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I wrote a post earlier about SEO and the English Langauge that described the ways text can influance search engine placement and I want to talk briefly about one of the other factors that can affect search engine optimization and that is backlinking. A backlink is a link from any other website to your own.  If I were, for example, to link to Spoonfed that would be considered a backlink to the Spoonfed site, an external link from my own.  The more backlinks a website receives, from more reputible sources, the higher Google ranks them in the search results, and the higher page rank (PR) they are awarded.  PR is an artificial indicator, created by the search engines, that indicates how important a page is perceived on the web.  PR can go from unranked, which is lower than 0, to 10 which is the highest.

Of course, the trick becomes finding ways to get sites with high PR to give a backlink to your site.  Of course, you can create content that other sites find interesting, causing them to link to your interesting information; you can contact them directly and ask them to place a link on your site, especially if you think they might find your content valuable – this is what I am currently working on for Spoonfed; you can purchase high quality backlinks OR you can find places where you can actually post your own link on someone else’s website.  That might sound counterintitive – why would someone allow you to change their page to add a link? – but it’s actually more common that you might imagine.  Blogs have comment fields where you can enter your own comments, forums as well allow visitors to take part in a conversation.  By placing your link in comments or forum posts, you can manually increase the number of backlinks to your site.

Things become a bit more complicated, however, with something called the Follow tag.  When you typically create a link in HTML code, it looks like this:

<a href=”http://www.name-of-website.com”>Name of Website</a>

However in that code, you can add special tags that cause the link to open in a new window, to open in a new tab, or even a tag that tells Google robots (discussed in the previous post) not to visit that page at all.  Most blogs (including mine) include “no-follow” tags as a default setting in comments, so spammers can’t take advantage of the exact manual backlinking strategy I described above.  However many forums and blogs have “do-follow” tags that allow Google robots to explore your site after you manually create the link, thus passing the high PR from their blog or forum to your page.

There are many directory listings of forums and blogs that are do-follow, so I won’t go into those lists here.  What I want to discuss is how to find high PR pages within the forum or blog where you can post your link.  Because each page on a domain has an individual rank (for example, this blog post alone is unranked while the homepage at www.thetopfloorflat.com has a PR of 3), sometimes it can be tricky to find high PR places to link even within do-follow domains.

The first step is to download the Firefox addon, SEO for Firefox, a fantastic tool that will show you, directly in your search results list, valuable SEO information about the pages your search has returned.  This information includes PR, the number of backlinks that page itself has, and age of the site.  Once the addon has been installed, you’re ready to find some high PR target pages to add your backlinks.

Pick one of your favorite do-follow forums or blogs – if you don’t know of any you can start with my favorite web developer’s forum, Digital Point.  Go to the Google search engine and make sure your SEO for Firefox addon is turned on.  Then, do a search for the phrase “site:forums.digitalpoint.com” of course replacing the URL forums.digitalpoint.com with whatever forum or blog you plan on using.  As your search loads, the SEO for Firefox addon will show you the PR of each page indexed on the site, while the Google results will show you how many forums posts are on the page.  A quick scan through the results can indicate some valuable results, such as this one here:

This image shows a result with a PR of 3, a fairly high PR, and only six other posts on the page.  This is an excellent target – I can go to the page, add a post to the forum thread, and instantly have a PR3 backlink to my site.  Then, I can return to the search results to find more easy targets and high PR backlinks. Once you’ve exhausted one site, there are thousands of other do-follow blogs and forums to explore.

One note – Google does not allow you to run limitless searches on their cached site pages, so it may be useful to do a few searches under one domain, then another, switching between them as you look for high PR backlink options.

This is a departure from my usual, less technical posts, and I do hope to start including more of my tech experiences in the blog here.  If you have any questions about this information, feel free to leave a comment below.  Didn’t understand a word? Don’t worry, the usual fluff will return to a blog near you soon :).

I mentioned about a week ago that some of the Spoonfed team met up with the awesomely entitled London startup, School of Everything. Now that I had heard about them from my boss, had a chance to take a quick look at their website, and seen their blog post about teapots, I decided it was time to take a better look at the site and the see what I could learn at the School of Everything.

Here’s the run down: School of Everything (SoE from now on) has the brilliant proposition of allowing anyone to teach anything to anyone else. From their About Us page (which seems to have some formatting errors on the page but it might be my computer), “Everyone has something to learn. Everyone has something to teach.” Instead of limiting their userbase by trying to be city specific (not necessarily an illogical option but regardless one they decided not to take) they have members from all over the world, making it likely that you’ll be able to find someone nearby – although whether or not they want to teach what you want to learn is yet to be seen at this point. As a student, you can connect with teachers and read their profile, course descriptions and background. As a teacher, you can define your area of expertises, set your hourly rate, and advertise your classes all for free. The site is still growing and has only been in its current incarnation since Sept 1.

First impressions:

To begin with, I had to admit their homepage could use a bit of sprucing up – it wasn’t the most visually engaging thing I’ve seen on the web. Fortunately my main criteria was met in that it was easy to navigate, understand, and find the signup button. I also liked the homepage feature where I could see “new faces” with some of the most recent registrants (and either everyone adds a photo or SoE has cleverly chosen only to show users who add a photo). There was a tag cloud that had “Recent Subjects” although I would have preferred to see a list of what people had recently signed up to teach, and maybe a few lines about their offered courses.

Registration and profile setup:

After the simple signup process (I love startups – no one has the username Meaghan yet), I was ready to start adding subjects to my profile. I had signed up as a student, feeling that even if I did want teach Londoners how to make chocolate cake, shop on a budget and blog, I just wouldn’t have the time.

From the profile page, a simple text box allowed me to enter any subject I wanted to learn. I quickly discovered that typing a few letters would give me a drop down box of suggestions (so, typing baking gave me the options of baking, cake baking and home baking) that others had added. This did make things a bit confusing – for example, I tried to enter “piano” and saw half a dozen options including Piano., classical piano, piano and piano lessons. I picked a number of popular subjects (yoga, cooking, piano), some less popular ones (marketing, swing dance) and then created a new subject I wanted to learn (time travel – just testing the system here!).

As soon as I added a new subject, it appeared in my profile along with the number of other people who wanted to learn and the number of teachers available. This is a fantastic feature, and I really appreciated knowing right away that there was no one registered for the site who could teach me time travel so I didn’t have to waste my time searching the site or hoping to get contacted.

Finding a teacher:

Clicking on the number of teachers brought me to a page of everyone registered as a teacher of that subject. I started with piano which had an encouraging 70 teachers but discovered that this listed all teachers on the site – not the ones in my area (to be fair, there were 27 in London so I’m set if I want to learn piano). For the smaller subjects, however, such as marketing, of the 13 instructors only two were in London.

Upon selecting one of the teachers, I was taken to their teaching profile which listed all of the courses they could teach. From here, I had the option of bookmarking the teacher as a contact (although it took me a while to figure out where this saved him – into the contacts pages of my profile) or messaging them to, presumably, set up a lesson.

Thoughts and future features:

I really like learning stuff so I was pretty much guaranteed to like this website. It’s got a lot of potential and what it really needs at this point is enough of a userbase to make it legitimately useful. I can also see the opportunity for encouraging very niche subjects to gain a following (I didn’t see any Chessboxing classes yet!). The other thing I’d like to see with SoE is a simpler option for setting up lessons. Give the teachers a calendar on their profile and let people fill up time slots (this would need some form of confirmation but could also let others see how popular a teacher is). What about reviews and performance reports? Can students get report cards on their profile? Can teachers get recommendations?

Right now, SoE is a bit of a glorified Gumtree or Craigslist for teachers. But it has all of the tools in place to be a great resource for, well, Everything. I’m really looking forward to seeing this site after a few thousand more Londoners sign up. Who knows, I might even find someone to teach me time travel.

Check out The School of Everything.