SEO – How to sell it to your company

Learning about Search Engine Optimization is one thing. Anyone can load up some articles, read about some techniques, and try to apply them to your website. But what do you do when your company needs to adopt SEO practices?

Here’s something I learned through trial-by-fire: selling the concept of SEO is an incredibly easy task. Selling the practices, though, is difficult. Everyone wants to reap the benefits of increased traffic and better placement, but no one wants to commit to changing their behavior and work style.

Anecdotally, I recently took the plunge and introduced the concepts behind SEO to the company I work for. The idea was met with enthusiasm, for sure. The tasks were laid out, and it was decided that, experimentally, we would try it on one of our products.

This is where first resistance was met. Interestingly enough, the people who were fine with changing their ways were not the ones I expected. Content writers were fine with changing how they wrote, PMs were fine with building it into their schedule, Marketing was fine with a new method of keyword analysis and selection, and all three of these groups were fine with working together. In terms of the technical side of things, though, there were some bumps.

Briefly mentioning to some colleagues of mine some SEO concepts, I usually ran into disagreement. Things like how to redirect a page, or not to use Javascript to link were met with dissenting opinions. After some time, I was able to convince them, but at first there was backlash. I suppose that when you’ve been doing something for a while, it’s tough to hear that you should do it differently.

Another roadblock was from the design side. They wanted to have a specific way of naming images to make it easier for them, namely the idea of adding a prefix (m for menu, l for link, etc) to every image, including the page name in there, and using underscores. I suggested that, instead of using image names to convey organization, use folders and subfolders. /images/home/topnav/keyword-image-name.jpg, for example. That idea did not go over very well, not to everybody, and so the image names were not optimized.

To show you how important image names and other image-related factors can be, consider that just yesterday, I received a spike in traffic on this blog. After some investigation, it turns out I have received a TON of referrals from google image search, because my Macbook review page is the first result in a google image search for the term “macbook”. This garnered some serious traffic, so don’t try to argue that image names are irrelevant!

Another roadblock in selling SEO to the company as a whole is people who want to use SEO to cover their asses, or just improve their products before it is ready. One of the more important aspects of enterprise-level SEO is having a process in place. A process will severely reduce overhead for SEO and make it virtually transparent, once initial education costs are over with.

It can be tough in the meantime, as word of SEO and related success is sure to spread around the company. If you are the one taking this initiative, prepare yourself to get an onslaught of requests to implement SEO into sites. You’ll get lots of questions, like “how long would it take to implement on my project”, and “just tell me what to do so I can do it myself”. You’ll need to know how to deal with these kinds of requests, since your sell will likely garner these kinds of requests once or twice a day.

In short, you want to sell to the people that will allow you to quietly set up a process that will eventually get disseminated to the rest of the company. It can be really tough to do, sadly, but the payoff is more than worth it.

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.NET 3.5: A LINQ to the Past

With the release of Visual Studio 2008 comes .NET 3.5, the newest iteration of the .NET framework. Unfortunately, .NET users are also greeted with a rise in popularity of the age-old question: Stored procedures or in-line SQL?

I won’t bore you with the details of LINQ (Language INtegrated Query) itself, as nothing can beat Scott Guthrie’s nice introduction on his blog. Something I’ve noticed about these new piece of technology, though, is that debate seems to rage up about how exactly to use it.

 LINQ has the nice ability to eliminate the need for many data layer projects and simplifies everything down significantly. To put it rather succinctly, you have the option to make a database object and call pre-made stored procedures like methods, or perform “in-line” LINQ to SQL commands.

The temptation to use in-line calls is tempting. That eliminates any database work besides initial creation and relationships. No more creating stored procedures and then calling them from code. Everything is contained in one place. You can even view your entity relations from inside of Visual Studio 2008.

However, many people point out that in-line SQL is not very efficient. The database optimizer doesn’t get a chance to be run on the query, not if it’s created dynamically. Therefore, traditionally stored procedures have been the “optimal” choice for database calls.

With LINQ, however, this may not be the case, or at least not as much as would be expected. Visual Studio magazine explains that LINQ can use eager or lazy loading to run its queries.

Eager loading loads up a ton of data at once, entire entities and relations. Lazy loading is a more “on-demand” type loading. What this means in more simplistic terms is that with lazy loading, there are many many roundtrips to the database, each one retrieving a smaller amount, whereas eager loading makes fewer trips for more data.

It seems that with LINQ, the hot topic is performance, and how to maximize it. Ultimately, you will probably take a slight performance hit from switching to LINQ. Is it worth it? That’s the question many many people around the world are asking themselves right now.

There are many methods of optimization, though, like pre-compiling in-line queries and just sucking it up and using stored procedures (which, as I mentioned earlier, can still be added to Visual Studio as methods of an entity object).

If anyone has some comments about LINQ I would be happy to hear them!

How to find and avoid SEO scams

A friend of mine brought this topic to my attention recently (thanks T!), so I thought I would riff on it a bit.

 Search engine optimization has become a pretty hot topic recently. Everyone wants a piece of the SEO pie (which is a topic I am saving for another day … oy vey), but where do you look for enlightenment on the subject? The market is chock full of people who know their stuff – even though many people disagree on certain finer points or how to specifically implement things, most people agree on a lot of ideas and topics.

Unfortunately there are a lot of people who simply do not know what they are doing who are making assloads of money off of it. How do you spot the good from the bad?

The best defense against people running an SEO scam is a little bit of knowledge. You can find tons of free advice on the internet. I mean, tons. There are forums, communities, portals built off of the idea of sharing thoughts on optimization. If you are truly clueless about SEO, I can tell you right now that it would be a waste of your money and time to attend a seminar headed up by a guy whose website looks like this: http://www.1seomichigan.com/ .

This guy’s site, Michigan SEO or whatever he wants to call himself, is an SEO disaster. This is his sales pitch to the world, and he failed. Miserably. And then, what’s more, he tricks you.

SEO basics

 First of all, the basics of SEO are not present. You may notice as well that the site looks hideous. How pretty your images are does not matter, fortunately. Anyway what does he do wrong?

Right off the bat, there is a large chunk of the top of the screen that is made up of images. That is not great, because keyword position on the page (also called prominance) can affect SEO. Next, the header there is large, and yet does not help his SEO as much because it is styled with CSS instead of using a CSS-styled <h1> tag. Header tags matter, yet they were ignored here.

What I’m trying to get at here, folks, is that this guy doesn’t use basic SEO techniques on his website. There are more, rest assured that it’s not very good from an SEO standpoint. Using a neat SEO keyword tool I found while cruising around one day, I did a keyword analysis of his page. Ideally you want a few keywords (I usually use 4 keywords, sometimes of multiple words) with between 4-7%. More than 7% is okay, but more than 10% is bad. This is “density” on the page so your keywords need to be used a lot. The more words, the more times the keywords need to be used to even be considered keywords.

Now look again at that guy’s site. He has a LOT of words. Lots. He has more than a homepage should ever have. So looking through his page for keywords, there are, literally, none. The highest density is around 2.86%. To really be considered a true keyword, you should have at least 4%. To be considered a minor keyword, you’re looking at between 3 and 4%.

According to my friend, this guy recommends you have 10 keywords of 4% each, and so your keywords should account for 40% of your page’s content. This is, obviously, terrible advice. And to put the icing on the cake, he doesn’t even follow his own advice. He recommends 10 keywords at 4%; he has 0 keywords above 3%.

Sales pitch

This guy’s sales pitch is his images. Clearly, they are there to attempt to show off his awesome SEO skills with which he uses to own Google. Let’s look closer at these claims, and I can tell you why they mean nothing.

Claim #1: 7 out of the top 10 sites!

Myth: This makes him a good SEO person

Fact: He is using obscure search terms in that image, to make himself look better.

Seriously, look closely. Sure he has 7 sites on that page. But look at his search term.  “bonacure michigan” is the term. Guess how many TOTAL sites use that term? 184. Guess how many people a month search for “bonacure michigan”? How useful is that 7/10 now?

Claim #2: These are our keywords, we beat out 160,000 sites, we occupy 3 spots

Myth: This proves that his SEO methods work

Fact: Not so. Again, he uses an obscure keyword. While it may or may not be impressive to you that he has three sites in the top 160,000 sites, remember that most likely very few people are actually trying to optimize for “ope michigan” or whatever that term is. With your website you will have competition, people who are actually TRYING to beat you will if you listen to this guy’s advice.

Keep this in mind: if this is proof of greatness, I am at least ten times as great as this guy at SEO. Do a search for my name plus SEO, “James martin SEO”. This blog is the first result, and I beat out over a million people for that spot. Again, though, how useful is that? Not many people search for that!

Rampant claims

This site, and keep in mind that this guy, for the sake of this article, represents all SEO scammers everywhere, makes grand claims about Flash here. Some of them I made myself, and was corrected by Adobe. He claims:

MYTH: Search Engines Cannot Read Flash

TRUTH: Search engines see Flash as a Black Box. It cannot see what is actually going on inside of it – so a lot of your text and words get read as artwork…. Which doesn’t do you a whole heck of a lot of good!THE REAL WORD PERSPECTIVE: As of this writing only
one search engine can read the keywords that you place inside
of your Flash movie….
This is somewhat wrong as well. There are ways you can take Flash and make it useful for SEO. I have talked about it before on this very blog. Ways like SWFObject can allow you to stick content where the Flash goes and the search engines can see it. Plus, Google can index Flash content. Not superbly awesome, and it (rightly) ranks it way lower than actual html content.

Scammers will use Flash as an example of something to avoid at all costs. This is not true. You should avoid using all Flash, for sure, but you can use Flash on your site without worrying if you have a competent SEO person behind the helm.

Conclusion

I could go on about what this guy is doing wrong. So how do you find someone who is doing things right? The best way would be to search for meaningful terms. The next would be to learn a little yourself about SEO and apply that knowledge to the SEO person’s site.

Of course, if you’re learning about SEO in general, what good is hiring someone? The benefit here would be to help you apply SEO to your specific site, instead of to teach you the basics.

You can also remember that if you plan on spending a lot of money learning SEO techniques, you could always contact me instead! I probably charge less.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to email me James Martin, or leave a comment below!

Top 5 current acronyms in web development

There are new acronyms being used every day in web development. Here are some of the new ones that are seeing more and more attention each and every passing day.

RIA (Rich Internet Application)

See: web2.0

This term is being thrown around a lot lately. An RIA (rich internet application) is simply put an application on the internet that is closer than ever before to a desktop application. Yes, I know there’s a lot more to it than that, but really in the end it’s all about user experience. Drag and drop. Sortable columns. Asynchronous operations and postbacks etc. etc. The list goes on. The easiest example is an Adobe Flash program, or a Microsoft Silverlight application.

You can do all kinds of neat things in rich internet applications that you couldn’t do before, at least not on the widespread scale that exists today.

CSS (Cascading Stylesheets)

Definitely not a new term, this is still a current acronym because it’s importance is really being driven home lately. Amateur web developers will avoid CSS at all costs because it’s complicated, confusing, or “unnecessary”. Real web developers understand the importance of CSS.

There are tons of reasons to use CSS and I won’t get into them here. The idea is that you can define styles for elements on a webpage (for example, what font to use in a specific location) in a separate file that can be reused throughout an entire site. Easier for everyone involved.

SEO (search engine optimization)

Another current hot topic, search engine optimization is a major money maker right now. The rules of the search game are constantly changing, and companies are trying their best to swim to the top of search results, constantly fighting the riptide.

Since the concepts that keep a site at the top of the page are changing, consultants can charge a lot of money to give simple tips on how to alter their design and development slightly. I’ve heard of firms charging ridiculous amounts of money for what amounts to slightly reworded title tags for their site.

MS (Microsoft)

This acronym is controversial to many people, and I only included it because Microsoft has been doing some amazing things with the web lately. Silverlight is looking to finally put a stop to the RIA monopoly held by Adobe/Macromedia for so many years.

That’s not all they are up to. Microsoft is also implement new strategies like Unified Communications, and really ramping up the Live effort. As lame as me including MS as an acronym is, Microsoft is a big player in the web and it looks like it’s only getting better.

RSS (Really Simply Syndication)

The above acronym is arguably incorrect but that’s generally the accepted term. RSS is really being embraced right now. In case you aren’t familiar, from a webmaster’s point of view an RSS feed is a way of alerting readers that you have new content available. This is extremely useful for finding and maintaining long-term users and visitors.

To the end users, it’s a great way of keeping up to date on many, many different websites at once. And you can only see new content, or recently added content. You can see what date it was added to the feed, and much more.

If you are using IE7 you can click on the orange RSS button (to the left of the printer icon) if it is available. That icon glows orange if there is an available feed, and is gray if there is not one.

There are many plugins that do the same thing with Firefox, although I think Firefox 2 has that functionality added as well.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me, James Martin.
Email me, or comment below!

Do image names really matter?

I find people asking me this question all the time lately. Image names, file names, do they really make a difference? Alt tags are important, obviously, but what about filenames?

Luckily, the answer to this question is easy. Yes they matter. That’s it. That’s the answer.

To be a little more precise, image names make a big difference in search engine optimization. If you don’t care about search engines then I guess you can stop reading right here. If you actually care about web traffic, though, search engines should make a huge difference.

One good way of seeing what the content on your page looks like to a web crawler is to use a program like LynxViewer. Lynx is a command-line based browser that is neat to use but not widely popular for many obvious reasons. My apologies if you are reading this on Lynx. Obviously you can’t view images in a command line (ASCII aside) and neither can the search engine crawlers.

They can, however, see image names and alt tags. Alt tags are best considered the same as content on the page. Don’t put anything in an alt tag that you wouldn’t want written as content, because that’s how it’s seen. Image names, though, are completely obscured to the user (unless they really want to find out, but honestly out of the thousands of images you see every day how many do you check?). This makes it awfully tempting to want to name it something useful for the developer. Popular examples are rightMenuAboutPage.gif or headTopWhiteCorner4.gif. Sometimes we use auto-generation programs to get image names and end up with 3459584711938.gif.

These filenames are hurting your optimization efforts. rightmenuaboutpage is not a word, much less a keyword you want to optimize for, but Google and other search engines give weight – arguably more than alt tags – to file names. In essence you are dilutingyour keyword pool with gibberish.

Okay so what do I do about it?

Another tempting methodology is to name your files better, but with underscores. white_elephant_ears.jpg tells me that you have a picture of a set of white elephant ears. It does not tell this to search engines.

I know, I just said that search engines give weight to filenames. That’s still true. The problem with the above elephant example is that it uses underscores. This is interpretted by a search engine as an actual character as opposed to a space. It’s the equivalent of putting ANY character there. You might as well use “t” instead of an underscore because it’s the same thing to a search engine crawler. whitetelephanttears.jpg.

The solution is to use dashes. It has been proven in the past (search around) that dashes do better than underscores when optimizing images for search engines. white-elephant-ears.jpg is the equivalent of telling google “white elephant ears”, which is presumably what you want. This technique will help you increase keyword density, add new relevant keywords, and increase search engine traffic (in theory).

Summary

Really, if you don’t have keywords, or some sort of descriptive word to use as a filename, you should get some. This won’t work as well without useful text in the filename. Still, a slightly irrelevant filename will do better than 458712937.jpg.

Ultimately a combination of useful filenames and descriptive keyword-oriented alt tags will go pretty far in increasing search engine ranks. I read a blog just this morning about a guy who increased his traffic threefold from search engines merely by optimizing his images. Obviously there’s no guarantee that you will see these same kind of results, but it will certainly be a step in the right direction.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me, James Martin.
Email me, or comment below!

Adobe Blog Squad Unmasked

What is the Adobe Blog Squad? What do they do? Who are they?

My first run in with the Adobe Blog Squad was a week or two ago when I wrote an unfavorable article about Adobe Flex. Shortly after, I had received a comment from James Ward.

James Ward is an employee of Adobe. According to his blog, he is a Technical Evangelist. I don’t know if this is an official posting at Adobe, but it almost has to be these days.

Mr. Ward seemed to very nicely critique my article. This is called the Good Cop. He swooped in to graciously and coherently rebut my opinion. Fine, all good so far.

Shortly after, another comment appeared by a man named Mike Potter. A quick background check shows that he is currently involved in marketing at Adobe as well.

So, shortly after posting a negative article, two people from Adobe show up, both involved in marketing or self-proclaimed “evangelism”. Hmm…

Mr. Potter was, on the surface, as amicable as Mr. Ward, and yet here he is posting on my blog like it somehow matters and he needs to quell the uprising before it begins.

It’s pretty obvious what’s going on. Adobe has employees that are scouring Digg and other sites for anything that can be construed as being negative press, and making sure they try to squash it. Whether this behavior is condoned by Adobe or not has yet to be seen.

It would be in the best interest of Adobe to silence these men, in my opinion. Looking at their websites, as well as some of their previous blog comments, you can tell there are some things they are (or were) ignorant of.

One of them is search engine optimization. From a blog posting a few months ago, the author had a few issues with Flex, including the ability to search Google and other search engines for the content inside Flash. This point sailed right over Mr. Potter’s head:

Search engines index .swf content no problem. A Google search for filetype:swf gives 48 million results for me.

Bravo at looking somewhat foolish. Of course it’s not a terrible mistake to make for a nontechnical person, but for a technical person working at such a public technological company, it is a sin.

In fact, it does nothing but showcase the issue that Adobe, and Macromedia before them, had: lack of knowledge about search engines.

Flash sucks for search engine optimization. Exclusive Flash sites are SEO suicide. This is because the content in the Flash is completely invisible to crawlers. Sure, there is a half-assed tool from Adobe, but without jumping through hoops, Flash is a terrible tool to use in large doses. Same goes for Flex, obviously, as it is just a complex Flash compiler.

Adobe, please leave your crack blog marketing squad at home, and instead listen to people’s complaints and issues without an immediate defensive stance. A little listening, and less arguing, would go a long way.

One Laptop Per Child – Buy one!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) group has been attempting to make a cheap (read: cost effective) laptop. This laptop, though, is not for consumer benefit, but rather to support education in the third world. Some people have been wrongly criticizing the laptop for it’s poor performance, silly look, and lack of Windows. I am here to tell you why you should buy one!

 OLPC

$100 for $400? Why?! 

The first thing you need to know about this laptop is that they did not reach their goal of making a laptop for $100. That was a lofty goal, and they fell short. Not to say that the result is not still impressive, it is $200. And you can buy one too, but if you want one it will probably cost you $400.

What? A 100% increase for the retail price? Not quite. The $400 will actually get you two laptops. They come in pairs. You only get one of them, however, the other gets donated to a third world country.

And yes, it’s tax deductible.

Features and nice touches

It has a lot of features that many people will be excited about. It is convertible into a tablet PC. Large stylus area. It’s sturdy. It has built in wireless, and a long battery life. There is a built in gamepad, audio, and webcam.

The most exciting features to me, though are completely built on open-source software, and the mesh network.

The entire OS is built from the ground up to be an intuitive GUI for kids. The interface is described like this by the OLPC team:

Beginning with Seymour Papert’s simple observation that children are knowledge workers like any adult, only more so, we decided they needed a user-interface tailored to their specific type of knowledge work: learning. So, working together with teams from Pentagram and Red Hat, we created SUGAR, a “zoom” interface that graphically captures their world of fellow learners and teachers as collaborators, emphasizing the connections within the community, among people, and their activities.

Mesh Network

The mesh network is the real heart and soul of this laptop. The idea is basically peer-to-peer connections between laptops in a sort of local wireless network. You can see nearby laptops, and what they are doing. If one of these laptops on the mesh network has an internet connection, it can share that connection among the others. This feature has the most potential of incredible use than any I have described so far.

One other use of the mesh network is the ability to share custom programs with other users. Each program (most programs anyway) on the OLPC laptop can be altered in true open-source fashion. The source code is visible with the touch of a button, and the kids can alter it all they want. There is also a “restore” option for the laptop that will probably be used many times, to fix any mistakes they make when coding.

Educational use

The mesh network is like a social networking tool. You can see what your friends are up to and share ideas. The educational uses alone are astounding. The teacher will be able to read papers as students write them so he or she can better tailor their class on the fly.

The video camera will also be useful for teachers to send home notes to the parents. Many parents in third world countries may be illiterate, and a video recording would potentially help them get more involved in school.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s easy to see the raw stats:

433 MhZ processor, an ISA port (wow!), 256MB DRAM, a gig of memory total, etc.

It has a very childish look, big bubbly plastic, antenna, and a super simple interface.

This is more than enough to turn most people off. But if you can look below the surface you will find an innovative machine, and a humanitarian one at that.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me, James Martin.
Email me, or leave a comment below!