Ten More Algorithm Changes from Google

Google make around 500 changes to its search system each year; some are minor changes, but some have huge impacts on your sites’ search position.

Possibly one of the most important changes is a focus on fresh content; something that has been featured in the Official Google Blog;

As we announced just over a week ago, we’ve made a significant improvement to how we rank fresh content. This change impacts roughly 35 percent of total searches (around 6-10% of search results to a noticeable degree) and better determines the appropriate level of freshness for a given query.

There’s also changes to how duplicated boilerplate text is dealt with – something that should generally always be avoided.

While these changes are useful to note; there is no reason to make drastic changes to your site; these announcements should be taken as an indicator to improve and optimise especially where it can be a easy task and a quick win; and especially where it helps your visitors too.

The entire list can be found on Google’s Inside Search Blog

The Evolution of the frag.co.uk Snow Screensaver

In November, approximately 16 years ago, I gave myself the challenge to write a screensaver in time for Christmas. It gave the effect of falling snow over the desktop, at varying speeds and including wind and various speed settings. Each snow particle was to be stored individually, and contain it’s speed, colour and trajectory.

It was put together over a number of days, way in advance, and had so many features that could be added, and so much programming and mathematics, I’d found an excellent way to practice a variety of programming techniques, including memory management.

Originally written in GFA Basic (for the Atari ST), in the mid-1990s, it’s been rewritten in various languages, including QuickBasic in DOS soon after. Back then, many machines would struggle with many ‘particles’ of snow, and it was a skill to write something effective.

My previous attempt, in 2006, was written in Visual Basic 6 and used GDI for graphics. This uses the operating system to draw graphics, and did not make use of the latest hardware. This made it less than optimal and used a higher amount of CPU.

I’ve been using VB.net for some time, and since December is nearly upon us, it was time to rewrite with DirectX and newer tools. After some major headaches with Managed DirectX (it appears to be something else Microsoft have forgotten about); the results were astounding.

Using DirectX, it can have millions of particles (more than the screen itself can show) and uses little CPU; even on low-end computers. I’ve been able to add in a number of features, and had to limit some others. I hope to add in more features in future versions. Certainly, for next years’ version, I’m hoping for the ability to pile over the desktop windows and images.

frag.co.uk Snow 2011 screenshot

frag.co.uk Snow 2011 screenshot

It is still currently in beta; but it’s only real issue is that it requires a Direct 3D capable card.

The latest version, Snow 2011 is still in beta but available to download from our software page; and we’d love to hear any feedback – good or bad!

Download frag.co.uk Snow 2011 Screensaver

ZenCart, Magento and poor SEO – solving the issues

Pixel Ovenmitts from JustMustard.com

Pixel Ovenmitts from JustMustard.com

We’ve been working with JustMustard.com on a very special project involving ZenCart eCommerce software. JustMustard is an online retailer and wholesaler of a variety of very strange and very awesome gifts and presents. We really enjoy working with them. Plus we really want some Pixel Oven-gloves.

However, ZenCart is viewed with both praise and disdain from programmers. It is an excellent off-the-shelf system for an online shopping experience, very secure, and very customisable. However, like most off-the-shelf systems, it does require a lot of work to give the results wanted.

As an aside, if you are looking for a new shopping system, we do recommend looking into both off-the-shelf systems such as osCommerce and Magento against having a custom solution being built. A custom solution can mean better SEO and should be more in needs with your business, and although the costs may appear high and a require a good long-term development team, on the other hand, a generic site needing custom changes later can be expensive or impossible, and is more likely to be attacked and spammed. In JustMustard’s case, we’re finding that ZenCart (after some work) is working very well; but in other sites using a generic site could be a costly mistake..

ZenCart, along with many other eCommerce sites are not set out for great SEO opportunities. ZenCart’s biggest mistake is having duplicate content, since a product can be accessed by many URLs (via the cPath); and often different URLs for the same product is used across the site. ZenCart also doesn’t make any use of the URL for keywords, often making the common mistake of using the querystring for page navigation.

We’ve been able to work with the ZenCart system and rewrite all the necessary URLs, and also automatically use the product title (and optional description) as part of the keywords in the URL. This is simply done using some fairly logical PHP techniques alongside some custom htaccess rules and regular expression matching.

It means a URL which previously looked like this:

/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_4&products_id=39

Is now redirected, alongside any similar-looking URL, to the much neater and unambiguous;

/product-39/cactooph-toothpick/

The same technique has been applied to product categories, and has been to static product pages too.

If the URL visited isn’t exactly the right one, the script tries to find the product, category or static page, and redirects the customer to the correct URL. The URL includes the latest keywords via the product title; ensuring customers have an informative URL, and search engines have valuable keywords and non-duplicate content.

Scripts like this can really clean up a working website, and really help to achieve both better keyword position and make it easier for your customers to navigate your site; without requiring a complete re-write. Our version will work just as easily for any future product; and doesn’t require any additional effort from product administration.

list of shortcodes on derp.co.uk that come from rewriterules

derp.co.uk: we love rewrite rules!

We’ve done this on every site we’ve set up, and found it helps bundles. Often this is just a few pages, but we’ve integrated this same system on far more advanced websites too – including a complex laptop, battery and power browser system on the laptopshop.co.uk website – a total of over 300,000 pages. We’ve also used rewrite rules to a ridiculous degree on the image site, derp.co.uk

Certainly ensuring non-duplicate content and keywords are important to SEO. Changing all the URLs on your site can be a lot of work to achieve, and it should never be taken lightly, it can sometimes be better to improve slowly and carefully. At the very least, it is essential to ensure all old URLs redirect to the new address and include a sitemap. For a number of reasons, this was a good time for JustMustard.com, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it and tuning accordingly..

Despite our technique being relatively simple, it requires quite some work before it will automatically with all ZenCart installs, and static pages have had to be arranged using some of our other tools. JustMustard.com was a perfect candidate for this work, but every site we’ve seen has different needs and requirements.

For this reason, we’re not able to provide source code, though we may provide some of our techniques if there’s demand; and we’re always happy to help if you contact us. We hope this is useful and motivating to get those site issues fixed!

Instead, we are happy to discuss similar installations and assistance with SEO and eCommerce.

Good Marketing Strategies and Techniques vs the Bad

All websites aim for a high conversion ratio; and if you have a high number of visitors but a low take-up rate or high bounce rate; it may be time to review your marketing techniques.

The wiki site, Dark Patterns, discusses the different techniques used in marketing – focusing on the bad, but also giving some great examples of good marketing strategies.

Most companies will be guilty of at least one of these poor marketing strategies, and it is a likely cause of low conversion. We’ve had clients that are guilty of some of these techniques, and seen the poor effect is has; however convincing those in charge that it could be a disaster can be a struggle.

Some of these are simple issues, such as long-winded registration processes – which may be a sign of poor navigation structure.

However, many of these tricks are ploys and scams – charging customers continuously after a ‘free period’, having content behind a pay-wall, or indelible products that cannot be removed from shopping baskets.

These can have a very strong negative impact on your brand that you may never recover from.

Of course, there are plenty of companies that have avoided these dark patterns too, and embraced honesty and clear marketing – such as Google and Play.com – and found it very successful.

The site can be found at darkpatterns.org, I highly recommend watching the 25 minute video/audio slideshow, as it has some fantastic examples and a brilliant style.

eMail: web@frag.co.uk
Phone: 07739 315821

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