Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Another approach to SEO

My friend and onetime contractor, Ken Burks, has been setting up some nifty new online businesses. I think it's really interesting since he is taking an approach so different than mine.

1. He has lots of products to sell so he has a php databased driven engine that creates thousands of pages. His newest site sells knives such as Remington Knives.

2. His other site is no necessarily less lethal, it focuses on skateboards.

While I don't want to reveal all his secrets, his approach is the opposite of mine.

Whereas all my pages are painstakingly handcreated, his are....
Whereas all my links are done by people,...
Whereas my site is not that automated, his processes are highly automated....

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Aweber Update

AWEBER - GREAT NEWS

Aweber fixed the typos on their error message (occurred, originate) and updated their copyright message. BUT, it's still an ugly sheet that disrupts my flow. My plan is, if the problem is still there in January, to move to another much smaller email company. sigh.....

Monday, November 20, 2006

Aweber bellsouth email block

Note - Great News - This whole problem has gone away!!!
-------------------------------------------------------
I have my little educational website and one of my marketing tools is an email newsletter that I send out to people who ask for more information. I do this through a highly ethical email service company called Aweber. Recently however, my level of satisfaction has slipped as I find myself caught in an Aweber Bellsouth feud.

Does anybody have any insight into how to solve this problem?

I have an options to "sign up for a free newsletter" on many pages on my website. I get alot of sign-ups daily(over 150). I think about 4% of them are Bellsouth email addresses. After someone called me, I learned in early Nov 2006 that when you put in an email address with a bellsouth address, you got the following: (got to Time4Learning.com and try it yourself)


Notice how users are suddenly transported from my pretty well-designed site to a page which is ...."discordant". I can't prove it but I would expect 95% of the people who get this message think that there is something wrong with my site and just move onto another one.

Since I spend alot of time trying to create good impressions, attract potential new members, and then getting them to join, I am not happy with this situation. Heres where it starts getting weird.

I call up Aweber who has always had great technical support both by chat and telephone. They tell me that "the problem with Bellsouth has been there for two weeks and with a little support, it can be quickly resolved". I am speaking at this point to an Aweber supervisor (sean). He agrees to pursue the matter and get back to me. I specifically want information on:

- how long this problem has been going on?
- Is it only between Aweber and Bellsouth or are they being blocked elsewhere?
- could they fix the typos in the error message (does your dictionary think "occured" is correctly spelt? How about "All messages orginate (sic) from the aweber.com domain under these ips:")?
- would they consider moving the "return to the website" above the fold?
- would they rewrite the letter to be more concise and clear? Update the copyright notice?
- have they done everything that they can to work with Bellsouth to resolve the problem?

_________________
The Aweber message
-----------------------------------------------
An error has occured! Our records indicate that your ISP, BellSouth, is currently blocking email sent to bellsouth.net from us. We have attempted to email you the requested information, but in all likelihood it will not arrive. To ensure that your requested information arrives please contact BellSouth's support department.Click on the support email address for BellSouth below to send them the form letter below.Email: postmaster@bellsouth.net

Network Operation Phone Number: +1 404-499-5224
Please CC: postmaster@aweber.com in any responses.
Dear BellSouth,

My name is smith and I am a customer using BellSouth.
I have just attempted to opt-in for more information on a website
using my email address: Smith135@bellsouth.net
That website uses a service called AWeber.com to manage opt-in
requests like mine. You, BellSouth, have previously blocked
AWeber.com from sending email to BellSouth customers. This
is incorrect and I want to make sure that this issue gets resolved
so that my requested information can be received.
It appears you may be filtering or blocking some of their emails
or servers. Please check your records and lift any blocks on
servers in the aweber.com domain or contact postmaster@aweber.com
for further information.
Sincerely,
Smith
Smith135@bellsouth.net
== Request Information for BellSouth Postmaster ==
Name: eaton
Email: Smith135@bellsouth.net
IP: 65.8.77.182
URL: http://www.time4learning.com/scope-sequence/index.shtml
Date: 11/20/2006 10:06:00 EST
== SMTP Errors Being Seen ==
452 Message rejected
Sorry... Connection denied. Listed in deny list.
exceeded max time without delivery
== AWeber Utilized Netblocks ==
All messages orginate from the aweber.com domain under these ips:
cidr: 207.106.239.64/27
cidr: 207.106.200.0/26

Continue back to the website.
Copyright © 1998-2004 AWeber Systems, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction strictly prohibited."


--------------------------------------------

Aweber gets back to me - Sean's call back does not go well. He tells me that it's only been a problem for a few weeks and they will not make any changes to the message since he and the President have looked at it and used it for years and it cannot be further refined. I get frustrated.

Refined? The letter has several spelling errors in it. The copyright message suggests that the page has not been looked at.

Bellsouth Speaks To me - It turns out that my inquiries to Bellsouth were answered quickly. I get a call back from the Bellsouth abuse department (Lee). They explain to me (I spoke this morning with a first level person and then Mike F, the Abuse department supervisor) that:

- the Aweber "problem" has been going on for at least a year.
- Aweber has long been asking people to call Bellsouth to complain about the "Block" although Bellsouth insists that they are holding to the standards and will require Aweber to meet them.
- the problem (It's not clear to me whether bellsouth is actually blocking the emails or not) is that Aweber does not comply with the industry-standards for email "rate limiting". (They explained to me that this is about how many emails can be sent per connection). There might also be a problem with "concurrent simultaneous connections".

I asked if I could set up a conference call between Bellsouth and Aweber. Bellsouth laughed. "They know exactly about what they have to do, we're tired of telling them". I asked if they could repeat the problems to me and was told that they need to be compliant with http://www.postmaster.bellsouth.net/best_practice.htm (which is pretty vague).

So presumably the problem stems from two interpretations of some technical standard or norm and both sides are bad mouthing each other and so it sits. Since I got a call back from Bellsouth at a high level but cannot get a call back from the president of Aweber, I'm tending to think that the ball is in Aweber's hands to do something. Also, I'm blaming Aweber since they told me that it was a problem dating back a few weeks with hopes of quick resolution. Which I now believe to be untrue. Its a long-standing problem which appears unlikely to be resolved soon.

Of course, it's possible that the problem only got worse in November in which case, I apologize for jumping to conclusions about untrue.

What to do?
1. Ignore the problem.
It's only 4% of my potential new members who get turned off.
2. Try to work with Aweber and Bellsouth to resolve it. But they are remarkably stubborn.
3. Switch from Aweber. Expected switching cost (programmer to move boxes, move database and decline list etc) ~$5K and lots of hassle.
4. Look for better ideas

Answer - Try to work with them. I prefer this hassle to trying to rebuild all those newsletters and databases. Also, since I pay Bellsouth hundreds of dollars each month and Aweber around $120 monthly, I feel that they should make an effort.... Anybody else want to help?

NEXT Chapter - I got Aweber on the phone again. Sean's answer:
- The abuse department tracks what is going on, but its the postmaster group at bellsouth that decides it.
- The problem is constantly changing rules at bellsouth about Rate Limiting. Its not an email per connection issue (which Bellsouth abuse suggested), it's a total volume of emails question. Bellsouth is somewhat arbitrarily totally limiting the amount of emails that they accept from Aweber.
- The current episode only goes back a few weeks but the intermittent problems with Bellsouth goes back a year at least.
- Sean suggests getting onto any email insiders forum and I'll see that everyone is frustrated with Bellsouth.

uhg....Three updates:
Aweber corrects the typos...
Can a SPF policy solve my Bellsouth-Aweber email block?
Aweber Bellsouth Problem apparently solved!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Picking a Hosting Company - Focus on speed....

Using http://www.search-engine-mechanics.co.uk/speed.htm, I can tell what speed sites load at. While this could be a function of a badly designed web page, it might also be due to the hosting company. Slow is bad, fast is good.

Losers - netfirms
Winner - Sultanhosting

Domain name - Size - Load time (secs) -Average Speed per KB - hosting co.

01 www.learninggamesforkids.com 19.55 KB 0.22 seconds 0.01 seconds sultanhosting FAST
02 www.time4learning.com 21.04 KB 0.36 seconds 0.02 seconds webstream GOOD
03 www.homeschoolonline.org 74.87 KB 2.18 seconds 0.03 seconds netfirms SLOW
04 www.edelson.info 0.69 KB 0.16 seconds 0.23 seconds bellsouth FAST
05 www.todays-learners.com 18.23 KB 0.21 seconds 0.01 seconds sultanhosting FAST
06 www.homeschool-curriculum-review.com 4.66 KB 1.67 seconds 0.36 seconds netfirms SLOW

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Yahoo & MSN SEO

And I quote from Pat Quinn - http://www.search-engine-mechanics.co.uk/.

I have a client who receives 80% of his Internet business (which is substantial) via Yahoo, on which he is No 1 for all four of his search terms. Google does very little for him. Why should that be? It's because, when you get down to it, Yahoo is a consumer-oriented engine and Google is predominantly a commercial or business-to-business engine. And his business is geared to the consumer market....

It's also worth bearing in mind that MSN, as the third of the big three engines, is a pretty formidable presence. I can assure you, too, that business is good if you are well positioned on MSN. And since this outfit is owned by Microsoft, I can't see Mr Gates playing third-fiddle for very much longer. Search engine-wise, we live in interesting times.

With my marketing instincts honed to be aware of the potential of these other engines, I've just rechecked my standing on Yahoo & MSN.

Homeschool on Google: 34 Yahoo: 16th MSN: 8th
Homeschool curriculum on Google: 7th Yahoo: 4th on MSN: 1st
Homeschool resource on Google: 7th Yahoo: 16th on MSN: 8th

The great news is that I seem to do fine on Yahoo & MSN.

Homeschool SEO progress

Heh - I'm now number seven on google, a new high, for "homeschool curriculum"

And, my favorite free SEO just got better. They integrated .edu backlinks, alexa status, related pages, and added age in the waybackmachine. COOL-OH.

How important is "homeschool curriculum"? In Sept O6, the number of Yahoo US searches:

123,576 home school - Over 100K searches in Sept and Time4Learning is 34th and climbing!
13,849 home school curriculum - Time4Learning is firmly on the1st page at #7 and this is alot of searches !!!!
4,116
christian home school - haven't started competing here....
3,909
home resource school - 18th in google as "homeschool resource" - I should push to get on P1.
2,777
home program school - 11th in google as "homeschool program" - I should push to get on P1.
2,382
home online school - we're number 4 here.

And who is ahead of us?
http://www.homeschoolreviews.com - a review site owned by Jamey, great guy in North FL
http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/homeschool_curriculum - Suite 101 is a mega content / advertising directory site with quality editors by area....
http://www.robinsoncurriculum.com - a curriculum vendor that I don't know much about
http://www.sonlight.com - great curriculum who I would hope would integrate Time4Learning as an alternative math offering or as supplementary on the language arts side ...
http://www.theswap.com - long standing site run by homeschoolers facilitating barter, swap, and resale of used materials. I advertise there. I might do more...
http://www.hsadvisor.com - A very nice homeschool megasite. I advertise there too.
Time4Learning - a leading homeschool curriculum online site !

Due Diligence of SEO Techniques

SEO Due Diligence for Acquisitions

In acquiring a firm whose marketing is primarily online, the acquirer needs to enter a whole new type of due diligence of seo.

This might sound esoteric but imagine this:

-----------
Company B gets 5K visitors/day to their site prior to the acquisition. Following the acquisition, in the first month, the number drops in month 2 to less than a thousand visitors. The revenues decline proportionately to under 20% of the pre acquisition number.

When the new management reviews the historical traffic records, they discover that most of the traffic traditionally came from three domains. Despite the info in the whois database, there is no way to contact these domains and no traffic coming from them.

The sellers of the company have moved on and are not available to answer questions.

--------------

What happened? In this case, it's likely that the original owners had a number of sites that they owned. The traffic and revenues of Company B were based on traffic delivered from other sites which Company B was not visibly paying for. Thus it appeared that the traffic was based on success in natural search. When the original owners sold the company, they redirected the traffic flow elsewhere. Since they own the sites in ways that are difficult to trace, it is impossible to prove. The buyers acquisition agreement did not address this possibility in the declarations or "representations and warranties". The origin of the traffic was not analysed in the preacquisition due diligence seo process but, if they were important traffic contributors, they should have been analyzed.

Here's a much harder scenario to detect and track...

-----------
Company C gets 5K visitors/day to their site prior to the acquisition about 90% of it from the search engines through "natural search". Following the acquisition, in the second through sixth month, the number drops to less than five hundred visitors. The revenues decline to under 10% of the pre acquisition number. When the new management reviews the historical links, they discover that there used to be about 1000 links in and there are still about 1000 links in, there is no detailed analysis of the links.
--------------
What happened? This is a nearly untrackable problem. The original owners had built a large link count of mostly junky links. However, amongsth the 1000 links, there might have been 5-10 that were controlled by the owners which had significant page rank and were, prior to the acquisition, pointing all of their link power to the website that was about to be sold. Following the acquisition, these sites were redirected and the result is that over a few months, the new owners observed a fall in page rank but they could not track the high page rank back to the sites that disappeared.
___________________
If online marketing systems and traffic are a component of the value of your acquistion, get an expert to do your analysis.

Good due diligence SEO issues:

- where is the expertise in SEO? Check it out. Interview? Writing? Training?
- What mechanisms are used?
- is the traffic really from 3rd party sites - check it
- are the techniques white hat or black hat (with a limited shelf-life)?
- where does the traffic come from?
- is the seo success due to links pointing to the site which are truly 3rd party or related?
- history of links & traffic patterns. Understand it...
- involvement with buying traffic thru PPC, network marketing, email marketing etc etc
- etc etc


This post sponsored by Time4Learning providing homeschool resources , summer school , and after school learning for gifted kids or special needs or mainstream.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hosting Companies - How to Pick?

Method for picking hosting companies
I don't much like my hosting company. Sometimes they are nice to me and I feel differently but mostly, emails get answered with 1-2 word answers, they don't take calls regularly etc etc.

So, I want to switch hosting companies to one that has 24/7 staffing and telephone support and a great record of up time and support.
----------------
Is there an objective / reliable way to check out a hosting company's statistics on uptime? On history and reputation?
----------------
Can I check who is faster?

I found a site that lists who is bigger than who. Also, it has stats on domains won/loss accounts.
http://www.webhosting.info/webhosts/

I looked at the record of what my target accounts show to see any pattern. And I tried contacting some of the sites that left the hosting companies that I'm considering but this does not feel like a terribly productive exercise.

-------------
My situation, I am currently on a shared windows server with alot of .Net programming and one sql database. My current vendor has had a series of crashes relating to connections between the db and site. His "fix" is to upsell me to dedicated server. I've decided instead to switch to a site with better support & track record...

I'm considering:http://www.ixwebhosting.com/ - based on my programmers recommendationhttp://www.layeredtech.com/ - based on a personal contact
www.sultanhosting.com/ - where I have a reseller account.
http://www.netfirms.com/ - where I have an account
http://www.godaddy.com/ - where I have an account.
http://www.verio.com - major & local
http://www.mindspring.com personal contact....
Any thoughts on the methodology for deciding?


http://forums.webhosting.info/showthread.php?p=22913#post22913 - I posted this question.
http://www.dnsstuff.com/pages/forums.htm - I posted this question.

I'll tell you what I learn....

Monday, November 06, 2006

LiveStats Definitions Question

I don't really get the definitions of hits, impressions, visitors, and distinct visits.
And I'm tryinng to reconcile the statistics

Reconciling PPC Visitors & Webstats
For instance, I send my PPC traffic to a start page and google says that they sent me 17,648 visitors in October. I should get that number on my webstats (livestats) report. But it reports that the landing page had 78,020 visitors who entered on that page. As far as I can tell, that page never shows up as the target page in any advertisements and it's built to not do well in search. So there are really only two ways to enter on that page.

1 - PPC - which explains 18K of 78K October visitors
2 - Repeat visitors who came to that page again because they bookmarked it. Is it possible that 60K visits were due to book marks in October? I think it's unlikely.

LiveStats reported that During the Month of October, 2006:

A total of 380,099 distinct visits were made to the site.
The average visit lasted 4 Minutes and 22 Seconds.
395 distinct web pages were viewed a total of 3,254,821 times.
The average visit contained 8.56 page views.

Total page views as entry pages were 341,614.
And that there were 15,384,957 hits.

Here's some questions.
- How do these stats relate to each other?
- Is a visit the same as a visitor?
- What constitutes a hit?
- Does an entry page hold the same meaning as a visit...hit...visitor?

- Are page views under Entry pages the same as "visitors entering"?
- Trying to reconcile referrers with total visitors suggests that the largest number of visitors bookmarked us. Which makes some sense since visitors tend to come back a few times while making up their mind and members visit many many times/month.

Friday, November 03, 2006

How large a sample size ?

I responded to an invite to get some info on helping understand if my webstats were an adequate basis to make a decision. Its from MarketingExperiments.com, a MECC Labs company.


Their site and blog are an absolutely fantatic resource of much higher quality than most of the marketing drek on the web. Nevertheless, I find that I want to nitpick in the area of statistical validity.

Since it has a copyright notice on it, I'll only quote this part:

"There are 2 ways to evaluate your data…
􀂄 Understand the complex math (which they then provide alot of complex formulas on




􀂄 Utilize the MEC test protocol - which makes it somewhat simpler but still, nothing that you could (or I could) remember.

I did, in my youth, take some statistics. I remember an old rule.

DIVIDE YORU DATA SET IN HALF RANDOMLY. COMPARE THE DATA FROM THE TWO HALFS. IF IT MATCHES. BELIEVE IT. IF NOT, GET A BIGGER SAMPLE.

This means that if you have conversion rate data on 2000 people. You could sort alphabetically and take every other data point. Add them up. If both data sets show a 1.6 conversion rate, your sample set is adequate.

If one set say 1.3% and the other says 2.0%, your margin of error is pretty large.

Also, if you division of the data is not arbitrary, this is meaningless. For instance, you cannot divide by the first half of the month or the second since this not a random division.

Question to you smart guys. Does this rule hold true?
Secondly, how about my idea for a pool tool to use when the normal pools of data are too small to use.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What is a subdomain? How does it relate to SEO?

I have always thought of domains as being defined as http://www.domain.com . I thought that new folders went at the end http://www.domain.com/newfolder

But, I see there are these "subdomains" which appear as http://subdomain.domain.com

Here's the question: Does google count them as part of the domain or not?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More open seo questions

1. Three way links by accident. Do my blogs hurt me? I tend to track parents' reviews of my site and list their sites on my blog... Does this appear as a 3 way link to google? Does this?

2. Graphics not counting for links. I hear that a graphical link doesn't count as much as a text one. True? How much less? Does alt text count like anchor text? Why not? Where's the logic in this? Or is just because google prefers a text-based web to a graphical one (easier to spider)

Home School Does this graphic with a link and an alt tag count less than a text one?


3. putting articles on blogs first? I tend to write rough drafts of my pages that I eventually put on my site. I store and work on the rough drafts in my blog. Since google tracks where content appears first, does this hurt my site when I put them up there by making my site look like its reusing stuff from elsewhere?

4. Is my feeder site worth it? In discussing this, I learned two new terms: link bait & social linking.

Advice what it would take to get it to the top for "homeschool" for this page:
on http://www.time4learning.com/homeSchool-curriculum.htm - thanks to Carrie of Abalone Search Engine Optimization services.

Background: that page is now first page for homeschool-curriculum, 23rd for homeschool, and 60th for homeschooling. What would it take to do well on homeschool?
1. Take homeschooling off the page. It should be a different page. More "homeschool", notice the title.
2. Meta description - hold to 250 characters, mine is too long
3. get homeschool 2x into description


Tools Advice - I want an integrated tool that has: number of searches, position on the search engines, and which perhaps integrates with webstats to tell me people who visit from which term/engine and how they convert.

Does anything like that exist? Answer No. Carrie uses.....

- Rank Tracker - MSN, google, yahoo - tells you rank
- Word tracker - for number of searches...