Archive for June, 2010

In a Google vs. Facebook UFC Match, Who Would Win?

June 28th, 2010 by Lisa Rosenkrantz

IN THE RING…

GOOGLE – SOME SAY THE BIGGEST BADDEST SEARCH ENGINE IN THE WORLD

Current Record:
Undefeated. Until now, there’s been no true competition for search or popularity.

Training:
24 hours a day/7 days a week, Google’s Stanford educated trainers and techno-geeks of all ages work it over. Armed with its high energy algorithm, it changes its techniques daily and always keeps us guessing about what it’s capable of doing next. Even though Google’s always been a winner, they constantly have their game face on and keep on the offensive.

Strengths:
Google offers hundreds of applications and tools to users, and is available in every country of the world. It is a great source for information of any kind –anywhere, anytime and in abundance. It’s a favorite of everyone and a new verb has even been coined in its honor: google as in I don’t know how to cook jambalaya; I’ll google it. It’s fast on its feet, delivering heavy blows within seconds of the bell and is the ultimate search machine.

Weaknesses:
While Google gets you what you need, it’s totally impersonal. It uses formulas, analytics and machine-originated processes to deliver results. While they’ve locked it in more often than not, they don’t know you and can’t answer your questions. If you ask for an auto repair recommendation, they give you a list with strangers’ opinions – and only information that’s public and available to anyone and everyone.

What to Watch For:
Google now has developed a communications platform that encourages Facebook-ish (more personalized) sharing and conversations. They offer Friend Connect, which allows websites to link to accounts on most major social networks. They’re trying to maintain one-upmanship on Facebook by assuring users that all their information stays confidential and is never used to deliver targeted advertising.

FACEBOOK – THE MOST WIDELY USED SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE ACROSS ALL DEMOGRAPHICS

Current Record:
Beats out MySpace and most other networking sites as far as number of users. It looks like they’re trying to be a contender for search but with a twist. They definitely have a chance at some serious popularity.

Training:
Harvard educated founders – basically a bunch of clever whiz kids with an attitude. They seem to listen to their users and have made strong changes that have solidified relationships and continuously attract new devotees. It’s safe to say that both Facebook & Google are propelled by the crème de la crème.

Strengths:
While it’s known for connecting people with others from their past, present and future, they’re emerging as an essential marketing tool for businesses of all sizes and even as a search option. With a combination of a simple design and the ability to control visibility and information, it’s drawing all types of fans. It supplies a totally personalized approach to getting answers and information. Facebook has created a cozy comfort zone, where people can collect friends, family, colleagues and favorite businesses and ask questions and get information from them. They figure who would you prefer to recommend a restaurant to you – an anonymous food critic, or your FB friends whom you know and trust?

Weaknesses:
While it’s improving, privacy is an issue and people fear being stalked. Your information is out there in public and could potentially be pretty vulnerable. If you’re not careful about customizing all your privacy settings, it’s easy for people to snoop around a personal profile and look at all your contacts (if they’re your Facebook friends). Also this site is a haven for viruses, hackers, hoaxes and other crimes/annoyances. It’s nothing new to hear of a security breakdown at Facebook and it’s even been involved in controversy over the sale of friends and fans.

What to Watch For:
Facebook is constantly working to get in better shape. They’re taking cues from everyday users and developers to make the site work better, faster and more securely. They’re making it really easy for users to retrieve the information they need by an improved use of indexing.

So…who’s going to be the winner in a Facebook vs. Google matchup? Well, Google will deliver on all your information – but if it’s the personal connection you want along with less information to sort through, Facebook makes a great contribution.

Buzz Marketing: What’s All the BUZZ About Anyway?

June 28th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

Buzz marketing is a form of word-of-mouth marketing that involves creating content that generates conversation or “buzz.” Much like
viral marketing, buzz marketing is all about spreading the word by building excitement for your business in a unique and creative way.

In today’s digital age, buzz and viral marketing are among the easiest and most effective ways to market your business. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter marketing, social bookmarking, e-mail forwarding, YouTube, Google Social Search and other shareable media, it would be a mistake not to try to create some buzz about your business.

How Do You Create Buzz?

The key to a successful buzz-marketing campaign is to disguise it as something other than marketing. While loyal customers may not mind a barrage of promotions and discounts for your business, those who are less involved may not want to hear the same marketing message over and over.

In other words, it’s best to spice it up a bit! Web.com Search Agency recently launched a Custom Facebook Application, which is designed to help our clients grow the number of people who “like” their business on Facebook. The App is customizable to the website’s products and services and generally includes a company contest or giveaway. People who “vote to win” will then have the App displayed on their wall and on the walls of their Facebook friends.

Because people tend to trust endorsements that come from their family and friends, this type of marketing tends to have a high ROI. It’s also interactive, which makes it all the more fun and buzz-worthy. Plus, people love to win free stuff and are more apt to enter a contest when it’s as easy as clicking a button on a trusted social media site.

How have you created buzz for your business?

Google Search Tips & Tricks: Part Deux

June 25th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

Two weeks ago, we featured the first installment of some of our favorite Google Search Tips & Tricks. Now, I’m back to bring you the second installment of our favorite Google shortcuts. Without further ado, here we go!

#1 Use Google as Your Spell Checker. It’s actually pretty crazy how great of a spell checker Google is. If you type in a search query even remotely similar to the actual spelling of a keyword, Google will oh-so-helpfully point you in the right direction. It’s a lot more forgiving than the spell checker in Word and is sometimes faster than using a dictionary.

Bonus tip! Google keeps track of popular misspellings and includes search-volume data about them in the Google AdWords search tool. If your company name or products are often misspelled, this can be a great way to harness additional search volume.

#2 Check the Weather. Google’s so good, you don’t even have to type in your zip code. Just Google “weather” for the current temperature and a four-day forecast.

#3 Catch a Flick. Again, you don’t even have to type in your city to get the latest movie info. Just type in “movies” and you’ll get a list of showtimes in your area complete with descriptions, reviews, trailers and more.

#4 Use the OR Operator. Can’t decide between Maui or Kauai for your vacation? Then Google Maui OR Kauai and you’ll get results for both! Give it a try next time you’re feeling indecisive or simply want to narrow down your search results.

#5 Keep Your Time Zones Straight: Whether you work with clients or customers across the country or around the globe, it can be tricky to get the time zone right. Just type in “current time in Hawaii” and you’ll see the aloha islands are just three hours behind PST.

Of course, there are many more Google shortcuts out there. These are just a few of the ways that Google works its magic on the Web!

What Is A Soft 404?

June 23rd, 2010 by Patrick Hare

This month Google Webmaster Tools updated its list of crawl errors to include Soft 404s. What is a Soft 404? Basically it indicates a missing page that is getting referenced (via an internal or external link) and followed by the search engine spider. Usually a server setting redirects traffic to the missing page address to a designated page, or the homepage.  For instance, someone coming to your site from a bad link would normally see an ugly 404 page (or whatever the browser serves up) but a quick setting in your website server can show people a small sitemap or the homepage.  This can be good for the user experience but bad for search engines.

 The solution for Soft 404 errors involves identifying the pages that show these errors and making one of the two following repairs. First, see if you have any internal links referencing a page that is no longer there, or a page that has an error in the link address. Second, you can 301 redirect any unfixable links to the appropriate pages, or to the homepage. A link may be hard to fix if it is on someone else’s website, or there may be multiple instances of the link out on the web.

 Fixing Soft 404 Errors (also called “Crypto 404s”) may be very beneficial to your link popularity. When a server chooses to redirect people to a default page from a 404, PageRank isn’t being passed, and Google obviously is seeing a page that isn’t there, which therefore contains no content. Whether you get a physical link to go to the right location, or 301 redirect “missing” links to the homepage, you are helping Google tighten up its index, and focusing links where they belong. No matter how Google is finding the Soft 404s, it makes sense to take this issue off their radar so your site content gets the consideration it deserves.

Shopping Cart Abandonment – Dollars Out The Door

June 23rd, 2010 by Patrick Hare

One of the pieces of advice we give to our customers involves getting more out of existing website traffic by cutting down on shopping cart abandonment. In many cases, a few percentage points in visitor conversion can be the difference between a profitable site and one that gets shut down. When you consider the relatively low cost of fixing shopping cart issues versus buying more traffic from a search engine, it makes sense to concentrate as much effort as possible on streamlining the checkout process or increasing the number of generated leads.

 Shopping cart abandonment isn’t exactly a new problem, but fixing it requires constant vigilance. A checkout path that may have been acceptable or advanced a few years ago may now look stale or untrustworthy today. As connection speeds and websites have become faster, people have become accustomed to speedy checkout. They have also become accustomed to conscious and subconscious signals that the site is one that they can “trust” as opposed to one that looks seedy or counterfeit. Therefore, you owe it to yourself to make sure that your e-commerce checkout system has a certain level of visual integrity and doesn’t lead people to think twice.

 Sometimes, the best way to build a good shopping cart is to think of all the things you hate when you shop online. For instance, a lot of people don’t want to ”sign in” or “create a profile” before they hand over their credit card information. If you’re using this information to help people track their sales later, or sign  up for promotions, consider whether this can be done after the checkout process is complete. For instance, you could create a membership for users  by assigning passwords to their email addresses and sending instructions as part of the order confirmation. You could also skip the “membership” requirement altogether by sending a tracking link with the confirmation email, and sending out coupon codes to past customers.

 Reducing cart abandonment may also be as simple as cutting out a couple of form fields. Customers can start to panic if they see that they have to fill in their life stories in order to make a purchase. Even if only a few fields are required (and marked that way), people may get the same anxiety that they got when they had a final exam full of “fill in the blank” and essay questions. Whether you are collecting sales leads or trying to sell a product, you should refine your checkout process until contains the minimum number of fields necessary to sell the product. If you want people to take a survey, or submit more information, you can always ask for more after the money is collected, and offer some kind of incentive for getting this data. If you absolutely have to collect a lot of information, consider breaking the process into several steps so you can get some basic contact information from people who may abandon the process halfway through. You may be able to email these people or rescue the sale by way of a phone call, assuming that you aren’t violating any privacy rules.

 There are many sources online that can help you understand how to fix conversion funnels and turn window shoppers into buyers. MarketingExperiments.com, for instance, has lots of information and even runs webinars where people’s sites are critiqued for obvious conversion killers. Most of the time, there are a few clear elements missing from sites, such as trust indicators (hacker protection logos, secure checkout emblems, credit card logos), phone numbers, or obvious calls to action. If people see third party endorsements like a BBB or Hackersafe logo, or other site trust indicators, they are more likely to enter their credit card information. The placement of these indicators is also vital, since a trust logo that is not visible to the customer is almost as bad as not having one at all. In the world of marketing optimization, the act of taking away reasons to leave the cart (or “friction”) is also known as removing FUD, or Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

 As it turns out, testing is the best way to reduce your cart abandonment rate once you have gotten all of your trust factors in place. Free tools like Google Website Optimizer let you present customers with different versions of landing and checkout pages, and over the course of a few weeks you can measure conversions. In the past, this was called “A/B Testing” because people would present one of two pages, but now it is possible to present multiple variations, and this works best if you have hundreds or thousands of people using your site every day. Testing improves conversion rates because people have different mindsets when they are looking for different products, and your key demographic may respond to conscious and subconscious signals differently. In some cases, the graphics on the page or the type and placement of images may be the difference between a sale and a lost customer.

 Like anything else in the field of search engine optimization and online marketing, the elimination of barriers to making a sale is an exercise in continuous improvement. It is also one of the cheapest ways to increase your cash flow. For people who manage PPC and SEO programs professionally, better conversion rates are also critical for justifying higher online marketing budgets, since it is important to show that the extra dollars spent are going to result in more revenue. When lifetime customer value is thrown into the equation, every customer who would have fallen out of the shopping cart becomes even more valuable,  but a few quick fixes to your cart may improve your results today!

SEO Specialist Tips For The Novice

June 18th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

You don’t always need to be a search engine optimization specialist or link building expert to make sure your site is moving up the search engine listings. However, it pays to understand that there are a lot of nuances in the SEO world that can work against you if you are coming to the world of optimization for the first time. Although the field of SEO is probably one of the most open when it comes to giving out tips on rankings, there is often so much contradictory information out there that you will see people trying to settle small differences of opinion with links to various forum posts.

What kind of advice should the amateur (or up and coming) SEO practitioner look for in the world of Search Engine Optimization?  Here are a couple that might

  • Someone Already Tried That Trick. In many cases we work with clients who try to do something that was already discovered (and filtered) by search engines a long time ago. For instance, people seem to come up with “tiny text that blends into the background” on a frequent basis without being prompted. It is always good to see people thinking logically and creatively, but it pays to run your idea by someone who has been around the block a few times.

 

  • SEO Jobs are often given to those who don’t know much about SEO. We often see webmasters arguing that the site has “great SEO” because they added 500 phrases to the meta keywords tag. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or seek out a second opinion. When in doubt, it pays to get a little self-education to see which “expert” is the most up to date.

 

  • The Landscape Changes All The Time. Although this can be said for many technological fields, SEO is probably a lot more dynamic than programming or product development trades. This is because optimizers have to react to today’s update in Google or Bing, while keeping an eye out for the next search engine or social media trend. The best SEO consultant might be one that tells you to scrap the project he recommended to you yesterday because Google changed its mind!

 

  • You Have To Become An SEO Historian. A programmer does not have to know anything about Charles Babbage or Blaise Pascal to build code for your site, but an SEO expert should have an advanced knowledge of yesterday’s SEO. This is especially true because there have been so many “black hat” tricks used in the past that your current SEO project needs to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. (If you’re in the Gray Hat realm, you also need to know the appearance is avoided while the impropriety moves forward.) Many innocent techniques could get mistaken for Cloaking, Keyword Stuffing, Hidden Text, Duplicate Content, Doorway Pages, and Link Buying. If your SEO expert is unaware of these outdated tricks, your site may be traveling through an optimization minefield.

 

  • You Don’t Need Experience To Get Started. Even though the above tips counsel the use of an expert, you can still begin your SEO project by yourself with minimal SEO knowledge. There is no substitute for experiencing optimization firsthand, and many of our best clients would make for above average optimizers in their own right. Knowledge of how search engines work, and what they are looking for, can guide you in DIY SEO processes, and help you find a consultant who can take your site to the next level. Until that point, you can begin sprucing up your site (carefully!) and see how the search engines react to better titles, upgraded content, and readable code.

 

Everyone in the SEO field started somewhere, and is usually guided by their initial experiences. People who have been around long enough may have used techniques that were perfectly acceptable (or very successful!) for a time before they fell into the “black hat” category. The more agile SEO experts have moved toward standard best practices that include turning the site into a resource and creating linking campaigns that fall within the realm of acceptability for Google and Bing. The difference for seasoned experts usually involves more involvement in the SEO community when it comes to discussion and information sharing, plus a continuous educational process. Unlike most other specialties, the need for constant learning in optimization can be the difference between success and failure whether you are looking to improve your own site’s rankings or get a job in SEO. While there may be more challenges and knowledge needed before you can consider yourself a true “SEO Expert” there are also a great deal of opportunities for people who can prove themselves on Google’s playing field, and plunging head-first into search engine optimization is the best way to start.

Search Engine Optimization Checklist and SEO Cheat Sheet

June 18th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

In the search engine optimization trade, it pays to have a checklist when auditing any given website for SEO issues. You can probably find quite a few of them online, or you can build up one of your own based on your unique SEO experiences. The following list was put together in-house at Web.com Search Agency and is presented here as a public service to anyone who needs a good DIY SEO checklist or a set of points to look for when doing an SEO audit. Some of the content in this list contains industry jargon, or would be considered advanced. Also, some of what we look for is open to debate, such as W3C compliance. However, we have often found that it is better to inform a client of an issue which may have some bearing on SEO, user experience, or sales opportunities. In our field, we often find potential competitors (and “SEO Expert” friends of decision makers) doing audits of our clients’ sites, so it pays to show that an issue was noted and addressed even if it is not critical for SEO.

So, without further ado, here is a useful SEO checklist for auditing the average website:

Domain/URL Related:

Domain Name

Does the domain contain the top keyword?

Domain Age

How long has the domain been registered?

Website Age

Archive.org

URL Structure & Parameters

Are there “?” or “&” characters which may make search engines stop reading?

Session IDs

Look for Session IDs in the URL, listings on search engines

Blog on site (not subdomain)

site.com/blog works better than blog.site.com

Find Subdomains

(search site:example.com on Google with no “www”) multiple subdomains may dilute content/link strength

Does site present as http or https?

Mixed secure and non-secure pages create problems, can create duplicate content.

Look For mixed uppercase and lowercase URLs

Use All Lowercase. Mixed case may create duplicate content.

Tag Related:

Titles

Titles should contain top keywords near the beginning

Descriptions

Descriptions should contain keywords, main message in first 150 characters.

Keywords

Keywords tag not essential, but should not be stuffed.

H1, H2, H3 Tags

Are there heading tags? Only 1 H1 tag per page. Should contain topical keywords.

Keyword Blurring in Titles

Is the same keyword being used on multiple titles?

Alt text on images

Alt text should be compact, contain keywords, describe image.

Eliminate spammy tags (including alt tags)

Noscript, Noframes, and other tags should not contain excess content.

Nocache/Nofollow

Remove any nocache/nofollow metatags from site.

No metatags that restrict spider frequency

“Revisit after” tags may slow recaching.

Canonical Tags

Canonical link element prevents duplicate content.

Code Issues:

Known Shopping Cart Issues

Make sure cart is SEO friendly, readable in search engine. Do a search on the cart to find SEO issues.

Table Layout/Nesting

Tables within tables may not present content in a reliable way.

Javascript Usage

Search engines are getting better at reading JS, but it should not replace other link navigation.

Robots.txt

Make sure Robots file is not excluding good content (or all content)

Sitemap.xml (Eliminate priority, update feed)

Eliminate Priority in sitemap and ensure that it is up to date, covers all important pages.

Flash readability

Search engines don’t read Flash well. Don’t embed text in images in Flash.

SEO Friendly URL rewrites

See if shopping cart can rewrite URLs automatically.

Works with multiple browser types

Check major browsers for usability. Problems may indicate spiderability issues, other necessary repairs.

Page speed

Check for loading speed. Low speed may reduce rankings.

No Cloaking

Presenting different results to spiders may cause problems.

CSS

Does the CSS hide text?

Frames

Are there any frames?

W3C Compliance

Check site compliance.

Host Image on own website

Search engine should index images on your own site.

Descriptive filenames for images

Images contribute to SEO, get found in image search.

Internal Linking:

Canonical Links & 301

Does the non-www redirect to the www (or vice versa). Do header check for 301.

Internal Linking

See how pages link internally.

Page Navigation

Ensure that page navigation is spiderable, hierarchical.

Footers

Footer links for sitemap, any page that can’t be otherwise found.

Broken Links

Are all links to live pages on site, and off site? Use broken link checker.

Descriptive Filenames

Do files in directory (page names) describe content.

HTML Sitemap

Is the HTML sitemap organized in hierarchy, contain all major pages?

Breadcrumbs

Is there breadcrumb navigation? Can it be added?

All pages link back to homepage

Homepage should have #1 internal link count.

Alt text on images used as links – serves as anchor

Alt text on logo link, other links, should describe destination page

Absolute URLs in links

Whenever possible use whole URL with domain name.

Same anchor pointing back to homepage

Describe homepage top keyword/brand, don’t just use “home”

Absolute link to homepage domain from interior pages

Homepage link from interior pages goes to domain http://www.example.com with no “index.html” etc.

Outbound Links – Bad Neighborhood, etc.

Do any of the outbound links go to bad neighborhoods?

301 Old Domains (ensure they are 301)

Are old domain names 301 redirected?

Look out for 302 redirects

Ensure 302s not used for SEO friendly redirects.

Look for Reciprocal Links

Dated SEO Tactic. Remove Old Reciprocal Pages.

Look For Cross Linking to Other Sites

Interconnected sites can get penalized.


Content Issues:

Page Freshness

How fresh is page content?

Keyword Theming/Silos

Do the keywords on each page copy other topics?

Page Segmentation

Where is content getting placed on page? Placement in margins/bottom may not give same value.

Content not embedded in images

Search engines can’t read content in images.

Duplicate Content

Does the content match content on other sites or the same site?

Hidden Text – No CSS Tricks

Make sure text is not presented outside the margins of the page.

Similar color of text and background

Make sure text is not hidden in background.

Tiny text

Make sure text is not so tiny a person could not easily read it.

Address & Phone Number

Any site that wants to be found in local results should include local contact info, also use LBC.

Follow Webmaster Guidelines

See Google and Bing Webmaster Guidelines

Make sure blogs are SEO friendly

Host at site.com/blog and avoid deep directory structure

Have basic Privacy Policy

Search Engines/States/Countries look for these

About Us

Opportunity to describe company, common page on trusted websites

Terms and Conditions

Terms and conditions may contain relevant keywords not normally used on other parts of site.


Tools To Use:

Spider Emulator

Find Links on page, see if pages are spiderable.

Google Webmaster Tools

Indicates many different opportunites for improvement.

Google Analytics

Shows traffic, bounce rate, rankings improvement.

Google Local Business Center 

Allows brick and mortar shops to claim listings, improve local rankings.

Google Shopping

Add products to Google shopping and some SERP Results.

Off Page:

Check anchors

Make sure anchors contain top keywords, are descriptive

Check Link Quantity

Look for low quality links from bad neighborhoods.

Compare competitive Site Backlinks

Check quantity and quality of competitive links.

Varied anchor texts

Too many identical anchors can cause penalties.

No Sitewide links

Look for multiple links from a single site.

Look for nofollow links

If you’re paying for a nofollow link, stop paying.

Link diversity

Look for links from multiple sources of different types, not all from blogs or directories.

Link Age

Use archive.org to see if top links have been around for a long time.

Allinanchor Score in Google

See how Google rates link strength of site.

Look for links to pages that no longer exist (301)

Webmaster tools shows inbound links, may be seen in “not found” section.

Links from trust indicators (BBB, Hackersafe)

Links from trusted sites add value.

Yahoo Directory/Business.com/DMOZ

Is site in human edited directories?

Link Bait

Has any kind of link bait been used in the past?

Are links canonical?

Do links go to www or non-www?

Blog Writing Tips

June 18th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

So, you know you want to start a corporate blog, but you’re not sure where to start. That’s where we can help. Here are some of Web.com Search Agency’s tips for blog writing:

Write What You Know. It’s your blog and it’s your business, so what you write is up to you. There is no need to get fancy when it comes to your subject matter – simply write what you know! While it’s okay to promote your business every now and again, try to cover relevant industry happenings that you think your readership may be interested in.

Post Often. One the biggest advantages of a blog over other mediums is that it’s easy to update regularly. Unlike static pages on your site, such as your About Us page or Shipping Policies page, your blog is the perfect vessel for fresh content. Search engines LOVE content updates, which makes blogging an ideal complement to your SEO efforts. It also gives your readers a reason to visit your site more often!

Submit Your Blog to an RSS feed. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and it’s just that – a really simple way to syndicate your blog’s content to hundreds of other sites. Your readership can subscribe to your blog via an RSS aggregator, such as Google Reader, which will alert them whenever you’ve created a new post. Not only will it cue your readership to visit your site, but Google rewards sites that have a strong RSS backlink portfolio.

Promote Your Blog. If nobody is reading your posts, it’s really not worth blogging! Just like other aspects of your business, you’ll need to promote your blog. Luckily, it’s really easy and inexpensive to do. One of the best ways is to post a Facebook and Twitter update each time you create a new post. You can also prominently post a link to your blog on your website.

Another great idea? Try having periodic giveaways in which you award a prize or a discount on your products or services to the reader who leaves the most insightful comment in response to a specific question you pose.

Include Images. What can we say? Images make blogs look better. You don’t have to be a Web designer to have a great-looking blog, but the addition of an image or two in each post will help make the blog more interesting. And the more interesting your blog is, the more people will want to read it! You can even optimize your images to help with your SEO efforts.

These are just a few of our tips for writing a blog. Don’t have time to post regularly? Ask about Web.com Search Agency’s article writing services!

We’ve Come a Long Way

June 18th, 2010 by Lisa Rosenkrantz

While I’m not the only one in my demographic group to have graduated from the original AOL 1.0 dial up (does anyone remember how exciting it was when the 2.0 floppy disks came out?), I think I’m one of the few in my office old enough to have truly experienced the wonders of the Internet since personal computing exploded. I think it started somewhere around 1995 – that’s when I bought my first PC, a gynormous Hewlett Packard with a 486 microprocessor that cost about $1500 (a small fortune in those days) and didn’t even come with a printer, but DID come with 500 wires and cables that tangled around and trapped me in my room. It came bundled with AOL, which most of us at the time confused with the definition of the Internet. The concept just didn’t “compute.”

Since that time, I’ve gone through about 15 PCs, 5 laptops, dial-up, DSL, cable, 5” floppies, 3” floppies, CD-Rom 2x…to what I have now – which, even though it’s new and sweet-looking, was out-of-date and mocking me the minute I walked out of the computer store.

Not only has the technology we use here in the U.S. morphed into something no one ever dreamed possible, Internet trends have amazed us as they totally whizzed past us. As much as we love our favorite nooks and crannies of the Web now, everyone knows it’s just a matter of time before we lose interest and they go the way of the dancing baby of yesteryear. I remember thinking that the animation was cool and imaginative, and so did everyone else, until it appeared on every primitively designed website and in every forwarded email. After a while, that baby looked plain old creepy and we couldn’t wait for it to grow up already.

So, I got to thinking about then vs. now, and couldn’t believe the hot Internet user trends over the years that we couldn’t get enough of. Perhaps you remember the email about Bill Gates’s E-mail Beta Test, which circulated before everyone wised up to these epic time-wasters. The email explained that AOL and Microsoft would pay you something like $200 apiece for everyone you forwarded the message to. It even included a confirmation from a “lawyer” to make it seem legit. I think I received a thousand of those forwards (won’t tell you how many I sent). Guess how much my check was for?

I thought I was so popular for a while when the old AOL Instant Messenger was “the thing.” I had a long AOL Buddy List and could chat with at least 15 people at the same time. Sure, sometimes the dial-up connection would be lost when someone in the house picked up the phone, but I didn’t let that phase me; we didn’t know any better back then. I must’ve spent 25 hours a week IMing friends, cousins and co-workers back in the mid-90s. That Internet trend was the introduction to typing messages to people whom you could easily call or see in the next room (precursor to texting, tweeting and Facebooking maybe?).

Napster, with its cool logo (I think it’s a cat with headphones), was wildly hot for sharing music files. Real people didn’t understand how you could download popular, current songs and not have to pay a dime for them. I guess artists like Metallica didn’t understand either, and Napster had major legal troubles (and so did some regular folks). Soon, music services like iTunes and Rhapsody, which make customers pay, overshadowed Napster and forced it to revamp. The company managed to survive, but who really talks about them anymore?

OK, this one was my all-time favorite, and I admittedly emailed it to everyone I knew because I thought it was so hilarious. JibJab.com featured awkwardly humorous, big-headed animations that poked fun at celebrities, politicians and everyday people. Back in 2004, the creators took a stab at the Bush vs. Kerry Presidential race with a parody of “This Land is Your Land” and the little video took off like wildfire – even made it as far as Antarctica! Looking back, I’d like to think I’ve come a long way with my entertainment tastes since that viral phenomenon. (Sadly, I haven’t – when I revisited this one, I cracked up all over again. In fact, I’m going to put on my Facebook profile.)

Speaking of social networking sites, remember Friendster? It was pretty popular for a while, in the early 00’s. It represented a pioneering concept for online users, and many people loved it but soon tired of its performance problems. It did pave the way for the Facebook and Twitter of today, but there’s no way it can regain its popularity at this point. With everyone and (literally) their grandma tweeting and Facebooking, how can it compete? It’s still big, just not here in the U.S. You’ll have to look for a Friendster surge in South East Asia.

While the Hamster Dance, full-pages of obnoxious emoticons, the Neiman-Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe and ICQ have had their moments in the sun and we can remember these trends on the Internet fondly, we need to focus on more important things like that amazing Mom who discovered a $3 tooth whitening secret, whether Charlie bit his brother’s finger, how to get a flat belly with just “one weird tip” and considering Wikipedia as the final authority on…well, everything.

Unlock the Secret of the Google PageRank Algorithm

June 17th, 2010 by Lisa Rosenkrantz

Good luck with that! The secret seems to be safe with Google at the moment. They give us just enough information to get by.

As far as search engines go, Google is so unbelievably successful and popular, it’s becoming the generic name for them – much like Band-Aid, Kleenex and Frisbee. Even my 74-year-old mother says she’s going to “Google” something. Many people would say Google is the best of the best and returns the most spot-on results no matter what you’re looking for. And it does this in mere seconds with the world’s most talked about process – its very own Google search algorithm.

There is a definite air of mystery, speculation and even paranoia about how the great minds at Google have organized every morsel of information on the Web to deliver the best results money can buy. And just before anyone figures anything out for sure, Google makes changes and improvements that further confound us. According to a YouTube video posted by Google’s Matt Cutts, they average at least one change per day to the algorithm, which they release in batches. In 2009 alone, he said, they made some 350-400 changes to the search algorithm!

What we do know is that their closely-guarded Google search engine algorithm is all about what they call PageRank. Using more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms to determine the importance of every single Web page, this system decides which sites get the coveted honor of being on the first page of Google and which have to follow behind. The value of each individual page is denoted by the PageRank, which is indicated on a scale of 1-10.

How do you get the higher scores and a desirable position within the Google rank algorithm? That’s where the millions of variables, etc. come in. There are inbound links and their values, internal linking, domain age, content, keywords, domain name, off-page strength, user data variables, the ramifications of penalties and about 491 million other factors involved. This is what we know and what we can influence. The rest is just conjecture, even all the viable formulas that are sprinkled throughout the blogosphere.

A final note, though. While the workings of the Google page rank algorithm are automated and non-human, there is a human element. One of the best ways to optimize a website and have a good chance at decent ranking is to consistently serve up top-shelf content, with relevant keywords in the body, headings and titles of every page. This practice attracts reputable natural backlinks that elevate your chances of not being lost in the sea of Web pages.