I guess you could say that I’ve been blogging on and off for around 8 years, maybe not today’s classic reverse-chronological blogging but through various methods over the years I’ve shared my thoughts with the Internet at large. In that time I’ve kept an eye on my page rankings and have figured out enough to help ensure that my content gets seen as often as possible by the right sorts of audience. I should say up-front that I don’t always follow my own advice since I tend to flit between projects and often don’t have as much spare time as I wish I had but I keep trying different things until I learn a thing or two.
So, since the web is all about giving and sharing (with a sprinkling of lolcats) I felt that now would be a good time to post a few tips to help other bloggers make sure their voice gets heard. I should stress that these tips are not designed for commercial ventures nor to produce stupid volumes of traffic, I love the Internet and I’d never condone the so called black-hat SEO usually employed to peddle crap and generate more ad clicks. Anyway, on to the tippage…
Tip #1: Produce Good Content
This may sound stupid but the one of the most important factors used by search engines to choose which pages appear above others is how popular the page is based on links from other sites. People aren’t going to link to your content if it isn’t any good and besides, if you’re not producing decent content you’re probably not doing what you set out to in the first place (unless you were aiming to be rubbish). It might sound daunting at first but all you have to do is produce content that might be useful to people, either because they’re well researched opinion pieces, reviews, tutorials, etc. Just share your knowledge and experience and someone out there will find it useful and if you don’t feel that you know enough – do some research and share what you learn.
Tip #2: Produce Plenty of Content
It’s worth bearing in mind that search engines chiefly index the text on web pages which is all well and good if you’re a writer but if you’re mainly posting photos and videos it’s worth making sure you include a certain amount of test along with the post, ideally a synopsis of the video or a description of what you feel the photograph shows, how you went about taking it, etc. If you want to start your blog off with a big bang you should write a good 5-10 posts before you ‘launch’ as well as having populated your profile or about pages, having a reasonable amount of text on day one will really help you get on the major indexes (Google, Yahoo, Bing) as early as possible.
Tip #3: Promote Yourself and Get Involved With the Community
You don’t need to go off at the deep end and remember that what you’re trying to do is make your content known to the target audience, the aim is not to mass-market yourself but to make sure you get found. If you’re blogging in a particular niche then get yourself involved in the community, join forums, comment on blogs, etc. and you’ll get your name (and your blog) known, as well as finding out a little more about your audience and what they might want to see. I don’t mean that you should join a forum and spam it with all of your posts – remember you’re goal shouldn’t be to self promote but just to get involved. It’s also well worth using social networking sites wherever it makes sense, make sure you’ve got a presence on Facebook and Twitter as a bare minimum and consider other sites such as Myspace and Bebo if they cover your target demographic.
Another method of promoting yourself is to use paid advertising, it’s a good way to get an initial influx of readers to your site – this might seem a bit daft if you’re building a personal blog but you can quite often get free trials with various online ad agencies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Stumbleupon (also see my Stumbleupon Ads review).
Tip #4: Tune Your Links
I said earlier that the most important factor search engines use to rank pages is the number of inbound links, this is mostly true but I’d add the proviso that they need to be good quality links. In this case ‘quality’ is affected by a couple of major factors, the PageRank of the source (links from more popular sites help more than links from less well known ones) and the relevance of the link text (the text of the link should relate closely to the content on your site). This is particularly useful whenever you’re crafting links back to your site in forum posts or comments on other blogs, for example – if you are writing about exploring abandoned mental hospitals it is much better to link using relevant text (e.g. Abandoned Asylums) than it is to just post the URL (e.g. http://www.sickbritain.co.uk/2009/08/top-10-abandoned-asylums-in-the-uk/) since the text gives the search engines a way to understand what it is you’re trying to say.
It’s also easy to forget but search engines also evaluate your outbound links, the Internet is a network and you should always make sure that you’re linking out to other great sites (for example, see Brent Ozar’s WordPress SEO post). You might think that posting lots of outbound links would cause your readers to jump ship and look elsewhere but actually the opposite is true, the Internet is full of both good and bad content and people need help to filter that so if they find a site they like and trust that helps them find other good content they’ll keep coming back to see what else you’ve found.
Tip #5: Find Your Niche
If you’re just starting up your blog you may not have settled on a particular area of speciality, it’s absolutely fine to have a general “this is what I’m up to now”, or “here’s something I found interesting” type blogs (in fact you’re reading one now) but if you want to build traffic and obtain regular readers it’s probably better to stick to one topic. This makes most sense if you’ve got one clear hobby (e.g. running, or urban exploration) but if you’re anything like me your hobbies might be a bit random (photography, travel, video games, Apple products). If you struggle to find a personal niche you could always take a more professional angle and blog about your area of work, whether that be as a blacksmith, a nurse, a teacher or a more techie discipline such as IT Security, Business Intelligence or programming. I’ve already mentioned that it’s links that are important, picking a niche will not only help build your readership it will also help make sure that your inbound links are relevant since all of your content is clustered around one subject area.
Tip #6: Monitor Your Progress
It’s all well and good to follow all of these tips, but how will you know what’s working? If you’re using a hosting company there’s a high likelihood that they will provide some sort of stats package to go with the hosting, you can get great information from sites like these but they’re often a bit fiddly and sometimes too detailed and you can’t see the wood for the trees. The best solution I’ve found (not least because it’s free) is Google Analytics, I’ll write about this separately at some point but there are plugins for most common blogging engines and CMSs that collect information on which pages are being visited and allow you to see not only the number of hits you’re getting but also where traffic comes from (referrals, keyword searches, direct visits, RSS feeds, etc.). If you use Analytics and have an iPhone you have to check out one of my favourite applications Google Analytics app for the iPhone, it’s been on my front-page for over a year and I use it almost daily.
Tip #7: Be a Good Citizen (a.k.a. don’t be a jerk)
Simply put – you just won’t become successful as a blogger if you act like a jerk. Don’t get me wrong, if you are a jerk and that’s your thing and that’s part of your blogging style then I guess you might as well go for it but what I really mean is that you should be respectful of your readers and your peers. One of the worst possible things to do as a blogger is to rip-off other people’s content, it’s fine to reference and quote other people’s posts but don’t copy & paste wholesale and especially don’t try and pass the idea off as your own: plagiarism is not cool – give credit where credit is due. My other major piece of advice is not to take self promotion too seriously just focus on good quality content – don’t spam forum and comment threads with links to your site, don’t write posts just because you think you’ll generate more traffic, don’t write crappy little posts just to get your post count up, etc.
For a while now I’ve had this problem where if I click on a link to download a DMG or a ZIP file I just get a blank grey page instead of the file being downloaded, it’s kind-of like I’m actually trying to open the file directly in the browser and it gets really bloody annoying. The problem in my case seemed to be the Speed Download plugin (I won’t link to it, since I recommend that nobody installs it – ever), the solution was to delete the application from the Applications folder in Finder and then delete the plugin (probably close Safari first) from /Library/Internet Plug-ins/SpeedDownload Browser Plugin.plugin
Here’s a quick tip that will allow you to see a a mounted USB drive or CD/DVD from the terminal in Mac OS X Snow Leopard (though this probably works in all versions of OS X)…
This is the location of all mounted drives, including CDs, DVDs, USB Hard Disks, Flash Drives and even Mobile Me’s iDisk – they should all be available as folders below “/Volumes”.
It’s clearly Food Day on thirtyfootscrew.com, having breakfasted at Fuzzy’s Grub and having lunched in a Cafe Nero I found myself in need of dinner roundabouts Piccadili Circus. Being Tourist Town I wasn’t too otimistic about finding much interesting but in the end I found a red double decker bus converted into a vegan restaurant!
In the heart of Soho, not far from the Trocadero and right next to the famous Zilli Fish th place stands out like a sore thumb but makes a welcome break from the usual shops and restaurants.
Vegan Routes offers both take away and eat-in options though I’d recommend the latter sincethe staff are genuine and friendly and you get to soak up the Soho atmosphere watching people passing by (often with quizzical expressions). Food-wise I had a green tea, a chickpea stew and a smoothies to finish and they were all excellent, I shall definitely return!
This morning I had breakfast from what I believe is the best breakfast joint in the city of London – Fuzzy’s Grub.
My favourite is a fried egg sandwich, on toasted white bread, buttered, with ketchup, made with two medium-cooked eggs. All the breakfasts are classic British fare, served very quickly and capably by friendly staff. The only downside is that it’s take-away only but most people are taking their brekkie onto the office anyway.
From what I gather, there are a few if them dotted around but the one I frequent is just down the road from Bank Tube at 56-57 Cornhill, EC3V 3PD.
Note: I’m posting from the iPhone now but I’ll stick a map up later.
Whilst I’m mildly reluctant to admit it, I was one of those sad people so excited by Apple’s scheduled July 27th announcement that I stayed behind at work so as not to miss the Engadget live-blogging coverage and despite the fact that every man and his dog will be blogging about the iPad over the coming weeks (and yes, dogs blog), as bonafide Apple fanboy I thought I couldn’t resist tossing my opinion into the fray.
My first sight of the thing was of Steve Jobs holding it up and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was about the size of his head, 10″ screen and bezel included. I appreciate that this is an odd feature to look for but many of the rumours I’d read were touting a 7″ screen which to me (more later) would have been utterly pointless but 10″ is a good approximation of a page from a book or a small magazine. Sadly, along with this first sight came the bitter realisation that the thing was to be called the iPad, something I’m really going to struggle getting used to since it’s a crap name – please excuse my use of ‘the thing’ when referring to the new device.
The design is very similar to that of the iPhone, except with a proportionally much larger bezel, making it look a lot more like a digital photo frame and though I’d bet money that this proportional imbalance will be reduced in future versions I also acknowledge that it may be intentional since you’re going to have to rest your thumbs somewhere whilst you’re not pawing at the capacitive screen. The weight is hard to gauge from presentations and so on but 1.5lbs seems weighty but maybe appropriately so, since you’ll want it to feel solid in your hands, I look forward to getting my hands on one to see what it really feels like to hold.
In terms of actually using the device, the demo shots of browsing the web, watching films and thumbing through Google maps all look absolutely superb, very slick, very iPhone, very Apple. I was especially impressed by the look of the calendar since the iPhone has been a godsend in terms of managing my personal life and anything that can help me remember where I’m supposed to be and when is a real boost for me! Despite being a gamer I really wasn’t that interested in that part of the presentation, there seems to be an obsession with trying to present the iPhone and now the tablet as hard-core 3D gaming platforms when I’m quite sure that they’re both rubbish for racing sims and first-person shooters. I’m not saying that games don’t have their place in a mobile lineup but the physics-based genres are far better enjoyed on the XBox 360 or PS3, the real strength of a touch-screen mobile platform is for genius-like casual games such as Geared, Wurdle and Flight Control. I’m also not really interested in drawing, writing or doing spreadsheets on the thing since I can’t draw and I’ve got a proper (read: desktop) computer for doing that sort of thing.
The biggest leap forward provided by the iPad is by far and away it’s use as an e-book reader and for reading newspapers, whilst the rest of the features are stunning by themselves the real revolutionary change that this device (and devices of it’s ilk) will bring is in how we consume ‘print’ media. Steve’s presentation really made me feel sorry for Amazon’s Kindle, seeing a photo of the chunky white keyboarded 1980s-style device followed by as shot of a Jonathan Ives masterpiece must have ripped the heart out of the Kindle team at Amazon. That’s not to say that Amazon as a whole lose out here, their app will most likely work on and compete with Apple’s own iBooks offering and that sort of competition can only be good for end users – my only big worry with the e-book future is that so far all of the major stores are using DRM, meaning that if you bought a book on one store you won’t be able to transfer it to another.
The price is an open verdict still since I’m in the UK but the dollar prices look pretty reasonable in my opinion, $499 for the 16GB WiFi version seems like a steal, though I’m sure I’ll end up getting the $829 64GB WiFi + 3G model since I’m highly likely to stick a tonne of video on it. If the UK pricing ends up being towards the harsher end of the scale (the British always get screwed but it’s usually by our own government so we’ve no-one to blame but ourselves) I may be tempted by the $699 WiFi-only version since I’m pretty sure I’ll be using it primarily at home.
So, what’s the point of the iPad then? I’ve heard a few people saying that they really don’t see the point and that’s it’s nothing more than a big iPod and to an extent they’re absolutely right, it’s not portable like a phone and it’s not as functional as a laptop. I don’t even think Steve’s cheap shots at the netbook market were quite warranted since I’ve no doubt that the iPad would be useless if I were trying to work remotely from a Starbucks typing emails and using a VPN client to remote control my work desktop. This is something I have done on little Dell Mini 9 many times and it really does work, the tablet market isn’t meant for people who want a laptop and it isn’t for people that want a netbook.
The iPad is for people who want to grab their tablet off of the coffee table, quickly check their emails, see what’s in their calendar for the weekend and maybe pop open IMDB find out whether the guy in the film they’re watching is the same guy that was in Black Hawk Down and Enemy of the State*. A lot of people still have a PC situated at a desk which may be upstairs in a barely used room and unless you’ve taken the step yourself it’s almost impossible to express how your life can change when you go portable. It may sound overly dramatic but my life literally changed when I bought bought my Macbook, having my laptop constantly on standby down the side of the sofa means that any time I’m at home if I have an idea I can execute on it it, I can answer a question, book some tickets, contact my friends, etc. Through having the Internet by my side I’ve ended up in all sorts of adventures including Storm Chasing in the Midwest, discovering new music, attending festivals, going to gigs, exploring abandoned buildings and even meeting my girlfriend.
Most people, especially families, warrant having a desktop – there are times when you need to sit at a desk and write essays, edit photos, etc. and because they’ve already got a desktop many people are put off buying a laptop as well and this is where the iPad comes in. Sure, you could have a laptop but this will be better at its core functions without any need for the complicated side of using a PC such as installing software, worrying about viruses and spyware, etc.
* Tom Sizemore BTW.
Have you ever wanted to keep a particular window on top of the others? I often want to watch video whilst I’m doing other things, either in Quicktime or more often a web video from YouTube or Vimeo – and thanks to Afloat I can (in fact I’m watching a Bruce Schneier talk right now). I first discovered Afloat quite a while back but when Snow Leopard was released it caused issues with PlugSuit, I just checked back (because I wanted to watch the Schneier video whilst surfing) and now there’s a Snow Leopard version as well as the old version for anyone still on Leopard.
As far as I know it will work with any application and it’s totally free – get it now and check it out.
I’m not sure quite why people that make operating systems think that we’re all too stupid to understand what a file extension is, we need to know these things and sometimes we need to change the file extension but both Windows and Mac users have file extensions hidden by default. Here’s how to change this in Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard…
1. Select Finder > Preferences…
2. Then tick the ”Show all filename extensions” on the Advanced tab.
3. Quit the Preferences pane any you’re done.
Inspired by Games Radar’s article The greatest game on every platform I decided to put together my own list choosing a class of hardware at a time. In today’s installment I’ve chosen the consoles from the 4th Generation (according to Wikipedia)…
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
In comparison to its younger brother the SNES had a wonderful design, where as the NES looked like a cheap lunchbox with the coloured buttons and curvy design the SNES tells you immediately: “this is going to be fun” – and fun it was. I didn’t own a SNES myself but I borrowed one for a time and had plenty of play-time on what most people regard as the classics, and two out of my three games here are all time classics irrespective of platform.
Probably the most obvious choice and a defining moment for the genre, the console and perhaps the era is 2D fighting legend Street Fighter 2: Turbo Edition. There were a few versions of Street Fighter released on the SNES and whilst I feel justified in combining them into one for the sake of simplicity it’s the Turbo Edition that stood out for me, never before had we seen such a fast-paced twitchy fighting game packed with special moves and combos – it was a joy to behold but a real labour of love to master.
Another clear stand-out game is Super Mario Kart, oddly I stand out as being one of the small minority of gamers who has never particularly liked the Mario Kart games but I still recognise it for the landmark it is and I am well aware of how popular the game remains up to this day (with DS and Wii versions selling like hot-cakes). The game made good use of the common SNES graphical trick of rotating a 2D plane to give a 3D look and feel (known as Mode 7) and it pretty-much fooled everyone causing the work to fall in love with the game and the console.
Lastly is another Mode 7 masterpiece – Pilotwings. Whilst it never really provided the ‘thrills and spills’ of more action-packed genres this parachute, gliding qnd flying simulator really opened peoples eyes to what you could do with the simplest of 3D implementations. Even when I re-play the game today I still get that sense of airy lightness that the game gives off in a combination of perfect graphics and sound.
Sega Megadrive / Genesis
Alongside the SNES, Sega’s Megadrive (or Genesis in the US) was one of the significant era-defining consoles in video gaming history, between the two consoles they’re responsible for turning a generation of kids into gamers and despite the potential fanboy-vs-fanboy flamewar fallout I’d put them both on a par for their impact on and input to the video gaming world. Always much more drab than the SNES, the Megadrive and Megadrive II were compact little black units that didn’t really ooze fun but provided me with some of my most fun gaming experiences.
It’s inevitable that I’m going to mention the Megadrive’s flagship game: Sonic the Hedgehog, a game I must of completed more than twenty times and I honestly don’t think that there is a more perfect example of a platform game out there. Whilst also available on the Master System it’s the 16-bit graphics and sound that really allowed Sega to pull off one of the platform’s first truly cartoon-like games, bettered in graphical style only by the Disney games: Castle of Illusion, World of Illusion and Fantasia.
It’s difficult to stop myself from rambling on and on about Megadrive games but I’ll try to limit myself to a few more titles that I believe either defined a genre or brought about a new change in direction for gaming. My stand-out game here is Desert Strike, a top-down isometric combat helicopter sim. that required the user not only to get to grips with a bizarre control method but also added a degree of mission planning and forethought by forcing the player to think about fuel, ammo and hostage rescue whilst trying to complete the missions handed out.
One genre that really seemed to take off in the 4th generation of consoles and I think particularly on the Megadrive was sports titles, one clearly landmark title was EA’s FIFA International Soccer – the game that started one of gaming’s most successful series. Whilst also available on the Master System again it was really took 16-bit graphics and speed to get the genre going with the followup game FIFA Soccer 95 being a Megadrive exclusive and other franchises throwing their hats into the ring such as NBA Jam, Madden NFL, NHL Hockey, NHLPA Hockey, PGA Tour Golf and so on.
Other honourable mentions go to sideways-scrolling beat-em-ups Revenge of Shinobi and Streets of Rage II, classic 2D fighting game Mortal Kombat, mini-racer Micro Machines and the weirdo sandbox title Toejam and Earl.
Sega Add-ons: Mega-CD & 32X
One of Sega’s biggest problems and I think a major contributor to its eventual downfall is that they were always high on their on supply, they believed in their grand vision just a little too much. This attitude led them to fragment the market by releasing the Sega-CD and later the 32X, add-ons that few people understood and which never really received enough attention from developers to build up a good library of titles.
The Mega-CD was unit that fit either underneath the original Megadrive or alongside the Megadrive II holding the main console in a sort of cradle, it provided a CD-ROM drive which would naturally allow much higher volumes of data to be stored alongside real CD-quality sounds, Full Motion Video (which was mainly grainy and pointless) and some additional graphics horsepower. The problem was that most games of the era didn’t really need that and consequently most titles released seemed to be much more like technology showcases than decent playable games (Night Trap I’m looking at you). This time I’m not going to pick a ‘best game’ out of the pile I’ve got because I honestly don’t believe that any of them rate higher than the standard Megadrive titles.
The 32X was a strange beast indeed, meant to up the power of the Megadrive to a 32-bit level it was a mushroom-like lump that was attached directly to the cartridge bay of the main console and in turn took specially designed cartridges itself, there were never really many games available for the 32X and I imagine the whole project lost a lot of money for Sega. Still, some titles really showed off a level of power beyond that of any other equivalent on the standard 4th gen. consoles, found Virtua Racing Deluxe and Doom to be two of the best available.
Like many an Apple user I’d been looking forward to getting my hands on Snow Leopard for a while, perhaps since Bertrand Serlet’s presentation at WWDC 2008 announcing “zero new features”. That might sound silly but the vibe given was clearly that Apple weren’t planning to mess with the user interface too much but instead focus on improving performance and tweaking existing functionality and that sounded great to me given that Leopard already catered for almost all of my OS requirements. So coupled with the “evolution not revolution” approach and the price announced at only $29 I was practically on the edge of my seat with anticipation.
The install ran well enough, I was a bit confused at first about whether the default mode was an “upgrade in place” or an “erase and reinstall” because the installer no longer offers a choice – the default is an upgrade in place so you don’t have to worry too much about losing all of your date (though it’s always worth backing up first). On my old Black MacBook I chose to erase the disk manually and do a fresh installation, mainly because I don’t tend to store much data on there so it was easy to back it up and I wanted to see how it worked from scratch – I didn’t have to worry about losing the iLife suite either because I lost that in the upgrade from Tiger to Leopard anyway. I was watching TV and doing other things so I don’t really know how long it took but it was probably a shade over half an hour for a slightly tweaked install, my 24″ iMac however took at least an hour but I did do an upgrade in place (too many apps to reinstall otherwise) and imagine that’s a little more complicated. The only incompatibility I encountered (constantly being asked for Admin password) was something called Plug Suit, it came as part of Afloat – a great little utility to keep selected windows on top of everything else but sadly does not work with Snow Leopard, a few Googles later and I managed to remove the plugin (instructions here).
On first boot you could quite easily think “hold on a minute, this is Leopard” because nothing really seems to have changed, the Welcome video and the nebula desktop are exactly the same, I even went to About This Mac to check that the version number had been upped from 10.5 to 10.6 (it had) to make sure I was actually using Snow Leopard. I really think Apple missed a trick here, for a company that’s usually so focused on marketing and user perception it seems bizarre to me that they wouldn’t take this opportunity to reinforce the value of the purchase in the customer’s mind by having an even cooler welcome video and a brand new (maybe very similar) default desktop background. I also think there should have been a (skippable) video or slideshow demonstrating “What’s new in Snow Leopard” just to help people appreciate the benefits they’ve got from the time and money they’ve put into the upgrade, it’s not that it’s really much money or time but I consider the fact that Apple didn’t do something like this as a ball dropped.
So you’ve probably guessed already that in the first instance I was a little disappointed, I even went to Apple’s Snow Leopard Refinements site to see what I could test and play with to get some inspiration. After using Snow Leopard for about half an hour though I was pretty certain of the speed improvements, even performing simple activities such as running the mouse along the Dock and opening TextEdit so I began to think to myself that for $29 (or in my case £39 for a 5-license Family Pack) the upgrade was worthwhile for the peformance increase alone.
It took a few days but I slowly began to realise that I was begining to feel the benefits of Snow Leopard, beyond the performance increases it’s the little changes that started to make a difference in how I used the OS. The most noticable change to me is that Exposé is now much cleaner and clearer, previously in Leopard the window arrangement was haphazard and therefore harder to comprehend in a split-second. I noticed that rather than command-tabbing through apps I kept coming back to Exposé, the new grid based layout is much clearer and makes it possible to switch tasks in sub-second times. I can’t really see what use I’ll get out of the Dock Exposé or the new Stacks as I’ve never really found a need for them in my workflow but they’re pretty slick and I guess it’s nice to know they’re there. The same goes for many of the other features although I’m quite excited about the potential applications developers might find for some of the ‘under the hood’ functionality such as Grand Central Despatch, Open CL and the future of 64-bit computing. I guess the new Quicktime is pretty sweet with its YouTube integration and screen/cam capturing but I’m not really planning to be the next LonelyGirl15 just yet so I’m not sure if I need that either.
If I were asked whether or not to upgrade right now I’d say almost certainly yes to home users but ‘wait’ to anyone that uses the Mac for their work, it’s still early days in terms of finding compatibility problems which is always a worry if your livlihood depends on your IT infrastructure. Other than that, I think it’s a great OS and I’ll look forward to making the comparison to Windows 7 when I get my pre-ordered copy in October.