Archive for January 2013

Practical SEO

January 31st, 2013 — 2:12pm

These days, search engine optimization is a major influencer of site design, layout, and content. This is a good thing, but I’ve noticed a few trends that lead me to urge caution. The risks of “overdoing” your SEO efforts are big and range from decreasing site usability (for your real users) to being blacklisted by one or more search engines. Here’s my practical approach to SEO.

  1. Do all the basics – This includes all the common SEO techniques, such as putting keywords in your page URL’s, page titles, meta text, and links. Also work on getting some quality backlinks. Make your content match what your customers / users are interested in seeing.
  2. Don’t overdo it – Too much content not only detracts from your site usability, but may turn off the search engines as well. Many sites rank well that have little content. Tune your site slowly, and watch the results.
  3. Have patience – It can easily take a year or more to get your site ranking well, even if you’ve made all the right SEO moves. So don’t expect organic searches to be your major source of traffic in the beginning. Plan to supplement with ads or other promotions.
  4. Keep in mind the search engine’s goals – Google and Bing are trying to return the best search results possible – that means the most relevant to the user. So make sure your keywords and content match you site’s purpose. For example, if you are in commercial real estate, make sure your site content emphasizes that. If you get users coming in looking for residential real estate, it’s bad for both you, and the search engine. Remember, the search engines can tell if the user returns to the search after viewing your site, and may demote your site accordingly (since the user obviously didn’t find what they wanted). So, be clear what services you provide, and what areas you serve (if you are geographically limited).
  5. Track and measure – In order to tell how changes are affecting your site, use an analytics/ statistics package to track your traffic over time. It’s difficult to attribute traffic to specific changes, but at least you can determine what growth and ranking has occurred over time.

These are the principles I use to do SEO. I avoid making guarantees or promises, but do offer practical, time-tested techniques for making your site search engine friendly.

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Ajax search type ahead

January 23rd, 2013 — 5:06pm

I’ve worked a lot with jquery (a popular javascript library) over the past few years, and I recently added a nice bit of ajax functionality to a site.

The function is a simple “type-ahead” lookup for a searchbox – just start typing, and results will show up, filtering out as you go.  Here’s the site:

The search box is in the upper right under the social icons.  Note this site also uses ajax on this page:

These features are becoming more commonplace, and more expected on websites.  Almost all browsers can support them now, even mobile browsers, so there’s no reason not to use them anymore.

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Intrusion detection and resolution

January 9th, 2013 — 2:50pm

A few weeks ago I had a client email me with this message:

Just got this. I haven't made any changes on the site recently, have you?
> Subject: File alarm for My website
> The following files generated alarms:
> ALARM: /home/abc/public_html/404.php was modified: 01/02/2013 01:29:42
> If you did not modify these files - please check for possible hackers on your site.

This alarm came from a script I’d installed on his site a few months ago, which checks for new / modified scripts on the server. After getting his email, I checked out the file, and determined it was indeed a “suspicious” file, and that a hacker had indeed breeched the site.

After removing the file for safety, I contacted the hosting company, who confirmed that the file had been uploaded via ftp. Someone had leaked the ftp password, so we changed it immediately. In all likelihood the password had been given out at some point to a designer / programmer to upload something, and never changed.

So two lessons here:

1. Change your passwords regularly – and especially after you have changed programmers or developers. Also track when you give out passwords and to whom.

2. Monitor your site regularly for suspicious activity – hackers can get in from multiple avenues, sometimes not requiring passwords at all. So check and investigate any changes to your code, and try to determine how it happened.

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