Search Engine Optimization Tweaks over the long weekend

My team builds a fair number of community sites including Channel 8 (for Students), TechNet Edge (for IT Pros), Channel 10 (for enthusiasts, power users and gamers), Mix Online (for web developers and designers) and the original site… Channel 9 (aimed mostly at developers) … and we’ve recently starting putting out sites on a new code base. One of the changes in that new code base was a move to an AJAX style interface for viewing lists of posts on the page. We like the way this works for paging through lists of entries, comments, etc… but we have known from the beginning that it was going to cause us some trouble in the world of search engines and other crawlers. Without JavaScript, there was very little being output onto the page, and what was there was mostly navigational chrome. Taking a look at Google’s cache of TechNet Edge from a few days ago gives this:

not much to see without script

Checking how your page appears in the cache of Google or Live is one way to check how you appear to crawlers, but it doesn’t work great when you are making changes or running in development. One handy way is to check your site using Lynx, like Joshua mentions in this post on Mix Online.

The content on the site was ending up in the index of search engines anyway, through the virtue of RSS feeds and incoming links… but the value of your site to crawlers is going to be much lower than it should be if they don’t see any content when they visit. As I said earlier… we always knew this would be a problem, but I guess we just didn’t get around to fixing it before pushing out a full three sites using AJAX based paging. Last week I had a meeting with a SEO consultant and they pointed out the exact issue I’ve been describing. Well… given a long weekend… and no interest in working on my actual planned tasks… I decided to implement two features to help how our sites appear to crawlers.

First, I added some code that swaps out our fancy Ajax entry list with a simple ASP.NET repeater if the browser doesn’t appear to be one that is supported by Microsoft Atlas, making our site usable to other browsers (Atlas supports the bulk of users, but not all) and also making our content visible to a crawler. So far, I only output the first page of any given entry list, but that makes the results go from blank to this:

current cached version from Live.com

Next, I added an XML sitemap, following the specs from sitemaps.org, by outputting a sitemap index at http://<site>/sitemapindex.ashx and then outputting a series of sitemaps (by page #) from http://<site>/sitemap.ashx?page=<number> (see Mix’s sitemap index, and sitemap as an example). Finally, I put a link to the sitemap index into the robots.txt file for each site.

Between the two, I’m hoping our content will get indexed better by a variety of search engines, resulting in more people finding us when searching for relevant topics. These changes also help to make us a little bit more usable to some users, but that is another area where we need to do a lot more work. If these changes improve our accessibility that’s great, but I’d hate to even suggest that they get us anywhere near our goals in that area.

Thanksgiving day… and I’m surprisingly short on things to do…

Lots of plans for the weekend, lights to put up, some yard work… but today, my daughter is napping, my son is keeping himself very busy with a new remote control car that has a built in video camera (he is chasing the kitten around the family room)… I’m not quite ‘free’ enough to put in Mass Effect and try it out, but that will come later!

Picked up Mass Effect today… built XML site maps instead of playing it :(

I’m very excited about it… really! I just got distracted on http://sitemaps.org and ended up building a site map for this site… real brute force, just grabbed all the blog entries and tags and output the appropriate absolute paths into some objects that I then wrote out into an XML document. Same method wouldn’t work on Channel 9 though, it has too many entries, so I’ll need to move to a site map index with multiple sub site maps… now I just have to figure out how to divide the entries up (by tag, by type of content, by date?).

Ice Cube talking about Silverlight…

and the Group Manager of Platform Evangelism at Adobe feels the need to comment about it.

Let me summarize. Ice Cube is involved in an Internet video project and has chosen to use Silverlight, and you can watch an interview with him about it in Silverlight. (on a side note, I decided not to include the video into my post, even though the instructions to do so are right there in the original blog entry, because it is set to auto-start when someone visits the page and I think that is just downright rude 🙂 )

The post is interesting, the video is interesting… but what is really interesting is the fun going on in the comments on that blog entry, including comments from Mike Downey of Adobe and Scott Barnes of Microsoft… fun stuff. The old ‘if you have nothing nice to say…’ rule probably should have been applied for both of them.

 

found via Mix Online

More Xbox Dad articles, Viva Piñata Party Animals and Xbox Live

I’ve obviously been busy, I never even posted a link to these articles here… I’ve written two new Xbox Dad article in the past few weeks, one all about Xbox Live (to coincide with the Xbox Live is Five event going on) and one that I wrote this week about Viva Piñata Party Animals.

Viva Piñata Party is a great game, the ‘party’ nature of it means that it is quick to get started, even for non-gamers, and the quick little matches means that you can pick it up and play even if you only have a little bit of time available.

Anyone have contacts with TVTonic?

One of their users emailed us to comment on our video quality… essentially pointing out that it sucked when viewed through their TV using TV Tonic. Well I was puzzled because, while we don’t ship out DVD quality video, our high quality download is quite good for a podcast. Turns out though, after installing TV Tonic and picking on10.net out of their catalog, that the feed they have in their system is our 512kbps WMV feed… which is certainly not the best quality around, around 430kbps for video and 320×240… fine for display on our site, but not the hottest around… instead they should be using our WMV (high quality) feed (2500 kbps, 640 x 480), but I have no idea how to tell them about it. I’ve emailed their support address, but didn’t ever hear back from them….

New Xbox Dad column: My take on the Bee Movie Game

If you or your kids are all excited about the upcoming Bee Movie with Jerry Seinfeld, then you should definitely check out my latest article on Xbox.com. Along with the movie, an Xbox 360 game is also on its way…. and a demo is already up on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Not the most representative demo (more on that in the article!), but still fun and the game promises even more.