Useful links: Adaptive Design, nested figures, Susan Kare

Nice article on Opera Dev by Chris Mills about Adaptive Design with media queries.

Nested Figure Elements on Paciello Blog.

The Sketchbook of Susan Kare: The Artist Who Gave Computing a Human Face. Did you know about Susan Kare? I’d never heard of her before. I certainly think a mention of her contribution to the GUI needs to be included in Introductory courses on history of the Internet and history of computing.

Guest Post: Meta Descriptions

The keywords and phrases you use in your Meta description tag may not affect your page’s ranking in the search engines, but this tag can still come in handy in your overall SEO and social media marketing campaigns.

What Is the Meta Description Tag?

It’s a snippet of HTML code that belongs inside the <Head> </Head> section of a web page. It is usually placed after the Title tag and before the Meta keywords tag (if you use one), although the order is not important.

The proper syntax for this HTML tag is:

<META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”Your descriptive sentence or two goes here.”>

If you’re using a content management system (CMS), look for a field to fill out that’s called Meta Description, or possibly just “Description.”

Many years ago, the information contained in a Meta description could slightly help a page rank highly for the words that were contained within it. Today, neither Google, Bing, nor Yahoo! use it as a ranking signal.

In other words, whether you use your important keyword phrases in your Meta description tag or not, the position of your page in the search engine results will not be affected. So in terms of rankings, you could easily leave it out altogether.

But should you?

There are 3 important ways that Meta descriptions are being used today that make them an important part of your SEO and overall online marketing strategy:

  1. They can be used as the description (or part of the description) of your page if it shows up in the search results.
  2. They are often used as part of the descriptive information for your pages when Google shows “extended sitelinks” for your site.
  3. They are often used as the default description in social media marketing links such as Facebook and Google+.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

1. Meta Descriptions in the Search Results

People often think that whatever they put in their Meta description tag will be the default description that the search engines use under the clickable link to their site in the search results. While this is sometimes true, it’s not always the case.

Currently, if you’re searching for a site by its URL (for example www.highrankings.com) Google tends to use the first 20 to 25 words of your Meta description as the default description in the search engine result pages (SERP). However, if you have a listing at DMOZ, also known as the Open Directory Project (ODP) and are not using the “noodp” tag, they may default to that description instead. (Do a search at Google for www.amazon.com to see an example.)

Bing and Yahoo!, on the other hand, don’t always default to the Meta description tag for URL searches. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. A search for www.highrankings.com at Bing or Yahoo! shows content from my home page as the description rather than the contents of my Meta description tag.

Of course, real people aren’t typically searching for a site by URL, so what the search engines show for those types of search queries is not as important as a true keyword search. So don’t get hung up on what you see when you search for your site by its URL or if you’re doing a “site:command” search to see how they’re indexing your pages.

Instead, go to your favorite web analytics program and find the keyword phrases that are currently bringing you the most traffic. Then see what your description looks like at Google when you type in those keywords.

And surprise! What you’ll find is that your search results description will be different for every search query! You may see any combination of the following used:

  • Your entire Meta description tag text as the complete description (typically if it’s highly relevant and contains no more than 25 words).
  • A full sentence pulled from your Meta description tag, but not the entire Meta description (if it contains more than one sentence).
  • Text from one part of your Meta description mashed together with text from another part of it (if it’s more than 25 words long).
  • Some text from your Meta description mashed together with some text from the page.
  • Some text from your page mashed together from some other text from your page (nothing from the Meta description).

Some of the circumstances that cause Google to not use text from your Meta description may include:

  • The information in the Meta description tag was not specific to the page it was on.
  • The search query used some words that were not in the Meta description, but those words (or some of them) were used in the page content. This includes words that Google considers somewhat synonymous, such as “copy” and “copywriting” or “SEO” and “search engine optimization.”

But even the above are not hard and fast rules. Google doesn’t always use all or part of the Meta description even when the exact search phrase was contained within it – especially if the search query is also contained within the content of the page. Suffice it to say that there are no hard and fast rules for when Google will show it and when they won’t.

My recommendation is to always use keywords on any pages where you get search engine visitors (or hope to get them). Make them very specific to the page they’re on by describing what someone will find when they click through to the page from the search results, while also using variations of your targeted keywords.

Because Google will show only show around 20 to 25 words as your description, many SEOs recommend that you limit this tag to a certain number of characters. In reality, however, you’re not limited to any specific number. Your Meta description tag can be as long as you want it to be because Google will pull out the relevant parts of it and make their own snippet anyway.

For instance, if you’re optimizing a page for 3 different keyword phrases, you could write a 3-sentence Meta description tag, with each sentence focusing on a different phrase. You could probably even insert more than 3 phrases in those sentences if you’re a good wordsmith. The idea, however, is not to stuff this tag full of keywords, but to write each sentence to be a compelling marketing statement – a statement that naturally uses the keywords people might be typing into Google to find your site.

2. Meta Descriptions and Extended Sitelinks

These days, Google often uses the first few words from your Meta description tag when they create the “extended sitelinks” for your website. But this too is not set in stone and is highly keyword dependent. You’ll see different sitelinks and different descriptions showing up depending on the words a searcher used at Google.

As an example, if you do a search for “High Rankings” at Google, you’ll see my sitelinks for that search query.

sitelinks

At this moment, Google is showing my home page as the top result with 6 inner pages beneath:

  • Forum home page: Description is from DMOZ/ODP. This page has the generic Meta description that is on every page of the forum.
  • Link building forum home page: Description is content pulled from the page that uses the words “High Rankings” in it.
  • SEO articles page: First part of Meta description.
  • Newsletter home page: First part of Meta description.
  • SEO/SEM resources page: First part of Meta description.
  • SEO classes page: First part of Meta description.

For the most part, they’re using the first part of the Meta description as the sitelink snippet, but not always. You may have noticed that I optimized those Meta description sitelink snippets that are showing by front loading them so that the first 5-7 words or so are a short description of what the page is all about.

But here’s the rub. Do a Google search for “Jill Whalen SEO.” You should still see sitelinks, and you’ll even see some of the same ones as with the previous query, but some of the descriptions are different:

search results

While the forum home page shows in both, this time Google has pulled text from the page rather than using the DMOZ/ODP description. This is likely because this search query had the word “SEO” in it while the other one didn’t. The SEO articles page also shows up here, and it is using the same Meta description snippet as the High Rankings query. The other sitelinks are different from before, with 3 out of 4 using the Meta description.

As you can see, while you do have some control over your sitelink descriptions via your Meta description tag, Google might not always use them (just as Google does with their regular search results). Your best chance of having them show is to use, close to the beginning of your description tags, the words that you know pull up sitelinks. Also, be as descriptive as possible within the first 5 to 7 words.

3. Meta Descriptions and Social Media Marketing

Ever wonder why some Facebook links have great descriptions and others don’t seem to make any sense? It’s because some site owners have taken the time to write a summary of the article and place it into their Meta description tag, and some have not. If your article has a Meta description, Facebook and Google+ will default to that when you share a link on your profile or “Page.” If there’s no Meta description, you’ll usually see the first sentence or so from the page being used as the default.

While anyone can edit the description that Facebook defaults to, most people don’t. And at this time on Google+ you can’t even edit the default description. You can either leave it as is or delete it all together. Let’s face it — most of the time the first sentence of an article is not a good description of the rest of it. It’s not supposed to be, because that’s not what a first sentence is for!

Therefore, I strongly advise you to always write a compelling 1- or 2-sentence description for all of your articles and blog content that may be shared via social media, and place it into your Meta description tag. This will give you a big jump on your competitors who haven’t figured this out yet, making your social media content much more clickable because people will know what the article is actually about before they click on it.

Overall, the Meta description tag gives you a little bit more control over what people might see before they click over to your site. The more compelling it is, the more clickthroughs you should see. If your Meta description tags can help with that, then it’s certainly worth the few minutes of time it takes to create interesting, keyword-rich tags that sum up what users will find when they arrive!

Jill Whalen

Guest Author Jill Whalen is CEO and Founder of High Rankings. This article was originally published on her site, and in the High Rankings Newsletter.

Useful links: top 25 books, edu conferences, blue beanie day, semantics, Think Up

The top 25 books for web developers and designers from .net is a good list to check to see if you’re keeping up with the latest. I noticed that several of the 25 are from A Book Apart. That led me to tweet this:

Is there some sort of brain implant that would directly feed every publication from A Book Apart into my brain?Sun Nov 13 17:26:02 via TweetDeck

Oddly, there were people on Twitter who didn’t see the humor in that and suggested I should read the books. With my eyes. Because I don’t want you to worry about me, you should know that I am reading them. With my eyes.

Conferencepalooza suggests some good conferences for high ed folks. Check it out, there might be a great one there. You do know that SXSW is holding a special pre-conference for EDU this year, don’t you? It’s SXSWEDU.

Get out your blue beanie and join Chris in giving thanks for web standards on Nov. 30, 2011 – Blue Beanie Day. Why should we give thanks, Chris asks? Because the bums lost!

Installment 3 in a round robin of posts about semantics. This one from Paul Irish explains enough about the first two that you can follow even if you haven’t read them. (Why haven’t you read them!)

Think Up is new software that Gina Trapani announced was out of beta yesterday. It does all of what I was wishing Twitter would do plus more with Facebook and Google+. It’s installed or your server or can run from the Amazon cloud for a monthly fee. I think Think Up is going to be big.

CSS 3 Presentation and Resources

Great resources for each of the 10 Advanced CSS Techniques (You Wish You Knew More About) are listed in the slide deck that Emily Lewis and Jason Nakai used in a talk in a recent Webuquerque presentation. Work with each sites listed in their resources and you will become a complete expert.

Keep an eye on the Webuquerque site for additional materials from the presentation, including a recap, video, photos and more.

Guest Post: 7 Things Everyone in Your Organization Should Know

This weekend, I attended the Online News Association Conference in Boston. It was a great gathering of multimedia developers and those concerned with all things digital – quite a fantastic event. I had the opportunity to participate on a panel called “If I Were in Charge, I’d…” Proposals for the panel were solicited before the conference, and mine was one of six selected. The presentation is below, but I wanted to provide a few more details, beyond the eight minutes I had to present. And I wanted to see if there was any feedback or critique. Rob Quigley live blogged the entire session, if you’d like to see the other topics and presenters.

Are you in charge? Maybe you’re an editor or a general manager of a newsroom, or perhaps you’re a dean or director of a university organization. Maybe you lead a media company that specializes in PR or Advertising. Do you consider yourself in charge of a digital media organization? And, does everyone in your organization know that they work in a digital media organization?

Does everyone in your organization know what an API is and why that’s important? Do they know what SEO means and what value it brings the organization? Are they familiar with the type of CMS your organization uses and how it works? And do they know some basic concepts like HTML or how to embed a video or widget onto another Web page?

If I were in charge, I’d be making sure everyone associated with the organization – every reporter, columnist, copy editor, photographer, videographer, every faculty member, every associate – I’d even go as far as saying that every person who answers the phone – knows these things and more. This is not the template for a two-hour workshop. This is not a quick fix or a tweak. This is a tectonic shift in the ways that people envision what it is they are expected to know and do and the kind of organization for which they work.

I propose 7 Things Everyone in a Digital Media Organization Should Know:

1. Everyone would know the history and background of the Web.

Why? Because it’s fun to study the history of something. And, it provides a foundation for understanding the future. By learning about the role of the ARPAnet (and later Tim Berners-Lee in Switzerland), the people involved and the culture surrounding the development of the Internet, we begin to see what makes this environment different. We can learn about the origins of hacker and open source culture and why this presents an alternative and a complement to commercialization. Oh, and we’d know that Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet, and that he never actually said he did.

2. Everyone would understand the key terms of digital media.

We must speak the same language in order to collaborate and have a shared understanding. You can’t have the tech folks spewing jargon while the rest of the organization stands around the sidelines and rolls their eyes. We’re not talking about buzzwords and marketing posturing, but things that everyone needs to know, like what an Application Programming Interface (API) is and why you might use one, why your organization should have them and who benefits from them. When we talk about the “cloud,” what do we mean and how is that different than where we’ve been hosting things all along? What is Search Engine Optimization and how does that compare to Social Media Optimization? What do we mean when we use the phrase “data visualization” and what are these platforms (frameworks) of Ruby on Rails and Django? People may not actually perform these functions or use these platforms, but they should have a clue about what they are and what they do.

3. Everyone would know how Google makes money.

Why? Because Google makes a lot of money. And I bet most of your organization has never paid anything to Google to use their multitude of services. Google has a $170B market cap, one of the most successful companies in history. They made the majority of their $29B in revenue in 2010 with advertising – those little ads you see on the sides and the sponsored links on the top of your Google search. But it’s the power of their search algorithm and their ability to provide products to us that are useful and that integrate with our lives, that allows them to continue to learn more and more about us. Knowledge is power, right?

4. Everyone would be able to explain why social media is important.

No, Twitter’s not about what you ate for breakfast. And Facebook’s not just a place to upload photos of your kid’s birthday party. A modern media organization understands that interaction is the key. The technologies known as Web 2.0 drive interaction with the audience that was unheard of in prior eras. They make media a conversation, and those conversations have value. People are gaining an expectation of participation because of their participation on social networks, and they will begin to find media irrelevant that don’t give them something to do, don’t provide a user experience. Get ready for new social platforms to be introduced over time. Google, who is the king of search, is now trying to develop social competencies with Google+. Location-based platforms, reviewer sites, online games… new things are coming out every minute. But you can’t expect people to understand them if they don’t use them. People should be encouraged to try new things. And they should be comfortable with the idea of using social media to develop their own brand or to support that of the organizations with which they work.

5. Everyone would understand how data can tell a story.

That doesn’t mean that everyone will know how to program a data visualization. But everyone should understand that a data visualization is an important element of storytelling, just like text, photos, video, other graphics. The benefit is the interaction, the ways that you develop to integrate the user into the story. There are a million ways to do this, and we are just starting to see brilliant examples of this type of work by organizations like the New York Times, the Guardian, the LA Times, the Texas Tribune, the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, ProPublica and more. The example I used in my presentation is the Rent vs. Buy interactive that the New York Times did several years ago, but is still updated on their site. You can read a story about whether or not you should rent or buy a house, but how does that really help someone make their own decision, with their own variables? Everyone needs to understand the power of this type of information and comprehend their role in creating it. How would they propose such a project? Who will they work with? What tools can they use and what resources are out there? This doesn’t mean someone needs to tell them or train them. They need to be focused enough on the importance of it that they are seeking out this information on their own and figuring out ways to integrate it into their own workflow. That’s how the people who are doing this kind of work learned it… by figuring it out themselves.

6. Everyone would know a little HTML (and some CSS for that matter).

Why? Because it’s the language of the Web. If you don’t know the language, you can’t understand the platform. You need to know HTML to maximize your ability to customize the things you do in blog or content management systems. And it is the foundation for more advanced coding, like CSS, Javascript, JQuery and on and on. For the most part, code snippets are available in libraries, so what most people are doing when they work in code is tweaking and customizing, rather than cranking it out from scratch. It’s not that everyone should become a programmer, but it wouldn’t hurt to know a bit about how it all works. Knowing a little html can go a long way in being able to read and tweak code (like reading a foreign language versus writing or speaking it). And, it’s not hard. It’s a markup language, using tags to give meaning to text. It fits in perfectly with a communicator’s skill set. And it’s fun to learn.

7. Everyone would understand the elements of a digital-, and increasingly mobile-, first strategy.

Until this happens, your organization will still be mired in legacy culture. People need to understand how it changes the processes of the newsroom, how their roles change, and most importantly, how it affects the experience of the user. Breaking a story on Twitter is the new “scoop.” The analysis and conversations that happen after is what a news organization does now. Sure, you still produce a paper or newscast, but that’s only a part of what you do. It’s what you share all day long and what others share of the work that you are doing that establishes your brand and your value. You have to re-prioritize that to your organization.

So, as I said above, this isn’t about developing a 2-hour workshop and then going back to the way things have always been. We’re not a weekend behind and then we’re all caught up. Digital media has been developing for the better part of two decades, and it’s time everyone who works in media realizes they work for a digital media organization. We can’t solve the pressing problems of the field with just a few who are in-the-know. We need everyone to be working toward the same goals, gaining knowledge and contributing to the solutions. This will require constant, ongoing and consistent messaging in the following areas:

  • Leadership must evangelize from the top – it’s not enough to have the tech people at the grass roots take responsibility for training the whole organization. Leadership must communicate that it is everyone’s responsibility to keep up-to-date and learn. It must be a consistent part of all messaging, all meetings, the mission and goals of the organization.
  • Foster a meetup culture – how can they learn? Well, for one, they can start attending any of the multitude of professional meetups that are probably already happening in their area. These resources exist. There are regular presentations on relevant topics, and you don’t even have to organize them. Just make sure your organization knows that it is an expectation that people participate. And, people should gain a level of comfort in going to groups where they don’t feel like they have a command of the material. Don’t be afraid to be the stupidest person in the room. In fact, that’s preferable. That’s when you learn. And, like a lot of this stuff, it’s fun. You meet people, who may be able to help you professionally, or guess what..? You just might end up with a few new friends. Personally, I view my professional network for its power in assisting my students, but I really enjoy meeting people and learning about these topics, and have made some wonderful contacts in the process. Don’t attend a meetup that you dread or hate. Find one that interests you. They’re out there.
  • Encourage innovation through exploration – It should be expected that people try new things when they are released. Get on Google+, try Foursquare and Gowalla, sign up for Storify… Guess what? They’re free. Yes, they take time. But if that’s what your job is, then you are using that time wisely. Having a little knowledge about a new platform and some perspective can be quite beneficial when trying to weigh options and quickly make decisions about the usage and relevance of platforms. And you don’t want to ignore new technologies to the point that you suddenly have “unexpected” time on your hands, do you?
  • Read tech/media publications – This should be a given. We expect people to keep up with news, be on top of things, know their beats, keep up with trends. Well, this is our business now, so shouldn’t we expect people to keep up with it? Know about the key players, tech mergers, new media projects, startups. There are numerous publications, but Wired, Fast Company and a multitude of blogs, like Mashable, 10,000 Words and TechCrunch, are a good start.

I have had success in sharing these concepts with students. My feeling is that they gain an enthusiasm for the future of media by having it presented in this manner. These are opportunities, not annoyances. There are challenges, but everyone needs to be on board so they can be overcome. If I were in charge, I’d find a way to make everyone excited about the future of media.

Are you in charge? What do you think about these points? Does everyone in your organization know these things? Maybe you’re not “in charge.” I’m not either. This was just a hypothetical exercise. But what do you think your organization should do to integrate these concepts, if you think they are valid at all? Let me know if you have any additional items or if you just think I’m full of it. I’ll be interested in any discussion generated.

Some resources I have used:

The Internet: Behind the Web – it’s an old video, and is probably only available on VHS (I have since dubbed it DVD), but it’s a great way to learn about the history of the ARPANet, Internet and Web. It has some abridged content from the longer series Nerds 2.0.1

Download: The True Story of the Internet – this is a great series that covers Browsers, Search, E-Commerce and Social Networking. It brings everything up to date after the above video.

Hacks/Hackers Glossary – a great set of terms and definitions developed by the main Hacks/Hackers organization. Their a meetup group, probably a chapter in your area, that brings journalists and programmers together.

Lynda.com - this is a software and programming training library. It costs money, but on a month-by-month basis, it’s cheaper than purchasing a book to learn a particular language or platform.

South By Southwest – You should attend conferences. ONA is fantastic. Another one that I love is the South By Southwest Interactive Festival. It’s huge and broad, but nothing has influenced my approach to teaching media than my regular attendance, year after year, at this event. And, like a lot of these recommendations, it’s fun. Trust me on this one. Plan to attend SXSW in March.

Guest Post by Cindy Royal. This post was originally published at Cindy’s Take on Tech.

Guest Post: Domain Names – EVERYTHING is registered!

I’m a member of a very large networking group in the UK, and recently I received a PM from a frazzled member saying she was, I quote, “so fed up” looking for domain names, to the point where she just wanted to “Register something or anything just to get started”.

Stop right there.

The thing about domain names is that they’re a very important component of your online business strategy – this is the domain name that you’re going to have to look at every day, the domain name that is going to be used by your customers and people who like what you offer to link to your website and more importantly, this is the domain name which represents your brand and the seriousness with which you take your online business.

Choosing a domain name for your online presence is never a decision to be taken lightly, irrespective of how frustrating it gets.

Anyway, enough of all this, let’s get to what you need to know when working through what can be an incredibly frustrating process.

The Extension

Domain Name Extensions
Image Credit: Blogging Bookshelf

You need to pay careful attention to your domain extension. Don’t overlook ccTLDs (country-code top-level domains) like.co.uk, .de (Germany), .es (Spain) and so on simply because you “want a .com”, in many instances I would say it’s actually preferable to register the ccTLD (especially if you only plan on operating in that specified country).

Once you register your domain name, it’s also worth registering all the other alternative extensions of your domain name (in particular .com, .co.uk (or your relevant ccTLD), .net and .org) – the last thing you want is another webmaster piggy-backing on your brand exposure.

Furthermore, if you do register a global domain extension i.e. .com, .net or .org, and you plan on operating purely in a specific country, then it’s always worth geo-targeting your domain to that specified country via Google Webmaster Tools.

Generic Isn’t Always Best

Many, many webmasters register exact match domain names with the sole intention of increasing their visibility in search around a target term – an exact match domain name is simply one that matches a target keyword, for example an exact match domain for the term “wedding venues” could be weddingvenues.org.uk.

The first thing to remember about this process is that it doesn’t work across every single extension (in the UK it works best for .co.uk and .org.uk as well as .com, .net and .org) – however for those it does work for, it can give you a sizeable boost in visibility in search (depending on the relative competitiveness of the niche).

That said, the main consideration is in branding – do you really want your online presence to be known as weddingvenues.org.uk? I’m guessing not.

Secondly – microsites. Many webmasters jump on the microsite bandwagon, registering everything in sight and launching microsite after, well, microsite. This is dumb (and I say that from being one of the dumb people who applied this strategy for years and years).

If you find a great exact match domain name then by all means, use it for this purpose – but I recommend stopping short of creating a “microsite empire”; all you’re doing is diluting link building resources between a whole host of web properties when in reality, the resources could be used far more effectively if you targeted them to one property and one property alone.

Length

As soon as a consumer sits down behind a computer screen you are no longer dealing purely with a consumer – you are dealing with a five year old child (with the attention span of a two year old). Internet users are impatient and their mental capacity can drain from being afforded so many options and choices. You need to stand out.

Be careful with the length of your domain name – don’t create a brand name which is too difficult to remember, or even too difficult to spell (I know, I can’t believe I said that). Make it easy for your users and make an impression before they even land on your website from the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) by coming up with a memorable (and relatively short) domain name.

Gareth Mailer is an SEO professional – he spends most of his time picking out new ways for his client’s to generate revenue online and through search. SEO Manchester is the place to go to read more from Gareth.