Who I follow and sites I frequent

Moving into 2013 I wanted to share who in 2012 I’ve been following and what sites have been huge in my development as a web person.  No particular order in these.

  • CSStricks.com and Chris Coyier – Chris has so much awesome info on his site it’s one of my go to places for a frontend type issue.  He raised an impression amount of money with his kickstarter project and has created an awesome set of videos demonstrating his workflow for creating a wordpress site.
  • Railscasts.com – I’ve followed Ryan Bates site for quite a long time as I try to enter Rails ninjahood.  I got a PRO subscription this year to thank him for his hard work and I suggest you do the same.
  • Scott Berkun – Scott is a former Microsoft guy who has authored some great books.  He has great blog posts worth throwing into your RSS.  He spent the last year as a manager at WordPress.com and is currently writing a book about his experience there.
  • SugarRae.com – One of the top affiliate marketing personalities out there, she has an incredible story and a great blog.
  • Avinash Kausick – This really should be at the top of the list.  Avinash is the Google Analytics Evangelist and former BI head at Intuit.  I met him at Mozcon 2011 and he has to be one best presenters I’ve seen, let alone the most entertaining.  He heightened my passion of analytics considerably.
  • Peepcode.com – Geoffrey is a Seattle/UW guy like myself and has created an incredible company creating top notch screencasts.
  • StackOverflow.com – StackOverflow in my mind epitomizes what is awesome about being a developer: a community completely dedicated to helping others in the field and helping people learn.  Nobody cares who you work for or whether you are a competitor.  I’m astonished at the amount of time people spend on there helping others; I’ve seen answers that must have taken hours to write.

There are others like Signal vs. Noise but the above are the ones that I get me excited when I see them popup in my RSS feed.

Posted in Random Ramblings, Web Analytics, Wordpress | Leave a comment

Google Analytics – Advanced Segments Tip #1

Ok quick lunch break post images to follow…..

Avinash’s talk at MozCon started me thinking of new ways to use Advanced Segments in Google Analytics to looking at different demographics of users and how they were interacting, or not interacting with a site I work on.

The pages I was working with were product landing pages.  The bounce rate and time on site for these pages were very high.  Before embarking on the process of fixing these pages I wanted to understand a bit more about what these people were looking for.

Doing keyword research visitors broke down in two types of categories; those looking for reviews and those looking to possibly purchase.  Since every search was product specific they new about the product and it matter of gathering purchasing info or were ready to make a purchase.

These pages could have multiple outcomes, so let’s just pick one that deals with bounce rate.  One outcome for these pages is that they would land on it, see what they liked, clicked the call of action that took them to an external page (this is an affiliate page).  Could they do this in under 10 seconds?  Count out ten seconds, it’s actually a long time in short attention spanned internet world.

I have a friend Andrew and he is a great multitasker and his brain goes a mile a seconds.  People like Andrew would spend about 3 seconds on a good landing page and convert.  Were these people a lot of Andrew’s?  If they are using the word review they clearly understand the interwebs.  Let’s find out.

First I made sure I have click tracking enabled on all the call to action buttons on the page.  Check.

Next, let’s create some custom segments.  In GA you can look at visitor loyalty by going to Visitors->Visitor Loyalty->Length of Visit.  This is great info, but to use it in a meaningful manner let’s do something awesome and create advanced segments that replicate the visitor lengths they describe.  Let’s also make a second set, exactly the same, but also including the click tracker for our call to actions.  So we can measure total visits per segment and those that convert.

From there we can go into Traffic->Sources->Keywords, drill down by the keyword “review” and apply the advanced segments.  What I found on these particular pages was that virtually nobody was converting in the 0-10 second range.  Now you could say “well that is pretty obvious”, but you can’t just assume that a short visit is a bounce, especially when you are optimizing a page where there is a clear call to action that you desperately want someone to engage in.  The thing was the 11-30 second range wasn’t much better.  These users are taking the time to read the page but don’t like what they see for some reason and are not converting, whether it be lack of trust or no clear call to action.

More on this later…

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MozCon 2011 Notes

MozCon 2011 in Seattle was so awesome I have to talk about it.  Met tons of cool people there and there were some excellent presentations.  The food was great too!  So I’m going to post a quick impression/takeaway for each talk.

Joanna from SeoMoz – Retargeting

Retargeting is the next big thing in online advertising.  The biggest hurdle seems to be not retargeting your current customers.  The hot tip seems to include your retargeting pixel in an email newsletter for people who have done demo accounts but not converted to full fledged paying subscribers.

David from GetListed.org

Talked about location based search and the challenges both for small business and big businesses trying to claim local listings.  One big takeaway was Google does not want you in local search, especially on mobile, unless you have a confirmed location.

Brian from Zurb.com

Really awesome talk from a firm who has worked with the who’s who.  Design that drives action.  The big takeaway was simple simple SIMPLE design changes can have incredible increases in conversions etc.  I highly recommend their blog.

Automating and Scaling Keyword Research – Richard Baxter

This was another great talk and another person to follow.  He presented an excel based adwords API tool that would take a huge list of keywords and return search volume data.  It was really amazing.  Big take home was that the tools are there to do massive amounts of keyword research quickly to find opportunities.

Building an online brand – Jamie Steven from SeoMoz

Another great talk.  Basically there are tons of ways to own your brand online and he showed just how important it is and how SeoMoz has done it with obviously great success.  Doing advanced segments in GA using branded and non-branded keywords was a really great tip.

Conversation markting – @portentint – Ian Laurie

Big message in this talk was if you pay like crap for content you are going to get crappy content.  Another tip which I have had a hard time accepting is it’s better to become a resource for great content, even when it’s not your own and possibly competitors, and build your list so when you have your content ready the audience is there.  Hard to swallow but it’s great advice.

Tony Wright – Marketing Smarter, Not Harder

Tony gave some great examples about companies doing novel things to gain customer loyalty, from UrubanSpoons efforts, Wufoo sending hand written notes, to Dropbox’s referral system.  What I got out of this was come up with marketing ideas that work for you and your brand and followers instead of copying methods that might not work well with your audience.

Scheme-ing The Web – Stefan Weitz from Bing

I came out of this talk realizing that Microsoft and Google want you to format your data for their own reuse, keeping traffic on their sites as long as possible.  If they could skip your site entirely to deliver the content they would.  Left me with a real sour taste in my mouth.

Matthew Brown AudienceWise formerly of the NYTimes

He talked about Panda proofing sites which you can find info on everywhere.  He had a great point in the email marketing and RSS are still the best ways of keeping people engaged on your sites.  He also talked about making share call to actions visible but not overkill.  It was a great talk.

Wil Reynolds SEER interactive

Will was very engaging and gave a great talk on building your social army and getting links without paying for them.  One great tip was to find college clubs to sponsor in exchange for links.

Eytan Seidman from Oyster.com

Eytan is a former Microsoft guy who started when of the best hotel sites out there.  His message was simple: build the most authoritative content you can.

Alex Shultz from Facebook

There was a ton of talk about Facebook at MozCon, and rightfully so, with Alex being the head of their Growth Team.  His big message was the web is being rewritten around the user/visitor.  A takehome was which site is going to convert more, one with your friends reviews/blessings for one without.  It’s the truth, like FB or not.

Adam Audette – Big Brand Competition

Most of Adam’s examples were from their firms work with Zappos.  He highlighted some of the biggest difficulties dealing with large sites, like faceted search results.  Adam had a great message in battling for URL preservation, especially at the category level, or all your SEO work has gone to waste.

Martin MacDonald – Creative SEO

Martin’s biggest shocker was that he had evidence to suggest search volumes influenced SERPS.

Avinash Kaushik – Web Analytics

This without a doubt the best talk and I would go as far as saying probably worth the price of admission alone.  Avinash’s energy is infectious.  There is a ton of great info and what he talked about on his blog and books.  He had two messages.  You cannot do meaningful analytics without doing advanced segmentation.  And you cannot do meanful analytics to justify you existence to your boss or clients if you aren’t able to show ROI and KPI improvements.

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Screen scraping with PHP

This is going to be a quick post on some screen scraping techniques in PHP.  I don’t endorse scraping and the content I was scraping I did so with permission because an API was not available.

Some of your options are the following.

There is a good thread over at StackOverflow talking about this.

I first started with simplehtmldom.  It works great for DOM that aren’t very deep.  It absolutely dies on any complex DOMs though, like working in my local environment crashed my sandy bridge MBP.  There have been complaints about memory leaks.

The next thing I discovered is that the all of the above, except RegEx, are not capable of loading any content that is embedded in JS, which a lot of my content was.  So I said screw it and used RegEx, which I have a love/hate relationship with.

My savior in this was gskinner regex utility.  I flew through the different parsers I needed using this.  Remember to test your parser on with negative control content to make sure you don’t get a bunch of junk DOM elements because what you were looking for wasn’t there.

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Don’t reward the content theif

I’ve noticed a growing trend of “IT professionals/consultants/bloggers” who are stealing content from what are often reputable authors.  I first noticed this trying to find information about Solr/Jetty configuration.  On any site you go these days where articles or blog posts allow comments you see people who’s only motivation is obviously promoting their own site, but do so in such a way where they aren’t blacklisted.  For the hell of it I decided to check out one of these guys sites to find quite a bit of information, but one thing really stood out.  How do I put this the most politically correct?  There was an evident level of disparity in the english language usage between blog posts and articles.  A quick Google search revealed my suspicion; the content was stolen.

I felt like posting about this because when people surf or comment on sites that engage in this behavior you are just supporting them, as they usually have adsense or some other form of advertising.  This guy as I remember actually had a fairly reputable agency running ads on his site.  Makes me sick.   If you are reading a site where the content looks suspicious, do all authors a favor and do a quick search, and even report it to the original author.

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Magento Layered Navigation Problems Solved

If you run into a Layered Navigation error in Magento where in your product views there is either a) no filtered navigation or b) doesn’t seem accurate, here is a pretty good fix.  I don’t believe that this is a problem after 1.4 but I could be wrong.


Posted in Magento, PHP | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Secrets of Steve Jobs

This is such a great article I don’t want to say too much about it, but I do want to expand and comment on just a couple things.  I’m no Apple/Steve Jobs fanboy, but I have long used their products because they just work and I admire their ability to deliver clean solutions, whether it be their website or UI interfaces (except iTunes).


I want to add to the Minimalism bullet point a bit.  I think another thing to expand on this, and maybe this is inline with Jobs thinking as well, is that the more complicated you make something the more things can break and the longer it takes to develop.  I find with my own projects, especially when time is limiting, that it’s so easy to get caught up in the “wouldn’t it be cool to do 1) this 2) this, and 3) this” when in reality you just need to do “1)” , make it rock, and get it done.  Sometimes projects get too big for their own good, too much time spent planning and day dreaming, when in reality you need to trim things done to the most essential functions to get them done, see if they work as intended, and then progressively enhance them to make them better based on feedback from users and clients.  Excuse the baseball metaphor but you don’t have swing for the fence every at bat to win a game.

Lastly, I have some awesome friends, most are very successful, and we often share experiences and ideas.  I asked one friend who is a PM what his recipes are for success, and one really caught my attention: Make sure everything you touch kicks ass.  One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten and I think sums up a lot of what that article and what Steve Jobs mantra is.  Ironically, my friend works at Microsoft.

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I join the blogosphere.

Well I just finished my new personal website and I’m really excited.  How is it that I have been envolved in the web for so long and not had a blog?  Well I guess at the time I didn’t have anything really important to share.  Now I do.  I really look forward to using this to start giving back to the web development community.  I’ve gained so much knowledge and saved so many hundreds of hours worth of time with info posted on developers blogs or on Stack Overflow.  Now it’s time to really give back.  I have some great posts coming up on Magento, like when maybe it’s not the best solution, problems I’ve run across and how to fix them, quick ways of allowing your clients to upload stock levels, and best practices for doing bulk uploads of products.  Also, a beginners tutorial for setting up Solr for faster search, how to import your data from a MySQL database, and how to use PHP librarys to easily query that data for various webservices.  Lastly, or maybe firstly, some of the tools that I find useful in my work and why I think they are crucial to keep entropy low.  I work a full-time job, do consulting on the side, run a successful web community, and have a lot of fun.  These tools help keep all the balls in the air.  Can’t wait to share!

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