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Showing posts from 2007

Danse Macabre

Yes it has been a long time. The new house has preoccupied my thoughts and time and is still doing so. This is just a short update. Visitor volumes are riding high but volatile. Sales are strengthening too. After the massive spasm of updates on Google there have been lesser by relatively frequent spikes of activity on Rank Pulse indicating that Google has become more active in updating rankings. The new webmaster tools also show the shifting patterns of positions and search behavior. It is coming up to Halloween and Danse Macabre by Saint Saens is top of the charts for a few more days again this year.

SERPs Churn dies down again

Just a quick comment to note that the churn of SERPs on Google has died down again after the longest period of high activity I have seen since I started to use the Rank Pulse site. RankPulse Graph This is obviously their copyright material but I don't suppose they will mind us giving them a plug. Oddly the most active chart today is for the letter 'i' but 'mattress' illustrates the recent turmoil more vividly. We seem to have once again bubbled up slowly across the piece. Now that the new office is set up we will have to do some more work on the site and the ads some of which are doing well while others have failed to perform at all.

Google Flux Continues

The exceptionally high level of flux in the Google search results has now continued for two weeks - twice as long as previous episodes. This suggests that Google are testing significant refinements of elements of their algorithm in the continuing campaign against Spam. This doesn't appear to be a problem in our area these days and although we are seeing fluctuations in SERPs, visitor numbers continue at high levels. Meanwhile inappropriate comments have been added to this blog so we have hidden them all. Disappointingly comments have never played a significant role here so in some ways this is not much of a loss but it is irritating to have to respond like this. We will investigate the prospects for moderated comments in due course.

Google SERPs Change Surge

Rankpulse has again registered a significant surge in SERPs change on Google - much too early to say what that may mean for us. We have been quiet for a while because we are moving premises - a new studio/office is being delivered today. We have moved out of Greater London to the sunny uplands of the North Downs - let's see what this does for our creativity. August was a quieter month as usual but the students are coming back and so should our visitor numbers.

Now here's a funny thing!

Customer contact is one of the bonuses of running this sort of business. It is only with that customer feedback that you pick up the problems they have experienced and give yourself a chance to fix them. Over the past couple of years the most frequent difficulties have been concerned with downloading. We fixed the worst of those with the updates we did earlier this year but Microsoft still come up with new ways to hide files downloaded with IE if you don't arrange the settings properly. The one thing that has never been questioned in the whole time has been the quality of our recordings - until yesterday that is. A customer in Australia down loaded the recording of the Brahms Hungarian Dance No 6 he had bought - it played OK on the PC but when he burned it on to a CD it crackled like crazy! Now for some reason I had never burned one of our recordings to a CD - so I tried it with the Microsoft Media Player and the same recording - result perfect! Normally you assume that wi

July Best month yet

Looking back July has been our best month on all dimensions so far. We had more visitors, hits and downloads than any month previously. Sales were also healthy but we are now also benefiting from the revenue from the Google AdSense campaign. During the month we increased the amount of advertising space on our pages and we have seen the effects of that coming through. We have tried the search option but that isn't doing much for us at the moment and we are now going to try some referrals. In particular we have found that some of our customers who use IE have not set it up very handily for downloading music and they are unable to find the file after hearing it for the first time. We have always been able to resolve this for them but plan to recommend Firefox on the basis of it's superior downloading facilities. August has always been a slow month for us and it is shaping up that way again this year - presumably this is because schools and colleges tend to be closed for mos

Google SERPs Spike - More & More Churn

Rankpulse has recorded another Google event about half the size of the last one but bigger than anything else in the last 6 months. Yes it is churn and more churn. Our Keywords roil and boil on an almost daily basis but our overall performance is pretty steady. I'm not sure if this isn't a new Google tactic to keep the spammers off balance and test user reactions to a variety of ranking algorithm settings. Our visitor numbers have come slightly off their peak levels but have held steadily well above previous heights. Customer orders are up too and so is our AdSense Content based advertising revenue. The task of re-formatting our streaming pages to allow inclusion of more advertising is well under way but it is a bit laborious. Once that is complete we'll go back and try to fix the AdSense Search facility so that it allows searches of our site. Then we can try deploying that more widely. As it is some one found it lurking on our site map yesterday and had a go.

AdSense - a couple of months in

As I have mentioned before Google's contract is a bit restrictive in terms of what can be disclosed about the arrangement. But I think a few comments are justified, although of course, they are personal comments based on the experience of just one site. From our first toe in the water experiments with individual ads on some pages we have in the last day or so moved to maximizing the advertising coverage where that can be done without compromising important page layout considerations. So apart from this blog we don't use the top of the page. We do use the right hand side where it doesn't interfere with our own product tables. If there is space at the end of our text we include the 'fat one' otherwise a single banner has been placed at the bottom of most product pages and all the streaming sample pages. We have even added the banner ads to our product pages in the shop below the action buttons because we know people do sit and listen to these samples for up to 3

Unprecedented Visitor Levels

Well, our last post was not far off the mark - those levels of visits were sustained making June a record month and have in the last few days have been surpassed. The keyword re-focus and bounce reduction initiatives really appear to be paying off although there is still a lot of turbulence on individual keywords. Encouragingly buying behavior seems to be following the visitor activity and the e-commerce side of the site is functioning really well now. We are planning to move home soon and there will be some disruption to the creative side of the business while we get settled in. But we are going to take the opportunity to upgrade some of our equipment and possibly software before we produce more recordings. The dual processor PCs are looking very good value now and the 100% increase in memory, not to mention the large caches should mean that we will not hit processor constraints with our instrument emulation software as often as we do now.

Visitor growth at last!

It is always a tricky decision to announce an increase in visitor numbers because they can fall away again so easily but this follows the biggest upheaval in Google SERPs for more than 6 months and a recent pick up in Googlebot activity on the site. Over the last three days we have seen a 25% increase to levels that we have hardly ever seen before. So it is fingers and toes crossed that the work we have done on the site has brought us to a new plateau and that we have a firm foundation for the next set of refinements and further growth. Of course we now have the extra potential benefit from increased visitor numbers in the pay per clicks on our Google Ads because we are looking to strengthen and refine that activity too. We started on this refinement phase activity months ago and this just demonstrates how patient you have to be in this game.

Bounce Research Findings

Today I came across one of those gems which makes the whole business of optimising site for Google so worthwhile. As someone who was trained in science and sought to apply it in a marketing environment over many years with huge budgets it is so nice to be able to appreciate the efforts of those who experiment on Google with the help of a few acquaintances and get results. As you know we have been concerned about the bounce rates on some of our pages and have taken action to reduce it, with some modest success. It had occurred to me that Google might be using this information to improve the search results for searchers on the assumption that bounces are a bad thing and that might harm our rankings. In the experiment reported in this article they seem to have proved that this is the case - so we can start to see why Google Analytics would be free to webmasters. I'm so impressed I signed up for their newsletter at and I'll flag items of inter

Now it is five Rankpulse Google SERPs spikes in a week!

This kind of churn really is unprecedented - but still no comment on the forum. Here is a chart from of the top ten positions for ten sites up to yesterday: The blur over the last few days illustrates what is happening to the relative positions of these sites in the Google Search Engine Results Positions (SERPS). While the top two sites have managed to stay above the fray everyone else has been engulfed. And that is just how we feel at the moment - well and truly engulfed! But you can also see that former number 1's have disappeared completely from the top ten chart but that the recent movement mostly revolves around sites that have been there or there abouts in recent time.

Third Spike on Saturday

It's a very unsual Google update that has just passed by without any comment that I've seen on the forum. Major spikes have been recorded on RankPulse's measure of Google SERP's change on three days with one quiet day between them is I believe unprecedented. With so many differnt keyword contributing to our visitor numbers it is impossible for us to discern any significant imapcts in the short term. Overall it looks as if May will pull us back to our January visitor levels but of course our shop is working properly now so we may see a bit more business out of it. The number of people who come to listen to a short sample of our version of Widor's famous Toccatta without purchasing the whole thing is quite extraordinary.

Google Update History

Yes some confirmation of the RankPulse observation here google-update-history-136975 in the SEO forum and a nostalgic wander down memory lane for veteran SEO enthusiasts. That was followed by a second RankPulse spike yesterday - even higher than the first one - Google rolls on! It is not too surprising that there would be a delay beause of the time it takes for changes to be propogated throughout Google's network of data centers.

Another Google SERPs Upheaval?

RankPulse has published its highest spike for 6 months showing a one day churn of 15% of the SERPs on the first page from the sample of 1000 keywords which it monitors. On a normal day we expect to see around 4% churn. But there is no comment on the optimiser bulletin board yet. In theory this shouldn't happen any more because of the constant re-indexing which Google undertakes and it is possible that it is the one or two datacenters that RankPulse connect with catching up. But the previous days data look reasonably normal so that seems unlikely. It is a bit hard to see if there are any impacts on us at this stage because Analytics seems to be a little slow in completing all of yesterday's results - but nothing too disasterous so far. We have been trying to interpret the results of the changes we made some weeks ago in terms of re-focusing on some keyword targets and trying to reduce the bounce levels on some of our worst pages. There certainly have been some improveme

Many Keywords Few Conversions

After the recent refurbishment of our keyword focus - there has been more purchase activity which naturally sparked our curiosity. Delving into the Analytics tables we were able to find that there is a very small number of keywords out of the 2.2K words that have been used to reach us in the last month which prompted purchase. Most of those are for specific pieces, one for a specific piece instrument combination! But the largest is the oddest 'mp3,itunes' because it leads to a page which has been notably unproductive with a very high bounce rate. Perhaps it is a fluke but if not more focus may be called for to secure our position. We may also have a look at some more instrument piece combinations.

A Well Earned Break in the Carribean

We're off to the St Lucia tomorrow for a couple of weeks in the sun. Who knows what musical influences we will be exposed to and how we might translate that into new recordings when we get back. Such is the wonderful technology of the Internet our trusty laptop will enable us to mind the shop from those distant shores but there will probably be a short intermission in blog entries. When we come back it will be time for a full review of the impact of the changes we made to the site in the last few weeks. The overall level of activity is about the same but it seems to be better focused and the shop is working very well now. So we'll concentrate on the effectiveness of the specific actions we took and see whether there is more to do to build and sustain the profile and impact of our site.

AdSense - the first few days

The terms and conditions of AdSense are a bit restrictive about public utterances but a few general comments seem in order. In the first place the set up was very quick and efficient. It took a little playing around to get the hang of the the different advert formats and we are currently trying about four variants on different parts of the site. Our attempts to track them with the Channels facility dosen't seem to have come off but it is too early to start really digging into that yet. I have seen some comment about prices per click in one of the news groups but again it is too early to get to grips with that yet and we'll keep an eye on it. Any how - modest supplementary income for rather modest effort is not to be sneezed at so we'll carry on - refining as we go.

Bounce Rates Falling

It is nice to report some success following problem identification and prioritised action. The excessive bounce problem on quite few of our pages had been with us for long time but we had been focused on other issues. Then by reordering the pages listed in the bounce rate reports we were able to focus on the most extreme cases - starting with the 100% cases - yes all visitors to those pages left immediately! One of the common factors was that the first music sample offer was below the bottom of the visible page so we systematically revised the layout of many of the pages to fix this and try and make them look more enticing. After a suitable wait we have found that bounce rates have fallen and almost all of these pages have improved their bounce rate performance. We are less worried about bounces away from the sample pages because those visitors will have heard a clip from one of our arrangements and that probably means that they are in the wrong place and no

AdSense Sign Up

A further review of our Analytics data has convinced me to experiment with Google's AdSense. The bounce rates from many of our pages make it clear that many visitors are just not seeing what they are looking for when they reach us so we might as well get what we can out of the visit. Our traffic volumes mean that even with significant conversion rates we won't make much. The risk of loosing valuable customers is pretty modest and the ads can sometimes increase the credibility of a page to a new visitor i.e. most of our visitors. We will be selective about the pages we target with this - naturally from the start it will include this blog and our iTunes and iPod pages and then we'll experiment with our more business critical pages. One of the incidental benefits of the Bit Pass closure is that we can now track all our sales activity through the site with Analytics - the data isn't really statistically significant but it is providing sufficient clues to drive some fur

Re-focusing on Target Keywords

It is now nearly a month since we did a thorough site overhaul - looking at our target keywords and re-focusing pages as indicated by current performance. Yesterday we had our first detailed look at the impact and as ever it is a fuzzy picture. There is no obvious overall rise in traffic but there is evidence of progress on some pages and the targeted keywords so our efforts were not in vain but as one might expect they weren't all as successful as each other. It is also probably the case that some of the changes have still to work through - some of the relevant cached pages were only picked up in the last week or so. The big success was the prominence that our has now achieved with significant support from the Baroque music reference which clue we picked up from Keyword Discovery . Handel is also doing much better at the moment thanks to our new Hallelujah Chorus emphasis - a bigger draw than Sheba or the Concerto Grosso. There is also som

Inward Links

We signed up to Google's Webmaster tools quite some time back and they provide a range of more or less informative reports on a daily basis although they are not all updated every day. The information about key words used to find the site seemed rather odd and not too consistent at a glance with Analytics results although this may be down to a different (undisclosed) period of coverage. However looking at the links from other sites which is much more fulsome today it was striking to note how many of the links are into the blog rather than the rest of the site. In some ways, on reflection, I suppose that is not too surprising but it is a long way from our intentions - still a link is a link is a link and I'm not going to complain. The weird thing is that they are mostly dates (month/year from our Archive files) which must be the most common bits of data to be found in blogs everywhere. There is perhaps a hint that some of our optimisation work may have begun to have some im

New Download Problems

Well - not really - more like the reappearance of an old issue. With IE7 and media players like Windows Media Player or Quicktime downloaded files are played straight away and it is far from obvious if or where they are saved. Although we recently upgraded some of our PC's to this configuration we hadn't spotted the issue ourselves and by some strange chance two customers raised it this morning. It took a while hunting around the menus in both the player and the browser, followed by a quick Google enquiry to track down the solution. This time with IE7 you go into Tools/General/ Browser history/Settings/View files to get to the Temporary Internet folder where your downloaded files are sitting quietly. I suppose that an explorer search set to look at hidden folders might have found them eventually but life is too short. So thanks to those two customers we'll be updating the site with that advice later today. If anyone know how we are supposed to keep up with developme

Site Re-focus

For the last couple of weeks we have been reviewing and tightening up our keyword focus. This involved pulling together our historical targeting information with the new insights we got from Keyword Discovery . We have picked up some new targets from the later which we are trying out on pages that have not done too well on their existing targets. As you know Google discourages checks on SERPs with automated tools but their personalised search solution completely invalidates manual checks so we've had to bend the rules a little. The free tool which we have been using is slow and unreliable so we are not overdoing this. With this information to hand we have gone through each page and updated the content to better target a key phrase and then through the pages that link back to it to make sure that they are optimised too. Following Big Daddy we are not getting pages picked up by Googlebot as frequently as we used to. In fact Googlebot now accounts for much less bandwidth consum

E-mailing Customers

Everyone does it - don't they. Surely it's not spam - well? Any how we have taken the risk and emailed them all with an update on the improved link with PayPal and advice about a couple of free recording s which they may have overlooked. So we'll see what if any reaction there is and decide whether we need to ask permission in future. Having settled that long running performance issue we are having a fresh look at the keyword optimisation of the site. It has all got a bit haphazard over the months so we are sharpening it up not with the use of specific tools but based on memory of feedback from the Web Position Page Critic tool. I realise that it is not up to date but at least it should give us a chance in some of the less competitive areas. Interestingly some of the product pages are really doing their stuff even though they don,t contain much text - it is very focused.

Keyword Discovery

While tackling the problems with the shop we have also taken a look at the Keyword Discovery Application using the free access they offered us. Like Word Tracker it is a web based solution and unlike Word Tracker it lets you work out your own work flow for yourself. It took me a little while to get to an optimum approach to this but once there it was quite quick and easy to understand. Keyword Discovery has its own approach to calculating a scale for the best Keywords to target based on the volume of daily searches and the level of competition and produces comparable results. I also made a couple of cross checks on the estimated daily volumes which were at least in the same order of magnitude, whilst the levels of competition were more a less equal on the few that I compared - not too surprising as they are the result of a Google search. The big differences are around the way the lists of keywords are generated. Keyword Discovery seems to generate longer lists of possible target

Bloodied but unbowed

The last few weeks have, as they say, been a bit mixed. The problems at the shop have taken a lot of effort to resolve but we think we are there now. None of the small fixes did the job and so we had to upgrade our connexion to PayPal to their Immediate Notification system which doesn't depend on the customer doing what they are told and coming straight back to our site after they have made their payment. That change went in fairly smoothly but there was a bit of fiddly work to do on defining order status levels in response to the messages that come back from PayPal. Then came the real pig - download control. We went for the heavy duty option right from the get go but somewhere along the way a small change crept in to the configuration of one or two key directories on the site and the system was broken. But of course we first had to work through all the software eliminating problems before we got down to something so close to the physical layer. The trouble is that in a logi

Keyword Discovery

Today I had an unusal response to this blog - Keyword Discovery approached me to try out their site because of the Wordtracker comments I made here ages ago. So naturally I'm going to give it a go and I'll let you know here how it looks and what it could mean for us. All seems to be quiet on the other fronts although Rank Pulse is indicating that another monthly rankings upheaval at Google in underway. I saw some comment to the effect that the last one was geared to clobbering some 'Black Hats' so we didn't see any real impact from that. In any case none of the free ranking tools we have been tempted to try from time to time seem to be working on Google now - perhaps they are part of the scope of the 'Black Hats' being targeted. We would not expect much impact because we don't see to much of that activity in our niches. We just watch the continuing pressure on the Russians and their interpretation of International Copyright law with interest becaus

The Joys and Joys of OS Commerce Contributions

One of the wonderful things about using open source software like OS Commerce is the opportunity to try the contributions provided by other users. Our shop would not operate were it not for some of these contributions but as we are warned every time - contributions are used at your own risk. To fix the lost orders problem we trawled the contributions lists for solutions and found a few. The easiest one to apply was the Alert which delivered a rather fierce pop message telling customers to make sure they come back from the Pay Pal site. What I didn't realise for a few days was that it also cut out the trip to Pay Pal and sent customers straight to their downloads without collecting any money. So that's been disabled now. But fortunately the more complex but better engineered solution for Holding Orders has gone in like a dream and seems to be working well. Prompted by this success we had a go at another longstanding problem of visibility of Orders from the Admin suite and

Pay Pal Interface

Delving into the Pay Pal and OS Commerce support areas have flagged further exposures to failures to return customers to their download screen after they have completed payment. So we've added a Pop Up advice screen that someone kindly contributed and today we're going to add another contribution which should give us Admin visibility to shopping carts that have been subject of this sort of failure to make recovery easier when we get the payment email from Pay Pal. There was another suggestion involving the product description that requires more investigation. And there is also a more expensive option from Pay Pal which would obviate the problem altogether but we are not yet earning enough to justify that.

So Far So Good

For a start we are getting much more activity through the online shop now that it is the only option - the product info page is storming up the charts and we've had some successful purchases go through since the update at the weekend. I suspect that there may be more we can do to bring the transaction processing fully up to date but I want this change to bed in first and identify any remaining wrinkles. Google is taking its time picking up the changed pages so perhaps it is time to do a new site index.

Auto Return

So far our delvings into the inner workings /failures of the shop suggest that the issue relates to shoppers return behaviour at the conclusion of the Pay Pal part of the transaction. To overcome this common problem the recommendation is to switch on Auto Return at Pay Pal - a feature that wasn't even there when we originally built and tested the shop. So we'll have to see how that goes. Incidentally our musings on the passing of Bit Pass have evidently registered and some people have been finding us on "replacement for Bit Pass" which is ironic because we haven't found one and we're not sure yet whether we need one.


Yes by George they've done it. BitPass has been expunged from the working pages of our site, we've taken a copy of the relevant data from their site for our business records and we patiently await payment of our outstanding balance. It was a slog but the find and replace facilities in Dreamweaver proved invaluable for this task and we have done a final sweep to check that we didn't miss any remaining references. In the end we just re-used the Buy Now graphic from the shop package as our call to action on the product pages. There is a risk of visitors getting two instances of the player running at the same time if they don't wait until the end of the clip but it is easy enough to stop one if that occurs. So we'll pause for breath and see how visitors react to the new layout and navigation arrangements. The search engines will have lots of updated pages to digest so we may see some changes on that front but it shouldn't upset things significantly. Then we&#

Ringtones are Done!

Yes it was a slog but our Ring tone pages have been re-configured to take account of the Bit Pass switch off. This work has exposed a problem with the More Bach entries in the catalog because the samples don't play on the catalog pages - not sure how I missed that on earlier. But today we are flogging through the remaining individual product pages to complete the removal of all traces of Bit Pass from our site only a few days after their closure.

No White Knights in view

The faint hope that a replacement supplier would appear to rescue us from the Bit Pass debacle is fading fast. The only one to poke their noses above the parapet look to be far to expensive for us. So we are slogging on - the composer pages are done but not the ring tones yet and only some of the selections pages. The individual track pages are a particular problem - they are not strictly necessary in the new configuration but I am reluctant to abandon them in case a Bit Pass replacement emerges and we can re-use them and their search engine positions so we are going to have to come up with some intelligent visitor guidance copy and boiler plate that.

New Design for a New Opportunity

Looking for the best way to respond to the BitPass debacle we have decided to simplify the main Composer and Selection pages with a "Listen & Buy" call to action against each product. The button then takes them to the product page in the shop which plays the clip and included the product details so they can be removed from the tables on the main pages. This leaves the product pages without a real role for the time being but they do draw in some traffic so we'll remove the BitPass content and leave them up for the time being while we consider whether we can replace BitPass for single purchases. Of course these are the last pages that we will be able to update not least because there are so many of them. The first of the new selection pages is already up : Steel Drums - because we needed to do a live test of the new design. If any one has any thoughts or reactions to any of this they would be most welcome - in public as a Blog Comment or privately by email to we

BitPass Bites the Dust

They hoped it was just another hoax but the Bit Pass website today confirms that they are closing down in the next few days. This is sad because they really seemed to fill a need and they performed well - we had very few complaints and their system allowed us to resolve them promptly. For a business like ours that has been built around a unique service of this kind this is a hammer blow. We will obviously have to refocus around our own OS Commerce online store facilities but we know that they are less attractive to the casual browser not least because of the cost of individual transactions with Pay Pal. So we start today on the stack of work involved in deleting Bit Pass from hundreds of pages and replacing them with links to our store pages. And removing all the other references to it in the text and updating the calls to action to reflect the new situation. Not to mention some of the operational difficulties we have had recently with our store that need to be fixed. Lucky we d

All of MP3 Removed from search facility

In the light of recent publicity in news groups etc I had another look at All of MP3 . com and removed it from our legal mp3 search facility. Although they do claim to abide by their own local copyright legislation this isn't really good enough in my opinion when you are working in a Global market place. Their prices are just too low to allow anything sensible for copyright owners - so they are out.

iTunes Bubble Subsides

Inevitably after the holidays the volume of iTunes help enquiries has subsided dramatically but it still obscures what is going on at the summary level. Rank pulse has been showing higher than usual churn in rankings in the last few days but nothing too dramatic. We have launched the Legal MP3 Search facility with it's own page now and done a bit of branding to its appearance. Given the recent publicity we probably need to have another look at the inclusion of the Russian sites in the domain list. But this really isn't going to develop much further if we don't manage to attract any collaborators so that is the splash on all our pages for the next little while and a Press Release may be in order now.

iTunes Enquiries Obscure all else

The surge may be over but the dominance of iTunes enquiries continues. Yes we are number 10 for "iTunes help" on Google and yes they do stop and read our helpful advice about dragging and dropping MP3s into iTunes - on average for several minutes - an age in site viewing statistics. But Widor's wedding march continues to be the most popular streamed item with over 100 visits yesterday! More seriously there is evidently a persistent problem with our shop software - we are collecting money but not releasing the goods until we get the payment email and then email the products. I had hoped to wait for the next OsCommerce release to tackle this but it looks like we will have to see it we can fix it now....