What started out as a 30 day goal to improve the SEO of this site has morphed into a half-year journey, but hey, life happens, right? If you’re just now joining me in this journey, you may want to catch up on previous weeks:
Ok, let’s dive in.
If you’ve forgotten what I was doing on Day 21, it was digging into Google Search Console. This is my new best friend (and it’s free!).
I got past my various errors and turned my attention to Search Traffic > Search Analytics. This is a gold mine. If you do nothing else after reading this, make sure you have a Google Search Console account (you can link it to your Google Analytics account for even richer data).
For giggles, I’ll show you my Search Analytics for the term “WordPress developer” in the past 28 days.
In that top row, you can select what data you want to see.
- Clicks = how many times a user clicked my search result
- Impressions = how many times I showed up in search results
- CTR (Click thru rate) = impressions divided by clicks
- Position: Where I appear in search results
In the second row, I’ve filtered results with “WordPress developer”, but if you leave that blank it’ll return all results for your site.
What does this data tell me? First, it’s tell me I show up on page 3 of search results for that term (position 25) and that the handful of times people bother to go to page 3 of the results, less than 1% click through to my site.
Well that sucks (assuming I want to rank for WordPress developer, which I do). So today’s action item was to redo my about page optimizing for that term. It’s not perfect, but I’ll see if I can move the needle on that position.
The next lesson after Google Search Console was for Google Analytics. Rebecca provided some helpful information for n00bs, but I’ve worked with GA long enough that there wasn’t really anything new for me here. What I’d really love is a deep dive into setting up funnels and goals! Totally outside the scope for an SEO course, but I know that’s an area where I really don’t use the full power of what GA offers.
Next up is a section on Speed and Page Performance – turns out this is important for SEO. Slow load times are a major turn-off for Google. Rebecca mentions a variety of free tools you can use to test your site performance including Pingdom, which I’ve always been partial to for site scans.
Here’s a snapshot of my site as of today:
Overall I’m not doing too shabby. I run my site on a custom child theme for the Genesis Framework (one of Genesis’ features is clean and lean code – something Google loves). Where I’m clearly failing (thanks for the big red F that makes me feel bad about myself!) is “Remove query strings from static resources.”
I had to Google that phrase and turns out there’s a WordPress plugin that does, in fact, remove query strings from static resources. I downloaded it, reviewed the (very minimal) source code, and decided to install it. I activated it, cleared my cache, and ran another Pingdom test. Here are the results:
I GOT AN A! Talk about a quick win. And I shaved .08 seconds off the load time. I’m feeling good about today.
Update: For those of you with sites hosted on WP Engine, they now have a site speed tester that provides a little more helpful/detailed feedback than the Pingdom tool.
Today’s lesson kicked off with a lesson on the importance of mobile devices. Google wants your website to look good on mobile and actively penalizes sites that aren’t mobile-friendly. I’m a WordPress developer so this was not news to me.
If that’s news to you, here are some mobile-responsive WordPress themes I recommend. If you’re not in the mood for a complete theme overhaul, there are some WordPress plugins like WPTouch that will serve up a different (mobile) theme on phones and tablets. If you’re feeling really crazy, I have a WordPress Mobile Solutions course.
After talking mobile, Rebecca moves on to Rich Snippets and Schema. I’m already doing pretty good in that category. The Genesis Framework takes care of a lot of the infrastructure for good markup and includes schema for blog posts.
I’m crushing it today.
Okay, all my feeling good about things came to a screeching halt today. We’re talking about SSL Certificates. Several years ago I considered changing this site over to https:// but didn’t specifically because I was afraid of SEO repercussions. For example, if I have a bunch of http:// links all over the web, will that hurt me?
So I’m glad the course covers it. Secure sites are one of Google’s “ranking signals” and are one of the (obviously) many factors that go into SEO.
Last month at WordCamp Salt Lake City, Jon Jarvis of SecureUtah.org did a presentation about the importance of https:// and I walked away convinced that it’s time I make the change. My host for this site (Flywheel) recently announced free SSL certificates for all accounts, so there’s really no reason for me not to pull the trigger at this point (not that SSL certificates are too expensive in the first place – but this just makes it one step easier for me).
I’m (shhh…don’t tell anybody) working on a redesign of this site that will (hopefully) launch end of October. I figure that’s the right time to make the change.
Rebecca offers a number of guides/resources walking you through the process of migrating from http:// to https:// which I will be scouring over the next few weeks as I prepare for my re-launch and migration.
I’ll come back to this post with an update after I make the move – I’m extremely curious to see how/if it impacts my rankings.
Update: On October 11 I switched this site over to SSL. I also dropped “www” from my domain (for no reason other than I felt like it). So
https://carriedils.com. I made a notation in Google Analytics so that I can track the impact of this. I should probably write a post detailing my process and a couple of the hurdles I ran into.
Don’t laugh, but I’ve never totally understood what a canonical URL is. Well guess what, it’s nothing all that complicated. Turns out it just refers the process of setting a preferred URL structure when the same post or page can be referenced from multiple URLS. For example:
All of those theoretically point to the same piece of content, so how do you keep Google from dinging you for duplicate content? Canonical URLs.
I’m actually good to go on that count, but it’s nice to understand what that big word means.
I also covered 301 redirects. If you’re not familiar with 301 redirects, here’s an article worth reading (not surprisingly it’s written by Rebecca Gill).
I’m also already doing good on the 301 redirect front. For a long time I used the (free) Redirection plugin and within the past year switched to using Yoast SEO (the premium version). I really like the convenience of Yoast for this because you can delete a post (or any other piece of content) and the plugin automatically creates a 301 redirect for you. If you want, you can set a custom redirect, all without ever leaving the original page you were on. It’s handy.
The only thing I’m not sure of is, at this point, I’ve got a ton of redirects set up with Redirection and a ton more set up with Yoast SEO. The Type A personality in me really wants to bring all of those redirects “under the same roof,” but maybe it doesn’t really matter.
I’ve now finished the bulk of the course and am moving on to the extra credit module (I love extra credit!).
The first few lessons revolve around blogs. Nothing new here for me, but I will say that Rebecca Gill gave an excellent presentation on What Really Matters in SEO at WordCamp DFW this past weekend. It’s worth scrolling through the slides and I’ll come back and link to the live presentation once it’s available on WordPress.tv.
Rebecca goes on to discuss international and local SEO. Since I’m not looking to rank locally (I’ll do business anywhere, baby!), I confess I blew through the lesson. I will share one of the nuggets from the lesson though: If you have your phone number on your site, use a number with your local area code NOT an 1-800. Good to know.
After that Rebecca goes into SEO for WordPress Multisite. That’s not applicable at the moment, so I skipped it (I’ve got to finish this course in a few days!!!). I can always go back and reference that section later if I need it (access to the DIY SEO course does not expire).
Home stretch, baby!
Fun fact: Google serves up personalized search results. You and I could Google the exact same phrase and see different results. That’s because Google is factoring in things like location and my past search history to tailor results to what it thinks I want to see.
Smart little Google. Creepy little Google.
A few days ago I was bemoaning the lack of detail on how to use Google Analytics. Well apparently those details were extra credit worthy because there are a couple of lessons for using annotations and goals!
I don’t really use these as liberally as I should, but I can testify that they’re very helpful. Annotations are a way to note some factor that may have impact on your traffic.
For instance, here’s my a chart showing my daily sessions over a couple of weeks. You can see a fairly consistent curve and then BOOM, a big spike. That was recent, so I remember that it’s due to all of the social shares this post got. But give me a few months and I won’t recall that detail. Enter: annotations. It’s like a little sticky note reminding my future self about why an anomaly might have happened (or when I changed my site to HTTPS. etc.)
Confession: I’ve never set up goals. Considering I run an e-commerce site, it’s ridiculous that I’ve never done this. I’m operating in a void of data that could easily be provided if I’d just take the time to set up some goals.
So here we are. With a little encouragement from the lesson (and the included video tutorial) I set up a goal for my store.
The goal basically says, if someone hits the purchase confirmation page after progressing through the product page and checkout page, then the goal is met.
Once I launch my site redesign I plan to set up goals for newsletter conversions. It’ll be interesting to see which opt-in location converts the best.
Let the data roll!
This is, quite literally, the home stretch. The last module included some parting thoughts from Rebecca and an opportunity to leave course feedback.
I have to admit I feel a sense of relief after taking so long to wind my way through the course. Overall the material is excellent, the amount of data tended to be “just right” (not a level of detail that makes you want to poke your eyeballs out, but plenty enough detail to feel educated on a topic).
As Rebecca promised at the beginning, I do feel both educated and empowered to do better SEO going forward.
I finished the course early. I’m going out to play.