WorPress SEO

WordPress SEO – Day 4: 5 Point Health Inspection…

Well, we’re finally to Day 4 of our series. We lost some momentum (read all about it here,) but we’re back in the saddle and ready to help you turn your site into a traffic machine.

Today, there’s no video – just some links and some ideas that can help you make sure your site is really ready to rumble, from a search engine standpoint.

Making sure your site is healthy is super-important when it comes to a good showing with Google (and Bing and Yahoo, to a lesser extent.) If you’re infected, slow, outdated or out-of-bounds from a standards standpoint, you’ll be facing a serious uphill climb to good rankings.

So, without any beating about the bush:

5-point Health Check for Your WordPress Site:

  1. Scan Your WordPress Site with SucuriMake Sure You’re Not Infected. Head to Sucuri’s Scanner and run your site. This is a reasonably low-level scan, but it can tell you if there’s anything funky going on. If you see any errors – get them fixed. Sometimes, this is a pretty simple process, sometimes it’s far deeper. But this is the first place to check. Now, they’re going to try to sell you a firewall for your site – but we’ve found this to be somewhat unnecessary. It’s up to you if you want to pay for their services – but with judicious tinkering on your site and a little legwork, you can do what they do – for free.
  2. Make Sure You’re Fast. Google LOVES a fast site. If your site is slow to load, it’s going to be harder to reach high ranks. To test your site speed, head to Pingdom’s site by clicking here and checking out your site’s load speed. You want to see that your site is AT LEAST faster than 50% of the sites tested. If it’s slow, find out why. We’ve found that the vast majority of slow sites suffer from images that are unnecessarily large, software that is out-of-date, or just a straight-up poorly built theme. Make sure you’re using a caching plugin (we use and recommend W3’s Total Cache,) make sure your images are sized appropriately and that you don’t have any plugins that need to be updated. Also, look at your Pingdom results and see if you have any slow-loading scripts on your site. We’ve noticed that a lot of social media plugins are slow – especially if they query Facebook. Slim down, speed up.
  3. Make Sure You’re Valid. At least to an extent. You don’t have to go crazy here – but if you have a lot of errors, they can bog your site down in the rankings. Head to W3C’s validator and run your site. If you’re seeing a bunch of errors, you need to fix them or have them fixed. Coding errors or outdated methods of coding can make your site less than favorable with Big G – and anything you can do to make Google happy will help you in the long run. Making sure your site, plugins and theme are all updated is important here. Update! Then, if you still have errors, fix them (or have us fix them for you.) Not ALL errors have to be eliminated – but if there are big warnings, it’s time to get fixed.
  4. Make Sure You’re Not in a Bad Neighborhood. Being on a crappy server isn’t a good thing. Having crappy backlinks (as we’ve discussed) is a bad thing. Check them both by clicking here. If you’re on a shared server, consider having a dedicated IP address so that you’re not getting bogged down by weird sites, porn or gambling sites. It’s not the biggest factor Google looks for, but it IS a factor. Check your neighborhood, make sure you’re in a good subdivision and that you’re not getting lumped in with a bunch of web garbage. Go with a reputable host and talk to them to make sure you’re on a node with good, clean sites. If you need to move servers, we can suggest a few that have excellent service and that don’t put up with a bunch of bullshit on their servers.
  5. Google Mobile-Friendly TestMake Sure You’re Mobile. Mobile-responsive sites are all the rage these days – and for good reason. 33%+ of all internet users use mobile devices (solely) to view the web. Google has taken notice, and they will penalize your site (especially on mobile searches) if your site doesn’t pass their mobile test. Click here, enter your domain and check it out. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, it’s not time to panic – but it IS something you want to address as soon as possible. It might mean a just little bit of tinkering, but it might require a full rebuild of your site. We can help with either path – but you really, really, really want to be responsive and mobile-friendly. Mobile web surfing is just getting more and more prevalent – you don’t want to be left behind.

So, there’s a reasonably simple (and basic) health check-up for your site. Making sure you’re clean, valid, fast, mobile and in a good neighborhood will help you reach better rankings with Google. This is just a small portion of the stuff you need to do to rank your WordPress site – but it’s horribly important. If your site is in poor health, all the good SEO in the world will only go so far. If you’re clean, you’re in much better shape to dominate. And, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Get healthy, get ranked.

Up Next: Titles, Descriptions and Keywords.

WorPress SEO

WordPress SEO – Day 3: Backlinks are Great (and Suck)

SO – your site is set up with Yoast, you’re checked in with Google Webmaster Tools, your permalinks are set and your site is visible. Excellent! You’re on your way to good SEO. But, you could also have some problems you’re not aware of. Bad backlinks can a real problem – and if they’re bad enough, they can get your site killed on Google. Not good.

What are backlinks? Backlinks are links from sites that point back to your site. If they’re legit links from reputable sites, they’re good. If they’re a bunch of garbage links on questionable sites that have nothing to do with what your site is about, you might have troubles – and those troubles can doom your website.

How do you get bad backlinks? Some search engine optimizers purchase backlink packages from exceptionally questionable services. Sure, you might get 10,000 backlinks to your site, but those links are from a bunch of weird websites in Prague or Chile. They’re usually just link “farms,” and their value is, at best, super-low. At worse, they’re enough to get you penalized, sandboxed, or de-listed. This is the problem with paying for SEO that you can’t see or that you can’t quantify. Buying backlinks might get you a major boost in your search engine rankings – but they could also blow up in your face.

What makes a bad backlink?

  • Questionable Sites: If your business is in Asheville, why would you have a backlink from a site in Russia? If you’re a florist, do you want your link being posted on a vaguely pornographic anime site in Singapore? If you’ve got a lot of links from weird sites, you need to do something about it.
  • Too Much, Too Fast: If you go from 10 backlinks to 15,000 in a couple of months, Google is going to notice. Building quality backlinks is a long-term process. There is no get-rich-quick scheme here. Slow and steady wins the race. Come out like a jackrabbit, and you’re probably not going to finish the race.
  • Repeated Anchor Text: If your backlinks are all coming from text that says something like “Asheville’s Most Beautiful Floral Arrangements for Mother’s Day,” but those links are coming from hundreds of different websites, Google will see that as suspicious. A natural linking pattern will have greatly varied anchor text.
  • Too Many of the Same Types of Links: If all your incoming links are coming from the same type of link (text links, in-content links, image links, etc.,) you’re in a danger zone. You need a variety of contexts for your links – but if all the links look the same, Google will scrutinize ALL your backlinks. You don’t want that.

Now – how do you tell if you’ve got bad backlinks? Webmaster Tools can help. Here’s how:

  1. Sign in to your Webmaster Tools account (you created one on Day 1, right?
  2. Click on your domain name.
  3. Click on “Search Traffic” and then “Links to Your Site.”
  4. In the first column, “Who Links the Most” (in the middle of the page,) click on “More>>”
  5. View your backlinks, and make a note of anything you don’t recognize or that looks fishy.

What do you do if you find anything fishy? First, check to see if it’s actually spammy. It could be that you’ve just been picked up by a directory. Check the links. Next, contact the owner of the site and ask them to take your link down. You can look up the contact info for any site at There, you can type in the domain name that has the offending link and find emails and phone numbers. This can be difficult if you have a large number of spammy links, and the success rate is pretty low. We’ve found that this works about 2% of the time. These spammy backlink sites are largely automated, and sending an email to the webmaster usually goes unnoticed and unanswered. But – that’s the first thing to try.

If contacting and asking the bums nicely doesn’t work, you can always go nuclear. Google has created a “Disavow” tool, that will tell Google you don’t approve of those links, and that you disavow any relationship with them. Click here to go and check it out. They’re pretty particular about how you format the request, and they prefer that you try to manually remove stuff – but this can be a good last-ditch device to get rid of your spammy backlinks.

Now, if you go in and you don’t have backlinks – that’s a very different story. If you need links, we can help. If you want to find some yourself, go for it – reputable online directories, social media, other blogs and websites are good places to start. Again, though – it’s quality over quantity. And, context makes a difference – especially for local search. We’ll go over some strategies on a later day – and we’ll give you some links to help you get started on the road to sweet rankings!

Up Next: A Five Point WordPress Site Health Inspection.

WorPress SEO

WordPress SEO – Day 2: 2 Easy Settings That Make It 2 Hard

Today is a a real quick one. You’ve got a WordPress site, and you want it to rank high? Don’t miss these 2 (seemingly) simple things that can have MASSIVE effects on your SEO.

Discourage Search Engines WordPress

Click to Get a Bigger View

The first is usually a problem only if you’ve been building your site on a staging server or subdomain, and you’ve told Google to lay off while you’re under construction. We’ve seen this happen a lot with other WordPress developers – they build a site in a separate area, and they simply forget to turn this one little doohickey off (or ON, in a way…)

It’s the “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” setting in Settings>Reading. This box MUST be checked off, or Google WILL ignore your site. It says “It’s up to search engines to honor this request.” They honor that request. Always. And, to make it worse, if Google sees this enough times, they might just ignore you forever. So – good people – please make sure that you do NOT see that box with a tick or an x or a check in it. If it’s already empty, you’re in good shape – but make sure it’s empty.

Best WordPress Permalinks Settings

Click to Get a Bigger View

The second is another problem that can drastically harm your search engine rankings: Permalinks being set up incorrectly. By default, WordPress has your permalinks set to be the number of the page – and this creates a big problem. Google sees your URLS as, but for optimal search engine optimization, you want them to read as Google actually picks up cues as to what your site is about from the TITLE of the pages in your site. If Google shows up and all your pages are just numbers and question marks, all the good SEO in the world ain’t gonna amount to a hill of beans. Get your permalinks sorted!

To change your WordPress Permalinks, go to Settings>Reading, and click on the “Post Name” option. This will instantly re-write the page names with the title of the page, instead of that ugly number and question mark. Pretty sweet!

While those are pretty simple, here’s a little video to help you out:

Tomorrow: It’s Saturday. I’m not doing this tomorrow. But, on Monday – Check Them Backlinks!

21 Days to Search Engine Optimization on WordPress

WordPress SEO – Day 1: Webmaster Tools & Yoast

Today, we’ll walk through getting your site set up with Webmaster Tools and connecting your WordPress Yoast SEO plugin. These are THE first (and possibly most crucial) steps to getting your site noticed by Google.

Below, you’ll find a video with an exceptionally charming and handsome narrator that’ll walk you step-by-step through getting started on a good, healthy and sustainable SEO path. This is really the beginning – but it’s so amazingly important that not doing this can cost weeks or months of Google goodness. Leave these steps out at your own peril.

The steps (for those of you who like words:)

  1. Install Yoast SEO: Go to your dashboard, hover over “Plugins,” click “Add New” and search for “Yoast.” Once you find it, install it and activate it. This is the de facto WordPress SEO plugin. There are tons of others, but we’ve found this to be the most robust and flexible. Good stuff!
  2. Go to Webmaster Tools: Click here if you don’t want to type in the URL. If you have a Google account (Gmail,) this will be easy. If you don’t, it’ll still be easy. Get yourself a Webmaster Tools account – you’re gonna need it!
  3. Verify That You Own Your Site: Once you’re in Webmaster Tools, click “Add Property” and type in your domain name. Make sure it’s right – and if your site is or just, (with no www) – make sure you enter it completely and correctly. verify your property using the “Alternate Methods” and “HTML Tag.” Copy that long line of code. DON’T CLICK OUT OF THIS WINDOW. Leave it open – you’re going to come back to it in step 4.
  4. Add Verification Code to Yoast: Back in your WordPress dashboard, hover over SEO (in the lower left hand) and click on “General” and then “Webmaster Tools.” Paste the code you copied in Step 4 into the “Google Search Console” field, click save.
  5. Confirm with Google: Go BACK to Webmaster Tools. NOW click on the red “Verify” button. If you see a green check, you’re good. If no bueno, start over with step 3, above.
  6. Generate Sitemap: Go back to your WordPress dashboard and hover over SEO and click on the XML Sitemaps button. Once there, you can click to view your sitemap. Click and copy the end of the URL. Generally, the URL looks like (so you can just copy sitemap_index.xml here.)
  7. Notify Google of Sitemap: Go BACK to Webmaster tools, and click on “Crawl” and then “Sitemaps.” Click the red “Add/Test Sitemap” button (in the right-hand upper corner,) and paste your sitemap_index.xml. Click to confirm, and you’re golden.

Now, what you’ve done here is to set your site up for on-board SEO success by installing Yoast, you’ve notified Google that not only do you exist, but that you really know what you’re doing – because you have a sitemap. You’ve taken some of the biggest steps to not only being indexed by Google, but also to making sure that Google knows exactly where you are, what you have and what you’re up to. Kind of creepy, I guess, but ultimately – good.

Tomorrow: A Couple of WordPress Settings that Might Kill Your Site to Google.

Logo Design Asheville NC

Logo Design – It’s Not That Damned Hard…

Logo Design Asheville NCActually, logo design can be horribly difficult. There are so many forms, so many shapes, so many fonts, so many tools, so many colors that it can be a difficult thing to whittle down to the essential, creative process of logo design. We’ve nailed the process – and if you need a beautiful, non-crappy logo, you’re in the right place.

We’ve done hundreds upon hundreds of logos – everything from sports teams to e-liquid companies and pretty much everything in between – but the logo design process remains the same:

Step One: Gather info on who you are, what you are, who your audience is and what your “vibe” is as a person or as a business. We’ve got a comprehensive logo design questionnaire that we use to gather info, and we’re always happy to chat and gather ideas the old-fashioned way. Once we’ve got a lock on what you’re about and what you’re looking for, we gather it up, put it between the ears and get the process really rolling.

Step Two: Think. This is always the hardest part to bill – but it’s the most crucial part. Inspiration doesn’t always come when you’re sitting at your desk from 9 to 5. Sometimes, it’s in the shower. Sometimes, it’s while I’m feeding the chickens. I can spend, quite literally, 20+ hours thinking about a logo design direction before anything ever reaches paper or pixel.

Step Three: The blank sheet. I keep a number of sketchbooks, Moleskines, notepads and Post-it note pads around me at all times. When the ideas flow, they hit the paper as soon as I can get them there. Sketches, roughs, notes, dumb jokes – they’re all part of the logo design process. Ideas about your name, ideas about your audience, ideas for generating more ideas – all on the paper.

Step Four: The pixel. After the sketches are where they need to be (also known as coherent,) the work of digitizing the logo roughs begins. Photoshop, Illustrator and (gasp – 1997!) Freehand round out the tool box. A zillion fonts to choose from – but by this point, we have a pretty good idea of what we’re looking for. We build anywhere from 6 to 15 “rough” ideas and let you start narrowing them down.

Step Five: The back and forth. Once the initial round is done, we let you play with them. Combine, rearrange, add, subtract. It all helps us get down to the final, perfect piece. We usually find that 2-3 rounds of revision are sufficient, but if we need to keep going we can keep going.

Step Six: Done. You’ve got a killer, 100% original logo. We deliver in a variety of formats (PDF, AI, EPS, PSD, JPG, etc.,) and we make sure you’ve got everything you need – color specs, font specs, spacing conventions, all that jazz.

Since your logo is arguably the MOST important part of your identity and marketing, it needs to be good. Hell, it needs to be GREAT. Let’s get started on making something great.

We ran across this video of Aaron Draplin’s process – and while it’s a 15 minute video that shows how some of the stuff is done, it’s the years of experience and his genuine talent that makes the process look so smooth and quick. It’s worth a watch. Now, if you just imagine this guy being a 6′ 4″ graying doofus, about 100 pounds lighter and with a coffee cup permanently attached to his left hand, you get a good idea of what it looks like here when we attack the logo process. Enjoy! Then, when you’re ready to roll on YOUR logo, click here.



Mobilegeddon – Should YOU Worry About Google’s Mobile Update?

Mobile Site Update? Don't Panic!Is your site mobile responsive? Does it have a mobile-only version? How much does it matter? Is it time to panic?

Depends on your traffic. Depends on your site. Depends on a lot of things.

But the main thing here is: DON’T PANIC. (towel optional.)

Here’s the nuts & bolts: Google released a new algorithm on April 21, and it favors sites with a mobile responsive or mobile-specific architecture – but only on mobile searches. Searches from desktop machines (and laptops) won’t be affected. That’s sort of good news to the majority (~70%) of searches. But, if you’ve got a site that relies heavily on mobile/tablet users and traffic from mobile sources, you really need to pay attention to Google’s latest update and get your site in order.

See, with 30% of ALL internet traffic using solely mobile devices, you stand the chance of being ranked lower in (not eliminated from) searches from those devices. How much lower? Google doesn’t really say – but a couple of spots can make or break a search. If you were #8 and still on the first page of Google searches, and you drop to #11, you wind up on the second page – and your click-through rates will die off. Second page listings get about 5% of clicks – distributed amongst the whole of the second page. If you were already on the second page, we need to talk – but that’s a conversation for another day.

So – is it worth panicking over? Well, maybe…

Go to Google’s Mobile Friendly Test. If you run your site through and the tool says you’re mobile-friendly, you’re in the clear. Kick back and relax.

If the tool tells you that you’re not mobile friendly, it’s still not time to freak out. Check out your site stats – if you’re not getting a lot of mobile traffic, you might not need to be too concerned about the rankings hit. If your primary traffic isn’t using mobile devices, you can wait and deal with it later – although not catering to 30% of potential users probably isn’t a great idea. If, however, your stats show that you’re getting a high percentage of users coming in on mobile devices, NOW is the time for action…

Step 1: Give us a shout. We can help your site be mobile-friendly. If you’re still not sure of how Google’s latest shenanigans will affect you, reach out and we will help ease your fears (or help whip you into a proper panic.) We can take a look at your audience and your traffic. It might be less painful than you think. We’ll shoot straight with you – and if you need a hand, we’re happy to help.

Step 2: Relax. It’s really not the biggest deal in the world. Yes, you might see your rankings suffer a bit in mobile-only searches. But, if you’ve got a good, functional and well-optimized site that just happens to be afoul of Google’s newest birthing, you can recover. All things considered, the numbers of even worst-case scenario “penalty” just don’t add up to a massive freak out. It’s a percentage of a percentage of a percentage – it’s not like your site is going to disappear from the rankings. Small hit – possibly. Big hit – highly unlikely. But, still – it’s worth paying attention to. Get responsive, get happy, get back, JoJo, to where you once belonged.

Now, the “don’t panic” mantra comes with a warning: Any time Google rolls out a major change in how they rank sites, you really need to pay attention. It might not affect you in a major way at the time of the roll-out, but you can rest assured that these changes will at some point come back to bite you. If it’s a small problem, it can wait – but there’s a cumulative effect with minor problems. It can snowball, and you can wind up in trouble. If you’ve got red flags with Google, you don’t know when it’ll add up to a legitimate penalty. Staying “clean” with Google is never a bad thing. If you find a gap in your site, how it’s constructed and how it looks to Google, it’s best to stay in front of it. Fix it BEFORE it has a chance to make a massive impact on your rankings/SERPs. Playing catch-up after a penalty from Big G is not a winning proposition.

So – carry on, good people. It’s not the end. The world has survived massive shakeups at Google, and we’ll all be on the other side of this one soon enough. Until then, enjoy a little music with your coffee. We are…


Asheville Coffee Map

I almost hate to admit how many of these I’ve supped in. At one point, I did most of my design work from coffee shops – and while fun, I was going broke from my bean-squeezins habit. While in the midst of my nomadic office life, I wrote a bit about it (on the now semi-defunct DesignAVL.) You can check out the posts by clicking here. Some of them are obsolete, some are still semi-interesting. They’re all about coffee. That’s good, right?

Now – bask in the convenience:


Heroes of Design: Charley Harper

charley-harperCharley Harper is freaking terrific. In his words, his design style is “minimal realism,” which equates to being very graphic. Since that’s what I do for a living, his goods really ring a bell for me.

Harper’s work has a way of boiling things down to their absolute base shapes and forms, which is the very essence of graphic design. Simplicity is such a difficult thing to design – and Harper had a real knack for the simple. Even in his more complex pieces, he never loses that sense of simplicity, immediacy and grace. He does a tremendous amount of animals (especially birds,) but some of his less popular works (landscapes and people,) are really beautiful.

Harper’s an interesting fellow, humble and super-soft spoken. Check out the video below to dig a little more. You can also check out a wonderful array of his works with a simple Google search. Dig it! I know I do.

*Photo of Harper in studio came from here.

Love. Now.

Asheville NC

As some of you know, it’s been a tumultuous summer here at Blue Dozen. We’ve had some family issues crop up in our (well, MY) life that have been painful, un-fun and downright distracting. We’ve kept a stiff upper lip in spite of all that’s gone on, and it’s looking like sunnier days are ahead. We’re all back in the office and we’re all ready to kick ass and take names in the manner which we’ve grown accustomed. Projects have still been rolling in and rolling out – and they’ll keep rolling. Since design and development and coffee-drinking is part of our DNA, there’s a great solace in the workaday world here. But, it’s been rough. The creative wells run dry faster when there’s an outside stressor. Then again, we can use the stress to create great things – and we feel like we have. Take THAT, issues!

Through all the garbage that’s been going on, one thing has kept ringing true – love the people around you. When things go haywire and life is cold and hard, you’re going to want to know that you have a group of folks who are in your corner, and you’re going to need to have peace and comfort in knowing that you’ve done your level best to love them, cherish them and show them how important they are in your life.

Friends, family and, yes, clients are all part of that. Spread love to those around you, and when the storms of life arrive, that love will be showered back onto you. We spread love – daily. We love what we do, we love who we do it for (that’s the client stuff,) but our family is, and will always be, priority one. We make no excuses for that – it’s been our modus operandi since we first opened our doors. Love of family – it’s the thing that really gets us through the rough patches.

So, what am I really saying here? I don’t know, really – just wanted to pop in and let you all know that while things have been rough, it’s love that has sustained us. We thank our family for that, and we thank YOU for that.

If you haven’t yet, take a moment and hug those that are important to you. Call someone just to say “I love you.” Be good to those around you and be good to yourself. This world is too big and too complicated to go it alone. We all need support, and we all need warmth and hugs and shoulders to cry on. Reach out to those that are close to you. They’ll be your shelter.

Thanks to our clients. Thanks to our families. Thanks to love.

Have a great week. I know we will.