Last week, Matt Cutts responded to a question he receives fairly regularly concerning the PageRank feature in the Google toolbar. Specifically, why haven’t they removed it? It is apparent that many believe that the PageRank feature is “widely used by link sellers as a link grading system.”

There is, of course, some truth to this. While spammers do take advantage of the PageRank system, Cutts says that it is still relevant to many others. “There are a lot of SEO’s and people in search who look at the PageRank toolbar, but there are a ton of regular users as well.” Apparently, many internet users see the PageRank feature as indicative of reputability  and Google doesn’t plan on forcing them to stop.

That doesn’t mean PageRank is here to stay forever. While Google plans to keep supporting it so long as it is relevant to their users, it is telling that Chrome does not have the PageRank feature built into Chrome. Now, IE 10 is disavowing add ons, meaning Google’s toolbar will no longer work with the browser.

Considering that Internet Explorer was the only browser supporting the Google toolbar, it is highly likely the PageRank feature, as well as the toolbar as a whole, will fade away before long. As Matt Cutts puts it, “the writing is on the wall” that the new iteration of IE could be the end of PageRank, but we will have to wait and see.

The cloud has changed how many use the internet drastically, especially designers. In the past, we were forced into filling hard drive after hard drive with revisions, inspiration, textures, and every other sort of file needed for work. Then, for collaboration, you either e-mailed these files to a coworker, or dropped off a flash drive.

Now, instead of endless e-mails of different versions of the same project, designers, developers, and clients can all access the newest version, compare it to past versions, provide input, and even make revisions in some cases, all at the same time while only saving the most important files to a physical hard drive.

Of course, there have always been online storage sites, but the largest differences between older storage services and new cloud-based ones is the speed that the information is delivered to others, and the wider accessibility. The cloud uses multiple servers to deliver one set of information, rather than finding the server with the site or image you were looking for and relying on that server alone to return the proper page. It also allows multiple accounts to be able to have access to the same files without having to create a hierarchy of accounts, though you can if you need to.

If you don’t understand how the cloud works, I suggest checking out Rob Toledo’s article at Vandelay Design. The cloud is revolutionizing the internet, yet again, and if you ignore it you will be left behind.

After the big shift to content focused SEO this year, a lot of the talk has been about the technical ways experts can use to try to get higher rankings behind the scenes. Everyone talks about how important is, but many are still more distracted by the ways they can mathematically manipulate that content to tailor to Google’s algorithms.

What too many are missing is that now the best way to tailor to Google is to turn your focus towards what consumers and visitors want.

The truth is, the top sites online have been doing this for years, because the most popular sites are those that provide quality content. Smaller SEO’s seem to have trouble accepting this for two reasons. The first is that it is hard to quantize how to make effective content. There isn’t necessarily a magic formula for the best blog, even for search engines.

Search engines run on algorithms, and it is an SEO’s job to adapt or even create a site to best fit those algorithm’s needs. However, trying to take advantage of those algorithms has lead to more and more using questionable practices to try to “trick” Google into higher rankings for sub-par content. This lead to Google instituting the Penguin and Panda updates, so that low-quality sites had a much harder time making their way to the top.

The other reason SEO’s often have trouble understanding that great content has ALWAYS been important is the competitive nature of website rankings and business in general. Just having excellent content alone has never been enough, and never will be, because there is a lot behind the scenes that pretty much has to be done to remain competitive for the great content to ever be noticed. The trick is finding the line between being competitive and slipping into more questionable practices.

But, there are thousands of pages worth of articles on how to tackle all of that behind the scenes SEO that you can do. When it comes to lessons on how to actually make the great quality your visitors and the search engines want to see, there’s a lot less to work with. Rebecca Garland, in an article for One Extra Pixel, gives some great pointers on how to actually improve the quality of your content, while also favoring the current search engine climate.

When business owners finally decide to use SEO, they are often uninformed or confused on a lot of the basics of the industry. It isn’t surprising, considering how complex and ever-changing SEO is. While trying to explain all of SEO to a client or business owner is impossible, Nick Stamoulis thinks a few key ideas can help orient people new to the industry with a better understanding of what we do.

SEO is Long Term

One of the most common misconceptions about SEO and the internet as a whole is that there is some magic way to dominate search results or gain visitors overnight. There are a select few cases of websites that have sprung up over the span of a couple months, but those are rare, and there were other factors contributing to their quick success.

SEO is a long term process that builds on itself over time. It can take months just to see the kind of effects your SEO strategy is having on your site. For example, content creation and marketing are huge parts of the current SEO field, and SEO companies pump content out steadily through the work week. Most of this content can go unnoticed, while an occasional article gains gets some attention, but in the end they are all positively contributing to the sites SEO strategy and SERP placement.

No one wants to wait to see positive results, but some things you just can’t force.

Always Put Visitors Before Search Engines

Good SEO relies on creating a good user experience. No marketing campaign in the world will raise an objectively bad website out of the ether, because people won’t return to a site, or even stay on the page long enough to matter, if the site doesn’t work well or have interesting information.

The types of people who put all of their focus on what search engine algorithms want are the type of people who try to take advantage of every loophole and questionable strategy they can find. It might even work for a while, but eventually a new algorithm will identify what they are doing and, as Liz Lemon would say, shut it down.


Stamoulis has two more ideas in his article he feels it is important for business owners to understand but these two points identify the biggest misunderstandings the uninitiated have. If you’re a business owner trying to get into SEO, ask yourself why you want to start now. If you want to dominate the rankings to start making tons more money tomorrow, you are barking up the wrong tree (is there even a right tree for that?). But if you are trying to make your already reputable product or brand more available to the masses over time, SEO can help.

Just because we are a month into the year, it doesn’t mean some aren’t still giving their predictions for what will be popular this year. Jake Rocheleau is a little late to the fray, but he makes a couple predictions which pique my interests, especially because he stays away from the standard for this years’ lists, responsive design.

Instead of just repeating that responsive design will be big this year, Rocheleau suggests responsive design is going to shift our workflows to starting on mobile and building sites up from there. Mobile first design allows you to identify what is important from the beginning, then flesh out the site for other platforms. The traditional method of starting on desktop usually turns into a game of squishing and cutting elements when scaled down for mobile.

Rocheleau also uses a popular implement for many social media websites as a sign that soon infinite scrolling will be common on the web. Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter have all popularized the layout style, and even Reddit’s most popular add-on, Reddit Enhancement Suite, adds in infinite scrolling, as well as numerous other features. This style doesn’t work for every type of site, but it certainly is spreading.

His other predictions aren’t as interesting as the last two advancements. White space and minimalist designs have had a niche following for years in web design, and while many sites use this style, it is hard to see it becoming widespread. The idea behind using minimalist designs or a lot of negative space is that it removes clutter and helps users focus more on pages. Clutter on a webpage is never good, but most companies will continue to opt for other solutions, if the trend continues as it has been.

The same goes for big photography. In the circles extra large photography online benefits, big photography has been common in some form for years. Design portfolios and personal websites have long organized their main pages around large, high quality images. The newer high definition displays out there definitely make these types of pages pop a little more than they used to, but it is hard to see it becoming any more common than it already is.

It is always interesting to look at predictions or annual lists that arrive a little behind the rest of the pack. Most lists for 2012 that came out in early January or late December tended to focus on responsive design and parallax scrolling. Those two design implements are keeping their foothold, but as this list shows, we’re already moving further with design.

If Eric Schmidt’s book, “The New Digital Age”, is to be believed, Google’s authorship markup is going to play a huge role in search engine result pages before long. Given, as Search Engine Watch points out, Schmidt has a “talk first, think later” habit which has caused some great, though not always reliable, soundbites  but the fact that this is in his upcoming book, rather than a random interview, lends this quite a bit of reliability.

The Wall Street Journal published some excerpts from the book, and it is one in particular which has caught the eye of SEO professionals.

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

Google introduced their authorship markup in 2011, and stated at the time that they were “looking closely at ways this markup could help us highlight authors and rank search results,” but since then it has faded into the background in many ways. Google’s plans for the future bring it very much so back onto the table. Schmidt’s comment has made it very clear that Google wants to implement Google+ as a verification device. On one hand, it would be one of the best combatants against spammers imaginable. On the other, do we really want a future where we are forced to be on Google+ just so people can find your website?

I recently wrote about the current debate over skeuomorphism and flat design, but after investigating more into the topic, I don’t feel like I explained skeuomorphism as well as possible. Of particular interest to me was Paula Borowska’s article for Designmodo specifically looking at skeuomorphism.

The biggest misconception about skeuomorphism is also the one I failed to address in my original definition of the concept. Skeuomorphism isn’t simply mimicking the way something looks. It is copying the aesthetic properties of the material, the shape, and most importantly, the functionality. Those apps using faux leather backgrounds aren’t part of skeuomorphic design.

More than anything, Skeuomorphic design is about functionality and shape, not texture. The object doesn’t have to physically do something, but it has to convey the idea of functionality  For example, a paperclip on a “stack” of photos is skeuomorphic design, because it appears to be holding them together.

Apple, always noted for their use of skeuomorphism, have the newsstand, the most famous case of the design technique. It, of course, has the wooden texture of a bookshelf, but it also used the newsstand shape and shelved to organize the magazines like they would be on an actual newsstand. Sure, it looks pretty, but it also uses the idea of a real object to better help you understand and interact with the content.

The debate between skeuomorphism and flat design is most likely just posturing. Despite proponents on either side, neither style is inherently better than the other. Most importantly, the web is not a cohesive entity. Neither style of design is going to eradicate the other, though they may fluctuate in popularity. If the internet can’t seem to completely rid itself of Geocities style pages from 1998, neither of these techniques will be disappearing any time soon.

Your ad for Facebook should be different from ads on other platforms. Even if you’re also advertising on other social media sites, your Facebook ad has to be unique, as would an ad for Twitter or Tumblr. That’s because you need to consider not only who is going to encounter this ad, but where they will see it and what mindset they’ll be in when they do. That seems like a lot but it is the key to crafting the ideal ad.

Robin Bresnark has an article at Business2Community that delves into this idea of incredibly specific audience targeting. Although I disagree with some of his finer points, everyone should agree on the core of the article, which is simply to think of who you are selling to before creating your selling tool.

The prevailing thought is ‘Facebook isn’t for selling’ so you’ll need to take a different route. Once you figure out what exactly works for Facebook, you can start trying to work within those parameters to find what works for your key demographic.

WordPress is easily one of the most popular content management systems available, especially for internet marketers and SEOs. It is easy to use and insanely flexible for a CMS, but it has become the most used by SEOs for the number of tools you can use within the site, and how easy it is to optimize web pages.

WordPress doesn’t just work well with quick and easy optimization techniques though. It is so flexible you can implement almost any more advanced optimization techniques you could want.

Ilan Nass at Search Engine Journal notes three of the more overlooked SEO tweaks you can do with WordPress, and teaches you how to do them in his article. If you want your blog or web page to be as optimized as possible, make sure you are doing these techniques.

Designing with grids is common practice online. Every template is based around grids which let you input what you want, and most popular websites have their pages broken up along a grid. There are some issues with relying on grids for your design however.

The biggest practical issue with putting your faith into a pre-made grid is that the internet is not static, and boundaries are vague at best. Sure, every device has a set width and height, but those measurements vary wildly and there are uncountable other variables. Images are shown at different densities, text can be resized, and there are constant updates to how the web is processed.

This issue only hints at the bigger problem with relying on templates. If you aren’t making the active decisions of how your content needs to be presented, you are instead molding your content to fit the grids. Web pages are supposed to exist to present information, not the other way around. Your design affects everything on the screen, including the information you are putting out there.

Taking control and shaping your design around your content lets you decide how your design enhances your content. Adhering to a strict grid limits your content by confining it. This isn’t to say using grids in your layouts is bad.

Grids are tools, and should be used to highlight your content, and visually group related items, establish a hierarchy of importance, and create a sense of rhythm on the webpage. The issue is when webpage owners decide that using a premade gridded template rather than trusting a professional. Ben Gremillion thinks grids can even be used to bring new life to webpages, but you have to be actively deciding how to use grids and not simply slapping some information into slots.