Webmaster tools Structured Data Testing Tool - helping bloggers who care about SEO

This quick-tip introduces the Google Webmaster Tools structured data testing tool, which gives you a view of how your site looks to the search-engines.

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Today I discovered that Google Webmaster Tools offers tools for testing the structured data on your website.

I haven't seen any announcements about it, just noticed it there when I was looking for something else - so I'm not sure if it's really new, just new-to-me, or I've been lucky enough to get a it before most people do.

You can find it here (or at least that's where I'm finding it):    http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets

Once you're at that page, you can paste in either an URL (your own, or someone else) or some HTML, press preview - and the system will show you how the meta-tags, open-graph tags and other Google-supported structured data on your site looks to Google.   This isn't important for many bloggers - but is very useful information if SEO matters for your blog.

And you can also "Select the HTML tab to view the retrieved HTML and experiment with adjusting it." - and so test out the effect of making changes to your template etc.

The results show you:
  • A preview of how the URL looks in a Google search-engine-results-page.
  • Authorship testing results - whether have a Google+ page or profile associated with the site
  • Authorship email verifications results
  • Publisher markup verification status
  • An extract of the structured data

I don't even begin to understand what all the results mean.    And I'm not sure if we can do something about all results that are shown - eg   checking Blogger-hints-and-tips currently tells me that there are values for properties that I've never set (eg blogid and postid)  and also properties that aren't part of the schema, eg:
  • Error: Page contains property "image_url" which is not part of the schema.
  • Error: Page contains property "blogid" which is not part of the schema.
  • Error: Page contains property "postid" which is not part of the schema.

But, much like the syntax-checker provided by Facebook for checking how successful you were at  installing Open Graph tags I'm sure that this will be a useful SEO diagnostic tool.


How to replace a file in Google Drive with a new version

This article is about how to update a file that you have loaded to Google drive. It only applies to files that have not been converted to Google Docs format - for example, PDF, Word, Excel etc files.

New versions vs new files in Google Docs

On a couple of my blogs, I provide files that people can download and use themselves.

When you share a file in this way, there are three main issues to consider:
  • Where to put the file
  • How people will find it
  • What format to use.

Today, Google Drive is the most obvious file hosting option for people using Blogger. (A file host is somewhere that you can put files which Blogger cannot upload - see File Hosting options for Blogger for more details and other alternatives.)

I thought a lot about the best format to use for these files: if I convert them to Google Drive (AKA Docs) format, they won't count against my file-storage quota, and everyone has access to Google Drive/Docs.  But not everyone has a Google account, or access to Docs at the time when they want to work on the file. And some people might struggle with using Word tables and formatting. So in the end, I decided to stick with MS Word and PDF formatted versions, for now at least.

And I tell people about these files by writing a blog post (eg "Table Quiz Answer Sheets") introducing the template, and put a link to each files in it (eg like the picture on the right for the PDF version - for info about how I did this see "Putting text and pictures side by side" ).

However I know that some people choose to note / bookmark / share / etc the location of the file, rather than the blog post. This is fine by me: the point of my blog is to provide tools, templates and advice. I ENsure that there is branding and a link to my blog on the downloaded files, so everyone who sees the printed version knows about my blog.   But I'm not fussed if some repeat-business goes directly to the files - I think they'll come back back to my site when they need advice or a different template.

But what happens if I want to change the file, for example to fix a typo that was missed originally, or to add a new feature?

If I just upload a new Word or PDF file to Google Docs then the links to this file will be different - even if it has the same name as a previously uploaded file.   People who go directly to the original file file will get the old (wrong) version - or even worse, I'll delete it and they will have a broken link.

However I've found that if I use Google Drive's tools for loading a new version of the file, then people with the link will always go directly to the latest version - and I can choose whether to keep the older versions inside Drive, or to delete them.

How to load a new version of a file to Google Drive

Log in to Google Drive, using the Google account that owns the document.

Navigate to the folder that the file is in.

Tick the document that you want to replace or update

Select More, from the navigation options bar above the list of documents

Go to Manage Revisions

Upload your updated version, using the Upload New Revision link:

If you want, delete the older non-current one using the "x" checkmark to the right hand side of the screen.

Job done:  anyone who goes to the existing file link will now get your most-recently-uploaded version of the document.


If there is no "Manage Revisions" option, then most probably the file is in native Google Docs format rather than another like Microsoft Word or PDF.   In this case, you need to edit it on-line.  Unfortunately I haven't found a way to temporarily leave the old, unedited, version available to any one who looks at the file before you have finished opening it.   This could be particularly annoying if you want to make a lot of changes -  in this case, it may be best to convert the file back to a downloadable format (Word, etc) and work on it locally before re-uploading and then copy-and-pasting te new contents back to your original file.

Can this be done with the Drive desktop software?

The short answer is: I don't know.

 I have multiple Google accounts, for different blogs, so I've decided that it's safest to always use the web-browser based tools to manage files in Drive, rather than try to work with different accounts on different areas of my local file store.

If you do know, please leave a comment below.

Other options?

I'm certain that there are othr tools in which it's easier to replace an existing verison of a file with a new one without changing the link to the file.    The following notes discuss the ones I've tried so far.

Google Sites

Originally I used "filing cabinet" pages in Google Sites to store the files which I make available. This has a couple of advantages:

If you upload a new file with the same name, then
  • The link does not change
  • The sharable link includes the original file-name, which makes it easier for me to be sure that I'm putting the right link into my blog posts.

However, Sites isn't Google's preferred way of managing documents now and I have a nasty feeling that one day it may go the same way as Google Pages, Reader, Picnik, etc.  So I decided a while ago to stop using Sites for this.

Related Articles:

File Hosting - places to store files that you use in your blog

Understandiing Google Accounts

Showing things side-by-side in Blogger

How to use Picasa-web-albums, without being re-directed to Google+ Photos

This article is about how to you can start Picasa-web-albums in way that stops you being immediately re-directed to Google+ Photos.

What happens when you start Picasa-web-albums?

If you have a Google+ account, either because you only signed up for Google recently, or you had a Blogger account first and then linked your blog to Google+, then you will know that if you go to Picasa-web-albums), you are immediately re-directed to Google+ photos.

When this happens, at the top of the screen, for a few seconds, there is a message saying:

 "Click here to go back to Picasa Web Albums."

But if you do something in Google+ photos, this top banner message disappears, and the only way to get it back again is to close and re-open Picasa-web.   This is tedious - it's a waste of time opening one website just so you can re-direct back to another one.

How to skip the re-direction message

To use Picasa-web-albums, without being sent to Google+ photos, you just need to start it using this link:    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/myphotos?noredirect=1

I'm going to put it into the sidebar of my blog very soon, so I have easy access to it.

Is there a problem with using Picasa-web instead of Google+ Photos?

You might wonder if there is a problem with using the old Picasa-web-albums instead of Google+ Photos.

In short, the answer (for now anyway) is no, there is no problem - and I don't expect there to be one anytime soon.


You still only keep one set of photos in your Google account.   It just happens that Google now have two pieces of software that can access these photos.   One is Google+ Photos, and the other is Picasa-web-albums.    And they both work on the same underlying pictures and photo-albums.   So it won't cause you to run out of space, or to have duplicate copies of your photos.

And Google still need to maintain Picasa-web-albums because there are a substantial number of Blogger users who choose to be anonymous:   Google+ photos simply will not work for them, because it absolutely depends on having the photos associated with an individual, named persons profile.   (And I'm pretty sure that there are no easy ways to transfer ownership of photos from one Google+ profile to another, either, in the event that you want to transfer ownership of your blog.)

Of course we don't know if this will last forever - but my best guess is that you can safely keep using Picasa-web-albums for a good while yet.

Related Articles:

Transferring your blog to another Google account's ownership

What is Picasa vs Picasa-web-albums - a basic introduction

Creative-Kit photo editor works from Google+, if not from Picasa-web-albums

Options for showing photos in Blogger

Where is the Blogger help forum now?

This quick-tip is about how to find the current version of Blogger's support forum.

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27 July update:   I noticed yesterday that Google have changed the process back, and that Blogger's help link now leads directly to the summary page which includes a Community button.   I guess this means they listened - if not to me, then at least to everyone else who complained.

For as long as I have been using Blogger, Google have provided two types of support:
  • A set of support articles - some of which aren't up to date - that describe how to do standard things
  • A support forum, where people can ask questions, which are answered by other Blogger users. This forum has some people who are tagged as "Top Contributors" who have special rights, like being able to send questions to the Google staff who are also using the foru - but who obviously don't have the time to read all the posts.

Unlike some people, I don't have any problems with the peer-support model. It's 24x7. It supports lots of languages. It gives ordinary people a way to learn more about Blogger, by preparing answers to other people's questions.   It let me build up reputation as a helpful person, and so encouraged other helpers to help me when I got stuck.   It was also a place I could refer to in my own comment moderation policies:   I would rather that people asked for help with their blogs on a public, peer reviewed forum than here on Blogger-HAT where there is not regular review process.

I wasn't to thrilled about the move to a Google-groups based help forum. I can see why using a standard tool is good, but the Group software just doesn't work so well on my small netbook.

And I'm less-than-happy about the way that Google seems to be making it ever-harder to find the forum: a few weeks back they added another click to the process (Gear-wheel > Blogger Help > Community), and now I see there's yet another one (Gear-wheel > Blogger Help > More (the down-arrow at the bottom of the page) Blogger).

So here's a quick link, which I'm going to keep up to date, and put on my sidebar too. Click it to go straight to the Blogger help/product forum:      https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/blogger

How to make AdSense ads in your site load faster

This article is about a new, faster, type of AdSense code which is available, and how you can add it to your blog.

AdSense have announced that they are now providing a new, faster, type of code for their ads.

This code is "asynchronous", which means that other content on the page will still keep on loading, even if the advertisement is delayed.

This a good thing, because it lets your blog's visitors see your posts more quickly.  Also, if SEO matters for your blog, then having it load as quickly as possible is important, because Google likes pages that load quickly.

How to put asynchronous Adsense ads into your blog

Blogger have not commented, but I am 99.99999% certain that the new asynchronous ad-code has not be implemented into the AdSense gadgets that are available from Blogger's Add-a-gadget tool.

So to put it into your blog, you need to:
  • When you reach the Ad code box, choose 'Asynchronous (BETA)' from the Code type drop-down menu

Ad Successfully Created - ad code window - where you can copy and paste adsense code from - now has a Code Type drop-down above the Ad-code box.

You may also want to use techniques like centering gadgets on your blog - but remember that the changes which you are allowed to make to AdSense code are very limtied.


AdSense are still describing this new code as "beta" - this means they're pretty sure it's ok, but it might still have some glitches.   So if you do use it, check out your blog in a variety of browsers (ie Chrome and Firefox) to make sure that it's working, and keep an eye on your AdSense earnings too - if they drop unexpectedly, you might want to switch back, and check if that was the problem.

They recommend that if you are going to use the asynchronous code, you should change all the ad-units on your site at once. This could take a while if you've installed ads inside your blog psots but may be worth the effort.  That said, personally I'm going to wait until the new code isn't described as "beta" anymore before I put into the posts in one of my blogs.

Does it work?

Just before I published this post, I replaced the AdSense ads on this blog with the new versions of the code.  Do you think that it makes Blogger-Hints-and-Tips load quicker?

Has it made your own blog load more quickly?

Related articles:

How to put AdSense ads inside Blogger posts

How to add a gadget to your blog

Installing 3rd party HTML into Blogger

Does search-engine traffic matter for your blog? 5 reasons why not

Tools for measuring how quickly your blogger pages load

How to centre-align gadgets in Blogger

Allowable changes to AdSense ad code

What is Google Friend Connect

This article describes Google Friend Connect, and how it can be used at the moment.

Google Friend Connect (GFC) was one of Google's earlier social-networking attempts, introduced in 2008.

Originally (you can still see the full description here), GFC promised a range of social features that website-owners, including bloggers, could include on their sites. including:
  • Add GFC features to a website by installing snippets of HTML code onto the site, or or using the  API.
  • Users sign in to your website, using GFC with an existing account (e.g. Google, Yahoo, AOL)
  • Users can create or import profiles (e.g. Twitter), discover other users, and send private messages to each other.
  • Social gadgets, eg for posting comments and links, rating and reviews, that you could add to your site, which your visitor could use once they had logged in with GFC.
  • Website owners can set up questions to be asked when a user used GFC to join their site. The idea was for them to find out their member's interests - and that the information would be on the member's GFC profile.
  • Tools to create, manage and send website newsletters, which could be personalised, based on the answers that members gave when joining the community.
  • Matching AdSense ads on shown to users looking at your website site to the interests they had listed on their GFC profile.
  • Tools to look at your user's interests and your site's membership statistics.
Effectively, Google Friend Connect was a group of tools, and some stuff in the background to make them work together:  The tools were for website owners who wanted to grow a community, and for "information consumers"  (that means people who read blogs and websites) who wanted to sign-up to their favourites sites.

You can find out more about how they were supposed to work in this video - for as long as it's still available on YouTube:

What happened

Less than four years after the launch, Google announced that Friend Connect would be "retired for all non-blogger sites in March 2012".   Their announcement was light on details about what exactly this meant, but reading various blog posts it seems that:
  • The GFC dashboard, where users could manage their profiles was turned off
  • The site where website owners could get the code to install the GFG gadget  (and do other things like send newsletter or get statistics) was turned off.
  • Blogger users could still add teh GFC gadget to their blogs   (until the widget was removed in ... not sure exactly when, but it's not available now).
  • Updates from non-blogger sites were no longer sent through GFC.
  • Updates from Blogger sites were still send through GFC, and users could continue to get them through Google Reader (until it was turned off in July 2013) or the Blogger Dashboard.

Google didn't provide give any options for moving GFC user or relationship data into any other tools.

And why?

Overall, my guess is that GFC didn't get enough users - or perhaps it just didn't give Google with enough of a platform for the social features that they wanted.  Possibly this was because:
  • The things which Google Friend Connect promised a number of privacy / security questions. I can't put my finger on exactly what worried me - but somehow it just sounds wrong to me..
  • People asked "Why would I want to share all my interests with someone just because I read their website? I can maybe understand it for a blog, but not for websites in general."

So why did anyone bother - and why is the GFC Followers gadget still on some blogs.

Obviously there were problems with Google Friend Connect:   Personally, I never quite understood it, despite using Blogger long before GFC was introduced.   Even when I started Blogger-HAT in late 2009, GFC just never stood out as something that was important-enough for me to understand.

But some people did use it - and in particular enough Blogger users that Google decided not to turn it off for Blogger.

I noticed that other people had a GFC gadget on their blogs, so I added one to Blogger-HAT - as much as anything because I use it as a test-site to try out features to see how the might work on my other sites.

Finally today, the penny dropped when I saw this a comment "some people that they used their GFC/Blogger Dashboard in place of something like Google Reader" here while I was researching this article.   What it means is that if you signed up to a blog/sites using the GFC-Follow gadget, then you can use the bottom part of the Blogger dashboard instead of an RSS reader.

Today, readers can still sign up for websites which have the Follow on Google Friend Connect gadget on them, but the gadget cannot be added to any new sites, at least not using Blogger's standard tools for adding a gadget to your blog.

The Blogger-dashboard is still being updated with posts from Blogger-based sites that you've signed up to using GFC.

Lots of people are speculating that sooner or later this will be turned off, but no one knows exactly when that will happen.

Related Articles:

How to add a gadget to your blog

Where to find the HTML code for popular gadgets

Linking your blog to the social networks

Putting a Facebook Page badge into Blogger

AdWords external keywords research tool is going to be retired

This quick article shares an observation about the likelihood that Google's free Keywords Research Tool is being turned off.

Most SEO advice says that if SEO is important for your blog, then you should use a keyword research tool to find out the words and phrases that people are actually searching for, and then use these words (so-called "keywords") a lot, because they are most likely to get more visitors for your blog.

There are many tools that can be used to look for keywords, but Google's own keywords research tool is often recommended:  it's free, and no one knows more about key-words than Google does.

The tool is provided as part of the AdWords product (ref AdSense vs AdWords what's the difference).

Usually, you need to sign in to an AdWords account to use their tools.   An AdWords account may be based on your usual Google account, but because it can be used to buy advertising, Google ask you to put a small amount of money into it, so you can use it to pay for advertising campaigns immediately.    (They don't charge you immediately, they just want your account to have a positive balance, so it's able to be used.)

However their Search-based Keywords tool (announced back in 2009) and it's upgraded version, the Keywords-tool ( http://www.adwords.google.com/keywordtool or https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal - both which currently re-direct to https://adwords.google.com/o/Targeting/Explorer?__c=1000000000&__u=1000000000&ideaRequestType=KEYWORD_IDEAS ) have been available without logging in, provided you complete a simple captcha-text .

Today, though, I've noticed this announcement at the top of the page:
In the coming months, the external Keyword Tool will no longer be available. To get keyword ideas, sign in to your AdWords account and try Keyword Planner.

I cannot see any announcements about this in the AdWords blog.   But this actually has very little information about the keywords tool anyway, most of what is there dates from 2008/09, and they haven't used "keyword" as a label for their posts.  

Google aren't in the habit of putting up notices like that which are wrong, so my guess is that, sooner or later, this tool is going to be removed, and their only keywords-research option will be the Keyword Planner, which isn't free .

So maybe it's time to start finding a new favourite free keyword research tool.   Some reviews to get started with:

Or maybe bloggers should just forget about keyword research, and focus SEO-basics, and then on writing good quality, natural-language, unique content.

Related Articles

AdSense vs AdWords what's the difference

 Five reasons why SEO is irrelevant for your blog

Getting started with SEO for Blogger users
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