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Showing posts from 2005

Site analytics causing problems

Our site analytics seem to be causing problems with the menu system that I was creating. They take as long as 90 seconds at times, but what really bugs me is that they have to complete before our menu will start working. Looks like I'm going to need to go back to the drawing board on this one... maybe I can modify the menus to not use JavaScript at all to fix this.

I'm not totally sure what way I'll be going at this point. I like the way this one works now, but the performance with our analytics just stinks. If it's not one thing, it's a dozen others. Ugh.

CSS Navigation

So I've taken part in a debate over if CSS navigation systems cause an SEO penalty and all the internal pages to fall out of grace with Google. I personally don't think this is the case, so I've started working on one for ToolBarn.com. I can see how the usability for some will be great, for others it'll be used the same as always, and some people will keep on using search. However, it's neat looking and our competitors don't currently use it, so it'll differentiate us from them.

So what's the reason people are saying it's a penalty? Simple. There are div's that are hidden. Well, the version I'm building doesn't use many divs. Most of it is just unordered lists with different classes applied depending on the depth. I'm interested to see how it ends up looking and working.

My biggest obstacle right now is our webstats and our live help buttons. They both run JavaScripts that have to complete before the JavaScript for the nav system will …

Mini revelations taking time...

I'm taking my time in sharing mini revelations (insights gleamed from reverse engineering our google mini's algorithm.) I've got so many tests planned and want to make sure that the data I'm extracting is accurate. Anyone with an interesting test, let me know.

I've been playing around with link order. If I link to a series of pages as linkto1 linkto2 linkto3, does it change anything to reverse that like linkto3 linkto2 linkto1? I've tried playing with that a big, but it's tough to conclusively decide without making 100's of pages exactly the same and reversing the links. Then, I'm having to go back and forth to make sure the results are consistent. I'll be ready to share my observations on this one shortly.

I'm all ears for new tests.

Brian.

Dashes, dots and an interesting observation

With our Mini, I have been toying with some ways to search for substrings. What I'm finding is that dashes, dots, etc. don't allow for a substring match. However, there is one interesting observation that I have to note here.

The first special character is dropped.

That's right, be it a dash or a dot, the first one is dropped and ignored. Even when searching, the same behaviour occurs. What does this mean? How can I use it to my advantage?

Well, let's take a look at the UB181 example. If I were to make 2 variations of that in our "Additional Keywords" field (only shown to our Mini), simply making ub-181dz and ub181-dz (adding a dash where a letter meets a number, which is a simple regular expression) will not allow these to match a search for 181dz or ub181. Instead, I'd have to make ub-181-dz for a match of ub181 and u-b-181dz for a match of 181dz. That seems like an odd way to have to handle this, but again - simple regular expressions to make this happen.

Substring limitations

So I have some major beefs with the Mini and how Google's algo handles stemming / substring matches. This just isn't working right.

For example, one of our products is the "UB181DZ". People commonly search for the "UB181", since this is the base model. Well, the default results were 0 matches. That's not good, especially when we have the UB181DZ in stock, along with the DZK and the DZK-2 (we "invented" these kits by customer demand.)

So, a simple fix is to pre-fetch substring matches of any skus. I'm doing a "SELECT sku FROM products WHERE sku like '%$searchstring%';" and sending the search as "ub181 OR ub181dz OR ub181dkz OR ub181dzk-2" for now, but that's just not a good long-term solution. It also doesn't work when they search for multiple words. I'd have to make some funky syntax to get that working, and I'm feeling lazy right now.

As an experiment, I thought we could try dashes. The first attem…

Beginning insights from the Google Mini

We bought Google. Ok, so it was just a mini, but it's cleared up my understanding of Google a bit.

Upon setting it up, nothing really great came to mind. However, after doing some tweaking (it's powering the search on toolbarn.com right now), it has become clear that the more I learn about this box and it's capabilities the more I understand Google.

For starters, I ended up having to cloak some pages to our mini to get our results to come out right. A search for makita drills gave me results of milwaukee drills as well because of our breadcrumb navigation and the cross-linking. Every page on our site was returned for power tools because it's in the main navigation. Some searches return poor results, such as makita 5000, which several people have searched for. I have a temp solution in place for that.

So, after playing with it and then sitting back to think about how it works / serves results, I figured something out that may end up being priceless.

Searches done on our sit…

MP3 File Manipulation

So I started on a site that is going to do some manipulation of MP3 files dynamically, taking a preview out of the song that should be sort of representative of the song. I toyed with a few different ways of pulling out the section I wanted, looking for large dynamic changes, widest frequency range, flattest frequency pattern, breaks in the song, etc. I also tried a few different methods of making the snip. Here's what I found.

1) Regardless how cool it is to be able to detect changes in dynamics, frequency ranges, patterns, breaks, or anything else it just doesn't mean that the section will be representative.

2) MP3 players are fairly bullet proof and don't mind some abuse. There isn't any need to split properly across frames within the file - MP3 players (all that I've tested in Win and Linux) all handle improperly split files just fine.

3) Bitrates don't translate perfectly. Just because you know how many bits per second a file is doesn't mean you can clip …

Toys, toys, and more toys.

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I enjoy image manipulation. If I can do it via code, even better. For example, the following image will get text added to it because I'm hotlinking (using it from the ToolBarn.com web server from a different site).




We're doing that mostly for the benefit of eBay users that decide to use our images. It's resulted in some visits and sales for us, and fewer sales for the eBay users.

Of course, nothing is as cool as dynamically created images. When I decide to put a thumbnail of my blog on this page, I created a tool that does that. www.toolbarn.com/web-tools/ has a webpage thumbnail generator now. I've been playing with it for a while, trying to make it display as many pages as possible correctly, and it seems to be working fairly well now. I got a pop-up blocker working, it renders flash properly, and does a few other "Goodies" like timestamping the image and giving a guess as to the PR of the page in the image. Again, simple stuff, but cool none the less.


I inten…

Vertical Creep

So, I went to SES in San Jose again. What a blast. Not only were the sessions great, but Yahoo rented Paramount Great American for a night. After that, it was the Ask Jeeves get together. The next night was at the Googleplex. Wednesday was Webmasterradio.fm, text-link-ads, MonsterCommerce, and Incisive Media. While the parties were great, the highlight for me was presenting at 2 sessions.

The first session I presented at was moderated by none other than Danny Sullivan. He had predicted in 2003 that "Invisible tabs" would be used to show users the content they really wanted. Well, now it's 2005 and this is starting to happen, so this session was showing how it's happening and what the impact is for Search Marketing.

Greg Jarboe, president of SEOPR, started out by showing some of the ways in which news items (his specialty) were starting to show up above the organic results. Some of the engines even show pictures of the person in the article. He showed example after exam…

Milwaukee V28 Power Tools

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The V28 power tools have finally shown up. Milwaukee's Lithium-Ion technology is putting everyone else to shame right now. This stuff is so cutting edge that the Ni-Cad stuff that most tool manufacturers still use should be blown out. But, since so many people already have those batteries, it won't be.

At our tent event last weekend, the V28 recip saw was used to accomplish this:


It took 1:45 to cut the car in half sideways, and it was a hoot. It was the first time we know of that the Hackman (Lenox blades car cutting people) was going to use a cordless. Due to some sort of conflict, nobody from team Hackman made it, so it was our local rep who took it upon himself to cut the car.

At first attempt, the saw bound. This of course got a good reaction from the other manufacturers as they gave our Milwaukee rep a hard time about "Look at that 28 volt piece of junk" and "Battery dead already?" But it did a great job once it got going, and it was more a case of nerv…

Carousels fixed

The carousels are finally working at 100%. I hope they stay that way now. If we just had more hours in the day to get everything on them now, we'd be set. That being said, we've got some inventory management issues that needed addressed as well.

For some unknown reason, our system was set to throw out the largest order, then make sure we had 50% more than the second largest order in stock. For items that we were averaging a few per year without the occasional large order we now have large quantities of. What a mess.

Now that we're stocking more of the first few brands, though, we're getting more orders out the door in a faster manner. There are more and more orders in stock at the time they're placed. Now, if we could just get them all pulled, boxed, and out the door same day we'd be really cool.

We started looking at some of our competitors this week. Competitors? That's funny. In any case, they're selling things at a competitive price. We're paying l…

Outsourcing

Man, is it ever hard to let anything go. But, alas, I have to give up some of my duties. We're going to try outsourcing SEO for ToolBarn.com to FathomSEO. The plan is to give them the tougher of our websites, have them try for some more competitive terms in a few of the categories we can make a few bucks in, and then consider allowing them to expand their efforts to everything. Seems to make sense, but it is still difficult to let anything out of my hands. After all, site development has been done primarily by me for so, so long. At least I still have Tool Parts Direct that I get to do SEO on.

Speaking of Tool Parts Direct, I've put up an initial Froogle feed for the site. This has, of course, led to more visitors. To really make the most of this extra traffic, we also opened up Priority Mail, and since I integrated it with our inventory management system we could actually lower the rates we charge to our customers. We also were able to pass along the savings we're getting …

Vacation

Why is it that vacations are always a time when you end up working a ton harder the week before and a ton harder the week after? How relaxing is that? Many of us in the IT industry, especially the web industry, end up doing some sort of work on our vacation. For me, it was uploading a new site for one of the companies owned by the place my paycheck comes from. Done mostly in flash, that'll rank really well in search engines. About as well as my house on a search for blue jeans. In any event, it was some amount of work, and wasn't exactly a vacation activity.

While I was out, the techs came in and figured out what was wrong with our carousels. One will be needing a motor rebuild soon, 2 need it already, and 1 had a motor hooked up wrong and it blew up. I suppose that explains the problems with them. Thank you warranty.

Well, I'm going to get back to doing nothing for the rest of the night, and I still have tomorrow and the weekend to enjoy some time away from work.

Carousel problems

Ok, so the carousel that is showing so much promise started acting up without me knowing about it. Two of the four carousels decided to move as slow as they can and still be classified as moving. I guess that's how they go on strike. It's also really tough to get any real support without paying quite a bit for a tech to come out and work on it. Every time that the tech comes out, it seems like we end up paying for a lot of time for him to read the manual and very little time actually working on the carousel. If there were other options, I'm sure we'd be looking at them. However, we're sort of stuck since there aren't a lot of people who have ever even seen a carousel like this, let alone knowing how to fix one.

I've been reading the manual on it, and the manual is about as useful as salt water to a fresh water fish. It starts with how the bolts and nuts work, then has a somewhat useful section on programming it to work with the hand controller, then goes on …

The power of the carousel

We are just getting a corousel system implemented in our warehouse. After years of running around the building to fill our parts orders, it's become too cumbersome finding things. This means that we're now going to allow the parts to come to us. With a platform that raises and lowers, we'll have people waiting at the end of 70' long carousels for the parts to come to them, then light up a bin number and a quantity next to the shelf that is supposed to have parts pulled from it. That's all fine and dandy, but what's the best about this is that it becomes tougher for people to make pulling errors, so we'll not only be able to ship out more orders per day, but also have fewer errors and store more inventory. Considering that we've got well over 100% more sales than just 12 months ago, this will be important as we move forward.

After getting top rankings for many of the most obvious key phrases for our site, there are still so many combinations available tha…

Barcodes are everywhere.

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Barcodes are everywhere. Seems like I can't turn anything over without a barcode showing up. I wonder why nobody has barcodes on the back of their business cards yet that work for their email address and website URL. Seems like an open market for some enterprising person, but not me -- today.

Trying to figure out what barcode to use can be a real pain. Is this a UPC-A, EAN13, Code 39, or some other form of barcode? Barcode scanners are pretty amazing that they work as well as they do when you stop to think about it. They can identify what type of barcode this is, decode it, and be ready for the next one while I'm still in a trance from the red light. Pretty colors.

Well, we had to create some mock-ups today for a few barcodes to be printed on our invoices / shipping tickets. This caused me to come up with a simple utility to enter your text and get your barcode. I've been having fun with names, URL's, and phrases.

The base URL (if you'd like to play yourself) is http:…

PPC'ing against our affiliates

We have an affiliate that just started creating some content, which we encourage. However, they started bidding against us on Overture and getting quite a few sales from that. While it isn't a problem them getting sales, when it's sales that we would have gotten already (same keywords on Overture) it raises a question with me about the real value of this affiliate.

The other question I have is this: would they be seeing enough traffic for it to pay off? Granted, these keywords are mostly under 20 cents per click, but even a 20% conversion rate means they need to make almost $1.00 per sale (if people are following their links in the first place). They don't rank in any of the 3 major search engines, so we aren't competing in that market yet, but they originally copied most of our homepage as their homepage and now they're paying for traffic that we normally buy. Sure, we can afford to get the #1 position back from them, but the real question is why should I have to b…

Spreading our online marketing eggs into many baskets

Being the CTO of an online company, I am aware that we don't want to keep our eggs in one virtual basket. I've done a lot of things to broaden our reach, including PPC advertising on Google, Overture, and Kanoodle. Shopping engines have become an integral part of our marketing mix as well. I've also worked on our organic search rankings in MSN, Yahoo, and Google. Ask Jeeves is on our radar as well, but the whole Hubs and Authorities makes it very important to have a lot of content, which we just don't have anyone to write currently.

When the Google update "Florida" hit us back in 2003, we realized we had a problem. Our sales were pretty well gone overnight. That's not a good feeling. At that point, I started looking to see what we could do, and I attended my first "Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo" in New York. After some trial and error, we are diverse enough that we totally missed a problem recently, which is a problem.

While it'…