Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

We live in an age of (over)sharing. Social media has the good and the ugly – all conveniently shoved in the same stream for your reading or viewing pleasure. The part I regret the most is that smart phones and tablets have replaced the traditional camera. (Speaking of camera – a few months I worked with a photographer who shot in film. The sound of the film was such a glorious, nostalgic sound…but I digress.)

If you’re anything like me and still would like to capture the art of photography (or PhotoShop in my case), then I have the App for you!

I recently discovered PicTapGo on my Instagram feed. I couldn’t understand how the image was so lovely – lightly blown out with crisp colors and the perfect mix of artistic beauty. Thanks to the hashtag, I hopped over to the App Store and my Instagram sharing hasn’t been the same since. Gone are the dreary, standard one-stop filters of Instagram, and welcome are the multiple filters and contrasts the user can create. I now have the ability to adjust exposures without adding  1970s ruddy look to my images.

Finally!

Ultimately, it’s just as the name sounds: 1) Pick you Pic, 2) Tap to select one or multiple filters – you can even adjust the extent of the filter for the exact mixology your heart desires, 3) Go – in other words, share where you like…including Instagram!

I am still working on filter blends (you can save your recipes for use later – love this feature!) Below are some images I’ve taken the past few weeks – from extreme PhotoShopping to just simple blends that enhance the natural lighting and composition. Can’t wait to continue experimenting with the App!

I originally wrote this article for the Rackspace Hosting Email & Apps Blog. I thought it worth sharing here as well.

Functionality, ease-of-use and affordability are all factors contributing to the growing popularity of websites powered by Content Management Systems (CMS). The growth of social media and the need to share information quickly has also added to their attractiveness—CMS platforms with social plugin capabilities have become a must-have. Today’s robust community behind open source CMS projects has made building a website possible for those with limited technical know-how.

The published price tag of popular CMS platforms is extremely appealing – free downloads are available for popular platforms like Joomla, Drupal and WordPress. Business owners, however, should consider the hidden costs when deciding what CMS best suits their goals.

Maintenance, Backups & Optimization

A previous article in this series discussed performance optimization for CMS platforms. The required level of technical competency for this process varies for each individual platform. Drupal, for instance, would likely require someone on staff to manage the optimization process. Like optimization, an ongoing backup management plan and maintenance are highly recommended. If a system administrator is not on staff to handle these tasks, the project can be outsourced to a contractor or company who specializes in database maintenance. It’s worth investing in ongoing maintenance because should disaster strike, your recovery process will be much more smooth.

Training Staff

One of the advantages to a CMS is the ability for non-technical users to readily update content and write blog articles. Although the WordPress control panel is much more straightforward than Joomla or Drupal, training will still be necessary. Simple HTML tags and the process for uploading images, embedding video and creating links will all need to be taught to staff whose responsibility includes maintaining the website. Clearly, any time invested in training is time away for the day-to-day business operations. And, if no one in the office is an expert, the cost of classes or a consultant can add up quickly.

Hiring Designers/Programmers for Added Functionality

Websites like Template Monster and Theme Forest offer sleek, professional templates for individuals looking for out-of-the-box solutions. Since the CMS platforms are open source, the code can be edited and customized. The sky is the limit, but your proposed budget may not include the cost of graphic designers and programmers to take a generic template to a fully customized website that accurately represents your brand.

After reviewing the hidden costs, it’s worth preparing a budget that includes the line items outlined above. What is the skill set of your internal staff and what type of training will be necessary to maintain the website? Should you outsource customization to an agency that specializes in CMS templates? Who can best manage security and ongoing maintenance? Launching a website that is not well strategized, looks generic or doesn’t include the proper SEO for CMS will end up costing you more in the long run than it would to get it right the first time.

I originally wrote this article for the Rackspace Hosting Email & Apps Blog. I thought it worth sharing here as well.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a marketing field that continues to gain momentum as more and more businesses recognize the importance of developing a strong online presence. Visibility on the Internet through means of on-site optimization techniques is as equally important as a website that is user-friendly and easy to navigate on the front-end.

Achieving top page status in search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! is no easy task. On- and off-page optimization campaigns are integral components to any Internet marketing campaign. If your website is built within a Content Management System (CMS) it’s important to make sure you take appropriate measures to optimize your pages to be effectively crawled and indexed by search engines.

Some of the major page components that must be optimized from the default settings in CMS platforms include:

1) Search Engine Friendly URLs: Keywords are important. So are normal characters (as opposed to dynamic characters, including “?” in a random URL string). Kick the default to the curb and implement something that doesn’t include a string of system-generated numbers. Search engines also consider the length of each URL – typically those that are longer than 100 characters could be dropped from the search engine’s index.

2) Description and Title Tags: Default modes do not include custom meta descriptions and page titles cannot be updated. Why are these important? Accurately describing the page content and giving the page a search-friendly keyword- rich title is a major step to on-page optimization. If your website has 30 pages, all with the same title and description, how does this help you differentiate your content for search purposes? Clearly, it doesn’t. To make matters worse, the existence of duplicate titles may lead to a duplicate content penalty, which could result in de-indexation of the pages.

3) XML sitemaps: CMS and e-commerce websites quickly become robust when dynamic query strings are generated for individual users’ shopping carts and orders. Sitemaps help to give order to the complexity, and assist engines with indexing your website. Within an XML sitemap, search engines can rapidly crawl your pages. A sitemap also helps to set precedents for preferred URLs. Backlinks to your website may vary (i.e., http://www.yourdomain.com yourdomain.com yourdomain.com/index.html or http://www.yourdomain.com/index.html) adding to the confusion. The map will also help to communicate with Google which pages should be indexed when duplicate content arises for URLs differing only by a query string. Also in an effort to avoid duplicate content, the CMS platform should have the capability to add a “rel canonical” tag in order to allow the spider to look for the original content. Without the “rel canonical” tags, the spiders can spend a significant amount of time looking at dynamic versions of pages, expensing the spider crawl credit. The key is to help the search spiders complete the crawl in shortest possible time, increasing the chances of proper indexation and a greater future crawl frequency.

4) 301 Redirect Capabilities: Broken pages due to content restructure can be costly from an SEO standpoint. CMS platforms that offer the functionality to re-direct pages to those with newer content, or properly direct pages that have expired, will ensure you don’t lose link juice or rankings in the search engines.

5) Alt Tags for Images: Providing tags for images offers search engines another way to index content. Images that are linked also offer a rich way to provide anchor text through the alt tag.

SEO Plugins for the Major CMS Platforms

Fortunately, CMS platform developers understand the importance of properly optimized websites. Various plugins and modules exist on the three platforms to assist with implementing the elements outlined above, as well as other worthwhile on-page SEO tactics. The following are just a few methods for beginning the process of optimizing your CMS website.

WordPress

  • Settings -> Permalinks: This CMS comes ready with URL, metatags, categories and tags built into the structure. It’s the user’s responsibility, though, to update the default settings – especially for the permalinks to generate search-friendly URLs.
  • SEO Ultimate: This plugin does it all – title tag rewriter, meta description editor, meta keywords editor, robot tags editor, canonicalizer and so much more.
  • Simple 301 Redirect: A simple solution for managing your redirected or expired pages within your CMS admin panel.

Joomla

  • Global Configuration -> SEO Tab: The administration panel in Joomla addresses global SEO settings for the website. This is the first step for allowing meta titles, tags and search-friendly URLs. More steps will need to be taken, though, to optimize those tags and titles.
  • Smart SEO: This Joomla plugin provides the ability to edit meta tags and titles for each individual page and component.
  • SEO Canonicalisation Plugin: Rather than update a server-side .htaccess file to specify redirects, opt for this plugin. Acting like a 301 redirect, this removes the problem of search engine’s indexing duplicate content due to varying backlinks (i.e., http://www.yourdomain.com yourdomain.com your domain.com/index.html or http://www.yourdomain.com/index.html).

Drupal

  • Administer > Site Configuration > Clean URLs: This functionality is built within the Drupal admin panel. You’ll want to enable clean URLs as the first step to making your website search-friendly.
  • Meta Tags/Nodewords: A wonderful plugin for managing meta tags for your page – including titles, keywords, descriptions, canonical URLs and more.
  • Pathauto: This enables automatic generation of URL paths, replacing the default (i.e., /category/this-is-my-title.html in place of /node/789). The user can set a specific pattern for this process, organizing content in a clear, concise manner.

Each platform offers many more worthwhile plugins and tutorials for best optimizing a website. This has merely been an introduction to the topic of SEO within a CMS platform. The important take away is to recognize that SEO measures can be taken, but the default settings will not effectively index your pages within search engines. Careful planning and implementation can go a long way to help your website gain broader, targeted Internet visibility.

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