If I built this SEO software, would you use it?

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My SEO needs are surprisingly modest. Although I have a lot of keywords I track, I have a need for a tool that would be particularly useful to beginner or mid-range SEOs. I mocked up this tool idea in an hour or so. If I coded it, would you use it? Would you pay for it?

A tool for monitor your search rankings

This is a tool I need, built exactly with the features I want. It’s not intended for massive SEO campaigns, and I’m sure there’s a huge list of potential features you could come up with. If I were to build it, I’d keep it dead simple and create it just like this mockup. It wouldn’t require an account, either, so you’d just visit it, set up your keywords, and be on your merry way.

I’m probably going to build this SEO tool whether the SEO community needs it or not. I’m just debating whether I should make it public or keep it for myself.

March 28th 2009 Uncategorized

Leveling the Playing Field: We’re all Differently Abled

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Labeled Disabled! Accessibility and web accessibility are often highlighted as issues for people with disabilities. This is no surprise, all things considered, given the common definition of accessibility. “Disability” is, however, an almost meaninglessly broad term. Many of those who could be considered disabled would not choose to self-identify as disabled. “Disability” is a label, and like any label, the members of the labeled group are diverse and may exhibit the label in unexpected ways.

March 26th 2009 Uncategorized

Best Practices for Flickr Link Building

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Every once in a while I read an article or blog post related to link building, and it’s so good I nearly wet my pants. Of course, I’m in my forties so it could be incontinence, but that’s a story for another post.There is a right way and a wrong way to go about link seeking and link building, and then there are ways that rise above everything else. A technique so sublime that as you read about

March 25th 2009 News

Being a Provider on Elance

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I read this article with interest from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/business/smallbusiness/13freelance.html?sq=elance&st=cse&scp=3&pagewanted=all.

In this tough economy, how many of us have considered turning to the web as a source of work?  If you have the skillset of a professional but can’t find work in the traditional markets, why not consider leveraging some of your skills you’ve acquired over the years as a provider on Elance?  And, if you are really ambitious but don’t have the skills, why not learn a skill and make money while you do it?

I know how to ace interview questions like the back of my hand and can whip out a snappy “Knock ‘Em Dead” resume in about 3 hours.  I see some of those services being offered up for $300 or more.  And it doesn’t take much for me to pick up a business proposals book from Barnes and Noble and offer up my services writing proposals as well after a little brushing up on the basics.

We all spend time on our blogs, why not also spend some time being paid to provide writing services for others?  It might be even more lucrative than earning a few dollars on Adsense while blogging…

March 24th 2009 Uncategorized

Goodbye, Google

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Part 1 of 2 (here’s Part 2)

Today is my last day at Google.

I started working in-house at Google almost three years ago. I built a team from scratch. I was fortunate to hire a team of a very talented designers. We introduced Visual Design as a discipline to Google. And we produced amazing work together. I’m very proud of my team, and I wish them well. They have a lot of challenging work ahead. But for me, it’s time to move on.

Do I have something else lined up? Yes. That will be covered in Part 2. So I’m not leaving just to leave. But I’m not going to sugarcoat the reasons for my departure either. The scale at which Google operates was an early attractor for me. Potential to impact millions of people? Where do I sign? Unfortunately for me, there was one small problem I didn’t see back then.

When I joined Google as its first visual designer, the company was already seven years old. Seven years is a long time to run a company without a classically trained designer. Google had plenty of designers on staff then, but most of them had backgrounds in CS or HCI. And none of them were in high-up, respected leadership positions. Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. “Is this the right move?” When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

I can’t fault Google for this reliance on data. And I can’t exactly point to financial failure or a shrinking number of users to prove it has done anything wrong. Billions of shareholder dollars are at stake. The company has millions of users around the world to please. That’s no easy task. Google has momentum, and its leadership found a path that works very well. When I joined, I thought there was potential to help the company change course in its design direction. But I learned that Google had set its course long before I arrived. Google was a massive aircraft carrier, and I was just a small dinghy trying to push it a few degrees North.

I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to work at Google. I learned more than I thought I would. I’ll miss the free food. I’ll miss the occasional massage. I’ll miss the authors, politicians, and celebrities that come to speak or perform. I’ll miss early chances to play with cool toys before they’re released to the public. Most of all, I’ll miss working with the incredibly smart and talented people I got to know there. But I won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data.

March 21st 2009 Design, Google

SEO Concerns and Product Update Issues with Affiliate Product Data Feeds

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A visitor of my site who read some of my product data feed resources contacted me with an interesting question about how to deal with availability and SEO issues when you are utilizing merchant product feeds.

If I build a website with an affiliate data feed of an example: 10,000 different digital camera products. How would anyone but myself know that these products are available on my website?

My idea is a simple PHP script site with a CSV data feed file dynamically loaded. Because there won’t be any static pages built, how will the search engines see them?

If your pages URLs change all the time (as in appear and disappear = 404 error), you will have a hard time to get pages indexed by search engines. In order to be able to generate the same page for the same product over and over again is it necessary to have an unique product identifier, which could be the merchant SKU or in the case of digital cameras the UPC or EAN (I would use the EAN if you have that).

You don’t have to delete pages if a product is out of stock. You could (and probably should) keep the page and indicate that it is out of stock. You have one problem though. You need to know when a product is out of inventory and discontinued (= it will never come with new inventory in a future data feed file). There are three 1/2 options, which all involve the merchant (more or less)

Option 1) The merchant provides ALL products in the feed that he is selling, even the out of inventory one, but indicates the inventory level in a column of the data feed (absolute number or just an indicator e.g. available/out of stock or out-of-stock/back-order/low/available etc.

Option 2) The merchant has a product status that indicate which item is an active SKU that will be replenished or if it is a “discontinued” item. A column for product status would do the trick, like “A” for active and “D” for discontinued.

If a SKU that was in status “D” is not included in the next feed, then you have to delete it, but you keep all products that are in status “A” and just show “out of stock” for them and wait for a future feed with new inventory again.

Option 3) and 1/2 If you don’t get any of the above, you can’t automate the update properly and should keep the product in the DB until you remove it manually. You either have to check yourself, ask the merchant or the merchant comes and asks for the removal (if he complains, explain to him what the problem is and what he can do about it).

In the case of cameras does it probably make sense to check once or twice a year if old models are still manufactured or not. Call it inventory cleaning day or spring cleaning/preparing for the holidays.

Dynamic Scripts and Search Engines

Now some general notes about the use of Product Data Feeds to generate content pages in an automated fashion.

I did a lot with data feeds in the past and know that they can be a pain-in-the-neck sometimes.

While the technology behind it isn’t rocket science, did affiliate networks and merchant manage to screw up pretty much everything there is in the process, leaving it up to the affiliate to deal with those problems. You can’t assume anything and should always expect the worse. It does not only sound like a lot of work, it actually is.

I don’t want to discourage you, but I want to make sure that your expectations and goals are realistic and that you are ready and willing to spend the time and energy necessary to reach them.

I spent a lot of time to collect and write up resources and information to make it easier for other affiliates to deal with the subject. I also talked to several of the networks about the issues. Most listen, but only few are actually doing something about it.

Data Feed Resources / Suggested Reading

I suggest checking out the entry page on my site that is dedicated to affiliate data feeds.

My posts in this forum thread talk about the requirements and skills needed that are necessary to deal with data feeds from a technical point of view. It also mentions alternatives to the use of raw data feeds that should always be considered. I planned to write something up based on those posts, but did not get around it yet.

I created a write-up that is a good 101 for merchants and affiliates to the subject. It was also based on a forum thread at ABestWeb actually. I strongly suggest to you to read it.

Then I have documentations for the individual networks that provide data feeds. There is no standard, which means that it is up to you to either create a flexible solution and/or you chose to work with data feeds from one source (network in most cases) only.

Regarding SEO and the use of automated scripts to process feeds

Read this article of mine. It’s about web templates, but mentions data feed sites as well.

If your goal is to create sites based solely on data feeds and nothing else and expect them to rank anywhere in the search engines and make money off them, look for something else to do.

It is not 2001-2003 anymore. Google caused virtually a genocide among data feed affiliates with their “Florida” update in Fall 2003. Webmerge was the tool of the trade to create those sites (its still available, see my data feed page).

The sites that were build a bit more cleverly were mostly killed off by their “Jagger” update at the end of 2005, followed by their “BigDaddy” infrastructure update in early 2006. My largest data feed based site was among those. I was not doing much SEO at that time anymore, which was part of the reason why I could not prevent the site to get almost entirely washed out of Google’s index. There are only a few hundred pages left today, most of them are supplemental.

Making a Data Feed based Site Work Today

You have to add value for the user and content for the search engines in order to make it work. What you also need are a lot of inbound links to your site to be able to keep thousands of pages in the search engine index. This means that some word of mouth and social media marketing should be part of your business plan. It can be done, but it is much harder today than it was back then.

I suggest to concentrate on building a socially friendly site that does not rely as much on search engines and do the SEO work on the side and see the results of it as a nice added bonus, but not an essential part of your business.

You can do what you want. My tips are only well intended to save yourself a lot of time by learning it yourself the hard way and make mistakes that others already did before you.


Carsten Cumbrowski

LinkWeek – Rules Of Linking Engagement As The Web Turns Twenty

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Live now at SearchEngineLandLinkWeekRules Of Linking Engagement As The Web Turns TwentyExcerpt:Link building is a strange profession. Link building is not something you can get lazy about. Yes, it’s true I know more about link building today than I did in 1994. But…in some ways I know less about it now than I did then. If linking campaigns from 1996 were a food they’d have been a Hostess

March 18th 2009 News

By: davon mantan

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I put your blog to my facebook favourite sites.

March 16th 2009 Uncategorized

By: Miscellaneous Hi-Quality Referrals – Tool Edition

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[…] Think Seer are KILLING IT with great posts lately. Here’s a sampler: How Accurate is Google’s Traffic Estimator? How to Use Google Insights to Find Atypical SEO & PPC Performance Trends […]

March 14th 2009 Uncategorized

Good night and good luck

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As I announced on Twitter last Monday, I’m taking a position at Apple in Developer Technical Support. I’d like to talk a bit about what I’ll be doing in my new role, the thought process that lead me there, and some answers to the inevitable questions the news has brought.

What is Developer Technical Support?

DTS is the engineering arm of Worldwide Developer Relations, the group that puts on WWDC, holds technology workshops, and generally serves as the interface between Apple and its rapidly growing third-party developer community. When you get help from one of Apple’s own engineers, you’re usually dealing with DTS.

If you get stuck while writing your next Mac or iPhone application, you can use a DTS incident to get help. This includes pre-release platforms, which I wish I had known during the iPhone SDK beta. If you’re a seeded ADC member, you get a number of DTS incidents as part of your membership, but they lapse when you renew your membership, often going to waste. Incidents can also be purchased a la cart.

Insofar as I’m not omniscient, fixing your problems is going to require a lot of learning. My job will be to talk to the framework engineers to figure out how everything works. Armed with an Apple badge and a need to know, I’ll have the opportunity to meet everyone and learn everything. To frost that cake, I’ll get to contribute to the greatest week in a Cocoa engineer’s year — WWDC.

Why you got to sell out, sellout?

A lifetime ago, I intended to fly airplanes for a living. I worked for an airline full time, and worked at a flight school part time. After getting through ground school, I used the employee discount on airplane rentals to work toward the hundred some-odd hours required to become a certificated private pilot.

My life revolved around aviation, as did my life’s plan. After getting my private, I’d get rated for instrument and multi-engine, then get my instructor’s credentials and teach for a while at the school where I already worked. When I had the hours, I’d start flying Dash 8s as a copilot for Horizon, then copilot 737s for Alaska. The only real decision was whether I would take captain at Alaska or move to another airline to fly heavies.

One artifact of being a pilot is the radio headset. Decent ones started at $299, with the top of line being the Bose Aviation X, using active noise reduction technology on a lightweight magnesium frame — all for a cool grand. Ironically, these were the only ones I could afford, since they were so expensive they had a 12-month payment plan. I bought mine to celebrate my first solo flight.

Your first solo flight is your first day as a real pilot. It’s the day you share with all other pilots the moment of realization, about 20 feet up, that the only thing standing between you and death is the fact you practiced until you could and did land airplanes in your sleep. Two minutes later I parked my Piper Warrior for the last time. I never flew again.

Long story short, I was downsized from the school and, without the discount, I couldn’t afford it anymore. I spent a year trying everything I could to beg, borrow, or steal the money. If I couldn’t fly airplanes for a living, I didn’t know what I would do. Finally, I sold my headset and bought a used Powerbook and a book on Java. The rest, as they say, is history.

You gotta know when to fold ‘em.

I’m the world’s toughest programmer because I don’t know when to quit, but I’m a successful engineer because sometimes, I do. At the end of the day, when the world starts falling apart, there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be than Infinite Loop. When the zombie rise and the security doors fall, I’d like to be inside, where the food is.

Which is not to say things are so bad I have to go to Apple. It’s definitely a conscious choice while choosing is still an option. There’s a lot of money in iPhone contracts right now. After a couple of years I could probably save enough money to go back to working on my own projects full time. Either road leads to the same destination, but which one is going to make me better engineer?

I’ve long felt something missing from my education. Having learned my trade by apprenticeship rather than scholarship, I never got the years of drills. The problems of shipping an application are quite different than the contrived problems of an engineering school. A couple of years in DTS could really round out my abilities.

That was what ultimately made up my mind. I had a lot of job offers, many more interesting and lucrative, but they were all based on my expertise and experience. If living in Wil Shipley’s basement proves anything, it’s that I’m much more interested in what I stand to learn than what I stand to earn.

Giving up the indie lifestyle

There are those who aspire to independence, and those who have independence thrust upon them. I actually fall into the latter camp. Long before I fell in love with airplanes, I loved the movie “Real Genius.” I wanted to go to MIT, then Harvey Mudd, because I wanted to hang out with a bunch of crazy smart people.

My interest in software engineering was renewed by reading the book “Microserfs,” by Douglas Coupland. I wanted to work insane hours with a team, be it in a garage, an office, or a cube farm. Given my life at the time, a cubicle sounded awesome. Dilbert quickly became my favorite comic because I envied the life Scott Adams was lampooning.

I didn’t leave Alaska because I hated my cube. Far from it. I left because I wanted to write Mac software, but more than that I was tired of being the only person there who knew what I did. I left because my partner left, poached by Starbucks, much as I left Delicious Monster after Lucas left.

For some people, working alone is paradise. I am not one of those people. I don’t need to be independent. I need to be part of a team. I need to be part of something bigger than myself. I need to be with people who are smarter than me.

My dream is a kind of engineering paradise where the air has a hum of productivity. One day I found a place like that, and I tried to work there, but I wasn’t good enough yet. I’ve since built companies based entirely on my memory of that magical place. Now, I get to work there for real and I couldn’t be happier.

It’s not a sad story at all, you see

A few people have bemoaned my employment as a loss for the community, but I disagree. One of the most frustrating side effects of having been so busy last year is not being able to contribute to the community as much as I would like to. I’ve iChat in Don’t Bug Me mode for months. I don’t have time to visit the iPhone forums, publish tutorials, or write meaningful essays about important programming topics.

All through my entrepreneurial period, I hoped one day things would be established and stable enough that I could afford to do things like that. In a very real way, going to DTS is exactly that. I get paid to help the community. I don’t get to be in charge, I don’t get to put my name on things, and I don’t stand to get rich — but I don’t care about those things.

What I care about is doing good work as part of a team. I care about giving back and helping others succeed. If the best way to do that is to fold up United Lemur for another rainy day, so be it. I’ll see you all at WWDC.


Jack Holt
The community’s not losing you; now you’re their man on the inside! You would have loved MIT. It is one of those “engineering paradise where the air has a hum of productivity.” Hope I have the privilege of meeting you one day. Best of luck at the Mothership!

Mac Tyler
Ah, the ways in which you inspire me.

Peter Bierman
You’re going to love it. It’s like drinking from the firehose. I’m looking forward to this year’s WWDC with our roles reversed. Good luck getting a WWDC backpack now, though!

Ian Baird
Congrats on the new gig! You’re there with an awesome crew, and if you have to “sell out”, there are far worse places to do it.

Good luck at Apple!

John McLaughlin
Good Luck,
The few times I’ve filed a DTS incident I’m always impressed at how complete and professional they are. You’ll make a great addition as the worlds toughest DTS engineer.

Jeff LaMarche
A big congratulations again, Mike! I saw your Keynote at 360 iDev (and was a little surprised to see my face staring down from one of the slides), and was honestly happy for you when you made the announcement there. I assumed that you had plenty of options, and going to Apple was very much your choice, and one you were happy about. From what little I know about you, it seems like a great fit. Certainly Apple’s getting a great addition to the DTS team, and for you, I suspect you’re going to find it’s a learning experience like no other. I worked in a similar role at another software company for several years and loved it, and that was a company whose products I didn’t believe in the way I do Apple’s. I would kill to be able to have the same experience at Apple – to have access to the various teams and a license to learn the inner workings of all the various frameworks. Sounds like a fantastic job to me, and in my experience, people who get hired by Apple don’t have to drop out of the developer community. 

Making a choice to do something you love is not selling out. It’s succeeding (even if you were taking a pay cut in the process).

I really hope the job is everything you hope it’s going to be, and maybe I can buy you a beer at WWDC to say congratulations.

Ben Reubenstein
You are the perfect person for that role within Apple. When we met at C4 I was a very green Objective-C developer, and you answered each of my questions with a thoughtful approach. Thank you so much.

congratulations! “my son does dts for apple” has a nice ring to it…love you, man!

Victoria Wang
Congrats Mike! Sounds like great fun, and Apple’s definitely lucky to have you. Your blog has been amazing — even if you have to close it for now, I hope you don’t stop writing and sharing your fascinating stories.

Sean Reilly
I don’t think working for Apple is selling out at all. Good luck in the new gig, it sounds like a great career choice.

PJ Cabrera
Mike, congratulations on the new job! Based on the work I’ve seen from you, I know you’ll do great!

Bill Tinney
Kudos man. It may seem odd, but the Dr Seuss’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go” was in my head as you were illustrating how you’ve gotten to this juncture. Sorry to bail on you for the bean company, but I think we all know you had way too much potential for XQuiz type projects. 🙂 Cheers man.

I am happy for you! Congratulations and best of luck!
Love & Peace

Matt Johnston
Great news – didn’t get to go to NSConference but now you’ll be wearing a big badge at WWDC, w00t!

StuFF mc
Congrats on this choice Mike. I really appreciated your Pimp My App talk at NSConference and also the interview (soon to be released on Pomcast.com) we did together. See you at WWDC!

John C. Randolph

Congrats on joining Apple, with a few caveats. I’ll give you the same advice I gave Jurewitz when he joined DTS.

First, DTS is chronically understaffed, even more so than the rest of Apple. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of believing that’s your fault. 

Second, use your time in DTS to look for your next job within Apple. Get to know as many people as you can, find out what they do, and who they work for. Introduce a lot of people to each other. Make all the contacts you can. I’ve been out of Apple for several years now, and Apple employees still ask me who to go to for some questions.

Third, when you get tired of DTS, if you can’t find a different gig inside of Apple, don’t sweat it. Having Apple on your resume makes you golden for any Mac or iPhone development shop.

Fourth, There are a lot of smart people in that department, but there is one guy in DTS (you probably already know who I’m talking about) who is scary smart. Learn as much as you can from him. 

Good luck with it.


David Casseres
Nothing “sellout” about doing a stint in Apple DTS. Interesting folks, and they’ll work your ass off, which we know you like. And it’ll be different from what you’ve done before.

Do not fall in love with Apple, the employer. I know what I’m talking about, having worked there for much too long and then gotten laid off without warning. It happens. But enjoy it to the full while you’re there.

Pay attention to everything John Randolph tells you.

Well, I think I’ll start using those DTS’s now then. ^_^
Thats really cool your going to Apple, I’m sure you’ll love it! (yea i’m just a bit jealous)

Ryan Cross
I just came across this blog and found 2 things: 

1 – someone pretty cool and who i think I probably admire (thus will keep reading)

2 – a pretty damn cool catpcha, which is really what prompted me to add a comment. 

Good luck with the new job

March 14th 2009 News