promotes the work of a department or aims to attract a community of like minded people. It might have lots of media such as photos or videos from conferences or even lectures.

The teams I have that need this are…

  • The Sustainability Forum – who want to raise the awareness and debate around the University of York’s sustainability
  • The Philosophy Wiki – a Community of Practice about, er, philosophy (currently they are using MediaWiki)
  • Humanities Research – a cross departmental research department (currently using the WordPress service)
  • History of Art

An important part of this Use Case looks to engage potential students and impress funding bodies and attract collaborators. It is very much an “outreach site” and aspects of  social media marketing or Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or being well ranked in Google might even come into play.

My first thoughts for providing service  this was WordPress…. and then the Philosophy team turned up and complicated things. Who’d have thought?

The challenge here is to give people what they want.. and what they tell me they want is…

  • Something that looks shit hot
  • Something that is very much “their look and feel”
  • Something that is the beginning of a niche community
  • Something that is theirs.

It’s a tough nut to crack.

At first I thought that a shared WordPress Multi-User environment, with a shared look and feel, although being easy to administer, might not be appropriate at all. It would be just “too corporate”. And WordPress is woeful at wiki integration and wiki thinking so it wouldn’t do for the philosophers at all.

But on the other hand, maintaining the upgrades on multiple installs of WordPress isn’t something I would look forward to doing.

I am struggling here to decide what is the best approach to providing great-looking, easy-to-use sites that broadly support self-promotion, blogging, community-building  and wiki working that are public-facing and look to engage the wider world in discussion or even content creation.

I currently am thinking of providing workshops, templates and guides to using Blogger, WordPress, PBWorks effectively and then make sure that we aggregate the items created centrally. This sort of gives people the “best of breed” service for a few pounds a month. They could even hire their own designers if the look and feel of free templates isn’t up to their very high specifications.

What would you do?

How To Attract 1 Million Unique Users Every Month By Being Selfish, Think Visibility 2009

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending yet another great Think Visibility conference. My talk, How To Make Social Media Suck Less, was based on an ongoing discussion with Andy Theyers of Isotoma about trying to work out what makes some social media sites really work and some not.

Around a whiteboard we attempted to come up with a “Social Media Theory of Everything …. in a diagram”. We might not have THE answer as such, but we do have some inklings about what might be called (loftily) Engagement Architecture… about many sites fail to offer any form of interaction/engagement unless you are registered.

We also “discovered” that maybe, a social media’s strapline or branding message or proposition, should have a motivation that is ENTIRELY SELFISH and that the social aspects of your site should be a deferred benefit (not the reason to join).

I enjoyed Julian’s (from The Telegraph) talk because it reinforced some of my beliefs about the people-oriented aspects SEO. The Telegraph has seen a phenomenal growth adding a million unique users, month on month on month. He (rightly) says that using “traditional” SEO or PPC practices that this would at best be expensive and at worst be completely unsustainable.

So, how did The Telegraph achieve this ridiculously huge growth in visitors and rankings? By setting up what was effectively a very small in-house team whose job it was to “coach” the entire organisation on SEO concepts. It’s as simple as that. Reporters, understanding SEO basics and then doing the things they do ever so slightlyly (is slightlyly a word?) differently has made all the difference. A million users a month, every month difference.

I felt Julian’s (and my) talk might have been better if a little shorter (to be more punchy) but was kept entertained by his red trousers. I guess everyone needs a cheap gimmick 🙂

Of course, the real work and insight of any conference happens in bar afterwards and I vaguely remember being involved in the development of a genius screenplay (remember 5% of that idea is ours!), the birth of a public toilet doors that make fart noises and an art concept that involved wheelie bins…. and much, much worse!

The Think Visibility crew are now looking for speakers for the next conference, so if you know anyone with something to say about “the things that usually get left behind in the web design process”… give them a nudge. They’ll enjoy it!

The Man in the White Coat (or My Think Visibility Review)

This weekend I did a session at Think Visibility ( #thinkvisibility ), a mini-conference that brought together a great variety of people who’s lives touch the internet. From marketers to accessibility, geeks, seos and usability people.

All the talks I saw were brilliant and I heard the one’s I didn’t were too.

Who will ever forget Tim’s huge buckets of exploding juice?

I was surprised to discover that Chris Garrett, the blogging guru, is actually a real person and not an alien from the Planet Nice, he even has a northern accent! And he’s genuinely nice with it. I wonder why in my head he was so obviously Californian…

Peter Cooper riffed on Passion, Desire, Dating and Why Journeys are Important, Sales, Speed-Dating and the fact that he’s married. Lucky woman.

Dave Naylor, who I didn’t know as our very own SEO star ( I am celebrity blind ) gave a talk that had an element of jovial menace to it. The best kind of menace in my view. Something we need more of … round your way.

Tom C talked about how to do Reputation Management by taking skin-care seriously, changing sex, getting married and changing your name. He works with MPs you know, they really need this stuff.

Patrick Altoft gave a cool, calm and measured presentation about Supersonic Link Building, which was ironic.

Kieron, shared some of his ingenious ways to make money at Affiliate Marketing…

There are other people’s reviews of the event out there, including NorthSouthMedia, WebsiteDoctor, PoLR, AndrewBurnett, Linda Broughton and JamesWard’s (my own particular favourite review… ahem! which means I can put my hourly rate up a few pence).

Thanks to @Sk8Geek for the photos of the event.

I came away having perhaps drunk one too many, learned loads from the delegates, about more than just SEO, usability, marketing etc.  And a notebook full of great ideas and approaches I’ll be using in the coming weeks.

I reckon Dom won’t have any bother selling tickets for the next Think Visibility, he now just needs to find a venue big enough for the coming demand. See you there!

How to tell if an SEO company risks getting you blacklisted by Google

It’s easier than it sounds…

  1. Ask for a list of clients. Most dodgy SEO companies will want to keep exactly who their clients are quiet because it’s ridiculously easy to work out what their SEO strategy is. Many use Link Farms which makes it more than easy for your competitors to report your efforts as spam and get you dumped from Google.
  2. Simply ask them how much they will recompense you if and when you get blacklisted by Google. If they aren’t doing lots of naughty things this won’t bother them, if they are you can enjoy watching them squirm as they realize you are onto them.

My next article may well be titled, How To Discover If Your Competitors Are Using SEO Companies That Use Link Farms And Get Them Blacklisted By Google.

The ethics of telling tales may still have a certain stigma attached to it, but … THEY STARTED IT!….

All’s fair in love, war and SEO.

User-centred SEO and The Blueprint CSS Framework

I’ve been working with Jo at Track Surveys lately helping them with what I’m starting to call user-centred SEO (but then I do seem to think up crazy names for things).

By user-centred SEO I mean that optimising pages and link-building is all well and good but it’s dull work. A much more exciting approach is to get inside your customers’ heads and create content that matches their mental models. So Jo and I have been creating Personas, Mental Models and looking at log files to inform our Content Plan.

This approach takes time, effort and considerable skill (on the part of my clients), it’s often a completely new take on marketing for my clients, but it really does work from a Long Tail perspective (which can at times be quite difficult to properly measure).

The main point, I think is, that SEO is much more effective when there’s a whole heap of usability-related thinking thrown in.

360 Feedback Surveys

Jo’s blog (Track 360 Degree Feedback Surveys) was my first trail with the Blueprint CSS framework in WordPress. It’s a Beta blog and was intended to just be a first base design whilst Jo gets into the swing of blogging. I was amazed at how Blueprint makes it easy to overshadow CSS stuff, almost like CSS object orientation done right.

I have started using Blueprint on all sorts of sites, slowly adding the necessary divs to templates so that I can standardize on one CSS way to do things.

Is anybody there except Tom Smith?

One comment for yes, two for no…

Since I added logins for comments very few people comment on my blog which is a shame because the comments are the reason I do it in the first place. I had to add registration because not only was the spam getting out of control but also there were pages on this blog which became venues for kids bullying each other, saying nasty and stupid things about each other.

So, I moved blog, stopped using my own software written in zope and got a new URL to boot. Despite my efforts I lost a lot of page rank in the move. I had been planning to move a lot sooner but you know how it is. Plumbers taps etc.

Occasionally I check my Google Analytics figures and I’m amazed why and how so many people find my blog. I am bizarrely incredibly good at attracting people interest in music for adverts. Now, I am a fan of both music and adverts but I’ve only blogged about it a few times. Each time though, my blog article has been well ranked and so a hoard of people have turned up and mistaking my blog for a forum on adverts and the music used in them… a whole heap of people have added useful (ish) content. At least when they weren’t destroying some poor girl in 4B they have…

It does make me wonder about things though. For years my biggest referrals were for tit-wank and that United States of Whatever song… I could have cornered the market I could… what market exactly I’ve no idea but it was mine all mine…

So, if you are out there, please leave a comment to let me know you’re there… even better, link to my new URL… I never did get to be No. 1 on Google for “Tom Smith” despite all my efforts. A long time ago I wanted to be No.1 on Google for “Tom Smith”, not for reasons of vanity (well not much) but just because a search for “Tom Smith returns 56,100,000 results. A search for “muck” returns 4,290,000 results. I really, really (and I have no idea why) wanted to be the No. 1 result in a search that was more common than “muck”. Don’t ask… it seemed a good idea at the time…

SEO is dead

I’m not an SEO, nor would I want to be really. I only got into SEO because having bust a gut trying to make a large ecommerce site usable, I then realized I needed to market the thing somehow. That was a long time ago, when for me, SEO was fun. Now although the idea of making a successful site is still appealing, the allure of SEO is waning because nowadays it is less easy and predicatable. SEO companys (both good and evil) are attempting to get the top of Google and Google are doing their best to make sure that people who WANT to be top of Google are excluded from doing so. It’s constant reverse-engineering warfare.

I think what annoys me most about the SEO world is the way everybody (including myself probably) wants to show off how good they are but are held back by knowing that their latest tricks (or research driven knowledge depending on how you look at it) need to be kept secret otherwise everybody would be equal.

And when it comes down to basics, SEO is common-sense and easy work. That’s not to belittle it because for me SEO is only interesting when it’s based on user-centred research, when it’s based on log file analysis and market analysis, maybe with some stakeholder interviews and card-sorting and brainstorming sessions thrown in. SEO (for me at least) then needs the client to invest some effort, to get engaged with their site’s subject and coordinate their efforts with the research results.

Of course the technology needs to support all of this and here at the OTHER media we’re always building and aadapting tools to make all of this easier. But the real main hobby-horse of mine at the moment is that SEO is going nowhere fast. Yes, it needs doing but in no longer guaranteed or interesting. SEO is dead.

What’s next? Well either you know or you don’t. I’m not about to spill what I think is the next big thing because I don’t want to… and besides you probably know yourself already. Anyway, here’s a roundup of what you need to be doing and thinking about on a day to day basis, but it isn’t what is going to make you stand out from the crowd…

Ridding the world of Search Engine Submission
Buying Text Links, Is It Evil?
SEO code of conduct?
How to Select and SEO company
Froogle, porn and wrist rests
The keyword is back
AOL gets highest conversion rate

The Internet May Be Shrinking Even Though It’s Getting Bigger

Simon is the systems guy at the OTHER media and he makes sure log files get rolled on virgin thighs and that permissions are chmodded and kernels are compiled properly. I have no idea what he does really but I know I can’t do it. Anyway, he is always monitoring attempted break-ins or anomolies in usage for our clients and today he sent round a few figures about usage.

Total Pages Served : 51% Increase
Total Data Served : 77% Increase

That’s roughly 3 pages a second all year, all the time… some of our servers like ECB do get white hot for the ashes though. Does this mean our pages are getting “heavier”… that they contain larger images? I wonder. Our pages are a lot lighter than they used to be, being fully CSS. Does this mean our CSS files are perhaps getting larger or that visitors are more likely with a broadband connection to look at pages with rich media.

Now, at first glance, if you run a web site, you’re probably familiar with the idea that over time your web site usage will go up, month by month. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a web server hit count go down (unless it’s broken that is). So, as web designers, we and everybody else looks at our log files and collectively we sit around congratulating ourselves, saying “We must be doing something right” because the numbers keep going up.

But, what if the increase in hits is being caused by spiders and crawlers. I’ve found that if you take easily identified spiders out of your log files you remove close to half of your visitors. As more and more companies explore web crawling as part of their business, more and more crawlers are being created. There are also more and more tools that may lexically analyze your site, find telephone numbers on your site, or do something else to your data, all of which require your site to be crawled at some point. I recently played with an online tool to create your own focussed search engine called RollYo. It’s a great tool but it’s yet another crawler trying to gather up ALL the internet again.

There are also lots of desktop tools that do a nice diagram of your site structure or analyze the keyword density of given sites. They all add to your hit count, as do RSS readers.

What if the number of users and the size of the internet is a system? What if, as more users come online, more sites get built in some sort of natural symbiosis and the increased traffic for those sites get shared amongst the increasing number of sites. This would mean that the growth of internet usage is much smaller than most of us think it is.

Sales are going up, at least that’s what we see. But maybe a large part of that increase is caused by new people on the internet hitting it being prepared to spend more, because fears about security etc. are being proven in sheer numbers to be unfounded… and the long time internet users are now prepared to spend more in more places.

I’ve recently been wondering if I could slim down our hits even more by usage behaviour. That is, if a visitor to our sites slowly looks at all our pages in a particular order, they are probably not a real user at all.

What all this means is that in many instances, our conversion rates will be much higher than we previously thought, or to put it another way, the small changes we made that resulted in small increases in conversion rates are much more significant than we previously thought. Intelligently and craftily removing lots of the crap from usage data makes your measurements a lot more sensitive and effective.

Less than scrupulous crawlers will always try to mask their true nature because they fear getting “blocked” by the site. I am now of the opinion that rather than include all data about usage in a log file, that before anything starts being logged, a visitor has to prove themselves to be a real person and not a crawler by usage, not by IP, User Agent or cookie, all of which can be faked.

Suggesting the internet is getting smaller is churlish, I know, but, given there are lots of variables, such as the number of crawlers (which may vary depending on how much somebody want your data), the number of sites (which I guess can go up as well as down) and the number of users (some of whom still haven’t heard of Google or have found it to be inferior to their little known search engine). One factor that is rarely, er, factored in is a visitors context, by that I mean, 5 years ago, I could remember URLs. If I heard of a new service or site and I really wanted to remember it, I could. Now, every site is just another site. I don’t even start to remember it because I know I’ll forget. I even hear great brand names… visit their sites, like Rollyo, and then in the course of the day forget all about them… If I forget to blog them, they’re gone.. completely. It’s like it’s Out of Blog Out Of Mind. So even if you really are a great bookshop, way better than Amazon in all ways, it is now more difficult to bring customer back, simply because they forget about you.

The internet getting bigger, in a strange way makes it more dilute… thinned down. There may 100 alternatives for any service I want, but I still only have the time and inclination to research and try 2 or 3. So my choices for starting points is being globbed together. Kind of obvious maybe. Not quite sure what I’m saying here other than size isn’t everything and that I feel that measuring an ecommerce sites figures against last years figures misses the points sometimes. It seems too crude.

So, I guess the bottom line is the bottom line again, that you should be doing all you can to ensure your sales are going up. But I’m starting to think that I am going to get a lot more creative about what I’m measuring against those sales to properly inform redesigns and SEO improvements.

Eco-friendly flip flops and the Death of SEO


In the Guardian today, there was a piece about how Bobby made a site about “eco-friendly flip flops” and using simple Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, got to the top of Google remarkably easily. They’re right. It can be easy at times but far from revealling how unscrupulous devils are “sneaking” up the Google search results for fun and profit, it revealled a naievety about the whole area of SEO.

There are two areas of SEO work, what’s called “White Hat” and “Black Hat”. The white being the “good guys”, not doing what Google ask you not to do. The Black guys being much naughtier.

The first “Black Hat-ism” in all this is the terminology, it makes it sound like there’s some wizardry going on with SEO. There really isn’t. Yes at times it can seem like magic, being suddenly top of Google’s results, but it isn’t really. All the techniques to get to the top of Google are very well documented, both “good” and “bad”. You make the choice about whether it’s worth the risk, and effort, to employ Black Hat techniques and get banned by Google.

The “real black hat” of SEO are these clever tricks, which are not about wizardry but trickery. If you want to set yourself up as a “Black hat” SEO company, after using a blog-spammer and registering a few thousand domains, arrange some link exchanges and you’re pretty much ready-to-go… and then all you have to do is…

  • Convince your client to pick really stupid search terms, like “eco-friendly flip flops”. The competition is going to be low on unique terms like “worm banana boomerang”.
  • Convince your clients that you have “all the secrets”… drop into the conversation that you’ve discovered that Google likes meta keywords that begin with vowels… or something equally stupid…
  • Convince your client to only search in the UK results… making the competition much lower, that’s always a good one
  • Get to the top of the results for one week only and then show your client… staying there is much much harder

All the above tricks are about sleight of hand, fooling the client, not Google, and very like being a con artist.

It’s my feeling now that SEO as we know it is dead. Google have too much to lose, i.e everything, by being “fooled” by SEO companies. SEO companies have too much to lose by not being able to get to the top of Google in an afternoon like they used to do, forcing more and more SEO firms to turn to the Black Hat. Black Hat techniques being easier to “spot” using technology they get wiped out.

The whole process is now is a very tight loop in which two very rich technological opponents, Google and the millions of SEO firms are in a constant battle to outsmart the other, and for me, SEO has lost its initial fun and charm.

It just seems to me that all the alternatives to “getting to the top of Google” are so much more fun. What are those alternatives? Well that’d be telling…