Monthly Archives: April 2013

Interface Tweaks & More Changes Coming

You may notice a couple of subtle changes in the interface today. Firstly each of the submission forms now has a tooltip icon for every submission field – mouse over this for a description of each field and see how best to use it.

Secondly we’ve streamlined the jobs list a little. Instead of a separate column with a ‘Details’ link we have removed that and made the Job ID into a clickable link to the job details page.

Next, also in the jobs list, we’ve replaced the spinning column with a little icon. These changes are to make room for some more information that we’re going to be added in the next few days as we work on the new Job Resubmission code – I’ll write more about that in another post!

Lastly we have removed the ‘Home’ link from the main navigation bar at the top of the site. This is not really necessary (you can click on the logo if you really want to go to the home page) and it makes room for the new resources page that we are going to be adding soon.

What Freebies Could IMAutomator Offer?

For the first few years of operation, IMAutomator had a free service and members could submit a small amount each day. This was horribly abused by people creating multiple accounts to get additional submissions and we had to close it.

The main reason to offer a free service isn’t because we’re just that nice, it’s a business strategy – get people in the door, show them what we do, send them newsletters about the cool new stuff we’re doing and hope that they might buy later on down the line.

Discontinuing the free service was a necessary step but we’re missing out on all those people who visit the site every day and who don’t want to buy right now. I’d really like to have some kind of free account back again but unfortunately it cannot offer free submissions. Even offering 1 free submission, or even just 10 credits would get the spammers back in creating hundreds of accounts.

No, instead I want to go in a slightly new direction – offer something useful, of value to the kinds of people that use IMAutomator but that does not benefit from multiple account creation. I have a few ideas so far:

A Text Spinning Tool

This has actually been on the todo list for a while. All our submission tools support a basic spintax (we also want to improve that so that it supports nested spintax) which is great but it still requires that the member go to the effort of creating a spin-ready version of their content.

Let’s face it, IMAutomator is a tool for the lazy! Everything we do is aimed at making life easier and saving time for the member – we create the accounts, we solve the captchas, we do the submission… so what if we could do the spinning for you as well?

The idea is that it would take some plain text and create various spun versions of it. It probably would not work as well as a human-crafted version but would be better than just blasting the same exact copy out to tons of sites – especially if you do article submission.

This tool could be independent from the IMAutomator submission. Of course if you are a paying member then you could export the output of it directly into an IMAutomator job, but for free members they could simply export the output for their own use – manual submission or whatever.

Content Creation Tools

Our most popular tool is the Social Bookmark submitter and one of the most common types of content that is bookmarked are blog posts. But very few of our Pro members use the Article submitter in comparison to the Bookmarker.

If the content of a blog post has at least 300 words then that could make a viable article. (you might want to spin it of course to differentiate it from your original blog post) but creating an article takes a bit more effort.

Developing a small tool that would take a blog post and extract an article out of it would be rather trivial. This could be imported straight into an IMAutomator job or again just exported as a text file for free members who want to do their own manual submission.

Here’s another example – as well as the very popular article directories that take plain text, there are now more flexible ‘document’ directories that take PDF files, Doc files and so on. If you have an article, or many articles you could package those up into a more substantial document and then have a whole bunch of new places you could submit that to – more backlinks! This is another tool we could develop as a stand-alone addon for IMAutomator.

Links to SEO Resources

IMAutomator specialises in one thing – automation of link submission and that is going to remain our focus for the foreseeable future but the market to which that appeals is somewhat more broad – SEO in general.

SEO is a huge subject and there are already a ton of brilliant resources out there such as blogs and online tools and much of that is absolutely free. We have no intention of trying to compete with these resources but they would be of interest to our members so we could start up a resource section with links to the good stuff.

Do you have any ideas?

I’d really like to move forward with this idea of some kind of free resources we could offer once we have our new membership system in place. I think these ideas are a good starting place but I’m always interested to hear what you guys think! So if you have any ideas for a freebie we could offer (it has to be something that would not benefit from abuse by creating multiple accounts) then please let us know either through our contact form or even better – post it on our Facebook page.

I’ll give away 100 credits to anyone who comes up with a viable idea!

Directory Site Revamp

It’s been a while since we did any work with the Directory sites as almost all of them require payment, a forced reciprocal link (the link is crawled upon submission and will immediately fail if not found) or a CAPTCHA. Now that we have the means to resolve the later, we can start adding more sites.

In today’s update we have removed a few non-working sites, added a bunch of new ones and converted all existing sites to credit sites to give a new total of 25 sites. We will be repeating this across all tools as we migrate towards our new credit-based membership system. With this change we also have again increased the monthly credit allocation for Pro members – now at 2,100 credits. This will take effect from tomorrow.

There is a subtle change to Directory submission with this update. Because we have converted ALL sites to the new credit system, we have changed the wording on the submission form to read “Choose sites to submit to”, instead of “Choose additional sites to submit to” and if you do not choose any, you’ll see an error message stating that you need to choose at least 1 site.

Right now, this only affects Directory submission but as we move towards the full credit system this change will be migrated to all the other tools.

Most of the new sites we added today are PR4. There are still lots more we can add but we’re going to come back to them later as we want to get started with our work on revamping the job re-submission system which I shall blog about separately once the first changes have been made.

Server Issues Again – Site Running Slowly

We are experiencing some very strange server issues today. Our email server is down and the site appears to working only intermittently. My support people have been telling me that nothing is wrong but I was very briefly able to get into my email (before it timed out again) and saw a bunch of emails from members experiencing the same problem.

I can only apologise in this situation – unfortunately it is out of my hands as it is a server issue and the server support guys need to fix it. I have escalated the problem and now issued a formal complaint as they are taking far too long and we’ve been experiencing lots of server issues lately which is unacceptable.

On the plus side, the submission engine seems unaffected and is ticking along fine in the background.

As I am unable to access my email at the moment, if you need to speak to me please use the Facebook page where I will post updates on the situation.

Free Members – Login to Prevent Your Data From Being Purged

In our newsletter / blog post from yesterday I talked about starting a purge of old inactive accounts. I’m adding an extra rule – any account that has been logged into within the last 30 days will NOT be purged. You can login to your account even if you no longer have a paid subscription. You won’t be able to access your jobs but it will record the login time and prevent your data from being purged. So if you’re currently a free member and think you may re-join later, login every 30 days to protect your data. Purges are starting this week.

Big Announcement: A New Membership System Coming!

This is a long post, but please read it as it details some very important changes coming to IMAutomator in the coming months and how we arrived at this decision.

How Our Submission Engine Works

IMAutomator never has and never can achieve a 100% success rates across all sites – though there are some sites that do. The way our system works is that when you submit a job, all of the individual submissions are scheduled for a date & time and put in a queue. This queue for all jobs & members is very large.

We then have a submission engine that runs all the time checking the queue to see if there are any jobs ready to submit. It processes a large number of jobs in parallel so at any one time there are a large number of submissions going on to a large number of sites. Because of the volume of submissions that we make, and to avoid patterns we use proxies for submission.

How Proxies Affect Our System

A proxy is like an extra step between our server and the target server and each proxy has a unique IP address. If we didn’t use proxies then all submissions would come directly from our server using our server IP address and with the volume of submissions made, the target servers might think “hmm, that’s an awful lot of submissions from one IP address – we’re going to block that”, and indeed that is what we did in the very early days of IMAutomator.

So over the years we have improved the submission process and refined it. We have a large pool of proxies, these are rotated across all submissions to spread the load and we swap out the proxies for new ones on a regular basis. We also try new proxy providers now and then to see if they perform better.

Proxies Are Unreliable

See, the problem with going through a proxy server is that it is much slower than a direct connection and this causes errors. The most common problem is a timeout – the target server simply does not respond in time, and the submission is aborted. Timeouts are needed otherwise the whole system would hang. Sometimes the proxy gets refused altogether so in general, proxies are a necessary evil that we have to use to provide the service.

But what we have found is that performance is not linear – it goes up and down in waves. Some weeks we’ll have 95% success rates across the board and then a few weeks later with no changes at all – a whole bunch of sites might drop to say 70% and then it goes up again. Whilst there are specific measures that we can put in place to improve things – such as increasingly the number of times a submission is re-tried before it is finally deemed a failure, there are external factors outside of our control that affect success rates.

Ensuring Members Only Pay For Successful Submissions

Up until recently, before we implemented the Submission Credit functionality, these failures in submissions translated directly to a failure of IMAutomator to provide the service being paid for because once a submission failed, it could not be re-tried. Plus, the way we charged a simple blanket monthly fee and then advertised a certain number of sites to which you could submit – if only 80% of those submissions succeeded, you were only getting 80% of the service you paid for as an example.

Whilst we’re always going to be working on improving success rates, we know that we’ll never achieve 100% and so we are now leaning more on Submission Credits as a way of providing our customers with a service where they only pay for a service that works. When you select credit sites in your submission, the credit amount is taken from your balance but as the submissions are processed, any failed jobs are refunded their credit amount so you only ever pay for successful submissions.

Whilst it is still annoying to have failed submissions, it is preferable to at least know that you only pay for the ones that succeed. When we first introduced the Submission Credits it was through necessity – almost all new sites we find now have a CAPTCHA on the submission form that we have to pay to have solved so we want to control the volume of submissions made to these sites. The sheer volume of submissions made to our regular sites prohibits the use of a CAPTCHA solving service as the expense is simply too much to absorb.

A Brand New Membership System!

However, over the last few months we’ve started to see a better way of offering our service. Our long term plan has changed. Before, we had planned to launch several releases of the software – each with new tools and new sites for the tools and each with a higher price tag. We are currently on Release 2.

Whilst we still plan to build new tools and of course add sites for those tools, we will no longer be adding sites in the old way that get submitted to automatically when you submit a job. Instead, ALL new sites are going to be made into credit sites and as a result, we will be increasing the number of credits allocated each month. We will NOT be increasing the current price but instead be offering lots more options.

We are gradually going to shift towards a complete credit-based system and when we do this we will also re-launch our membership system with multiple tiers of membership with varying monthly fees. The way it will work is that we will still have a monthly fee but when this new system is in place that fee will buy you a monthly credit allowance. We’ll have 5 or 6 different levels (we’re still working out the finer details) and the larger packages will allow you to buy credits more cheaply.

Also, we’ll be completely doing away with the restriction on what tools you can use. Our membership will start at $5 per month and even at that level you can use any of the tools. Want to do mainly bookmarking but submit your RSS feed and maybe an article here and there? That’s fine – you can spend your credits however you wish. Want to do just article marketing and ignore the other tools entirely? That’s fine too. We feel this will provide so much more flexibility for our customers – you choose how much you want to spend each month, exactly what tools you want to use, you choose the sites you want to submit to, and you only ever pay for a successful submission.

We’ll also allow you to buy credit packages in addition to your monthly fee so for example if you are on the $5 a month plan but want to do a few extra submissions without increasing your monthly fee, you’ll be able to just buy a one-off credit package.

We expect all this to be a little way off yet but we are definitely aiming for this year (2013). Our past track record for estimating delivery times has not been great but this has now become our sole focus for the time being and we’re confident. There are some steps we need to take along the way. For example, we need to extend the credit site system to work on all tools. More importantly we are going to do away with the somewhat inflexible and cumbersome Secondary Submissions tool and instead design a whole new way of re-submitting failed jobs. This will be available to all members – not just the current Pro members. This particular change is quite large (well, very large) and will probably take a while.

Lastly, we want to get many more sites in the system – particularly for bookmarks. We’re heading towards 50 now which is good.

Another step along the way is to encourage members to use their credits. We’ve noticed that some members have a ton of credits but they just submit using the default options which will only submit to the non-credit sites. Today, we’ve had to remove a couple more sites that had stopped working and as a result we are now down to just 19 non-credit bookmarking sites. If you do not use your credits you are missing out on a whole lot of backlinks and some very high PR ones I might add!

Monthly Submission Credits Increased to 2,000!

Also as of today, as the number of non-credit sites has dipped below 20, we’re increasing our credit allocation again – from today, Pro members will now receive 2000 credits per month! Light members are not affected as they only get 15 submissions per job. This will take effect from your next payment – credits are allocated within 24 hours of the payment being made.

Once again I re-iterate – USE YOUR CREDITS! 🙂

Open Membership & The Affiliate System

Until recently, we have had a limit on the number of Pro memberships that were available. When we first launched Release #1 that was priced at $24.95 and we allowed only 100 members as we knew we’d increase the price later and didn’t want to saturate ourselves at the lower price whilst we were still developing the software.

On Release #2 we did the same thing with the intention of having at least 2 further releases which each one being higher priced than before. Over the last few months we’ve been thinking about moving to this credit system and having a whole bunch of different membership options. When we do that it will make no sense to restrict memberships because we won’t be offering higher priced membership fees in the future – instead your fee will purchase credits and you get to choose how many you want to buy.

As such, our membership is now unrestricted – it has been for a while actually and we have no plans to restrict it in the future with the exception of the Light membership which we closed to new members a couple of months ago.

This also impacts our affiliate program. We had planned to wait until we were on the final release at the highest price point to release our affiliate system because we couldn’t offer an affiliate system when there were no memberships available! With an open membership this issue goes away.

First we want to implement these new changes and once we’ve done that and ironed out any kinks, we will launch our affiliate system which will offer a 50% commission rate. You can sign up for our mailing list for when this opens here:

http://www.imautomator.com/affiliates

High Server Errors on Some Sites

Over the past few weeks since implementing the credit system, we have added a lot of new sites but many of them remain on trial as the number of server errors is too high. Sometimes there are some sites that simply don’t perform well enough but in this case there were enough sites affected to make us investigate the problem further. We’ve been posting a few short updates on our Facebook page but for those who don’t use that, here’s a recap of our findings so far:

First of all over the Easter weekend the problem got noticeably worse – we found there was an issue with the external system that we use to solve the captchas. As almost all of our credit sites have captchas, they all stopped working. Unfortunately the problem was not resolved for a few days as we were not working over the Easter break.

Fixing this was an improvement but the problem remained. We continued to investigate and a few days later we found that there had been a subtle change to the Pligg template. Pligg is a system that many bookmarking sites use and many of our sites are Pligg sites so this affected many of them. What was strange was that the problem was not an all or nothing change – it simply made failure rates worse. Usually, if a site changes its template (such as Tagza right now), the submissions immediately stop working until we are able to engineer our code to match the new site template.

However we went through all of our Pligg sites, and checked if any of them required changes which many did and this began to improve success rates some more but still not enough.

At this point we realised that there was an underlying issue in the submission engine which affected a large number of sites but not all of them. This does not make it easy to track down the problem – usually a global issue affects all sites and not just a subset! What we have discovered now is that if there is a site which is slow, the poor performance seems to be exacerbated by running submissions through our engine. This is due to the fact that we run huge numbers of submissions simultaneously and also because we use proxies.

So the sites that are always fast go through very quickly and remain problem-free but those that are slow, run even slower through our engine and as a result do not perform as well as we would like. We know we can never achieve 100% success rate (though there are a few sites that do!), but we aim for 90% overall.

So now we’re looking at engine performance. We made a tweak last night which has helped but it is not scalable which means that if we suddenly doubled the number of submissions we performed, this tweak would not continue to provide the benefit that it is now. We have a number of other strategies that we plan to explore over the coming weeks. Each one has to be tested in isolation and over a period of days and of course has to be easily revertible if it causes problems.

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