An interview with Christina / webado

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Hi Christina, it’s great to have you here for a virtual interview! For those who don’t know, Christina is one of the top contributors to the Google Webmaster Help forums. Just this month she managed to post over 1’000 replies (as a comparison, slightly over 7’400 postings were made this month in total, giving her more than 13% of all postings for the month). She is also a moderator in several other forums, runs her own hosting and web design company and has a family. Oh, and a day job. Wow.

So Christina, what drives you to post so much in the Google groups?

Hi John, hehe, glad to be here. This format looks interesting. [I sent her the questions in a shared Google Doc] So this is what you can do with this gadget….. Oh yes, interview. Hummm… did I really make that many posts? Oh, dear, I do tend to get carried away …

Why do I do it? Well it’s mainly because I have a compulsive nature to share what bits I know, on one hand, and on the other hand I seem to have grown into a troubleshooter. Which isn’t that much different from being a troublemaker LOL. Forums and groups like this are about solving problems, sharing knowledge, experience and helping each other. And mindless chit-chat too 😉

It’s a cycle: you have a problem, you get help solving it, you discover and learn from that process, you have something you can share with others and help them solve their problems in turn, and on and on. If one learns, one has a moral duty to share and teach in turn. Well, at least in an ideal world. But there isn’t much point or fun in learning and keeping it all to oneself, is there?

I started off by asking my own newbie questions a while back, getting help from you and others who’ve got so much experience with search engines, servers, technical knowledge in general. Then it’s rather natural when I see questions on matters where I think I can help, to actually try to help. Most of this is repetitious in nature, been there, done that. Repeat, lather and rinse. Take 2 Aspirins and call me in the morning.

It feels good to participate in a discussion where eventually it is arrived at an answer at least, if not a solution.

But I’m afraid it’s in large part my compulsive forumer nature that drives it all LOL Yes, am a chatterbox given half a chance 😉

Assuming the Google Groups (and all your other forums) would shut down tomorrow, what would you do with the time that you spend there?

Oy, bite your tongue, I think I’d be lost for a long while. Heck, I get jittery even when one of these babies is down, or when my Internet connection is giving me trouble, or god forbid, my computer crashes.

I suppose if that were like a permanent situation, I’d have to actually do things which I usually tend to put off. Like maybe start moving furniture around, clean closets, fix the garden… more domestic things. I might even cook a full meal once in a while …. Go on some new fitness craze maybe, like my taking up full contact karate and building quite an addiction to it some years back. Actually I should go back to that. Maybe I’d have to pick up some worthy neighborhood community project.

See, it all tends to gravitate to some kind of group environment. House and family and close friends are great, but insular in nature. I need to expand this circle to be part of a wider community.

The postings in the Google Groups bring up lots of peculiar items (that often leave me wondering, I’m sure you too). Let’s assume you had a chance to meet each of the following people for a couple of hours to discuss the things that you’ve seen in the Groups. What subjects would you want to cover, what questions would you want to ask, what suggestions would you make?

– Matt Cutts or Adam Lasnik (take your pick or both):
Oh, what I might like to ask these guys is how they dissociate their personas from the Big G, if they even actually manage to do it. As is typical with high profile individuals, they tend to get both the credit and the blame for whatever happens with the entity they symbolize – which is Google, the giant. They seem to get pummeled quite a bit, especially Matt, by many who are more irate than rational.

– Larry Page or Sergey Brin (take your pick or both):
Did you ever think this baby of yours was going to turn into such a cuddly monster? Become the thing so many love to hate … or hate to love?

– Sir Tim Berners-Lee:
Did you think this was going to exist in parallel to the real world and even take over? Did you ever dream of that possibility?

– A politician of your choice:
What choice? LOL – nah, I stay away from politicians. They are all mostly just flavor of the day.

Or rather, is the Queen of England a politician? If so, maybe she’d like to knight a few Googlers too 🙂

How do you handle conflicts in the Google Groups (or other forums), what methods do you use to refrain from escalating them?

Oh this one’s kind of hard. I’m rather hot blooded myself. It’s usually just one troublemaker (at a time), who manages to get many people riled. And then it’s a spitting match.

I first try to reason with the one who started it. When it becomes apparent there’s no way to bring reason out of a troll, if I am the moderator, it’s time to use my powers and ban the lout. If I am but a regular user, I’ll sometimes speak my mind and to heck with it. I know this won’t solve anything in getting rid of the troll, but at least it gets it off my chest. LOL, I’m no dainty, poised little lady, I can be a brutal hag. I’m built like an armadillo, nothing much pierces my armour.

A friend made me this signature gif for a forum I moderate, and I used it for a while, with great satisfaction:
zfile.gif

When did you come up with your name “webado” and what does it signify to you?

Hehe, this came up as I was chatting with some online buddies several years ago. I didn’t have a domain yet, didn’t think I deserved one really. I had found free hosting here and there for my pet project du jour, which at that time was a site to host a songwriter’s chat room and some pages with mildly technical information of interest mainly to songwriters and musicians (with less technical knowledge than me). I had already built a site for a non profit organisation (www.rapsohd.org), one for an online friend from the songwriter’s forum I was participating in (www.nancy-heartmusic.com) and one for my musician daughter (www.melinas-music.com). They were all very primitive in design, but they were my first attempts and the best I knew how to do.

So chatting with some online friends one of them said I should get my own domain, so what to call it? A few notions got thrown around gyrating around “I Do Web”, “Web I Do” …I think they were more or less taken. My friends are southerners, “Web Ah Do” had the southern twang… “Web Ado” played on the notion of “much ado about nothing” so webado was born. At first it was a subdomain on a free space (Lycos and then Netfirms). Then I registered several versions of the domain (.com, .net, etc) and the rest is history. I have rebuilt the original sites at least a couple of times each over the years. I have some of the history of webado on my personal site which I originally made, www.webado.com and some blurb on how I got into webhosting as well on my biz site at www.webado.net. Yeah, I know, .com ought to be the biz domain, but what did I know when I started? It wasn’t going to be any biz, so I used the .com for my personal site. Oh well, one of these days I’ll probably rearrange the whole webado emporium, as I like to call it,into something more logical, if I don’t lose interest first, that is 😉

Oh, even my cell phone identifies itself with the name Webado …. my laptop is called that too….. Surely that’s a kind of psychosis … transference or something 😉 Might need some therapy for it…. LOL

How did you get started with making websites?

I built my first ever website for a non profit organization RapSohD, dealing with talented teens in the performing arts. My daughter had been the winner of the 2001 RapSohD competition (she was crowned Miss RapSohD Talented Teen Canada 2001), their first year of operation actually. After the event I somehow got pulled into joining the organization as part of the board of directors, and by early the following year, in a meeting, I suggested the organization needed a website. So they said sure, great idea, who’s going to build us one? I had never built a website, was clueless, but my son, who was 11 at the time, had been playing around with some buddies of his, and I was so impressed and enthusiastic that I volunteered his services. He started building the site, got something up that was working (sort of), but lost interest after a while. I was committed. I needed to make good on the promise. So I jumped in. It was hard, he’d been using Notepad and written some god-awful code with it, with snippets from here and there, but which somehow seemed to work, as in a page would come up with colors, images and text and links to other pages, more or less as intended. I got dunked into it, with no prior knowledge, just using tips from www.htmlgoodies.com and whatever else I could find. I learned to view the source code of web pages I liked to see how they did this bit or that. I managed to build a site. I knew nothing of validation, optimization, other browsers, search engines. Didn’t care. It worked. It did the job for a couple of years. After that I made my daughter’s site. Then the songwriters chat site. Then mine. Yay, I was on a roll.

I started making some new friends, webmasters. I learned from them. I don’t know when exactly I started KNOWING how to build a webpage and then a site. It happened gradually. At one time I was a staunch opponent of those who kept putting down IE and pushing other browsers like Firefox – they were antisocial, anarchists. My sites didn’t work in Firefox pretty much at all. I hated Firefox. I hated those who kept pushing the W3C stuff. I hated the W3C. Gradually though an awakening happened. I don’t know just when I turned almost 180 degrees around. Almost, because I still don’t embrace the anti IE movement. I have all the major browsers, I test my sites in them all but I remain a loyal IE user, I cannot be anti IE. I’d love to see them all agree LOL

Let’s go visit the legendary deserted island. You have a laptop with solar power and a satellite internet link (books, what’s that?) that can give you read-only access to exactly one site on the Internet. What site would that be and why?

No fair. That sounds like my setup at work almost LOL. May I cheat? May I use a proxy site and access everything else? Oh, OK, I guess not.

Then I think I’d pick …. predictably… Google. I can get news, get my gmail (but can’t reply, doggone it!), search for anything my mind wants to know, maybe even find it among all the scraper site, see cached copies of all pages from all sites (haha, or almost all), all without leaving my island or googledom, given that I can’t access the individual sites themselves. I can read the groups (but not participate, bummer!). I can copy and rebuild my favorite sites on my laptop from cached pages (yeah, I had got Apache installed before getting stranded on the deserted island, lucky break) and then pretend I’m on the net. Build my own mini-www on my own laptop. Well of course the same thing could be done with Yahoo or others. I just kind of prefer Google, I’ve used it for years and am most comfortable with it. I might like to find Jeeves sometimes, that was search engine of choice way back when I first started. Until the girl at the library one day said… oh, just use Google…… 2 o’s and one g….

Ok, I hope they find me soon before I lose my mind…. I need interaction, I can’t just read and not respond. I can’t play solitaire or mine sweeper all by myself.

On the same island, you suddenly have access to an empty web-hosting account. What would you do with it, what kind of site would you put online?

Oh joy! I’d probably upload my mini www I just built and then set up my genealogical tree (so I don’t forget who I am and where I came from or why), then write my memoirs (before I forget all), keep a blog (so I don’t forget what I wanted to do in the first place). I’ll try to solve css riddles that have eluded me for a while. I’d compulsively build web pages to test every crazy design or scripting idea I get.

Turning the tables on Google, assume you had full access to their websites and some web designers + programmers to help you, what would you change?

Hmm, tough one. I’d probably push for eliminating or reducing irritants. Like the Group format – please get a real forum software LOL And keep it all on one blasted server 😉

I’d try to solve the problems with the numerous DC’s being out of sync. Failing that, I’d want to see it mentioned clearly on search results where the results come from and that other DC’s are likely to show different results. I’d show the cache date for each page in the search results listings.

I’d like Webmaster Tools to offer the ultimate test of website health, covering all possible aspects, those we deal with all the time when we try to help people figure out what’s happened.

I’d like to see a version of Googlebot as a tool that we can all use so we know what to expect, kind of like Xenu, the w3c validators, the ex-Silktide/Sitescore (dead now), Spam Detector and Copyscape all rolled into one, and from Google’s point of view.

I’d want Webmaster Tools to say clearly: this site is penalized for breaking this and that rule or else relax, this site is not penalized, it is simply getting what it deserves for the quality it presents.

I want to see the demise of the toolbar PR, may it die a slow painful death for the pain it inflicts on misguided webmasters LOL

I know things are never black and white like that. But I am not sure I buy Google’s philosophy of not revealing exactly causes of penalties so as not to give tricksters more ammo. They will get it just the same. Like hackers and thieves who by their attempts at breaking through security barriers in fact drive the improvements in security, so do spammers and scammers drive the detection and prevention tools. It has always been a cat and mouse game and will be so forever more. You need to give the innocent at least as much leverage as what the perpetrators get anyway.

And to finish up, if you had the chance to rewind back to before the Internet entered your life, would you get started with the web any differently?

I feel compelled to quote the words of a song made popular by the great French songwriter Joe Dassin:

“Et si tu n’existais pas,
Dis-moi pourquoi j’existerais ?
Pour traîner dans un monde sans toi,
Sans espoir et sans regrets.

Et si tu n’existais pas,
Je ne serais qu’un point de plus
Dans ce monde qui vient et qui va,
Je me sentirais perdu,
J’aurais besoin de toi.”

For the non-French speakers, here’s my loose translation:

If you didn’t exist,
Tell me why should I exist?
To drag myself through a world without you,
Without hope and without regrets.

If you didn’t exist
I’d be but one more dot
In this world that comes and goes,
I’d be feeling lost,
I’d be in need of you.

Not to be too melodramatic, but I just can’t imagine me not being a part of the Internet world. LOL

But that’s not your question actually. Not going to change the part of the answer above, as it sums me up a fair bit.

Before I got sucked into the Internet world, I was rather oblivious of it. It was a tool, like email was, kind of went along for the ride with a PC, where the main players were word processor programs, spreadsheet programs and games of Sokoban and Tetris. It was like magazines and newspapers, you read them, skim through them and then toss them. I had given no thought to what made it tick, how anything was set up. It just was. Despite having been a computer programmer for years, I wasn’t savvy enough at the time to know how to search for anything on the web, so it was mostly a frustrating experience when I got my first Internet hookup at home. I wasn’t clear where my ISP’s homepage left and where the internet started. I hadn’t quite stumbled onto real search engines. I think my ISP was using something called Mamma or Dogpile … but it’s so long ago, I don’t remember too well.

Getting any of MY ideas or creations to be shown on web pages was inconceivable. Back up: having any ideas and creations to show on webpages was inconceivable. I didn’t understand what web pages were. They were screen-fulls of stuff. I was thinking in terms of ordinary programs and user regions, operating systems and programming languages.

This wasn’t even so long ago, about 8-9 years ago I think. A galaxy away.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

Yes, thank you for letting me express myself this way. Not a day goes by without me discovering something new, learning or unlearning something.

I feel blessed to be able to move along with the times the way I do, even if I only pick and choose to what extent I want to go in this quest.

I feel blessed to have encountered so many interesting people from all over the world. The world is my oyster and it’s both small and huge and ever changing.

I am so lucky!

Thanks for answering, Christina!

July 30th 2007 Uncategorized

Adding user-friendly rel=nofollow markup (for IE too!)

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The next step after adding CSS to highlight links with rel=nofollow is to give the user some information about what the nofollow symbol symbol and the dashed line mean. Since CSS will not allow you to add tooltips and links, we have to resort to some javascript trickery. The up-side to this is that it will also display the markup on older browsers like IE 6.

Adding this kind of markup to your site is pretty easy to do.

  1. Download the script and the nofollow image.
  2. Open the script file in a text editor (Notepad is fine) and adjust the settings on top:
    javascript


    1. // settings, modify as desired
    2. var myInfoPage ="http://domain.com/nofollow-info.htm";              // local page with nofollow information
    3. var myNofollowImg = "http://domain.com/images/nofollow.gif";        // source of nofollow image (check for full path!)
    4. // warning must be html-formatted
    5. var myWarnMsg = "Beware: this link is potentially bad or not trusted! Click here to find out more.";
  3. Upload the script and the image (place the image in the path you specified in your script), don’t forget to create your informational page for the nofollow (I’m just linking to my nofollow-policy page).
  4. In your template, right before the closing “</body>” tag, add a reference to the script. In a WordPress theme you would add this to your footer.php, eg:
    1. <!– nofollow highlighting –>
    2. <script src="<?php bloginfo(‘stylesheet_directory’); ?>/highlight-nofollow.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
    3. </body>
  5. Refresh your browser and check the results. I have a local test page which shows it in action (and here’s a nofollow’ed link thrown in for good measure).

Currently the code only adds the image and underline to links that contain a text anchor. This means that links with only an image as the anchor are not modified (but the CSS nofollow highlighting will still be displayed, so be careful if you use that and have image-only links with rel=nofollow). The code was tested on IE 6 and 7.0, Opera 9.01 and Firefox 2.0.0.5.

The code removes the rel=nofollow from the displayed page (it still remains in the static page) so that the different kinds of nofollow markup (including those you might have installed in your browser or with a browser plugin) do not create conflicts. Just to be sure: this script does not change anything on your actual pages, it only changes how the page looks to the user. A search engine crawler would not see these changes.

Advanced users can modify the markup that is added to each link, perhaps even use it to open a floating window on top of the current page instead of going to a separate page.

Current version is v1.0 – 2007-07-28

July 28th 2007 CSS

Adding your Google Reader ‘shared items’ to your site

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In order to display the Google Reader ‘shared items’ on your site – using straight (X)HTML and not just the javascript widget supplied by Google – you need a tool that can read RSS feeds and display them (the shared items are an Atom feed, but that is similar enough). Using straight links instead of javascript you will be able to pass “link-value” to the items that you are linking to – your links will be seen as recommendations (as in my opinion they should be, if you tagged those items to be shared). I opted to use the Magpie RSS PHP parser. However, you will have to do a slight modification of one of the files in order to process and display the feed properly.

With the original files, Magpie will combine the original URL of the post with the URL of the site itself (and similarly the title of the post with the title of the site). One solution would be to use Feedburner’s “feedconvert” feature to convert the feed with the shared items from Atom into a normal RSS feed – however, by doing that you will lose the title and URL of the site (only keeping the title and URL of the post).

The Magpie files are also included in the WordPress installation (in /wp-includes/rss.php), instead of modifying them (and asking for trouble the next time you update WordPress) I decided to create a copy of Magpie and modify that. The changes aren’t very complicated.

The steps required to set this up are:

  1. Download a copy of Magpie from SourceForge as well as my modifications and test page
  2. Create a folder on your website for Magpie, place Magpie there.
  3. Create a folder for the cache (otherwise it will try to get the feeds every time the page is accesses), adjust the folder permissions to allow your code to write to it.
  4. Modify the test page (use your feed instead of mine, set the cache folder properly) and try it out.
  5. Copy + paste part of the code into your site’s template, add the CSS to your site’s stylesheet.
  6. Done! Start sharing items 🙂

The current version of these modifications is v1.0 from July 28, 2007.

July 28th 2007 Uncategorized

Adding “rel=nofollow” markup to your site

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caution - bad links aheadI support the “rel=nofollow” HTML microformat as a way to mark links which might be problematic, whether they’re clearly spammy, just not checked or even just sites that I don’t really want to link to (but still want to provide a link for others to use – you know, “don’t look, but that guy’s got a giant nose!”). I understand that it is important for search engines to recognize these kinds of links and to treat them differently. This of course implies that sites use the rel=nofollow properly and do not just apply it to all outbound links (or at least to all links that do not go to their own network)…

That said, I believe that all users should be able to recognize these links as being problematic (or untrusted) at first glance. The more advanced, web-savvy users will sometimes have tools installed or special settings which highlight links with “rel=nofollow”, the normal user does not. If a link is marked as being problematic / untrusted for search engines, the user should see that as well — it’s nothing more than the Google Webmaster GuidelineDon’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users (…)“. It is deceiving to show users a normal link and at the same time tell search engines that you really don’t want to link there! In my opinion, if the link is not good enough, the user should be informed. There are two ways to do that.

My favorite solution would be for browsers to automatically highlight these kinds of links on all sites. However, I doubt that will happen any time soon…

The other solution would be for websites to highlight their own rel=nofollow’ed links. I am doing that here on this site (for the major, modern browsers at least) – an example can be found in my linking policy. Links with the rel=nofollow microformat are underlined and displayed with a nofollow symbol small warning symbol.

Adding that to your own site is easy enough – it just requires a small change in your CSS stylesheet and uploading the symbol to your server.

  1. Download the symbol: nofollow symbol (right-click on it and save a local copy of it). Copy it onto your server into the folder where you have your stylesheet file (this depends on your site – on WordPress it will be in your theme folder)
  2. Open your stylesheet file and add the following lines to the end of the file:

    [CSS]a[rel~=nofollow]
    {
    border-bottom: dashed 2px #ffa500;
    background: url(‘nofollow.gif’) no-repeat center left;
    padding-left: 17px;
    }[/CSS]

    If you have placed the image in a different folder, you need to specify it here. If you with to use a different sized image, make sure you adjust the “padding-left” setting (this makes room for the symbol). If you have an orange background on your site, also make sure that you adjust the color from “#ffa500” to something that contrasts the background (in that case you might also consider changing the colors in the symbol). Upload the stylesheet to your server.

  3. Done!

    You should see the changes when you open a new page on the site. In some cases you might have to restart your browser to see the modified stylesheet.

Do you think that a global highlighting like this would make some sites take a second look at their policy of adding “rel=nofollow” to all outbound links? Imagine you had an encyclopedia where all references were highlighted as being untrusted :-).

July 25th 2007 CSS

Preventing Bad Bots / Scraping / Email Harvesting

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If there is anything that is important when it comes to website ranking, we know it’s unique content. So, how do we protect against people from stealing it and scraping?

July 20th 2007 Uncategorized

Preventing Bad Bots / Scraping / Email Harvesting

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If there is anything that is important when it comes to website ranking, we know it’s unique content. So, how do we protect against people from stealing it and scraping?

July 20th 2007 News

Eyetracking Circuit City’s Email Template

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  1. Many companies’ email templates aren’t working and they don’t know it.
  2. Companies can know

    before

    they launch a campaign that there is a problem.
  3. Once companies know there is a problem, they can start to fix it.

Today we’ll focus on a Circuit City email as an example, and we’ll be making the following assumptions:

  1. People can’t click on what they don’t see, so…
  2. It’s better to have more products seen than less.
  3. It’s better to have your lead promo and branding seen than not.
  4. Circuit City is a good store (I shop there!), so we’re talking about their email, not them.

So, let’s begin!

What if you knew before you launched that…


Circuit City 'what most people saw' eyemap / eyetracking heatmap [source: Eyetools

“What most people see” eyemaps (eyetracking heatmaps) visualize what more than 60% of people focused on. It’s important that most people see your main message.

> The majority of products listed will

NOT

be seen by most people

>

Branding will be missed

by over half of the readers

>

Tagline won’t be read

by 80% of people

>

Value Proposition will be missed

by 80% of people

>

Call To Action will be missed

by 90%

> “Free shipping” offer (which is highlighted in red) will be missed by half

…would this be an “effective” email you would want to launch? (or would you want to fix it before you launch?)

Circuit City’s email template suffers from low viewing due to template design flaws. The viewing percentages will vary somewhat month to month as they promote different products, but without a design change their overall viewing will be pretty consistently like this.

So the question is, given the low viewing of their products, how much money is this company wasting each month in lost sales opportunity?


Test your own material

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July 19th 2007 Uncategorized

Googlebot Does Look at CSS and Javascript Include Files!

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Darrin talks about how Google downloads include files such as JavaScript (.js) and Style Sheets (.css), and retroactively determines when it might have all began.

July 19th 2007 Uncategorized

Googlebot Does Look at CSS and Javascript Include Files!

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Darrin talks about how Google downloads include files such as JavaScript (.js) and Style Sheets (.css), and retroactively determines when it might have all began.

July 19th 2007 News

Google Checkout Buttons Galore!

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This is a bit of an eyesore.

July 17th 2007 News