How long can a site be down for maintenance?

Although we’d all like to have an infrastructure in place so our precious websites are never “down for maintenance”, in reality all across the internet there are sites, big and small, offline for this very reason right now. The status code you serve during this period is very important; serve a 404 and Google will think your entire site is gone forever, serve a 200 and Google will think you’ve replaced your entire site with one page out of boredom.

The solution as I’m sure you already know is to serve a 503; indeed Google make this pretty clear on the official webmaster central blog. But how long can you serve a 503 and expect to maintain your organic traffic when your site returns? A few hours? A couple of days? Actually, it’s quite a bit longer.

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Posted in SEO |

The Perception of Registration

Every so often I’ll see a Tweet or similar along the lines of this:

If any e-commerce site forces me to register, I automatically go somewhere else! Yeah!

When I read this kind of thing, my first thought is “Man, it must really suck not being able to purchase on Amazon”. Then I sit back and envisage this poor soul sat at a desk, looking forlornly at an absolute auction bargain on eBay as the timer ticks down, knowing that they and the item in question can never be joined in a perfect union. And why not? Simply because eBay have the incredible audacity to make you register if you want to bid on an auction lot. What a poor soul indeed. In fact, come to think of it, how did this person even manage to register on Twitter to post a tweet?

Now, whilst there are clearly people who hold this view in the world (just like there are people who walk around with aluminium tin foil on their heads to prevent government mind control), it’s difficult to overlook the fact that Amazon and many other e-commerce sites who force registration still manage to make a shit load of money. If you’ve read as many identical CRO blog posts as I have, you might well think that all these e-commerce sites are working hard to offer a guest checkout option. This is not the case. In fact, many major sites are actually moving from optional registration to forced.

I should say before getting into the meat of this that it’s not escaped my attention that this post may portray me as a pro-registration fanatic; I’m not. You’re better placed than me to decide what’s right for your particular e-commerce website visitors and if 17 checkout paths including a guest checkout option works for you, then great. But whilst there are multitudinous blog posts stating how horribly bad asking your poor users to register is, I’ve seen very few explaining why so many sites choose to do this. I felt I could offer a little bit of much needed balance on the subject.

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Google Autocomplete Revisited

In 2010 I wrote a post detailing the many failings of Google Suggest. As this is my first proper attempt at blogging for 2 years, I thought I’d ease myself back in by revisting the system to see what (if anything) has improved since then.

What Have Google Fixed?

I suppose the most noticable improvement is the speed at which suggestions are updated based on current search trends. In 2010, new terms took 6-8 weeks to be included in the suggestion list (if you didn’t test this you probably won’t believe it took that long, but I did and it did); now topical suggestions update much, much faster.

The other major fix is the removal of suggestion merging. In 2010, a query for “search engine optimisation” resulted in the following:

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Posted in SEO |

Scriptaculous Slider for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch

JavaScript libraries to help with Ajax functionality are wonderful things; I tend to use jQuery for new projects, but in the past I’ve been heavily reliant on Prototype/Scriptaculous and still maintain a number of sites myself using these libraries.

One of the handy features Scriptaculous provides is an interactive slider; you can use this for setting price ranges and so on and it works really well. Unfortunately it doesn’t work on touch screen devices, which can lead to considerable frustration for users on those devices who try and interact with the slider elements on your website.

The good news is, the fix for this is very simple. A patch was originally posted on Github a couple of years ago and having tried this myself on a few sites, it works fine, including on sliders with multiple handles.

I have uploaded a minified slider.js file to my blog for your convenience; click here to download it. Simply unzip and replace your existing slider.js file. Visitors to your website on touch screen devices, such as the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, will now be a whole lot happier :)

Time to Come Back

After a couple of years away from this site, I’ve finally given into the urge to start blogging again. I’m not entirely sure why; I have less time to blog than I did when I stopped in 2010. But hey, it’s given me the excuse to update this place with a nice new theme. I thought I might start by listing significant world events since I last posted on here:

  • Jun 2010 – England eliminated from 2010 World Cup
  • Mar 2011 – I got married
  • May 2011 – Manchester City won the F.A. Cup
  • May 2012 – Manchester City won the Premier League
  • May 2012 – My wife gave birth to our first child, a gorgeous baby girl
  • Jun 2012 – England eliminated from 2012 European Championships

So in summary, predictable for England, fantastic for Manchester City and for me…… expensive.

And what of the online world in the last two years? Well, many things have changed but many things have stayed the same. People still hate Google, people still whinge about the amount of whinging directed towards Google (without even the slightest realisation of the irony) and a large amount of what I read online regarding SEO and usability could be classed as complete bollocks.

What’s begun to irk me recently however is the amount of misinformation being posted by supposedly reputable sources. It’s never bothered me what Bob the Expert SEO in the next village has been posting on his blog, but in recent months I’ve seen such worldly advice as Google cares about your code density on the .Net Magazine blog and Google revealed post-Penguin that conversion optimised sites perform better in search rankings on Search Engine Watch. These are supposed to be sources of information you can trust and the vast majority of what they post is probably fine. But, I personally find it a little worrying that such nonsense can slip through the gaps.

There was a time when I might have been tempted to carefully pick apart the boundless amounts of misinformation out there, but I don’t think I can be arsed to do that anymore, besides which other people do that kind of thing better than me.

Of course, I wouldn’t have started blogging again if I didn’t have a big list of things in my head I wanted to write about, so they’ll all be coming soon. And if you have any ideas regarding what you’d like me to write about, feel free to get in touch!