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SEO Tips for Ruby on Rails

I’m working on this article as another bit of linkbait, and its about 33% of the way finished at the moment, but I thought I would give you guys a sneak peek.  If you have any comments, please, feel free.  If you want to blog or otherwise link to it, go right ahead, although it is very much a work-in-progress at this point.

The excerpt:

There is much to love about the Ruby on Rails framework. Don’t Repeat Yourself. It Just Works. Massive productivity gains, happiness returning to the world of boring CRUD apps, and a certain sense of panache in programming. However, while Rails has sensible defaults it doesn’t get everything right out of the box. This article focuses on how you can improve the search engine optimization (SEO) of your Rails site the Ruby way and get a

  • more usable,
  • more popular,
  • and more profitable application — with less work!

You can read the rest of it at Rails SEO tips, located at Daily Bingo Cards.  Why did I put it over there?  Frankly, I expect this to make the rounds a few times in the Rails community, many of whom have their own blogs, and I expect it to get linked to heavily.  There isn’t a Definitive Rails SEO Resource yet, and that page has delusions of grandeur. 

My blog is PR5, has a few hundred inbound links, and has little direct impact on my monthly bottom line.  Daily Bingo Cards is PR0, has about two inbound links, and has the potential to double my take-home pay.  Choosing to get the links over there rather than over here was not a hard decision.  Granted, the inbound links will not be that targeted to start out, but they’ll greatly help get the trust-ball rolling while I wait a few weeks to start ranking for my targetted snowflake queries.

P.S. When I post this to the social networking sites, for the ones which value a little bit of controversy with their morning coffee, the title is going to be “Default Routes Considered Harmful, and Other Rails SEO Tips”.  If you’re in the less-geeky end of the pool the reference might not make sense to you, but trust me, Considered Harmful is a (heated!) conversation starter around the Slashdot set.  I’m not saying it just to be controversial, though — leaving the default routes in a publicly-accessible Rails application is a bad idea, for the reasons I go over in the article.

Developing Linkbait For a Non-Technical Audience

Meet The Linkerati 

The old computer science joke has it that there are 10 kinds of people in the world: those that understand binary, and those that don’t.  There are 10 kinds of people on the Internet, too: those that link, and those that don’t.  Those that link are called the Linkerati, and they have the power to make your business vast sums of money, if only you show them the way.  This post is a wee bit theoretical, a wee bit how-do, and a wee bit of a direct inducement to the Linkerati themselves.  Or, as my college friends would say, “Dude, its, like, meta.”  I promise that they were not under the influence when they said things like that, unless postmodern theory counts as an intoxicant (then again, it probably should).

The Linkerati (what a wonderful word — I believe it was coined in an amazing blog post at SEOMoz which you should read) is the fragment of the online community which disseminates ideas.  I’m a Linkerati — look at us, here I am telling you to go read an amazing blog post and, what’s more, because you trust me and you trust my judgement you’re probably inclined to go off and do it.  Linkerati use Digg, Reddit, and the other social services.  Linkerati own blogs.  At the shallower end of the pool, they IM their friends and email their colleagues links.  They are tremendously influential online, owing to the biggest Linkerati of them all: Google.  Offline, perhaps you would call them “opinion shapers” or “early adopters”.

Google orders its search pages based on a variety of factors, and between the meta tags and URL structure and inbound links they all boil down to this: trust.  Trust is the currency of the web and the currency of SEO.  Linkerati gain trust from their circles of Internet friends, from the one-on-one message in an AIM window to the blogger with a million RSS subscribers, and Google sees physical artifacts of trust (i.e. links) and attributes a bit of that stored trust to the guy on the other end of the link.  This results in you getting higher positioning in the search results for keywords of interest to you, and that translates pretty much directly into money in your pocket.

So what does this have to do with linkbait?

Linkbait is, simply, the act of putting something online to influence the Linkerati.  Typically the desired action is to get them to link to it, write about it, talk it up with their friends, etc.  People who are much smarter and more effective than I am have talked about doing linkbait for the Digg demographic to death.  You know who I’m talking about: 16-24 years old, male, plays World of Warcraft, owns an iPod, can’t tell you what Steve Ballmer’s title is but know he once threw a chair in a meeting, yadda yadda.  This article won’t talk about them because, frankly, they’re not too valuable to me. 

Linkbait For The Rest of Us

I sell simple software which makes bingo cards for elementary school teachers.  Teaching eight year olds to read is crashingly dull to the Digg demographic.  My target demographic is older, 90%+ female, highly well educated, and as a bit of a generalization not extraordinarily technically-minded.  There are Linkerati in my demographic, though.  The challenge is reaching them.

When I was just starting out, I created a few pages of free resources which I knew would appeal to teachers, in the hope that they would come across them and pass them around to folks they knew.  This worked well, but there were some stumbling blocks: because I was engaged in laboriously hand-crafting the free resources, I only ever produced about a dozen of them, and they could be consumed in a single browsing session.  Indeed, 60% of the visitors to my site flitted out within seconds after finding what they were looking for (such as Dolch sight word lists, for example), most never to return.  So one of the main goals of my linkbait project was to make it sticky — to have something which screams to the primordial teacher soul I want to come back here.  Most things which are good enough to come back to are worth recommending to your friends, after all.

Positioning:

Linkbait needs to quickly communicate its value both to the general user and to the Linkerati.  Both demographics consume Internet content at quite a clip and if you can’t grab them in the first thirty seconds you have probably lost them.  Accordingly, you want to have a positioning for your linkbait which informs everything you do: its more than a title, it is the core essence of what you are offering boiled down to a thought fragment.

Ideally, I would love teachers to come visit me daily.  Thus the positioning: Daily Bingo Cards.

Those are three simple words which quickly get across what I am offering: it’s bingo cards, and you want to come back tomorrow because there will be new ones tomorrow!  (Note that I just took 17 words to explain a concept covered in 3 words.  This is why I abandoned my childhood dreams of becoming a newspaper columnist.)

Build Something Remarkable: 

So you’ve got something which grabs the attention of your targeted Linkerati in the first thirty seconds.  Now you’ve got to get over the hump of getting them to burn a wee bit of their trust with their audience and link to you.  You  do that by providing them something of value which they can’t get elsewhere. 

Back when I was starting out, “something of value” was free bingo card activities and free word lists.  Those are indeed valuable to my niche.  However, they’re not very remarkable — the Internet is full of them, and if the selection at a particular site is limited to a half-dozen you can decide “Eh, not quite what I was looking for” in an instant.  What took “Eh” to “Yeah!” was the decision to take things to an industrial scale.  The idea hit me when I was coming home on the train: what if, instead of handcrafting each set of cards and each page myself, I could somehow create hundreds of cards, for hundreds of activities, of every type and description.  That is, after all, what Bingo Card Creator is all about: an infinite diversity of possible lessons (well, as long as the lesson includes a bingo game), made quick and easy. 

So I created a system to automate the production of web pages about the resources, and I hired a team of freelancers to help me write good word lists.  That let me scale from 15 word lists (what I was able to write myself in a year — obviously not fully devoted to this one aspect of my business) to 70 word lists at launch and a new word list, you guessed it, daily.  (I suppose I could have dribbled them out one at a time, in keeping with the name of the site.  However, why waste the first two months having a site with a handful of word lists when I can just scale straight to the point where the site is remarkable?  No need for foolish consistency when fudging the name a bit makes life better for everyone.) 

The general idea is to so overwhelm my visitor with abundance that they think “Wow, I can’t possibly take it all in right now, but I’m going to remember this place because its sure to come in handy later!” 

On Breadth over Depth:

Like I mentioned, there are hundreds of free bingo activities on the Internet.  Most are collected in ones and twos scattered across a variety of sites, from the extraordinarily influential to the smallest Mrs. Smith’s First Grade Class Home Page.  For some microniches, like Halloween Bingo Cards, the search rankings are quite competitive.  For others, like Astronomy Bingo Cards, they are not competitive at all.  You mark my words, I’ll be in the top 3 on Google for that phrase in a matter of days or weeks.  And I’ll stay there for, well, probably forever, happily picking up a wee little trickle of search engine traffic.  Multiply a wee little trickle by hundreds of parallel pages and it isn’t a trickle anymore.

That is, in my humble opinion, the secret which differentiates linkbait for non-technical audience from linkbait for the Digg crowd.  The Digg crowd has the attention span of an ADHD squirrel on illegal substances and has negative a billion interest in yesterday’s news, with the possible exception of classic Nintendo games. 

You can practically write a mathematical formula for the number of links a post on Digg gets you: 2D/ r  * L, where D is the number of Diggs received, r is the ratio of people visiting to people Digging (so 1/r has the effect of multiplying — incidentally, a ballpark figure is r=.01), and L is how linkable the site is (think a lot less than L=.0001, typically). 

Note the term that isn’t present: time.  Very few Digg posts are relevant 48 hours later.  However, people will play Halloween Bingo in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, etc etc.  That page will essentially never get old.  It will just continue quietly helping searchers out, collecting links, and making me money.  It is an evergreen of value.  If you have a non-technical audience, you are in the evergreen farming business.  Plant them, water them, and watch them grow.    

Of Snowflakes and Snowballs:

Earlier on my blog I talked about snowflake queries, the totally unique but still generalizable search engine queries that comprise the Long Tail of search.  There might only be one teacher in the world searching for “4th grade astronomy bingo” (and, if so, she downloaded Bingo Card Creator yesterday).  However, presenting her with an entire site full of things tangentially related to the thing which directly stimulates her interests might induce her to link to it, or otherwise recommend it.  That link to that one individual resource lifts all of the other pages on the site a wee little bit, and in turn as they rise in the rankings they will attract links themselves, and eventually the site is not a collection of a hundred snowflakes, it is a massive snowball speeding downhill.  It might never be in the top 5 for the competitive “bingo cards” search (I actually hope not — I would hate to out-compete myself!) but it will roll over and crush sites which are not trusted or particularly optimized on those Long Tail queries.  That attracts motivated potential prospects directly to my product.

Shouldn’t You Put This On Your Main Site? 

If the goal of linkbait is to get hundreds of inbound links, it would certainly make a lot of sense to put it on your main site.  I didn’t, this time, largely to have the freedom to play around with Daily Bingo Cards without worrying about jeaprodizing the business proper.  You see, it is possible to over-do on-page SEO, and I’m probably coming pretty close to the line.   Consider my Halloween bingo cards page:

  • Title is “Halloween Bingo Cards”
  • H1 tag is “Halloween Bingo Cards”
  • Halloween Bingo Cards is bolded
  • The word “Halloween” is on the page six times
  • The alt tag for the image mentions, yep, Halloween bingo cards
  • The URL for the image does, too
  • Did I mention the URL is http://www.dailybingocards.com/bingo-cards/holidays/halloween ?

Yeah, I might be pushing it just a wee bit.  Then again, the page really is about Halloween Bingo Cards, and hopefully Google’s algorithms will understand and appreciate that, rather than deciding “Oh, he is a spammer not contributing value, let us put him in the supplemental index”.  Links from real people are one way to get trusted enough to avoid that.

Should I step over and get all those results kicked out of the main index by Google, I really don’t want that to cost me $1,000 a month.  Six months from now, if the site takes off, I can always 301 redirect it to a subdomain of my main site.

Make It Linkable:

Help the Linkerati link to your site.  The very first barrier is making sure it can be linked to — putting linkbait behind a sign-on or on a page which requires a session ID means you fail, period.  The second barrier, and one which trips up a lot of people, is giving the page a good, accessible URL.

What does accessible mean?  Well, here is a wonderful article by Bob Walsh, who I’m only picking on because he is generally brilliant, is a professional colleague, and has mentioned a few times that he doesn’t get why this is a big deal:

http://www.47hats.com/?p=476

Now quick, without actually reading it, tell me what that article is about.  Kind of a tough task, right?  But that is exactly the kind of link you get when a non-technical person just copies and pastes the link into their blog or IM window, and it tells their audience nothing useful.  You don’t feel any need to go read it right now and miss out on this article, right? 

Now, without clicking on this link, tell me what it offers you:

http://www.dailybingocards.com/bingo-cards/people-and-careers/celebrities

Not a very hard task, is it?  Not only can you tell what is there (hey, bingo cards!  And about what?  Celebrities!  Celebrity Bingo Cards!), but Google and the other search engines give major weight to the words printed in the URL.  Better for your users, better for the Linkerati, better for the search engines — take the extra time to make pretty URLs, you will be happy you did.

As an added bonus, those URLs work exactly how the folder metaphor on the computer has taught people to think that they work: chop off celebrities and you get

http://www.dailybingocards.com/bingo-cards/people-and-careers/

which, like you would expect, gets you bingo cards about People and Careers.  Chop off people and careers, and you get bunches and bunches of Bingo Cards sorted into categories, letting you build your way back to an individual card.  How I did this is an interesting little implementation detail which I will cover in another article later.  (Since that little implementation detail is specific to Ruby on Rails, whose community is absolutely overflowing with Linkerati, I’ll put that article actually on the Daily Bingo Cards site and promote it directly within the community.  Win for them, they learn a good way to improve their own websites, win for me, I get free link juice.)

(Sidenote: If you run WordPress but your URLs look less than helpful, you can do something similar for yourself in thirty seconds: log into your control panel, click Options, click Permalinks, and select “Date and Name based” then hit confirm.  Presto-changeo, instant link readability.)

Grease the skids for repeat visitors:

I want people to bookmark my site and send it to the friends.  Adding “Bookmark this site!” and “Save to del.icio.us” buttons at appropriate places was very easy, and my copy actively encourages folks to come back tomorrow.  Did you know every save on del.icio.us is worth a (minor) inbound link?  I sure wouldn’t mind ending up on the popular bingo card page, and the barrier to getting there (precisely BECAUSE the delicious-using teacher population is tiny) is pretty low.  All I need to do is make a website, add in a dash of discrete text links, and let simmer for a few months.

Promotion:

If a tree falls in a forest but no one is around to hear it… I forget how the rest of that quote goes, but I am pretty sure it does not continue “then the Linkerati will blog about it”.  Just putting up a site about Daily Bingo Cards doesn’t mean anyone will actually visit it.  However, and here is the meta part of the blog post, I happen to have a decently well-read blog which has many blogging readers and many more transient searching visitors looking for things like Free Bingo Cards.  And if you want free bingo cards, well, you know where to get them!  That is enough to get my snowball rolling… but why do things by half measures.

  • Prepare a sitemap for Google and the other engines (they crawled me on the same day I submitted one, and I’m already in the index for at least the term Daily Bingo Cards (#1), with exactly ONE inbound link in the entire world prior to this post).
  • Talk to your existing customers.  I suppose I technically could mail the 400 people who bought Bingo Card Creator in the last year and say “Hey, I love you guys!  Here is a site full of free bingo cards which you can use with Bingo Card Creator.  Enjoy!”  However, I promised not to spam them and that is pushing it.  I came up with a compromise — when they get bugged to update their software to Bingo Card Creator 2.0 (which includes the daily bingo lists), the page the upgrade takes place on will mention the site and suggest they link to it.
  •   Use niche social sites – like Digg, for people who don’t find 37 Improbable Devices To Run Linux On to be very interesting.   For example, there is a site called qoolsqool.com which is, against allexpectations, actually populated by educators.  I’ll be typing up a brief entry there.  Then a Squidoo lens, yadda yadda you get the drill.
  • Blog it.  It helps if you have readers already, happily, I do.  The “secret” to that is basically linkbait writ small: produce things of value, repeat at regular intervals.

Ditch the ads:

An acquaintance of mine suggested I put AdSense ads on Daily Bingo Cards.  I can’t see how this could possibly be worthwhile: first, to have decently performing AdSense ads you have to either a) have a site which functions as a glorified search engine or b) break your site so that people want to leave it as quickly as possible.  This is not compatible with my overarching strategy, to get people to come back tomorrow!  Much of the Linkerati is also a wee bit anti-commerce (a feature they share with many teachers) and they don’t want to be “tricked” into linking to a billboard.

It is funny, though — the whole site is one gigantic advertisement for how Bingo Card Creator makes your life easier, and I plug it on essentially every page.  But it doesn’t look like what you expect an ad to look like, and the very act of consuming the marketing message is intensely valuable to my target customer!  That has to be the holy grail for marketing — people so want to be marketed to that they’ll come to you for that express purpose and tell their friends!

Finally, while I could extract CPMs in the $2 or so range by selling advertisements to competitorsof Bingo Card Creator (that is what I pay Google for my own advertisements, after all), if this page performs as well as my existing free resources page I’ll have an effective CPM of about $40.  $2 vs $40… not a hard call.  Plus, I expect the page to significantly outperform my free resources page.  If you’re a budding uISV wondering whether you can achieve big profits through advertising, you certainly can, but remember: every cent spent on advertising on the Internet comes out of a dollar that someone made through something that was not advertising.  You can have the cent or you can have the dollar — choose wisely.

Postscript:

I have been putting off this blog post for two weeks.  Every additional delay had a good reason: I was wretchedly ill, I was busy, I was swamped at work, I was entertaining a friend from out of town.  However, I’ve decided to go to back to my core foundational principle and say “You know, when all else fails, launch the sucker.” — it makes little sense for a marketing experiment to go into week four when the product I’m marketing was launched on schedule on day eight!  So consider the sucker launched. 

Now begins the battle of inches, where I test, iterate, and refine while the resource keeps helping people out. 

If you found this article valuable, feel free to tell folks about it.  If you want updates on whether all this theorizing actually amounts to anything, subscribe to the RSS feed because I’ll be giving regular updates on how the site performs (with real traffic numbers and the like — I’m very big on transparency, so if Google hits me with the banstick you’ll see the implosion in transparently painful detail!)  And if you know anybody looking for bingo cards for class, you know where to send them.

Don't Make My Really Elementary SEO Mistake

So, fourteen months into marketing Bingo Card Creator and quite a bit into becoming an amateur SEO, I finally added a 301 redirect from bingocardcreator.com to www.bingocardcreator.com

Folks who are more experienced in ways of SEO will be doing a faceplant when they hear that, since it is often suggested as one of the very first things you should do.  The reasoning is simple: search engines currently treat things on different subdomains as being mostly unconnected websites, so in the eyes of the all powerful Googlebot a link from a download site to bingocardcreator.com and a link from a teacher to www.bingocardcreator.com are votes for two different websites rather than votes for the single unified entity.  A 301 redirect, on the other hand, tells browsers and search engine bots that what they are looking for is a) not available where they asked for it and b) is available somewhere else, on a permanent basis.  When Google et al see a URL that is 301ed to another URL, they just treat the first as an alias of the second.

My failure to have this redirect in place is really bad.  I remember thinking of fixing it a few months ago, but it was a stray thought when I was on the train.  The next stray thought was “Well, I’m really the only person who ever links to the page, and I always choose www, so it won’t really make a difference”.

Today, I used WebsiteGrader, an impressive piece of linkbait done by the HubSpot folks.  I think I have mentioned them before.  Anyhow, I was doing it in preparation for releasing my own little bit of linkbait in the next 48 hours or so.  Buried in the results was a gigantic red warning saying that I had forgotten to do this.  I’ve been ignoring the mental equivalent of gigantic red warnings for a year.  However, I’m a very data oriented person, and WebsiteGrader reported I had 550 inbound links to www.bingocardcreator.com (I know the number to be higher, but its an inexact science) and… 553 to bingocardcreator.com. 

Faceplant.  All that work creating linkable content and I was throwing half of it away.

I’m especially embarassed because this is  something that can be fixed in literally fifteen seconds, especially if you’re using Apache.  (Which, if you’re using Joe Random’s Super Cheap Webhosting Service, or GoDaddy for that matter, you almost certainly are.)  Copy the following into the .htaccess file in your web root directory (there are other options, this is just the quickest to explain).  You don’t need the first line if it is already there, and I’d suggest these be at the top of your file:

RewriteEngine On

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^putyourdomainnamehere.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.putyourdomainnamehere.com/$1 [L,R=301]

Ranking For An Arbitrary Organic Search Query

This was posted on May 30th, 2007, Japan time. If it is after June 5th where you are, I predict that I’m pretty high on Google for the search arbitrary organic search query. I know this mostly by construction — I looked at the results before writing this post, observed that the competition is very weak for that query, used those words in my title, and will easily leapfrog over the weak competition.

What does that have to do with microISVs? Well, indulge me in a little meandering around the world of SEO for a moment. Roughly a fifth of my traffic at Bingo Card Creator comes from obvious and highly competitive search terms like “bingo cards” or “bingo card maker”. You know how many people have a substantial monetary interest at being #1 for bingo cards? Plenty of them, and most aren’t selling to elementary school English teachers, if you catch my drift. (Ironically, most of us who actually rank highly are. Go figure.)

Then I get another chunk of traffic from less obvious search terms, which I know because I know my niche well. Dolch Sight Word Bingo, for example. The amount of people searching for that won’t make me rich but they easily justify writing a page about it, which pays off month after month.

Then I get a huge percentage of my organic search traffic, about 60-70%, from arbitrary organic search queries. The majority of them are never repeated by another person, which gells with Google’s observation that 50% of search queries are unique (that is a “remembered factoid”, treat it with a grain of salt). Some are simple typos, many of them are natural language searches (“how can i make a bingo card for a third grader”), and then the rest are just unique because they’re… unique (“kasmir pulaski day spanish bingo” — yes, by the way, Bingo Card Creator will meet your needs). I like to mentally think of these as snowflake queries — every one is unique but if you look at a lot of them at once they certainly look a good deal similar.

I have actually been looking at snowflake queries and doing some work based on them. I’ve been doing some minor optimizations to my website for months, gradually including more content (which has a tendency to grab snowflake queries just because educated writers use synonyms and from Google’s perspective third grader != third grader != grade three != beginning English student) and adding in specific vocabulary which I wouldn’t use naturally but which my searchers do for whatever reason. For instance, some people call bingo cards “bingo boards”. Who knew? Certainly not me, as I went through my entire life without hearing that usage, but my search logs do not lie. This is the reason “bingo boards” is now bolded on the front page of my website and sprinkled on a few of the sub pages.

However, I had a bit of a brainstorm recently: this sort of optimization is nice and demonstrably effective, but what would happen if you took it to the next level. The trigger for this was when I wrote the blog post Increase Your Software Sales, I mentioned that it would rank pretty highly for “increase software sales”, which would be a nice thing if I cared about that keyword. When I said that, it was mostly a minor boast which I thought of little importance in the scheme of things. But it sent me to thinking:

1) Hey, wait a second, I can rank for a snowflake query with a really trivial amount of work. Put query in title, use in body text, don’t spam, done.

2) I have pages and pages of snowflake queries. Many of them have strong commonality in either words or theme.

3) These queries make me money. Snowflakes account for more than half of my organic search conversions.

And this got the wheels of my head turning. What if, instead of doing the haphazard optimization to grab some of the words in these queries that I wasn’t targetting already (like “bingo boards”), I just data-mined the bejeesus out of the suckers. Say I found 100 strings from there that were reasonably close to each other, distilled that down into 5 main words and 5 supporting words or variations, and then wrote my next resource page or blog post about them. Why, that page or post would probably rocket to near the top of 100 queries. That is worth pure gold, since people will write dozens of minor variations of each of those minor little snowflake queries. And my page or post would suck them all up in one big snowball of goodness.

I was briefly very, very excited about the idea, and started working on a gawk script to start clustering my snowflakes. (Incidentally: by training, I’m a natural language researcher. I know this to be a hard problem and yet hacky solutions to hard problems are fun for me — thats why I got into natural language research in the first place.) Then I slapped myself silly, figuring that somewhere on the Internet somebody smarter than me has already had this brainstorm and developed the same tool. I should really pay them the money for the tool and spend my time actually writing the text which will clump up the snowflakes (which only I can do, since I’m the guy who presumably has the domain knowledge) rather than reinventing a solution to a Certified Hard Problem and then using it to squeeze out an extra sale or two of a $24.95 app a month.

Anyhow, after a bit of searching, it turns out that the guy who already solved this problem made a webapp called HitTail. It has the broad thrust of the features I wanted: tracks what queries get people to find you (unnecessary, I can do that already), and then selectively picks queries out which (the site claims) hit a cluster of snowflakes and are not currently very competitive. I’ll be taking it for a test drive this week.

This is of particular interest for me for my next project (Kalzumeus, for regular readers of this blog). It is adjacent to a market space which is extraordinarily competitive and has many established firms with Big Budget$ To $quash uISVs. I don’t see them as particularly competitive for my niche but I do see them camping on some major keywords (both for organic search and AdWords). Time to go around the obstruction rather than running straight into it. I think I’ll see how far I can get with optimizing for snowflakes, well, once I have something to optimize for at any rate.

How To Rename A Web Page

I renamed my Free Resources page, which is the #3 most popular page on my site, to Printable Bingo Cards, which both more accurately describes what is available there and is a much better title for SEO purposes.  This required some slicing and dicing in all of my HTML files because that is a link which appears in my navigation bar.  Luckily, bash was adequate for the task as always.

for htmlFile in *.htm
do
  sed s/free_resources\.htm/printable-bingo-cards.htm/ $htmlFile > temp1.txt
  sed “s/Free Resources/Printable Bingo Cards/” temp1.txt > temp2.txt
  mv temp2.txt $htmlFile
  rm -rf temp?.txt
done

I also redid the title tag (“Free Resources from Bingo Card Creator” to “Printable Bingo Cards from Bingo Card Creator”), updated the site map with the new URL, and added a RewriteRule for the old URL to my .htaccess so that I don’t break any links from the blogs and schools who linked to it.  This is a fairly key step for any change you make that affects a popular page.  If you do not do it, not only are you hurting user experience on third party sites which trusted you with a link, you’re squandering PageRank that you’ve worked so hard to gain.  Adding in another rewrite rule takes like 5 seconds, so do it!

## put me somewhere near the top

RewriteEngine on

## put me in the big block of rename rules you’ll be creating

RewriteRule ^thanks-for-downloading\.htm$   http://www.bingocardcreator.com/thanks_for_downloading.htm [R=301,L]

printable-bingo-cards.htm is, by the way, pushing it on how many words I would suggest you have in a filename.  I’m fairly sure that is under the threshold to get penalized because one or two of my competitors use three word filenames, sometimes after having the same three words in a directory listing.  That is a bridge too far in my book, and I expect Google will smackify it sometime soon.  Repetition in the URL gives no useful information to human users, and it is not a “natural” design technique for a website either, so I suspect that Google will eventually toss it out as a useless SEO technique, the same way they habitually ignore overly-long-file-names-stuffed-with-keywords-like-this-one.htm .

Finally, don’t forget to resubmit your updated sitemap to Google.

A Few Followups

Increase Your Software Sales proved to be fairly popular. I hope that it covered the basics of “Phase Two” of the uISV development process well enough to give struggling beginners some ideas. In particular, take note of what I said about SEO and blogging. In that article I predicted I would be on the front page of Google for the string “increase software sales” within a week. It actually took about 48 hours and I’m number two. That is a fairly competitive (30 million results) search which has obvious economic possibilities for at least some people (payment processors, etc). Your niche also has competitive search words which a decently popular blog article could crack fairly quickly. (Why so high so fast on Google? WordPress makes the URL and title tag reflect the keywords, which were repeated in the body text. I also got linked by two high pagerank WordPress pages which automatically collect the highest traffic blogs and posts of the day. Luckily WordPress has recently changed their site design so that those posts are now static. The traffic which got me onto those was about fifty-fifty from a link I placed on joel.reddit.com and from other sources.) I anticipate the post will probably fall to somewhere lower on the front page as it ages.

I redesigned the icons on my website again after I was informed they violated Microsoft’s and Apple’s guidelines for trademark usage. Its my personal opinion that their guidelines are poorly considered and substantially broader than the rights the law actually gives them, but I’m following them as a professional courtesy. You can see the new icons on Bingo Card Creator‘s purchasing page. It wasn’t a total loss — the new buttons seem to be a little less busy than before.

e-junkie‘s Fat-Free Cart is currently incompatible with CrazyEgg on Firefox, which is unfortunate. CrazyEgg’s script causes all the links on the page to lock up if you dismiss the cart. As the incompatibility was potentially costing me money I disabled CrazyEgg and sent them an email. They got me a response within 48 hours and are looking into it, yay. Separately, e-junkie has applied a fix for the usability issue I noted earlier.

A personal note: I had a job interview yesterday with a smallish Japanese software company (250 employees) and it went extraordinarily well (the 3 decisionmakers called my boss to chitchat about me immediately after the interview was over, and the call included the line “He’ll be a great fit here”). Not only did I have a strong base in the skills their current divisions need (primarily Java, experience in both Windows/Unix environments, and being bilingual), they also have dreams of Web 2.0ifying a few of their properties and were extraordinarily pleased to hear that my “extracurricular interests” had me learning Javascript, Rails, and MVC frameworks. I will hear the results and if applicable get a written offer on Tuesday. It is easily the most attractive of my current day job employment options for August, which has taken a load off my mind. The last interview, which I thought had gone well, ended up in “You’re a very good candidate but we don’t have a position for you. Best of luck”. I have a half-dozen other applications wending their way through various employment bureaucracies.

Why Your uISV Should Have A Blog

My post on Free Bingo Cards, which is two months old, received a hair under 1,000 hits in April (thats three days worth of weekday traffic for my website — not shabby!).  This resulted in ~100 trials of my program and 5 sales, or roughly 20% of my sales for the month (full monthly stats to follow sometime this weekend).  And the kicker?  That post is an evergreen — it never goes bad.  It continues to pick up search engine hits, links, emails to friends, yadda yadda, and keeps making me money.

One more big thanks to everyone who linked it.

Dipping My Toe Into Squidoo

Having nothing to do tonight after a drinking party for work, I was inspired by a post on MyMicroISV about Squidoo.  I have recently been trying to accomplish some light organic linkbuilding for SEO purposes.  That reminds me: a big, somewhat belated thank you to those in the uISV community who tossed me links to my post on St. Patrick’s Day — St. Google is already smiling on me for some keywords.   Squidoo might prove useful in that regard, and was as good a way to spend 2 hours as anything.

In a nutshell, Squidoo is a content engine which is similar to Wikis and blogs.  Anyone can contribute their knowledge on any topic, like a wiki.  Knowledge is organized about discrete topics, like a wiki.  However, like a blog, Squidoo lenses have authors, and the lenses are not by default writeable by the entire world.  They do allow for some forms of audience participation, through some interesting widgets which you can include to make your lens something other than flat unformatted text.

Anyhow, given that Squidoo lenses seem to percolate to the first page of the Google SERP for less competitive keywords and that its quickly becoming an authority site, I thought I might as well take it for a spin.  Plus, whats the worst that could happen?  I spend an hour producing materials that help teachers and don’t get paid for it.  That strikes me as an hour well-spent. 

Squidoo is a wonderful technology for Seth Godin and, well, somewhat less wonderful for its users.  In many ways, its a technical marvel — allowing users pre-constructed, logic-intensive building blocks like lists of links which are votable up and down lets them create valuable content which is richer than your typical blog post or Wiki article.  However, its also a poster-child for Why AJAX Will Not Replace Your Desktop In 2007.  Tasks which are simple and which should be on the critical path for this tool, like writing text in paragraphs and then editing the text, are full of frustration.  The responsiveness is sluggish compared to any halfway decent blog software and far outclassed by Notepad, to say nothing of useful text editors.  I felt like I was spending as much time struggling against the platform (2500 character limit for paragraphs?  Bad programmer, no twinkie!  No, it is not an acceptable workaround to tell me how many characters I have left!) as I was creating content.  That perception was probably inaccurate but it doesn’t bode well for the tools’ adoption with less motivated users.

Anyhow, rather than bury you in a description of what widgets are available, I’ll link you to a lens or two.  My lens on teaching dolch sight words is fairly basic: text, lists, and a widget which lets you vote on links related to the topic.  I have handily preseeded it with two links controlled by myself, which is the payload of the entire lens for me.  (I suppose if my lens gets very popular theoretically I could make about a dollar or so in Squidoo’s quirky revenue sharing arrangement.  Yay.)  The lens is not quite complete yet, and its very text heavy and content focused.

On the other hand, Gavin’s lens on tools for your microISV is basically just a collection of links.  Some of the more popular lenses mix links, text, and whatnot in a pretty multimedia fashion.  Unfortunately, and I really hope Seth Godin is not suprised by this although something inside said he might be, most of the lenses on top of the popularity metrics are Repair Your Credit And Make Lots of $$$ Online With No Money Down with a very high shady factor.  I’ll spare you the links, but feel free to take a gander at them: many of them are fairly effective marketing and I’d be decently happy if they weren’t in the service of separating poorly informed people from their money.

SEO Trick I Hadn't Known About

I don’t know if this is actually useful or not, but I tried it a few weeks ago and my traffic is up.  Correlation != causation and all that aside, it only cost me about $8 so maybe you want to try it too.

WebsiteGrader, a project of Dharmesh Shah and the rest of the team at Hubspot, suggests that if you have a website domain registration which will expire in a year or less, then you may be penalized by search engines, which think you might be a fly-by-night spam site operator. 

Google and other search engines like to see domains that have been registered for extended periods of time as this shows a committment to the domain name. It also is an indicator that this website has not been setup as a temporary spam site.

Up until a few weeks ago, I had about half a year left on my registration.  When I read their inducement I went over  to GoDaddy and got myself another 2 years, plus prepaid my hosting for a year for a wee discount.  My rankings on Google et al are indeed up.  Again, I have no way of knowing whether that was caused by this tweak, and I have never heard this SEO tip on other sources of SEO information which I trust, so take it with a grain of salt.  That being said, if it isn’t true the most you are out is about $8 which you were going to pay eventually anyway, right?

Google (Finally) Lets You See Backlinks

If you’re signed up for Google Sitemaps (aka Webmaster Console) you can now see backlinks to your website.  This is useful as backlinks are SEO mana from heaven and you can spy on whether your marketing is having any effect.  I took a quick glance at mine and while the overwhelming majority are either download sites or spam blogs (they search for bingo related keywords and link to them with the hope of getting Google to rank their casino site — I hate this), I can see a few mentions from actual customers or people who find my site useful.  The Dolch sight word list, for example, got linked to by an elementary school.

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