November 1, 2008

Back to Googled Hits

I’ve been on the Internet since the mid ’90s and have had my own domain since early 2000. So I’ve been around quite a bit of time and there’s a lot of content by me (and about me) all over the place on the Internet. Not surprisingly, this has meant that I’m pretty easy to Google and discover. In fact, about the first seven pages of hits on a search for "Fahim Farook" are almost exclusively all about me 🙂

So imagine my surprise a few months back when I did a random search for some site keyword, (I think it was "Solipsistic Meanderings") and found that I didn’t appear anywhere on the first page of results! I then continued to search for other keywords, including my own name, and nothing! I just didn’t seem to appear on Google till you got to page 6-10, or sometimes, even further.

I was really busy around this time and so I gave up further investigation. However, Laurie did a little bit more digging and she did discover that there was a theory going around at that time that text ad links caused your site to be either penalized by Google or to be removed from their index altogether.

Now I’d put up some text ad links a few months earlier but they weren’t bringing in a whole lot of money and it didn’t seem urgent enough at that point to do too much digging. So I simply informed the people for whom I had placed the ads that I was discontinuing them at the end of the month, did so and then promptly forgot about the matter because I figured Google would restore my search result rankings when they next crawled my site.

Additionally, around the same time, a client of mine had his site removed from the Google database because they suspected that his site had been hacked and invisible spam links placed on his site. He received notification of this via Google’s Webmaster Tools. (If you don’t use it, and have a site that you’re interested in monitoring/optimizing, you really should sign up. It’s really useful :)) All I had to do at that point was to check my client’s site to make sure that it didn’t have any hacked content and then send a request for reconsideration to Google via his Webmaster Tools account. A few days later, my client’s site was back in Google.

Given that experience, I thought that if I had been penalized in some manner by Google, that I would receive a notification as well. So I wrote off the whole incident as being either something which had just happened (and so they hadn’t had time to notify me) or that my keywords had indeed really fallen off the map because I don’t do any SEO work on my site – it’s just a personal site and I’ve never even needed to (or seemed to need) any sort of SEO work because Google always picked up my entries.

Fast forward to a few days ago. I only vaguely remembered all of the stuff that had happened before but I did have some time on my hands. So I did another search for "Fahim Farook" and again, nothing. I was more concerned this time because it had been months since the first incident and I was still not showing up on a Google search. So I did a few more keyword searches and still the same thing.

I checked Webmaster Tools and it showed that my site was being crawled quite often by Google. So what was going on? So I did a search combining my site URL and a couple of keywords from a recent entry. That turned up my post. But when I searched by just the keywords (without the site URL) my post wasn’t there on any of the first few pages. So it did look as if Google was penalizing me somehow.

So I did some searching and it turns out that Google does penalize you for text link ads but it seems to be random and the site owners are never notified. It might just be part of Google’s strategy to keep people guessing as to what triggers the penalization because if people knew the exact parameters, there are of course folks who’ll try to tweak things and get around the penalization while still doing what they’re not supposed to do 😀

But the fact remained that my site was still penalized and removing the text link ads had not helped. Some people claim that they automatically regained their search rankings after they removed the ads. Others said that they had to request a reconsideration. So I went into Webmaster Tools and did a request. (In case you can’t find where to do it, it’s on your Webmaster Tools dashboard on the right-hand set of links under "Talk to Google".)

That was about three days ago. Last night, when I checked by doing a search for "Fahim Farook", I was back again on the first page of results! So one thing to say about Google is that they are really fast 🙂 In fact, when you do the reconsideration request, they mention that it might take several weeks. But I’m happy to be back so quickly – don’t think this is a complaint :p

But I thought of writing this post as a warning to others and a sharing of information. It might be that your site has been penalized and you are totally unaware of it. So do some checking every once in a while. Make sure that you aren’t losing any traffic to your site because you had been penalized and you didn’t know about it …

If you are penalized, read Google’s Best Practices guidelines, especially the Webmaster Guidelines. See if you are not adhering to any of the guidelines. If you are, then fix the issues and then request a reconsideration. You’ll probably be back in the Google listings in no time. And good luck 🙂

May 26, 2008

No updates, update

Things have been rather quiet on the blog because I’ve been busy plugging away at a couple of projects. I’ve also got to get busy on the next issue of C3, the magazine I edit and that’ll mean even less time to update the blog or do any of the other hundred odd things that I keep meaning to do/fix on my site 🙂

I’ll get back to the All Things Art and Good series soon, I promise …

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Posted by Fahim at 10:10 am  |  No Comments

April 23, 2008

Back To Pressing Word

Yes, it’s happened again :p Once upon an era ago, I used to use MovableType (MT) but I switched to WordPress (WP) when the MovableType license became too restrictive and commercialized. I switched back to MovableType when they opened up the license and at a time when WordPress development was stagnating. And now, to complicate matters even further, I have switched back to WordPress because I hate the "improvements" made to MovableType 4.0 and don’t really want to upgrade to that particular interface/release 🙂

Of course, switching back and forth between blogging applications is never an easy or fun task 🙂 The MT to WP importer included with WP is good enough if all you want is your entries (and perhaps comments, I forget now, I really haven’t used the built-in importer in a long time) transferred over. However, I usually want an exact copy of my current blog transferred over including authors, comments, categories, tags and even blogrolls, if possible 🙂 So, I had to do the work myself.

I had previously written a script to transfer most of the above from MT to WP but when I tried to use the script, I discovered that database changes had left the script behind :p So, I had to sit down and figure out the changes made to both MT and WP table structures all over again. After a couple of hours of work, I had a new script which allowed me to transfer over everything from my existing MT 3.x installation to WP 2.5 🙂 (Yes, I will put the script up for download soon …)

But that’s not all there is to it, right? I had to get my old theme converted over. But I was lucky there because I had originally converted my WP theme over to MT when I switched to MT the last time and I still had the old WP theme. So a few tweaks later, I was ready to go there. But wait … there was more to be done …

I post to my blog using my own offline blogging utility, Blog. So I had to test Blog to make sure that it worked fine with the latest version of WP. And wouldn’t you know it, there was an issue – tagging, which had worked fine under MT, was not working with WP. I had to find the issue and fix it. Then, I had to get all the plugins I wanted, configure them, check that they worked fine and then deploy them.

Finally, all the work is done. And I’m ready to get back to WordPress. So here’s Solipsistic Meanderings once again in WP 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 8:58 am  |  2 Comments

January 5, 2007

Another turn around the sun …

Another year has passed by and another year is upon us. Time seems to go by so fast that we barely have time to catch our breath :p I’ve been meaning to make a post here for a while now but I was let go (as the euphemism goes :p) on the last day of the year and so, since then have been either searching for new employment, fixing up my resume or looking for a new host so that I can move my sites since I had been hosted on a free VPS given to me by my former employer.

I am still somewhat bemused by the firing. The reasons given made no sense because some of them were for "supposed" offences which happened before the company promoted me. So why would a company promote you and then fire you for something which happened before they promoted you? Wouldn’t/shouldn’t they have fired me when these incidents took place instead of promoting me? Plus, the "offences" that they list were acknowledged at that time as due to lack of training/documentation on the part of the company.

My manager told me in his e-mail providing me notification of termination that he didn’t want to terminate me because I was a good tech and the customers liked me. But apparently the rest of management didn’t feel that way 🙂 Weird … but then again, I have never really understood people or their motivations :p

Anyway, the job hunt continues at the moment though the hunt for a host is over. I was initially looking at shared/reseller hosts but after having been on a VPS, I find it difficult to go back to shared hosting where I don’t have as much control over what is installed on the server and what software I run. I especially like how I can tighten up security and spam-control on a VPS on my own. The issue of course was price. Since I don’t have a job at the moment, I didn’t want to have to pay too much for a VPS and while there are plenty of people offering VPSes for less than what shared hosting used to cost 4-5 years ago, none of those offerings were any good. I did find a couple of VPS providers who appeared to have fairly decent offerings for around $20 but on checking them up at the WebHostingTalk forums, I discovered that they didn’t have too good a reputation with their customers :p

So it was back to square one again. However, I found a pretty good deal on the WebHostingTalk forums themselves – it was from Select-Level Web Hosting and they had a VPS which had pretty much the same specs as the one that I had my sites hosted on. The regular price was $45 and that was way too much for me but they had a special going on where they discounted the price by 50% – for the lifetime of the account 🙂 That sounded like a pretty good deal to me, especially given the good reputation SLHost appeared to have at WebHostingTalk forums. I signed up yesterday morning and they had the VPS up within a couple of hours. By evening I had transferred my domains over, set up all my usual security and anti-spam measures and was up and running. So today, I’m free to post 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 8:55 am  |  1 Comment

November 19, 2006

Updates about being inundated

I’ve been meaning to update the blog for a while now but what with a trip to Dubai (from November 8th to the 10th) where we went gadget hunting, the setting up of the said gadgets on our return, work, doing some web server stuff for some people I’m working with and so on, there hasn’t been much time for updates. Finally, I’ve found the time to put up an update and to also mention a few things that I wanted to mention before.

The first thing is that I’ve put up a new blog called "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" 🙂 This is basically a serialization of my novel – the one I’ve talked about here before. As I’ve mentioned before, I plan to rewrite the novel almost totally. But there are some people who read this version and liked it very much. Since this version will probably never see the light of day in any other form, I decided to serialize it online weekly and see if anybody else likes it 🙂 If they do, then I’m happy. If they don’t, well, nothing lost.

The other thing of note probably is the fact that I have been dragged back into BlogShares :p A long time ago, I used to be really involved in BlogShares. Then I lost interest and I believe the site itself crashed/was down. Then it was revived again and I discovered that my old user ID no longer worked. So I signed up around the beginning of this year but didn’t really get into it at that time. I was reminded of BlogShares again by Simon, who made a passing reference to is somewhere or other online, and so went back and checked on my account. I was surprised to find that my stock had gone up a lot and so got back into the game in earnest 🙂 Of course, it became even more fun when Laurie decided to join in – but for a while, they tagged us as cheaters because we both came from the same IP and were doing a lot of connected deals :p

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Posted by Fahim at 8:00 am  |  No Comments

July 7, 2006

Site and Blog ….

Well, the site is coming along fairly OK 🙂 So now that the transition seems to be over and MovableType working fairly OK, I’ve been turning my attention to what MT offers and how I can leverage it.

One of the first things to fall under my searching eye was tags :p Now I’ve been talking about tags before and my efforts to implement them in a way that would work with Blog and whatever remote blogging platform that I used. WordPress didn’t actually do much in the way to support this out of the box – at least, not when I last checked. MT on the other hand, supports tags in a big way – especially in their upcoming 3.3 release.

In fact, MT supports tagging via the XMLRPC interface as well! The uploaded entry structure via XMLRPC has allowance for a tag field and so all I’d have to do from Blog would be to simply provide a place to enter the tags in the Blog interface and then upload the added tags with an entry and MT would take care of the rest. What could be more perfect? :p

The problem here is of course that I’d have to make another database change. As I’ve explained before, this is where I’m stuck with Blog at the moment. It looks as if the HTMLEdit author has disappeared again. He does this every once in a while but unfortunately, what this means is that I can’t proceed further with the current work on Blog till either he comes back or I find (and fix) the bug myself. At the moment, it looks as if the latter course of action is the only one available …

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Posted by Fahim at 7:59 am  |  No Comments

July 5, 2006

Moving the type …

Yes, as some of you might have noticed already, I’m back to using MovableType 🙂 There is less server load, in certain ways it’s much more configurable and (as I keep saying) I do like their anti-spam options much more than I like the WordPress solutions. Sure, there are downsides. I can’t have dynamic stuff like calendars which show the current date :p But overall, I think this is a better solution to go with.

The changeover itself was fairly easy. It took me about a day to modify my old script for moving data from Movable Type to WordPress and to convert it to move data from WordPress to MovableType 🙂 The testing took a bit longer and I had to do some rewriting as I discovered issues. Somewhere along the way, I also found out about MovableType 3.3 beta and had to again adapt the script for the single relevant database change that I found there. I have put up the scripts here if anybody wants to use them.

Of course, once the data was transferred over safely from WordPress, I had to re-do the templates that I used on my site and the creation and tweaking of templates took about another day. Was I ready for posting after that? Oh, no :p I now had to test posting with Blog to see that I could post from my desktop to my new MT based blog using Blog. This resulted in further code changes. Not because Blog wouldn’t publish to MT but due to a curious problem which arose due to this particular set of circumstances.

Blog keeps track of what entries have been published to a remote server. I had already published the entries for my WordPress based blog. But the MT blog has different entry IDs than the WP blog did. So I couldn’t simply switch remote blogs. I could have wiped everything on the server and published all the entries from my desktop via Blog to generate new entry IDs but then I would have lost the comments on the server since Blog doesn’t track comments when publishing via XMLRPC (mostly because none of the APIs provide a way to download comments). So, I had to add new functionality to Blog which would allow me to synchronize existing entries with those on a remote server. Adding that functionality and testing it took some more time.

Now, I’m finally ready to post to the blog again using Blog :p So let’s see how this one goes …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:33 am  |  2 Comments

July 1, 2006

Vacillations of the vague kind

I am thinking of switching back to MovableType once again :p The reason? I am tired of dynamic pages and the headaches they bring with them 🙂 At one point in time, when I first switched to WordPress from MovableType, I was really happy with dynamic pages and all the nifty things they allow you to do. But as time has passed and I’ve come to consider load on the server, spidering by search engine robots etc., I’m beginning to think that perhaps static pages are a much better option.

For instance, I notice that the Google spiders are hitting my WP-Cache pages. Those pages are ephemeral – they will be there for an hour today but gone tomorrow. So why are the search spiders looking for old pages again and again. How much load does that put on the system?

Being in website hosting, I know how much load is put on the server by dynamic sites which depend on database queries. I don’t really want to put that kind of load on my host’s server. I know that I don’t actually put that kind of load on their server because I don’t have a really popular site. But what if the traffic to my site were to increase? I am not sure and I don’t know if I want to find out.

Of course, there are other reasons. I don’t like the pace at which WP development is going nor the direction they seem to be taking. There isn’t that much being done about combating spam for instance. The efforts are all in the form of plugins and none of them seem to be really effective.

So, I’ve been looking at MovableType. They do have the features I want from a blogging platform. The free personal version even allows multiple blogs – something that I’ve been complaining about in WordPress for a while now :p The only snag at the moment is that I hate MT’s import feature because it relies on a text file. All of the WP to MT migration scripts rely on MT’s clunky text-file based import. I think I might have to write a new script which simply transfers the content from one database to another and I should be set to start testing the new MT to see if I can work with it 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 6:38 am  |  2 Comments

June 26, 2006

Styles and stances

Just what I feared has come to pass and that too without me even noticing it :p The gaps between my blog entries are growing longer again. Of course, I’ve been rather busy the last few days. I’m now in the process of doing two crits of two different novels, editing "Honest" as and when necessary (though not doing the major re-write that I’m beginning to think is inevitable) and also working on my new novel, "The Hunt for ‘Read October’". Weird name? Yeah, it is but it’s an even weirder story :p

In fact, "Hunt" is actually proceeding along fairly well. I get about 2-3 pages a day done and since the biggest challenge in writing is to apply yourself consistently, I’ve been very careful to be sure that I meet my daily quota. When I wrote "Honest", I stuck to a kind of artificial limitation – I wanted to ensure that a scene was at least 8 pages long – at this point, I’m not really sure why :p I think it had something to do with Gordon R. Dickson and "The Final Encyclopedia" where, if I’m not mistaken, he stuck to 8 or 10 pages per chapter consistently, chapter after chapter. And it was a huge book too!

Of course, trying to ensure that a scene is a particular length imposes more strain on you when trying to write because then you have to constantly watch yourself or start thinking about how to make a scene longer if it turns out to be too short. With "Hunt" I simply went with the flow. The scenes are actually much shorter and I write them as they come and move on. I’ve found that things flow much more smoothly this way. I might even have chapter breaks on this one after I’m done, I’m not sure yet. Of course, there are like ten scenes to a chapter and the chapters will be about 20-30 pages long and so I’m not sure if chapters are the best way to go but at least, this book is beginning to have better structure than the last one 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 6:20 am  |  No Comments

April 12, 2006

The template tango

The design for this site (Solipsistic Meanderings that is, not the original Developer’s Corner) was originally made when the blog was implemented using Movable Type. I knew exactly the kind of look I wanted and I spent quite a bit of time in getting the template for the site to look the way I wanted it to be. I was really happy with how the site design turned out when it was finally complete.

Then came my switch to WordPress and I was faced with the prospect of either going with a new template or switching the Movable Type template over to WordPress. I decided to go with the latter option since I really liked the template :p In those days, WordPress templates were nothing but an index.php file which contained the styling for the blog’s default page. So, it was fairly easy to convert things over once I discovered the WordPress equivalents to the MT template tags that I was using. That I believe was using WordPress 1.2

Then came WordPress 1.5 and then 2.0 and while the template system in WordPress did change radically, they kept it backward compatible and so I was able to continue using the old template that I’d made for WordPress 1.2 back in the day with a few minor tweaks and changes. Of course, this meant that I wasn’t using the latest and greatest advances in WordPess templates but I was happy enough not to have to mess with the template again and so left things alone.

However, recently I had to do some digging into the WordPress template system when I wanted to design a custom template for Shout Out! In the process, I realized that there were a lot of nifty things in the new WordPress template system that I was missing out on because I continued to hang on to the legacy single file template system from the old days. So, once I got Shout Out! working, I decided to switch the SM template over to the new system – mostly because it’s easier to edit sections in the WP web interface than to search for say the sidebar code in the complete file.

Once I got the template split into header, sidebar, body and footer and everything as working fine, I came to know about WordPress Widgets – where you can have your full sidebar be a collection of widgets. This meant that I had to do some further tweaking to my template and sidebar code. So I went ahead and tried it but ultimately gave up on widgets since I like the ability to customize that the standard sidebar configuration provides. But still, the widgets are a neat idea. Just goes to show though that a blogger’s work is never done – there is always something to tweak or to customize :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:34 am  |  No Comments

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