7 Apr 2015

Two free tools that synergise to optimise images for search

So, we were having further discussions on Google+ about images and how to optimise them for the web. Image search, normal search and their use on social. Our conversation took a distinct left turn when this post by Dustin W Stout appeared on Social Media Examiner.

It made me smile. Dustin is a self-confessed non-SEO type dude, but the element of his article that talked about optimising images for the search engines was bang on the money. He'd either navigated a steep learning curve or drafted in help.

Turns out, it was the latter. He'd drafted in Kristoffer Howes to assist him on how the search engines 'see' images. Moreover, what we can do to help them. As such, the resultant accuracy in the article is much less of a surprise.

But when the article got scooped into the Google Semantic Search Community, the discussion went into much greater depth. Not only did we summarise the points Dustin and Kristoffer made, but we took a deep dive into the semantic elements of online images.

Understanding how search indexers 'see' images

To understand mark-up, we must first recognise how machines "see" an online image. Google, with the help of DeepMind, is making great progress in understanding images at Pixel level. While this is grand in relation to more accurate results in image search, it misses the semantic bullseye.

flowcharts of a glimpse sensor and a glimpse network and how they work to compute images by pixel
How Google is breaking down images to make their computation at pixel level less demanding

HTML, the railway tracks upon which the semantic train chugs, is not a human-legible tool. Its purpose is to help machines interpret information in a way that they and people with accessibility issues can "see" the web like fully-functioning humans.

In a previous article, we touched on the type of mark-up you can incorporate to help identify what license you were publishing images under. But the mark-up in that article is only a glimpse of the potential we have to help machines understand our published images.

Responsive web design: why image optimisation is so important

I use responsive design in lieu of 'mobile' for a very distinct reason. There's been a lot of kerfuffle about Google's impending update for mobile search. That is, non-mobile optimised sites have less chance of showing up in mobile search than those that are "mobile-friendly".

Responsive design should have a positive impact on user-friendliness on any content platform. So that's what we're going to look at, below. Whether it's worth everyone optmising for mobile is conjecture.

Although it may be a way to squeeze customers for more money, as an SEO, you still have to prove ROI. There are doubts that the demographic for many mobile users will benefit many sites that employ SEOs.

Many preaching the urgency for "mobile friendly" updates to their clients' sites will end up with egg on their face when figures don't rise in line with (undeliverable) expectations. But that's for another time.

Responsive in my book means a great experience however your user finds your website. For that, it's imperative that you nail fast load speed, a ranking factor across all search mediums.

But we also have to consider semantics. How does your image relate to searcher's intent?

Great, your page loads fast and your alt text is a close match to the search string. But if it's not relevant to the query intent, you've blown it. And that's where the difference between applying a fit title, description and alt text and full semantic mark up can make the difference for you.

Toolbox Tip:

your alt text should read so that a blind person visiting your site would not know that they're not seeing an image.

The words describing the image should fit fluently in line with your prose, providing a smooth, accessible experience for the impaired visitor.

Irfanview and GeoSetter - Resize and Encode your images

The first thing you need to do is download the two free programs we're going to use to mark up our images. They are:

  1. Irfanview;
  2. GeoSetter;

I downloaded Irfanview from CNET (I think - but I've had it for three years, so don't quote me on that). But you may well have your own favourite repository from those offered on the download page.

Geosetter, the setup_exe didn't work for me, but the zip file was just dandy. I also created an account. There's no harm in helping freeware sources build their own resource, where applicable.

Why Irfanview?

Geosetter, I'd never heard of. When researching EXIF data, I was pointed its way by an article on data editors on Digital Inspiration. But what a find.

Resize/Resample image pop up box in Irfanview image editor showing resizing capacity
resize image function in Irfanview

But why, of all the image editors, should I choose Irfanview?

One of the reasons ties in with something Dustin shares in the catalytic post I mention at the outset. Dustin's a great one for being up to date with the right image sizes for the social platform of your choice.

Very often, we create the same epic image, but adopting their size to each platform is so labour-intensive.

With Irfanview, when you come to resize your bespoke image sizes, you can save each size as a template in the settings. This is invaluable when it comes to distribution of similar content across multiple platforms.

This ties in nicely with the first aspect we need to look at. Resizing our images to optimise page load speed, but in a way that the image is still clear.

Using the "Glimpse" image above, we'll look at resizing the object with the RIOT plugin you've downloaded with Irfanview. Then we'll look at adding EXIF data to the resized image with both Irfanview and, for bulk processing, Geosetter.

Resizing/Sampling your image with Irfanview/RIOT

Once you've downloaded the three pieces of software (Irfanview, its plugins and Geosetter), restart your computer. This is just a double-check measure to ensure your new programs have access to all your drives.

Irfanview Command Ribbon in Windows

Open Irfanview (click the Start menu and type Irfanview in the search box if you've not created a taskbar/desktop shortcut). In the top left corner of the open program, choose File > Open or simply type the letter "O". Then navigate to an existing image on your PC that you want to optimise, click the image and it will open in the Irfanview editor.

The command ribbon across the top shows several options:

File | Edit | Image | Options | View | Help

With your image open in the Irfanview editor, click the word "Options"; a drop-down menu will offer many prompts.

To perform a lossless resize, you need to choose "JPG Lossless Rotation (Plugin)", as per:

screenshot: Irfanview JPG Lossless Rotation Context Menu

This will bring up yet another menu. The default radio button command is set to "Transformation: None (can be used for optimizing and cleaning)". This is what we want.

Also, you should see that "Optimize JPG File" and "Apply original EXIF data to new file" are ticked. We want to leave them that way, too.

screenshot: Irfanview Lossless Transformations Default Settings

All that you need to do is press the "Start" button and the software will optimise your image. You can do all manner of fancy things, here. But for most people who just want a great looking image that loads faster, the default settings work just fine.

Toolbox Tip:

for even greater compression, when saving the image, choose the "Save as web" option. This takes you to the two-panel RIOT dashboard. You'll see your existing image in the left and an even more compressed version in the right panel.

To compress the image further, hit the save button and it will save as the reduced size file. You can also have a play around with sizes and ratios in the RIOT plugin before pressing save.

What is EXIF and IPTC data

If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed several prompts in the Irfanview images rendered here to date to amend EXIF data. The reason I've not mentioned these before is because we're going to update that data now, but in a more in depth manner.

EXIF data is the data that a smartphone or digital device stamps on a recording. This could be audio, a photo or a video, and is an indelible stamp added by the machine that made it.

IPTC is the recognised body that launched the need for such file data to be stored. The keywords, location data, origin and category information metadata helps news and publishing companies identify specific media.

You can read more about IPTC here. The reason it's important for our exercise is because it's under this tab that Irfanview hides the metadata that we can edit.

Still in the Irfanview window you have open, look up to the command ribbon again and click "Image". The first prompt on the dropdowm menu is "Information"; either click that or type in "I".

This will show you the metadata that Irfanview has extracted about the image.

screenshot: Irfanview Image Properties

This includes size, resolution (which you can change), where it's stored and much more. Beneath the table are two buttons, "EXIF info*" and "IPTC info". Click "IPTC".

This opens up a whole other box of options. Here, you can really optimise your image for discoverability:

screenshot: Irfanview editable metadata database

The amount of IPTC data you can enter is comprehensive. From the author name and their byline to the precise location and date, you can safeguard copyright. From a search point of view, you can add a category, sub-category, keywords and, from a Google Local aspect, location again is important.

When thinking about the keywords you want to add, they - and the image - need to be relevant to the content in the same article. The category should also align with the topic, concept or ontology of the words around the image.

The incorrect use of an image or the way it's tagged leads to bad user experiences. We all know what search engines think about those: penalty time!

Once you've input as much of the data as you want, simply hit the "Write" button. All of your information will now be embedded in the file.

Geosetter - bulk writing of EXIF data

Geosetter has a much more user-friendly interface that Irfanview. You can choose themes and as soon as you load it, the software extracts all image files on your hard drive into its database.

The default load file is, of course, your Windows "Pictures" folder. But if you click over "Images" in the top command bar and click Open, you can open any directory (folder) in the cloud or on your hard drive.

Any data file that Geosetter can edit will load into the dashboard:

screenshot: Geosetter dashboard

You can then edit just one or any number of images from the directory. Say you had a folder of holiday pictures, but only wanted to tag those with your spouse in. You could select all of those photos in one batch and then bulk edit all of them together.

You do this by clicking once on the first image you want to edit. For every additional image you want to add the same data to, hold down the CTRL key before you click that next picture. The selected files should display set against a blue border.

Right click over of any one of those selected images and a context menu will pop up. Mouse over "Geosetter > Edit Metadata of Image files" and click that latter instruction:

screenshot: Geosetter multi-image select option

An editable window similar to that in Irfanview will greet you. It will show one main image in the left panel, a list of all the file names selected beneath the image and the familiar edit panel to the right.

screenshot: Geosetter multi-image select option - EXIF data
Here, you can enter one batch of descriptions, then hit the "Select Current Values for All Selected Images" button to update all of your selected images with the input data. If you're sorting out your entire holiday picture library, the ability to bulk-edit your EXIF metadata is priceless.

Toolbox Tip:

you have the ability to add more metadata in Geosetter, especially location information.

If you preferred working with the Geosetter interface, there's no reason why you can't just use Irfanview to resize your images and then Geosetter to add your EXIF data.

And that is all there is to it. Once you've embedded that data in your file, it will travel with the image, unless someone edits or removes it.

This last image I'll share is the same one as the first one in this post, but now subjected to the outlined edited EXIF data process:

Glimpse recurrent neural network image with additional, opimised EXIF data

Put through exifdata.com, an exif metadata ripper, you can see the additional information embedded into the image:

Extracted EXIF data from optimised image

Extra work, but the for opportunity to rank with your images in Google image search with confidence? Worth every extra penny you commit to the process. Happy editing!

Bonus Tip:

you can 'plug in' Geosetter into Irfanview. This makes the transition between the two programs seamless.

With the Irfanview program open, go to "File > Open with external editor":

setting open with external editor in Irfanview

In the image, I've already set my two external editors as Geosetter and Windows Photo Viewer. When you first select the external editor option, you'll be presented with two empty spaces.

To set these up, first, click in the first empty space, whereby you'll be prompted to browse for the program you want to use. Simply navigate to the file that contains Geosetter (in mine, C:\Program Files (x86)\Geosetter), open that file and click on the [filename].exe.

You can repeat this for the second empty space and choose any image editor/viewer of your choosing. Once both programs are selected, they'll be ready for you every time you use Irfanview.

Any time you've made your edits in Irfanview and want to open them in either of the chosen programs, click "File > Open with external editor". Your file will be open and ready for you to edit in the program you choose. Happy days.

30 Mar 2015

How to be relevant on Google and G+

So, here's the deal. We were are having a conversation in the Google Semantic Search community on Google+. It started as a result of this image I made on Pablo:

It struck a chord. The concept of Google SERPs no longer being a page of "10 blue links"? Seems alien to most, but if you just take a look now, you'll see how far it is already from the traditional page we're so used to.

The conversation developed from what the SERP will look like to how it will affect us as authors, readers and searchers for knowledge:
  • How will our relationships affect what we see when we type in a query?
  • Can we influence this by social engagement?
  • Where are Google and Bing getting this data from?
Frank Gainsford and I played host to some specific questions, ranging from Semantic mark-up, to fingerprints in our writing, to relevance and trust. It's a long thread, but well worth a read when you've got 15 minutes to kill on you commute.

Theory is all well and good, but…

…thing is, a lot of the knowledge about the Semantic Web is still theory. Those implementing structured data, content that's NLP-friendly and secure, responsive websites are seeing the benefit.

But Semantics are a huge step for many business owners to take. Most are only just coming around to the fact that generic outsourced, cheap content is more likely to get them penalised than to the first page of Google.

That special code has to be written so that they have a 'schema'd' site, too? Structured mark-up to them may seem like just another ploy by SEOs to make more money. Or to replace income, now that back-linking as a service is fading fast. And, like cheap content, a suspicious link profile's just as likely to see your site fall from grace as hit the heights.

What we need is proof. Hard, fact-based evidence that demonstrates how relationships are making us relevant to peers, prospects and industry thought leaders. So, that's what I'm setting out to achieve with a small experiment.

An experiment in relevance

The basis of the experiment will use a method I developed last year to keep tabs on influencers/topics designed to grow a relevant Google+ following. Since then, I've cobbled together an IFTTT recipe to help me record my Google+ posts.

This is important, as trying to share content, keep a record of it and document the topics was counter-productive in its labour intensity. This time, I'm going to more than halve the field and update the master spreadsheet once a day.

The people in the circle I'm creating, with the specific intention to increase engagement with them, I've deliberated over even longer than my "G+49-ers". Their engagement record on G+ and Twitter, their own website content and the main topics about which they post on G+ have all come under scrutiny.

The aim is to identify how relevant each of those people are now, according to Circloscope and/or Google+. Then, over the course of a month of sustained engagement, see how close they become after a fashion.

What I've not done before is see how this social activity affects the SERP. This is the answer most people are dying to find out. Can social engagement really carry over into the Search Results? That's what we're gonna find out.

12 Mar 2015

5 Common Qualities Found in Authoritative Bloggers

Ambling alongside the technical elements of blogging for the semantic web we find human traits. We may not recognise them at first; but that's because we're looking the wrong way.

That's understandable. With SEO checklists, plagiarism detection and NLP to test, bloggers can overlook the humanity in their craft.

That oversight risks connecting their audience with the article's message. To avert that failure, we must remember the power of emotion, subconscious or cognitive, as we slap the digital ink onto our word processor.

Moreover, eliciting human reaction should drive our motivation to write in the first place.

Me and you and a blog that's pooh

Many bloggers miss their mark by tailoring the human elements of writing solely to their readership. That is, if they realise such traits exist at all.

Your readers deserve, nay, demand your singular focus when composing their article. That's fair enough. The benefits for them, your undying empathy and the solution to their life's catalogue of ills should bulge out the veins of your content's DNA.

While that's commendable, what many bloggers don't see is the flip side. Your copy is as much about you, the author, as it is your audience. You must make that distinction before you even dare hope to win over anything more than passive traffic.

You have a voice as unique in your copy as the one that commits your acoustic fingerprint to indelible audio. "You" must shine through in every sentence of your copy.

Readers are hungry; feed the beast

Take, for example, five blog posts cascading down someone's feed reader. Each post headline purports revelations about the same story.

From those five, 90% of readers will opt for the author whose tone they remember enjoying reading last time. The news is unlikely to differ. Through previous posts of the author's the reader has related to, an emotional connection pre-exists. It's this connection that drives the eventual click-through.

Of the remaining 10%, they'll visit a blog because:

  • of curiosity;
  • the killer headline;
  • the domain is a (pre-judged) trustworthy source.

Even then, any established authority is relative to that domain's authors. This trust, in a fashion, has come from topical opinion expressed via the author's 'voice'.

So, whichever way you look to attract visitors to your content, you, the author, are pivotal in the reader's decision-making process.

The attached article relates 5 qualities top bloggers have in common. It has little to do with tech-savvy application of structured mark-up. There's even less about on-page format.

It is about attitude. First, towards getting the job done. Second, how copywriters address their subject and their target audience. Enjoy » http://ow.ly/KdSww

image: Peter Lloyd, unsplash

17 Feb 2015

PeoplePerHour Feedback - A Freelancer's Honest Perspective

Be careful what you wish for…

I knew there was a reason I'd took my foot off the gas with PeoplePerHour. It wasn't until I saw how much they'd deducted for their fee on a recent invoice that I remembered.

On its own, the fee would have been palatable. Well, just. But you know what we human beans are like. Give us the nook of a negative and we'll will turn a drama into a crisis.

PPH Feedback Survey 2 out of 10

But, to be fair, PPH are their own worst enemies. They used to work with a straight 5-star review system. Great. Everyone knows what that means.

Then they changed it to a CERT system, which featured the freelance site's top workers (for the clients). Those in the top 100 didn't like it, justifiably so. It was unfair.

What's this? They decided to change it. Yay! Oh, hang on tick. Instead of doing the right thing, they've decided to add another filter.

The feedback for the 'upward' rise in PPH quality tells its own negative tale.

The rough side of the freelance fence: it exists

I don't want you to think I'm just jumping on the bandwagon, here. I've had two God-awful experiences on PPH of my own.

The first was a non-English speaking client who wanted help to arrange interviews and do his press. I quoted, we had a week's worth of (unpaid) dialogue, and he accepted my proposal.

Done the first week's work, as asked. Submitted the invoice and never heard from the fella again. Could PPH Support help? No. All they could do was release the deposit in Escrow and I could go whistle for the rest.

A similar thing happened with a fitness site in Bristol. Quoted, lots of toing and froing, sample approved. Submitted the work, but the client rejected it. "Wasn't what she was looking for". A leg to stand on? None.

There are serious problems at PPH. Yes, there are a few people who use PPH for their entire customer base and they seem to be doing okay. But for the majority, as a digital freelance agency, PPH just does not work.

freelancer 1200 dollar hole in pocklet

All the responsibility to deliver is on the freelancer, or 'seller'. That's even when many of the rates offered are pathetic and/or instruction even worse. PPH absolves the buyer, or client, of any responsibility, financial or otherwise.

The verdict: Guilty! PPH exists to serve clients, NOT freelancers

As all of PPH's fees come out of the freelancer's pocket, doesn't it seem a little like biting the hand that feeds you? Anyway, here's my feedback, based on their question:

How likely are you to recommend Peopleperhour to a friend?

There are several reasons why I gave PPH such a low feedback score.

  1. You really have to be a power user to make the fees PPH charges justifiable. £98.40 received from an invoice of £120 is shocking, especially when you have to pay tax on top;
  2. Many of the jobs offered are laughable; little description, miserably low rates and no vetting of 'comments' by admin to stop those who've run out of credits having a punt for free;
    • 3 x rotten PPH jobs
  3. The "Why People Per Hour" overview on the Home Page - it says it all. All the reasons anyone would want to use PPH are biased towards the client. This should be no surprise, as that's how the rating system leans: plenty of ways to 'punish' the freelancer, but none to take clients to task;
  4. The filters on the 'suggested' jobs are woeful. They must be made to meet more criteria before filling your freelancers' inboxes with inappropriate content, tantamount to spam;
  5. The rating system???? 5 Stars is a universal ranking system; it's not broken.
  6. 48 hours for payment from withdrawal, with the caveat that it may take longer depending upon your bank? Sorry, that's utter bull and you know it. What age are we living in? Pre-decimalisation?
  7. Google+ community - I've asked questions direct on G+ in your community and never so much has had an acknowledgement from you guys. And, yes, communities and notifications do work. I own the Freelancer Plus G+ community, the ezine and Tumblog of the same name and have 22,000 personal profile followers. Your lack of visibility in this day and age is, quite frankly, unforgivable;
  8. And I know you know all this, which is what makes it worse. A lot of the above, although it's all from bitter experience, mirrors what other freelancers have written in response to recent blog posts.

Tell me, where's the link to the blog on the PPH home page? Oh, yeah - it's not there, is it?

Anyone would think you've got something to hide. Your head in the sand shouldn't be it.
Thanks for the opportunity,
Jason Darrell

PPH Feedback

March 30th, 2015 - update (another moan)

One word struck me about PeoplePerHour today: cheap. Not their fees. Their attitude.

I was expecting a payment from a client, but waited to log in. I'd sent the invoice the weekend and, because of their previous prompt payment, guessed they'd pay this morning.

They, the client, did pay, as expected, at 11:18am. As I write this update, it's 22:35 in the evening and I've just logged in to see the payment there.

Given PPH's propensity to send an e-mail at the drop of a hat, did they email me to tell me that the funds had arrived?

Hell, No!

I'm so not surprised. It's like everything else - they're only in it for what they can get out of it. By 'it', I mean us, the freelance workforce.

Send us tons of emails about the amount of ill-matched jobs they're desperately trying to match to freelancers, why don't you? But Heaven forbid you alert us when something as critical as our money hitting our wallet happens. PPH, #yousuck!