Back in the Freelance Writing Saddle

Writing About Semiconductors is Like Riding a Bike

Well, not quite. The last time I was writing specifically about the semiconductor industry was 2006, and a lot can happen in six years. When I was at GPS World, I would, on occasion write stories about new GPS recievers; my knowledge of chips would come in handy then — but it’s not the same as covering the industry on a regular basis.

Semiconductor Manufacturing and Design -- I'm freelance writing for these guys.
Which is why I was pretty jazzed about the opportunity to get back to covering the semiconductor industry. This time around it’s once again as a freelance writer and editor, albeit as a regular contributing editor gig. I was curious to see how things had changed in six years, having only kept abreast of the industry and the technology on a very casual basis.

Not to mention happy to be returning to freelance writing and editing.

But as I say, a lot can change in six years. Last time I had my hand in, chips built with 65nm design rules were the cutting edge, and most mainstream chips were still being produced with 90nm and 0.13-micron designs. Today the cutting edge is 28nm designs if we’re talking system-on-a-chip (SoC) or 22nm designs if you’re talking about CPUs. And unlike six years ago, when 3D transistor gates were still largely just a gleam in an R&D engineer’s eye — although they had been demonstrated as early as 2002 — they are in production today, albeit not widespread. However, that will be changing by the end of this year and on into 2014; indeed it’s changing literally as I write this.

Of course unless you’re involved in the chip industry, you have no clue what I’m on about.

That’s okay. Let it suffice to say, it’s good to have specialized knowledge and experience sometimes, even if you are rusty. Case in point: I updated my Linked In account recently; by update I mean I logged in for the first time in literally years. I had put out a few resumes here in Bangkok for writer and editor positions, but had not gotten any nibbles (I thought I would, given my experience, background and the fact that I’m on the ground already, but apparently not).

So I was thinking I would put out my shingle again as a freelance writer and editor; that would actually suit me better what with my language studies and whatnot. Plus, it’s been many years since I had to report to an office everyday. Granted, I had to put on a tie and report to a classroom five times a week for most of last year, but that’s not the same as a 9-5 office grind.

Semiconductor Manufacturing and DesignAnyway, it’s all about the networking. My old boss from my Electronic News days noticed I had logged in and updated my Linked In account, and emailed me wanting to know if I was available for freelance writing work, as he had some; he’s editor-in-chief of several industry-supported chip industry portals these days. It was a good fit — I needed the work and he knew I am familiar with the subject, as I had covered it for so long, even though I had some rust to knock off.

The end result of all this is a story about the changing chip foundry market in the semiconductor industry. And I’m already at work on another story for Semiconductor Manufacturing and Design.

All because I Linked In. I’ve had a habit of bad-mouthing social networking over the years; I still have to admit I loathe Facebook and don’t miss it at all. But maybe I’ve been quick to judge the entire gamut of social networks, particularly the professional ones.

In any event, I’m back in the freelance writing saddle once again. Booyah!

Making Jeff Chappell and WordPress More Responsive

Mobile Is as Mobile Does: Finding a Responsive WordPress Theme

Jeff Chappell is under construction. And this image is ridiculously sexist.Goodness, it’s been a long time, since I’ve checked in here. I’m afraid I’ve let things languish just a bit last year. What was I doing? Well, as elaborated previously here and over at the Gecko’s Bark, I spent 2012 in Sai Gon, Viet Nam, teaching English and dealing with my torn quadriceps tendon. Following those adventures I took some time off for extended holidays.

Now I’m currently back in Thailand — I know, judging from the last time I lived in Thailand full-time, one might be surprised to read these words. But Thailand gets under your skin, I guess, just like Viet Nam. Things are going smoother this time around; there’s not substitute for experience.

Anyway, while I considered another teaching gig — and may in the future — right now I’m studying Thai language and have returned to the journalism fold, currently as a freelance writer and editor. I’ve also been getting back into photography, having replaced the equipment that got hocked a few years back.

In the midst of all this, having recently done a small website for a client — a WordPress installation — I decided I needed to revamp Jeff Chappell dotcom. I’m not at liberty to link to this client’s site for various reasons — non-disclosure agreements and such — but in the process of getting the site up quickly, I chose a free WordPress theme titled, aptly enough, Responsive. With the expanding plethora of mobile devices accessing the Internet these days such as smartphones, tablets and whatnot, themes and websites that can respond natively to the smaller screens and the various length-to-width ratios that come with them are de rigeur.

Actually I was really impressed with Responsive; it looks great on a laptop screens, full-size monitors, mobile phones and tablets, both 10-inch and 7-inch — no matter how you hold them. This is all done natively; no separate mobile theme or plugin required. Looking good on mobile devices was a must for this particular client, so stumbling across this free theme was a happy event.

I looked into using Responsive on this site, as well as several other good free themes out there, such as Fanwood. But the problem I have with these themes is the same thing that compelled me to use a paid theme for this site in the first place; I wanted to be able to control which posts showed up on specific pages using their categories without having to modify the theme’s php files. Another requisite for a theme this time around was being able to modify it, at least lightly, without having to use a child theme; I wanted to be able to insert custom CSS from within the theme’s options in WordPress. More time spent on content and less time spent on mucking about with code is a good thing.

These things are a bit much to ask for a free theme, although Responsive does give you the option for custom CSS, as well as other customization options not always found with free themes. These options actually made it perfect for the aforementioned client, who wanted a static but easily-updated homepage with dynamic content, such as YouTube videos.

Anyway, for myself and Jeff Chappell dotcom, it was back to ElegantThemes. If you’re reading this and wondering why the site looks a little wonky at the moment, that’s because I’m in the midst of converting the site to use Elegant’s Chameleon responsive theme. Between being able to enter custom CSS, it uses WordPress native options to change colors of backgrounds, fonts, links and what have you — on top of being able to specify specific blog categories to specific pages.

ElegantTheme's responsive Chameleon WordPress theme

In the past I’ve chosen not to use the sliders that ElegantThemes seems to embrace (along with a lot of other theme designers), but now that the underlying code is native to WordPress these days, they work much smoother than they used to in the recent past. Furthermore, it works well when viewed on a tablet or other touch-screen device, for obvious reasons.

So pardon the construction dust; it should be settled and cleaned up shortly.

Postscript: Why am I using such a ridiculously sexist “under construction” image on my portfolio site? Well, this image actually figures in an interesting earlier post about image tags, SEO and website traffic. That doesn’t make it less sexist, however, I admit.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Blog

Barking Book Reviews Blog Garners Attention: Will A Hobby Metamorphose Into Something More?

Barking Book Reviews: bush league blog does good for Jeff Chappell?

It seems my little hobby, Barking Book Reviews, is garnering some unexpected attention. The good kind. Last week I got an email from a PR and marketing firm stating that they had added my book review and news blog to their database of media outlets. They had enclosed the related entries, should I wish to make any changes.

Then today I woke up to an email from someone asking me if I would care to review a forthcoming novel and interview the author. This person’s email domain is that of a major U.S. publisher.

I think my feelings about this can be adequately described thusly:

Cool! Wait. What?

The thing is, I started the Barking Book Reviews blog with an idea that I could eventually build it into something that I not only enjoyed, but might generate me income or get me further work. In essence this blog was and is a hobby. As I explain in the about section of the site, I like to read books and I like to write. For years I’ve worked as a journalist writing about things that other people wanted me to write about; this is me writing about things I want to write about.

But I figured this would be a process that would take place over a span of years, if at all. As a hobby, sometimes I spend a lot of time on it; sometimes I don’t. Lately I’ve been trying to keep the blog updated frequently, at least a few times a week, with reviews or news that catches my eye; I tend to add a little bit of commentary to the news. Other times I’ll post something that’s not a review per se, but more of just some thoughts or reflections on an author or their works, such as this entry on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.

When I first came back abroad last autumn I was on holiday, and then I settled down to restart my ESL teaching career. Then I tore my quadriceps tendon, and had to deal with that. So for months, Barking Book Reviews lay fallow, along with this site and my personal blog.

But as life began to settle down, I found myself with time and a hankering to write – once a journalist always a journalist, to some degree, I suppose. The thing is, I really do enjoy writing reviews; they are actually quite fun to write, even when they are a lot of work — like this review of The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, by Caitlín R. Kiernan (which you also see in the screen capture above). It’s a good kind of work. Even the newsy posts are fun to do, albeit time consuming.

But I haven’t really done anything to promote this blog other than search engine optimization and linking to relevant blog posts on other sites. Certainly I haven’t done anything in the way of social networking these days, such as Tweeting or posting on Facebook, which would seem to be the number one way of driving traffic to a website these days.

Barking Book Reviews: literary pontification from the Gecko's Bark, aka Jeff ChappellNevertheless, the blog’s traffic has been growing slowly but steadily of late. Still strictly bush leagues, in terms of traffic, though. Over the previous four weeks it’s received 676 visits, 649 unique visitors and 920 page views with an average pages per visit ratio of 1.36.*

But I suppose it must be quality of traffic, which no one has quite figured out a way to measure. In any event, here I am getting contacted by marketing people and publishers.

Where will it lead? A road to something bigger? Or is it the first bean in the proverbial hill? We’ll see.

*P.S. Before someone asks, I’ve got my own visits filtered out of that; in fact after experimenting with that lately, I’ve been meaning to post the best way to do that with regard to Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools.

If you’re like me, you use more than one computer – I even use more than one operating system on one computer. Plus any good webmaster tests his sites in all of the popular browsers. Then there is the fact that I often use a VPN service. So I needed a simple, convenient way to filter out all of those various visits from different browsers, computers, etc.; filtering just one IP address or range of IP addresses isn’t really an option for me, and I didn’t want to filter all traffic from Viet Nam. This last option wouldn’t help when I visited another country in Southeast Asia, anyway.

But more on this later.

In Which An Image Tag Boo Boo Drives More Traffic

Heeeey! Boo Boo Bear! What's in that pick-i-nick basket? Aw, Yogi, it's a conflict with a WordPress plugin causing my xml sitemap to be missing in action.
No, not that kind of boo-boo.

Image Tags and Title Tags, Even for Unrelated Terms, Help People Find Your Pick-i-nic Basket

In this previous post I talked more about search engine optimization (SEO), image tags, title tags, and how they can drive a lot of traffic that one might not expect and otherwise wouldn’t get. As a dear, departed TV pitchman used to say: “But wait! There’s more!” Even this website, JeffChappell.com, is not immune to this accidental image tag-driven traffic phenomena.

Now bear in mind, this site exists as a repository for my journalism clips. Essentially I wanted one place where I could preserve the highlights of my journalism career, one that spans both print and online mediums, as opposed to a list of links that frequently changed or broke as publications changed owners, web servers and content management systems. I wanted to be able to point other people to this place when necessary, along with my resume and whatnot. I also wanted to have it as an example of my web skills.

As such, unlike my personal blog, which follows my whims all over the place, this site is tailored and optimized for specific terms, namely Jeff Chappell. Type in “Jeff Chappell” into Google and many pages here are among the first links that appear. Type in “Jeff Chappell” and “writer” or “journalist” and virtually all of the first several pages of results are links to this site.

And yes, I can see from Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools that when people search for these terms, they find me, or rather this site. Just the other day someone from my hometown was searching for “jeff chappell writer,” and it lead them here – I assume this must be one of my erstwhile Facebook friends.

And recently someone from Russia was searching for “jeff chappell agilent.” Why someone from Russia is searching for articles I wrote years ago about a U.S. semiconductor test company that no longer exists, at least not under that name, I can’t imagine – but then that’s why I created this site.

While I do update this blog from time to time, I don’t do it frequently, and even less so since I began teaching ESL again. As such, this site doesn’t generate nearly as much traffic as The Gecko’s Bark and Barking Book Reviews.

Furthermore, one would think that what traffic it does generate would be from searches on topics that I wrote frequently about in the past, along with the odd search here and there for my name. And one would would be wrong.

 SEO Image Tag Boo Boo: You’re Doing It Right

Google Webmaster Tools reveals that a Boo Boo image tag can be a good thing, in terms of driving impressions. No, the number one traffic driver to JeffChappell.com these days is “boo boo” and derivations of that term, including “boo boo bear.” What’s more, this involves a single post from more than a year ago.

How is this? Once again, it’s the image tags.

Not long after I first started using what is still the best SEO plugin for WordPress that I’ve found – and I’ve tried others before and since – I had a problem with an update of the WordPress SEO plugin by Joost de Valk. I used that experience to write a post about software upgrades, and how one should be careful, and not just always upgrade for the sake of upgrading.

As you can see, it wasn’t so much a problem with the plugin upgrade as the way I had it configured; in prior versions the configuration was fine but with that particular upgrade the configuration caused a … wait for it … a boo boo.

To find some art to break up an otherwise big wall of text, I chose Boo Boo Bear, of Yogi Bear cartoon fame, which you can see at the top of this post. In fact the title of said post, as you can see, included the words Boo Boo, as in a problem or error.

At the time I did this, I thought I was just being cute and amusing myself. But, as it turns out, there are a lot of people searching for boo boo, not to mention Boo Boo. Who knew?

Not I. Apparently a lot of these searchers – I’m guessing – are related to one Boo Boo Stewart; search Google Images for “boo boo” and lots of pictures of this young actor pop up. Seems he was in one or more of the Twilight pablum movies. Or perhaps they are searching for Boo Boo TV. I don’t know. The only other Boo Boo I knew of before this, other than the eponymous bear, was blues musician Boo Boo Davis.

But I digress. As you can see from the screen cap of Google Webmaster Tools above, these terms result in more page impressions in Google than anything else on this site. It doesn’t generate oodles of traffic, but then this isn’t a high traffic site, nor does it need to be.

But once again it shows the importance of image and title tags and SEO. If you have a site that’s monetized through advertisement as opposed to selling memberships or actual products, then you want as much traffic as you can get; the more impressions you get the better, obviously.

And yet, you still see so many sites that fit this description that don’t have image tags, or are poorly optimized in terms of titles, subtitles and links. And the thing is, it’s such a simple thing; it only takes a moment. If you are using WordPress, I’ll plug the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin; it really does simplify SEO to a large degree. In fact it’s pretty amazing for a free plugin.

Yogi Bear and Boo Boo discuss the merits of proper SEO over a lunch pic-i-nic basket.To then as you can see to a certain extent it’s luck, of course; I had no idea that by using an image of Boo Boo Bear with proper image tags that I’d drive this extra traffic here.

But that’s my point: you just never know who is going to be searching for what.

Ain’t, that right Boo Boo?

Of course it is Yogi.

Update: Now this is amusing; I thought something like this might happen, but I didn’t really expect this big of a jump. In just the few days since this post was put up, this site’s impressions for the term “boo boo” have jumped from 8,000, with 16 clicks, to 12,000 impressions and 60 clicks as of April 9th.

I’ve also jumped up a notch in average position in search results from 11 to 10, which probably accounts for the jump in impressions in just few days’ time. I feel kind of bad, as this page is probably not the boo boo they’re looking for; although I’m sure a majority of that is coming through image search, in which case I do provide some Boo Boo.

On the other hand: lulz!

Inadvertent SEO Traffic: Good Practice Drives Extra Impressions

F**k no! This is not the meme you're looking for. Use Keywords in Your Title Tags, and Don’t Forget Your Image Tags. You Never Know Who Might Be Searching, Or for What

I’m beginning to think that search engine optimization (SEO) is a matter of luck, to a certain degree, in addition to being conscientious in tailoring a page or blog post for SEO. It’s always the things I least expect that seem to bring in the most traffic.

Once again, it is the image tags that bring in unexpected traffic from search engines. I’ve remarked on the importance of image tags – and luck – before, on more than one occasion. Indeed, if you read up on the advice of SEO gurus, image tags are one of the things they harp on, and with good reason.

Let’s look once again at my personal blog, The Gecko’s Bark. Now you may be thinking, “this is just an excuse for backlinks.” And while it is an opportunity to do just that, just bear with me. Lately I’ve been blogging a lot about my torn quadriceps tendon and the recovery process. I’ve been diligent with those posts in terms of SEO. Aside from the obvious reasons, I know from having researched it myself, a quadriceps tendon tear is pretty rare, and there’s not a lot of information out there; perhaps I can help some other poor wretch in the future who suffers the same injury and takes to the Vast Series of Tubes for relevant data.

Of course, given the rarity I wasn’t expecting those posts to generate a ton of traffic. On the other hand, it’s that much easier to get pages ranked high on search engines when you optimize for terms that aren’t looked for as often as others. And over the course of the past month or so, I’ve seen those posts on my blog start to generate traffic off of related keyword searches.

But what’s generated the most traffic, lately, aside from searches for construction gifs, which still drives more traffic to GeckosBark.com than anything else, is a gif I chose pretty much at random for one of my latest posts about my recovery. I unwittingly chose an image that is part of a popular and current Internet meme – really, I had no idea; I’m not nearly that hip.

A month or so I began to be able to walk without the aid of crutches, for the first time since Christmas. Needless to say, I was pretty happy about this. After composing a post about it, I wanted an image of something other than my leg. On a whim I typed in “f**k yeah” into Google image search. No, I’m not going to spell it out, nor am I going to post the image — although you can see a cleverly altered one above — but I think you can figure it out, yes? If not, just check out the “Ha ha! Screw You Universe, I Can Walk.”

I should warn you, while JeffChappell.com is family friendly and pretty much G-rated; I give myself free reign on The Gecko’s Bark; sometimes I swear when I think the topic or related feelings warrant it. Sometimes it’s not even safe for work (NSFW), as in the case of the f**k yeah image. I didn’t know it, but apparently it’s a “thing” – a full-fledged Internet meme  – and I inadvertently tapped into that.

I just chose it because it more than adequately summed up how I felt at that time; being able to walk is a glorious thing when you haven’t been able to do it for two months without the aid of crutches and braces. Frankly, it makes you feel like shouting F**K YEAH!

Of course, being the good little webmaster and SEO maven, I filled in those image tags, which included the aforementioned four-letter word. Even the image was named “f**k yeah.”

SEO Happens

Google Webtool screen grab showing how well The Gecko's Bark ranks for f**k yeah.Guess what happened next?

Yeah, that post has become the second most visited page at The Gecko’s Bark, driven by people searching for things related to this meme. This is even though the words “f**k yeah” don’t appear in the text of that post, only in the image tags and file name.

In fact, according to Google Webmaster tools, out of 200,000 impressions for The Gecko’s Bark, in the month of March – the post in question is dated Feb. 29th – searches for “f**k yeah” generated 5,500 search impressions on Google and 500 clicks.  Webmaster Tools says the site even ranks an average of 15 – on the second page of results – for that search term (although when I just searched for it, I didn’t see my site anywhere in the first 100 results). According to Google Analytics, it is the second most popular landing page on my site this past month; the post with the under construction gif is still the busiest.

Now, having noted this, in a follow post about my quadriceps tendon rupture, dated March 27, one of the things I talked about was this unexpected traffic to the site. This time, I liberally sprinkled the paragraph with those terms – because I know the SEO drill.

As you can see from the Webmaster Tools screen capture, The Gecko’s Bark also gets a lot of traffic from yet another colorful search term. I’m going to go ahead and go out on a red limb and use this term without any ***: it’s dumbass. Sorry If I’ve just offended your sensitivities.

The post in which I use that term is all about a considerable misadventue on the eve of the Tet holiday in Ho Chi Minh City last year. You can follow that link if you want to find out about how I deal with getting my wallet and phone pickpocketed just before the entire country of Viet Nam closes for a week. I’ll warn you: there is more colorful R-rated language in that post, to be sure.

Once again, that page wasn’t tailored for that keyword, at least not intentionally. But it shows up in several title and image tags, as well as in the body of the post, and thus Google apparently offers that Gecko’s Bark page often when people are searching for the term “dumbass.” Why that many people would be searching for that term, I don’t know. The only time I’ve ever searched for it was looking for images to use in that post; perhaps that is what they are up to.

In fact, I don’t really think much about The Gecko’s Bark in terms of SEO, beyond the basics – site meta tags and the like, and the individual things for each post, like image tags. Unlike this site, or Barking Book Reviews, there is no overall SEO focus; I don’t worry about which keywords Gecko’s Bark ranks for, or things like that. It’s there to amuse myself, and that’s pretty much it.

But as such it’s a pretty good indicator of what good SEO practices can achieve in terms of site traffic. Just using good keywords in title tags, filling out image tags, and including outbound links when it’s useful to the reader – very basic stuff.