Thursday, February 20, 2014

Battling the Google Algorithms

I've learnt over a number of years how to make a modest income from developing sites that make information easily searchable and indexable.

These sites are by their nature data driven. Each page is not lovingly hand crafted but rather pulled from one or more rows from a database. That is the nature of these types of informational site and is what makes them scalable and comaparatively quick to build.

Running a number of data driven sites that are funded by advertising presents a challenging set of problems in recent years. Google has (rightly) tightened up its quality thresholds and booted out large numbers of spammy sites that fall below the standard required.

These are not however manual penalties but are instead algorithmic - that is to say a number of factors can trigger an automatic penalty resulting in either demotion or exclusion.

Google has been as transparent as they can about these new algorithm updates. Three in particular have caught the attention of publishers -

  • Penguin - penalty triggered by poor quality backlinks
  • Panda - penalty for sites deemed to contain poor quality pages, and
  • Top Heavy - a more specific update that targets sites "top heavy" with adverts at the expense of content.
The last two of these have caused recent headaches for this publisher. Whilst wanting to maximise earning potential via optimal advert placement you need to maintain the ratio of content to ads or fall foul of the Top Heavy  algo.

Likewise data driven content can produce a lot of pages with "thin" content. While you want to avoid this - a lot depends upon the quality of the data behind the site.

The trick it would appear is to dance a careful line between presenting content and promoting ads. I am still learning the bounds of this careful new approach, and still sometimes getting it wrong! Frustrating is not the word.

As I understand the patterns and potential triggers a little better I'll endeavour to update this topic, but for now if you are experimenting with advertising and content make sure you get the balance right and if in doubt err on the side of caution (and in favour of the content).

More reading/watching:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Top 5 jQuery Plugins

I've been increasingly working more with jQuery. For the uninitiated, jQuery is a great Javascript library which makes web pages do clever stuff quite easily. Its great for hiding and animating sections of a page for example.

The other great thing are the numerous plugins that are available for jQuery. If you need a clever image carousel  - for example - take your pick.

But in my recent experience I have found these 5 plugins really useful -
  • jQuery validation - great client side form validation plugin. Simple implementation via CSS classes and nice error messages.
  • jQuery UI - excellent library of extensions that includes a sexy date time picker and a great sortable list function which allows users to visually order elements, such as pages in a cms or links on a page.
  • Cycle Plugin - great for all sorts of image/content slideshows, carousels etc. So configurable it can be used for much more than simply rotating a few images. I use it regularly for any sections of page content that need animation, cycling, hiding or rotating. Handy pager functions and the fact it handles all the DOM (i.e. the HTML bits you are animating) smoothly really make this useful.
  • JRAC - short for jQuery resize and crop (I think). Just started using this but looks excellent. Allows you to offer cool cropping and resizing functionality to users uploading images. Still requires some nifty coding to do anything with the numbers it spits out, but definitely useful.
  • Uploadify - OK, not strictly a jQuery plugin, this is in fact a Flash based file uploader. It does have a jQuery library available to make implementation straightforward. Its very good, particularly its nice use of CSS and progress bar. Its looking increasingly likely that Flash's days on the web are numbered but until HTML 5 really rumbles in this is an excellent upload script.
I always thought that loading code from CDNs would be somehow slower than loading Javascript locally from the same site. Apparently I am wrong, so don't be shy to use jQuery, Microsoft and Google CDNs. These are code repositories maintained (and optimised) by these web giants and offer hot link friendly code resources with better performance than even your local site. Work that out.

On a related note we are starting to toy with HTML 5 at work and we found this great intro to using it. HTML 5 Boilerplate gives you a highly optimised starting point to begin building websites in the next generation of HTML.  Its written in part by a chap called Paul Irish who works on the Google Chrome team, so he should know a bit about rendering HTML and browsers.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Keeping Busy

Its been a while...

Have you had a stroke?

No. Just been so busy with real life that blogging and other online activities have taken a back seat. Apart from ranting at substandard car companies here's what I've been up to:

  • Got made redundant. Boo
  • Got a new job with a great web design (york) company: Brightfive. Yay.
  • Built some new web projects of my own, the best of the bunch by far is my clever Hotel Finder application. Its pretty useful (I think). I did a more detailed write up of it here.
  • I got married. Yay. Wife has a blog too. Best link to it I suppose. Its mainly hormonal rants and recipes. You have been warned.
  • Having a baby. Yay. Boy. Due in September.
  • Got sunburnt like a proper Guiri (or is it Langosta?) on my last quick trip to Spain. Boo.
So its been a busy year so far.

Whilst not really my line of work any more - I still like to keep tabs on the Spanish property market. Here's a post I made on Spanish Property Insight using Google's Trends for Websites to compare traffic levels.

Lets not leave it so long next time...

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Evans Halshaw York

Word of advice: Do not buy a car from Evans Halshaw, York.

Utter cowboys who sold me an unsafe car, did a botch fix to avoid paying for the part and then washed their hands of any responsibility.

THANK YOU Evans Halshaw.

I was laughed out of the showroom at the notion of a courtesy car whilst they were "fixing" mine. This left me over £200 out of pocket as I needed to travel to London, so my only other option was the last minute fares on the trains, expensive taxis and the inconvenience of not having my own transport. This with a heavily pregnant girlfriend and luggage was not a lot of fun.

THANK YOU Evans Halshaw.

A month earlier when I walked in with my hard earned money in my pocket, it was a different story of course. They were tripping over themselves to greet me, take me for a test drive, ask me about my favourite football team and all that other false chummy bollocks that low life, no-conscience salesmen effortlessly exude like so much crude oil.

Since their customer service consisted of laughing me out of the building when I said the words "courtesy car" I'd like to know - was it unfair of me to expect some sort of transport, having given them the best part of £3,000 of my hard earned money?

The car they sold me wasn't going anywhere, so I (wrongly) assumed they would be bending over backwards to help me get back on the road again.

No fuck off and pay for the train all the way down to London. Your pregnant bird can carry the cases by the way.

THANK YOU Evans Halshaw.

Anyway at least, I thought, they will have the car fixed when I get back.

However after waiting over a week (and me chasing them on the phone) I eventually get my car back. Funnily enough, this visit to the showroom was not marked with the earlier cheery greetings and pally inquiries as to which football team I supported. I was ignored, indeed blanked by the sales staff - the only person talking to me was the mechanic handing me the keys back.

Then look where I ended up -

THANK YOU Evans Halshaw.

I found out later (from a reputable garage) that instead of replacing the faulty part when I took the car in - they simply cleaned it up.

I ended up paying a proper garage a further £600 to get the faulty part replaced.

THANK YOU Evans Halshaw.

Oh and the response from their customer service department? - Not our problem - you should have taken out a 2 year warranty that our salesmen were also trying to sell you. At a huge commission. Don't let the door hit your arse on the way out.

THANK YOU Evans Halshaw.

At least I am not the only one wise to their cowboy ways. There are numerous forum threads containing people enjoying similar levels of "customer service".

Such as

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edinburgh Festival & Fringe 2009

Absolutely loved my holiday in Edinburgh, enjoying the sites and sounds of the various festivals. It truly is a fascinating and beautiful city, vividly brought to life in August by the thousands of shows and their lively promoters.

I was a festival/fringe virgin until now and absolutely loved the heady mix of booze, comedy and music. It brings back those lovely, lazy student years.

Well, my highlights of Edinburgh -

  • The National Museum of Scotland - great interactive as well as historical stuff (plus see Dolly the Sheep).
  • A-team the musical, really.
  • Bec Hill - cutesy but fun stand up exploring the nature of super heroes. With free cheese on toast.
  • John Robins - excellent stand up, with great observations on relationship breakdown. Warning - your girlfriend will want to take him home and look after him
  • Book Festival - meet authors, buy books, listen to readings - great!!!
Also found out they give awards for the funniest jokes at the fringe. My fave:

Marcus Brigstocke - "To the people who've got iPhones: you just bought one, you didn't invent it!"

The best (and worst) fringe gags are here -

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Why search engines are like buses

What is it with search engines? You wait ages for one then 3 turn up at once.

  • Bing - Microsoft's (reportedly) last stab at getting search right. It boasts improved search results (don't they all), a range of innovative features and a shiny look and feel. Mmm, nice picture though.
  • Wolfram Alpha - described as a "computational knowledge engine". Oooh get her. Anyway the brainchild of an English academic, Wolfram alpha attempts to fully answer simple or complex requests using jazzy algorithms and huuuge data sets. Not so good for finding a local restaurant.
  • Google Squared - always on the prowl, Google released this cross between search and spreadsheet, spreadengine? searchsheet? Any good? You decide.
  • Not really a search engine at all but one to note for the future is Google Wave, which purports to be the time saving collaboration solution we've all apparently been looking for. A mash up of email, chat, twitter and facebook. It aims to consolidate these disparate means of communication into one easy to use interface. Lots of hype around this one...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Google Balls

Google Bad

Google made a mistake! Really. Well one of their junior engineers did apparently.

For a brief period of a time every search result returned in the SERPS was marked with their infamous "This site may harm your computer" tag, usually reserved for only the most scurrilous and scummy of malware purveyors.

Where did it all go wrong? Someone entered a slash where there shouldn't have been, basically - thus adding all SERPS results to the scum file. Read more.

Its comforting to know that a human hand still steers the tiller over at Cyberdine though isn't it?

Google Good

On a related note Google have announced a few new toys:

  • Tasks in Gmail - a handy to do list which pops up a la Google chat.
  • New and improved Google Earth - it now includes detailed ocean info. Yep, really. You can splash into the Marianas trench and have alook around. If you really want.
  • Google Lattitude - this is quite interesting. You can advertise your geographic location to friends and family via your smartphone or laptop. Clearly this has some intense privacy ramifications and G are quick to point out that everything is opt in. So if you are playing away make sure your phone is off...
Not bad, I think we can forgive them their boo boo, don't you?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Stephen Fry, Twitter and a move

Hellooo! I know, I know so much time has passed since my last meaningful post dear reader, but things have been afoot.

Love bites

First of all news: I am quitting Spain for a possibly ill advised attempt at re-integrating myself into the arctic conditions of the UK. The move comes about not, I hasten to add, because I have fallen out of love with Spain, but rather because I have fallen in love with a girl. [Vomiting noises off....]

Yes I know it sounds a little saccharine and twee but its true and there it is. 

Interestingly I have been looking at the UK jobs market and find myself a bit adrift. Yes there is a recession on, but there also appear to be plenty of IT posts kicking around (hundreds everyday on jobserve for example). 

My problem is I am not sure of my value and how up to date my skillset is compared with the demands of the UK jobs scene. One thing I have noted is that SEO/SEM positions appear to pay more handsomely than straight coding jobs and that there are more .NET than open source jobs. 

I am actually looking forward to getting back into the fray, I think my time spent working freelance has somewhat blunted my inquisitive/acquisitive bent. Translation: I've become lazy.

Twittering On

Anyway enough of my personal drivel, time it seems for everyone else's:  two things have caught my attention recently. One is the rise of twitter. I still am not sure of the value of this message vomit. 

The whole world from celebs through to my gurus and even my girlfriend appears to be tweeting. The constant stream of consciousness from millions proves addictive to many, I am not sure yet whether I will become such an addict. Perhaps I need to be more selective.

Ironically the second thing I wanted to share comes from following a Stephen Fry tweet to his blog where he muses excellently on the iPhone for example. The joy is to find a great wordsmith such as Fry is also an avid techie and keen early adopter. His blog is now on my reading list. Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Man babies. Erm...

This is odd, but funny. And I'm sure there's a message in there somewhere about men are just little boys with more disposable income. - Dad?

Anyway have a look at Manbabies. Even the name sounds a bit unsettling doesn't it?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Merry Xmas from Millsbomb

Have a great xmas Millsbomb readers, don't end up like this lot though!! [Thanks to Swiss]

On a more festive note check out this guy's house - I bet his neighbours love him. [Thanks Dave]

Merry Christmas!!!