All Posts byGabe Spradlin

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About the Author

Gabe Spradlin Gabe has a BS in Mech Eng and an MS in Elec Eng. Control Systems was the emphasis of my Masters. The Master culminated in a very long and esoteric thesis about automatically identifying anomalies in International Space Station telemetry. Eventually he ended up using Controls to point lasers very precisely at targets a long, long way away. Some lasers were used to talk; others to put holes in things. In 2009 it was time to start an aerospace consulting business. By 2010 it was time to shift from aerospace to online entrepreneurship. He has worked in his pajamas .... errrrr .... basement ever since.

Mar 02

There is good traffic and bad

By Gabe Spradlin | Site Traffic Basics

Good traffic is obvious, what's bad traffic

Your business has a website because you have something to sell. That site needs visitors that turn into customers. Otherwise the site isn't worth the effort and expense of maintaining it. So more traffic is good right?

Not so much. Back in 2014 I had a successful site that was bringing in good money. Unfortunately, the site started to experience page load issues. Specifically, the page load times had climbed from ​approximately 2.5 sec to over 5 sec. If you'd have asked me at the time I wouldn't have said that was a big deal. After all 5 sec is still pretty fast. But I found out the page load times had climbed because my conversions had started to drop.  When that 5 sec climbed to 7 or 8 sec my conversions really took a hit.

Obviously, it was time to start digging into what was causing my page load times to be so high after over a year at somewhere < 3 sec.​

Server Resources & Traffic

​As I began investigating the causes of the longer page load times the only thing I could really come up with was server load. I was noticing that the server's cores were consistently busier than I'd ever seen them. I also noticed that the server was consistently using almost twice as much RAM as it ever had in the past.

This server was isolated from my coding and website experiments and it served this 1 website almost exclusively. Combined with seeing dozens of Apache tasks running at any given time it looked like a lot of extra traffic. Yeah, more traffic! Except I was ​making less money. Why?

​The answer turned out to be overly eager bots from a variety of sources.

Bots, Bots, and more Bots​

Search Engines​

Bots aren't all bad. Google has a bot to determine what pages are on your site and what those pages are about so that your pages can rank in their Search Engine Results Page (SERP). If you deny the Google bot access to your site then you are essentially invisible to anyone using the Google search engine.

Bing also has a bot. Again, this bot is used to determine what is on your site so you can show in Bing's SERPs.

While both Google and Bing have reasonably well behaved bots others do not. Notably Yahoo's bot was known for being aggressive and ignoring the rules you lay out in robots.txt for where bots are allowed to go. Caveat: Yahoo Slurp was so bad that I blocked it years ago. I've had it blocked so long I'm not even sure it's still around or how it behaves today.

There are other misbehaving search engine bots. A Russian search engine named Yandex has a very aggressive bot. And Baidu, a Chinese search engine, has the worst of the search engine bunch. The Yahoo, Yandex, and Baidu bots alone are enough to consume significant server resources and slow down your site. But hey, you might actually get customers from them if your business operates in their markets.

​SEO and Reputation Management Bots

​Once you start digging around in your logs you start finding out that a lot of the entries that fill up your logs come from the MJ12 and Ahref bots. Neither of these bots do YOU any good.

The MJ12​ bot is for Majestic SEO. It searches your site and tells anyone who pays Majestic all about the SEO of your site and how it can be beat. Isn't that great! It's an aggressive bot that ties up significant server resources all in the name of selling your competition the information necessary for them to outrank you on Google. Fantastic, right?

The Ahrefs ​is less aggressive and thought more highly of than the MJ12 bot. But I still block it. No one but me needs to know what links are on my site pointed to some other site. I certainly don't need to have my real visitors leaving my site because it has been slowed down by their bot. So BAM! Ahrefs is blocked.

Beyond SEO companies there are reputation management companies out there with their own bots. Again, why are you paying for the resources necessary for them to crawl your site. It is unlikely that anything at all will come of these bots crawling your site. However, they too can slow down your site and absolutely no good for you can come of their crawling your site. So block them. too​.

Beyond Search Engines, SEO, and Reputation bots

​Beyond the examples of bots to block that I've provided above (don't block Google or Bing) there are lots of other bots out there. Many are attackers with port scanners and bots that are attempting to probe for security weaknesses. Others are comment spam style bots or email address scraping bots. Clearly you don't want them anywhere near your site so block as many as you can find.

Blocking bad bots

This post has gotten fairly long at this point so I will address blocking bad bots in detail in another post.

The quick version is to use .htaccess, a firewall, and a CDN. The CDN will block most security threats. The .htaccess method involves adding a bunch of User Agent strings to your site's .htaccess file (assuming you are using Apache)​. It's far from perfect as these agent strings can be easily spoofed. However, the .htaccess method is easy to employ and will drop your server's load significantly. Finally, the use of a proper firewall will drop any requests made to ports from other servers you don't want to talk to.

Feb 15

What SEO is and What SEO is Not

By Gabe Spradlin | Site Traffic Basics

What SEO is and What SEO is NOT

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is ​often sold as money and sales for free. The traffic is free and it converts! Kinda...

The traffic from a #1 ranking on the right keyword phrase is free and typically plentiful. But getting anywhere near that #1 spot is almost always an expensive proposition both in terms of time and dollars. When you get that #1 spot, if you chose the wrong keyword, then all you have is traffic not sales.

Consider the quote in the image - we're not making a pig fly we're changing a pig into an eagle. Now consider the level of effort required to do that.​ SEO cannot make a bad website rank well. Ranking #1 in Google for a profitable keyword requires a complete overhaul of most sites along with an active backlink building campaign and an active social engagement campaign. The complete overhaul of your site's internals is the genetic engineering mentioned in the quote. The backlink building and the social engagement are necessary extras.

Does that sound free or easy to you?

What SEO is

SEO is a long process of constantly out competing your obvious industry competition. Additionally, you will need to simultaneously out compete SEO firms and internet marketers who spend all day studying and working SEO with nothing to lose. If their experimental site gets de-indexed they just create another and start again.

SEO is a game where the costs are constantly increasing and the payout period is constantly decreasing.​ The high quality sites always win in the end so start with the attitude that your site needs to be high quality with short page load times. Add in active engagement on social sites so that your followers/customers are building natural backlinks for your site. (You can often get quite a bit of traffic from social sites as well.)

​SEO is about authority as perceived by Google's search algorithm. That algorithm changes continuously but Google always wants original content presented with pictures and videos.

What SEO is NOT

SEO is not:

  • a get rich quick scheme;​
  • a reliable source of traffic;
  • a set and forget method of generating traffic to your site;
  • a guarantee of success.

Final Thoughts

​In my experience, SEO driven traffic converts at a much lower rate than AdWords driven traffic. People clicking on an ad expect to be pitched something and when the ad is well constructed you get people to your site who are interested in what you are selling. When you capture SEO traffic it is often traffic looking for information rather than a product. They are often still in the research phase of their buying journey.

It isn't always bad to have people using your site for research purposes. If you can position your site as the authority within a given niche then people will come to you first when looking to purchase something. This allows you to capture that interest early in the process and, if you are clever, convert it to sales.

Often times, SEO traffic is difficult to covert to sales so it can just mean a lot of server load without any sales. More traffic is not always a blessing. So we are back to being careful about the keywords you target.​

Feb 10

My Webserver for Testing

By Gabe Spradlin | Backend Design , PHP , Python , Site Hosting Basics

​My Webserver for Testing

​Every so often on this blog I will present some test results. Something like the time it takes for a simple PHP program to pull data from MySQL vs pulling that same data  from Memcache. Or the speed of Memcache vs Redis.

But not everyone gets the same results. The is usually due to hardware differences or configuration differences. I've seen benchmark testing done for Redis vs Memcache where the author went to great lengths to make sure the two caching programs were doing the same thing. My benchmarks will more often be of the right-out-of-box variety. In other words, I'll install the software with it's defaults directly out of the Ubuntu repository. Then I'll use in some of my tools.

I do that because I just want to install it and see if it improves my performance. I'm not looking for a PhD in every potentially useful program out there and I'm not typically needing to squeeze every last drop of optimization out it. So if, right-out-of-the-box Memcache is an improvement over MySQL then I'll use. If it isn't then I'll look for something else.

Hosting

For those of you wanting to read about my hosting experiences to date you can find them here.​ Long story short, I currently use Server4You for my dedicated hosting because I am fairly adept with a command line and they are significantly cheaper than anyone else I've found.

​Server4You

​The short version of the story on Server4You is that the service is adequate but as good as I'd like. The hardware is typically fast and always up. The data center connections appear to be good and fast.

Testing Webserver Specs

AMD Opteron 3280 8-Core
2000 GB SATA 3,5" 7.200 rpm (x2)
24 GB RAM
Ubuntu 12.04 LTS - LAMP - RAID1

Feb 10

SEO Basics for 2015

By Gabe Spradlin | Site Traffic Basics

SEO Basics for 2015

What Google rewards in terms site structure and quality content has remained the same for years. Therefore, the ​SEO basics have remained the same for many years. A site that is easy for people and the Google's spiders to navigate with content that engages people.

The original paper detailing a prototype of what became the Google engine was written by Sergey Brin and Larry Page while at Stanford. The boiled down version was that if you looked at scientific and engineering journals you would find that some papers were referenced all over the place while other papers were referenced only by future papers of the same author. Clearly the papers that were referenced by everyone were the seminal works in the field. The web doesn't have references but it does have backlinks - links on one site that point to page on another site. Google was started with the idea that these backlinks were like the references in scholarly papers. The more backlinks a page had the authoritative it must be for that topic.

Over the years people caught on to this and so it has been a race for Google to weed out the garbage that manipulates their algorithm while keeping the quality content.

Quality Content for SEO

A few years back an SEO technique called Article Marketing was all the rage. The technique can be boiled down this: 1) write articles on a niche topic, 2) post articles on your site, 3) post slightly altered versions of those articles on other sites, 4) rinse and repeat.​ The guidelines for the articles were:

Parameter

Guideline

Article Length

400-500 words

Keyword Density

2-3%

Number of Headings

Minimum 3, 2 should have keyword in them

Number of Paragraphs

4-6

Keyword Density Definition

​For SEO purposes, the ideal article had 4-6 paragraphs, 400-500 words, and at least 3 headings with the keyword in 2 of the 3. Then I would put the keyword in the first sentence of every paragraph. Occasionally, if the paragraph read better with the keyword in the second sentence I would put the keyword there instead of the first sentence. When I was done I typically had a keyword density in the 1.5% range so I would then find a 2-3 places where adding the keyword would make my sentences more explicit and replace a pronoun with the keyword. This would bump the keyword density to over 2%.

Today 1.5% to 2% is a better keyword density for SEO purposes. The just reads better and doesn't look so forced. Beyond that the article marketing guidelines still hold for every blog post you write. Google does expect that a non-SEO optimized site will contain occasional very long blog posts - 1000+ words - so don't avoid longer blog posts.

I have found that following these guidelines has improved my writing style and, in the past, been rewarded with better rankings. So I still consider these Article Marketing guidelines to be valid SEO advice today.

YouTube for SEO

The latest SEO craze appears to be the use of YouTube videos to rank quickly.​ YouTube has been used by internet marketers for years now to push products. Typically this involved creating a review video for some new product and including a link in the video description on YouTube. That link either pointed at the marketers landing page where they pitched the product or directly to the product's landing page. The marketer was attempting to drive sales of the product through their affiliate link

What is an Affiliate Link

In 2015, YouTube is used for SEO purposes as well. For very local keywords like "boulder best haircuts" a video can rank in minutes. With the correct details in place that video can help you rank a page on your site. Depending on the competition for a given keyword the YouTube video might not be enough to rank any given page. But it is still one more quality link to your site raising it's overall profile with Google.

The fast ranking of a given page via this particular YouTube SEO technique often relies on Social Signals which I describe below.

Social Engagement

​Social engagement is about having a legitimate and active presence on all the major social platforms - Facebook, Twitter, Google+ to name a few. That engagement is through giveaways, coupons, special events, and polls of your followers/customers opinions. Try to be a human being and not a corporation when engaging.

You might ask why you should do this? Many internet marketers have foregone SEO in favor of social networks. Remember SEO is about driving traffic to your site. Active social engagement on the biggest platforms can accomplish the same thing - namely lots of traffic. The interaction is more natural as well. There is no need for keyword research; simply engage with your customers about your products and what people do with those product. You sell tents? Tell a story about the last great camping spot you went to. Or get one of your employees who is an avid camper to do it. You don't need to pitch the product in every post you are trying to engage your customers on a personal level to build loyalty. Then when you have a sale or provide them coupons watch the results. No Google slaps for aggressive SEO and someone else's server handles most of the load from the traffic.

Social Signals for SEO

​Social signals are the link spam of 2015. Link spam used to be all there really was to SEO. Now link spam gets you de-indexed. Social signals, however, are a different beast. The conjecture among SEO gurus is a logical one and it is that no high quality popular site is going to have lots and lots of backlinks without also having lots of social signals - Facebook likes, Tweets, etc. These social signals are easily manipulated with the right software and hundreds of fake accounts on all of these sites. So create the social signals with automation and give the Google algorithm what it expects to see for a quality site.

This is not an SEO technique I recommend on scale. However, using the automation plugins with your own legitimate social accounts - 1 per social site - is appropriate. Just make sure that the automated content isn't the only thing that every shows up on those social accounts. Engage with your potential and current customers. Use the automation to simplify your life so when you write a new blog post you don't spend the next hour logging into the social sites to simply create an entry (via copy and paste) about the blog post.

It's a mutually beneficial relationship internet marketers have with these social sites. For SEO purposes the marketers require hundreds of accounts. All very active accounts. For the sites, their stock price or IPO price is largely due to the number of registered users they have and how active those users are. These fake accounts inflate the number of registered users. The activity level of the fake accounts is also above average. The end result is that all of the sites will ban your account if you are obviously just link spamming them. But take any effort at all to disguise your link spam and they will look the other way.

  • Brief History of SEO
  • Evolution oF SEO
  • Now

When I started my online journey the self-proclaimed successful SEO people spoke of a time before Google algorithm updates. A time lost to the ravages of the early 2000's. A time where SEO was simple and few people knew the sacred text. They were modern men with sales pitch in hand in a land of eCommerce savages.

Then the glories of the SEO god were revealed. FREE traffic. FREE sales. Easy money with no work. And life was good.

The sacred text, written by Apostles Sergey and Larry in the land of Standford,   and would reward those with more backlinks to their sites. Reward them with FREE traffic. More traffic than a simple server can ever handle. So the modern men, with knowledge of the sacred text, offered the SEO god his backlinks. And the SEO god rewarded them.

But the SEO god tired of the backlinks the modern men offered. For they were only link spam. Nothing of substance. So instead of being satiated the SEO god got only gas.

The SEO god became displeased and SLAPPED the modern men for their wicked ways! De-indexing their very profitable sites and causing great sorrow in the hearts of the modern men's wallets. So the modern men tried once again to please the SEO god. For a time, it worked. But they had not learned their lesson properly for they continued their link spam ways only hid it better. When the SEO god realized this he SLAPPED them again.

The modern men took this as a sign that their wicked ways would no longer be tolerated. Realizing their Free Traffic was at risk they transformed themselves into SEO gurus. Claiming to speak for the desires of their SEO god without having any proof of those desires they created throngs of disciples. And so the sacred profits were saved not by the SEO god but by the enthralled SEO disciples. Disciples who spread the word of Free Traffic and East Money to anyone with enough money to buy their guide to pleasing the SEO god.

Feb 10

Hosting Experience (2008 to 2015)

By Gabe Spradlin | Tech Blog - Under Construction

Looking for Hosting?

​Whether you are looking for hosting, need to switch hosting, or just want to know if your hosting could be better it is educational to read others' experience with various hosting companies. Below I list my experience with the hosts I've used the most over the years.

Overall most hosting companies I've used have at least adequate support. Some have support that is downright great. The few I've used that didn't have adequate support are not listed here. I got rid of them so fast that I hardly remember them anymore.

It always seems like a waste of money to pay more for hosting than absolutely necessary. But it isn't. First, when you have an issue and you hosting support leaves you waiting days in between responses that is costing you a lot of money and causing you a lot of stress. Second, the cheapest hosting you can find is often overloaded meaning your server's connection to the internet may be intermittent, slower than stated, or just plain unstable. Additionally, I always recommend giving your users the best possible experience. Speed is a major component of that experience. If paying more hardware than you really think you need means serving your customers pages in 1 sec instead of 3 sec it just might be worth every penny. Better hardware is an immediate improvement to your sites response times. It's also cheaper than an overhaul of the software that runs your site.

Large performance increases almost always require a complete rebuild of your site's software. But that's beyond the scope of this post so without further ado here are my experiences:

SiteGround: Where it all started

I started my online business with hosting at a company called SiteGround back in 2008/9. Their shared hosting plan was cheap and the support was good. However, one day my SEO efforts began to pay off and shared hosting was no longer good enough. At the time (2009/10 timeframe), SiteGround didn't offer anything other than shared hosting. I asked and begged and pleaded but they just didn't.

So time to move on...

DreamHost

I moved everything to DreamHost in early 2010. Their shared hosting provided me with more control over some the features I needed for my sites. So at first I didn't need anything more than DreamHost's shared hosting.

Later in 2010, my SEO efforts really took off and DreamHost's shared hosting wasn't fast enough. First, I tried a Virtual Private Server (VPS). With a VPS you have a certain percentage of a dedicated server that is dedicated to you. So you get less and pay less than you would for a dedicated server. With DreamHost VPSs you can just request more CPU and RAM whenever you need it. So as the traffic to my sites grew I requested more resources. One day I found I needed enough VPS resources that I was paying nearly the cost of a dedicated server. So I went to a dedicated server at Server4You with a lot faster web page loading than the VPS at nearly the same price. But I kept the VPS as well.

You might be asking yourself why I would continue to pay for the VPS and pay for the dedicated server. It's a good question to ask and the answer is pretty simple. I had a site where I was sending paid traffic (Google AdWords) and it was making good money until one day when it wasn't. The difference was that page load times had jumped for around 3 sec to over 5 sec (if I remember correctly - that was 5 years ago). So I decided to move that site to the dedicated server alone. The page times dropped back under 3 sec and I was making money from the paid traffic again. I wanted to keep the other sites running but didn't want them interfering so I kept them on the VPS.

Never underestimate the importance of page load time to your website's conversion rate or your customer's experience on site.

Click to Tweet

Even though I don't need DreamHost for much today I stick with them for all the little things I need. Why? Over and over and over again the support at DreamHost has been excellent. I have an issue, I describe it, they dig, they find the answer, they give me instructions on how to fix the problem. That's rare.

Server4You

​For several years now I've used dedicated servers from Server4You. The price is hard to beat for servers with the hardware specs my business has needed. They aren't perfect though...

​Support

The support is fast enough and adequate when you know exactly what needs to be done. However, unlike DreamHost they aren't interested in helping you if you mucked something up. There is much more of a you broke it, you fix it attitude.

First, you better know what you are doing and be willing to Google a lot about what you don't know. I don't mean to say you have to be a *Nix expert to run one of their servers but the support isn't there to hold your hand either. I find the email support is usually reasonably fast but often terse or irritable. So am I typically by the time I've contacted them which makes for an unpleasant exchange.

Second, I find that it is hit or miss as to whether or not support will put any effort into truly understanding the issue.you are having. The times I've been most displeased is when they respond with answers that don't appear to pertain to the issue. It almost always turns out to be relevant but they provided no explanation as to how and the fix is often to change a config setting in some system process I'd never heard of before. If you are a sysadmin then the context is probably obvious. I've learned a lot over the past several years so I don't have this problem with them often anymore.

However, when you are able to very precisely explain the issue they respond quickly. When I can precisely determine and explain the issue at hand I can usually Google an answer in less than 5 minutes so....

I will say that on the occasion you get a support person who will dig into the problem for you they seem to know their stuff. They will then present some results from a diagnostic test, explain it a little, present a few options, and ask how you want to proceed. This is invaluable but it happens very rarely.

Hardware​

Over the years I've had as many as 5 servers at once with Server4You and I've upgraded and upgraded again. In total I've probably had about 10 machines with Server4You​. Of those 2 had hard drives that failed. Both hard drive failures have been on my primary money making machine. Ouch. The first of those failures really almost killed my online business. I upgraded my servers to newer equipment and added a server to be a live backup of my primary revenue server. A couple of years later the second hard drive failure occurred. Unfortunately, this failure occurred over 3 months and just killed my revenue. I eventually figured it out and that my live backup wasn't quite what I'd intended. However, the live backup was essential in getting a new primary server up and running quickly.

I've also had a couple of RAM issues and some mysterious other issues I can't be certain are hardware related but they strike me as hardware of Server4You configuration related. Either way, I always keep a server as a backup now.

Honorable Mentions

Digital Ocean

Right now I use Digital Ocean for experimental sites. These are typically brand new sites that I don't expect a lot of traffic to right now. With some basic caching even their low end offerings can handle quite a bit of traffic. Digital Ocean is a cloud hosting company so at the low end of the offerings you get a unique IP and more power for a little more than the standard hosting.

Digital Ocean offers you an image to put on your server. The images of most interest to me are just a bare OS, a LAMP setup, or LAMP + WordPress. The bare OS doesn't come with a lot of the programs you need to run a modern website so I don't use that image often. The LAMP image is an image that includes the OS and all the programs most modern websites need as a bare minimum. But I was planning on putting up a WordPress site so I chose the LAMP + WordPress image.

I've had almost no reason to use Digital Ocean's support but this LAMP + WordPress image didn't work as it was setup so I had to contact support. They were quick in their response but not quite as thorough in their attempt to help as I would have preferred especially since I was having a problem with their image without having messed with it. Honestly, the image should have worked without any need for intervention on my part. But it didn't.

One of the things both DreamHost and DIgital Ocean have in common is a very thorough set of articles on how to do almost anything with their servers. If you have the tech skills you can use these "how tos" to install and configure almost any software you might want on your server. You don't have to be a customer to use these resources but it also speaks towards their desire for an easy customer experience.

Media Temple

​I was only with Media Temple for a short period of time. They were running Cloud hosting at the time. I primarily remember them for their wonderful service. I had moved my primary revenue site away from DreamHost but hadn't landed at Server4You yet. Nothing about the site should have required the level of resources that it was requiring and I wanted to know why as well as determine what kind of hosting I really needed.

Media Temple charged by the amount of CPU your site used and so had a number of tools for helping you determine what was costing you the most money. Between their tools and some excellent support I found a WordPress plugin that was causing my page load times to be very slow. Ultimately, their support helped me realize that they weren't the right hosting company for me and I respect that.