WordPress for Beginners: SEO

06.09.2015   .   Leave a Comment

WordPress is an excellent choice for those needing alittle more customization and flexibility than a template provider doesn’t offer, as well as its inherent SEO benefits.

As you may know, a website isn’t useful unless it’s introduced to your target audience and found in search engines. When it comes to meeting business objectives, targeted search engine traffic is some of the most valuable that you can get. Fortunately, there’s no fairy dust or magic when it comes to search engine optimization, a term that refers to the strategies and techniques that are used to improve your site’s ranking on Google, and its influence on ranking factors. If you want to get seen by your intended audience, high quality content that’s convenient to read and share is the central component to high SEO rankings.

wordpress seo

In the interest of this article, I won’t go too far into creating useful content but I will delve into how to get your website’s fundamentals in place to aide in being found. Here are some tips below…

Choose the right domain name

I touched upon choosing a name for your business recently, and stress not ignoring branding concerns when it comes to choosing the right domain name. If you can fit a keyword in there, then great! But don’t let it be the central focus to your brand – Google doesn’t give the keywords in domains quite as much credit as before.

Still, there are some reasons a keyword-rich domain name might be useful (and helpful for branding: they are easy to spell, easy to remember, and easy to pronounce.

At the end of the day, none of this really matters unless the website behind the domain provides useful content. Keyword rich domains can rank high, but it is usually because of the helpful content behind the name!

*Note: I registered my domain with Bluehost, which I recommend for their affordability and great tech phone support.

Ensure indexability

A huge component of SEO is actually being indexed by search engines.

You’d think this would be relatively simple, but this could be a stumbling point if you don’t know your way around WordPress.

WordPress has an option to block search engines from indexing your site while it’s still in development mode. This is so incomplete pages do not get indexed and associated with the domain. However, if you forgot to unblock the search engines after launch, your website won’t be indexed.

wordpress seo

Settings – > Reading -> Make sure the ‘Discourage search engines from indexing this site’ box is de-selected.

Now that you have that out of the way, you can actually check to make sure Google is indeed indexing every page on your site. First, sign in to Google Webmaster Tools - which monitors your site’s performance in Google searches:

Webmaster Tools is a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor and maintain your site’s presence in Google Search results. You don’t have to sign up for Webmaster Tools for your site to be included in Google’s search results, but doing so can help you understand how Google views your site and optimize its performance in search results.”

If you have a Google account, you already have a Google Webmaster Tools account. Simply visit this link  and verify your website.

Permalinks and URLs

The default option in WordPress’ permalink structure offers no SEO value so you’ll want to change it. Simply navigate to the “Permalinks” link under Settings in your dashboard and choose “Post Name.” wordpress seo
Having post-relevant keywords in the url will ensure you’re organically building an SEO-friendly site, which is what we’re after!

Titles and descriptions

The title tag describes your pages content and are arguably one of the most important on-page seo elements alongside page content (source). They’ll appear in browsers, search engine results pages, and external websites. Getting relevant keywords into your titles is important for SEO-friendliness.

Descriptions are also important in eliciting action from users once they see your result pop up. When crafting copy be sure to include a few keywords, as these are what users will be looking for before clicking onto a site. A combination of a relevant title and description that inspires your audience to click is key no matter how you rank in search engines.

Sitemap

A well-structured XML sitemap ensures your pages are indexed properly. WordPress offers a host of plugins that will do this for you, updating automatically whenever you publish a new post. The one I currently use and have had success with is Google XML Sitemaps.

After you install this plugin and enable it, you can access it from your WordPress Admin > Settings > XML-Sitemap.

Add Your Sitemap in Google Webmaster Tools

Again, providing Google with your sitemap allows the search engine to better navigate, index, and crawl your site.

wordpress sitemap pluginsFrom the main screen click on your domain to access the Site Dashboard. In the left-hand panel, click Crawl > Sitemaps. On the right-hand side of the screen click the red Add/Test Sitemap button. Now that you’ve setup the XML Sitemap plugin earlier, simply type in sitemap.xml to the box that appears (see above example).

H1 tags

The h1 heading tag is the most important heading so make sure every post title is wrapped in an <h1> tag. This alerts search engines of its importance on the page. All subsequent headings should then be in <h2> and <h3> tags.

Once WordPress themes that are properly coded, the H1 tag will be tied to the title of the post. This means that automatically, when a blog post is published, the H1 tag will be the title of the article.

This means that you should NEVER be using the tag called “Heading 1″ when editing a post in WordPress, since this would create a second H1 tag. You should immediately begin with the H2 tag.

Enable and encourage discussion

Comments have SEO value so you’ll want to encourage them as well. The reason being is the comments will center around the post, adding additional keyword frequency. The flow of comments will keep the page appearing fresh to search engines. It’s common people will share something they felt compelled to comment on as well, and social proof is great in that search engines can read content and links from social media platforms as well.

Here’s a very simple way to enable discussion in WordPress:

wordpress seo
Settings -> Discussion -> Check ‘Comment author must fill out name and e-mail.’

 

Clean Code

It goes without saying but a clean and crawlable website is essential in making sure you aren’t throwing the search engine bots for a loop (which happens often). Proper code isn’t a huge factor in search engine rankings, however it is important in order to improve page downloading speed and ensure your site is flawless across all mobile devices.

Site speed, security, and uptime

Speed is important – people are impatient! They’re browsing from their mobile phones now more than ever these days. According to Google, “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.”

Fortunately, WordPress beats out alot of other template provider sites whose out-of-the-box options are SEO-optimized but at the cost of slow loading times on mobile devices. And unless you’re a developer there’s little you can do about it.

Check your site against Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool.

Mobile Friendliness Now a Google Ranking Signal

How to check your site speed:

To take a look at how your website’s speed is currently shaping up, visit Google’s Pagespeed Insights and enter your url into the input field. You’ll see what, if any, improvements can be made to your site to enhance both the desktop and mobile browsing experience.

Things you can do today to improve speed:
Remove inactive plugins, keep your wordpress version up-to-date, host video externally, etc. Your designer or developer will often know what’s best here!

Make sure your hosting is solid on both the performance and security side to ensure that these ranking factors come out in your favor. Bluehost is one the oldest hosting companies and is a WordPress recommended provider which I would recommend highly. They also have their useful ‘One-click WordPress install’ that saves you heaps of time in starting up a blog. I’ve covered this in my How to Setup a Professional Blog post if you’re interested in learning more.

 

I’d recommend exploring on your own to familiarize yourself with the tools mentioned in this post. Webmaster Tools Academy will give you an in-depth overview of Google Webmaster Tools beyond what I’ve mentioned here.

 

By taking each one of these factors into consideration you’re providing the best possible means for targeted visitors to find your content and continue to come back. Remember at the end of the day the visitor is interested in your content – so your website optimization efforts should focus foremost on why they are interested and develop ways to attract new visitors. Think of unique and creative ways to reach them when creating your blog content. If your audience finds it useful, then overtime your SEO will naturally boost due to this increase in traffic.

 


What improvements have you made to your website that have improved its SEO?

 

5 Deliverables for Launching a New Website

05.12.2015   .   Leave a Comment

Today’s post falls under the ‘Client Advocacy’ side of things. I think it’s helpful for those that aren’t as familiar with the web design and development process to understand the nuts and bolts of what it is we do or for those on the fence to get alittle reassurance. This post is personally tailored to how I help clients through the website creation process, however, I think it can be utilized by anyone regardless of who they hire to design their web site.

I’ve been working on the visual side of the web for several years as well as overseeing development and am preemptive in solving problems before they become an issue down the road. For a small business owner in need of a comprehensive branding solution or standalone custom website that knows what they want or has a vision but needs help putting it all together, here are some deliverables to keep in mind when sourcing designers and developers:

 

1. Preliminary Site Architecture

This begins after all information, inspiration, and content is obtained from the client. When a client sends me the content for their site I begin mapping out how it should all come together in a way that makes logical sense for the visitor to navigate. An unconventional navigation style, generic labels, too many items in your navigation, or the wrong order are factors that negatively affect the visitors first impression, which may hinder conversions and the user-friendliness of your site.

Having the hierarchy determined and sitemap developed and squared away from the start makes building a website from the ground up a more streamlined process. It also ensures no holes or sections are discovered later on in the development process, causing more work and time investment.

With that step nailed down, it’s onto the design phase!

2. Website Design Mock Ups

Next I open up Photoshop and get to work bringing your website to life! Colors, fonts, images, and textures all are carefully and deliberately chosen with your branding in mind. Many times it’s distilling the design down to a common thread in the client’s inspiration supplied.  Each site is made unique to the business owner’s goals as well as aesthetic preferences.If the client already has a logo, I can work around that as well. I create the homepage and interior page before getting feedback from the client. With two rounds of revisions coming standard with web design packages, changes to the selected design usually consist of things like scale, balance, font or color. Changes to the visual design of the site are not made by happenstance but also take into account important things like file size: if a client really likes a font combination that I don’t think will work well together I’ll suggest alternate option that will improve the load time of their site.As a designer and art director I focus on the look and feel and overall mechanics of your site. All of my .psd files are web-optimized as much as possible and take into account image size for loading times and mobile-compatibility in reaching that balanced mix of form and function.Once the client approves and is satisfied I bundle and send all files to my developer to begin the coding process. This layout stage is necessary for all custom websites and should always be sought by the client. Unfortunately, some clients come to me with websites published before they even had a chance to view a layout mockup.


3. HTML/CSS Template creation

The individual graphic elements from the mockup are then taken and converted into an HTML/CSS template. Depending on the size of your site this process can be labor-intensive, so at this time no changes are made to the layout, font styles, image styles, and JavaScript code. All the interactive elements like links, roll-overs, and text are coded and integrated.

On the technical side, a successful web site requires an understanding of front-end web development. This involves writing valid HTML / CSS code that complies to current web standards, maximizing functionality, as well as accessibility are all taken into consideration.


 4. Content Management System and Content integration

At this point the site is integrated into the Content Management System which allows you, the business owner, to easily update content without having to know HTML or other languages foreign to you. Add events to your events calendar, publish blog posts, or sell products seamlessly using a CMS such as WordPress.

At this stage the client is send a live preview of their site on our server to review and provide any feedback. This is so they not only see how the design translates to desktop, but also how it adapts to mobile devices like iPhones and iPads. At this point all functionality errors are checked for and addressed along with final browser testing before it’s time to launch.

All websites should come with standard on-site SEO completed. This includes page specific meta descriptions and titles, image and alt tag optimization, permalinks, etc. The previously mentioned code validation also plays an important role in SEO as well.


freelance website design

5. Site launch

The last and most anticipated deliverable is launching your new space. Final payment is usually requested before turning the site over to the client. In this step hosting is selected if it hasn’t already, software is installed, email is setup, files are uploaded and much more!

From this point you can go anywhere in terms of adding additional content to suit your businesses needs: landing pages, e-commerce shops, forums, etc that all retain the same branding and template for a cohesive browsing experience. Once you have the basic template set you’re good to go!

I should also note many web designers offer website care packages at a discounted rate as they’re happy to continue working with you as you expand and grow your site. In the event you’re comfortable and feeling adventurous handling things on your own once the website process is complete, I’ve put together a brief post on How to Maintain Your WordPress Website.


There you have it! A simple guidepost in which to use in going forward with your website project. Having a website that is visually pleasing, functionally robust, and backed by proven on-site SEO methodology and best practices isn’t a small feat but with the right ally you’ll find the website creation process more streamlined in moving forward with your small business!

Traffic Sources That Are Corrupting Your Google Analytics Data

05.05.2015   .   Leave a Comment

If you’ve checked your Google Analytics referral report recently you may have glanced over a link you thought looked harmless but is part of a dangerous problem more commonly known as referral spam.

Seeing referral spam on my own Google Analytics report grinds my gears so I thought I’d share a quick and simple tutorial for those who want to get rid of the junk and have a fresh report to look at each time you login.

 

What is Referral Spam?

Referral spam is the practice of sending fake referral traffic from spam bots. They are created in your Google Analytics account to trick you into visiting spammy websites. In many cases it appears to be a legit website giving your site a few hundred sessions a month but is really only clouding the accuracy of your data reports. You might think any traffic is good traffic but…

Why Should I Block and Filter These Sites?

If referral spam lingers for too long it will begin to make marketing analysis a frustrating endeavor as it gives you a false impression of the quality of your traffic. Add to the fact that these visits are using precious space on your server which will result in slower load times, which means higher bounce rates and lower rankings.

More importantly, referral spam can be used to harm reputations:

“A referrer is a simple HTTP header that’s passed along when a browser goes from one page to another page, normally used to indicate where a user’s coming from. But users can change it, and some people will set referrer at pages they want to promote and visit tons of people around the web — people see it and say ‘Oh, I should check it out’. It’s not necessarily a link… there are some people who try to drive traffic by visiting a ton of websites with an automated script and setting the referrer to be the URL they want to promote… there’s no ‘authentication’… You can’t automatically assume that it was the owner of the URL if you see something showing up in your dashboard. Somebody is trying to do some hijinx.”- Matt Cutts, Head of Google Webspam Team

 

List of Offending Sites

You’ll find these under Acquisition -> Source/Medium

  • darodar.com
  • econom.co
  • ilovevitaly.co
  • semalt.com
  • hulfingtonpost.com
  • bestwebsitesawards.com
  • best-seo-solution.com
  • googlsucks.com
  • buttons-for-website.com
  • free-share-buttons.com
  • see-your-website-here.com
  • best-seo-offer.com
  • Get-Free-Traffic-Now.com
  • search-error.com

This isn’t a complete list and if you’re in doubt about whether a site is legit, a session duration of 0:00 seconds is classified as referral spam.

Block Referral Spam With Google Filters

Google filters is one of the easiest ways to block referral spam. Choose ‘Admin’ at the top of the analytics interface and ‘All Filters’ from the left hand column of options.

exclude referral spam

Choose a Filter Name -> Choose ‘Custom’ for Filter Type -> Filter Field ‘Campaign Source’
In the filter pattern field you can enter multiple domain in regex form (up to 255 characters).

Regex form example : buttons-for-your-website\.com|guardlink\.org|anticrawler\.org|

filter referral spam

Add All Available Views and Save


Note: Don’t visit any suspicious looking website in your ‘Referrals’ reports
without adequate protection (anti virus/anti malware programs installed on your machine).

That’s it!

How To Manage Your WordPress Website

04.24.2015   .   Leave a Comment

As a small business owner I’ll be the first to say that managing the back-end of your site is one of the less exciting parts of running an online business and can easily be overlooked if you’re not on top of things. Once your site is pushed out live for thousands of viewers to read you’ll want to ensure everything is in working order though so that more people see your content and stick around longer.

Many web developers that work with WordPress have maintenance plans and will take care of updates for you. If you’re a solopreneur and are building your own website I’ve provided a checklist below to ensure your website is performing smoothly.

 

Managing Your Site Content

Sidebar: Ideally you should keep plugins down to the bare minimum to enhance the speed of your site. Plugins, as you know, are a major culprit for loading times and as tempting as it is to add that cool new widget I often find they soon or later lose their initial appeal as often as tastes change.

I recently took a look at one of my own sites’ sidebar to see why things were lagging behind alittle bit and decided that snapwidget wasn’t a high priority item anymore as keeping visitors eyes on the site content was. You should run your site through Pagespeed in Google Developer tools to see what, if any, improvements they suggest.

 

Compressing Blog Images:

how to manage your wordpress website

Those beautiful images we create for our blog help us stand out but can over time slowly eat at our load and run time. Graphic designers are taught to save at the lowest file without loss in quality which I’d recommend as a good rule of thumb! You can see in the above screenshot how I use the Save for Web feature in Photoshop to optimize the quality of images – saving as JPG rather than a PNG which oftentimes results in a much smaller file size.

As you adjust these settings you’ll want to keep an eye on your image preview. Just as important as the way the image looks is the information directly under the preview pertaining to the image size and approximate load time. Again weigh the visual trade-offs between graphic file size and crispness.

Check for Broken Links: If you’ve been in business for awhile chances are there will be broken links somewhere along the line. It’s nothing to fret over but I’d suggest you use a plugin such as Broken Link Checker so you’ll automatically be notified of any broken links as they arise. Simply login to your wordpress site and fix those links and you’re good to go!

Be Careful About What Comments You Approve: If the comments coming into your site seem suspicious you’re better off marking them as spam. The spam filter Akismet (which comes with most WordPress sites as a plugin) does a better job for you if you mark spam comments as such. You should also regularly clean out your spam folder by going to Comments in the WP Admin menu and clicking on Spam, then the Empty Spam button.

Don’t Hoard Unused Themes or Plugins: That cool new plugin a fellow designer or developer suggested? Great idea at the time but may never be used to its full potential. Those themes or plugins you thought you’d use but are in all probability lying dormant should be deleted to free up more space.


 

Keeping It Secure

Best Security Plugins for WordPress: WordPress is the most used CMS out there (yay!) but with that popularity comes the chance it could come under attack by hackers (oh no!). Taking the steps to ensure your website is secure is essential in preserving your rankings and reputation. Wordfence Security is one of the top security plugins on WordPress, with over 700,000+ active downloads and a star rating of 4.9 out of 5. It’s available for download for free but there is also a premium version for those looking to get the most out of the plugin. iThemes Security, which happens to be very user-friendly, is also a great choice with over 600,000 active downloads and a star rating of 4.7 out of 5. It comes with clear instructions making it easy to set up and offers high levels of protection. The plugin also includes malware scanning, allowing you to detect and resolve issues before they affect your site and readers.

Backup Your WordPress Website: Trust me –  if something goes amiss such as your site getting hacked or a file is deleted by accident, you’ll breathe easier knowing you have a backup! Many shared hosting providers won’t store regular backups so doing so through a third party service isn’t a bad option. A great plugin is WordPress Backup to Dropbox, currently at 999,759 downloads, which will automatically backup your files to your Dropbox account based on whichever frequency you’ve set. If you’re looking for a robust option than BackupBuddy has some amazing features at a small cost for your security.

Change Your Password Every Few Months: Around 8% of hacked WordPress websites are down to weak passwords – something stronger than ‘abc123′ will keep your goods safe longer. Include upper and lower case letters in addition to numbers and other characters like punctuation marks. You can also look into a password recipe if you’re fresh out of ideas.

Managing Multiple WordPress Websites: As a creative entrepreneur you might find yourself running more than one WordPress site at a given time. Updating each website to the latest version of WordPress as well as managing the day to day functions of your site can be time consuming. In comes a number of really handy WordPress management services that take the hassle out of logging in and out of each website by corralling all websites under one management solution online. ManageWp is one of the more popular paid options and includes key features such as one-click updates, backup & migration which streamline the entire process. Prettty handy!

 

WordPress is a great platform to share your passions – whether you’re serious about blogging for your creative interests or getting your business off the ground running you can count on the robust CMS to act as the backbone of all kinds of different websites. The support is also second-to-none. Think of the above as a simple checklist for non-techy types to refer periodically to ensure things are running smoothly on the back-end so that you can focus on what it is you do best.

By now you’re familiar with the capabilities this robust CMS offers, from Getting Started and Branding/General Settings to SEO and Studiopress Theme Selection but what happens when you have digital products you really want to launch into the world? In the next couple weeks I’ll discuss one popular option and how to streamline the creation process. Stay tuned!


 

Have you encountered any maintenance issues using WordPress that I didn’t mention?