Free php spinner!

A while ago a friend of mine, an SEO guy, told me about the concept of ‘spinning’ content. Basically the idea is to get many articles out of one article, by adding replacement words or phrases to the one article you write. Then, every time you refresh the page, the same – but different – article is displayed. It’s mostly a way to confuse search engines into thinking you have more content than you do, but sometimes it’s useful; E.g. if you have a summary of an article which is ripped straight from the main article, you might get a duplicate content penalty from Google every time it looks at your site.

It’s always struck me as odd than nobody seems to have written anything (freely available anyway. $97? Bugger that!) for such a simple task, so I thought what the heck, I’ve got an hour or two, why don’t I write it myself? So I did, and here it is; Continue reading

Hits vs Visits, or “How to ask for website stats without sounding old”

“How many hits do we get?”

This question is almost as prevalent as the “How do I make a site” thing, but it’s a lot more dated. If uttered by a marketer, it instantly shows their age as nobody actually asks about ‘hits’ anymore if they know what they’re talking about.

I’ll break down the terms first so you know what I’m talking about, if you don’t already. Continue reading

Google learns to read text in Flash files – What’s it mean for SEO?

Google have just announced that their world famous flagship product… you know, the search thing… can now read text elements inside flash files embedded on websites. They’ve been working hard alongside Adobe to get their new algorithm working, and Adobe seems to be similarly open to the idea as I’m sure it’s one of the most requested feature updates from web developers ever since the term SEO actually started standing for something. Continue reading

Google is not a person.

I’ve been using the term ‘Google’ as a personification lately, and until today I hadn’t realised just how often I think or speak as such. For those not in the know about my job, I’m in the business of making websites. Most of my sites involve some degree of Search Engine Optimisation (or Optimization for you yankee’s, or site-make-get-traffics for you Bernard Blacks out there.) and its been getting more and more ingrained into my thought process than ever lately.

Continue reading

Making good websites is an art

Functionality, Useability, Graphic / Interface Design, Cost Effectiveness, Code Readibility, Futureproofing, Browser Compatibility, Search Engine Optimisation, Security and Disaster Recovery – These are some of the things website developers have to weigh up on each and every project we take on.

When I started programming and developing websites I guess I was a bit of an optimist in terms of the amount of time a company or boss would give me to develop a site. I nievely thought that they would care about things like Code Readibility or Futureproofing (i.e. commenting, writing functions that could be reused) as much as I did. After making a few sites this way, and taking months to perfect them (and charging thousands of dollars as a result) I discovered that most people would rather a site that has all the same features and looks the same visually but is developed in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost.

Shocking, isn’t it? And who am I to tell them they should spend $10,000 when they could spend $1500 for no visible reason? I’ll tell you a secret too, something most developers don’t really like being spread around because it deals them out of that $10,000 website contract. Content Management Systems, or CMS’s, like Joomla are much more advanced than anything you could make on your own. Sure sometimes a custom job is still required, but for most purposes there is a CMS out there that will do the job nicely, giving you (the developer) more time to get more clients, and make your clients much much happier.

The upsides of running CMS’s instead of your own custom build PHP or ASP based sites far outweigh the down sides. One good thing is modulisation – you can find all sorts of free stuff for CMS’s (or build your own modules), which extend the CMS and make it do things closer to what you want. Another is security, since the CMS is run on thousands of sites worldwide, security flaws get picked up quickly and patched. Easy updating is always good too, as it means you spend less time mucking around making a page look the way you want – most CMS’s have javascript based WYSIWYG page editors and automatic menu linking.

The downsides? Server footprints are usually larger, but bandwidth is cheap these days and broadband modems plentiful. SEO sometimes suffers, but not if you choose and configure the CMS carefully. In most cases a CMS makes it even easier to do things like google friendly sitemaps or SEO compatible links, so it’s mostly a plus.

A friend made a comment about the display code on one of my sites a while back; it went something like “I know a bit of HTML and some CSS, and I think I could do better than that”. This friend didn’t know anything about CMS’s or PHP, by the way, but yes it is an unfortunate fact that code readibility suffers a lot with a CMS, and given that every module you use will be made by a different person and will spit out its display code differently there isn’t much you can do to make it any better. For example, at the time of writing, most of the Joomla components I use on that site spit out data in HTML Tables which seriously messes with my beautifully designed CSS / DIV based template. But as I explained to her, I can live with that for now because I’m busy managing or creating another 15 websites without breaking a sweat.

Every website I make involves carefully considering things that most people don’t even notice, or think about. It’s basically finding the most cost effective way to not only give the client what they want in their website, but what they need. If I can cut the cost down by about $8000, then they’re more likely to hire me, they’re more likely to be happy, and if it saves me an extra 200 hours of coding and debugging then that’s 200 hours I can spend on other clients and other interesting sites.

Boredom and Stress, the Webmaster’s Spectrum

I think that webmasters have some of the most varied work days, or hours, of almost any professional industry on the planet. Maybe it’s just my work style, but I seem to travel almost instantly between stressed out of my mind and boredom, and sometimes both at the same time. What other job can you have where you are simultaneously stressed AND bored?

Let me explain. The critical issue I’m dealing with is bigger than most issues I’ve dealt with here before. It’s my first experience dealing with a hosting server that has been blacklisted due to no fault of my own or anyone else in the company, but due to it being blacklisted we’re having all sorts of traffic and email issues coming and going to that server. Add to that fact that we’re currently migrating our sites to a new CMS, which in itself is stressful because like any good website there’s hundreds of extra little files and links that have organically grown on the site over the last year or two, and each one has to be correctly linked to avoid 404’s or even worse wasted pagerank from google. I also have my usual daily task list backing up while I deal with this issue, so all of this is adding to my stress level and forcing me to multitask even better than usual. It’s not as bad as it could have been though, thanks to my bright idea of separating our hosting packages. Go go gadget foresight!

This is the stress of being a webmaster, and depending on your reaction to it can make or break your career. I’m lucky in that I actually enjoy this kind of chaos, but that doesn’t stop me bitching about it when it’s over. It’s times like this though that give me a bit of a self confidence boost because I don’t have time to think as much as I usually do and am forced to trust my gut, which experience tells me is fairly good at quick decisions.

The boredom factor comes and goes, sometimes running parallel with the stress. It’s not every day that you come across a webcomic-browsing ball of pent up stress, and I can’t think of another industry where this might be true. I’m stressed because unlike most problems, I can’t just log in to a control panel, click some buttons, and hey presto it’s fixed. With issues like this I have to rely on two things which all webmasters loathe: dns propagation times and hosting tech support.

Now to be fair, my hosts are among the best I’ve dealt with in terms of support (it’s why I’m with them), but even waiting five minutes for a reply about this problem I’m facing right now is torture; because I can’t do anything about it. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world for me, knowing what a problem is but being unable to solve it fast or having to wait on other people to do it for me. This is where the stress and boredom collide – I’m stressed because there’s a problem I can’t deal with directly, but I’m bored because until it’s fixed I can’t do much around here. I’m checking my email every 20 seconds and casually chatting to the office folk, but inside I’m worried as hell that emails arent getting to the people who need them in the company. Sure I’ve got a backup email server going that’s catching them all, but I won’t be able to push the emails until the problem is resolved, and I can’t fix it right now!

So I guess the point of this is to just give you a bit of insight into a problem that all webmasters will face at least once or twice in their careers, especially during site migrations.