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Saturday, April 8th, 2006

Dear Reader

A visitor to my blog recently read my announcement that my site had been promoted to PageRank™ 4 and took the time to comment on my post, congratulating me and asking for tips. I always appreciate it when somebody comments on my blog, especially someone I don’t know IRL; to me, it’s like someone walking up and asking how my kids are doing.

I’ve learned that it is a bad idea to answer a comment with another comment – you can get into some interesting conversations, and it usually gets bypassed by other casual visitors because very few people actually click through to see the comments on a post. So when someone takes the time to post a comment, I want to respond as publicly as my little forum permits.

From what I’ve gleamed from my searches on the topic of search engine optimization, blogs have a natural advantage in the way that Google watches a website and assesses its PR. Google doesn’t like new sites appearing overnight with lots of outgoing links and plenty of incoming ones – it smacks of the sort of enterprise favored by spammers and SEO merchants. Search engines work when they find the results that their customers like, not what online mercenaries want them to find. So Google watches over time. They’re looking for sites that are updated on a regular basis, are judicious in posting links to other respectable sites, and acquire a steady and growing influx of links from other respectable sites. Too fast and you’re suspicious; too slow and you’re boring. It’s an assessment process that’s tailored, intentionally or unintentionally, for favoring independent blogs. You’ve really got to wonder how much credit for the rise of the blogosphere in the last decade, with its attendant growing respect from mainstream media and increasing access to newsmakers, can be attributed to the way Google assigns PageRank™.

And I don’t think it’s an unfair advantage. People turn to the technology of the Internet for information – it’s the modern equivalent of the the evolutionary importance of a steady food supply – but human beings are incredibly social animals. Given the choice between downloading pure information from an inhuman, unemotional source or having to return for dollops of earthy wisdom dispensed with some personality, I think the vast majority of us would take the latter every time. We can’t process huge amounts of information rapidly anyway, and I think that that the relationship between teacher and student is very significant in the progress of learning – for both participants. Blogs impart knowledge with personality, and I think people like that. I love listening to CarTalk on NPR for the self-deprecating humor every bit as much as the practical and useful knowledge they impart about my major means of transportation. Hell, I just love the way Tom and Ray laugh. It makes me feel good, and I keep coming back for that feeling, not because I have aspirations to becoming an auto mechanic.

So I’ve divulged my prejudices. Content is, of course, very important, but unless you’re aspiring to become a mass market media outlet, I think you should place very high importance on style. No, wait a minute – even them. Trust your instincts. I’ve tried to make my website look appealing to me, with a good balance of aesthetics – color, font size, the occasional graphic; and tried to make my efforts towards functionally unnoticeable. It leans towards the utilitarian, true, but I’m not a flashy guy, which I think is conveyed in my writings, so the visual theme fits. But then again, I even use html email occasionally, so I clearly have some concern for appearance. Correct spelling is essential, as is grammar. Grammar, I’ve found, is dialectical, so think about the way you want to construct your sentences and just stick with it. Tell everyone who criticizes you for it that they are snobs: then, as soon as you can, go look it up, and look for a consensus.

Traffic analysis is very helpful. Look for who came to your site, how they found it, including search engine and search terms, and whether they poked around a bit or left after the first hit. Try to imagine what these people where looking for and evaluate your site to see if it needs improvement for usability and interest.

I enjoy writing about technical issues, and I actively promoted that interest by searching for other sites that discuss the same issues, especially forums. If I felt I had something to add, I joined in and posted a link back to my site, and I’ve seen consistent traffic from those links. Get in touch with webmasters with similar interests and seek out mutual linking. It’s also important to be aware of where your visitors are coming from, and to consider the cultural contexts. It has encouraged me to talk in SI units, for instance, which I grew up with.

In closing, I’d like to say how pleased I am to be contacted by a member of the Oldham Cricket Club. Since I moved to the US and found it extremely difficult to watch quality cricket, I’m afraid I’ve degraded into becoming an avid American football fan (Go Chargers!) I still get excited, though, when I catch the odd ODI on late-night sports tv. I have very fond memories of watching my maternal grandfather, who was the wicketkeeper for the Highett Cricket Club in Victoria, where he was active for some 40 years. As a child, I was incredibly impressed by his hands – each finger was as thick as a banger. I’ve always wanted hands like my grandfather’s.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, My Website at 12:17 PST

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