Site optimization — the order of your scripts and styles

I watched this video yesterday, where a Googler talks about the importance of ordering your scripts and styles correctly in order to speed up the rendering of your website, made a quick change to my header file, then ran the Page Speed extension for Firefox to see how I was doing. While there still some things to address that could make my site load faster, some of which don’t depend on me but on external JavaScript files from ads and stats and such, I’m glad to see things are a little snappier today.

Google Webmaster Central — Optimizing the order of scripts and styles

There’s extra documentation on this very topic available from Google, in the help files for its Page Speed extension. It’s worth a read, because a quick re-ordering of the code in your site’s header could shave as much as 50% off your site loading times, depending on how much JavaScript you’re using.

Googling from different countries

I was watching this video on the Google Webmaster Central Channel, where Matt Cutts answers a question about the impact of server location on Google’s rankings, and he touched on an important point, which I hadn’t noticed until I spent a few months in Romania. In the video, he says that Google will return different search results based on which Google site you visit. For example, if you go to Google.com and type in “bank”, you’ll get different search results than if you go to Google.com.au and type in “bank”.

Back in January, when I arrived in Romania, I noticed the same thing. I Googled myself while in Romania, only to find out I was no longer the first search result that came up for my name at Google.ro or at Google.com. I thought that was odd at the time, because doing the same thing while in the US yielded the expected result. It never occurred to me that Google would yield different search results for each country, although that makes perfect sense now.

Here’s the interesting part though. As I spent more time in Romania, writing and publishing to this site, whose server is in the US, from Romania, the order of the search results for my name at Google.ro and Google.com changed. One day, I googled myself and noticed my name came up first, just like it did in the US. So, Google somehow learned — and I’m not sure how they did it — that I was writing from Romania, or that I was in Romania, and figured out that returning my site as the first search result for my name in Romania was the relevant thing to do. If nothing else, it reveals some of the complexity behind Google’s search algorithms and earns my respect.

google-search-raoul-pop

My Drobo review is first at Google

A couple of days ago, I noticed an increase in the traffic to my Firewire Drobo review, most of it from search engines, so I did a quick search on Google for the phrase “drobo review“, which is what people were using to find me. To my surprise, my review was the first search result that came up! I’d been in the #2 spot for a long time, just under CNET, for the same phrase, but now, without having made any changes to my review since I’d written it, I ranked first.

drobo-review-google-search

This makes me happy, because when I created my site, I wanted to sit down and write good articles while staying away from any unethical SEO tricks or even white-hat SEO tricks like keyword loading and other such unappealing, tedious stuff. I just wanted to create good content and get noticed because of that, not because I’d tricked the search engines into ranking me higher up the page. That would have been an empty success indeed.

It also makes me happy because I like my Drobos. So far, they’ve worked well for me, and I’m glad I’ve found a reliable and expandable way to store all my data. It’s also worthwhile to note that my Firewire Drobo review was published months after it came out officially. I did not get a review unit, I didn’t have to pull any strings to be among the first to get one, and I didn’t spend a feverish night working on my review after it first came out. You know how the press clamors to get review units of products when they first come out… I didn’t do that, and it’s very refreshing to see that after taking my time and really putting my Firewire Drobo through its paces, intensively, for a prolonged period of time, I was able to write a truthful review that is now ranked first at Google.

It’s been about three years of intensive writing, and my work has begun to pay off. (I began publishing multiple articles per week in 2006. I’d only been publishing sporadically until then.) In 2007, almost two years ago, I noticed I was getting more and more traffic from search engines, and made a list of the articles that were getting noticed. For a lot of them, I was either on the first page of search results, or among the first few search results, right at the top.

Still, it’s something to be the first search result for what is a fairly common tech phrase such as “drobo review”, and it really makes my day that I, a writer working alone, using WordPress and hosting my site on my own little Ubuntu web server at SliceHost, has outranked CNET and other big names such as Engadget and others, on Google, the world’s biggest search engine. It serves to illustrate very well a point Matt Cutts from Google has made time and time again: just focus on writing good content, and the rest will come. You’ll get indexed, and as your site builds a larger collection of articles, your online trust will cause you to rise up among the search results, until you make it to the top. You don’t need tricks, you don’t need to get headaches from trying to squeeze SEO juice out of every paragraph and page title and others — you just need to write informative articles.

I’d like to thank God for this. You see, I live by certain principles which are rooted in my religious beliefs, most notably in the Ten Commandments found in the Bible. When I began to write online and created my site, I didn’t want to steal, and I didn’t want to lie. Taking content from others (content-scraping) is theft, so I don’t condone it or do it. Using dirty SEO tricks to rank higher in search results is also theft, because those who do it are robbing others of those spots and robbing tech engineers at search companies of their time, which they will have to use to modify algorithms and clean up the search results. And using those same dirty SEO tricks is effectively a lie, because those who do it are misrepresenting their websites and their articles. That’s not me, I don’t want to do those things, and I’m really glad to see that God proved me right when I stuck by my principles. I’m also glad to see that a company such as Google exists, and that it rewards honest, forthright behavior.

Google Reader translates posts?

Yesterday morning, I added a new feed to my subscriptions in Google Reader, and noticed what I thought was a new feature: the ability to translate posts automatically, within GR. The feature was actually launched in November of last year, and it works through the normal drop-down menu. A new option was added there, and it looks like this:

Google Reader automatic post translation

Isn’t that cool? The translation technology used is the same one found in Google Translate. What’s also cool is how the languages are detected. I assume the translate option with GR uses the language setting saved in the GR settings or in the Google Account settings, and then it either uses the auto-detect capabilities built into Google Translate to figure out the language, or it looks at the language setting encoded within the feed itself.

Google Translate

It’s an incredibly useful feature, because it allows people to read blogs in other languages without worrying about copying and pasting the text into a separate translation tool. Just think, if I write a post in Romanian and publish it on my site, the auto-translation tool within GR will allow you to read it as if I’d written it in English! Granted, the translation is machine-generated so it won’t read fluently and might even miss a few meanings here and there, but it’s certainly better than nothing, which is what we had before.

I’d also like point out that if you’re reading articles on my site instead of the feed, I’ve recently added auto-translation capabilities to each post via the same Google Translate technology. You’ll have the option to translate any of my articles into several languages, by clicking on a particular language, right under any post title, as shown below. I hope this will prove useful to my readers from other countries.

Post header showing auto-translation capabilities

Gmail offers another pleasant surprise

The Gmail team has done it again, and they’ve given Gmail users a whole slew of cool new features.

New Gmail features

We’ve now got YouTube, Picasa and Flickr previews, built right into each email message. All we have to do is to put a link to a YouTube movie, or a Picasa or Flickr photo, and its thumbnail shows directly in the message. This feature can be enabled by service from the Labs settings in our Gmail accounts.

I love the “Undo send” feature and have already enabled it. My wife is already using the Offline version of email. It took a bit to sync all her messages, but it’s doing alright now.

Other Gmail features I love are as follows:

  • Superstars, which adds additional stars icons. I organize emails that I need to act on that way.
  • Signature tweaks, which places the signature above quoted text
  • Right-side labels
  • Navbar drag-and-drop, which allows me to re-organize the various items on the Gmail screen
  • Forgotten attachment detector
  • Vacation Time, which lets me specify beginning and ending dates for those times when I can’t get to my email
  • Create a Document, which allows me to create a Google Document right from my Gmail inbox (this is new)
  • Send & Archive, which allows me to reply and archive that message at the same time (this is new)
  • Title Tweaks, which changes the order of the text in the Gmail page title, allowing me to see right away how many unread messages there are (this is new)
  • Google Docs gadget, which displays my most recent Google Documents on my Gmail inbox screen

There’s more information about the new features on the Gmail Blog, here and here.

WordPress Stats plugin has gone cuckoo

For over a month now, I have been unable to rely on the official WordPress Stats plugin. (I say official because the folks that made WordPress also made this plugin.) It, all of a sudden, started assigning all site visits to the same article, so that all of my stats became completely skewed. Let me explain it with a screenshot:

WordPress Stats has gone cuckoo

Instead of seeing the proper distribution of site visits by titles, which is what happened in the past, almost all of the site visits get assigned to a random post. I have no idea any more which titles get the most traffic for a given day. I know this is wrong because I’m also using Google Analytics. Here’s a screenshot of the 20 most popular titles for the past 30 days.

Google Analytics Content by Title

I like WordPress Stats because they aggregate the data almost instantly, whereas there’s a 3-4 hour delay with Google Analytics. Sometimes they even correct the data a day afterward (this happened to me recently) so you can’t rely on their figures until 24-36 hours after the fact [reference].

I stopped using WordPress Stats for a while, hoping the problem would somehow work itself out, but when I re-activated the plugin, all that happened is that it started assigning all site visits to a different random post. Whoopee…

If someone at WordPress reads this, please let me know if it’s something I’m doing wrong, or if it’s something that you’ve got to work out on your end. I posted about this problem in the WordPress forums, but I have yet to receive a reply there.

New Gmail buttons and shortcuts

Gmail's new buttons

I woke up today to find new Gmail buttons. At first I thought it was just Firefox playing tricks on me, but no, the buttons look the same in Safari. The Gmail Team announced the change on their blog yesterday, on 2/3/09. As expected, the change took a while to propagate to all of the Gmail accounts.

Along with the new buttons, they introduced two new keyboard shortcuts, “l” and “v”, which will allow you to label and label/archive messages on the fly. The “l” key opens a drop-down menu which allows you to label emails. You can navigate the drop-down menu using the arrow keys and mark a label using the Enter key. The “v” key does the same thing, and it also archives the message at the same time, removing it from the inbox.

Don’t forget that while you’re in the Gmail inbox, you can select multiple message by using the Shift key. Left-click on the first one, then Shift-Click on the last one, and all in-between will be selected. You can then use “l” or “v” to apply labels to all of them at once.