Web Development 101 - On-page SEO Factors

10:46 AM

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It should go without saying that the most important on-page factor influencing the popularity of a web page is its content. If a site has great content, offers something unique, great resources, good-quality information, etc., it will attract a lot of traffic, many people will link to it, and they will refer other people to it. On the contrary, if a web page offers nothing of value, is poorly written, looks bad, etc., it will rightfully remain obscure and will receive little traffic.

Assuming your page offers something of value to visitors, and that you intend to proceed with further Search Engine Optimization (SEO) work, this post examines aspects of on-page factors that should be considered as a fundamental part of SEO work. Although on-page factors do not play as large a role as off-page factors when it comes to a page’s ranking in search engine results, they should not be neglected. If you are serious about your SEO efforts, on-page factors should be included for the sake of being thorough as well as for the sake of making the page as friendly to search engines as possible.

First of all, I would recommend deciding on the keywords for which you would like to rank highly in search results. Your web page might already have a general theme or topic, but you still have to decide exactly what terms are highlighted in your web site that will attract visitors to it. For example, would you like your page to rank highly in search results when somebody does a search for the term, say, “web page hosting” or “website hosting”? The difference is a lot of traffic. To help you decide which term to use, Google's AdWords Keyword Tool (External) is an extremely useful service that provides information about the monthly number of searches conducted for user-specified terms.

For example, on April 19, 2010 this tool indicated monthly search volumes as follows:

web page hosting 90,500
website hosting 673,000
hosting 20,400,000
web hosting 6,120,000

From this information, you know that in a month many more searches are conducted for the term “website hosting” than for the term “web page hosting”. In other words, if your SEO efforts are successful, attracting visitors who have conducted searches for the term “website hosting” will bring a lot more traffic to your site. By using this tool to select the best keywords for your site, you can then proceed to use those keywords to optimize your on-page SEO factors: title, meta tags, and h-tags.

The Title

The title of a web page is what shows up in the Title Bar of the browser, that blue bar at the top of the browser window. For example, when you are on the home page of this blog, the title should be "Website Development - Mozilla Firefox" if you are using the Firefox web browser and "Website Development - Microsoft Internet Explorer" if you are using Internet Explorer.

The web page title is coded into the HTML of a web page in the head section, for example,

< head >

< title > Web Page Title < /title >

. . .

< /head >

Including one of your keywords in the title of a web page makes it more Search Engine friendly, it helps the search engines better classify the page and helps the page rank higher in search results than if the keyword is not there. Try to keep the title no longer than 70 characters long.

Meta Tags

Meta tags help search engines identify the theme of a web site. They do not cause anything to be displayed to visitors of the web page, but they are read by search engines, which use the contents of the meta tags as an abstract or summary of the page; basically, they inform search engines that the page is about such-and-such a topic. Like the Title, meta tags are coded into the head section of a web page:

<head>

<title>Web Page Title</title>

<meta name="description" contents="META DESCRIPTION">

<meta name="keywords" contents="keyword1, keyword2, keyword3, keyword4">

. . .

</head>

Again, you should include the keywords for which you want the page to be ranked highly in search engines. Further information--specific to Google--is posted on Google’s "Webmaster Central" site. From that particular post, I recommend navigating to the main "Webmaster Central" site and from there exploring the wealth of additional information that is available.

In addition, there is also a "Google Webmaster Central Blog". Again, from that particular post, you can navigate to the main page and from there explore all the other posts, on a variety of topics (remember though, these sites cover information specific to Google).

h-tags (h1 - h6)

h-tags are tags for highlighting the beginning of a section and giving it particular emphasis, much like chapters or sections of a book are given headers. Including your keywords in these tags also helps boost the page’s ranking in search engines. For example, if the web page is going to discuss the topic of “website hosting”, you might want to mark the section header with <h1> tags that include a keyword as follows:

<h1>Website Hosting</h1>

These tags increase the size of the font, and bold it, so that readers know it is a section header. In addition, search engines interpret these tags as giving the content within the tags special emphasis. So if you have something you want search engines to take special note of, include the terms in h-tags.


I would also like to briefly mention a couple other factors before concluding: broken links and alt attributes for images. Broken links make it look like you are not paying attention to your own site. Make sure all links on your page are valid; if they are not, correct them or remove them. In turn, an alt attribute should always be included with a graphic. Search engines cannot see the image, so they use the alt description to identify what the image is about. If your alt description is accurate, and includes one of your keywords, all the better. For example, if you include a gif of a computer, named computer.gif, on a page you might include the following HTML:

<img src="computer.gif" width="540" height="334" alt="Graphic of a Computer" />

This way, even though search engines cannot see the graphic, they can read the alt tag and know the image is a graphic of a computer.

Finally, keep in mind that these tips should not be overdone. If you fill all these tags with an excessive amount of keywords, it is called “keyword stuffing” and the effect might actually be detrimental to your search engine rankings. Be honest. Provide a genuine description of what the page is about without being excessive.


Cheers,

Web Development 100

3:15 PM

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This post is the first article of what I plan to be a series of articles about the growth of a web site and its developer. In the course of developing several web sites, I, as a developer, have grown too: learning about different technologies, acquiring new skills, and discovering various resources. When I started creating web pages, learning basic HTML coding was enough of a challenge. Thinking about other web technologies--for example, Javascript, PHP, Java, databases, blogs, WordPress, and more--seemed like complicated, abstract quantities that I never expected to use. Leave that to the professionals--or so I thought! I dismissed consideration of many of these technologies, picking a web host that offered only the most basic of services--and now I regret not giving more serious consideration to these technologies. If I were starting over again, I would do things differently. Over the course of the next several articles about web development, I hope to share my experiences, and offer some advice so that others can benefit from that experience. In this article, I will consider some factors that should be taken into account before even starting to code a web site, specifically, factors regarding naming and hosting a web site.

Picking a Domain Name

First of all, I do recommend registering your own domain and having it hosted rather than using a free hosting service. Having a real web site will give you experience with some of the basics of web development. If you continue on as a web developer, having experience with the nuts and bolts, and the business aspects, of having a site hosted is important. If you ever apply for a job as a web developer, and you do not have this most basic experience, you would most likely be disqualified from consideration for the position.

Second, pick a domain name that is descriptive of the theme of the web site and is intuitive. Do not pick a domain name that is nonsense, such as hffjhad1kj5.com. A domain name that is actually a word is much better. Ideally, the domain name should state the theme of the web site. For example, if you plan to create a web site about cooking, you should register a domain name such as cooking.com, mycookingsite.com, etc. Such a domain name makes it easier for people to remember; it is much more intuitive than picking a domain name such as, say, mysite.com. (Note: I am just making up these domain names for the sake of this article; I have not checked to see if these web sites exist.) In addition, later on, when you start working on building traffic to your site, some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts suggest that having a meaningful--and topic-relevant--domain name improves a site’s rankings in search engines, resulting in more traffic to the site. (More on traffic building techniques in a subsequent article.)

Once you decide upon a domain name, the next step is to register the domain. Many companies offer domain registration services; a search for domain registration or web hosting should turn up thousands of results (many web hosting companies offer registration services too). The question may now arise, should a person register a domain through the same company they are considering to host the site? The answer to this question is that it is a matter of personal choice. If the company is good, it doesn’t matter. Some people like the convenience of dealing with one company; other people don’t want to give all their business to one company. Myself, I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket, so I try to spread my business out among several companies.

Picking a Hosting Company

Several factors should be considered when selecting a hosting company. First, there are the technical aspects: How much web space and traffic is provided? How many email accounts come with the hosting package? Does the service include anti-virus and anti-spam filtering? What online services does the company support (for example, Java, PHP, MySQL, etc.)? Do not disregard these aspects, thinking that you will worry about them later.

I would like to elaborate on some of these aspects.

(i) Anti-virus and anti-spam filtering
When a web site is first created, traffic is pretty low, incoming emails are few, and worrying about anti-virus and anti-spam filtering is not a high priority. However, as traffic to your site increases, there is a good chance your email address will get on spam lists and your email Inbox will fill up every day with spam--which may include potential viruses. Having these emails identified--and blocked--before they arrive in your Inbox is a nice feature to have. Presently, one of my hosts does no filtering whatsoever. I receive about 1000 spam emails a day, causing me to waste much time every day simply cleaning out my Inbox. A host that identifies and blocks spam at the server is nice to have.

(ii) Java support.
Java is quite popular right now. Many companies fancy themselves avant garde and are really into Java. So if you think you might want to learn Java, to improve your employment prospects, or for other reasons, make sure your host offers the ability to run Java applets on your site. That way, as you learn Java, you can post your applets on your site. In fact, the same applies to any other web technology you might want to learn: being able to experiment on your own site as you learn is a real convenience.

(iii) PHP support.
PHP is very popular and enjoys a huge support base. With PHP, dynamic pages can be created for which the source code can not be viewed by visitors. (Javascript also allows dynamic pages to be created; however, some users disable Javascript in their web browsers, so the code does not run. PHP does not have this problem; since the code runs on the server, it does not depend upon settings within a user’s web browser.) In addition, several appealing services may be desirable on a web site that depend upon PHP: having a contact form that does not allow users to see the recipient email address, adding a forum, and having an RSS news parser, for example. Furthermore, PHP is one of the requirements for having a WordPress Blog on a site. If you are not into blogging already, don’t casually dismiss the possibility of adding a WordPress Blog to your site. Blogging can be an important aspect of your site, and WordPress provides one of the most powerful and popular platforms for blogging. PHP is offered by so many hosting companies as part of their basic packages, why go with a company that does not?

In addition to the technical considerations made when selecting a web host, there are the business aspects of the decision: location, cost, customer support, hours of operation, etc. If you do a search for web hosts, or read a computer magazine, you’ll come across the major hosting companies pretty fast. However, perhaps you would like to keep your business local. Sometimes it is nice to have your hosting company in the same time zone. On the other hand, you may want to spread out your business over different companies. Personally, I work on a few web sites and like to spread my business out over several different companies in different geographical locations around North America; however, there have been a few times when I have found it awkward trying to contact a company that is three hours ahead of me (I am on the West Coast; my hosting company is in the East). All these aspects have to be taken into consideration.

Summary

To summarize:

1) Decide upon a meaningful domain name, ideally one that is intuitive and directly relevant to the theme of your planned web site.

2) Register the domain. The company through which you register the domain can be the same company you also choose to host the site; the decision is yours.

3) When selecting a company to host your site, consider the two aspects of the services they provide:

a) business and customer service:
(i) cost,
(ii) location (time zones and hours of operation),
(iii) reliability and reputation,

b) technical aspects of hosting packages:
(i) web space and traffic allowed,
(ii) the number of email addresses included in a package,
(iii) other services supported, such as PHP, MySQL, the mod_rewrite Apache module, and Java. I would recommend getting a package that at least includes support for the first three. A host that supports these features will provide the basics of a plain HTML web site, plus it will allow you to add PHP-coded features, plus it will allow the option of having a WordPress Blog on your site.
(iv) anti-virus and anti-spam filtering. This option is nice to have, but not necessary. It does stop a lot of garbage email at the server instead of letting it through to your Inbox.

Online Job Applications a Waste of Time

12:53 PM

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Human Resources (HR) departments within companies have implemented some practices which counter their purpose of drawing good people into their companies. I cannot help but wonder, are these companies serious about seeking employees? I mean, they have taken the trouble to write a job posting and paid for advertising, but then they have thrown hurdles in the way of applicants to the point that many qualified people don’t bother applying. This practice is counter-productive.

Strike One: Requiring Applicants to Create an Account

Many companies now require job applicants to first sign up for a user account on the company web site. The process is free, similar to creating a webmail account with username and password, but it is still annoying and, as far as I am concerned, a waste of time. The vast majority of jobs for which I have applied have been one-time deals. I apply for a job and . . . that is it. I have never fallen in love with a particular company and never made a point of returning to the company web site, signing in to my account, and aimlessly surfed around to check things out. After I submitted my job application, that was the end of my interest there. So why waste job applicants’ time by requiring them to create these nonsense accounts? I do not want to have to remember yet more usernames and passwords. I am applying for a position with the company, not marrying the company.

Strike Two: Accepting Job Applications Through Online Forms Only

I have put a lot of time and effort into my resume: choosing the right words, arranging it just how I want it, selecting the right font, etc. – trying to make it look perfect. Yet after all that time and work, I then come to a company web site, find a job I think is a wonderful fit for me, but the only way to apply for the posting is to copy and paste my resume into a standard form on a web page that messes up the resume. I don’t know how it looks on the receiving end, but every time I have copied and pasted my resume into one of these forms, the formatting disappears and the resume looks like a complete mess. I have often wondered if it looks better at the receiving end. Do these HR departments have a filter or something at their end that puts the resume back together again and makes it look like it was supposed to? If not, it is infuriating to think the time spent polishing my resume was time wasted because it is just going to get all messed up when it finally gets submitted to a company.

Strike Three: Online Questionnaires

In addition to requiring applicants to create accounts on their web sites, and submit applications through an online form, some companies go even further: they also require applicants to go through an online questionnaire, mini-interview, supplementary application, or whatever they call it. This additional requirement for job applications is especially infuriating. I normally don’t bother with jobs that include these extra steps, however, a couple years ago I thought I would give it a try. I only made it through four of the eight-page questionnaire before deciding I had had enough: too many stupid questions about whether I prefer to be in a cubicle or an open area, if I don’t mind others hearing my conversations, who I would like with me if I was stranded on a desert island, etc. Enough!! Anybody with self-respect is right to get insulted by having their intelligence questioned in such a way. I have never bothered to even look at job postings from that company since then. If a company wants to know about me, and what I have to offer, they can call me in for an interview.

This online process is too impersonal. To me, it is similar to situations in which I call a company and am told to call such-and-such a number or visit such-and-such a web site for assistance; it makes me feel like I am being brushed off. And if the telephone help line is a confusing menu to navigate, with a myriad of options to go through, and I still cannot reach a living human being and get my issue resolved satisfactorily, then I really get angry. In those cases, I eventually take my business elsewhere; in fact, I make a point of trying to avoid dealings with such companies altogether. It may sound ironic coming from a techie for whom the online world is such a large part of life, but I still want to deal with human beings for many things–including applying for a job.

The use of online application forms produces another aspect that reflects badly on the companies that use them: the perception that the company is overly bureaucratic. After all, the whole point of these forms is to ease dealing with paperwork, which indicates that bureaucracy in the HR department of the company has a high priority. So it is reasonable for people to conclude that perhaps bureaucracy has a high priority throughout the company–perhaps too high of a priority. In fact, there is much truth to this perception: I am aware of many companies in which the bureaucracy has become overwhelming; highly-trained, experienced, technical people are suffocated and smothered under a load of paperwork. They spend over 70% of their time dealing with paperwork instead of doing tasks relevant to their expertise. Needless to say, employee turnover in these companies is high. In other words, when companies exhibit their love of administrivia in the form of an online process, it is usually safe to conclude that the bureaucracy and administrivia will be even worse once a person actually works for such a company. It is best to avoid such companies.

Furthermore, online application forms are pointless in small markets, for example, in a medium-sized city like Vancouver. Within most industries in Vancouver, anybody who is anybody already knows the other players in the industry (or at least has heard of them). For instance, if you are a manager in a company with over ten years of experience in your industry, chances are you already know everybody else in the industry with similar expertise; you have attended the same trade shows, industry conferences, golf game mixers, etc. If you are an experienced expert in your field, you are not going to like to be treated like a lowly rookie who is expected to jump through several hoops to apply to a job posting. (Plus, most high-level people I have met have focused on their expertise rather than becoming experts in the field of web page forms. They might be experts in their field, but even using Microsoft Excel was a challenge to them.)

Overall, the online job application process is virtually a complete waste of time. In fact, several books confirm this perception. Two are mentioned below; more books and articles can be found in libraries or online.

The first book I recommend is “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Nelson Bolles. This book should be found in most book stores. (Alternately, the link above takes you to the book offered on Amazon.ca.)

A couple points made in this book really jumped out at me:
i) Most people job-hunt the opposite way employers search for potential employees: employers usually turn to the Internet as one of their last options when seeking to fill a position.
ii) HR Departments actually have a poor record of selecting employees that are a good fit within a company. A UK study indicated that HR departments did a 10% worse job of selecting employees than simply making random selections. Think of that statistic this way: a monkey drawing names out of a hat would do a 10% better job of selecting good employees than an HR department with all its (supposedly) highly-trained employees and sophisticated screening tests.

The second book I recommend is "The New Job Search" by Molly Wendell. Ms. Wendell is a networking and job search expert whose advice echoes the sentiment of Mr. Bolles: online job-hunting is not very effective. She also has a blog at the following URL:

http://executivesnetwork.wordpress.com/

Based on my own experience, they are correct: applying for jobs online is all but useless. Statistically, I am sure if you apply online often enough something is bound to turn up--eventually. However, there are much more effective techniques for job-hunting. My advice: don’t waste your time with the online route. The Internet might be a convenient tool for investigating an industry or company, but for actually getting into a company, going through people (networking) is the best way.

The HR practice of moving much of the job application process online actually counters the goal of drawing good people into a company. Requiring people to interact with an impersonal web site is a brush-off; this policy is the same antagonistic behavior exhibited by companies whose telephone help lines do nothing but create angry customers. Having to face these hurdles, and knowing the entire process is almost a complete waste of time anyhow, is a significant deterrent to job applicants. HR departments should stop offloading their job onto a web form and do as their job title implies: manage human resources. Quality people with self-respect are unlikely to let their intelligence be insulted by online application processes. In conclusion, this process has created a situation in which the very people the HR department wants most, are also the people least likely to apply.

Television Options Restrictive - Terminated Cable

1:35 PM

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With all the hype right now about the latest offering by Google, the Nexus One, it made me think about other products and services that I often wish offered more options. One service that came to mind almost immediately was television. I recently terminated my cable service because I feel the price is too high; basic cable costs about $20 a month but has almost nothing I like; $80 a month gets me almost sixty channels--a few of which I like--but is too expensive. And, unfortunately, Shaw has a virtual monopoly on cable television service in the Vancouver area.

Telus, a local telecom company has started offering limited TV service, but I have heard that the quality is still not very good (supposedly, everything looks like a YouTube video). In addition, Telus has an irritating habit of bundling everything. You can’t get anything without a contract and one service depends upon what other Telus services you have. No thanks, Telus. Somebody tell the managers at Telus people want more control over their lives, not less. (Notice the death of newspapers? The popularity of MP3 players, etc.? People want to fine-tune their selections in life and have more granular options.)

So . . . bye-bye television service.

I am not ruling television out of my life completely; perhaps one day it will come back into my home– under the right conditions. The fact is, I am willing to pay about $20 a month for television. However, very rarely did I watch any of the channels that are included in the basic cable package: talk shows, news, sports, or sitcoms. That rules out about 80% of what is on TV. Nor do I have any interest in the weather channel, the women’s channel, the multicultural channel, the sports network, the shopping channel, CNN, or local interest channels. The channels that I did watch, for example, The Discovery Channel, the Space Channel, and the Food Network, are on the higher-numbered channels that come bundled with many of these unwanted channels. I look forward to the day when I can select the exact four or five channels I want without having to also take a multitude of unwanted channels. If quality online options ever become available, which even allow me to pick the times I want to view programs, I will be very happy.

Whether a television service package includes 100 channels or 1000 channels, I just cannot bring myself to pay $80 per month. After all, it is just television: the boob tube, the idiot box, the time waster, the couch potato companion, etc. I just cannot get past the thought of paying more than $20 a month for television.

Google, any chance offering televison services is on your agenda? Please!?

Website Development Blog Welcome

8:08 PM

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Hello.

My name is Duncan and I am a hobbyist web developer. I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination but, over the years, I have picked up quite a bit of knowledge about the field of web page design and development. This blog is meant to try to share that information. Most of my posts will be about the Internet, web pages, web development, SEO, online technologies, and marketing; however, there is also a good chance that I will also make the odd post about other topics (I have a wide range of interests, the Internet doesn’t take up 100% of my attention).

I hope you learn from my experiences and enjoy reading my posts.

Cheers,

DuncanM