A strategy for migrating mail accounts

Possibly the most tortuous endeavour available to any tech project, migrating mail accounts without some kind of automation (cPanel-to-cPanel, for example) is one of those necessary evils that comes around once in a while and requires a suitable strategy to help you avoid any loss of service and/or emails for you and your clients.

This is specific to generic IMAP accounts, not Exchange/ActiveSync or POP (why is anyone still using POP?).

  1. Create email account/s on new server
  2. Create A record (DNS) for new server (e.g. mail2.domain.com)
  3. Create new MX records for new server (e.g. * to mail2.domain.com)
  4. Set priority 10 for the new server and 20 for the old, just in case the new setup fails
  5. Allow some time for DNS to propagate
  6. Connect to both servers separately (mail/mail2) and copy or import emails across
  7. Update A record for original mail server subdomain (e.g. mail.domain.com) to the new server IP

By having this setup, you are allowing a fallback in case the new server configuration doesn’t work properly — you are also allowing yourself plenty of time to backup/download the mail from the old server and importing it into the new one.

Has Bing overtaken Google as the king of search?

Whilst some argue that the end of search engines is nigh with some kind of paradigm change due in the near future, Google has continued to dominate the search space–practically peerless–for a number of years.

However, Bing has thrown down the gauntlet with the launch of its “BING IT ON” campaign that asks users to run 5 searches head-to-head in a (sort of) blind test, which then reveals the winner.

Putting it to the test

It’s a clever yet bold move from Microsoft, but how did it fair in the 5 searches I tried?

Bing It On - Search 1

With localised listings right at the top, the left screen clearly wins

Bing It On - Search 2

Time shown at the top – left wins again

Bing It On - Search 3

A bit of a mixed bag here

Bing It On - Search 4

Google authorship in place with Google+ circles demonstrating social proof – the $200 dock wins here on the right

Bing It On - Search 5

Another mixed bag…

Bing It On - The Results

Ok, so Google still wins, but it wasn’t clear-cut

 

 

As you can see demonstrated here, Google appears to be winning on long-tail search terms and the phrasing of the query in question form has clearly had an impact with a combination of Google’s Knowledge Graph and perhaps even Hummingbird’s targeting of question phrasing, adding relevance to the equation.

The mixed bag searches were far broader and it would appear that for my searches at least, Bing edged out a win.

Is it time to switch?

It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on both search engines and switching between the two for your general searches to see which turns up more relevant results.  I’ve had several instances recently where Google would not return results that I wanted, so having the option of Bing is really quite good news for the world.

For marketing professionals, Bing still represents a cheaper alternative to Google’s Adwords as far as PPC campaigns go and although there is less inventory, this avenue really shouldn’t be ignored.

And for SEO professionals, the event of Bing stealing market-share from Google should appease some concerns of recent years with Google’s increasing power (the removal of  keyword data in Google Analytics and the advancement of on-page widgets to keep the user glued to their own assets like Google Images and movie listings, for example) by offering diversification in organic traffic sources.

Until we enter a new era, post-search, we can only hope that more players in the search space (check out the search engine that plants trees) can challenge Google’s monopoly and promote a competitive environment that allows smaller businesses to thrive.

How to build wireframes in a single click.

The wireframing process is often overlooked, but — like when building a structure of any sort — it forms a critical foundation for the future.  It’s also important for the tool at hand to be nimble and efficient enough to make smart decisions, without getting bogged-down in detail.

But what if you found a site with a perfect UI for your current project? Do you have time now to whip up a/a few wireframes in Omnigraffle or Visio?

Wirify

This is where Wirify comes to the rescue; a simple but incredible bookmarklet that you can keep to hand safely in your bookmarks bar and will instantly transform any site into a wireframe with a single click of your mouse.

The basic tool does a fairly good job at translating the layout into neat and tidy wireframe form, but is covered in branding.  You can have these removed by signing up for Wirify credits that then allows you to export editable versions of the wireframe to Omnigraffle, Visio, Balsamiq and SVG.

Here is a little teaser video from the owners, Volkside:

Why not go and check out Wirify for yourself now.

How does the Google Hummingbird update affect my SEO and inbound links?

The Hummingbird update from the bods over at Google is about a lot more than just producing better search results for a given set of keywords that are typed into its search box; the change is really a paradigm shift in a world where we now use the platform of search in more ways than it was originally intended.

What is the point?

One of the key drivers behind this movement is the increase of searches from users that involve direct questions.  Instead of the previous model where users would be searching for articles relating to a set of keywords – like, for example, “charles bukowski books and poems”, users are now looking for specific answers to questions (as if Google was the oracle) and this would often now be phrased, “what books and poems have been written by charles bukowski?”.  This makes sense from Google’s current roadmap where they appear to be trying to keep users glued to Google assets instead of quickly venturing off to other places, which can be seen previously from the huge shake-up to Google Images.

The original founders of ask.com (previously Ask Jeeves) must be kicking themselves for being so far ahead of the curve after launching the original seed for this way of searching back in 1996 – before Google, I should add – without anywhere near the level of success.

Interestingly, the results for the example questions written above are quite different for both Google and Ask; the former takes you straight to Bukowski’s Wikipedia entry (I imagine this will be a top-hitter for most questions of this type on Google), whereas Ask immediately throws you ads – with a link to Amazon product results ‘usefully’ shown at the top – but coupled with a helpful author bio listing which has a far more usable feel to it than Google’s answer.  It’s just a slight shame there’s such an overdose of ads appearing at the top, but I guess they need to generate income somehow in order to compete.

And what about SEO?

The introduction of Hummingbird has been fairly undramatic in its entry and especially when compared to its predecessors Panda and Penguin, which caused SERP changes on the same scale of tectonic-plate movements in the webmaster underworld.  However, Hummingbird hasn’t had quite the earth-shattering impact on results themselves due to the nature of its changes and really, there hasn’t been a huge amount for SEO pros to fuss about, even with about 90% of searches on the platform being affected by the new algorithm and it being the largest change to the algorithm in 12 years.

Nothing monumental is changing here, but the focus on newer signals like authorship and content compartmentalising (Videos, Shopping, Images etc) for relevance will begin to play bigger roles in shaping the future of search.  The fundamentals are still the same and the old adage of content is king will remain for posterity.

Forget trying to game the algorithm with question oriented articles and stick with quality writing, coupled with natural link profiles and you will be golden.

Yes, I know, this article is a paradox.

 

Magento Upgrade Woes: How To Fix Everything

So after avoiding the upgrade process for years after experiencing the world’s most intense headache from dealing with Magento, it came upon me to upgrade and rebuild one of my eCommerce websites so that it can do the kind of things that are expected of more modern sites including multiple payment options and a responsive theme for mobile and tablet etc. Unfortunately, this has been the most painful experience ever witnessed by myself and my Mac and even a dedicated Magento-dev that I hired ended up waving their white flag.  I thought I’d jot down some of the fixes that I’ve encountered thus far so that they are saved for posterity. Magento Upgrade Errors The following list will assume that you’ve already followed one of the routes to upgrade your system (there are many) and you should be at the install/upgrade stage via your web browser.  More specifically, you’ve probably already run through this one and encountered one of the dozens of errors that are likely to occur.

Preparation to avoid issues

  • Ensure var/cache, var/session and var/tmp folders exist, with the correct permissions (755) – without this set, Magento will look to store these files all over your server including some very obscure locations that will make debugging an even bigger nightmare.
  • In fact, ensure that all files are now updated with the correct permissions – you can upload this script to your Magento store folder and it will update them for you.
  • Depending on your server, you may encounter ownership issues with the Magento directory and its contents, so ensure that the owner and group (chown/chgrp) are set for the right user.
  • Ensure all instances of your base url within your database are updated with the new site or the caching system of Magento will make it impossible for you to get into your admin and cause all sorts of issues elsewhere on your website:       – Check your core_store_config table for all instances of the domain/url and update.

Database upgrade debugging

  • config.xml – this will swerve integrity key checks if you get stuck on these (during the database upgrade procedure)

    <initStatements>SET NAMES utf8; SET FOREIGN_KEY_CHECKS=0; SET UNIQUE_CHECKS=0;</initstatements>

  • Database errors often occur, especially if the database is large – this is most likely due to the process timing out via the browser.  Try and restart the process again by deleting var/app/local.xml and start by visiting the root address of your Magento installation once more.
  • If database errors persist, delete your database, rebuild it from your backup, delete var/app/local.xml and start the install/upgrade process again by visiting the root address of your Magento installation

After days of painful trial and error and trawling the forums of the web, this has successfully got me upgraded and logged in to my admin.  Now, I just need to try and fix plugin and theme errors…