New Pedal – JHS Kill Gaze!

18 Sep
JHS Kill Gays Pedal

Another classic shoegaze sound-mangler from JHS!

Great new JHS shoegaze guitar effects pedal. Dial it in using five different controls over the Kill Gaze.

Ah… Just kidding. Though JHS did sell a Shoegazer mod, they didn’t actually make the JHS Kill Gaze pedal. It’s pure parody. I’ll clarify early on that I’m not insinuating JHS wants to kill gays. Nor does its founder (we think). But as fellow members of my election issues group know, I like to follow the money.

I was going to provide several links to details of how and why many sensible people are opposed to JHS Pedals because they say JHS Pedals founder Joshua Heath Scott long-attended services at and helped fund an evangelical Christian hate group (IHOPKC) allegedly one of the many responsible for spreading anti-homosexual hate in the USA, Uganda, and elsewhere in Africa. Hate that, like Yoda says, leads to the murders of countless innocent people.

But you can Google about JHS and homosexuality on your own time. Or not.

There’s no denying Joshua Heath Scott’s (former?) church is staunchly anti-gay; the pastor unequivocally blames LGBTQ for opening portals to the demonic realm, amongst other not-very-love-thy-neighbory bits.

Is it OK to patronize companies if their principal officers are associated with hate?

Companies associated with would-be sheep like Josh H Scott will not get my money, lest they keep giving theirs to the wolves of the “Christian” army somewhat effectively outlawing homosexuality and other LGBTQ stuff in Africa and elsewhere. These are not Jesusy actions. Not even close. Even an accusation of queerness can lead to murder, whether it’s state-sanctioned or “Christian” mob justice.

JHS Kill Gaze Pedal - custom shop design

Hand-painted limited edition Kill Gaze. Sure, it costs a little more, but it helps to quickly convey how you feel about the gaze.

I won’t put a JHS pedal on my pedal boards. If you gave me a JHS pedal, I’d scrap it for parts and make something new. (Oh yeah, some people also say that JHS steals other pedal company’s ideas. If you care – I don’t – I’ll let you look into that on your own.)

So, what grinds my gears? Plenty. But close to the top of the list is veiled, hateful monsters masquerading as Christians (or as adherents of any religion). I know many great, loving Christians. How do I know they’re Christians? Not just because they say they are. Because they also act way more like Jesus than the next fella. They care about the poor. They see past borders. They love regardless of skin tone. They would never give their money if they thought for even a second that it would lead to hurting innocent people in the name of God, or otherwise. If they found they were supporting a hateful group by mistake, they’d renounce it. Coincidentally, that describes plenty of non-Christians too. You know: non-assholes.

JHS pedals should endeavor to convince would-be customers that proceeds from JHS pedal purchases won’t go toward hate groups. Unfortunately, founder Josh Scott gets some of those proceeds and he has a history of associating with hateful groups, so, good luck with that.

jhs-fb-msg-A friend on fb sent a note to Josh today asking him why he hasn’t publicly renounced IHOPKC’s very public anti-gay propaganda. I’ll let you know what he says, and modify this post accordingly. …Hopefully, considerably. I truly hope he’s the good guy he says he is. But without renouncing his connections to those who preach gay=demon, I don’t believe it.

 

 

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Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. When he’s not doing that, he jazzes it up in synthband.com, scares kids and normies in gurtrudestein.com, and stretches boundaries (of decency) in icurd.com. Though he earned a degree in pre-theology, he is an irreligious, recovering, fundamentalist Unitarian Universalist. His mother is Jewish, so that makes Dan Jewish, to some. #religion

Tap Tremolo Pedal Comparison/Guide

29 Jul

When this UX snob of a pedal junkie caught the tremolo bug, he started referring to himself in the third person and made a spreadsheet comparing 30+ different tap tremolo pedals. …Then he blogged about it.

If you’re lazy or impatient, use these links to skip to a juicier section of the tremolo pedal roundup. But keep in mind: my trem criteria, while not so odd, might not be the same as yours.

  1. What is tremolo?
  2. My tremolo criteria
  3. Other tap tempo trem features to consider
  4. Results: Best tap tremolo pedals
  5. The 30 tap tempo tremolo shootout chart

Quick Intro: Different types of tremolo?

Tremolo, in the classical sense, is a rhythmic wavering of a note. E.g. like that produced by a violinist rapidly shaking the bow hand. But then some doofus decided to call the electric guitar vibrato system “tremolo,” a misnomer which caused a few generations of guitar wankers to not understand what tremolo means. (“Whammy bar” is a much better name for guitar vibrato, anyhow).

In the effect pedal sense, which is why we’re all here, there are two main types of tremolo.

Amplitude tremolo changes the volume of the signal at a specified speed and depth. From abrupt on-off-on-off square-wave chop, to a subtle waveform barely imparting a warble, and everything between.

Harmonic tremolo chops the signal in half, treble (high pitches) and bass (low-end), and modulates them out of phase with each other. …Which is to say, it’s more of a tonal wobbling.

All of the pedals in this tremolo pedal roundup can do amplitude tremolo; a few of them can also do harmonic tremolo. So if you’re stuck on a harmonic tap trem, your choice is much easier.

Tap Tempo Trem Criteria

First I thought I wanted a tremolo pedal with the ability to control the tremolo speed via an expression pedal, but I quickly realized that easy, onboard tap tempo was more important. As I dug deeper, I found other things I cared about. You likely have at least slightly different tremolo criteria.

To be considered a contender for my tremolo affections, a pedal has to have all of these features:

  • Dedicated, onboard tap
    Pedals with dual-purpose tap buttons aren’t welcome here. TC Electronic Pipeline Tap Tremolo and Line 6 Tap Tremolo both use tap buttons for other commonly used tasks. Sure, it allows for a smaller pedal footprint, but usability suffers.

Tap tremolo pedals relying solely on an external tap button or expression pedal were similarly nixed. (Entries from: Moog, Strymon, Supro, Earthquaker Devices, and Source Audio)

And the Ernie Ball Expression Tremolo pedal also fails to make the cut, but it’s an expression pedal form factor, so if that’s your thing, check it out. Oh, and Matthews Effects The Conductor v2 loses here because they inexplicably put the tap right next to other controls. …I don’t want to stomp on a knob. With the Conductor, you probably will.

  • Dotted subdivision/interval (or a way to fake it)
    Sometimes it’s fun to do rhythmic things that don’t fall on a downbeat, an upbeat, or the “and” between them. Enter the dotted eighth note tremolo subdivision.

Scant few tremolo pedals have native dotted divisions. (See the spreadsheet. First link in this post, above).

We can bend most other tap trem pedals to our dotted whimsies by setting the div to “triplet” and then tapping half-time. (On the one and three, instead of on all four beats).  …Which is good enough for me, in a pinch.

But a scant few candidates failed completely here, e.g. the Fulltone Supa-Trem2 and the otherwise lauded Zvex Sonar.

  • Volume knob
    People often mention a perceived drop in volume when using amplitude tremolo. Most candidates use some sort of clean boost/gain knob to counter that.

But the Dedalo Tres Tap Tremolo Pedal does not have a volume knob.

  • Dedicated rate and div knobs
    The fewer different parameters a knob is responsible for, the smoother the user experience. Effect pedal UX is especially important for me because I often have friends using pedals, and I loathe doing technical support when I could be making noise with people.

Several high-profile tap trem pedals fail here by combining rate and div into one knob. …And I can’t even fathom that “saving space” was a real concern, because they then need to add another controller to switch the function of the rate/div knob. If you’re always going to use it one way or the other, then you might not care about this. But I sometimes use my pedal boards for noise projects, and lazy me can’t be bothered to deal with the design shortcomings of: Empress Tremolo 2, Seymour Duncan Shapeshifter, Copilot Polypus, et al.

  • Easy access to shape shifting
    Want to go from a mellow sine wave to a mad-blinky square chop, on the fly? Me too!

This is another place the Zvex Sonar doesn’t shine; it can only change wave shapes via hidden controls. I.e. you have to hold down a “shift” button and use a knob for this unlabeled purpose.

  • Reasonable power requirements
    Almost every trem pedal passed the bar here, but the Stone Deaf Tremotron fails twofold.

It requires a whopping 300ma of power and their website claims it’s picky about voltage. They say it doesn’t work with a Truetone 1 Spot power supply. …One of the most popular, high-amperage 9v power supplies. No thanks.

  • Other UX concerns
    Many features on the Chase Bliss Gravitas Tremolo pedal require flipping the pedal around to toggle one of its umpteen dip switches.

E.g. you have to pick between having access to subdivisions 1,2,4 OR 3,6,8 via a dip switch. Want to go from harmonic to amplitude mode? Yep. Dipswitch. Etc. Yes, you can sort of work around this using presets and/or midi, but that’s not what I’m looking for in tremolo UX.

  • Availability
    As of initial publication, two pedals on the list are lingering in development hell. The Luma Trueno and Coda Effects Montagne bot look great, but they’re both still preorder only. Some pedals (Waves, Semaphore) are discontinued and hard to come by. Not going to seriously contemplate something I probably can’t get.

Please note: As I eliminated pedals from contention via the criteria above, I usually stopped gathering data for the chaff. So there are several holes in the tap tempo pedal chart. (Send me a note if you want to add any data).

Other Tremolo Pedal Features to Consider

The features above were all chopping blocks for my decision process. The trem options below are added bonuses, frosting on the cake.

  • Tap once to re-sync
    I don’t know if I’d use it, but being able to synchronize the pedal to the downbeat of the “1” might come in handy.
  • External tap jack
    Maybe you want your trem high on the back of your pedal board, but want the tap tempo button easily mashable down in front.
  • Expression pedal jack
    Some control one parameter, some pedals can map an expression pedal to control one of many functions. Some can control many at once.
  • Rhythms or patterns
    Some trem mix it up with stock patterns. Some let you create and store your own. Some even have step sequencer-like controls of each beat with dedicated knobs.
  • Harmonic trem
    Want to switch from amplitude to harmonic mode, and back? No problem, for a few tremolo pedals out there.
  • Hold a button for added functionality
    Some tremolo pedals emulate a Leslie speaker brake when you hold down the tap button. Others use the tap tempo momentary switch as a kill switch or div-doubler when you hold it down. Some trem pedals turn the on/off switch into a momentary on-switch when held. Others still, use these pedals for saved preset controls.
  • Other features?
    Yep. Some trems have tone control knobs. Want to skew waveform symmetry? There’s a pedal or two for you. Dedicated space/duty controls? Yep. You can find that. Want to sync via VC or midi? Use your pedal as a global clock for other gear? Do you need stereo ping-ponging tremolo? Do you want built-in distortion or reverb? Yeah, well, there’s a pedal that can do that. …But it might not be able to do all the other stuff you want. #priorities

Results: The Best Tap Tremolo Pedals

Don’t mind a large enclosure with tons of features and 15 buttons/knobs, that might be more than you need?

ehx super-pulsarGet the Electro-Harmonix Super Pulsar.

Pros: Features galore. Checks more boxes than any other tap-trem effect pedal on the market. Available far below suggested retail on eBay.

Cons: All those features come at a cost. At almost 5″x6″, it’s considerably larger than the other tremolo pedals in this roundup, so make sure you have space on your board. Unknown UX. While seemingly intuitively laid out, I’d have to play with one before I signed off on calling the 15 controls an optimized user experience.

Want simplicity, with no negatives and a few funky bonuses?

diamond-tremolo-pedal-300x300Get the Diamond TRM1 Tremolo.

Pros: It checks all the requisite boxes with a couple of bonus amenities (two rhythm patterns, kill switch, etc.) using only seven controls. …Which means it’s simpler than most. #UX
I liked the sound of its “chaotic” interval with a hard square waveform.

Cons: That simplicity comes at a cost. The Diamond Tremolo lacks extra features some may want: external control jacks, true dotted intervals, etc.

Want a smaller, stereo tap tremolo with a decent feature set?

s447163914514069377_p18_i10_w640Get the Swindler Red Mountain.

Pros: The best feature set in a small-ish (less than 3″x5″) pedal enclosure. Red Mountain stores one preset/favorite for later recall. Stutter mode. Stereo ping-pong. Etc.

Cons: Doesn’t have any rhythm settings, so you’re stuck with basic on-off-on-off pattern. Worth noting, because it’s the only non-harmonic tremolo in this top tier without that feature. Plain-Jane white paint with black text will be pure minimalist bliss for some, but others will call it boring-looking. You might be able to find the discontinued “Signature” model, if you’re looking for something a little flashier.

Want harmonic tremolo more than you care about other criteria?

Get the Walrus Monument or the Drolo Twin Peaks.

twinpeaks-monument-duo

I’ll preface by saying both the Monument and Twin Peaks are up here in the rarefied air because of their harmonic tremolo options. They’re both great pedals, but they don’t tick as many of my criteria boxes as the pedals above, (or as many as some that didn’t even make the cut). They do however tick enough of the right boxes so they’d both be in the runner-up section (below) even if they lacked the harmonic switch.

Pros: The Monument is the simpler layout of the two harmonic tremolo finalists. But the Twin Peaks v4 offers tone and wave symmetry controls, if you prefer those features to a less dense control panel. Both come in geologic-themed tri-color designs, perhaps a breath of artsy fresh air on your board, compared to the options above.

Cons: Both the Monument and Twin Peaks lack rhythmic patterns. Neither has native dotted subdivisions, but because both have a triplet setting, you can fake it by tapping half-time. For me, the extra knobs on the Twin Peaks are (probably) more noise than signal; I wouldn’t use them much.

The other honorable mentions in this tap tempo tremolo comparison go to…

In no particular order:

  • Wampler Latitude Deluxe
  • Cusack Tap-A-Whirl
  • Dawner Prince Starla

Even if your criteria is close to mine, you might find something about one of these to tickle your tremolo fancy. Look into them.

Many tap tremolo pedals not favorably noted in this review are great pedals beloved by countless people. I know that, and I don’t discount their quality and utility at all. They’re just not what I want in a trem. (Which is far from saying I wouldn’t use one if somebody gave me one!)

Is your tremolo pedal criteria vastly different from mine? You should check out the reddit comment thread about this tremolo roundup wherein people discuss other options. E.g. if you’re into menu-driven multi-effect options like the Modfactor, MD500, Mobius, etc.

Here’s a link to that spreadsheet again. Check it out.

spreadsheet

Thanks for reading.

.


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO when he’s not making noise with pedals and friends. His favorite color is pizza.

Automated Scheduling Google My Business Posts

16 Jul
googlemybusinesspostexample

This is Google’s default “Google My Business Post” image. Will they make me take it down? We’ll see.

I won’t tell you much about Google My Business posts and how they’re potentially great for your business, your business’s SEO and your company’s findability. Because other people have already written about that.

Instead, I’ll help you figure out how to pre-schedule several posts at once.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Google My Business allowed us to schedule future posts? Yeah. That would be nice, Dan. Until that happens, you have a few options.

In no particular order:

Yext allows users to schedule GMB posts. I have never used Yext. I don’t know exactly how much it costs, but I’ve heard rumors of $500/yr and up. I don’t know which of their plans include GMB automation, and they don’t list pricing for any of them, so, you’ll have to contact them for more info.

Sendible lets you schedule GMB posts. I haven’t used Sendible either. Sendible starts at ~$300/yr, and that includes automating your future GMB posts.

Do you use WordPress?

At least a couple WordPress plugins empower you to easily create and auto-publish Google My Business posts. I’ll highlight two of them, with the same caveat emptor: I haven’t used either of them.

WP Google My Business Auto Publish is 100% free. $0. I recommend you change the default plugin settings so that it does not publish all posts to GMB automatically. …Unless that’s something you want. (Lazy?)

Post to Google My Business is by an outfit called Tycoon Media, but that old-school-ritz name isn’t the only reason I think this one is not free. Something on their website mentioned needing their $80/yr plan to support “Post scheduling”.

I might use the gregariously named ‘WP Google My Business Auto Publish’ in the near future but I’d take a couple hours to customize and finagle things so that any GMB-WordPress post would NOT be visible on the WordPress website/blog. I just can’t wrap my head around a good, dual-purpose blog post/Google My Biz post. …They seem like two entirely different things to me, and I would squeeze that delineation out of the plugin.

Schedule Google My Business Posts Now

Anyhow, there you have it. Several decent-ish options to automate and schedule Google My Business posts. And if you’re not going to take the time to login to GMB once a week to publish a post, you should pick one.

In case you’re wondering, Hootsuite doesn’t help here. They’ve known for more than a year that Hootsuite users want GMB post automation. Hootsuite doesn’t seem to care.

 

 


Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and UX. He just joined veteran San Diego experimental-punky-prog-horror-garage-noise band Gurtrudestein, and he’s jazzed about that. …Except for the fact that if you accidentally spell it with an “e” instead of a “u” the band is invisible on Google. (Regardless of how many helper words you use). Thanks, Gertrude Stein.

iDrive doesn’t take security seriously

24 May

I’ve mentioned before how I’m able to act as a canary in the email-database coal mine. …And how companies often don’t take my free, valuable chirps seriously. It happened again.

The unique email address I use to access iDrive started receiving spam in February 2018. It wasn’t just any spam; these sophisticated phishing emails were sent to an email address only iDrive had, and also contained my username/login.

When I contacted iDrive, they blew me off.

Then they blew me off again. More accurately, they gave me plenty of lip service, denial, and smoke far up my ass. (All the while admitting other people had contacted them regarding the phishing). This continued for several calls over several weeks. Until I posted publicly on twitter.

iDrive CEO Raghu Kulkarni promptly contacted me.

We talked about the difference between companies reacting appropriately to breaches:

twitter had just announced a big breach and contacted millions upon millions of users asking them to change their passwords

…and companies reacting poorly:

idrive trying to convince a whistle-blower there wasn’t a breach, despite hard evidence. (How does one prove a negative, anyhow?)

In exchange for deleting my tweet, Mr. Kulkarni agreed to set up a crisis communications plan. Within a week’s time, he promised to get all levels of iDrive customer support on board with an appropriate response, should a similar problem arise in the future.

More lip service

Weeks later a friend who signed up for iDrive because of my recommendation contacted them regarding the phishing attempt. He received the same brush-off I did.

iDrive does not take data security seriously.

I only have evidence of a third party accessing email addresses and usernames. Did they also gain access to other allegedly secure bits? I don’t know. Probably not. All the more reason to just react appropriately, and send an email warning customers that somebody gained access to a subset of clients’ usernames and email addresses. …With a little note about how to avoid sophisticated phishing attempts. …Phishing they have hard evidence of. iDrive doesn’t want to do this, clearly.

How did this iDrive breach happen?

Maybe an employee had this info on their laptop or PC, which was then infected with malware. The malware shared the data.

Maybe a former or current employee sold the data to spammers or used it for personal gain?

Maybe it was a good old fashioned breach by some 1990s movie-style hackers.

I can tell you one thing for sure; as in many cases, nobody seems to know. I don’t know how it happened. iDrive won’t even admit there was a breach. What we do know is that iDrive would rather brush evidence of a minor breach under the rug than address it properly.

What would iDrive do after a more serious breach?

I don’t trust them with my data anymore. I’m looking for a new data backup provider. I’ve been with iDrive for years. I really wanted them to do the right thing so I could stay with them. Alas, I don’t trust them, now.

Screenshots of both phishing spams I received are included below. I can only assume the spam continued for others; I set my iDrive email address to return a server error upon message receipt, so I can’t tell you. Spam sucks. So do companies that don’t take security seriously.

idrive phishing spam

First evidence of iDrive hack

idrive email breach

Second evidence of iDrive breach.

 


Dan Dreifort consults on SEO, UX, and sometimes crawls out of the woodwork to opine on infosec, too, it would seem. His band Cat Shit’s new album (Make America Shit Again) hits in June 2018.

 

 

Redirector Browser Extension Takes You Where You Want to Go

2 May

AT&T just installed fiber to my house. It’s fast. I get a steady 949 Mbps up and down. I had no complaints about the 160 Mbps/14 Mbps I was getting from Cox, but my inner geek couldn’t say no to faster-for-the-same-price.

attdnshijackThe install was pretty smooth, but during the bumps, I would type nonsense URLs in to see if things were working. Most of the domains actually existed, but when I hit something that wasn’t live, I got the AT&T-branded page telling me the page I’m looking for isn’t available. Well, it said that somewhere within the mess of ads. Call it what you will, it’s DNS hijacking. Amazingly, AT&T allows users to opt-out of “this service”. But some ISPs don’t.

End ISP DNS Hijacking

Before I noticed that opt-out, I took a minute to update my Redirector settings appropriately. No more AT&T DNS hijacking. (I’d previously used it to prevent Cox from hijacking my DNS).

It works in FireFox, Chrome, and Opera, and Redirector is good for more than stopping DNS hijacking. It’s a versatile browser usability enhancer.

Use Redirector to Help Your Favorite Charity

I don’t have a car, and I loathe shopping, so I regularly shop with Amazon for things I can’t get by foot or on my bike. I made a valiant effort to remember to use Amazon’s Smile program special URLs to help my favorite charity (Death With Dignity National Centers,) but I’d usually forget. The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice.

I didn’t want to leave those easy donations on the table, so I searched for something that could remember for me. Enter Redirector. Now, every time I click an amazon link, or type amazon.com into my browser, I’m taken to the smile.amazon.com version of that page, instead.

I’ve uploaded an image of my Redirector settings at the bottom of this post in case you too want to more frequently, passively donate to your fave cause, or if you want to stop your ISP from hijacking your DNS. It’s easy. For the latter, you can use the same DNS hijacking forwarding URL I use, or copy the PHP snippet from that page.

<?php
if(isset($_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'])) {
 echo $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'];
} 
?>

…Not that you need the php on the page you load instead of your ISP’s branded page, but it helps to be able to see a printout of the potentially improperly typed URL. e.g. below.

icurdDNSerror

Above: This is the plain-Jane message I get when I type in a bad URL, e.g. doesthisdomainexist.com

 

Redirector settings below. Click for larger image.

 

redirector

Let me know if you have problems. I’ll add more detail to this post as needed.

 


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO.  I also make music, and enjoy biking and walking around San Diego, when I’m not broken.

 

Comparing Rank Tracking Software

3 Feb

I’ve been using Advanced Web Ranking (not to be confused with Advanced Web Ranking Cloud) for eight years. Read riveting tales from 2010 wherein I try to find a replacement for WebPosition, eventually deciding on AWR. Things were simpler then; there weren’t many players in the ranking software space, and almost everything was desktop-based.

Fast forward to 2018. When AWR started shitting the bed a month ago, I was faced with more than three dozen contenders for my search engine querying and reporting needs, almost all of them cloud-based or SaaS. I could have ferreted out even more vendor options, I’m sure, but when I added the 40th vendor/software suite to my spreadsheet of rank tracker candidates, I stopped.  (Full list at end of this post.) Daunting. “If you can’t find what you want from 40 vendors, there’s something wrong with you.” I said that out loud.

This post is long. If you want to skip the criteria I used and go right to the two winners and six runners up, go ahead. But you might be looking for something substantially different than what I found.

comparing-rank-trackers

Partially obfuscated spreadsheet of rank trackers, criteria, and notes. Pure madness.

SEO Reporting Software Criteria

So, what exactly did I want? That’s an important question. My criteria are similar to those of many, but might very well be different from yours. Keep that in mind as you read on. Oh, and if you don’t have any interest in SEO software, you should probably stop reading and have fun with some of the non-SEO posts on this site, or go contemplate a tree, or something.

If you’re still here, let’s dig in for rank checking software comparison.

What I did NOT want

I already have great sources for keyword research, backlinks, competitor analysis, website violations/improvements, and some other important SEO metrics. Sometimes I subscribe to a service for a month and do what I need to do. Sometimes I lean on one of my colleagues who already has a subscription to one or more vendors. Several of the SEO software vendors I considered are full-service suites of sorts, and therefore often priced themselves out of the SEO ranking software market.

At most, I do keyword research and backlink audits quarterly for existing clients so it doesn’t make sense for me to pay for it every month. If you’re looking for a 360-degree SEO suite, this rank tracker comparison might not be for you.

Historical Ranking Data Import

Although I’m not importing data for all projects when I migrate, I’m importing historical ranking data for most of them. (A couple clients wanted to archive old data and start fresh.) Some vendors like RankTrackr (not to be confused with SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker) and Tiny Ranker don’t have a way to migrate SEO ranking data from your old projects to their platform. With them, you’ve no choice but to start with a fresh slate in reports. Other companies say they’ll import data for a fee, including SERPBook and SEMRush.

Caveat: Your data might not be in the format they want. Look before you leap.

Ability to Pause/Stop SEO Projects

Sometimes clients leave for a few months. (See my post from a week ago about why SEO clients leave.) Sometimes you’ll have cause to pause a project for years. It doesn’t happen often, but about half of rank trackers surveyed don’t allow you to pause. Or they offer janky workarounds: “Just delete the keywords and save them on your computer. When you’re ready to start again, add the keywords again!”

Who won’t let you pause an SEO project? SE Ranking, RankTrackr, Tiny Ranker, Rank Ranger, and others. SERPFox is one of a few non-pausers to offer what I consider sub-optimal workarounds, but SERPFox at least preserves your data, somehow.

Reporting Format

I’m accustomed to being able to upload several HTML reports for each client. While there are several candidates who offer access to an API so you can cobble together your own reports, I don’t want to do that. I’m also not interested in reporting software that only generates static PDF reports and/or ugly CSV spreadsheets. These are comparatively horrible ways to display report data. Rank Ranger, SE Ranking, RankTrackr, and others all fall short here.

Vendor Support Hours

Chances are, after you’re all setup with your new rank tracker, you’ll seldom need support. But take it from somebody who’s needed a lot of support from Advanced Web Ranking over the past month: you’ll care about support when you need it. AWR is in Romania, I’m in California. AWR is at the support desk when I’m asleep, and vice versa. I open a ticket on Monday. I receive a response on Tuesday, to which I reply. Wednesday I get their reply, and so on. The weekend comes, and the snail’s pace of support slows to a stop. …And that’s when they bother to respond in a timely manner.

Support availability matters sometimes. Do yourself a favor and weigh candidates support hours in your process. Spoiler: I ended up picking two vendors. One of them offers perfect support hours for me, the other one, not so much. The latter is half a world away, which is unfortunately not uncommon with the ranking software bros.

Update Frequency

Don’t let companies fool you; updating your keywords’ rankings every day, or every hour isn’t adding value for you. Well, if you’re playing at the most vaulted, vaunted levels of SEO, I suppose you could argue that point, a little, but if your clients need detailed reporting more than once a month, you should find different clients. Spend more of your time DOing SEO, and less time measuring it. Anyhow, several vendors offer different plans/options for different scanning/querying frequencies. I don’t want hourly or daily scans because I’d be paying for unused fluff. Some services, like SEO Rank Monitor, SEMrush, and others only offer daily tracking.

Obviously, you sometimes won’t want to wait a week or longer for keyword rank data. SerpBook and Rankinity get around that thusly. SerpBook gives you a bunch of monthly credits for on-the-fly, ad hoc rank checking, e.g. for research, in addition to your regularly-scheduled data, and the latter is a granularly-priced pay-as-you-go service, so…

Well, this is as good a time as any to talk about pricing and cost.

It’s so hard to compare different products’ pricing models. …No two vendors define their pricing the same way. It’s almost totally incongruous.

Comparing SEO Reporting Software Pricing – Not easy.

On January 31st, as I was deep in this ranking software comparison, I guest lectured part of a class on Digital Media and Analytics within Columbia University’s Strategic Communications Program. My spiel (“Serendipity: Two UX ROI Stories”) was last on the docket, so I got to enjoy the first hour of Ethan McCarty‘s class.

While much of the class discourse (analytics/meaningful data/correlation vs causality/etc.) resonated with my experiences, I was particularly moved by Ethan’s reflection on his experience choosing and comparing web metrics software suites.

“Buying any kind of SaaS (such as SEO software) is kind of like buying a mattress,” said McCarty. “They all might have a similar feature sets, but each vendor names things differently, accentuates their own strong points and usually does a pretty good job of obfuscating their weaknesses. They are also all sold on different pricing schemes which makes comparison shopping grueling even if you’re a diligent spreadsheet-keeper. You may as well buckle and get the one you find most comfortable to use,” he said, speaking of both SaaS solutions and mattresses, natch.

Mattresses, am I right? It was comforting to find a sense of simpatico. We are not alone. This sucks for almost every discerning consumer, it would seem. I had to ask most vendors several followup questions to try to figure out how they actually priced their services.

How do we define rank-tracking pricing units?

“Keywords” are the near-universal pricing unit in the ranking space. But different vendors define that word conflictingly enough to make apples-to-apples pricing comparisons almost impossible. That’s why it’s in quotes there!  I kid you not, the number of “keywords” I have varies by MORE than a factor of ten, depending on the vendor. It’s nuts! What’s worse, getting straight answers regarding a vendor’s definition of “keyword” is akin to pulling your own teeth. Not fun.

We’re dealing with several variables, depending on the vendor:

  • Keywords (kw) – number of different keywords in the project
  • Search Engines (SE) – # of different search engines to be queried
  • Depth (d) – number of SERPs of data you want to gather (ranged from 1 to 30)
  • Projects (p) – number of, in my case, clients
  • Frequency (f) – how often do you want to query for data?
  • Sites (ws) – number of  websites you want data for (e.g. your site/s + ‘competitors’)
  • etc.

Vendor SE Ranking defines a keyword as one keyword in a project regardless of the number of SE. Well, you can add up to five SE, and that kw still counts as one “keyword” in their pricing model. I didn’t catch how deep (d) their data delves into the SERPs, but they offer different pricing for three frequencies, ranking from one day to one week.

Some vendors, like AWR Cloud, SerpBook, and others count Google-US, Bing-US, and Yahoo-US as a single SE unit. But they count other SE and location-based SE as individual units. But AWR Cloud only goes a few pages deep for a “keyword” while SERPbook digs to 10 SERPs and still calls it a “keyword”.

Some rank checkers count a keyword as a single SERP. So if you want to check ranks 1-40 (four SERPs) for a keyword in a single search engine, that’s four “keywords”.

Rankinity, as hinted earlier, charges per kw-se combo, with pricing for each pair delivering 10 SERPs.

Some charge only once for a keyword-se combo, regardless of the number of projects in which it appears while others will count each project-keyword-se instance as a separate “keyword”.

Some rank trackers, like SerpBook essentially charge extra for competitor rankings. (“keywords”=kw*SE*s) while other rank trackers will gather ranking data for several sites/urls, for the same keyword, without counting it as extra “keywords”.

Those are just a few examples. The myriad definitions of the “keyword” pricing unit are beyond my tired brains’ abilities to concisely summarize. Sorry!  The takeaway is: Make sure you know what their “keyword” is, and how it differs from other vendors you’re considering.

Plan Pricing Break Points – Important Future Thought

Some companies, like SEMRush and Web CEO limit how many projects you can have. Add your 6th project and you have to jump from the former’s $99 “pro” plan to the $199 “guru” plan, (or the latter’s identically modeled “Startup” and “Corporate” plans,) even if you weren’t close to the other price-resource-unit limits of your subscribed service level.

Other rankers charge more to add additional “users”.  …I’m telling you, it’s complicated.

Which Search Ranker / Reporting Solution did I choose?

As I hinted before, I originally picked two. Rankinity and SerpBook. But then I learned SerpBook counts each competitor as an individual set of keywords, and that priced them out of the top spot, and maybe even out of honorable mention. BUT they’re still a great option if you don’t want to track much (or any) competitor data. Alas, they’re not a good match for me, because I like to keep an eye on the competition. …I often find it actionable.

Using Rankinity to check once a month is a great value, and I’m still waiting for them to finish importing my data. They said it’ll be a few more days.

But I’m optimistic. …And I’m willing to pay a little extra for the elbow grease that might be required to massage my data into place.

The Proof is in the Pudding

That’s an old proverb dating back to the 1300s meaning: You can only say something is worthwhile after you’ve tested it. As of this writing, I tested what I thought was a top finisher enough to know they’re not a great match for me. I’m still in bed with Rankinity, and after digging into the honorable mentions, below, I’m left with RankWatch in second place.

Honorable Mentions

Because I want to go with two vendors simultaneously, and one of my first picks didn’t pan out, I spent more time digging into RankWatch, WebCEO, SE Ranking,  and SEO Rank Monitor to find a replacement. As of this editing (a month after publication) I still haven’t signed with RankWatch, but I will, soon. If they don’t pan out, I’ll update yet again.

Thanks for reading. While I can’t answer specific questions about specific rank-checking candidates, I’m happy to opine on more general bits. Please use the comments section, or if you’re feeling shy, send me an email or something. The rest of this blog post is me kvetching about AWR, and the aforementioned list of competitors. Good luck!

Regarding Advanced Web Ranking

I’ve been unable to run reports without zany errors for over a month now. AWR wasted countless hours of my time denying the problem was theirs. They blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to a different batch of proxies. Nope. AWR still blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to another proxy vendor and dedicated proxies. No dice. AWR said those proxies too were to blame for my continued problems. So I switched to a different batch of IPs. Same problem. (Shoutout to Trusted Proxies. They helped me troubleshoot and were always quick to respond.)

I gathered and presented evidence to the contrary over and over again but Advanced Web Ranking denied any responsibility. At one point, they went nine days without responding to an email or trouble ticket, of which I sent MANY.

So, needless to say, I’d already decided to move on by the time they picked up conversation again. Then a few short days later,  on January 31st, AWR apologized and they sent a mea culpa. They’re unable to fix the problem. (Even though competing desktop rank tracker “Rank Tracker” doesn’t suffer from the same problem. …I tested.)

I pre-paid for a couple years of AWR and they gave me a full refund. While the last bit of road to the end was unnecessarily bumpy, at least they ended the relationship with class.

List of SEO Rank Trackers Compared Herein

Note re: crappy data: When I started this task, I didn’t know I’d write this blog post, so I didn’t preserve my data at first. If I determined a candidate was far from the mark, I just deleted their row from the spreadsheet. When I’d whittled down to a couple dozen, I realized I should stop doing that! (#destructive) However, I’m not made of time, so later, as I determined a vendor wasn’t a good match for me, I stopped gathering data for that vendor. The more I whittled the list down, I kept adding more criteria. So, when I mention a list of vendors lacking a particular trait in the criteria sections above, it definitely doesn’t imply all other vendors DO support it.

Here are the twenty-four I compared:

Ahrefs
Authority Labs
Advanced Web Ranking Cloud
Conductor
CuteRank
LongTailPro
Majestic
Microsite Masters
Moz.com
nozzle
Rank Ranger
Rank Tracker
Rankinity
RankTrackr
RankWatch
SE Ranking
Searchmetrics
SEMrush
SEO Rank Monitor
SerpBook
Serpfox
SERPs
SERPWoo
Tiny Ranker
Web CEO

 


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. He’s trying to find more people with whom to make music in San Diego. Dan also likes food and film. He just ate some ice cream and he’s seen five of the nine 2018 Best Picture nominees, so far. His vote goes to Aronofsky’s un-nominated “mother!” – Best allegorical thriller, EVAR!

Ending an SEO/UX relationship

25 Jan

I’ve blogged twice before about firing SEO/UX clients, but there are other reasons practitioner and client separate.

What are some reasons to part ways?

The best reason: “Dan, you helped us sell all the inventory. We’re done. Thanks!” (Only happened once: Hawaii housing development)

One of the most annoying reasons: “Some guy in a suit came into our office and shook my hand. They’re cheaper, so we went with them.” (Has happened twice, both clients came back.)

A middle of the road reason: “We’re growing so fast, our goals are ambitious. You’ve helped us, but we’re necessarily somewhat inefficient and crazy-swamped organizationally, so we’re going with a 360-degree, all-inclusive agency who can handle everything under one umbrella.” (Has now happened a few times, including today.)

…It’s not like I can’t help this last subset of organizations in the next step of their SEO/UX journey, (I’ve driven ambitious budgets to success-city before,) but sometimes it makes sense to move on to the next step. There’s a decent chance their new agency will kick ass or at least continue to add value. But there are no guarantees; I’ve seen these moves fail miserably, too.

Moving on

The good thing about today: I’ve moaned about this client for years. (Ask them, they’ll tell you.) As a thought experiment, I took a 2-month sabbatical from them this past summer. But I stuck with it and helped them grow. Anyhow, I’m thrilled that we’re both moving on. After a fruitful 4+ year engagement, this is a good parting. #Healthy

Hell, just a few hours ago I sent a note to one of my referring agencies telling them fficient SEO & UX is at capacity and not accepting new clients for a while. …Maybe I’ll revisit that thought in a month or two.

welcome to san diego 1973

WASHED OUT! — The blogger, his special lady friend, and some cats, parting ways with Ohio in late 2014, on the way to life in sunny San Diego. This picture is like a metaphor. That sentence was a simile. This blog post is done.

Guide: Comparing Arpeggiator Pedals

18 Oct
arpeggiator-pedals-roundup

Tararira, PitchGrinder, AARP, Arpanoid & More!

Wherein Dan talks himself into buying one via this arpeggiator pedal roundup/shootout. (Spoiler alert: I bought the Tararira.)

What is an arpeggiator pedal?

An arpeggiator is a sequencer. A sequencer plays a series of sounds based on a source and parameters set by you, the user/musician. In the case of an arpeggiator pedal, the “source” is whatever you plug into it: guitar, bass guitar, synth, toy, etc. The parameters are the pedal knobs and buttons, controlling things like: pitch, tempo, order, steps, scale, key, etc. We’ll leave it at that for now.

Why do I want one?

Keep in mind: My criteria for an arpeggiator are likely different than yours. That said, they’re fun. I recently picked up an Electro-Faustus Drone Thing, and this guy seems to have fun pairing it with arpeggiators, so…

EarthQuaker Devices Arpanoid

First I saw the Earthquaker Arpanoid. (Link immediately above). I wanted it.

Its small size and lack of a zillion knobs and whistles belie its nifty factor. However, it lacks a few things I’m looking for: per-note/step pitch control, CV or midi control, tap tempo, etc. And because it lacks features, it doesn’t so much arppegiate as it plays scales. At $225, it’s definitely ‘affordable’ in this lineup.

“But what else is out there?” I wondered.

Cooper FX AARP

I fell hard for the Cooper FX AARP (v1) when I saw that same dude playing with it.

AARP stands for Automatic Arpeggiated Repeating Patterns, which seems redundant, right? Also questionable product naming, what with the AARP being a 38-million-member thing, and all. Regardless, the AARP v1 has almost everything I want: tap tempo, eight pitch knobs, etc.

While looking for one, I learned about the upcoming AARP v2, but I’m not as attracted to its menu-driven interface (vs. all the knobbies on the older version.)

Regardless, both AARPs are currently unavailable, and you have to be on your Instagram game to snag one from the limited supply when v2 is released circa Q4 2017 or Q1 2018. Price unknown, but certainly higher than the v1’s $275 price tag.

Dwarfcraft Devices PitchGrinder

At $350, it’s not the most affordable option, and while I like that it crunches the signal down to 8-bit awesomeness, it lacks some features I want (external control, pattern control diversity, etc.). Another cool bit about the PitchGrinder: Its “Glide” knob acts as a portamento effect, controlling whether the pedal jumps or glides from pitch to pitch.

Hologram Dream Sequence

$425. It’s much more than an arpeggiator, but I’m not looking for more-than-an-arpeggiator, and I don’t want to spend that much. Furthermore, the UI isn’t setup for a great arpeggiating UX, if you know what I mean.

But it has midi in and out, and an assignable expression pedal insert, and it’s feature-rich. So maybe it’s your jam?

Bananana Effects Tararira

$269 + $20 shipping. This one might be my jam. It doesn’t break the bank – at least in this space, and speaking of space, it’s small, which is a plus. Each of the eight steps is knob controllable. …And if we’re grading on quantity of buttons and knobs, the Tararira is the clear winner, scoring a whopping 19 in the controller bells and whistles column.

^That was my original blurb on the Tararira. Then I bought it. Additional thoughts:

The Bananana Effects Tararira is everything I hoped it would be. (Fun and weird!) It has just about everything I want in an arpeggiator pedal. But if you want me to nitpick, I could say this:

bananana-tararira-arpeggiator

Added rubber feet for traction.

Par for the course with boutique pedals these days, the bottom of the Tararira is plain ole metal. I added four rubber feet to help it stay in place a little.

The scale, step and divider knobs are smooth-spinning, without a tactile hint when you spin to another value. …So you kind of have to visually know where the knobs are, which is tough because they’re small and black, with scant visual cue as to which number value/setting they’re pointing. I plan to remedy this with a little white paint and a tiny paintbrush, or something. If I find appropriately sized and calibrated clicky knobs, I might solder those in instead. But I doubt I’ll find any. Bananana Effects clearly had to make some minor sacrifices for the sake of size and cost. Worthy trade-offs for most consumers, I think.

I’ve no doubt I made the right choice in picking the Tararira. I look forward to many hours of noise-making weirdness with this pedal. You should get one.

 

Other arpeggiator pedals considered:

Eventide H9 – Billed as “a complete pedalboard in one pedal,” I find it way too separated from effect controls. If you want presets, this might be for you, but if you want knobbies, not so much. $399 + you may purchase/download additional algorithms (read:fx) for more $.

Line 6 RollerShifter – Near as I can tell, this is a custom-made Line 6 ToneCore module that was never available to purchase. It earned the nickname “talent simulator” on at least one pedal forum.

That’s it. I hope to get up the nerve to buy one of these toys soon. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. He’s been in hardcore noise-punk band ‘Cat Shit’ for over a year now. Accordingly, he and pals are getting ready to scare trick-or-treaters with noise from: Microbrute, Theremini, Drone Thing, and guitar through sundry fx pedals on Halloween. #LureThemInWithCandy

 

Quick Guide to Meta Titles and Descriptions

8 Sep
fficient_logo-SOLO-128pix

Dan has a new logo. Is it a duck? A vomiting Pac-Man? A bulls-eye?

A quick post answering a common conundrum: What are title and description best practices?

Google already has a guide for this stuff. You should check it out. Seriously. That’s step one.

1. Read what Google has to say about writing good titles and descriptions.

2. Step two: Did you watch the video on that page? If not, watch it!

3. Step three: Some guy on the internet (me) has this to add:

Be mindful of your keywords while crafting titles and descriptions. Use a verbatim or synonym keyword instance or two when appropriate, but don’t keyword stuff or use keywords unrelated to the content. Some titles and descrips will NOT have keywords.

Meta descriptions are ideally between 120 and 156 characters including spaces. They can be longer (but should not be shorter) from time to time as long as the “important” stuff occurs in the beginning. Use regular old sentences most of the time in a description.

Titles should be 30 to 65 characters including spaces. They can be longer (but should not be shorter) from time to time as long as the “important” stuff occurs in the beginning. Try to get closer to the top end of characters. Use Title/Headline Case for Titles.

Remember, a description has two audiences:

  • Googlebot: we want Google to rank us well!
  • Humans: who see it in the SERP, where it might very-subtly influence them to click on the listing.

I’m not suggesting you should directly instruct people to click; you should write something engaging. …without telling them to “click”.
“Learn” – “discover” – “find out how…” – are okay, but writing something interesting w/out a CTA is okay, too. If you’re not a fan of click-baity titles, (I loathe them,) avoid that :/

Your Company Name in Titles / Descriptions?

Unless your site doesn’t rank well for your brand name, you should almost never use the client/website name in descriptions or titles, because it would be a redundant waste of precious SEO space. As much as you should omit the website/client name from almost all titles/descriptions, if a page is about a person or a thing, you should probably mention the person or thing in the description. The only other reason to stuff your brand in every title: the brand manual mandates it. (Consider rewriting the manual!)

P.S. New logo for my consulting biz is above. I’m going to do a lengthy post on the logo process soon. …This postscript is mostly to force me to write it up.
I’m not a prolific blogger.

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