Newsletter and blog updates

Today marked a new milestone for me, as I actually sent out a newsletter to everyone who has ever signed up at Excelguru.ca.  I was little hesitant, but figured I’d give it a go and see how people reacted.

I actually got some really nice feedback from people, which was great, even asking how to get others to sign up.

To that end, I’ve added a newsletter signup button on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/xlguru.  And, since my blog theme was getting a bit stale, I’ve updated that as well, adding a link on the right hand side here.

I’m not totally sure I’m sold on the new theme, but let me know what you think.

A new article, a new site host, a Facebook contest, an old blog…

It’s been crazy busy over here the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been hard at work creating 3 training videos for a client, (we shoot in Studio on Friday,) preparing for my next live course (this Saturday,) and trying to keep the forum posts all answered… among other things…

Excelguru has a new host

The biggest news, as far as the site is concerned though, is that we’re running on a new host.  My former host kept sending me messages about the server usage, asking me to block users and shut things down, as I was too busy.  They suggested that, if I didn’t want to do that, I should upgrade to their dedicated server plan.  I have to say I was a little shocked by that, especially when they told me it would move me from $4.95 per month to $164.95 per month.  While I love hosting the forums and site, that was a little much to swallow.

Instead, after some research and conversations with my friend Simon, I’ve moved the site to host with URLJet, a company that specializes in vBulletin and WordPress hosting.  They’re more expensive than what I was paying, certainly, but what a difference in service.  I signed up and within 10 minutes they called me to talk through the migration scenarios.  The site migration was finished, tested and working within 4 hours, all done by them.  They reviewd it, made some performance tuning changes, and recommended a few for me to do too.  Very cool, and all done at no extra cost.  I have to say that so far I’m really pleased with them.

We’ve been running on URLJet for a week now, and the site seems more responsive and forum posts are picking up.  I’m not sure if that’s coincidence (probably), but it’s getting to the point where I could certainly use more people on the site.  So if you love Excel or just want to learn, we have posts that need answering!  :)

The old blog is back!

As if moving my site and optimizing it for me weren’t enough already, URLJet also fixed the WordPress blog that I’ve been locked out of for 1.5 years too!  While I was planning on using the vBulletin blog, WordPress is way more flexible, and I didn’t want to lose all the old content so…

With this blog back live, I’m going to resume posting here.  I ported the two articles back from the vBulletin blog that were worth saving, so if you see those in your feed, just ignore them.  :)

A new article

In celebration of the whole thing, I also created a nice new article on the site as well.  If you’ve ever been confused about how conditional formatting rules are applied in Excel 2007+, I’ve written up a VERY detailed, step by step article that will walk you through exactly what happens.  You can find that by clicking here.

Facebook contest

My facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/xlguru is creeping ever closer to 100 likes.  I’d really like to make that milestone, so I announced last week that I’d give away a copy of my Magic of PivotTables video course to the 100th like.

I have to admit that I was hoping I’d be there by now, but then I got the following comment from Rick Grantham on Twitter:

“guess I need to unlike your FB page so I can like it back at the right moment.  Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that :)”

I had a good laugh there, but it did make me wonder… so I think I’ll change the game up.  (All those of you who are already Facebook fans can thank Rick (@BIStrategyGuy) for this….)  Here’s the new deal:

Be one of the first 100 likes on the xlguru page for a chance to win a free copy of my Magic of PivotTables video course!

Once I hit 100 likes, I’ll draw a random name from the first 100 people, and then I’ll send you a discount code to download a free copy.  It’s just that easy.  :)

See, now no reason to wait.  In fact, you might want to hurry, as there are 97 likes as I post this!  (But don’t worry, this won’t be the last one.)

 

Excel Events Calendar!

Hi everyone,

As per my last post, I recently set up a free public Excel Help Forum on my website. I’m pleased to say that over the past week and a bit we’ve attracted 50 new users, and now have over 40 threads with over 200 total posts on the site. Not bad for 10 days!

I’ve spent a lot of time configuring different options to try and make this forum as consumable as possible for people. In addition to the basic forum functionality, some of the modifications include:

  • Serious anti-spam solutions to keep the board all about questions and answers, without having to wade through garbage
  • Facebook integration, for those of you who like to tell your friends what you’re doing ;)
  • RSS feeds, for those who like to keep up to date on the topics, and drop in when you see one that interests you
  • Tapatalk integration, for those who want to keep up with the site on a mobile device

And those are just the big ones. There’s been a lot of tweaks under the hood to make the experience as optimal as possible, and a few others are coming soon.

The latest thing I’ve worked on is adding what I hope to be THE Excel Events Calendar on the internet…

I’d like to invite everyone to use the Calendar on the forum as a public Excel Events Calendar. If you have, or know of, an Excel event in your area, please post it for the world to see. I’d like to make this the most comprehensive Excel training calendar on the internet.

There are only 2 rules I’d like to attach to this at this point:

  • Put the location of the event in the title, if applicable. The goal is that people will be able to find events that they can attend in their own backyard, worldwide.
  • Only the date(s) of event should be posted. (I don’t want a post each week reminding people.) If there is a registration cutoff date, please post it in the event information.

I think if everyone observes the above, the calendar should remain relevant and helpful to everyone.

Events I would expect to see include training courses (live or online), new book release dates, conferences that deal with subject matter relevant to the users on this site. (Be it BI, SQL, Sharepoint and more, so long as it has an Excel flavour, it counts.)

If you are a trainer, teacher, publisher, or whatever, I invite you to participate. Register for the site, if you’re not already, and post your event to the Excel Event Calendar. The more up-to-date and accurate we can make this, the more our community can rely on this being the source to come to for training courses. The more that happens, the more likelihood you’ll get signups. The more signups you get, the more likely you are to want to put on more training events, and the more the users win. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle that is in all of our best interests.

Oh, and one final word on this to everyone. I am not doing this to solicit commissions, affiliate links or funding in any way. There is already enough advert links on the site. This is about people helping people in our Excel world.

New Excel Help Forums at Excelguru.ca

Hello everyone,

At the last MVP summit I had discussions with a couple of people about something that has been burning away in the back of my mind for quite some time… creating my own Excel forums.

I’ve been absent from the online forums for the last few years, and I’ve greatly missed it. With the amount of teaching I’ve done over the past few years I’ve constantly been referring people to other forums and blogs, and I’ve received several comments from those people asking about a forum on my own site. So during this time I’ve been musing it over, wondering if there is enough differentiation, or enough reason to take on the task of building and maintaining another forum out on the interweb.

Despite missing a few of my good friends at the last summit, it was one of the most exhilarating ones I’ve been too, for a variety of reasons. Some of it was technology based, of course, but there was some based on conversations with people that I never expected to have. The compounding of all of it together made me realize that I have been putting this off for too long, and that I actually needed to do it, to bring back the piece of me that I’ve put off for my job over the past few years.

To this end, I’ve begun the process of building another forum on the web, one that focuses on Excel and Excel users. I am hoping to grow it with the style of friendly community that was fostered at VBAExpress.com, but have the focus strictly on Excel users from start to finish, no matter the platform. There are forums there for Excel Client focused areas, Programming (VBA, .NET, XML, etc), PowerPivot and data needs, the recently released Excel WebApp and even Sharepoint. As I said, I want this to be a one stop portal for anything Excel related.

In addition to the Excel focused stuff, I’ve also added a simple section on the other Office apps. The reason for this is simple; every Excel user encounters the other Office apps, and runs into issues. I think it’s important that we have a place to ask/answer those too.

Oh, and naturally there is a chat forum, as no forum would be complete without it.

The forums are, of course, completely free to use. Simply sign up for an account, and post your questions. You’ll be notified immediately by email when someone replies, so you can jump right back to the forum and post further information if required, or see the solution that an expert has helped you build. You can even upload your own files to the forum so that people can see EXACTLY what you’re trying to do. After all, a picture saves 1000 words, right?

And if you’re an expert, or even if you’d just like to help, then post some answers! We love help, and encourage you to take part. Speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that there is no better way to better your own skillset than by trying to help others. You won’t always have perfect answers, but nor do we expect that. This is all about people helping people. The intentions are what is important.

You can find them at http://www.excelguru.ca/forums. (The registration button is in the top right of the screen.) Or, if you’d prefer, you can jump straight to the Registration link to create your account.

I look forward to seeing you in the forums!

Updates to PDFCreator Articles

It’s way long overdue, but I FINALLY updated some of the PDFCreator articles on my website. The updates include:

  • Better handling to shut down PDFCreator before the code starts running
  • Better methods to tell when the PDF has been created
  • Better closing methods that shut down PDFCreator completely after running

In my experience, these modifications have led to much more stable routines that run as expected, or at least let you know if they haven’t. (I VERY rarely see that now.)

In addition, I also added a routine that allows printing specific worksheets in a file to a single PDF.

You can find the updates here: http://www.excelguru.ca/node/21

Server moving Oct 5-8

I’m not sure how much effect this will have on my site, but my host is moving a server to a new data centre (different city) on Oct 5.

It’s funny, actually.  TThey prefaced the email with a blurb on being careful not to change web pages, and then gave a HUGE amount of technical details on all of the different phases of the move.  What they failed to make clear, however, is if the server will be down at all, or if you’d lose any changes made from start to finish, or only during certain times.  A classic case of can’t see the forrest for the trees.

At any rate, the move is supposed to be coplete in 3 days.  I probably won’t post anything or make site changes during that three day period.  I’m hoping the site is up the whoel time, but we’ll see.

One year blogging

So apparently today is the one year anniversary of my blog.  It’s kind of hard to believe it’s been that long in some ways, and in others I can’t remember not having it…

According to my blog dashboard:

Blog Stats

There are currently 82 posts and 253 comments, contained within 12 categories.

Spam

Akismet has protected your site from 44,694 spam comments.

I have to say that my personal favourite spam comments are the ones that start with “Sorry :(“  Seriously… is someone holding a gun to your head?  Give me a break!

Feeds

According to Feedburner, I currently have 61 people subscribed to my blog via RSS as well.

Just for fun, here’s a map from Google that shows where the majority of visitors come from and some other related stats:

xlgstats.png

I believe that the visits listed in the stats are unique visitors, not gross visitors.  It’s the only way that I can explain that I had over 44,000 spam comments without the visits.  I’m fairly sure, based on the IP addresses in the spam queue, that I don’t have people just sit here posting multiple spam comments.  They must return every so often to try again.

So happy birthday to the blog.  :)

Who is the number one choice of spammers?

The other day my wife received over 5000 bounced emails… she hadn’t sent any out, but I guess our email address got spoofed, not doubt when someone who knew us got a virus in their inbox.  I’ve looked into it, and apparently, I can get a SPF put on my email so that mail servers can tell it didn’t come from us, but I just haven’t quite got there yet.

So today, I took a quick peak at my spam filter on the blog.  Check this out:

spam.jpg

Almost 4000 spam messages in just over two weeks.  Unreal.  So if your comment got moderated, and hasn’t shown up, you might want to try again.  (And maybe even email me if it doesn’t show up after a day or two.)

I have to admit that I’m kind of curious on this point… I know a bunch of other bloggers using WordPress.  How many spam messages do you have in your Akismet filter?  My blog started back in December, so the 20,764 is only for about 7 months.

PS… sorry for the lack of posts here.  I’ve been very busy with a large project that isn’t due to be finished for a month or so.  I’ll try to put something up in the mean time, but this is pretty much consuming my evenings and weekends.

February Stats

Well, it’s been about a month since I last did this. I know that Ross was really keen on it, so I thought I’d share my web site traffic stats again.

I’m curious to know if anyone else finds this interesting or not. Post a comment to tell me either way, and I’ll take it into account next month. :)
It hasn’t been a really busy month on my blog, with only four new posts in February. (Five including this one… and yes, it is still Feb 28 for another 20 minutes where I am!) Despite that, my traffic has increased, and so have the number of visitors that have subscribed to my RSS feed. Unfortunately, my Spam count has also increased astronomically as well, but we’ll get to that in a bit. ;)

One thing I should mention… all the screen shots in this post (actually on my sites) were captured with Techsmith’s SnagIt. It’s a great little app that I will post a review on at some point. :)

Web site Feed stats
As I write this, there are now 30 people subscribed to the blog through one feed or another. And if you’re interested, you can actually see the current number at the left of your screen just below the “subscribe to RSS” gadget. Again, this is complements of the free Feedburner service, which provides me with the full graph for feed growth shown below:

feb-feedburner.jpg

So as of last month, the highest subscribers I had was 19, and now that’s my average, with a peak of 30. Not too shabby for growth in a low post month. :)

Excelguru.ca Main Site Traffic

I was actually helping a friend out with an email issue earlier tonight, and she was asking about my blog. Specifically, the question was “who reads that?”… especially after I told her that none of my visitors were from my family as they don’t hold any interest in this. ;)

Honestly, I can’t really answer the question. I know that some of my online friends do, but there are a great many people who return here that I just don’t know. What I can say, beyond that they have some interest in the material, is where they come from. Thanks again to Google’s free Analytics service, here’s the graph that shows Excelguru.ca’s traffic for February 2007:

excelguru-main-feb.jpg

Total visits (at least up till 10:30PM my time) is up to 6640 from 5977 in January. That’s just over a 10% increase in one month. Total pageviews have also increased, from 12,434 to 13,349. Not quite 10% there, but still an increase. I sure do see some wild dips on weekends… you’d think that no one reads Excel stuff on their days off or something. ;)
My returning visitor percentage actually dropped a bit in February at the main site. It’s down from 22.82% to 21.54%. I’m trying to decide if I should be worried about it or not. In the grand scheme of things, January saw about 1360 of my visits came from people who returned at least once, and that number grew to about 1430 in February.

With regards to the map, remember that the dots indicate the highest numbers of visitors from specific areas. There were also many different visitors from other countries that are not shown, but they were filtered out if there were less than 9 visits from that city in the month. (It’s an automatic stats thing on Google’s part. I didn’t decide on that magic number.)

Google is still my biggest referrer, (no surprise there,) and mvps.org is still second on the list.

While I was fooling around in Analytics getting the info for February, I stumbled on how to actually pull a custom period too. I actually only installed Analytics on October 31, 2006, and therefore meaningful stats didn’t start being generated until November 1. I was curious to see the site growth over that time, so snapped it as well:

excelguru-main-4mos.jpg

The nice little dip in traffic in the middle is the week around Christmas, but despite that, I’ve managed to attract over 23,000 visitors in four months. That’s pretty neat. In addition, the traffic is on an up hill climb, which is also kind of cool.

With regards to the rest of the pie graph stats, they’re honestly pretty much in the same range as I’m used to seeing. For reference, though, the lowest number I could find on the map was 27 visitors. Anything less than 26 has been ignored for map clarity.

Blog Stats

I’m only going to share the blog stats for February, as I didn’t snap the Analytics into it until the first week of December. There just isn’t the same amount of info there, but I may show a three month view if I post on this subject again at the end of March. Here’s the February view for the blog:

excelguru-blog-feb.jpg

So… things to note here are…

My total blog visits are up 32% from 1250 to 1652, but Pageviews are only up 10% from 2784 to 3056. This is pretty much telling me that while more people are finding the blog, they’re not necessarily interested in what’s here. My visitors last month looked at an average of 2.23 pages before they left, while now it’s down to 1.85. Actually, since many of the original visitors were friends and colleagues, it doesn’t really surprise me that this is happening, and I’d actually expect the average pageviews to drop as the number of visitors continues to increase.

My returning visitor percentage also dropped to 28.15% from 39.84%. That’s pretty drastic, so maybe I should start posting some worthwhile content again. :)

That really big lump on the left side of the map is Los Angeles. It seems that I get the most visits to my blog from that city.

With regards to the referral sources, I’m going to save commenting on that. The percentages this month bear almost no resemblance to last month. If you are still reading, and interested, let me know and I’ll add it to the post.

Spam

One of my biggest, err.., “accomplishments” this month seems to have been attracting spammers. It would actually be interesting to know just what my stats looked without them. I actually cleared all my spam filters at the beginning of the month, and then saved every one that I got, as I figured it would make an interesting study. Th thing is that I forgot that I use a spam filter on my email server which black-holes spam, so I don’t actually get a record of it. On my blog, though, it’s another story.

WordPress has a great little anti-spam snap-in called “Akismet“, which seems to work very well. In the entire time I’ve been running it, it’s only given me two false positives, (sorry, Will!) and only missed a few. Fortunately, I have a moderation system in place for comments, so I could flag those as spam before they showed up.

What I found with spam on my blog surprised me though. From February 1-14, Akismet caught 370 spam messages. I cleared all of them out, and my spam filter currently holds another 875 from February 15-28! That’s 1245 spam posts in one (short) month, at a rate of over 44 per day! In fact, it was about 26 per day in the first half of the month, and is up to over 62 per day in the last half. At that rate of increase, I could be seeing 100 per day by the end of March, easily. (I hope it’s not exponential, or I might have to buy more server space. LOL!)

I do have a quick review of them, to try and see if anything was a false positive, and some of them are pretty funny. I had one with a subject of “Mexican Taco”, (which wasn’t about food ,) several which tell me how great my site is, (only to be followed up with a link to theirs,) and even a marriage proposal. Too funny, but a total waste of time.

At any rate, that’s all for now, but please do tell if you like this kind of post or not.

Snap!

I’m trying out a new script for the site, based on the feedback from my friend Will Riley, called Snap.

For the record, I’ve also seen Snap in action on one of my other friends sites (Dennis Wallentin’s) as well, and had to check it out on Will’s site as well.

Snap is a script that you can add to your web templates that will allow a pop-up preview of links contained in the text. It’s also got a Search box on it, but the instant preview is the real selling feature. If you like, just try mousing over any of the copious amounts of links that I shamelessly included in this post. :)

So far, it looks pretty neat, but I’m concerned about the performance a bit. Does anyone find that it slows down the site, or is it still okay? Feedback on that would be appreciated, as the last thing I want to do is kill the site performance for a cool feature.

One thing I have noticed is that my “Write Post” pages in the WordPress control panel do sometimes have issues when I try to edit them if this script is on.

Okay, I can’t stand posting any more shameless links now… like this one, to my main site. Okay, seriously, now I feel dirty… :)

Update on January 25, 2007

For anyone who is reading this who missed it, the Snap preview looked like the following picture when you moused over a link:

As you might have guessed, I’ve turned the feature off on my blog…

Earlier in the post, I’d made a comment about Snap affecting the content authoring/editing section of the blog. Because of this, I submitted a bug report to the Snap folks. In addition to what is below, I also pointed them back at this post, as I figure they appreciate the feedback they get. At any rate, here’s what I submitted as my issue:

I find that when I’m editing a post in the Site Admin area, it sometimes doesn’t finish loading. Instead of seeing a formatted blog post in process, I see all the {p} and {br} coding. Usually this appears briefly on the way to full load, but the full load doesn’t happen with Snap installed. Ironically, clicking on the Save button completes the load, and then I have to click Save again.

I got a response from them today:

Thanks. Our tech team is aware of that. Sometimes Snap Preview Anywhere
and WYSIWYG editors do not play well together. Hopefully there’ll be a
fix coming, but I’m afraid I can’t say when.

I read your blog and wanted to point out that part of the speed issue
was temporary, and has been fixed, but still if there are lots of links
on a page, page loading can be a bit slow. But – happy day! – we have
some tips on how to speed that up, here:

http://www.snap.com/about/spa_faq.php#q

I’m glad they took the time to acknowledge my reply and answer it. That’s very cool and much appreciated. :) I’m also glad they know about the editor issue and hopefully they can make a fix for it.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep this feature on anyway, but this is serious enough for me that I cannot work with the product, as it makes editing posts virtually impossible.