All right – we’re kind of done with the left side of the cooler. I swear – if I have to drink one more freaking Highland crap (crapft?) brew or a Leinenkugel ANYTHING, I’m going to need to start drinking scotch to keep me from doing something rash, sans clothes, up and down Haywood Road.
Now, I’m not saying that I deserve to served a fluffy coffee by an icon of the (punk) music industry, but I’m a little offended that Mr. Albini hasn’t made me a hot beverage lately. Or, at all for that matter. Where’s my joe, Steve?
And, for your coffee break – a little auditory caffeine from Shellac of North America:
Happy rainy Monday, Asheville. Keep your beans safe and poop free.
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 If you’re infected, slow, outdated or out-of-bounds from a standards standpoint, you’ll be facing a serious uphill climb to good rankings.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:
- Make 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.
- 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 We’ve found that the vast majority of slow sites suffer from images that are unnecessarily large, software that is out-of-date, or just a straight-up poorly built theme.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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make 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.
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:
- Sign in to your Webmaster Tools account (you created one on Day 1, right?
- Click on your domain name.
- Click on “Search Traffic” and then “Links to Your Site.”
- In the first column, “Who Links the Most” (in the middle of the page,) click on “More>>”
- 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 BetterWhois.com. 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.
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.
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.
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 http://YOURSITE.com/?p=123, but for optimal search engine optimization, you want them to read as http://YOURSITE.com/about-our-wonderful-product. 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!
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:)
- 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!
- 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!
- 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 http://www.SITENAME.com or just, http://SITENAME.com (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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 http://YOURSITE.com/sitemap_index.xml (so you can just copy sitemap_index.xml here.)
- 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.
Talk about keeping it local! The Brixton 10 pound note, designed by Jeremy Deller, is pretty damned fabulous, and the concept of using local, alternative currency is something that I fully support.
I’m not a huge fan of our current fiat currency (thanks, Federal Reserve – but that’s a story for another time,) and for promoting local trade and keeping money SERIOUSLY in the local system, these boutique currencies hit the mark.
Our current bill designs leave a little something to be desired (white space, anyone?) and the monetary system is obviously pretty broken – so why don’t we burn it down and make a local currency for Asheville? I propose a Lane Reid 20 dollar West Asheville note. If they can do it in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, why not here in our own little town? Imagine, walking into Gas Up to grab a brew and pulling out a $20 Black Wolf. You’d be a superstar almost instantly!
Stay tuned – we’re going to design some money for West Asheville. Nominations for denominations are now open – contact us with ideas on who you think should grace our currency.
I’ll be on the Million Dollar West AVL Buck. Cash value 1/100th of a cent.
I’m getting arrested in June. No, it’s not for my good looks, it’s not for my rapier wit. Heck, it’s not even for 3 felonies I (or we) commit every day. It’s for a good cause – the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
MD affects a large number of folks – and a large number of folks start off as kids with MD. Having 5 kids of my own, I have a soft spot for helping out the young’uns where I can.
My bail is set at a paltry $1500 – and you can help! Click here to donate. Every little bit helps. I’m going to the hoosegow on June 18, so you’ve got some time to gather your shekels and help me out.
All donations are tax-deductible – plus you get the pleasure of having done something awesome for someone else.
Keep it beautiful, people. Let’s all do what we can where we can. If you can’t help now, give someone a hug. Send a sweet email or text. Reach out and spread a little joy.
Don’t think about my carcass rotting in jail. Just love somebody…
9 reasons you belong in Asheville. We can think of about a million more – and most of them are better than the stuff in this video, but – it’s still pretty cool. We’re pretty proud of our town – and it looks like Buzzfeed dig it, too. Check it out:
We heart Asheville. We heart design. We heart you.
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…