Learning Something New Every Day

Today, I learnt about cononical linking.  Canonical linking is a way of letting search engines know that your content is accessible through multiple URLs, by publicly specifying the preferred URL of page content. This prevents Google penalising your site for having duplicate content.

I first came across the possibility of  search engines penalising sites for duplicate content when following WPDesigner’s excellent tutorial on creating WordPress Themes. Here, he recommends ways to change the content of pages which might be viewed as duplication by Google – Prevention not cure.

It wasn’t until today that Mike recommended that I “canonically link” Rose Theatre event pages because they are almost identical to the same page in the events section of the site. To do so, within the <head> tags of each Rose Theatre event page, add a link like the one below:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/events/2010/03/09/stand-up-comedy" />

The link tag is an empty tag, and the use of the “rel” attribute defines the canonical nature of the tag. In our case we generate the link URL using symfony routing rules, URL parameters and the page slug so we don’t need to add the link for every page.

So now, when you visit Stand Up Comedy check out the source code and you’ll see the link, just like Google does.

Less buzzwords, more content

We’re very open about our web developments and always welcome feedback, particularly from our users, but we are naturally disappointed when we hear we’re not giving people what we want.

We arrived at the office this morning to the following comment on my blog post ‘Where to stop?!’ from an anonymous user:

Zzzzzzz.

Less buzzwords, more content. Give us something we can use; not look at. We’re (students) not bothered about blogs. We don’t care about tech news. We can get that from more important places. This is a university web site. Give us university content. Live access to our files in a decent way. E-mail from POP or ATOM. RSS feeds of our coursework updates and changes. Loose the Blackboard and Web CT and start giving us information that we need. We’re not looking at it, we’re using it.

Whilst the comment doesn’t explicity reference Go (our student portal) I assume that’s what it relates to and in response (as buzzword-less as I can make it) I’d like to highlight the following.

The Go portal is not a finished product/service indeed non of our Web Services are. Once we put something in the public domain we seek feedback from our users and we continually build/adapt/enhance it to ensure it’s doing what YOU want. University blogs are fairly new for us and at present we only have a number of bloggers within the community – so whilst the usefulness of these might not seem apparent right now the more our community grows the more interesting they’ll be for a wider group of people. In direct response to the user who added the comment I’d also like to add that you may say students aren’t interested in blogs – but then you did just read and comment on one! 😉

I completely take the point about more university content and can confirm this is what we are striving to add. There are plans to pull in feeds from WebCT/Blackboard and even direct from the Student Record System but these are third party systems so understandably adapting these to be accessible in the same way as our university resources is a little more time consuming – bear with us. New features will be added all the time. The overall aim of our services is to make everything more accessible and easier for you and not just within the Go portal we’ve developed. Longer term aims are to have our content pushed out so that our users can decided how/where they access it from. Again we’re working on these things so keep an eye on this blog to see where we’re at.

All of that said we are confident we are providing some great features already. The new version of Go is due to be rolled out fully later this month and it’ll give all students easier access to Mail, File Storage, Discussion, Community, Library and WebCT/Blackboard. Performing Arts students are already piloting new services which give them a bespoke (course specific) area which allows them to submit assignments, get module updates and notifications about their course. I would argue that the services we’re offering are purely about content and we look forward to building on them in the future.

Write Articles, Not Blog Posting

The web guru Jackob Nielsen in a recent article is arguing that people should write articles and not quick blog posting entries, but he’s actually focusing on business blogging if they want to make money.

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you’re searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

Read his article ‘Write Articles, Not Blog Posting‘ , as the way he handles the matter is quite interesting and he’s backed his argument with some impressive stats.

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