The simple answers? There is no purpose and there is functionality.
This seems to be yet another of the "I re-coded it because I can" changes foisted upon the customers. But for every customer who voices their dissatisfaction about purposeless changes, we have Brandon to remind us we are wrong.
Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner! Blair, my biggest fear is that no one at IPS has a good understanding of what long tail results actually are. (And just about now, 'long tail results' is becoming one of Google's most popular search terms. :wink: )
I don't mean to take anything away from any of the IPS coders, please understand. But coding a forum is one thing. Coding an SEO application is something quite different. I am employed by one of the fastest-growing and highest-recommended SEO companies in the business, but I wouldn't know where to start, when it comes to coding a forum or a forum app. I question what kind of SEO background Mark actually has. Does he have any SEO background, or is he merely trying to sort through the pieces of what Dan left behind and trying to make it integrate with IPB 3.2.0?
What, me worry?
That being said, I'm looking forward to seeing how well 3.2 performs in the wild. I suppose it is nigh on impossible to get a perfect 100 out of 100 score from every admin, but after using my test site for several days, I give 3.2 a solid 98. I like it and really look forward to using it. But I would sure love to get my hands on some Analytics data for this site, over the last 24 months, to see how well 3.2 is really playing with the search engines. I've already suffered one, hasty IPB upgrade, from which it took 8 months of effort to recover. And, as a teaser, I found a way to improve my long tail along the way. My long tail was at 2.21 prior to the upgrade and fell clear back to 3.74 after, which was worse than my pre-vBSEO vBulletin days. I'm pleased to say my long tail is now at 2.11. It took me a bit of head-scratching to get it there, but it shows it can be done. And I think there's more left in it. My traffic is now starting to establish new records again and, thank Heaven, my revenue is back to where it was. So I'm going to ca' canny and lay back a bit before upgrading to 3.2. As much as I admire 3.2, I don't care to fling myself off any more cliffs.
Matt, it sure looks like a lot of love and a lot of hate are being expressed. I used to get wound up when I was having to take a lot of static over various things. An old friend taught me a lesson he had learned as a radio operator on a B-17, during WWII - the flak is always the worst when you're directly over the target. Perhaps that will allow you to find a bit of breathing room in all this.
I've been doing a lot of testing with 3.2 and must admit I'm really impressed. Earlier today, I told a friend that we humans are resistant to change, by our very nature. But it seems as if 3.2 has brought a lot of change to the table, without much of the resistance I would have expected. I expected to be disappointed with having to sort a lot of changes, but even though I've found several areas in 3.2 that seem completely different, they are different in a much simpler and more intuitive way.
Change upsets people, because it means they are going to have to do things differently than what they've become used to doing. Even when change is obviously made for the better, it still requires people to give up what they've become comfortable doing.
From where I sit, it looks as if you're directly over the target. I recommend you continue to focus on your target and carry out your mission.
In all fairness, I think it's fair to point out IPB 3 was the product you had available when your arguably largest competitor decided to turn their product upside down and set it on fire. Had that not happened in the other house, I would not have been looking for alternatives and I suspect I'm not the only one who would say that. I don't mean it in a negative way, but I do think a large part of IPB 3's success was a result of that competitor's developmental implosion.
I suppose it just proves the theory that in business, timing can be everything. :wink:
Matt, I respect that it would take a lot of effort to add a tagging feature to the core. But I have also seen positive results from using tags on that other forum platform. It's one of those things that doesn't present itself as a deal-breaker, but I think it could prove to be a big plus.
Then again, the thought of going back and tagging thousands of threads doesn't sound very appealing. :)
Dan, I appreciate your reply. And again, I do appreciate IPS is moving forward with trying to optimize the software even more.
Yes, it would be convenient to have a report available in Search Activity, so the information would all be located in one place. Again, it's a convenience issue more than anything else. (read: I'm lazy.)
It would be nice to be able to create a custom rewrite rule for pages and add-on scripts that are not currently rewritten, in case the admin wants to see that page indexed. Like I mentioned earlier, when I can be sure I have eliminated file extensions from all pages I want indexed, my robots.txt file gets stupid simple.
Yes, there is that possibility, because nothing is free, not even in SEO. But as with all other things, there is the trade-off in having links appear with keyword-rich anchor text. This is another convenience issue, because we can all take the time to create our own anchor text. But when my members don't or won't take the time, I know I'm still covered with page titles being pulled in automatically.
My fault for not making myself more clear. Let me rephrase that to say, I would like to see rel="nofollow" become admin-defined for all internal and external links, rather than just on or off. As an example, I would like to determine whether I want member profile links in the postbit to be nofollow, or if I want member profile links on the index page to be nofollow. I try to keep total links on any given page to a minimum, as we both know Google likes to see the number under 100. So let me shut off the member profile links on the index page, so I can give the links to my forums (read: my content) more weight.
If you look at just a single post on a topic, there are a ton of non-relevant links present. The link to the member profile is only one example. And all of those links hurt the signal to noise ratio of the page. Most admins feel content is king and that certainly is a large part of the equation. But it doesn't end there. It is also necessary to let the king shine on its own page and getting rid of all the background noise is how that is accomplished.
It may 'sound' shady, but I used it with excellent results on four, vBSEO-enabled sites.
I think we would agree that a large message to welcome guests and to give them a call to register an account can be a valuable tool. This kind of message can give guests an overview of what the forum is about, provide them with a registration page link, provide them with a link to something like a photo gallery page, provide them with a link to the articles pages, etc. Sounds like a good idea, right? But there we are, adding more links to every page on the site. Not to mention we are adding text to the top of every page on the site. Repetitive text. Text the spiders will have to wade through before they can ever get to the page's keyword-rich content.
So, is the welcome message a good idea or a bad idea? Do some intext searches and look how many vBulletin forums have the, "...you may need to register before you can post..." message in the SERPs. Is that the kind of 'content' you want indexed on your site?
In years gone by, we would create welcome message images and then we would hotmap areas of the image to provide links to registration pages, etc. Which was a tremendous pain. With the Virtual HTML Display, you could do a text welcome message and wrap the message in virtual HTML tags. I would wrap the What's Going On table in the same tags. Navigation modules displayed on the page would also get wrapped in the tags.
Again, I think we can agree that the search engines are getting smarter as time moves forward. I feel there was a time when a static-appearing forum URL was really necessary, but I no longer feel the same way. We've gone from a time when having static URLs isn't so important, but a keyword-rich URL is an advantage (note I did not say necessary). I see clear evidence every day that Google can deal with whatever URL it comes up against.
The only absolute in search engine optimization is that Google does a good job of keeping people like you and I in the dark as much as they can. ;)
I agree Search Activity is a really great tool. You know how long I've been using it. And I look it over every day.
What I meant by my earlier observation is that while Search Activity is a great tool to help an admin see the results of his labors, it offers nothing in the way of optimizing any site page for the search engines. It doesn't change anything, either on-page or off-page that will optimize a site. The practice of search engine optimization is the practice of making individual pages more search engine-friendly. Getting content in front of the spiders as quickly as possible, eliminating noisy links and speeding up page load times will optimize a page. Looking at a tool that represents search engine phrases and spider visits doesn't accomplish any of those things.
One of the biggest negative points the vBSEO naysayers would use was how much load it placed on a server. When I upgraded from vB 3.6.x to 3.7.0, I saw much more server load than vBSEO had ever presented. (And for the record, IPB places much less load on my server than vB did.) So I am convinced a lot of SEO features can be added without slowing servers to a crawl.
All of the features I suggested are features I have used and currently use in vBSEO-enabled vB sites with great results. Some of the features are down to simple convenience, some of them are features that help/ed me optimize every page on the site/s. Call me anal if you like, but I've tracked and recorded several data points from Google Analytics and Google Webmaster on a weekly basis since back in April 2008. I have over 2.5 years of recorded data to show me what works and what doesn't. I've found a simple template edit that worked very well with vB absolutely will not provide the same results with IPB, for instance. Touch base with Charles about the anomaly I recorded when I upgraded to 3.1.3. I've talked with both Matt and Charles about it and while I am now confident there were no deliberate changes made with that release, I am also confident my recorded data is not lying to me. And the anomaly only existed on sites I had upgraded to 3.1.3 and not on the sites still running 3.1.2. I think I've managed to turn things around, but it will take several weeks to indicate whether I am right or wrong. I have all my sites running on 3.1.4 now, but I approached the upgrade with trepidation.
You can see I have always adopted a very methodical approach to SEO. And in the early days, I took my fair share of lumps. But I've developed a solid outline of which practices will work and which practices won't. I'm not the fellow who thinks having keywords in my URLs is what search engine optimization is all about. Apparently my employer feels the same way. ;)
OK, Charles, remember you did ask for some suggestions.
1. I would like to see a report page to show when each sitemap was generated and how many URLs were included.
2. I would like to see a report to show when the sitemaps are accessed and by what user agent.
3. I would like to see a simple means to insert Google Analytics code into each page, without the need of an add-on.
4. I would like to see FURLs become user definable. What if someone wants underscores for separators, rather than hyphens? What if I want my forum URLs to appear as domain.com/f12/? What if I want my topic URLs to appear as domain.com/f12/topic-keywords-784/?
5. I would like to see a means to define custom rewrite rules for add-ons, so pages we want indexed are rewritten.
6. I would like to see Meta Tags dynamically-created with relevant keywords from the given page, rather than being user-defined on a page-by-page basis.
7. I would like to see external page titles added to external domain links as anchor text, to create keyword-rich links.
8. I would like to see user-defined stopwords (a, an, the, with, the, that, etc.) removed from FURLs
9. I would like to see rel="nofollow" become user-defined for all internal and external links, rather than just on or off.
11. I would like a simple means to eliminate the Forum Jump menu for guests. This would eliminate the need to generate all the non-relevant HTML code and also eliminate all the content from the page, increasing the content to code ratio.
12. I would like a simple means to eliminate the Last post Info column for guests, for the same reasons.
13. I would like to see a means to add image size attributes to all forum images.
Some of the ongoing problems people are mentioning could be eliminated by implementing some of these suggestions. The ability to define URL structure would be great for new sites. (Of course it would create havoc, as admins with established and well-indexed sites would want to change their URLs.) The ability to create custom rewrite rules for forum add-ons is also nice, as it allows an admin to rewrite everything he wants to have indexed. On my vB/vBSEO sites, I would rewrite any resource I wanted to have indexed, without the use of any extensions. (Remember, extensions can be and have been deprecated.) From that point, creating a robots.txt file was wickedly simple. I merely disallowed all .php scripts. Actually, to confound the wannabe crackers, I would disallow all extensions - .htm, .html, .cfm, etc - just to throw them off the track. I do not want or need stopwords in my URLs. Words like 'the', 'or' and 'a' are not keywords, so why am I lengthening my URLs by including them? A short URL is a good URL and yes, I do think a URL using nothing more than forumid/topicid (domain.com/f12/t864/) will be indexed as well as any other URL with loads of keywords and stopwords. The definition of image size attributes will speed up page rendering and will also help search engines determine the relevancy of images to the text surrounding them, as they calculate keyword relevancy for a given page.
I'm pleased to see IPS addressing SEO in a positive manner, but the addition of a sitemap generator, a graphic representation of the search engine logs and user-defined meta tags is a far cry from search engine optimization. Give me the ability to determine what links I want re="nofollow" added to and which I don't and then I'm suddenly optimizing my pages for the search engines. Give me the ability to dump off all the user profile links from my forum index page and then I'm suddenly optimizing my page for the search engines. Give me the ability to dump off a lot of wasted and repetitive code for the guests (search engines) and I am suddenly optimizing my page for the search engines.
I use and appreciate Dan's Search Activity add-on, but how is that ever going to be confused for something that will help with search engine optimization?
See the differences?
Charles, are you sure you wanted input and suggestions? ;)
Well as long as we are wishing, I second Shaun's suggestion in the OP about a kinder, gentler Article system. I'm trusting something is being worked out to make Content fill that request. I'm also sure it takes time to put something like that together, but I'm really hoping for sooner rather than later.
Yesterday I added my support to another topic, asking for a better way to import user agent data. That would really be great for people setting up new sites.
I've also asked for a better integration between the ACP and the upgrade script. Opening multiple tabs for the ACP and upgrade script works, but how about allowing us to perform upgrades from within the ACP?
And if an Archive system is being considered, please, please, please give us the opportunity to disable it or to determine what we want displayed from the archive. I found the vBulletin archive was absolutely useless. It was an archaic attempt to create a sitemap that only provided duplicated content. I only used the archive with vBSEO, when I could rewrite and 301 redirect the archive links back to the original topic/post. Many of us monetize our forums and also spend time creating or spend money purchasing custom forum skins. I don't want to have an archive link appear on the search engines, only to lead a visitor to a light-weight page. I want my visitors to see my site at its best and I also want them to see the ads placed on my site.
Dan, do you really find PR to be that important in this instance?
The reason I ask is that after over 6 years of operating forums of all different flavors, I've yet to see PR have spit to do with any kind of traffic. I've seen as much (and sometimes even more) traffic on my sites with lower PR. I concentrate on building traffic to my sites. Traffic is what produces revenue. I look at what my sites are earning and let PR fall where it may. I have one site that has been as high as PR4 and fell clear back to PR0, but didn't lose an ounce of traffic or a dime of revenue. If memory serves, the site had climbed back to PR2 a year or so back, but keywords weren't ranking any better, traffic wasn't any better and revenue wasn't any better.
At the risk of being outed as one who does pay regular and close attention to the numbers in Google Webmaster and Google Analytics, my primary interests are where my keywords end up in the SERPs, what my search long tail looks like and where my sites' traffic is originating. The longer my keyword tail is and the more traffic I can get from the search engines, the better my revenue. Full stop. Getting other sites to link to my content is always nice, but when I see traffic from the search engines up in the 40% - 50% range and traffic from referring sites in the 6% - 8% range, I don't fret about those referring sites. The lack of links from other sites is what helps keep my PR low. But PR doesn't pay the bills, does it?
The only time I've ever seen PR actually mean something is when someone is trying to sell something - selling an entire site, or selling a link on a site.
I'm hoping this is still something being considered. I'm currently setting up a new site and suddenly remembered how long it takes to populate the user agent list. Being able to upload an .xml file with the competitor's software takes seconds to do.
In going back over this topic again, I see some comments from rastaX that need to remain at the fore of this topic for many of us.
I don't know if 'most people' is accurate or not, but it sure seems to me that more than a few people are looking for a better (or should I say 'simpler'), ready-made package.
I have no doubt Content is more than capable of doing what I want. I actually don't think what I'm trying to do with simple articles, reviews and tutorials is ever going to stretch Content's abilities. I'm pretty sure using Content for no more than I need is akin to using a laser to slice bread. But I wanted tight integration with the forums and in my not-so-humble opinion, IPS does an outstanding job of integrating their applications.
Brandon, I really don't like having to keep bringing up vB and vB add-ons, but maybe by showing you what a lot of us are used to, maybe you can better understand what we were hoping to find with Content.
I used an add-on called GARS on vB. This is a heavy condensation of what GARS can do, but it provides a re-styled forum display and a re-styled showthread. An admin can select specific forums to use as articles forums, as reviews forums and as tutorial forums. It worked an absolute treat for me and was the single reason I remained with vB as long as I did. I did not want to give up my articles and tutorials. It was particularly nice, in that if you had a forum that contained tutorials and you applied GARS to that forum, defining it as a tutorial forum, all the GARS styling was applied. There was no promoting topics to tutorials, if the topics were in a tutorials forum, they were already shown as tutorials.
Comparing Content to GARS, a blind man can see Content is much more powerful and much more flexible. But the gentleman that coded GARS included an easy-to-read instruction manual that amounts to 38 printed pages, to help new users find their way.
vBadvanced offers a content management/portal system for vB. It is a simple add-on for vB that can be installed and configured in mere minutes. The download package included an easy-to-read instruction manual that amounts to 15 printed pages.
Another add-on I used with vB was called WebTemplates. This add-on allowed the creation of dynamic Web pages that easily inherited the forum design, used the vB permission settings and could even track each page's visitors by date and time. Another add-on that could be installed and configured in less than 10 minutes. This download package included an easy-to-read installation manual that amounts to 2 printed pages and a user manual that amounts to 14 printed pages. The coder also included a 2 page guide on how to go about creating a WebTemplate.
I have the impression Content can do all of these things and more. I just wish I could sort how to do any of these things.
Thanks for easing my mind about the sudden layout change I saw. I figured I might be the only one with the problem, since Content is so 'easy' to style and work with. <cough>
It's interesting you mention Drupal, as I had considered using Drupal or Joomla at one point. But I admired the simplicity of IP.Board and trusted Content would be every bit as simple to use. In retrospect, I could have endured Drupal's learning curve just as I have with Content AND saved the expense of the Content licenses. Could I possibly be any the worse for wear?
I can easily understand how you could get frustrated with no more information than that. Mea culpa. Let me try to expand a bit.
With IP.Content 2.0, I had this Front Page template option set to 1X2X2 and that was the layout I had. When I upgraded to 2.1, my 1X2X2 Front Page layout ended up looking like this -
With absolutely zero changes on my part, other than the upgrade, my 1X2X2 layout is now a single column. Actually, I have made a change since the upgrade. I had to edit this bit in the IP.Content CSS file to get the article snippets and the side column blocks to appear cheek by jowl -
The original code had width set at 78%, which was 1% too wide.
And no matter what changes I've tried to make, I have that maddening bit of blank real estate hanging out there on the right side. I've suffered that problem since converting to IPB a year ago. I can't seem to eliminate it.
I've seen some really nice looking Content pages, so I know it can be accomplished. But there is a gap between what I can understand about Content and getting that wretched page of mine to look better. Why does that Categories menu end up with a blue header, rather than the red? Somewhere, I'm quite confident it can be changed and I have no doubt you know exactly where the change should be made. As for myself?
I've watched the forums for a year and I see people saying how 'easy' it is to do this or that with Content. I'm not trying to suggest anyone is selling porkies, but I cannot see how easy it must be to style that simply nasty-looking Content page on my site.
See that image? Do you have a clue as to what it is? It's actually a dual-disc clutch like we use in the race cars. Before you install that clutch, you need to be sure to set up a turn and an flat of base and install 2.5 grams of counterweight. I want air gap set at .060" after the discs are seated. Oh, yes, before I forget - there will be no paperwork included with the clutch. You're on your own. You do know the proper bellhousing depth you will need with this clutch, don't you? What length bearing collar are you going to use?
Are you still with me? Or are you confused? Those parameters I gave you are extremely simple to set up, but they're easy for me because I've worked with this type of clutch for over 25 years. I could set that thing up in my sleep, but you are likely dazed and confused as to what I was even saying. I can see how you would be confused, not having any experience with anything like this.
Now, can you see where my frustration comes into play? When you ask where Content becomes confusing, it happens shortly after popping the top on the tin. And it makes it really difficult to ask pertinent questions about it, when I can't get my head wrapped around any of it.
If it were me (and I realize there are countless reasons it is not), I would be trying to ship Content so that it falls out of the tin looking like the forum. If the forum has magenta title bars, why shouldn't Content default to magenta title bars? The ability to customize Content is really great for those with the ability and understanding to do that. But what about people like me, who do not have that ability or understanding? Maybe I am in the minority around here, but from the topics I've read from other frustrated admins, I somehow don't think so. Bells and whistles are always nice, but when the basic package is already confusing users, what good are all the bells and whistles?
I'm at a point where I'm tired of fighting with it, trying (and failing) to get it looking like I think it should. I walked away from one of my IPB forum sites today. I gave up on it and gave it to a friend. I didn't sell it, I gave it away. If I can find someone who can help me convert my other sites back to vBulletin 3.8, I'm going back. The idea of losing out on IP.Board pains me and I think Gallery 4 is really going to be better than the gallery script I use on vB sites. But I have sites where articles, reviews and tutorials are the heart of the sites and I cannot make Content do what I need. And I'm not going to cripple those sites because I want to stubbornly hold onto IP.Board. Forum to forum, you guys have got a great package. But my sites need more than that and the combination of scripts I used with vB 3.8 makes up a better overall package for me. Ten months ago, I wouldn't have given vBulletin a moment's consideration. Today, I have two sites I wish I had never converted.
I set up a new forum site to test the waters a few weeks back. I still have several vBulletin licenses, so I set it up using vB. Using things like the vB AdminCP is a pain compared to IPB, but in a couple days, I had the entire site set up and running, complete with articles, reviews and tutorials. I've been running IPB for over a year and still can't accomplish what took me a weekend with vB. And silly me, I made the decision to convert because I felt Content was going to give me an edge I had never enjoyed.