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The pot and the kettle

I'm sure most people know the old saying, "The pot's calling the kettle black!" and what it means. Recently, search giant Google has been drawing a lot of attention in Europe for "antitrust" matters and is poised to come to a settlement with the EU. However, there has been some very vocal outrage at this settlement from the likes of Microsoft (read Bing). Just recently, Yelp, who has been critical of Google and its practices in the past, has added its voice to the verbal barrage.

Yelp's CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, wrote to European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso recently to add its disapproval. Part of his letter says...

Upon reflecting on our discussion about the European Digital Agenda, and my company’s historic role as a concerned observer of Google’s anticompetitive actions, I realized Yelp’s current status as a mere witness within the DG-COMP deliberations was inadequate; in order to truly advocate on behalf of European digital startups, our voice needed to be granted some form of official standing. As such, I have directed our government affairs team to convert Yelp into an official complainant in DG-COMP’s Google proceedings.

I find this very interesting. Firstly, his whole letter assumes that anyone gives a rip about what Yelp thinks. Secondly, he seems to have overlooked the many complaints against his own company by angry subscribers/advertisers. Yelp itself has been the subject of lawsuits alleging dubious business practices, so I have to question the feigned concern, not to mention the hypocrisy, at someone else doing the same!

It's a sad fact that most American businesses have lost the will to do honest business anymore, and seem to be run by a bunch of bean-counters only interested in the bottom line. What ever happened to good, old-fashioned customer service? What about going the extra mile? Sure, you just need to realise that we charge mileage!

When we set up CitrusKiwi, we wanted to be unique. So we developed our monthly subscriptions. But we also try to be unique in our response to, and interaction with, customers. Our bottom line is, we don't have time to be running down the competition, we're busy ensuring our customers get looked after. Maybe Yelp would do good to start working that way too....

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Back links v Content - who wins?

In early web days, back links didn't exist so this was an easy question to answer,, well, it never got asked! The last 4-5 years have seen back links take on enormous weight, which lead to link farms, and link buying. Depending on who you are, this was either good or bad.

Today, Google takes a very dim view of either of these practices, and regularly penalizes sites caught doing it - even if they did it a few years ago. So it's not uncommon to receive "link removal" requests from webmasters or SEO people in an attempt to get into Google's good graces again.

Content v Back LinksSo, does this mean that all back links are bad? No, but you need to be careful where they're coming from and how. If your site had 5 backlinks yesterday, but today has 500, Google is going to smell a rat. It's about a natural progression. That sort of growth is not natural and smacks of buying or farms. But are back links the be-all and end-all? What about content?

Content v Back Links

Whilst it's true that Google has been shifting some weight away from back links recently, they're anything but dead. However, they have diminished in weight as Google tries to focus more on the delivery of quality content. In a recent video, Max Cutts confirmed this fact, while saying that back links still have lots of life in them yet. However, he did indicate the subtle shift towards authoritative authors and authoritative articles. 

To quote Cutts...

In general, that sort of reverts back to the way search engines were before links. You’re pretty much judging based on the text on the page at that point. So, Google has a lot of stuff to sort of say the first time we see the word on the page count a little more, the next time a little more, but not a ton more, and then after awhile we say ‘we’ve seen this word, maybe this page is about this topic.’

Quality and value in content

So it's clear that quality content (meaning content not written for the bots, stuffed with keywords) is where this is heading, albeit slowly. When writing, focus on readability for the user, and ask yourself, "Is this giving him or her value?" If not, rewrite it, or don't write it at all. Content should be about value. Quoting large portions of text will get you nowhere with humans or bots. However, as I did above, it's still fine to quote a small snippet or two to get across a point.

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5 simple rules for a safe internet experience

As a web designer and webmaster, internet security is a huge issue. Not only for myself and my company's site, but for all my clients. Part of my job is protecting my clients from my other clients. It's like this.....

For the last couple of months, I've had all manner of high power techs chasing a spamming bot that's very sophisticated and tenancious. As soon as we block one avenue, it morphs and starts using another. We were all convinced it was some sneaky piece of code buried deep in one client's site. But multiple scans and digging revealed nothing. In the end, we've concluded it's very much off-site and, in fact, on my client's computer (one or more of them).

Why didn't we go this route sooner, you may ask? The simple fact is, as a host and webmaster, internet security for my clients is my job, and it's counterproductive running round blaming others unless we're completely sure. At best, it makes one look stupid if you're wrong. So there was a good amount of due diligence.

These 5 simple rules could have saved everyone a lot of heartache, time and money if they'd been followed. Like most webmasters, my terms of use state that these costs will be passed onto whoever caused the problem, whether knowlingly or not. And these costs can be hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. So be warned - we all have a clause like this in our ToU.

Simple rule #1 - Anti-virus protection

Get a good quality anti-virus program. Personally, I have little respect for some of the "biggies" like McAfee and Nortons. Too often I've seen these "respectable" AV's miss basic stuff. For years I used Avast and it regularly thrashed those 2 for performance in every area. Now I use an even better, cloud-based one. It isn't free like Avast was, but it's not expensive, and, honestly, with the amount of hacking occuring, you cannot afford to be cheap when it comes to your security.

Simple rule # 2 - Firewalls

"But Windows comes with its own firewall. Why waste time and money with another?" Heard that too many times too - and it is really quite naive. Windows FW is better than it used to be, but not good. You should install a good quality FW AND switch to a wireless network. I used to be against them because of connection problems, but they are way ahead of where they were even 5 years ago. The great thing with wireless setups is they use NAT (Network Address Translation) to determine what request came from, or goes to, which computer. So your computer is hidden from the internet.

Simple rule # 3 - Opening attachments

I don't care where the email comes from, I'm always suspicious of attachments. That why I always ensure my real time scanner is running and up to date. If in doubt I'll email or phone the sender and query its legitimacy.

Simple rule # 4 - Downloading software

"But it's free!" Yep, and often (very often) loaded with malicious garbage ready to trash your computer or someone else's. If you want to download software, only use reputable download sites and make sure all your scanners and AV are running and up to date. 

Also, while installing, watch what's happening. It's not an Olympic sprint to get the software installed. Many, many downloads come with piggyback products (most commonly browser hijacking addons). Often they are able to be unchecked during install - if you bother to watch.

Simple rule # 5 - Passwords

I've harped on this before, but it must be mentioned again. The following are NOT good passwords - your pet's name, "password", "1234", or your birthdate. IMHO, passwords MUST be a minimum of 12 characters, include numbers, upper and lower case, AND special characters (like those above the numbers on your keyboard). It should go without saying, but don't give them out, don't leave them lying around, and, if you need to store them, have them in a "vault-type" program, or, as I do, put them neatly in a password protected Word doc. And change them regularly.

Being safe on the net is getting less easy every day. Bots are getting smarter, and programs you use every day are getting filled with more and more security breaches. Even the humble home PC can now become a spamming giant if infected (like my client's was) and can cost YOU big money from your host. Bottom line is this; don't skimp a few bucks every year when it could cost you 10 times that if you get hit (or more likely WHEN you get infected, or nearly as likely, NOW that you HAVE been infected....)

I can recommend a good buddy of mine who I trust to look after my PC's security and he does a great job. Just call Scott (http://www.ackinccomputers.com/) on (623) 628-4412 and he can fix you up with great AV, and also speed up and clean up your computer. If you're a host and want bank quality security, let me know and I'll put you in touch with another buddy who handles all that for me.

Internet security - don't leave home without it!
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Dashed and/or underscores in URLS

This is one question I'm asked from time to time, and it's a great question. Is phoenixwebsitedesign.com the same as phoenix-website-design.com or phoenix_website_design.com? To figure this out, let's look at how search engines interpret these 3 URLs.

Dashes, underscores or nothing?

Simply put, according to Google, they look at dashes as a space between 2 or more words, whereas they view underscores as joining 2 or more words. So, for Google, phoenixwebsitedesign.com and phoenix_website_design.com are the same.

Bing is slightly different. They look at dashes and underscores exactly the same - a space between 2 words.

So, to get the same result from both search engines, you'd be better to use dashes, But does it matter? Aren't search engines getting smart enough nowadays to figure it out?

Why it matters- the ongoing debate

The SEO community has debated for years, and continues to do so, over this topic. In Google's case, their algorithm uses over 200 benchmarks to determine a page's relevancy to a search query. Of course, there are more inportant items in that mix, and less important items. Max Cutts tells us not to get too hung up on keywords in URLs, however, a nice, easy to remember URL will trump and ugly, hard to remember one as far as user experience goes. That's why we have URLs - (not my real IP address) is going to be a real pain to remember, but citruskiwi.com is much easier.

Should I change my domain name?

Probably not, especially if you've had it for a while - it will have already built up ranking (asuuming you've done at least some vague SEO). However, make sure that you minimize or eliminate "session URLs" wherever possible. They're the odd looking ones with "=", "?" and "ID" in them. If you're on an Apache server (quite likely) this is pretty simple to do depending on your website platform. In my case, if phoenixwebsitedesign.com (or some variation with underscores or dashes) is available, you can buy that in addition to your existing domain name and point it at your main domain name.

The bottom line is be sensible. Don't throw away good, mature domain names that have page rank already. Don't get too hung up on having domain names with keywords in them. It's only 1 item out of 200+....

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9 Internet Marketing mistakes

With your bottom line getting squeezed every day, maximizing - and tweaking - your advertizing spend is vital. Here are 9 things you can do, or look at, to ensure your spend is getting results.

Track your results. One of the most important things you must do. If you're not tracking, you have no idea whether any marketing is achieving a result. So ask every customer this simple question, "How did you find us?" If you're using special campaigns, consider a "hidden" landing page for that so you can more easily track results.

Check your form results. Are you regularly checking online form responses? Or do emails from your forms sit in an unchecked email box, or only get check once a week?

Response followup. Assuming you're not wasting your responses by not checking, what's your follow-up strategy? Do you have one? How many times will you try to make contact - 1, 2, 3....? Don't give up - be persistent!

Wrong target market. Have you clearly identified your target market, and are you pitching to them on their level? There are so many demographics which come into play here; poor choice will result in poor campaign performance.

Not thinking locally. While there are global businesses, even we as website designers, need to think locally even if we do have a global reach. A person wanting a website in London is more likely to engage at least a UK based firm, not one in Phoenix, AZ. Geo-locate your advertising, by targetting local customers.

Claim and optimize Google+ Local Pages. Following on from the last point, make sure your Google+ local pages are claimed and fully completed. This is a critical step in your marketing as it ties directly to your Google maps, something mobile searchers use a lot!

 Poor telephone interaction. If you're at all worried your telephone manner may not be good, do some training. You've spent good money getting the lead, why blow it because you have poor telephone manner? Do you have a "sales track" for your phonecalls? What are your objectives when calling?

Misleading or fraudulent advertising. In addition to leaving yourself open to a lawsuit, will customers following your advertising find what they expect? Or will it feel like they've been "lead up the garden path"? A good maxim is under promise and over-deliver.

Discarding negative feedback & testimonials. You don't really want a website full of bad feedback, but most people aren't surprised that a long-running business has 1 or 2 - it's the price of doing business. But, rather than hiding them, use them to improve your business and your image. Follow up even more diligently those dissatisfied customers and try to put it right. And note your actions under their negative comments. Then other customers see that you are proactive in being a good businessperson.

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