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Important Technical SEO Considerations for WordPress Sites

This is the third part of a WordPress SEO talk I gave in Asheville for WordCamp. The first defined SEO. The second talked about measuring SEO efforts. While this is specific to WordPress, I’m sure it will help you even if you don’t use this platform. If you don’t want to read this transcript, you can watch the video.

If the first thing to SEO is measuring, the second thing is whether or not Google can crawl and index your site. And this is where we all take a moment and thank God that we’re at a WordPress conference, where Google has a really easy time with WordPress sites.

Allow Googlebot to Crawl Your Site

Except if you don’t allow them to view your site. This button, you know how much money I’ve made from audits? From well-meaning developers who forgot to uncheck that when I launch a site? Yes, you can prevent me from making money by making sure you are not discouraging search engines from indexing the site. The checkbox says, it’s up to search engines to honor this request. I’ll tell you what, Google definitely honors that request. It can be the robots.txt, too. I know somebody who accidentally forgot to remove the robots exclusion from the robots.txt, launched the site: traffic drops. “Oh, my gosh, what happened? Oh, oops, I forgot to update the robot.” Google listens to that. That’s really probably the biggest crawl-ability problem on a WordPress site. Because we’re still doing server-side language. Google is easily able to understand WordPress.

SEO is Mobile-First

But we have to consider mobile when we’re building sites today. I mean, this is kind of old news for you, I think most of you know this. As of two months ago, Google is at a mobile-first algorithm. So that means when Google is evaluating websites to rank, it is looking at the mobile site first. If you have a poor mobile experience, you will never rank even on a desktop search, because Google is pulling from a mobile-first perspective. Now, what this means is that we not just need responsive websites. What this means is we got to change the way we think about designing a site. We should build the mobile site first and build up to the desktop site. Usually, we’re used to saying, “here’s the beautiful desktop site and here is the mobile.” But if we change the way we think and we take mobile first and we build up, this will affect a lot of things that will benefit you from a mobile perspective. So, start by thinking mobile first even as you’re doing the design. Some of your clients won’t get it. Explain it to them. Most traffic from Google the majority of traffic from Google is mobile across almost every industry. Don’t make mobile an afterthought. Don’t take a desktop site, crack it, break it down and make it mobile. Think mobile first.

Google has a wonderful tool. The mobile-friendly test. Is this page mobile friendly? Yes or no. Test, throw this in every URL. This is a URL by URL basis, so you’d have to test. What I do is, when WordPress, I will test an example or two of every page generated by every template file. Just throw it in. Yes or no, mobile friendly or not. And if it’s not, it’ll tell you what the problems are. It’s pretty simple. On a more scalable fashion, thankfully, because you’ve installed Google Search Console. Under search traffic, mobile usability. I’m not [mobile friendly] (you know, the cobbler’s kids got no shoes). I have seven mobile usability errors on my site, right? This is a little more scalable way of looking at the problem. And it tells you more. On some pages I have content wider than screen, some of my clickable elements are too close together. Good, more data. Measure first, figure out what’s better second. Use these tools to decide whether or not you need to make mobile improvements.

Page Speed is Important for SEO

While we’re talking about mobile, we can’t help but talk about speed. As of last month, Google is not only evaluating our mobile site to decide how to, even our desktop searches, it is measuring our desktop searches based on the mobile speed of our sites. That’s why we should start from a mobile-first perspective in design, because then we are adding stuff for desktop rather than removing stuff for desktop. That will help your site’s load faster. According to Google, you got three seconds. That’s it. Most people are not gonna wait longer than three seconds to view a page. You’ve got 50 requests and 500 kilobytes per page. That might mean some things need to be cut. That might not be a bad thing. You know, clients have to have this and have to have that, and this department has to be satisfied and this division, and God forbid the CEO get involved. That’s rough. But it’s doable, because we got to cut.

I just took Google’s mobile dev certification, which I highly recommend. One of the big points they make in there is that the fastest element loaded is the element you didn’t add to your page, right? Yeah. And sometimes the best thing to do is just say, “no”. “Listen, you won’t benefit from that extra slider. Ain’t nobody waiting for 17 slides at 10,000 pixels, images. Nobody’s waiting for you. You can have the most beautiful page, no one’s gonna wait to view it. So, let’s cut things down.” Make it as fast as possible, not only for SEO, but for all of our marketing channels. [For example,] Email marketing: most of emails consumed on your mobile device. If your call to actions is to go to your site, ain’t nobody gonna wait longer than three seconds for that page to load. So, you just wasted your money with your email. God forbid you paid search. It is a worthwhile investment to improve your page speed. Hour-by-hour, the biggest improvement you can make to any of your marketing efforts is make your site run faster.

Google has a wonderful tool, Page Speed Insights. Again, URL by URL basis, and it will break things down by mobile or desktop speed (cobbler’s kids got no shoes, uh oh, got some work to do on my homepage). If we all run our own site, let’s admit none of us would, right? But what I like about this tool is it takes time out of the equation. Time is a function of how good the connections, you know, I got Giga Fiber at home. I’m fast. If I judge based on how it feels like things are loading, I’m not getting an objective analysis. This is a score between 0 and 100. I’ve seen a score of six one time (that’s where that 17-page slider of 10,000 pixels [example] came from). It will tell you what you need to do to improve your page. Now, this is a page-by-page basis, again. With a WordPress site, I go through a couple examples of every template file. as rendered, and review and see how these page speeds go.

Thankfully, you’ve installed Google Analytics. If you go into behavior, site speed suggestions, here is a list of your page speed scores, in one nice friendly place for you to begin to improve. Nice. Now, it’s a little more scalable problem. The nice thing about this process of pulling this report is now my contact page here is the worst. 77 ain’t too bad (but I’m just saying it’s not too bad because I’m speaking to you guys about page speed; I need to work on it). But I bet you if I improve the 77 on my contact page, I will accidentally improve all the other pages, just how things work. Start at the bottom, work your way up. I was working really hard this week to finish off my re-certification (it expired on Monday, but I wanted to get it all done for you guys). I tell you, Google’s Academy has a lot of great stuff and their mobile site certification, oh, man, I am not a real developer, you guys will get so much more out of it than I did. It is well worth your time. They spend so much time talking about page speed improvements, and what you can do. Talk about how to use Chrome Developer Tools, to really kind of track where your problems are. Worth your time if your building sites. So highly recommended.

You Can’t SEO a Hacked Website

Talking about crawl-ability and index, make sure your site can be updated. I know some clients have to have this or that and you end up cracking the heck out of WordPress just to accommodate their ultra-demanding needs. We all know if we can’t update WordPress, we’re leaving big security holes. And Google will kick websites out of the index if they believe they’ve been hacked. And the process of being reinstated is not fun. It is actually, I think it’s harder than when you get banned for doing beta SEO. Google has recently started hiring an entire team just to manage reconsideration requests from hacked websites. So please make sure your sites can be updated, right? Maybe that means you don’t use WordPress. Did I say that out loud? I mean, I love WordPress. But it might not be the solution if your client has to have certain things certain ways. and you end up cracking open WordPress to such a point it can’t be updated. So that might be a better solution for them. Or maybe they just need to realize that what they’re asking is totally not worth it, which is probably most of the time the case. But yeah, can’t do SEO on a hacked website.

Next: What WordPress Developers Need to Know About Content and SEO

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