#Google: This is amusing and probably unlikely to last. I’ve found that every time I mention Google on Twitter, it gets picked up and retweeted by some automated services, which in turn results in a few more followers. Like I said this probably doesn’t scale and if everybody starts doing it then it will quickly become useless. I just thought it was interesting.
I just created a “Cyber Twin”. Basically its a (slightly snarky) chat bot that is programmed to mildly ape my mannerisms.
You can talk to it here: www.mycybertwin.com/jeremylichtman.
It isn’t well trained yet though, so don’t expect too much.
Their more sophisticed commercial level AIs are pretty good at holding down the fort while all of the sales people are busy. Its an interesting idea. Takes a lot of work to train them though.
We’ve been noticing a few odd things lately with Google:
- New sites aren’t getting spidered – or not as quickly as earlier this year. Webmaster tools gives a generic message about the website not being listed in Google’s index, along with a link to a video that seems to mostly be about websites that get themselves banned for violating Google’s terms of service. Also existing websites that are growing aren’t always having the new content added as quickly as before – or rather it happens inconsistantly lately.
- Google PageRank tools don’t seem to be working any more. I’ve tried a number of them lately.
- While we’re on the topic of PageRank, it seems to be even less relevant than before. In one controlled scenario where we have many listings showing for a specific search term, a PR5 page is showing on the third page, while much lower PR websites are showing on the first page. Sorry, I can’t be more specific, but it is a fairly controlled scenario. All of the pages involved are similar in size with similar numbers of occurrences of this keyword.
- Searches are often slow. As far as I can tell, this isn’t just my internet connection. Its been years since I’ve had the Google homepage time out on me.
- Search listings sometimes change dramatically in short time periods.
All of the above seems to indicate that Google is gearing their entire system up for something big. Speculation among my staff says they’re going to try to make everything realtime (or close to it) in order to compete with Twitter. That means that they’re going to try and reorder all of their indexes very quickly (rather than weekly or possibly daily) in order to try and provide something closer to the immediate zeitgeist that one can obtain through Twitter.
Having some idea of the size of Google’s indices, and a vague notion that the number of servers in their demesne is in the low millions, the scale of this boggles my mind.
Over the past few months, we’ve averaged around one new blog setup per day.
The following assumes some familiarity with WordPress. We’ve started playing around with the latest version (2.8), and I suggest that you use that unless there’s a pressing reason not to (i.e. incompatible plugins).
1. General Config
- Make sure that you have configured clean URLs in Settings -> Permalinks.
- Under Settings -> Writing, put in additional locations to ping whenever you update your blog. There is a decent list here.
- We try to make small changes to all stock themes that we use. This means that search engines are less likely to group your site along with every other blog that is using the same theme.
- Even better: use a premium theme, or make your own one.
Our objective with plugins is to automate the process of creating quality meta information for blog entries to the largest extent possible, and to make sure that our blogs talk nicely to search engines. We install the following set of plugins:
- Google Sitemap (there’s a few good options)
- Ultimate Google Analytics
Make sure you configure all of the above. You may need to create some accounts in various places in order for some of the above to work.
If you’re running Firefox, we highly recommend installing the Zemanta plugin.
We used to put tag clouds into the sidebars of all new blogs, but if Sitemaps is working correctly that isn’t necessary (and it can take up a lot of important real estate).
4. SEO Stuff
- Make sure you have accounts for Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Use them. Play around with them. Learn how to use them inside and out.
- Make sure every new blog has one or two posts containing YouTube videos.
- Getting the right number of tags per post is critical – we try to hit a sweet spot between 10 and 15 tags for each post. This may change depending on search engines.
- Make sure that your blog is configured to use different page titles and meta tags for each page. Use HeadSpace if necessary to automate this process.
There’s probably a ton of important things I’m missing here (please let me know!), but this is a minimal list of things that you should be doing whenever you setup a new blog (if you want it to perform well).
I saw an interesting article via Slashdot today on how much bloggers make. Couldn’t resist throwing in my two cents. The numbers below are based on a wide range of websites that I’ve either run myself, or helped in the creation thereof.
To reiterate something that Evan Carmichael frequently talks about, the amount earned from Google Adwords is equal to the number of click-throughs, multiplied by the dollarvalue of a click-through. Sounds obvious enough, but there’s a huge divergence in the quality of ads, and that is somewhat dependant on the blogger themselves, since Google tries to place ads topically. You’ll see what I mean below.
Let’s talk about traffic quickly first. Building traffic to a website takes a lot of hard work and tremendous patience, which is why many website owners simple throw up their hands and accept whatever comes their way (or try to drive revenue by paying for traffic themselves – which is a tricky proposition for a blog). I’ve seen many websites that have built up to the low thousands of unique visitors per day though, through a ton of sweat equity. Anything beyond that may be a black swan event, so let’s set that as the upper bar of what the average individual can achieve through hard labour.
The value of an ad on a website is largely driven by topic and industry. There are people making higher than average rates using other ad placement systems (or by selling ad space themselves), but Google AdSense is the most accessible system to the average blogger, so let’s use some examples from there. The majority of click-throughs that I get on this site (and others I’ve run in the past) varies between $0.10 and $2.00. In one extreme example, I think I once received $5 for a single click-through. I know of specific topics that pay significantly higher (life insurance being one such).
Click-through rates tend to depend a lot on where people place ads on a page. Having high quality ads can help as well, but since Google tries to tie ads into the contents of a page, bloggers have some control over the sorts of things that generally appear. Spending some time experimenting with placement can have a large payoff. Editor’s Note: I’m guilty here; I do have ads, but I really can’t be bothered where they show up, since ad revenue isn’t what I’m after.
Therefore, the expected average earnings for a statistically significant number of hard-working bloggers could be calculated as being in the following range:
Low End: Assume 1000 visitors per day, 3% click-through rate and $0.10 per click = $3/day or $90/month.
High End: Assume 5% click-through rate and $1 per click = $50/day or $1500/month.
Bear in mind that the above figures are for somebody with average knowledge of how search engines work, a good work ethic, a willingness to experiment, and the patience to build things up over time. I don’t know how many people this covers.
Like I said before though, there’s a black swan or power law effect that’s at work here. What will typically happen is that the vast majority of bloggers will earn next to nothing through ad revenue, a small but well defined set will make enough to make it worthwhile to do full time, and a tiny (and exceptionally well-known) group will make a fortune. Similar to other kinds of creative efforts right? Think authors or musicians.
Disclaimers (I think they’re needed here):
a) I use Google AdWords on this site. I’ve made $10 in the past 6 months. I’m too busy with other things to care too much. I’ve run sites that made $50 to $100 per month in the past, with minimal effort on my part.
b) I know of several people who make a decent living blogging (by decent I mean more than I make!). There are some interesting differentiators between them and other bloggers. They all approach it as a business. Most of them seem to have found ways to make other people do the hard work for them. They also all find real-world outlets (i.e. seminars, consulting, selling product) that neatly tie in to their blogs, in such a way as to create a reinforcing upward spiral of activity. Believe it or not, only a few of the ones I know are “famous” or are active mainstream journalists. The people I know aren’t a big enough set to be statistically significant.
I’ve discussed project management recently with a number of people who work in more “traditional” software development issues, where projects tend to be large and involve many people working on a project for long periods of time. They often give me odd looks when I tell them that typically my company has around 20 projects on the go at any point in time, with an average length of well under a month.
Bear in mind that these are actual projects, not “operational” things like supporting existing software or running an SEO campaign.
I’d be interested in discussing how to manage this sort of situation with other people – what to do when all of the traditional project management tools go right out the window; how to avoid stressing out staff by making them switch back and forth between many different tasks etc. What kinds of tools do you use to track large numbers of very short projects (I don’t have hours usually to set up a file in MS Project or other similar tools – I write quick checklists on a notepad and then wander from desk to desk)? Is anyone using agile techniques (especially controversial things like two people per screen)?
We’ve finally broken through the one million ranking for Alexa. For those not familiar with it, Alexa.com provides rankings which sites have the highest traffic – the lower the number, the better. It isn’t necessarily accurate, but it is nice to watch as the site’s traffic slowly climbs.
We’ve added a number of new pages to the website over the past few days, and we will probably be tweaking things further as we have time. I’ve been working on the process as a low priority level with Martin (one of my staff who happens to have a marketing background and excellent writing skills) for a few weeks now. As usual, comments are welcome.
While I’m on the topic of helpful websites, here’s another simple but useful one: Wefollow.
Its a user-edit Twitter directory, that Nathan pointed out to me a few days ago.
I picked up a few followers just by signing up.
I find it remarkable how many followers some of the top users of Twitter have accumulated. Yes, some of them are leveraging off of some form of celebrity status (real-world or online). Its quite amazing how large the reach of some dedicated tweeters is though. It takes a lot of hard work to scale up a following like that, regardless of where it is.
Their website grading tool provides a host of useful information that can help you fine-tune your site.
I’ve been playing around with their tools for the past few months, and they’ve been extraordinarily useful in terms of tweaking things to make them more search engine friendly. Also useful is their Twitter profile grader.