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May 11, 2011

Wild Edible: Jack-In-The-Pulpit

For the last couple weeks I have been watching some shoots coming out of the ground, I haven’t been sure what they were so I have been keeping a pretty close watch, when I started to see the leaves develop I thought they might be Trillium’s as a single leaf stalk has a resemblance, however on my last trip out it was unmistakable that these were Jack-In-Pulpit’s.  They went from a shoot with a little leaf to the full plant you see here in a week or less.

These are a bit of a tricky wild edible from what I read, you can only eat the roots, and ONLY after they are totally dried.  The suggestion is to cut the roots into paper thin slices and then leave them out for upwards to three months before consuming, you can either eat them like potato chips, or grind them into a flour (which the Indians did).

The reason you must dry them so much is because they contain calcium oxalate crystals (Same as in skunk cabbage).  This will cause intense burning when you eat it, one of my wild edibles books compared it to eating liquid fire, while another of my books compared it to having a mouth full of glass shards mixed with cayenne pepper.  Boiling will not remove the calcium oxalate, only completely drying it will.

That being said, I do plan to harvest a small amount to try, but it will be sitting here until it is “gunpowder dry” to quote one of my wild edibles books!

February 25, 2010

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Part #2

Filed under: Web Design — Marcus @ 6:16 am

This is the second article in my series on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), if you haven’t read the first article yet, please take time to do so now.

The focus of this article is on getting the content and design for your site ready for your customers and then getting your site submitted to the correct listings.  One thing to note about the advice from this article, there is almost nothing relating to search engine optimization specifically, this is intentional.

Your #1 job with your website is to make it so that your customers love it.  If you have a high quality site to start with that provides real value to your customers it will probably end up ranking well without you doing very much, but if you spend your time obsessing over tweaks for ranking first and not worrying so much about your customers you will fight a losing battle as you will get an upsurge of traffic to begin with, but the customers will not find or enjoy your site and if they are not staying on your site but immediately leaving then all your work is for nothing.

One of the best resources I have ever read on making your website usable is “Don’t Make Me Think”.  I read this book a few years ago and it has really influenced how I think about web design.

So without further ado, here are the next steps on getting your website ready for search engines.

1)    Content, Content, CONTENT.  If you don’t do anything else, write content that is interesting to the group of people you are targeting, don’t worry about how search engines will see it, don’t worry about keywords, don’t even worry so much about a perfect logo or site design.  Worry about writing original, excellent quality content that people will actually want to read.

  • Double check your spelling and grammar, it is easy to run your content though a program like Microsoft Word to check your spelling and grammer.
  • Use consistent fonts, colors and styles throughout your site; being creative on each and every page is only distracting to your users.
  • When you have finished writing a page, stop, go to the top and read the entire page over again, don’t skim, read every last word.  Once you have finished reading the page, go back up to the top again and this time read it out loud.  If you find yourself skimming, you can bet your customers will as well, and if you have too much content they may decide they don’t want to read it at all!

2)    As soon as you have the first page up submit it to Google (http://www.google.com/addurl/), don’t worry if your site is ready or not.  Google will continue visiting your site and will pickup more of your site as you perfect it.  I have read before that Google will often times penalize new websites, so the earlier they find out about your site the earlier you will be considered an established site.  Also Google loves to see changes, so while you are working making your site better, Google will love your changes.
3)    Design elements:

  • Use consistent and meaningful page titles for each page on your site, I normally recommend your page title being your site name a dash and a very short description of your site, for example on my site here you will see something along the lines of “KD8ITX.COM – Ham Radio”
  • Make use of <h1> tags in your content, these should be used for the main headlines of your website, search engines will pickup the content in your <h1>’s as being important to the page.
  • Use page names that actually mean something, don’t use page1.html, page2.html, etc.  Use something that actually describes what the page is about, it should not be more than 2-3 words though.
  • Use text links and design elements where you can, flash looks cool, but search engines just see that as a blind spot they don’t understand.  Also the flashier your site is, the longer it will take to load which will cause potential customers to leave before your site is loaded.

4)    Think about what you are trying to sell, it doesn’t matter whether it’s an actual product, or if the purpose of your site is just a personal info site about yourself.  Your site has a purpose, and you need to make sure you understand what that purpose is at the very beginning.  Once you know the purpose of your site you can weigh any component you are thinking of adding against the purpose, ask yourself if adding x component or feature will help with the purpose of your site.  Oftentimes the less you have on your site distracting away from the main purpose the better.

  • Example #1: www.google.com, obviously everyone knows Google, but take a look at their homepage again; can you tell the stated purpose of the page from a glance?  Its search, they have eliminated everything from their page but the one element they really care to sell you on.  This may be commonplace now and not something that really stands out, but back when they first came out with the idea it was revolutionary and a part of how they have become the very top.
  • Example #2: zenhabits.net, this blog has risen in popularity from being unknown to being I believe one of the top 5 blogs on the web.  Take a look around there, what is it that has caused that blog to gain popularity like it has?  I would say very solid writing and a website that focuses on what they are selling, their blog content.  When you look at the site it is very pleasing to look at but at the same time has almost nothing there that is not directly related to the content on the site.

5)    Once you have completed the first version of your site and are ready for customers its time to submit your site to a couple of directories that in my experience help with your page rank

  • www.dmoz.org: This is an old school hand edited directory, once you submit your site to them it may take weeks to months to get included, and they can very well decide not to include you.  With the sites I have worked with, once they got listed here I noticed the major search engines giving a bit of a bonus to them.
  • http://technorati.com/: If you have a blog on your site, submit it to here, make sure to have a few good solid posts before submitting it here though.  The last site I submitted took about 3 weeks to go through their verification.
  • Misc:  Is there any directory type sites you immediately think of when thinking were to find competitors in your industry?  If so find out what it takes to get listed with them, it may be free or paid, but if they are already getting the traffic to them it is worth investigating.  Also as a note, don’t bother with just the spam link trading places; I would stick with well known sites in your industry.

Next up in the Search Engine Optimization series I will go over the tools you can use to promote your site and then validate your results.

Until Next time…

February 20, 2010

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Part #1

Filed under: Web Design — Marcus @ 7:49 am

Today is a homework day; I am working on a series of posts about search engine optimization (SEO).  If you are interested in this subject and will be following my next few posts on this subject, please take a few minutes and go through this exercise below.  Print off these questions or copy them into a word editor and actually write down your answers and save them.  We will be using these over the next few posts

  1. What is the purpose of my site? (One sentence)
  2. What are 5 of my closest competitors?
    1. #1 __________
    2. #2 __________
    3. #3 __________
    4. #4 __________
    5. #5 __________
  3. How is my site better than all 5 of my competitors? (One sentence answer per competitor, fill this out as if you were a customer that has visited both your site and your competitor, what would they say makes you better than this competitor?)
    1. #1 __________
    2. #2 __________
    3. #3 __________
    4. #4 __________
    5. #5 __________
  4. No really, why would someone want to come to my site over each of my competitors I just listed? (Really think about this, if it’s because you think you have a kick-ass web design, or because you know in your heart yours is the best, then that is not good enough to convince your customer.)
  5. What is my unique advantage that will make people choose me over my competitors? (Write this out, take paragraphs, pages if you need to).

Ok, now take what you just wrote down and look at your website and see if you have conveyed the reasons you have written down why someone would choose you over your competitors.

When someone comes to your site for the first time, they should very quickly be able to fill out question #1 and #5, and if you did your job correctly their answer to those two should be almost identical to your answer.

One last note, do not breeze over this exercise, take time and really think about these questions, because even if you don’t you can bet your competitors are.  You need to make sure you have better answers to these questions than they have, because these answers can and should guide you into the very core of what your website is and should influence every decision about your site.

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