Blogging From My iPhone

I stood in line yesterday for an hour and a half and bought myself an iPhone, which I’m using right now to blog. It just amazes me how fast technology changes the options we have and impacts our lives. But this time its not just a new technological toy that should be admired. This new iPhone is most definitely a gigantic leap forward in interface design and mobile technology. I suspect there will be some very serious conversations in the board rooms of Apple’s and AT&T’s competitors over the next few days. Apple has leaped us forward what feels like five years (or mor) and the competition will be scrambling to catch up. This thing is a tricorder!!!

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

I have a meeting today with some folks looking for some info on SEO and thought I might as well just post the information here for all to read. You’ve probably heard many of these tips/facts before but hopefully my consolidated list will help you prioritize and plan the next time you are thinking SEO for your web pages.

Google is the baseline

This should go without saying but it is by far the most important thing to keep in mind about SEO. If you optimize for Google you can pretty much bet that you’re site is optimized for most search engines. Google is not secretive with what they look for either, actually they publish what you should and should not do to your web site to get ranked higher. http://www.google.com/webmasters

In a nutshell if you read through all of Google’s SEO content you’ll find a few things stand out as keys to SEO success. Before I run through the list let me describe how Google and SEO work at a high level. Google has software that crawls the web (a spider) that reads and ranks web pages and web sites. This spider is so smart it can tell if the page is original, well written, well coded, the topics, it’s purpose, and if it contains marketing rhetoric or another kind of sales pitch. Since the spider searches the entire Internet it can also estimate the popularity of the page. It then puts a 0 to 10 score on the page (called PageRank). The Google homepage is a 10. The web page your kid just uploaded is a 0.

The goal of any SEO effort is to raise PageRank by convincing the spider that your page is the best page on the Internet for this topic. Now this sounds like a tall order since you must compete with so many other web pages. It also suggests that there is no trick or secret to SEO. It just takes doing your best when building web pages and keeping after it since the playing field is constantly changing. Now… some real things you can do.

Avoid Tricks and Scams

First, don’t get suckered by anyone selling or suggesting that you should participate in any scam or trick to bump your PageRank. If Google finds you are trying to game the system your site could immediately receive a PageRank of Zero. I’ve read many forum posts by webmasters complaining their PageRank dropped from 8 to Zero overnight and it is often due to participation in a link trading scam or other trick that violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Write Quality Original Content

By far the most important thing is to publish quality original content. Your web pages must be well written and contain truly valuable content. For example if your pages contain marketing rhetoric or sales pitches Google may give you a lower PageRank because the spider will decide your page is actually an advertisement and not quality content.

Focus on providing valuable information even when your page is about a product or service. For example if your page is an article on a certain model car (you happen to sell) you can focus the tone of the content on the car and keep it off the sales pitch without loosing customers. In fact once you move to this approach you’ll probably see a spike in business generated from your web site because people like reading marketing jargon less than Google’s spider. They will appreciate the direct factual articles and the search engine will recognize your content as valuable (non advertising) content.

Keep Content Current

Google’s spider regularly visits your web site. Don’t change your content just to change it. Just keep it up to date and current. One way to keep things current and fresh is to publish regular newsletters, white papers, or articles. These don’t have to be daily, weekly, monthly, they just need to be added to your site from time to time. Google will notice that your site gets updated with new content regularly which helps increase PageRank.

Quality Keywords

Write for people first, search engines second, but be sure to use the keywords you’ve identified as the best that describe your topics. Just don’t overuse them so much that you loose or confuse your human audience. Determining the correct keywords is a little tricky because it requires some creative guesswork and research. Here are some good keyword research tools:

Number of Pages

Often web sites that rank high have a lot of pages. The number of pages can increase your PageRank so long as you don’t post a bunch of duplicate or near duplicate pages. If your pages reside within a larger corporate website you are already taking advantage of this factor.

Page Level Details

When you build your pages be sure to think of the whole page as content and not just the article itself. For example take advantage of ever keyword placing opportunity you can. For example:

<title> tag: The title tag at the top of every web page should contain a relevant title for the page but in this title should also be top keywords. Don’t stuff it full of keywords, that’s a trick. Just be sure you don’t miss this opportunity to smartly title your page.

<img src=”KeyWord.gif” alt=”KeyWord”> tag: Also be sure to name your image files with accurately descriptive names and don’t miss the alt tag. For example it you have posted an image of a car don’t just leave the file name the same as what the camera named it, be sure to name the file with the make, model, year of the car: 2001_porsche_911_carrera_cabriolet_01.jpg. Google picks up on image file names and include them in image searches and weights them into PageRank.

<meta> tags: In webmaster 101 you learn that the meta “name” and meta “keywords” tags at the top of every web page are the most important thing for SEO. This is not true but you should not omit them either. You should also be very careful about which keywords you pick. I like to use a simple tool after my pages are complete to figure out what keywords appear the most and then remove the words that I don’t think are important.

<script> tags, Ajax and spiders

This is a relatively new issue. Many websites are suing more and more dynamic methods for displaying content. When content is brought into a page using javascript which may make the content invisible to the spider. To determine if this is an issue view the html source of the page and see if your content is in the text. It is possible that Google and other search engines will overcome this issue and begin to read content brought in via javascript but I wouldn’t count on it if SEO is an issue for you. Build in your content the old fashion way.

https:// vs http://

Avoid https:// aka secure pages. Search engines tend to treat secure pages differently than non secure (public) pages. It also seems many of the free tools on the web require http:// and do not allow you to evaluate pages with https://.

Links In (aka backlinks)

Google determines how popular your web pages are buy counting how many other web sites link to your web pages. These are called backlinks and is one of the most abused tricks. For years there have been companies with thousands of link sites and for a fee they will add your URL to all their sites artificially increasing the number of links into your site. Don’t do this. Google is not stupid and can easily identify these sites and has probably already put them on the list of bad neighborhoods (see Google Webmaster Guidelines for a description of bad neighborhoods.)

Links Out

Not as important as links in, links out show Google’s spider that your page is part of a larger community of quality sources of information on your topic. Some people will tell you that links out only lead people away from your site. Many others (like me) will tell you links out are not only good for SEO they are good for your users and will tend to encourage your users to bookmark you.

Social Bookmarking Websites

This is a relatively new (last few years) way for people to save their favorite websites. Sites like del.icio.us allow you to save your favorites on a customized public web page. For example my bookmarks are at http://del.icio.us/janzenms. Now imagine thousands of people publicly bookmarking your website and how many links in that makes. Today social bookmarking sites seem to be helpful for SEO but you can see the potential for abuse so the future of social bookmarking for SEO is still unknown. But for now I’d suggest using it. Some of the top social bookmarking sites are:

Page URL

The actual URL of your web site and web pages is also important. Begin with a domain name that describes the site using keywords. Be sure the content is served from well named folders too. For example use urls that actually contain keywords like /cars/porsche/boxster/ and try to avoid urls like crs.do?xyz=123456&pdq=987654 which provide no additional meaning to the search engine.

Google Sitemaps

Google actually gives you a way to submit an XML sitemap to them which helps them spider your site and increase your SEO. Think of an XML sitemap as basically a text only spreadsheet with a list of your web pages Be sure to take advantage of Google Sitemaps if you can.

robots.txt

Be sure to include a robots.txt file in your root web directory. This is a plain text file that tells search engines if it is OK to spider your web site. Google and other quality search engine spiders look for this file before searching through your web site.

Add Your Site

Next to last, but should be your first step, is to add your site to the search engines. For example you can tell Google about your new web site by visiting http://www.google.com/addurl/. My only advice here is to follow the rules. All this form does is put you on Google’s Radar and it does no good if you are already on their radar. You should also add your new web site to Yahoo, MSN, dmoz, etc. I do not recommend submitting your site to the thousands of “search engines” in the world; stick to the top 10. I also do not recommend using the bulk search engine submission tools unless you like spam from low quality web directories.

Buying Links (like AdWords)

Lastly one way to increase traffic is to pay for advertising like with Google AdWords. This does not improve your web pages SEO. It just improves traffic to your pages so I wanted to include it.

Conclusion

There is no magic trick to SEO, just hard work, good writing, careful keyword research and not missing opportunities in your code. You’ll also want to make it a habit to revisit SEO regularly and keep after it. If you hire someone to help be sure they do not use any tricks that could jeopardize your PageRank.

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, additions, corrections, etc please post them here or contact me directly.

One Laptop Per Child – (OLPC)

olpc

Have you seen this? The project’s goal is to, “provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves,” by delivering a $100 laptop to each and every child. It’s a tough little AMD chip powered Linux OS that has some unique off the grid and wireless features (like crank charging) specifically designed for the remote places around the world it will eventually end up.

If I were to predict the outcome, lets say in 20 years, if the project is successful. There would be thousands, no millions, of Linux literate open source software using people emerging out of today’s third world creating a huge shift in where technology innovations is happening.

I must not be alone in that prediction because it would explain why Microsoft is trying to stuff thier OS into the OLPC computer. Bill Gates and his crew must be thinking what I’m thinking. Million of young developers who know the Linux OS inside-out looking for work and working cheap would definitely create a strong business case for everyone to dump Microsoft once and for all.

I personally think that is going to happen someday anyway and anything Microsoft does today or tomorrow only delays the inevitable. But if they are diligent, like with this MS inside OLPC effort, they can buy themselves more time. I hope they fail; I’d like to see an open source world.

Want an iPhone? Me too.

iphone ad screen shotThe official release date is June 29 2007 and a lot of the people in the industry are wondering if it will live up to its promise. When you read the marketing content and watch the TV ads it sounds like the iPhone is going to turn the mobile word upside down.

Most people I know (and blogs I read) are skeptical that the iPhone will be all it’s cracked up to be. The most common issue sited is that slow bandwidth will prevent them from really delivering the mobile web, video and music content at the speeds they are suggesting. I must admit it seems they are promising access to the world through a pipe the size of a straw so I’m skeptical too.

Another common issue is corporate adoption and enterprise support and integration. At the moment Blackberry seems to have that wrapped up with Microsoft closing on its heals. The idea of Apple breaking into that market seems unlikely simply because corporate enterprise LAN/WAN folks tend to be very careful and slow to add new (redundant) services to their networks.

I think the first iPhone will be quickly adopted and a sales success but in the field it will be hardware ahead of its time. Hopefully for Apple has built enough value into that hardware and software that the slow speeds and lack of corporate enterprise users will still make it a success.

To be sure though, the iPhone will set the bar very high for all mobile devise makers and mobile carriers. It’s just a matter of time before we have access to broadband speeds on mobile devices as well as highly interactive interfaces and the iPhone will certainly be seen as a catalyst to speeding change.

My best guess is we will see competitors release comparable Microsoft based mobile devices shortly after the iPhone becomes available. I also suspect blackberry will loose to Microsoft OS mobile devices. But I’d be surprised to see the mobile carriers be able to keep up with mobile broadband demand in the next two to three years. So I think we are most likely stuck with our fledgling mobile web with its tiny pages and plain design for another three to fours years. After that your phone should be able to handle the real web.

I still plan to buy a first generation iPhone though. Always like a new Apple toy.