My Social footprint on the web

I have used and am still using various different social networking type websites. Its difficult to keep track of all of them, especially as I get bored quite easily. Below I have compiled a list of all my profile pages on the different websites I am a member of. The scary thing is how long the list has become, while I know I have forgotten some links. I keep finding myself editing this posting and adding another link or two that I have suddenly remembered.

Check out the list, and if you feel like it, add me as a contact.

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Google, more than just search

By now you should have a google account, if you dont, for pete’s sake, GET ONE NOW! Google is so much more than a search engine, and you can use many of the different facets of Google to make your site better. Instead of just using google to get traffic, why not participate in the Google phenomenon at the same time, take advantage of all the tools Google offers. Once you have a google account, you can access many of their other programs using your same user name and password quickly and easily. Here is a brief overview of some of the google technologies you can take advantage of when you have a google account. For most people, their introduction to getting a google account comes when they sign up for Gmail.

Gmail email accounts

Get yourself a gmail email account, I would rate it as the best web based email service I have ever used bar none! Its extremely fast to setup, and has great features that other web based email companies make you pay for. I get all the email that comes through my website, to get copied to my gmail account. This allows me to access my email from any internet connection. Gmail is fast, and NEVER has any problems, so its got two of the most sought after features people want with email. What I really like about gmail, is that I can pop my account from my pc, allowing my email to be downloaded to my outlook. I have enabled the option to leave a copy on the server, so I can access my email from my work pc through outlook, and also from any internet connection through the web. You are also able to set autoresponders for your account. Being in contact all the time is a big thing when you have a particularly busy website. Google Chat is also available from within your gmail account. All your gmail contacts are listed on the left for easy access, and you can use the google chat facility to chat in real time to other gmail members.

Google Webmaster Tools

This stuff is so cool, it almost needs its own posting. An awesome set of tools for webmasters, use these tools to:

Check if your site is indexed in goolge, and also the last time that the googlebot accessed your website. Easy to use links for each site that you have added allow you to check google for: Indexed pages in your site, Pages that link to your site’s front page, The current cache of your site in google, Information we have about your site, and Pages that are similar to your site.
Check your Top Search Queries, use this tool to see what search queries displayed your site in the results over the last 7 days. The cool part is that you can show all queries, or queries specific to a region. You are also able to go back months to see what search strings your site was being displayed for.
You can check what googlebot sees when it looks at your website, valuable information when you are marketing your site online, and trying to optimize your content.
You can check which page on your site has the highest google ranking for each month.
Index stats for your website, that display awesome things like diagnostics, – This page lists URLs from your site that Googlebot had trouble crawling. Googlebot found these pages either in your Sitemap or by following links from other pages during a discovery crawl. Choose a category of errors to view, such as HTTP errors, Not found, URLs not followed, URLs restricted by robots.txt, URLs timed out, and Unreachable URLs in your website.
Pages with external links – See which pages on your site have links pointing to them from other sites, this is good to see which other pages are pointing to you, AND are indexed by google.
Sitelinks – See which links on your site have been identified as candidates for appearing directly in Google search results.
Pages with internal links – See which pages on your site have links pointing to them internally from elsewhere on your site. If every page on your site has a link to your home page, they will all be listed here.
See the number of people who have subscribed to your rss feeds, nice fuzzy feeling to see so many fans!
You can analyze your robots.txt file – See whether your robots.txt file blocks specific URLs as is, or with modifications you make. Test against various Google user-agents, too. Dont under-estimate the importance of the robots.txt file!!!
Set geographic target – Associate a particular geographic location with the site if you are targeting users within that area.
Enable enhanced image search – Enable Google’s enhanced search for images on your site, including advanced labeling techniques for images hosted by Google. This is excellent if you are wanting to generate traffic from google images. Make sure you have your url watermarked on the images too, to get a better result, and more importantly, use keywords and phrases to name your images, this will help to display your images in searches.
Manage site verification – See all verified owners of this site, and optionally reverify them.
Set crawl rate – See statistics about how often Google crawls your site, and optionally adjust that speed if desired. The higher your page rank, the more frequentlyl google seems to crawl your site, so dont be upset if its not too often in the beginning.
Set preferred domain – Associate a preferred domain with this site, to always or never show the leading “www.” in Google’s search results. This is extremely useful if your site has more than one domain, and you are marketing the site on a specific one above the others.
Remove URLs – Remove content from the Google index, including expediting that removal. Sometimes you have pages that you dont want to be found in google search queries. This is where you can fix that problem.

Google webmaster tools is a must for all you website owners out there. This application allows you to get all sorts of information about your websites. All you need to do is input the name of the website you would like to monitor. You can also upload your xml sitemap, which will let google know what pages there are in your website. I think this is a great way to get your site indexed quickly, without trying to actually submit it to google through the submit url form.

Google News

Yes, thats right, google news. I find this particularly useful to get information about the market I am trying to tap into, and also, to get information on my competitors in the same market. What I normally do, is do a search on google news for a product, or broad search term that my website falls into. I then am able to see all the latest news articles from around the world that apply to that search term. Now, the sneaky part, in all the results for google news searches, there is an RSS feed link on the right hand side. Subscribe to that feed, and you will be constantly updated on all the breaking news for that search. This can be used to track your own company, your products, and also your direct competition, to see where they are making headlines. Its also usefull to stay ahead of the competition, wher you are able to see all the latest information and news about a specific product or technology at any time. I personally use Bloglines.com to keep track of all my RSS feeds. If you havent tried it yet, do yourself a favour and get with the program!!

Google Earth

Not only is this an extremely cool tool, but it is able to be used to bring your site traffic! I have used this pretty extensively to promote my own and clients websites. I simply find locations that apply to their business or products that they supply, and then make a marker for that. I give a description and also a link to their website, in the marker information. Now, I post the marker information to Google, using the right click menu on the marker itself. The marker gets posted to google keyhole bbs, if you dont have an account, you can make one quickly and easily. From now on, all your markers will be availbable to everyone who uses google earth! An awesome way to generate traffic.

Picassa

Picassa images are able to be searched by everyone who is a member. What I like to do, is to tag my images, and make them available for public viewing. People are then able to see my images in their search results, which is great to generate traffic to a site, especially if you have excellent strong images. You might even go one further, and put your url as a watermark on all of your images, which could potentially bring you in more traffic. Just make sure to make the appropriate galleries public, for all users to view and share.

Google analytics

This is an extremely useful set of tools to monitor and track your website traffic, think of it as a hit counter on steroids! You are able to view how many visitors have come to your website over specific periods of time. You can see how many of them were from search engine results, and how many were direct links or even if the domain was just typed in the address bar. With google analytics you can also monitor your traffic from adsense campaigns, as well as regular google searches. You get great pie charts and graphs to display all your visitor infomation in an easy to read and understand way. You are able to see the geographical locations of your visitors from around the world, what keywords they used to find your site, which page they entered and left on, how long they stayed on your site, and how many pages they browsed. The detail that you can go into with google analytics is unbelievable, you have to see it to believe it. This is a MUST for webmasters, and is completely free of charge, so there is no excuse. If you have your own website, get analytics NOW!!

You Tube

Yep, google owns You tube. This is an excellent place to put videos of your products and services you are trying to promote. Use You tube to send visitors to your website for your proucts and services. Use the video to make your own advertisement, and really sell yourself or your services to the public. Visitors to You Tube are able to monitor your video posts and get updates every time you make a new video. Visitors are also able to comment on and rate your video content.

Google Pages

Google pages is great to make a simple website quickly and easily without any extensive knowledge on web design. You can choose from a variety of templates to make your pages for your ‘googlepages’ website, similar to the blogspot scenario. I use google pages to make quick pages to help promote my existing websites or clients websites. Incredibly easy to use and not bad to look at, its excellent for a newbie to setup a website quickly and for free.

Google Docs

Why even have spreadsheet and document editing software on your computer when google docs is around? This amazing application allows you create and store your documents online securely. This means that you can access them from anywhere you are able to access the net. Even better is the fact that you can give specific people access to specific documents. No more emailing documents, simply post a url, and also, no more wasting space on your hard drive!

Google Notebook

This is a great application for keeping notes. I personally have a great little firefox app installed that allows me to post a note to google notebook from any other page. Its great when you are researching information. I have made google notebook pages dedicated to information about the sites I am promoting, and have linked to those sites. I have then made my notebook pages public, so that others can find them, and google can index the pages, which it has done.

Google Alerts

Get emails sent to your mailbox from google, when google finds a phrase that you are monitoring on other websites, blogs or in the news. This is excellent for monitoring a specific search term, niche markets, companies, and your competitor websites. Once again, its free.

Ok, there is much more than I thought when I started typing this post, and I am getting tired, I will add to it at a future date and time.
Cheers for now,

Francois

Why the hell are there still so many crap websites?

I actually get pissed off when I see some of the crap being passed off as a small business website, yes even in this day and age, there are still people getting shafted when they get a website designed. What I cant understand is how the hell they can accept the site in the first place. All I can think, is that they are not aware of all the options and possibilities available to them. The bitch is that it affects us ‘good guys’ trying to make an honest living from developing websites.

What exactly would you class as a good website? OK, So there are a lot of mixed ideas about what makes a website ‘good’ or ‘bad’. To many, the design, or ‘look and feel’ of the website is key. While this is important, you can have a crappy website that offers little or no information, but at the same time is a fantastic multimedia wet dream for others. On the other hand, you can have a website jam packed with information about every aspect of your business, but at the end of the day has the visual appeal of a lump of dog turd. There seems to be a wide spectrum of categories a website could fall into, and certainly the better ones fall into more of the categories than others.

It therefore goes to reason, that in an ideal world, the perfect website would probably be fast, simple to navigate, interactive, fun, artistic, chic and visually appealing, informative and extremely useful, ‘sticky’ enough to keep the visitor interested for hours, while still ‘slippery’ enough to quickly and easily guide them to make contact or spend money with you. The site would have an instant ‘cult’ like following with visitors eagerly bookmarking the site and suggesting it to others without provocation. The visitor would also feel the urge to visit the site on a daily basis to check the constant stream of new exciting and informative updates and improvements taking place constantly. All this, while being open source, the latest greatest and ‘up to datest’ web 2.0 programming, as well as paying for itself many times over with the revenue brought in by on site advertising. The site would also be search engine friendly and in position 1 on google for every remotely applicable search term, while every visitor would gladly supply their email address to be added to the newsletter database.

And thats just a list of ideas off the top of my head! If I had more time, I could probably fill the page! How many websites do you know, that would fit into even 5 of those categories? I can definately think of many, but for the average business that doesnt have a massive budget, this is not really an option. As a web developer we need to make sites that work, look appealing, and to top it off, they must be able to be deployed in record time.

Time is money in this game, and unfortunately, the ‘better’ the site needs to be, the more expensive it must be. Its with this in mind that I am reminded of a saying I have hear doing the rounds, ” If you pay crap, you get crap”. Sure there are even exceptions in this area, where some people manage to get a gem for next to nothing, or get crap after paying a small fortune, but generally if anything, the latter is unfortunately more appropriate.

For most small to medium enterprises, the purpose of the website is clear, it needs to earn its keep, by helping to generate sales and leads. If your business is losing money by having the website, and its not doing its job, then why have the damn thing!? Why not then just have a ‘business card site’ that displays your contact details and not much more? At the very least, the site must increase brand awareness in some way.

Too many times people are duped into getting a site by the usual, ‘let your site work for your 24hours a day’ line, and ‘it works for you while you are asleep’, and ‘millions of people every day are getting onto the internet’ lines are also really getting really old and boring now. The fact is that everyone knows someone who can ‘ give you a good deal ‘ on a website, or ‘has just done a course’ and will be able to set your business up. Now if you want to skrimp and save, and let some young upstart kid or ‘new company’ design your business website for you, then you are retarded! You may get lucky, but more often that not, you will be throwing your money away, and thats a shame, because once you have burned your fingers, you will be very unwilling to try again with a decent company, let alone throw a lot more even more money the second time for a decent job to be done right.

If you are going to be getting a professional website designed for your business, then expect to pay professional prices for a decent result, which could include:

A good functional design that promotes the brand, is modern yet professional looking, and is easy to navigate, clean and uncluttered in design and layout
An apropriate number of pages showing decent and interesting copywritten content that is enhanced by appropriate pictures and other media, for all the products, services and company information. The pages should also all be fast loading and optimised for searches in search engines
An easy to use method of contacting the company through the website, as well as all the company contact details

One thing to ask yourself is, “Does what I see accurately depict the professionalism, reliability, quality, products and services of my company”. Your website is a member of your company, and so an unprofessional or shabby looking website will affect visitors perceptions of you and your company.

So the moral of the story is to ‘Do it right, first time’. Yes, it might be more expensive, but it will be an investment that will ultimately pay off considerably. If the face of your business online looks unprofessional, then to the visitor, you are unprofessional. Say goodbye to those big clients!

Just my 2c on the shite websites I keep seeing, any comments? Am I crazy?

Landing pages in Google

For years I have been under the impression that landing pages were a bad thing in google. Well, recently I had to eat my words, as I watched someone get a landing page listed in Google in under 24 hours, without any blackhat techniques.
OK, the page was optimised like a mother f*cker, but, the point is, I thought this was frowned upon by the big G in search engine land. Guess not….
The snag for me, is that a landing page isnt really great from a visitor point of view. From a search engine point of view, fine, but if a visitor came to a site I was promoting, they would take one look and leave. WHY I hear you ask. Well, because the pages I promote are not affiliate programs and products, nor my own products. The pages are real peoples small business websites, predominantly in the tourism industry. We are talking guesthouses, car rental companies etc. The reall problem is that they dont really understand how things work, and all they want, is to know why they are not on page 1, in the first position for a broad term like, accommodation, or car hire!
If a person Like me had to use a landing page, using the same method I saw recently, it would get placed well in goolge, but better than the real page? Who knows?
If history is anything to go by, then google would rank the real page higher than the landing page, because of its content.
What I witnessed was a landing page of about 5 paragraphs get ranked inside the top 10 on google, within 24hrs, simply by some optimisation, and well placed links to the website.
What does this mean to ‘real’ company websites? Should we be making these landing pages? Is this what the blackhat cloaking pages are all about? It seems that would be the solution, a page for the engines, and a page for the ‘real’ people.
Does google frown on the landing page, or the cloaking of the landing page?
Things are starting to look a bit fuzzy for me on this front right now.
For now I will be sticking to the proven methods I am already using, while keeping one eye on the ‘new’ developments I have recently seen. Maybe it was a fluke, but I am not gonna take the chance.

Cool techcrunch article about social networks

Just read a great article at Techcrunch about how fast these social networking websites are growing. I must admit, that if you took a look back over only the last year, there has been such an increase in these highly addictive websites.

According to the article:

“Did you know that Imeem is the fastest-growing social site in the U.S (up 1,590 percent in monthly uniques). And that AIM Pages is growing slightly faster than Digg (345 percent growth versus 323 percent)? Well, at least according to comScore. I asked comScore to do a ranking of social sites in the U.S. and then I reordered the list by growth rate. ”

What I like about the article, is that there is a great table, showing the list of the most popular sites and their growth, really cool, and a few surprises too.

Whats a bit scary though, is I am a bit embarrassed to say that I haven’t heard of some of these sites, and since the article was posted, things have probably changed too. That is how fast the web is really moving right now. On the surface, everything looks like a smooth lake, hardly a ripple, but beneath the surface, there is tons of stuff going on. All of this is great for me, I love all this new stuff!

Check out the article, its pretty interesting…

Lets get the ball rolling

Today I thought I would kick things off by putting my first post onto this blog. Basically this is a place where I can talk about stuff I think is interesting.

Right now, being a web addict, I really find all these new Web2.0 sites extremely cool. If you dont know what I mean when I say ‘Web2.0′, check out the wikipedia site for an explanation of what it all means.

Web2.0 is the way of the future, already in the last year alone, literally hundreds of awesome new web2.0 sites have popped up, and most of the totally rock! Theres a stronger sense of community at these sort of sites, which is awesome for a reject like me.

If you haven’t got it already, GET THE STUMBLE UPON TOOLBAR for your Firefox browser. Stumble Upon is a classic example of an awesome web2.0 site, with the added advantage of being incredibly addictive. NOT GOOD for procrastinators like me at all.

Before I get completely sidetracked, here is a list of really cool websites I regularly visit:

Stumble Upon
Flickr
Bloglines
Twitter
Delicious
Youtube
Go2Web2.0

To name a few….