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Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-20

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Making it to the first page of Google search results

As I checked my traffic stats over the past few days, I noticed a steady stream of traffic to my reviews of the WD My Book World and Pro Edition II hard drives. I was pleasantly surprised, but couldn’t figure out why. Other than publishing the reviews on my blog, I hadn’t done any sort of promotion. No one had linked to them so far (from what I could tell), yet the traffic was there. It wasn’t an outrageous amount of traffic, but nice, steady and regular. That sort of traffic usually only comes from one source: search engines.

I checked, and sure enough, my two reviews had made it to the first page of Google search results — the dream of any content creator. Here’s a search for WD My Book Pro Edition II, and for WD My Book World Edition II. Not sure how long they’ll stay there, but it’s really nice to see blog content make it to the front page of Google search, and even better, it’s a treat to see my own content make it there. 🙂

I thought I’d check on some other popular content and see how it ranks in Google’s search results. I logged into my FeedBurner account and looked at the most popular pages for the past 30 days. Here are the top ten pages at ComeAcross, in descending order:

In truth, I’m not sure just what it takes to get to the front page at Google. Let’s just say that it involves a fair amount of chance along with the the hard work. I steer clear of dirty SEO tricks like keyword seeding and other such nasty stuff. Also, I haven’t really spent a lot of time optimizing ComeAcross with honest SEO techniques. Other than using WordPress, which has certain built-in SEO advantages, and trying to write good content, I don’t do much to ensure that my posts get good ranks in the search engines. That’s why I find it refreshing to see that content is still king, and as long as one’s design isn’t egregiously awful, you’ll still get indexed just fine and bubble toward the top as more people find your information interesting.

Don’t assume though that I do nothing to promote my work. Remember, I just finished writing about how I promote it using Twitter and Jaiku or other microblogging services yesterday. Here’s part one and part two of that discussion. I also have other tools that I use, though I don’t use them often. I depend on my readers to do that — or rather, I prefer to let my content grow in popularity organically, without “cheating the system”. It’s probably a good idea that I discuss this in more detail in a future post — perhaps next week.

I should also say that I’m not dismissing SEO. It has its value, and if done right, can help push content right to the top. Some people swear by it, and have seen their traffic double. I should probably look into it in more detail at some point in the future. And good web design is crucial. Design may not necessarily matter to search engines (to some extent) but it sure matters to people. If your site’s design is ugly or hard to use, don’t expect many people to read through your content or return to it. By the same token, good web design alone won’t draw the traffic. Good content will do it. Keep that in mind, and thrive.

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Thoughts

Here's to a few milestones

This weekend, I (or rather my photos) reached an important milestone. I/they crossed over 100,000 views. That’s amazing as far as I’m concerned. In the relatively short span of four months, I got to the point where I’m getting more than 1,000 views per day, and have now reached 100,000 views. It was just back in October that I passed 10,000 views, and here I am today.

I’m really happy with the progress I’m making, and even more than that, I’m happier that my photographic skills are visibly improving. I’ve learned so much in these past four months, and have benefited so much from interacting with fellow photographers, that my success is doubly sweet.

This next “milestone” is somewhat dubious, but it’s worth mentioning. A few days ago, I reached over 30,000 spam comments, right here on my blog. Yeah, it’s disgusting. But, none of them made it to the live site. All of them got caught by Akismet, my WordPress spam prevention plugin. I featured Akismet in this post I wrote at the start of January, and I meant every word I said about it. The only improvement I could make to it is a CAPTCHA. I find that more and more spam comments make it to the Moderation Queue instead of the Spam folder these days. Spammers are either using fresh batches of IP addresses or finding ways to sneak past Akismet’s spam filters. Still, NONE of them make it to the blog.

While I’m on the subject, I’d like to reiterate my very ardent wish that ALL spammers (in particular sploggers, spam commenters and feed scrapers) be flogged publicly. I would gladly volunteer to perform this duty myself. I think they all deserve it for poisoning search engine results, making blogs uglier, decreasing my content’s rank, and littering the Internet. I don’t know how likely this is to happen, but a fellow can dream, can’t he?

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Thoughts

There's hope after all for independent web developers

Three weeks ago, I wrote a post describing my thoughts on the web development industry, and things looked pretty bleak. I did promise a brighter outlook in a short while, and this post is the fulfillment of that promise.

So, what can we do to ensure that we’ll continue to have jobs? Well, we can do any of the following, and these are loose thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Develop our skills even further, and become more specialized in the new and cutting edge technologies, that aren’t yet offered by the “masses”. Make a living from that, although we’ll live in constant stress, always re-learning, always jumping on the next “hot” technology.
  • Form networks of peers, and work together on projects while maintaining our cherished independence. I’m not talking about cheesy networking, I’m talking about finding people who are really good at doing certain separate things, and sticking together in teams, then bidding for projects and sharing the revenues.
  • Who says we can’t lead? We can form our own companies, and hire specialized developers for the projects we have contracts to do. But that would mean we wouldn’t be by ourselves anymore, and I for one like being by myself.
  • If you can’t beat them, join them. We can seek employment with the larger companies that will gobble up the market, or are already doing so. Or, we can seek employment with already established brick and mortar companies that need web developers as they realize more and more of their technologies will need to move from the desktop to the web.
  • Develop free or low cost turn-key solutions, and hope we make enough money from donations or from the sales volume to sustain our efforts and allow us to make a living.
  • Develop systems that fill specific needs, and support those systems. Sell them to niche industries. Question is, how do you gain credibility as a one-man team when companies are looking for long-term solutions where support can be provided indefinitely? If you’re gone, what happens to the system? Those are real questions that demand good answers.
  • Move offshore and do our work from there. I would imagine there’s an offshore market for Americans who understand American business and the Americans as a people.

Furthermore, we can differentiate ourselves on service, on approachability, on geographical closeness, on people-to-people relationships, through networks, because of no language barriers, through innovation, truthfulness, and trustworthiness. Those are all very, very real and tangible assets that we can develop and possess, to our most definite advantage.

I think nowadays, by far the biggest differentiator is innovation. Just look at the slew of Web 2.0 companies that have sprung up, and they’re all getting funding! It’s shocking, even to me. But while innovation opens doors, good work, reliability and good customer service keep people coming through those doors. And the great thing is that while not all web developers are innovators, all web developers can and should strive to do good work, create reliable products, and provide good customer service.

You may think I’m being dismissive, but it’s true, and I speak from personal experience when I say this. Treat your clients well, make good products, and they’ll keep coming back. Not only that, but they’ll recommend you to others. You want to know something? I have never gotten a client solely through my website. It’s shocking to say that about a web development business, but it’s true. My clients may have used my site to research me and to read more about my services, but I get clients after personal meetings with them. And they usually find out about me not from my website, but from my previous or existing clients. Or, they’ll have interacted with me in a completely different setting, like my community or my church, where my occupation didn’t matter that much, they liked what they saw in me, then contacted me for work-related purposes. That’s important to remember!

Another important aspect is trustworthiness, and I can’t emphasize this enough. You’ve got to be credible. Your clients need to be able to trust you. My clients trust me with their SSNs and credit card numbers and passwords to various accounts. I don’t ask them for that information, they give it to me and ask me to help them conduct transactions related to the projects we’re working on. It goes without saying that I do my best to delete that information from my mind and computer, because I don’t need to know it beyond the project itself, but if that’s not trust, I don’t know what is. And that’s the sort of relationship you need to establish with your client. When they trust you like that, you know they’re going to stick with you. And if you continue to be honest and hold to your promises, that relationship will only strengthen.

So it turns out that the secret to a good career as a web developer is no secret at all. It’s simply good business, and that’s a relief! Here’s to our collective entrepreneurial success!

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Thoughts

The next iPod?

I have a hunch the next generation iPod will have a widescreen. I just don’t think the current 4:3 screen is going to be around for long. Obviously the videos on iTunes are a success. The next step is to deliver them in 16:9 format, and then possibly deliver full movies as well. This could happen as early as next year.

Updated 2/4/2008: Well, it didn’t happen in 2006, as I’d hoped. Appled started selling movies through iTunes in 2007, and now, in 2008, has started renting movies online, in both HD and regular formats. They also started selling a widescreen iPod in 2007, not 2006.

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