Archived posts from the 'Blogger' Category

If you free-host your blog flee now!

Run away as fast as you can!Dear free hosted blogger, here is food for thoughts, err my few good reasons to escape the free-hosted blogging hell.

If you don’t own the domain, you don’t own your content. In other words: all free hosts steal content, skim traffic, share your reputation, and whatnot indulging the evil side of life 2.0. You get what you pay for, and you pay with your contents, your reputation, and a share of your traffic.

Of course you’ve the copyrights, but not the full power of disposition. Sooner or later –rather sooner if your blogging experiment becomes a passion and your blog an asset– you want to leave the free host, at least if you don’t decide to abandon your blog. At this point you’ll spot that your ideal blogging world is a dungeon in reality, from which you can’t escape saving your bacon.

For the sake of this discussion I don’t need to argue with worst case scenarios like extremely crappy free hosts which skim a fair amount of your traffic to sell it or feed their cash cows with, plaster your pages with their ads, don’t offer content export interfaces, and more crap like that. I’m talking about a serious operation, the free blogging service from the very nice folks at Google.

Web content is more than a piece of text you wrote. A piece of text anywhere on the ‘net has absolutely no value without the votes which make it findable. Hence the links pointing to a blog post, the feed subscriptions, the comments, and your text build the oneness we refer to as content.

Your text lives in Blogger’s database, which you can tap through the API. Say you want to move your blog to WordPress, what can you pull using the WordPress Blogger importer? Posts and comments, but not all properties of the comments, and some comments are damaged.

  • Many of your commenters are signed in with Blogger, commenting under their blogger account, so you don’t get their email addresses and URLs.
  • Even comments where the author typed in an email addy and URL come in with the author’s name only. I admit that may be a flaw in the WordPress script, but it sucks.
  • Blogger castrates links on save, so links embedded in comments are nofollow’ed. Adding nofollow crap to moderated comments on the fly is evil enough, but storing and exporting condomized comments contributed to your posts counts as damage to property.

According to Google’s very own rules the canonical procedure to move a page to another URL is a permanent redirect. Blogger like most “free” platforms doesn’t allow server sided scripting, so you can’t 301-redirect your posts from blogspot.com to your new blog’s pages. Blogger’s technical flaws (the permalink variable is not yet populated in the HEAD section of the template, hence it can’t be used to redirect to the actual posts’s new location with a zero meta refresh) dilute each post’s PageRank because it can’t be transferred to its new location directly. Every hop (internal link on the new blog pointing to the post from the meta redirect’s destination page) devours a portion of the post’s PageRank.

The missing capability to redirect properly, that is page by page, from blogspot to another blog hinders traffic management a blogger should be able to do, and results in direct as well as indirect traffic losses. It’s still your content, but you’ve not the full power of disposition, and that’s theft, err part of your payment for hosting and services.

PageRank is computed based on a model emulating surfing behavior. Following this theory a loss of PageRank equals a loss of human traffic. The reality is, that you don’t lose traffic in theory. You lose a fair amount of visitors who have clicked a link to a particular post and land through the all pages to one URL redirect on a huge page carrying links pointing to all kind of posts, exactly there, on the links page. A surfer not getting the expected content hits the back button faster than you can explain why this shabby redirect is not your fault. And yes, PageRank is a commodity. The post’s new location will suffer from a loss of search engine traffic, because PageRank is a ranking factor too.

As defined above, a post’s inbound links as well as the PageRank gained thereof belongs to the post, and Blogger steals takes away a fair amount of that when you move away from blogspot. Blogger also steals collects the fee (link love and, in case you move, click throughs from the author’s link) you owe your commenters for contributing content to your blog, regardless whether you stay or go away.

Of course you can jump through overcomplicated hoops by first transferring the blogger blog to its own domain, publishing it there for a while before you install WordPress over the Blogger blog. Blogger’s domain mapping will then do page by page redirects, but you’re stuck with the crappy url structure (timestamp fragments in post URLs). I mean, when I want to cross a street, is it fair to tell me that I can do that anytime but if I’d like to arrive unhurt then I must take the long route, that is a turnabout for an orbit around the earth?

Having said that, there are a few more disadvantages with Blogger even before you move to another platform on your own domain.

  • Blogger inserts links seducing your visitors into leaving your blog, and links to itself (powered by Blogger images) sucking your PageRank.
  • If you have to change a post’s title, Blogger changes the URL too. You can’t avoid that, so all exisiting traffic lands on Blogger’s very own 404 page on blogger.com. The 404 page should be part of the template, hosted on yourblog.blogspot.com, so that you can keep your visitors.
  • Commenting on a Blogger blog is a nightmare with regard to usability, so you miss out on shitloads of user contributed contents.
  • Blogger throws nofollow crap on your comments like confetti, even when you’ve turned comment moderation and captchas on, what should prove that you’ve control over outgoing links in the comments.
  • There is a saboteur in Google’s Blogger team. Every now and then Blogger inserts “noindex” meta tags, even on Google’s very own blogs, or silently deindexes your stuff at all search engines in other ways.
  • Often the overcrowded servers of blogger.com and/or blogspot.com are so slow, that you can’t post nor approve comments, and your visitors don’t get more than the hourglass for 30 minutes and then all of a sudden a fragment of broken XML. This unreliable behavior does not exactly support your goal of building a loyal readership and keeping recurring visitors happy. You suffer when by accident a few blogs on your shared box get slashdotted, digged, stumbled …, and Blogger can’t handle those spikes.
  • Ok, better don’t get me started on a Blogger rant … ;)

By the way we’re in the same boat. When I started my blogging experiment in 2005 I was lazy enough to choose Blogger, although after many years of webmastering, providing Webmaster support and rescuing contents from (respectively writing off contents on) free hosts I should have known that I was going to run into serious troubles. So do yourself a favor and flee now. Blogger is not meant as a platform for professional blogs. It’s Google’s content generator for AdSense. That’s a fair deal with personal blogs, but unacceptable for corporate blogs.



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The technical side of moving a blog from Blogger to WordPress

Recently I had to manage an exodus of Blogger driven posts to this WordPress blog. During the move I learned a few new things, developed a few pieces of code, and thought it might be a good idea to share my experiences. Probably there are other bloggers who want to leave blogspot.com but don’t do it because they are afraid of the aftermaths.

Such a move comes with pitfalls and unavoidable traffic losses, so here is my try to minimize the downsides which you please don’t read as kinda move-Blogger-blog-to-WordPress-guru tutorial.

Loading WordPress with Blogger posts and comments

After installing WordPress on this brand new domain, one of my first steps was to feed it with content, and to announce this content to search engines. Search engines don’t care to index posts totally fucked up due to formating issues, but every indexed URL is an asset I can fine tune later on. I figured that Google would need at least a week or so to index the whole blog and didn’t care much about the other engines, which never sent much visitors to my pamphlets. This week gave me enough time to find the broken pages and to remove PRE tags and HTML comments causing the mess.

I’ve imported my Blogger posts and comments into WordPress using the standard import functionality. Pretty neat script by the way (if it can’t access the Blogger database, look at this plugin). Without even looking at the imported stuff I created an XML sitemap and submitted it to Google (you should submit it to Yahoo! too). In the sitemaps settings I’ve disabled the archives because I really don’t want any engine to index them. Then I created a robots.txt, blocked the archives, and added the sitemap autodiscovery statement so that Yahoo!, MSN and Ask can pick up my new blog too. Replacing the uncrawlable archive pages I’ve created categorized links pages like this one later on.

Now I needed to connect my old blogger posts to the new canonical URLs in order to route the human traffic as well as crawlers to the right pages.

    Here are six technical bits which could be helpful:

  1. The first step was getting the mappings from the blogspot URLs to the new pages. Extracting this info from formatted sources was no option, so I connected to my WordPress database and submitted this query to get the raw data:


    SELECT wp_posts.ID,
    wp_posts.post_title,
    wp_posts.post_name,
    wp_posts.guid,
    wp_postmeta.meta_value
    FROM wp_posts
    LEFT OUTER JOIN wp_postmeta ON (wp_postmeta.post_id = wp_posts.ID)
    WHERE wp_posts.ID > 1 AND wp_posts.ID < 176
    AND wp_posts.post_status = 'publish'
    AND wp_posts.post_type = 'post'
    AND wp_postmeta.meta_key = 'blogger_permalink'
    ORDER BY wp_posts.ID
    LIMIT 176
    (ID #1 was the generated welcome post, and #175 was the ID of the last post imported from Blogger)

  2. Next I wanted a flexible and persistent data source to make use of the Blogger-URL relations for various purposes, so I created a routing table (joins are too expensive, VIEWs were introduced by MySQL 5.1 and I run an older version) to store the URL mappings (Blogger to WordPress) and populated it from the query above:


    CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS `wp_blogger_url_maps` (
    `bum_id` BIGINT( 20 ) NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY ,
    `post_id` BIGINT( 20 ) NOT NULL ,
    `post_title` VARCHAR( 255 ) NOT NULL ,
    `post_name` VARCHAR( 255 ) NOT NULL ,
    `guid` VARCHAR( 255 ) NOT NULL ,
    `bum_blogger_rel_url` VARCHAR( 255 ) NOT NULL ,
    UNIQUE ( `post_id` ) ,
    INDEX ( `post_title` ) ,
    INDEX ( `post_name` ) ,
    INDEX ( `guid` ) ,
    INDEX ( `bum_blogger_rel_url` )
    )
    CHARACTER SET utf8
    COLLATE utf8_general_ci

    Of course you should do that with a script written in a way that you can repeat this procedure. While you’re working on your new blog you’ll still post at blogspot, and visitors will comment. Also, the search engines need to pick up your new blog and that takes a while, so no rush at all.

    Please note that when you perform repeated Blogger imports into a WordPress database which stores imported Blogger posts already, new comments to old posts lose their connection to the post and get assigned to the blog’s main page. There’s no official way to move a comment from there to the post it belongs to. So better copy these comments manually, that’s doable with Better Comments Manager, where you can reply from the comments list and edit the author. However, it may be a good idea to do the final import as one of the last steps to prevent you from too many manual tasks like that.

    Unfortunately the WordPress Blogger import does not change links pointing to blogspot URLs in your posts. I’ve parsed the post_content column for these links as well as image locations at blogger.com and created a list of posts to edit. It is possible to automate that further, at least for the links to other posts, but I had to edit many posts due to formatting issues anyway and didn’t link much to my other posts, so I did that manually (respectively will do over time). It makes sense to parse the imported posts for HTML comments and PRE tags which work fine with Blogger but can break the layout under WordPress.

  3. Here are a few ideas what one can do with such a mapping table. To accomplish it you need a plugin that allows the execution of PHP code within the content of posts and pages.

    Looping the wp_blogger_url_maps table you can create for example an index page of all imported blogspot posts and their new locations.

    Or you could write a mapping tool which delivers new URLs and ask your friends to use it to update their posts linking to you.

  4. What you really should do is writing a redirect script to “link” from your old blogspot posts to the new URLs. Make sure that the redirect code is 301, not 302! If you only set the location you get an unwanted 302 redirect:


    @header(”HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently”, TRUE, 301);
    @header(”Location: $guid”);
    exit;

    Say the script is http://sebastians-pamphlets.com/blogspot.php and accepts an input variable src used to locate the new canonical URL. In your blogger template’s post section you can add this link a while before you move, so that search engines become comfortable with the new locations:

    <em>posted by <a href="http://sebastians-pamphlets.com/blogspot.php?src=~
    <$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>"><$BlogItemAuthorNickname$></a> @ <a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>" title="permanent link"><$BlogItemDateTime$> · PERMANENT LINK</a></em>
    (Remove the “~\n” when you copy the code!)

    Another possible issue you might solve with these links is that you can transfer the source bonus in search engine indexes from the old posts to the new URLs. One indicator used by the engines to figure out which one of two identical page contents is the source is an unidirectional link. The major search engines do that silently, Technorati even documents it with “NEW URL !” as the linked post title (of the old location) when you put a textual hint like “moved to” or so on the old pages.

  5. Later on when you actually move you should change the nickname link to your new blog’s root index page, and put the redirect script in the permalink’s href. Then insert a robots meta tag “noindex,follow” in the blogger template and add prominent links to the new URLs to each post.

    Monitor the traffic on blogspot (use any free blog stats package or tools like MBL). When most visitors populate your new blog and the search engines have indexed it completely, you can redirect all blogspot URLs to your new address by inserting a zero refresh redirect meta tag:

    <meta http-equiv=refresh content="0; url=http://sebastians-pamphlets.com/about/sebastianx-blogspot-com/" />

    That will transfer PageRank as well as human visitors to the URL above. It does not route directly to the posts the visitors expected to see when clicking a link on another blog or a SERP (in the HEAD section of the blogger template the variable <$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$> is not yet populated with the permalink so you’ve to use a hard coded URL in the meta refresh directive).

    The redirects from blogspot to my blog come with disadvantages because it’s not possible to map each and every URL to a corresponding page on this site. From a few pages like archives and so on I can link out to my exodus page or the root, but can’t map a post-URL or so. So I’ve not yet decided whether I’ll do the final redirect or not.

    Of course it would transfer the PageRank from my old blog to this site, but it certainly would confuse visitors who click a link to any post on blogspot and land on the exodus page or the main page here. I guess that’s a sure-fire procedure to lose visitors. I tend to leave the ugly blogspot thingy as it is now, plastered with links pointing here. I’d rather miss out on a few folks who read my old stuff at blogspot and don’t click through to this blog, than piss off way more visitors with a zero meta refresh. Also, the old blog’s main page only showed a toolbar PR 4 and I’m not afraid to write that off, especially because the very nice folks linking to me in their blogrolls have changed the URL already, and a few friends have even edited their posts — THANKS!– linking to me.

  6. Redirecting folks consuming my stuff in their feed readers was quite easy. I’ve burned this blog’s feed with Feedburner’s MyBrand (free, you get a feed URL like http://feeds.sebastians-pamphlets.com/SebastiansPamphlets). When I was ready to move my still buggy blog I wrote a farewell Blogger post, waited a day to reach most if not all readers, then I redirected my old blogger feed to feedburner resulting in a nice spike (from zero to 150 subscribers) in my Feedburner stats. In Blogger go to Settings/Feed, enter the new feed’s URL and you’re done. You can do that without burning your feed too, but then you miss out on the stats.

Well, a few days after the move everything runs smoothly and as expected. Google has indexed and ranked 60 pages and still counting, I spotted my very first SERP referrer, and the number of indexed pages from blogspot.com decreases slowly caused by the noindex robots meta tag. The other engines are still crawling, only Yahoo has indexed 3 pages and 100 inbound links so far. StumbleUpon users liked my not that serious canonical SEO definitions and created more buzz than Sphinn so far. I feel lucky.

My to-do list is here and if you’re interested in my scripts drop me a message in the comments.



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Blogger to rule search engine visibility?

Via Google’s Webmaster Forum I found this curiosity:
http://www.stockweb.blogspot.com/robots.txt

User-agent: *
Disallow: /search
Disallow: /

A standard robots.txt at *.blogspot.com looks different:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /search
Sitemap: http://*.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?orderby=updated

According to the blogger the blog is not private, what would explain the crawler blocking:

It is a public blog. In the past it had a standard robots.txt, but 10 days ago it changed to “Disallow: /”

Copyscape thinks that the blog in question shares a fair amount of content with other Web pages. So does blog search:
http://stockweb.blogspot.com/2007/07/ukraine-stock-index-pfts-gained-97-ytd.html
has a duplicate, posted by the same author, at
http://business-house.net/nokia-nok-gains-from-n-series-smart-phones/,
http://stockweb.blogspot.com/2007/07/prague-energy-exchange-starts-trading.html
is reprinted at
http://business-house.net/prague-energy-exchange-starts-trading-tomorrow/
and so on. Probably a further investigation would reveal more duplicated contents.

It’s understandable that Blogger is not interested in wasting Google’s resources by letting Ms. Googlebot crawl the same contents from different sources. But why do they block other search engines too? And why do they block the source (the posts reprinted at business-house.net state “Originally posted at [blogspot URL]”)?

Is this really censorship, or just a software glitch, or is it all the blogger’s fault?

Update 07/26/2007: The robots.txt reverted to standard contents for unknown reasons. However, with a shabby link neigborhood as expressed in the blog’s footer I doubt the crawlers will enjoy their visits. At least the indexers will consider this sort of spider fodder nauseous.



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Sphinn rocks

Thanks to Danny’s crew we’ve got a promising search geek community site. Since I’ve recently started to deal with invites, here is the top secret link where you get your free Sphinn invite. Click it now and join today, as Gorbachev said ‘those who are late will be punished by life itself’ ;)

Previous experiments revealed that my pamphlets aren’t diggworthy, despite the presence of OL/UL lists. Because I mention search and stuff like that every once in a while, I decided to submit a horror story to Sphinn to test the waters over there.

Adding Sphinn-it! widgets to my posts hopefully helps promoting Sphinn, but with Blogger that turned into kinda nightmare. To prevent you from jumping through infinite try-and-error hoops, here is how it works:

Classic templates:

Search for $BlogItemBody$ and below the </div> put

<script type='text/javascript'>submit_url='<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>';</script>
<script src=’http://sphinn.com/evb/button.php’ type=’text/javascript’/></script>

(Blogger freaks out when you omit the non-standard ;</script> after the self-closing second tag, hence stick with the intentional syntax error.)

Newish templates:

Check “Expand Widget Templates”

Search for data:post.body/ and below the </p> put

<b:if cond='data:post.url'>
<p><script type=’text/javascript’>submit_url=’<data:post.url/>’;</script>
<script src=’http://sphinn.com/evb/button.php’ type=’text/javascript’/></p>
</b:if>

(After saving the changes Blogger replaces some single quotes with HTML entities, but it works though. Most probably one could do that in a more elegant way, but once I saw the badges pointing to the correct URL –both in the posts and on the main page– I gave up.)

Have fun sphinning my posts!



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Blogger abuses rel-nofollow due to ignorance

I had planned a full upgrade of this blog to the newest blogger version this weekend. The one and only reason to do the upgrade was the idea that I perhaps could disable the auto-nofollow functionality in the comments. Well, what I found was a way to dofollow the author’s link by editing the <dl id='comments-block'> block, but I couldn’t figure out how to disable the auto-nofollow in embedded links.

Considering the hassles of converting all the template hacks into the new format, and the risk of most probably losing the ability to edit code my way, I decided to stick with the old template. It just makes no sense for me to dofollow the author’s link, when a comment author’s links within the content get nofollow’ed automatically. Andy Beard and others will hate me now, so let me explain why I don’t move this blog to my own domain using a not that insane software like WordPress.

  • I own respectively author on various WordPress blogs. Google’s time to index for posts and updates from this blogspot thingy is 2-3 hours (Web search, not blog search). My Wordpress blogs, even with higher PageRank, suffer from a way longer time to index.
  • I can’t afford the time to convert and redirect 150 posts to another blog.
  • I hope that Google/Blogger can implement reasonable change requests (most probably that’s just wishful thinking).

That said, WordPress is a way better software than Blogger. I’ll have to move this blog if Blogger is not able to fulfill at least my basic needs. I’ll explain below why I think that Blogger lacks any understanding of the rel-nofollow semantics. In fact, they throw nofollow crap on everything they get a hand on. It seems to me that they won’t stop jeopardizing the integrity of the Blogosphere (at least where they control the linkage) until they get bashed really hard by a Googler who understands what rel-nofollow is all about. I nominate Matt Cutts, who invented and evolved it, and who does not tolerate BS.

So here is my wishlist. I want (regardless of the template type!)

  • A checkbox “apply rel=nofollow to comment author links”
  • A checkbox “apply rel=nofollow to links within comment text”
  • To edit comments, for example to nofollow links myself, or to remove offensive language
  • A checkbox “apply rel=nofollow to links to label/search pages”
  • A checkbox “apply a robots meta tag ‘noindex,follow’ to label/search pages”
  • A checkbox “apply rel=nofollow to links to archive pages”
  • A checkbox “apply a robots meta tag ‘noindex,follow’ to archive pages”
  • A checkbox “apply rel=nofollow to backlink listings”

As for the comments functionality, I’d understand when these options get disabled when comment moderation is set to off.

And here are the nofollow-bullshit examples.

  • When comment moderation and captchas are activated, why are comment author links as well as links within the comments nofollow’ed? Does blogger think their bloggers are minor retards? I mean, when I approve a comment, then I do vouch for it. But wait! I can’t edit the comment, so a low-life link might slip through. Ok, then let me edit the comments.
  • When I’ve submitted a comment, the link to the post is nofollowed. Nofollow insane II.This page belongs to the blog, so why the fudge does Blogger nofollow navigational links? And if it makes sense for a weird reason not understandable by a simple webmaster like me, why is the link to the blog’s main page as well as the link to the post one line below not nofollow’ed? Linking to the same URL with and without rel-nofollow on the same page deserves a bullshit award.
  • Nofollow insane III. (dashboard)On my dashbord Blogger features a few blogs as “Blogs Of Note”, all links nofollow’ed. These are blogs recommended by the Blogger crew. That means they have reviewed them and the links are clearly editorial content. They’re proud of it: “we’ve done a pretty good job of publishing a new one each day”. Blogger’s very own Blogs Of Note blog does not nofollow the links, and that’s correct.

    So why the heck are these recommended blogs nofollow’ed on the dashboard? Nofollow insane III. (blogspot)

  • Blogger inserted robots meta tags “nofollow,noindex” on each and every blog hosted outside the controlled blogspot.com domain earlier this year.
  • Blogger inserted robots meta tags “nofollow,noindex” on Google blogs a few days ago.

If Blogger’s recommendation “Check google.com. (Also good for searching.)” is a honest one, why don’t they invest a few minutes to educate themselves on rel-nofollow? I mean, it’s a Google-block/avoid-indexing/ranking-thingy they use to prevent Google.com users from finding valuable contents hosted on their own domains. And they annoy me. And they insult their users. They shouldn’t do that. That’s not smart. That’s not Google-ish.



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Hassles of submitting a blogspot XML-sitemap

Usually my posts make it into Google’s Web index within 2-3 hours, but not yesterday. Since Ms. Googlebot became lazy fetching my pamphlets, I thought she needs a hint. With one of the last updates Blogger’s feed URLs have changed, but lazy as I am I’ve still the ancient ATOM feed in my sitemaps account. So I grabbed the new URL from the LINK element in HEAD and submitted it as sitemap. Bugger me. Not enough tea this morning. I didn’t look at the URL, just copied and pasted it, then submitted the feed to no avail. Oups. Here is why it didn’t work:

Blogger.com doesn’t come with build-in XML sitemaps, but one can use the feeds. That’s definitely not a perfect solution, because the feeds list only a few recent posts, but better than nothing.

Here are the standard feed URLS of a blogger blog at blogspot.com (replace “sebastianx” with your subdomain):
http://sebastianx.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default (ATOM, posts)
http://sebastianx.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss (RSS, posts)
http://sebastianx.blogspot.com/feeds/comments/default (ATOM, comments)

None of these can be used as a sitemap, because the post-URLs are not located under the sitemap path.

Fortunately, the old feeds still work, although they are served as “text/html” what can confuse things, so I’ve to stick with http://sebastianx.blogspot.com/atom.xml as “sitemap”.



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Categorizing posts with blogger (rant)

Google knows everything about AJAX. Why the heck can’t I assign categories to old posts without hassles? “Edit posts - change number of listed posts - scoll down - edit - scoll down - choose/enter categories - publish - repeat” is just 7 full page reloads/actions too much. On a slow DSL connection this archaic procedure drives me nuts.

Dear readers, when you click on “Labels” most probably you won’t find related posts :( I’m adding categories when I update an old post, but UI flaws hinder me to categorize the whole archive. Sorry.



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