Monthly Archives: April 2007

Search Engine XML Sitemap Improvements

In December 2006, Google, Yahoo! & Microsoft collaborated and all agreed to support the new XML sitemap protocol that Google released as a beta in 2005.

Implementing an XML sitemap for a web site is a simple way for a webmaster to inform the search engines what content exists on their site that they absolutely want indexed. The XML sitemap does not necessarily need to include all content on a site you want indexed, however the content that exists within the XML sitemap is looked upon as a priority for indexing.

When the XML sitemap protocol was initially released by Google as a beta, webmasters needed to inform Google of its existence through the Google Webmasters Tools utility. When Yahoo! and Microsoft joined the party, all vendors accepted a standard HTTP request to a given URL as notification of the XML sitemaps location. These methods have worked fine, however required a little bit of extra work for each search engine. It was recently announced that you can now specify the location of the XML sitemap within a standard robots.txt file.

It’s a small change to the robots.txt file, however it’s an improvement that makes so much sense since the robots.txt file is specifically for the search engine crawlers. If you want to use this new notification method, simply add the following information into your existing robots.txt file:

  • Sitemap: <sitemap_location>

It is possible to list more than one sitemap using this mechanism, however if you’re already providing a sitemap index file – a single reference to the index file is all that is required. The sitemap_location should be the fully qualified location of the sitemap, such as

Splogs, Splogs & More Splogs

Everyone wants to make a quick buck online, unfortunately the trend at the moment seems to revolve around not doing any work to actually make the dollars. If email spam wasn’t enough, now dirty dirty spammers have taken to producing splogs, or spam blogs.

The basic idea behind a splog is to generate lots and lots of content, throw on some sort of advertising – maybe Google Adsense and hopefully watch the money come in. Of course, since spammers are bottom feeding filth, it is far too much effort for them to produce the content they want to whore for a dollar themselves. The clear and obvious solution is to rip off other internet users content and republish it as their own, simply to produce content on their site and an opportunity for someone to click a piece of advertising.

My problem with splogs, is that the owners are aggregating and/or republishing other peoples work to make money for nothing. Reporting on the happenings online and around the world is fine, if you’re adding your own point of view and it’s in your own words; ripping someone else’s work is just plain rude.

Typically, if someones content is being republished without notification/permission and it’s attributed properly – most content authors don’t have a problem with it. Since sploggers are bottom feeders, not only do they not ask permission – they generally don’t provide a link back to the original content. It isn’t fair to tar all bottom feeding sploggers with the same brush, some do take the time to attribute the content, which is less of a slap in the face.

Personally, I’d prefer it if they’d write their own unique content; however in the absence of that I guess for the moment we’ll have to graciously accept the odd inbound link from the ‘nice’ spammers.

Search Engine Image Traffic Recovering

In January 2006, I posted about Chuck Norris and the amazing “Chuck Norris Facts” that were blazing around the internet in emails. A short period of time after that post was indexed, it started showing up within the search engine result pages for most things revolving around Chuck Norris and his amazing facts.

Traffic to your web site is generally a good thing, no matter how it gets to your site. Unfortunately, the cost of being prominently placed within the search engine results had a downside and my site exceeded its monthly bandwidth allocation. I contacted my web host and they graciously re-enabled my account for the rest of the month.

The table below shows the monthly image search referrals. As you can see, the search engine image referrals double between December 2005 and the following month. The referrals continued to increase steadily, until half way through April it started to jump again and by May it was completely out of control, saturating my monthly bandwidth allocation. In case you’re wondering what or who was the culprit, it was a whole swag of particularly lazy MySpace folk.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2005 1 258 199 76 72 507 988 1823
2006 4409 4447 5392 23733 53573 43600 22374 19730 27561 13362 57 40
2007 55 38 56 2141*
* Incomplete months worth of data

To make sure the bandwidth theft didn’t happen again, I took some pretty drastic measures by blocking all search engines from indexing my /images/ folder using the robots.txt file and implemented hot link protection via the .htaccess file. By half way through October 2006, the change had fully kicked in, dropping my monthly image search referrals from over 50000 to under 100 per month.

Since the mania surrounding Chuck Norris faqs has subsided, I decided that it was time to remove the heavy handed restriction placed over my /images/ folder. I’m currently allowing everyone to index everything once more and am even participating in the Google Image search beta, which can be enabled through the Google Webmasters Console.

The restrictions were removed at the end of March 2007 and half way through April, the search referrals are already on the increase again. Once this month is finished, I would expect to have approximately 4400 search referrals, which is back inline with where the site was in February/March 2006.

Onward and upward I say.

Raising The Bar

I’ve now played played two seasons of squash at the Gold Coast and it has been a really great experience. Since joining the Robina Squash Club and having different opponents with varying hitting styles, my game has improved drastically.

The most recent squash season is coming to an end and unfortunately, my team didn’t make the finals. It isn’t all bad though, as this season I know my game has improved further than the first season I played.

This season I’ve had a new opponent who has been a real challenge for me to compete against; so much so, I haven’t beaten him yet. I’ve played Steve about five times in the last couple of months, more than I should have due to substituting for other players and I have struggled against his game each time. I expect that Steve could be playing the grade above without a lot of problem, their loss and my gain.

After paying attention to what is happening to me on the court, I’ve been making mental notes about Steve’s game:

  • A consistent serve, not a whole lot of variety in it but its placed well enough that it doesn’t really matter
  • Comfortable hitting from the back of the court
  • Strong forehand, capable of changing the pace and direction well
  • Very good backhand, can change the pace of the ball very well
  • Good court sense, uses it to his advantage by boasting off the walls
  • Magnificent backhand drop shot, can play it from pretty much anywhere in the court.

I use the word magnificent, which is probably overstating it by higher standards – however it is the best that I have played against to date. Through good court sense, Steve changes the pace of the ball, with or without the drop shot to his advantage to move his opponent around a lot. He favours the short ball, as it’s an easy way to make his opponent run with a low chance of being able to hit an attacking shot off it.

After playing Steve and losing each of the matches, it really accentuates the faults in my game. As such, I’ve got a short list of items I’m going to be changing about my game to improve and really give Steve and cohorts a series shake on the court:

  • Vary the pace of the ball more. Hitting it consistently at whatever pace the game is being played at, just feeds into my opponents advantage; by giving them a ball they can judge easily
  • Change the length of my shots. When I first started playing, I wasn’t hitting the ball deep enough, regularly enough and one of the higher graded players pointed out that I needed to hit the ball deeper. Taking that advice on board, I strive to hit the ball at about 3/4 court plus a bit. As per the previous point, this consistency is a great thing to have on my side – however if I’m not changing the length of the ball up, it reduces the effectiveness of the deep ball as they are prepared for it in nearly all circumstances.
  • Boast the ball more. Currently, I only boast the ball when it is the obvious shot to play. That strategy needs to change, so that boasting is part of my normal game play to move my opponent around. This shouldn’t be limited to just off the side walls, the high ball should be included in this as well – to push the opponent into the back of the court.
  • Develop a slice backhand. To some extent, this is a follow on from point one. I currently hit the standard backhand drive off most balls. This needs to change to allow me to more consistently move my opponent around by dropping the ball short or boasting it off the wall after washing the speed off through a slice backhand.

The next Gold Coast squash season starts at the Bond University, via the Robina Squash Club in about another month I believe. I’m really looking forward to putting some of the above points into action onto the squash court to see where it takes me, fun times ahead.

If you’re interested in joining the club for some fun and fitness, you can contact:

Robina Squash Club
University Drive
Robina QLD, 4226
0427 627 229

Getting Your CSS Off

Toward the end of March 2006, Dustin Diaz thought that stripping all of the presentation from his web site was an excellent way of promoting web standards and CSS based design. The idea caught on and a whole swag of people participated in the first CSS Naked Day on April 5th 2006.

A year has passed and once more, web standards advocates alike around the world are stripping all of the presentation from their sites by running around butt naked without any cascading style sheets to hide their wobbly bits!

I thought about participating in the naked day this year, however I pretty much participate in it all year around so I didn’t think it would have had that much effort. If I had a graphic design bone in my body, I could have created the anti-naked day by getting my CSS on and releasing an amazing visual feast for everyone.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a visual feast for you this year – in the mean time, you should check out some cute cat photos!