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Archive for June, 2006

Skype to be integrated into ebay.ie

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Just read there on www.siliconrepublic.com (thank you very much Gordon Smith) that the team behind ebay.ie plans to integrate free PC to PC VOIP service Skype into their website to make communication between buyers and sellers much easier. The end idea for eBay Ireland (who recently celebrated their first birthday) of course would be an increase in transactions and thus an increase for them in transaction related fees which they charge the seller everytime he or she sells something. John McElligott, the Customer Development Head at eBay Ireland went as far as to say they expect it to dramatically increase both the number and values of sales so it seems to make great business sense.

I’ve used one or two Skype enabled services lately and I have to say that it did increase the experience substantially without increasing the cost of course so not only will the execs at eBay Ireland be happy but the estimated 200,000 registered users of their site will be happy too. It should allow Skype which has 39 million users worldwide (a figure that grows by 150,000 per day) to make further inroads into the Irish market. eBays move follows similar moves by sites like Bebo which also utilize Skype for improved communication between its users.

PHP 6 - a brief look ahead

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Despite the fact that PHP 5 is still not yet supported by all of the webs main hosting companies, the show must go on and this means the ongoing development of PHP 6. The minutes of all the PHP developers meetings are available on the www.php.net website and provide us with a fairly reliable look at what we can expect from PHP 6. The exact location of the minutes is http://www.php.net/~derick/meeting-notes.html. This document is over 83 KB and your most likely not going to read it all, I however have gone through it intermittently over the last few days and although there are a tonne of proposed changes, only three of these proposed changes are likely to be seen as major and having an effect on the general PHP developer population. The three major changes are that register globals, magic quotes and safe mode are all to be ditched.

Register Globals is a PHP directive that when turned on automatically sets all EGPCS (Environment, GET, POST, Cookie, Server) variables as global variables. This means that to use a post form variable you need only reference it by its name and not by its full location within the post array. For example to access the value of a form (submitted by the ‘POST’ method) textfield called firstname with register globals on one would simply use $firstname, however with the register globals directive switched off one would have to use $_POST['firstname'].

Enabling register globals appears then to be more convenient but it is also more of a risk as writing insecure code becomes a lot easier. The reason for this is that with register globals on a developers script can be injected with all sorts of variables including HTML form values and URL get values (which can easily be manipulated by a hacker). With EGPCS variables and internal variables that are defined in the script itself so easily available the programmer can mistakenly open a ‘door’ or a ‘hole’ to a hacker by simply getting confused. A great example of a potential security risk created by bad coding with register globals on is available on http://ie.php.net/manual/en/security.globals.php (see example 29-1 near the top). Although register globals was turned off by default as off PHP 4.2, many webhosts use earlier versions of PHP and others simply manually set the directive to on. To eliminate any risks associated with having register globals on then the development team of PHP 6 decided to get rid of the directive altogether. This means that any scripts which made use of the register globals directive must be rewritten before being ported to PHP 6 as they will not work otherwise.

Next there’s magic quotes, this directive when switched on automagically escapes incoming data (such as POST form values) to any PHP script. This means that you will not have to run addslashes() to prevent MySQL (and others which escape characters with a slash) returning a syntax error when a user enters in a ‘ (for example) in a form textfield. Magic quotes (when switched on) helps beginners code more safely and it’s more convenient as addslashes gets run by PHP without any explicit calls by the coder. The magic quotes directive can however be set to on or off without any influence from within the script itself as input parameters are escaped before the script starts, this means that developers have the cumbersome task of having to first check if it is on and then having to run or not run addslashes() accordingly. Unexperienced programmers could simply assume it is either on or off and code accordingly which will of course effect the portability of an application as obviously some servers will have it switched on and some will have it switched off. In an effort to clean up the code and remove any ambiguity the developers of PHP 6 have decided to remove magic quotes functionality altogether, this is fairly significant and will require code rewriting for those applications and scripts that relied on the magic quotes directive being on (without checking) before these same applications and scripts will work on PHP 6.

Safe mode too is on the way out. PHP safe mode is an attempt to solve the shared-server security problem (according to PHP.net anyhow). When PHP safe mode is on lots of functionality is turned off and other functionality needs a higher degree of authorization (such as UID checks) to run, not only does this frustrate many developers whose hosts have safe mode on but it also gives off the impression that PHP is completely safe with safe mode on, even the most inexperienced PHP coders know this is not the case. The particular section of the developers meeting minutes corresponding to safe mode is found at http://www.php.net/~derick/meeting-notes.html#safe-mode. I don’t believe that the removal of safe mode will require major code changes for applications and scripts to work on PHP 6, please tell me though if I’m wrong on this one (it has been known to happen…)

Although the minutes of the meeting are not final it’s looking like PHP 6, if developed according to them is likely to go through an even longer ‘probationary’ period with webhosts than PHP 5 did (and is still doing) as an awful lot of scripts stand to be broken with any rushed migration to version 6 of this very popular web programming language.

Using Wordpress conditionals for search engine optimisation purposes

Friday, June 16th, 2006

In the last post I talked about the various things which you could do to optimize Wordpress for the search engines without actually changing any code, so it was all simple stuff really and kind of general. In this, the promised followup post (I’ve changed the title around for SEO purposes) I will get a little bit more technical and make use of what’s known as Wordpress conditionals. Wordpress conditionals are tags which can be used to tell Wordpress what content should be outputted on its various pages. The idea with Wordpress conditionals is exactly the same idea as conditionals in standard programming logic, for example ‘if something is true do this, else do this’ or conversely ‘if something is not true so this, else do this’.

In terms of search engine optimization Wordpress isn’t bad ‘out of the box’ and therefore no use of code conditionals is actually required however like many other web systems there is always room for improvements here and there, often it is these little improvements which make the difference between 1st page and 2nd page listings for your posts in the Google, Yahoo and MSN SERPS (search engine results pages) so I definitely do recommend implementing these changes in the fullest manner possible.

You should know that all the following code modifications for SEO purposes are done to the file header.php (which is in the themes folder), if you are planning to implement any of my suggested changes I strongly recommend you make a backup copy of this file first.

To begin then lets have a look at how we can improve the keyword density of the main blog page and the main category pages by using the is_home() and the is_category() conditionals. By default on the main page Wordpress will simply start outputting your posts one after another, however if you have a look at this blogs main page you will see I have an introductionary paragraph which not only allows me to improve keyword density itself but also allows me to have my keywords closer to the top of the page than otherwise would have been possible. To do this I added code similar to the following at the very end of my header.php file:

if(is_home()) { echo “keyword rich blog description here“; }

The above line basically means that if the current page is the blog homepage then output the text in bold. Next up is the category pages, what I propose doing is writing a keyword rich introductionary paragraph for each category on the blog. The idea is the same as the one on the homepage except rather than an overall description these descriptions will be specific to the category page being viewed. As of yet I haven’t implemented these changes myself but am planning to get around to it depending on what my rankings are like in a month or two (after the redesigned site is fully spidered).

To continue then if you have a look at the official conditional tags page you will see that the is_category() tag can be used in a number of ways depending on what condition you want to check. I suggest using the is_category() tag parameterized by an ID corresponding to a certain category on your blog. To view the IDs of your categories go to the ‘Manage’ page in your admin interface and then go to the ‘Categories’ page, you should see all your categories listed out one after another with their corresponding IDs on the left.  Armed with your all your category IDs you can now make use of the is_category() tag by using code similiar to the following:

if(is_category(’3‘)) { echo “keyword rich category description here“; }

This code should be placed at the very end of the header.php file (well actually placing it above the is_home() tag is OK too, but make sure it appears after all of header.php’s original content) and will check if the archive page for the category with an ID of ‘3′ is currently being viewed and if so will output the text in bold. In the case of this blog, the category with an ID of ‘3′ is the SEO category so the bolded text above would probably read something like ‘Search engine optimisation related blog postings. Learn how to improve your rankings on Google, Yahoo and MSN, learn about the Google Sandbox, learn all about Wordpress search engine optimization……‘. The idea is to provide a fairly specific description of what’s actually on that page, that means mentioning the titles or a rewording of your titles. Google and the other search engines like to see keywords spread out over the page, older posts would of course be nearer to the bottom of the category archive page and thus their related keywords would be concentrated in that area so by having your post titles or rewordings of your post titles in the category archive description you should improve your chances of ranking well. Obviously you can’t cater for all posts in a category so I’d suggest that you give your older ones priority.

Next I’ll move onto optimizing the title tags of the various Wordpress pages. As you most likely know what’s contained within the title tag of a page has a major influence on how Google and the other search engines see that page so it’s quite important that Wordpress is optimised to the max in this respect. I’ll be making use of the is_home() and is_category() conditional tags again but I will also be using the is_single() tag too.

I have already implemented these changes which I’m about to recommend and thus I can’t exactly show you before and after examples on this blog, so that is why I will make reference to another Wordpress blog which is unoptimized (but which still ranks well due to large numbers of incoming links). The blog is a very high profile blog run by Google employee Matt Cutts blog and is located at http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/.

In terms of the actual blog posts themselves by default Wordpress places the name of the blog first then a ‘»’ and only then will it output the actual title of the post currently being viewed, for an example of this see Matt’s post entitled ‘Review: Winning Results with Google AdWords‘. Notice how the title of the post only comes after the name of the blog ‘Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO’. It is well known that words which occur near the start of the title tag have more weight with the search engines so obviously this default set up must be changed for maximum optimzation, this is done by having the title of the blog post appear first in the title tag, this can then by followed (if desired) by the name of the blog. The is_single() conditional tag can be used for this, this tag checks if any single post page is currently being displayed.

The title tag section of unoptimized Wordpress blogs should look something like this:

<title><?php bloginfo(’name’); ?> <?php if ( is_single() ) { ?> » Blog Archive <?php } ?> <?php wp_title(); ?></title>

To reorder the title tag to make it more appealing in terms of SEO, the above code needs to be changed to the following (now is the perfect time to make that backup if you haven’t already done so):

if ( is_single() )
<?php wp_title(’ ‘); ?>
<?php if(wp_title(’ ‘, false)) { echo ‘ » ‘; } ?>
<?php bloginfo(’name’); ?>

The code first checks if any single page is being currently being displayed and if so enters the inner code section. In this section the wp_title() tag outputs the title of the current page and then sets the separator (which gets prepended to the bloginfo(’name’) variable) before outputting the name of the blog. Since the above code only deals with single pages it is of course part of a set of ‘if’ and ‘else’ conditional checks but that’s the actual post pages themselves taken care of, lets look briefly at the code to display the homepage title then (to be pasted below the above code):

{ ?> <title><?php bloginfo(’name’); ?> SEO Blog | Irish / Ireland Technology Blog | Search Engine Optimisation blog<?php wp_title(); ?></title>
<? }

The text in bold is the only real change from the default homepage title here, I have added these words because the name/title of my blog (blogged thoughts) is not keyword rich so these should help in the SERPS. As for category page titles Wordpress is not the best it could be as it once again places the name of the blog before the name of the category which hampers search engine optimisation. In this case though I recommend more than a simple reversal of blog name and category name, I recommend ditching the blog name altogether and simply describing the current category in keyword rich terms (for your most important categories anyhow). In the code below I ditch the category name too, this might effect usability and thus whether you do this or not is up to you.

elseif (is_category(’3′))
{ ?> <title>SEO Blog | search engine optimisation | Google optimization blog</title> <?}
elseif (is_category(’8′))
{ ?> <title>Irish technology Blog | Ireland IT news | General Irish blog</title> <?}

At this stage the code should be kind of self-explanatory but if not, the code checks if the current page being displayed is the category page corresponding to an ID of either ‘3′ or ‘8′ and displays the appropriate keyword rich title. Click into the archive pages for either the ‘SEO‘ or ‘Ireland‘ categories on this blog and you will see the above titles, however the code so far only deals with single post pages, homepage and two specific categories, finally I need to provide some default code which will cover all other pages including category pages which I have not explicitly handled in the above code. This code goes below the above code and is as follows:

{ ?> <title><?php bloginfo(’name’); ?> <?php wp_title(); ?></title> <? } } ?>

It outputs the name of the blog followed by the title of the currently being viewed page. Well there you have it, by using the above code you should be able to increase the rankings of your blog and its posts on the major search engines. Remember though as I mentioned in an earlier post that onpage optimization is only really a small part of what can be and has to be done to improve your rankings so be sure to also apply offpage optimisation methods to your blog and its posts also. As usual I appreciate your thoughts and comments on this post. I think I’ll cover some non SEO stuff for the next few posts.

Wordpress search engine optimization without code modification

Monday, June 12th, 2006

Blogs can bring in a lot of visitors to your website via the big search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN if they are updated regularly and of course are properly optimized for these search engines. Although I haven’t been using Wordpress for that long I’m pretty sure that I’ve maximised the various settings and features available in terms of search engine optimization. Now when I say settings and features I basically mean standard options which are available within the various Wordpress interfaces by default, I’m not talking about editing the code in your blogs theme files, I will talk about that in a follow up post. You might have guessed then but this post (the first of two on Wordpress optimisation) will provide you with some tips for optimizing your blog and its posts in a non code modifying way.

Some of this stuff will be fairly basic but for the sake of completeness I will cover it anyhow. To begin then, the title/name of your blog is most likely not up for change as perhaps you already have an established blog which is known throughout your community but if it’s at all possible to include some keywords in your blog title be sure to do so. If for example your blog is about gardening then call your blog ‘Joe’s Gardening Blog’ or ‘The Gardening Guide Blog’ as opposed to something like ‘The Gnomes View’ this will help your blogs SEO chances by having occurrences of your blogs main keyword(s) in practically all your wordpress page titles and it should also help you due the keyword rich links which you will get (hopefully) from other bloggers and webmasters who link to your blog using its ‘official’ title/name. I suppose I could have followed this advice with my own title and called it something other than ‘Blogged Thoughts’, the reason I didn’t though is because my situation is a bit different as my blog is not only about SEO, it’s also about the Internet, technology and certain Irish issues which catch my fancy so I didn’t feel comfortable with anything too specific.

The next item refers to customizing permalinks. Permalinks are direct URL references to your blog posts. Wordpress allows you to customize these URL’s to make them static looking and keyword rich thus making them more appealing to the search engines, Google and MSN in particular though. The permalinks interface is available from the options menu in Wordpress and I suggest you make use of it. I have chosen the custom structure option and my syntax is “/%post_id%-%postname%.html” which produces URLs for each of my blog posts with the id of the blog post and the name of the post in them. You of course can use any structure you like and an excellent reference page is available at http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks. After saving your structure Wordpress attempts to write Apache mod_rewrite code to your .htaccess file (if none exists a new one will be created) to allow your URLs to be rewritten according to your chosen structure, this of course means that permissions of 666 or greater will have to be applied to your .htaccess file and the directory it exists in (the main wordpress directory).

Next a paragraph about Wordpress categories. It should be no surprise to you that I recommend naming each of your categories in the most descriptive way possible, if you have space try and use more than one word I know though this is not always easy to do. Also in relation to categories be sure that you make use of the description field available when editing or creating a category as these are inserted into the title attributes of all category links and many search engines provide relevancy points for keywords in title attributes nowadays. Make your description keyword rich of course but don’t go overboard, remember the real intended purpose of the title attribute is to improve accessibility.

In terms of boosting the rankings of your actual posts, well the permalinks option which I discussed above will certainly help, this works best though if you have chosen the title of your post wisely. A common concept of search engine optimisation applies here again, be descriptive as possible and be vauge and general as little as possible. This means that when your entering your blog titles you should try and avoid fancy journalistic type ploys like alliteration, puns or metaphors as much as possible and simply tell it as it is. If your post is about emmm lets say…. Wordpress search engine optimization well then be pretty darn sure you include ‘Wordpress search engine optimization’ somewhere in the title of your blog post, preferabely near the beginning. Being descriptive as possible when titling your posts will mean that your main keywords will be included, this in turn will provide for keyword rich URLs (via permalinks), keyword rich heading tags and keyword rich title attributes on your blogs main page, relevant category and archive pages and the page of the blog post itself of course.

When choosing the category of a new post try and place it in as many relevant categories as possible (within reason of course). Often many posts will overlap two or more topics and could/should be placed in multiple categories because of this. Imagine a post about the Google sandbox… this post could go into categories called ‘Google’ and ‘SEO’, next imagine a post about hosting in Ireland… this post could go into categories called ‘Hosting’ and ‘Ireland’, well you get the idea. The advantage of placing posts in all relevant categories include the fact that the end post itself is linked to from more places on your blog and thus gets found easier by Google, Yahoo and MSN. In addition to this, if your posts get picked up by any syndication sites such as www.irishblogs.ie they will often archive your post snippet (and link back to the original blog post) in all the categories which it was placed in on your blog. To get a clearer idea of what I mean simply visit www.irishblogs.ie and notice how many of the posts are listed ‘in’ multiple categories, click into at least two of these categories and notice how the post snippet (and the link back to the original blog post) is present in all of them, this means that again your posts are easier to find but also that Pagerank (perhaps only a small amount though) will be passed to them. Irishblogs.ie is of course only applicable to certain blogs but I have noticed that most syndication sites work in the same way, so the advantages of multiple categories are there to be had no matter what your blog is about.

Well that’s really all the optimisation which can be done with Wordpress without getting your hands dirty with actual code modification. I mentioned above that this post was the first of two on wordpress optimisation and folks I don’t lie so check back on Wednesday or Thursday for the second part in which I will cover (or at least try to) the use of Wordpress code conditionals to optimise eh… Wordpress.

Offpage search engine optimization, a practical example

Friday, June 9th, 2006

Offpage optimization is now the main focus of many a webmaster and search engine optimisation expert when it comes to trying to boost the rankings of a website in the leading search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN. Offpage optimisation is all about getting as many valuable links to your website as possible in the most natural way (or at least in a way which will appear natural to search bots) possible. 

This week I started to do a bit of offpage optimisation for the SEO tools section of the website, this is only a new section which was put live in mid May with the overall site relaunch and thus it does not have pagerank or any links pointing to it yet. Considering all this then it’s not surprising that for the term ’seo tools’ the SEO tools section of the akamarketing.com website is currently ranked 68th on Google and nowhere to be seen on either Yahoo or MSN, now I know that with time the rankings would have improved, but I decided to do offpage optimisation anyhow as I know this term is competitive. I’m guessing I will have to wait for three or four months though before I can reap any rewards in terms of higher search engine rankings.

OK so let’s continue with what I actually did. My method of offpage optimisation was to submit one of my articles to a couple of sites which regularly publish my work as well as submitting that same article to a couple of other sites which I found through my old friend Google. Most of you reading this will know that the main advantage of publishing your articles on other webmasters sites is the fact that you will be allowed to include a link back to your website via the resource box which comes at the end of the articles. Often this link can be keyword rich which has HUGE benefits in terms of search engine optimisation. 

After submitting my article to the sites which regularly publish my work I began the search for fresh sites to try and expand the reach of my article. I found sites which would potentially publish my work by performing certain special searches on Google, examples of these include; “internet marketing intitle:submit your article” , “search engine optimization intitle:submit your article”, “internet marketing inurl:submitarticle”, “online marketing intitle:addarticle”, “seo articles intitle:articlesubmit”. These are just a handful of the different variations of searches which I performed. I basically used the inurl: and intitle: advanced search syntax along with keywords related to the article which I wanted other webmasters to publish on their sites. The words in bold are samples of the keywords I used, these words do of course change based on the topic of the article.

Run any of the above queries in Google yourself and you will see a load of sites which could potentially publish your article, this is what I done. After scanning each result for a second or so I visited any of the decent looking ones to try and submit my articles. The various search queries which I used were so specific that a large percentage of the results would indeed allow me to submit my article, excellent.

Simple enough stuff from here in really, I basically just copied and pasted my article (along with one of my resource boxes) into a load of different websites form interfaces and hit the submit button. The only thing I really had to think about was what resource box I was going to use. Let me continue, basically I had four resource boxes, the reason I had four resources boxes was not to do with the normal text as such but it was to do with the actual linking text back to my site (or more specifically the seo tools page located at http://www.akamarketing.com/seo-tools/). One of the resource boxes had a standard issue link to the seo tools section while the other three contained different keyword rich links to the seo tools section. Finding out whether or not a site will allow HTML resource boxes (and thus keyword rich backlinks) can be done by simply looking at other articles which are already on the site or pressing the preview button (which many sites have) and seeing if a keyword rich link comes out correctly, if it does you can be almost certain that HTML is allowed in the resource box.

One of the resource boxes then is for sites that don’t allow HTML, but why did I need three HTML keyword rich resources boxes. Well the reason I had three keyword rich resource boxes is to allow my incoming links to appear as natural as possible (remember I mentioned this near the end of the first paragraph?). Imagine Google indexed 30 new incoming links to my SEO tools page all with the exact string ’seo tools’ as the anchor text, it certainly won’t appear natural as different webmasters will of course use different variations of words to describe the same page, it’s very unlikely that all 30 webmasters would use the exact same string to describe what’s on the other side of the link so if Google sees something like this it will perhaps discount or even discard a whole load of links as something unnatural (like effectively ‘paying’ for a link with an article) is going on. This is the reason I used three different HTML resource boxes.

The different anchor texts I used in my resource boxes where ’seo tools’, ’search engine tools’ and ’search engine optimization tools’. When I submitted my articles I simply alternated my resource boxes so that the backlinks I would gradually acquire (as Google finds its way around all the sites which published my article) would appear just as if a webmaster had chosen the link text himself or herself thus making the link text more ‘believable’ and valuable.

In terms of results so far, well as mentioned above I only submitted my article earlier this week and I was quite conservative in relation to the amount of sites I submitted to but already a couple of pages which have my article on them have been picked up in Google and MSN (Yahoo is a good bit slower I believe). The title of the article was How to create content that will get you loads of links and an exact string search for it on Google and MSN returns 157 and 34 results respectively. Have a look through some of the results and notice that there’s a good mix of the various anchor texts which differentiate all my resource boxes from each other.

Well there you have it, I’m sure you will agree that my efforts earlier this week constituted a simple enough method of offpage optimisation, I can confirm though that it is one of the most effective methods and yes I am speaking from experience. Be sure to check my rankings for ’seo tools’ in a couple of months (after all these new pages with my link on them have ’settled’ in the index and have obtained some pagerank), I’d be very surprised if I’m not in the top 20 or so results. Any questions about anything in this post please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment.  

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ICANN understand why the ICM registry appeals .XXX decision

Saturday, June 3rd, 2006

Just looking through various sites and newswires which I like to read and noticed that the ICM Registry, the body behind the proposed .xxx top level domain which ICANN rejected on the 10th May (despite previously approving it) has decided to appeal the rejection. The .xxx extension for those of you that don’t know was proposed by the ICM Registry for porn and adult enterainment sites in March 2004. The benefits which the ICM preached included the idea that .xxx domains would be completely filterable and thus parents, workplaces, etc. could ‘protect’ their children and staff with ease.

Of course with these things, not everyone ‘plays ball’ and opposition came from conservative groups who believed a .xxx TLD would create a ‘virtual red light district’ and from many established players in the online porn industry who did not want their established and well known sites changed from www.theirdomain.com to www.theirdomain.xxx as it would ‘upset business’.

Personally I’m not sure whether I favour a .xxx TLD or not as I always try and see things from both sides but I can understand why the ICM has decided to appeal ICANNs decision. I think the decision to appeal was justified because of the strange goings on which surrounded the various ICANN decisions. First off let us not forget that the US government has a big influence over ICANN as it is under the direct oversight of the Department of Commerce, thus this means the US goverment has a veto on all major ICANN decisions. ICANN claim they make independent decisions but many of the worlds web watchers are not so sure. With this in mind let us continue with an overview the .xxx TLD related events.

In June 2005 ICANN approved the .xxx for use, the Department of Commerce voices its concerns in August of that year and thus final approval is delayed and as we know on the 10th of May this year ICANN reverses its initial decision and rejects the idea for a .xxx domain. Sound like government influence to you?, certainly seems that way to me. What changed in the few months between approval and rejection of the TLD? The presence of ideological pressure from the U.S. government of course. ICANN board members should make their decisions based on what’s good for the Internet and not what’s good for the George Bush administration, ICM therefore have every right to appeal if they believe something unfair has gone on.

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