Search Engine Optimisation

Posted February 16, 2010 by Bill Morris
Categories: Biography-History

I am an expert at optimizing websites for the maximum impact on search engines. An expert, seriously. I know as much as the dudes getting $500 a month who optimize websites for a living.

It’s simple. Ready? Write this down:

It’s all about text content.

Not images. Not Flash. Not Ajax. Certainly not keywords.

Content. Text. Text Content.

Google™ doesn’t use KEYWORDS, and never has. Yahoo!™ doesn’t.

If you want Google™ to rank you for “pottery” in “Lawrence, Kansas”, then make sure that those three words appear as often as is logically possible in your content. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

Have an image? Make sure the ALT tag has text. Have a link? Make sure it has a TITLE tag. Make sure the link doesn’t say “Click here”, but is meaningful, like “”Get more information about Kansas Pottery.”

Visit blogs, online forums, and newsgroups related to your subject. Post, reply, flame, and make sure your web address appears at least once in every one.

Visit related websites, and see if they’ll link back to you.

That’s IT.

If you Google™ “how do I optimize my website”, you’ll find all kinds of resources, and they’ll all say basically the same thing. It’s about getting the word out, then having the word on your site.

After that, things get a little vague.

If you call me on the phone and ask, “Why did Google™ drop 20 of my pages from it’s index?” my first inclination is to respond, “I don’t know, why don’t you call and ask them?” Since I can’t do that, what I say instead is, “I don’t know, let me check on it and get back to you.”

The fact of the matter is, when I call you back, I’ll have nothing to report, and I’m not going to make something up.

Because I don’t know. Nobody knows. Google™ doesn’t publish how their search works, and I could beg them all day and never find out. In the parlance of my industry, Google™ is a “black box”: you feed it your input, you get output, and you’re not allowed to see the inner workings.

When I say, “I’ll check”, I’m just allowing you time to get distracted and busy. In your mind, I’m likewise busy; in reality, I’m getting a cup of coffee and working on somebody else’s issue.

When I call you back, and I do, I will report to you what you already know. You had a hundred pages indexed yesterday, eighty today. You’ll deny messing with the site, I’ll deny messing with the site. Then I’ll tell you, “We’ll do an audit on our side, and let you know if you need to change anything on your side. It can take up to two weeks for Google™’s index to change, so we’ll revisit this then, okay?”

So, I’ll admit, that last bit was a lie: we’re never going to revisit this. By tomorrow morning, the next day at the latest, you will have forgotten about this whole issue. That’s the nature of your business, and mine.

So there’s the situation: you want the Ultimate Search Engine Optimization Answer.

Okay, here it is: there isn’t one. Are you listening? There. Is. No. Ultimate. Answer.

SEO has been on the internet radar since the first search engine appeared more than ten years ago. SEO has been big business for the last five or so. Don’t you think, in five years, if there were an Ultimate Answer, someone would have found it by now?

The best we can do is make educated guesses, do all the things we know to do, and hope that Google™ doesn’t screw us both. And if it does, we live with it.

Beware the guy who tells you, “For $100 a month I can guarantee you a high ranking on Google™.” That’s true, for a couple of weeks, until something else comes along that’s optimized a little bit better, or has content that’s a little bit newer.

Anybody who can write a website can “do” SEO: keep your content relevant, fresh, and easy for Google™ to read.

It’s not a task to be done. It’s a process to be followed.

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VPN, OR Non-technical people making technical decisions

Posted December 29, 2009 by Bill Morris
Categories: Business, How-To

Let’s begin honestly: this is an introduction for AceVPN.com.

I recently had a friend from Germany ask me about VPN services. She misses American TV shows, and wants to watch them over the internet, but for her many of those sites are blocked.  Since the supposedly reputable ones cost money, could I make any recommendations?

My understanding of VPN was something like Terminal Services for Windows, and didn’t include getting around regional or corporate restrictions: it simply never occurred to me.

A couple of weeks ago, my partners at work started talking about putting in a hardware firewall to restrict access to things like Facebook – ridiculous since at our largest we’ll never have more than ten people, and there are only three of us now! Yes, Facebook can be a time waster, but it’s also a resource for me: I often post technical questions for my many techie friends who are also on Facebook.

I may very well need one of these services in the future, myself.

I found several VPN services through a Google search, but as I have no experience with any, it’s tough to recommend. The prices are all comparable, within $10US or so of each other. Once I’ve reached the point where one orange looks like another orange, I change my criteria.

Is the company honest about what is on offer – basically an end-run around network restrictions, or do they hem and haw around the issue? Does the service look like it caters to someone like me, an individual who wants safer, anonymous, more secure browsing?

Does the website look like it was written by a meth addict, with content all over the screen? If so, imagine what the customer service must be like.

Does the website use correct, idiomatic English, which suggests one of  two things: either the company is honestly an American company, or the company cared enough to hire a good translator. (I found one website that claimed to be American, but the website copy was full of past/present-tense errors, indicative that it was written by a non-native speaker, or someone who’s just bloody stupid.)

I also look for articles like “The Five Best VPN Services for 2009”, or some such, and then I read the comments: that’s where the real information is. At the bottom of this article, a couple of readers suggested AceVPN.com.

I visited the AceVPN.com website. The copy is written well, using good English. The design is no-nonsense and easy to navigate. Their services are comparable and prices are very reasonable.

This is a site I’m bookmarking for future use…which will most likely be  just a few minutes after the new firewall is installed at work.

Ballistics in the 1970s and 1980s

Posted November 21, 2009 by Bill Morris
Categories: Biography-History

So, today I’m watching The Bourne Identity. The first one. From 1988, with Richard Chamberlain. The one that actually followed the book almost letter for letter. Remember that one? That’s okay. No one else does, either.

This is not to say it’s a film you can’t learn something from. You can learn how not to design a soundscape. What you observe – or hear – is:

All guns, regardless of caliber, environment, target, or proximity to the viewer, sound exactly the same. For example:

A pistol, fired in a wood paneled room with 12′ ceilings, a few feet from the viewer

sounds just like

A revolver, pressed against and fired through a heavy overcoat in a Saab sub-compact, a foot away

sounds just like

A revolver fired close to the wall (and an assailant’s ear, as it happens) in an elevator, a few inches away

sounds just like

A pistol, fired in the open air using a silencer, from several yards away.

And I think that in all the sound effects libraries in all the world there were only two ricochet sounds, and they were used regardless of the surface being struck…including water. Thus, that bullet, fired in the passenger cabin of the aforementioned Saab hits the roof with a sound that whines and decays away just the like bullet that bounces off the stone wall next to the hero’s head in a high narrow alley.

Makes one wonder if the sound designers actually watched the films they were working on – or ever listened to how things actually sound.

Contrast this with the sound design of the ballistics for, say, Pearl Harbor (Michael Bay, 2001). There are two places that really stand out. (Keep your opinions as to the relative value of this film to yourself. That’s not why we’re here.)

In the British fighter attack on the German bombers, the 20mm rounds are heard striking metal – thin metal at that – and those that miss can be heard flying by the camera.

In the attack on Pearl Harbor itself, the bullets from the 7.7mm guns on the Japanese fighters (Aichi D3A, or “Val”s) and torpedo bombers (Nakajima B5N, or “Kate”s) exhibit different sounds: the heavy metal plating and wooden decks of the American ships ping, clang, and thump, the concrete and asphalt of the airfields pocks.

It’s an unsettling level of realism.

Contributing to the War Effort: Gimp vs. Photoshop

Posted July 6, 2009 by Bill Morris
Categories: Kvetching, Software

Tags: , ,

It was recently suggested to a friend of mine that he try out Gimp on his newly upgraded Mac. This friend already owns a copy of Photoshop CS4 and thus has no compelling reason to switch. Good.

In many books on the subject, the claim is made that Harland & Wolff describes the Titanic as “unsinkable.” This claim is not true. They touted the double-hull construction, and then the media of the time took that ball and ran with it: it was the press that called the great ship “unsinkable.”

Likewise, the Gimp team has never suggested that The Gimp is a Photoshop replacement. Bloggers and the rest of the open source community did that for them.

They’re wrong, in any case.

I like the idea of open source software, but, taking Gimp as our example (and, by extension, Inkscape), its single biggest advantage is that it is free. That’s where the Yellow Brick Road ends.

So, as I said, Gimp is marketed – as much as anything open source is marketed – as a Photoshop replacement. Let’s accept that, then, midguided as it is, and look at a few key areas where such an assertion is patently wrong, and I’m going to do so with real reasons.

Today, July 6th in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine, if you do a Google search on “gimp vs. photoshop” you’ll get more than seven million results. Of those, let’s say half are legit and/or not repeats. Of those, let’s say that just over three-quarters are whining about how the interface is different. Well, no shit. Different software, different interface. Let’s get qualitative:

1. You can’t nest layers, so organizing your graphic is pretty tough. No, scratch that. In real practical terms, it’s impossible.

2. Adjustment layers. One of Photoshop’s most powerful features. Gimp doesn’t have them. Sure, you can add layers that adjust layers below them, but that’s every layer from the adjuster, down. To isolate the effect, you have to merge the adjuster and the target, at which point, your adjustments are done. Better get it right the first time…or duplicate your target and hide it so you can go back and try again, further complicating the document.

3. Stroked paths that curve, pixelate and do weird shit with the stroke width.  Gimp can make Web2.0 style buttons and frames, but only if you’re willing to put up with awkward looking corners.

4. Text rendering is sloppy, with similar symptoms as issue #3: curves pixelate. You can get around this somewhat by creating your text huge and scaling it down, but that’s a real pain in the ass. You can also drop into Inkscape* to do any work with curves, but then you have to deal with differences in scaling between the two applications, likewise a real pain in the ass.

These are HUGE failings that Gimp is going to have to overcome before it will ever seriously compete with PS.

…which it isn’t officially trying to do anyway.

* Inkscape is also a serious memory hog, and if you have anything visual going on – hulu.com in another window, for instance – the Inkscape interface just stops refreshing. Maybe that would go away with a better video card, though it irks me that I’d have to upgrade what’s already a higher-than-baseline PC.

Still learning the tools…

Posted April 30, 2009 by Bill Morris
Categories: Biography-History

There nothing to equal the frustration of spending several hours on an effects sequence in AfterEffects and FXHome, only to export it to Premiere and discover that when you decoded the footage off the source DVD using DVDx that DVDx decoded it at half-size.

Aha!, you think, not trusting yourself to not put a fist through your monitor, no wonder it was so hard to line the fire up with the building windows.

Shit. And it took hours to decode. So, not only do I have to start over on the effects sequence (thankfully, it’s short-ish, seven seconds or so), I have to back up even further and re-decode. This time, I’m using Super© and I’ve confirmed what I’m getting by dragging twenty seconds or so into Premiere.

Thoughts on the Linux box.

Posted April 10, 2009 by Bill Morris
Categories: Kvetching, Technique

Tags: , ,

Through the whole Church video project, the Linux box has been a real trooper, allowing me to do day-job work – or even blog entries like this one – while the primary box was rendering. I can’t work as fast or efficiently, but some of that can be attributed to unfamiliar software and workflow.

Not ALL, mind you: some of it is that the box is eight years old and software for Linux is sorely trailing behind what’s available for Windows. I’ve only found one code editor that allows remote open/save, Komodo, but it functions no better than Notepad in a lot of ways: no tag completion, no syntax hilighting (at least for classic ASP/VBscript), no Intellisense. Thankfully, I have most of VBScript, CSS and javascript syntaxes memorized, but I’m still typing a lot of stuff longhand and that slows a chap down.

Can’t do video on this box; it’s just too old and can’t handle the throughput. There are precious few software NLE offerings anyway.  (Kino? Please. It’s shit.) I got to thinking, though, that it would probably work just fine for audio recording, and there are good options for that for Linux. My first love is still the Windows box, but when it’s busy and I have a hankerin’ to lay down some tracks, why not plug in to ol’ Tux and go?

I need some additional cabling and I think I can make a go of it. It’s worth a try.

Finally.

Posted April 10, 2009 by Bill Morris
Categories: How-To, Kvetching

Tags:

After more issues that I care to deal with again, I’m burning DVDs. As it turns out, I have to split the video between two discs since the whole three hour session came to just over 9gb, and I don’t have any double-sided discs.

That’s okay though. I’m seeing the end of this project, finally.

TMPGEnc was just the software I needed, though after first use it started throwing errors – or rather, vsfilter.dll started throwing errors. I haven’t had time to really investigate and a cursory Google search turned up – surpise! – nothing. Okay, next to nothing. The only “solution” I found wasn’t really a solution, insofar as it didn’t work. Again, that’s okay. When this project is over, I’ll have time to investigate further.

The summary is that by tomorrow morning’s Easter festivities at church, I’ll have two discs – the second is in the burner right this minute – to give the pastor, and we can call this one done.  I need to invoice the church, even if it’s all donated: I want to know, come year’s end, exactly what I did this year.