Hey everyone. I am Joanna Lord. I am the Director of Acquisition over here at SEOmoz. Welcome to another Whiteboard Friday. I am going to be stepping in for Rand today. So no, I am not Rand in case you are wondering. I want to be talking about something pretty exciting that I love talking about. So hopefully this goes well.
It is on-page optimization. We are going to be talking about a lot of the stuff that we do here for landing pages, and I am going to take a little spin on it. I know there are a lot of articles out there that help you with the basics of landing page optimization, but I think that that is really well documented and we are going to kind of skip through that really fast and instead we are going to talk about some of the more advanced things that we are doing, some kind of philosophical changes that we are trying to use to stir our test.
Traditionally, I put up here the kind of things that you would think about before. You are looking at your pages and you are like, “We really need to increase conversion, or we need to do better. What can we look at?” The first thing obviously is being specific, making sure that those landing pages really match up to what people are searching for. We can do this through headlines. We can do this through the images we put on the page or the paragraph text that you put on there.
Then you look and you want it to be clean and you want it to be concise. This one is really fun for designers, right? We want to make it visually appealing, and you want to make sure that what people are looking for is kind of well spread out on the page. It has got a lot of white space around it. It has got some bullets. It is really easy to find.
The third one is around the call to action, and I think that we are all pretty well versed on this. We want it to be big. We want it to be bold. We want it to be contrasting so that when people find the page, they know what we are expecting them to do.
The last one surprisingly a lot of people still kind of maybe mess around with or they haven’t done enough for and that is this concept of the page really needs to branded. It needs to be trusted, and when someone shows up, it needs to be really obvious that you are the authority. You are the one they should go with. You can give them your money. It is all sorts of things around the idea of trust. For a long time, I think if you nailed those four things, you were doing really good. You were safe. You can make some money. You would have another day in your world. But I think that things have changed and users have evolved. That is kind of what we are talking about today.
I actually put up here a really beautiful, really sassy-looking diagram on why I think that the users’ expectations have changed, and how we are going to solve for that we will get to in a little bit. The number one thing is I think just like what I just said, this concept that the user has evolved. Before, a person didn’t see as many sites in one day. They didn’t see as many sites on one topic. So they didn’t have an expectation before they came to you. You might have been the first site they found that was e- commerce on this type of brand. But now, they are seeing so much more and it is saturated. So they have higher expectations before they even get to your site.
The second one is trust redefined, and this is a really big one. This one we can’t understate, and that is that right now, because there are so many ways to show that you are authority and to show that people like you, that people expect to see it on the page. We will talk about some of the exact signals, but for the most part, they are really expecting more from you. The social engagement and the UGC expected, when people show up to a site, they really want to see that there is a community going on, that there is a number of people talking about you, that you are talking with them, and that there is kind of a sense of happiness around whatever the brand is or whatever the product might be. These too are already an expectation. It is not optional anymore. It doesn’t separate you if you have it. You really need to have it.
Design expectations have been raised. I know Rand wrote a blog post about this a while ago, so I am not going to talk too much on it. But with sites like Dribbble coming out and just having so many great designers out there, the websites are beautiful and yours has to be beautifu, too. People are going to bounce if they just don’t feel that your site is visually up to their standards.
Search equals discovery. I think before, if you answered their need, that was almost enough, but I don’t think it is enough anymore. I think that they really want to discover more about who you are and what you do and why you are doing it. This idea of sentiment, which is just really this idea that when someone comes to you, they don’t just need to feel that you can get them what they need. They don’t just need to feel that you are there to answer their questions. They need to feel positive about you and that you are someone they can connect with on multiple levels. That is just because we spend so much more of our time online that where we spend our time is really that much more important to us.
I think that is a lot of how things have changed, and that is why these don’t exactly answer it anymore. I am going to talk about some things that I think we really need to be thinking about as website optimizers.
The first, the basics. You do need to have these. Some people are getting really excited about their landing pages right now, and they are going out there and they are building these beautiful HTML5 sites, but they don’t have the basics and people are bouncing because they don’t feel comfortable. You do need to have these, but then you need to move on to some of these. Let us jump into some of these, and let us talk about what they are.
The concept of rethinking conversions is interesting because I think as marketers, we say to ourselves, “I need to track what’s important to the bottom line,” and we do, we absolutely do. You need to know your purchases, your conversions, your form fill-outs. You need to know even how many emails you are getting, if you are backing that out for lead gen.
All of those are still very important, but there is a lot of other conversions you need to be testing for and keeping an eye on. Your social counts, that should absolutely be an optimizer’s job to increase. Getting people to like you, getting people to follow you, those should be your job. Member counts, can you get them to sign up for a membership? Where you put it on the page and how it is shown is all part of our job. Downloads and engagements, those are also important to us. It is not just about leaving them with something anymore. It is about getting them to go deeper into the site. Demo counts, I put this in there a lot because I think people forget about this. If you go to SEOmoz right now, you will see that we have our features there and we want you to take a free trial, but we also want you to explore the product, and we very much track how many people go into the feature section of our site and how do they interact there and how do they engage. That is a really important one.
Then feedback, I know a lot of marketers that when they put up a survey on the site, if they use something like KISSinsights, they get it up on the site and they say to themselves, “Well, we’re not going to worry about conversions for the next seven days because we’re collecting feedback.” But that is not really the case. That should be your conversion. You should be testing to see how you can get more feedback, how you can get more surveys completed. All of this is about rethinking conversions, and you need to be testing for it as much as you would have tested for any of these more basic elements.
On the second here, we have the brand strengthening, really important and I think it is pretty fun stuff. Traditionally, as marketers, we might have thought to ourselves there is a certain job for that at the company. Whether it be the CMO or your MarCom manager, there is someone who is in charge of making sure that everyone sees us a certain way. I think that you can do this with your landing pages really effectively and you can build a story over time. That is what this column is all about. Traditionally, when you think of brand, you think we need logos up there, we need some testimonials up there, we need to make them feel safe. But I think there is more you can do. Things like mission statements, where you put them, do you just have a byline up? Is there more that you consistently use on every page on your site? Things like awards, have you won awards? Do you bury them in a press section or do you move them up? Things like consistency, making sure that whatever you say about your product or your company on one page you say across the whole site is really important. You don’t change your key adjectives. You should be testing what adjectives really resonate with your audience.
Badges are also really important. I know a lot of people that they just put up kind of their phone number in one place, and they will put their email in another, or they will put their shipping policy over here. All of that should be compounded together into a badge. People want to see all of your trust signals in a very tight space because they are looking for all of them when they see one. They will just assume that you don’t have a good shipping policy if they don’t see it next to your phone number, that sort of thing. You need to think about that, where you are putting it, the placement.
Then positivity, I think a lot of people forget about this. They kind of put up words that they think are just kind of fun, maybe even a little bit snarky or comedic, but people don’t know you. They don’t know your culture. They don’t know your brand. When they read it, they really want to feel positivity. They want to see positive words, happiness. There are some really great e-commerce sites out there that do this really well. Things like Sephora, they do it excellently. Think about those things when you are looking at your sites.
Then testing all truths, this is going to be the hardest one to push through. It is really, really challenging to walk into a room of people that have spent years on a website and say, “Everything that is the foundation of this site, let’s go test it.” But that is what you have to do, and that is what makes these really come to life. That is what makes these really big impacts across your entire site and your entire business goals. That is around the concept of traditionally you might test a feature or you might test an element on a page. Instead you are testing the whole kabang. You are saying, “Let’s test the whole layout. Whereas, before maybe we were one picture and then text down here, let’s do it dual columns.” You are just changing up the entire visual aesthetic of your site.
The sentiment, so however you are presenting yourself, for example, if you are an outdoor site and you are saying, “We’re adventurous and we’re bold and we’re exciting,” maybe you think completely about it and, “We’re about peacefulness and tranquility and nature,” and you need to completely change the way that you are presenting yourselves and see how your audience reacts.
Things like features, a lot of companies know their key features really well and they always lead with them. Well, your audience has evolved, and lots of the message needs to evolve with it. What other features should maybe you lead with? What other features should you be testing as the true ringer, the one that gets their attention?
Design is really important. We have talked about it a little bit, but you get caught up in the design as a company and you think to yourself, “This is our vibe. This is the way that we’re going to step forward.” But that really needs to be tested ongoing, because what you assume might work is the baseline, but you have no idea where you are going to fall if you switch it up. Then navigation, a lot of people, they know when the navigation is working well and they are afraid to touch it. I think it is a real injustice to not try to revisit your navigation and say, “Maybe we should really swap this around a little bit.”
These are all things that I think you really need to think about beyond these really common basic landing page optimization tactics. The whole point of it is that you are really supposed to be able to look at it and say, “I think we’re making a difference. I think we’re testing some really big philosophies around our site.” If you can just nail one of those, you are going to feel the impact across all your channels.
I did leave you guys with a really quick action list here that we can hopefully touch on, and that is just rethinking your goals as a company often really helps you hit some of these bigger things out of the park, because when you see that the goals change and they always do from quarter to quarter, it can help you steer what you should be testing for. That and connecting with other teams I think is really important. We do a lot of it here. We go into the Help Team. We ask them what is the trouble for them, and what they resonate to us is usually those bigger philosophical changes that we should address.
This last part is just get started, and I think it is because all of it is great in theory as always, but if you don’t actually go try to test it or if you don’t set up a new test, you are never going to know. Hopefully, that has helped you out, and I will see you next week for another Whiteboard Friday.
Archive for April 2nd, 2012
Link building isn’t really link building. It’s relationship building. Links are just the proof of the relationship, as are the tweets, likes, sales… relationship building is link building. Your social graph is your linkerati.
Tom Critchlow encapsulates this with one of these Distilled Pro Tips:
Here’s a few tactics and strategies to build and leverage relationships that lead to links, likes, sales and more. Outreach is for tomorrow. Relationships are for life. Let’s go!
The single most important concept in SEO, marketing, business and life can be summed up with Simon Sinek’s talk here. His theory of ‘The Golden Circle’ is central to everything you and I do, and yet is remarkably simple to understand.
Watch the following TED talk, if not now then today at lunch…. (I promise, it’s worth it!)
Read more at Start With Why.
Everyone knows what they do. Some people know how they do it, whether that be a unique selling point, proprietary process or secret tactic. But very few people know why they do what they do. Very few people know why they get out of bed in the morning (it’s not to make money or profit: that’s a result). People who know why they do what they do prove their belief in what they do.
- Rand and the folks at SEOmoz believe in making the internet, and internet marketing better. They firmly believe this is possible by advocating inbound marketing. They so happen to make and promote SEOmoz PRO software
- Apple was built around the idea of challenging the status quo. They do this by creating products that are beautifully designed, easy-to-use and user friendly. They so happen to make computers.
- 37signals believe in simplicity. They do this by creating software that anyone can use and understand “out of the box”. They so happen to make productivity software.
What do you believe in?
It’s incredibly frustrating working with people, doing SEO or anything, who don’t know why they do what they do. It’s also incredibly frustrating working with link prospects who don’t know what they do!
This is your big action point before you move forward. Find your why. Use your why to identify other people and organisations who share your why. Find people who share your beliefs, and if you clearly understand your why, you don’t necessarily need Followerwonk, Buzzstream or any of these link prospecting tools to find people who share your belief. Connect with people who share your why, who share your mission.
You need a reason to get in touch that isn’t totally selfish (“gimme a link” just doesn’t cut it). Find something they believe in and orchestrate a message, event or project around that. An interview for a blog post or guide, product review or maybe just some advice on a project? Of course, you could get your in by pointing out broken links to a webmaster. Ask yourself, if they knew what you were doing and knew you didn’t reach out to them, would they be upset?
So, how to get in touch with these people…?
Your first touch needn’t be as weird as this…
First touch methods should never interrupt or inconvenience your prospect, so I’d avoid cold calling (no matter how successful folks say it is, it ain’t long haul!). Don’t pin your prospects to the spot when you barely know them. Become respected by respecting your link prospects. Remember, you’re building the relationship now. The links all come later
Don’t use email. Not for your first touch. Your inbox is bomb-proof fortress, as is your link prospects. Email from relatively unknown senders is just as bad as anonymous email (why should they care?). With email, it’s too easy to be lazy and become less authentic.
As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, it’s as if we’re all 19-year old dudes in a bar. We try to close on the first encounter. Don’t. You’ve got to put a ring on it. You’ve got to get in the long haul game. Get their respect as well as their attention.
That was an extract from Gary Vee’s QA at Inc500 Seminar 2011. You should *totally* watch the full thing here
Of course, events are a great way to acceptably meet your link prospects, without appearing as an unknown contact. To casually introduce oneself over a drink is not just acceptable, but welcomed. Of course, this is even better is to have already had your first touch.
In the SEO world, attending events like LinkLove London has been incredible for building relationships. It’s not too often you get to casually talk SEO with a guy like Wil Reynolds (and all the speakers really loosen up at the after parties! ). But that’s where relationships were formed…
LinkLove 2011 was in March. September 1st 2011, the Distilled Linkbait Guide went live and I called back upon those relationships to help get the word out. That’s the not-so-amazing secret to getting links from places like Seth Godin’s blog!
Pssst! If you’re coming to LinkLove London and want to build deep and meaningful relationships with dozens of other smart SEOs showing up there (seriously, that’s half the reason for going) then do what I do and try hovering around the registration desk where Distilled SEOs tend to gravitate to, and the nearest door to the main congress hall where speakers tend to stand between sessions. The Distilled guys will really thank me for that… :p
Oh, and at the after party, just make sure you’re the first guy to get a drink into the hands of whoever you want to talk to, and you’re away. You really can get one-on-one time with a speaker… you just have to be the one in front of them. See you there!
There are plenty of opportunities where people are reaching out publicly for a response; there’s a goldmine of relationship building opportunities at search.twitter.com. (You’ve read the awesome diet coke story on SEOmoz? And the response?) As a link building professional, you need to get as familiar with Twitter advanced search as you are with Google advanced search. There’s a goldmine of relationship building opportunities on Twitter, and you don’t have to be huge to make it work. Anyone can do this!
Alternatively, you can try an “inside job”. Scour your Facebook friends, LinkedIn Contacts and Twitter followers for useful names and organizations to be introduced to. Names that share the same beliefs you do, then politely ask for the brief introduction. Again, make sure you have a reason, be it an interview, business deal or some way you can help them out.
When was the last time you checked where all your Facebook friends worked (oh, and your non-facebook “real life” friends too)…? I discovered a cousin of mine had ended up at Google. Through various Facebook messages, phone calls and emails I managed to fix a lunch in their London Victoria office with the Head of University Programmes there. Eating deliciously seasoned steak and ice cream whilst talking with folks at Google.
You can do this!
…like, if I put a gun to your head and asked you if you had ANY other way of contacting this person…
Then try some of these tricks….
Invariably, you’ve got to initiate the conversation and the relationship. And for that you’ve got to send something physical.
Send a box. Yes, a box. A package in the mail. Spend your link building budget with FedEx. You can ignore emails… You can hang up the phone… You can shred letters… But it’s really, really hard to ignore a box. People simply can’t ignore a mysterious package marked “express delivery” sitting on their desk. *ooooh* shiny package!
So long as they don’t think it’s a bomb (!!), it’s brilliantly effective for getting positive attention. Put something in the box that proves your belief, and don’t ever be afraid to go bold with your budget here. You’re making friends for life, remember? I tested this with Distilled last year, by shipping a 3D-printed model of their logo with messages in the package. Here’s a (bad!) picture of it still in production…
This was produced via a 3D-printer before the final lacquer was added.
The great thing with couriering goods is you know whether or not they’ve received it (tracked delivery for the win!). The big bonus of a box is you get the *WOW!* effect. Naturally, surrounding people will come and have a look for themselves. Suddenly, you’ve sparked a conversation which will only lead to them reading your message with that degree of fascination.
Letters I’ve found to be less effective, since they can quite literally be mistaken for spam and you don’t get the “WOW! Gather Round!” factor of a box. You’ll have to make your letter stand out such that it doesn’t look like a commercial too.
Take a leaf out of direct marketers books and try handwriting your addresses rather than mass-mailing, mass-printed stickers. Try varying the size, colour and shape of your envelopes. And please try my personal favourite – origami envelopes – just make sure you print onto good thick paper!
Don’t mislead your prospects. “Traditional” outreach etiquette that Mike King talks about here still applies. Make sure you indulge in sharing your beliefs – prove your why – and show some enthusiasm for what you do. And since you share something in common, talk about something related, but off-topic to what you’re mentioning.
Heck, you’re an SEO consultant so maybe something to help them out with their marketing. That’s a really easy win to show you care about them, what they do and are kind and human enough to offer help. You care about them, remember?
And of course, always make sure you personalise each method of outreach and give a very, very clear call-to-action with ideally just a yes/no decision needed from them. Something like “if you’re interested in meeting on 1st April at 9am at The Epic Sandwich Shop, drop me an email at … or call me at …”. Do the thinking for them, and people love it.
Once you’ve established a relationship with someone, its kinda rude to use form letters. You don’t form letter your mum, so don’t form letter your link prospects. We live in a world where authenticity rules. It cuts through the noise and clutter. Caring about people and relationships really does build links! So throw out your f-ing form letters and start writing some real messages and building a real relationship.
Nothing… nothing beats a real face-to-face meeting. Meet someone for lunch or a coffee. They’ll relax and you’ll be able to have a casual conversation about whatever. Don’t call it a meeting if you don’t have to.
Why not ask if you can spend some time in their offices or with them actually working? Ask to help them out some day… you share the same beliefs and mission, and you have the rest of your working life to seal these kinds of relationships, don’t you? Besides, it’s fun!
Go out of the way for your new friends. My favourite link building tools aren’t Google Docs or Buzzstream, but train tickets and a telephone. I travel the length of the country, and these days you can still get work done whilst travelling (gotta love midday off-peak first class fares!). Yes, this can be practical too!
This is how I build links (and yes, those trains are supposed to tilt!).
Even better, if you’ve got many link prospects in one location, then run an event and meet them face to face. Spend budget on hosting an awesome party, and your link prospects will never, ever forget you. I think this was one of Tom Critchlow’s tips again, but for $5k (about the budget of a decent infographic project?) you could put on a really, *really* awesome party!!
Remember, your social graph is your linkerati. Keep them happy by writing content they’ll read and love sharing over time. Don’t count on them “just reading it” either… ask them what they thought. Solicit comments from them. Get them involved, in a follow-up or response post or something. How can you provoke regular, positive responses?
The big point to building relationships is the benefits over time. You’re not just shooting for one link like you might in your previously outreach emails, but hundreds over several years to the day you retire… and invitations to countless events. And sales. And referrals, Christmas cards, bottles of wine… you’re not changing the status of a contact in a spreadsheet – you’re making genuine friends!
Seth Godin sums it up…
One of my favourite ways to create intrinsically social pages is to create pages about individual people. It’s egobait, and it works. Write detailed, flattering content about people and they’ll pick it up and be over the moon. They’ll share it, their social graph will see it and share it and you’ll begin to build momentum.
Pssst… you don’t have to target the page around a person. You can still target it around a keyword, but make it about a person. Case studies like “How Barry Learnt Ruby in 4 Weeks” work well! You gain the social shares as well as the keyword focused page. Double-win
It’s slightly more difficult to do with brands, since few brands are treated like people. Make pages about individuals. If you’re targeting a bigger brand, then pick a big name from that brand. You don’t know how a brand might react (there may be protocols to control tweeting etc.) but a person is much more likely to react in the way you want. It’s easier to flatter a human than a brand.
Comb through your keyword lists and work out how you can make a page about a person. This can work with product pages, case studies, blog posts, landing pages, sales pages… pretty much anything
Maybe you can’t be bothered to commit to such long term results. Maybe you’ve got to deliver by tomorrow to get your next paycheck, or renew your SEO contract or win budget or whatever…?
Or maybe it just sounds too much like hard work…?
Maybe, just maybe you’re one of those guys who still uses comment spam, article spinning and other grey or “black hat” tactics day to day that make Rand sad. And maybe they even work! That’s kinda cool, right? Covertly breaking the system?
I’ll tell you what’s cool. Being undisputed king of a SERP for years and years to come. Links are just one part of the signal, the signal of a relationship and approval. Google’s algorithm is changing and Google’s algorithm is all around us. Making friends is such a central part of what we SEOs do (and arguably, the most fun part!), but we don’t pay nearly enough attention to it.
You’ve got to have the relationships around you that will last for years and years on end. The internet is still incredibly young (Google’s just hitting puberty). And don’t worry… you’ve got plenty of money to do this, because your marketing budget stretches for many years to come, as will your future relationships.
How long is your endgame? You’ve got to start thinking how you can build a system that build links. If you want to dominate in 5, 10, 20 years time then you need to set out the signals now.
You’ve got to start thinking long haul. If you’re not “in bed”, so to speak, with all folks in your industry, someone else is going to take your cake and eat it. You know your industry, so imagine your fiercest competitors cosying up with key industry figures over some joint venture, collaborative linkbait or something else.
The rise of all these social networks isn’t the point. The point is you can now connect easier with these tools to people who share your why and your beliefs. You can build and maintain these incredible relationships that will make you win in the long run. Aim for where the game is going to be, not where the game is now.
…then let me know how it goes in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
A lot of things can go wrong when you change most of the URLs on a website with thousands or millions of pages. But this is the story of how something went a little too “right”, and how it was fixed by doing something a little bit “wrong”.
The Relaunch Timeline
On February, 28 2012 FreeShipping.org relaunched with a new design and updated site architecture.The site’s management and developers were well-versed in on-site SEO issues and handled the relaunch in what many SEOs might consider “textbook” fashion. This included simultaneous 301 redirects from all previous URLs to their specific counterparts using the new URL structure. All internal links were updated immediately, as were the sitemap files, rel canonical tags and all other markup.
They had expected some lag-time and a temporary loss in rankings, but traffic had started a dramatic decline immediately after the relaunch, and a week later it was still falling.
On March, 7 FreeShipping.org contacted seOverflow to make sure they had done the redirects properly. Everything seemed to check out. A scan of the site revealed only a few 404 errors from internal links, those being relegated to a few outlying blog entries. All of the old URLs were serving a 301 response code to the new URLs, which returned a 200 response code. The XML sitemap was using the new URLs, as was all internal navigation, rel canonical tags and other on-site links. By all indications, the developers had implemented a major site redevelopment flawlessly…
Too flawlessly. A site:domain.com search revealed that many of the old URLs were still indexed alongside the new ones, and had not been re-cached since the relaunch of the site a week earlier. Log files revealed that Google had not been back to visit most of the old URLs. They had no link path available to reach most of them, so any page with a preivous version that had not been recraweled yet (i.e. any page without prominent external links) was seen as a duplicate.
Knowing how fast and accurate their developers are, I proposed they turn the old linking structure back on for awhile so the internal links on categry pages would send crawlers through the redirects first. This ensures they see the 301 status code and can update the index accordingly, rather than assuming that the old page is still active along-side the new page for weeks or months. This is slightly different than what I used to prescribe, which involved resubmitting an old sitemap (more on that later). It is important to note that only the navigation links changed back – all other markup still reflected the new URLs. Changing the rel canonical, Open Graph or Schema, for instance, would not be recommended. All they needed was an easy crawl path to the now-redirected URLs.
On March, 8 about half way through the day they flipped the switch to turn on the old internal link URLs and traffic from search more than doubled on the same day. They maintained a steady climb until traffic from search stabilized above pre-relaunch levels.
On March 12 the new internal links were again changed over to the new URLs and traffic from search has remained at or above pre-relaunch levels.
Rethinking Overthinking Sitewide Redirect Best Practices
I’d seen this situation before and had always advised resubmiting the old XML sitemap to ensure the legacy URLs got recrawled faster than the weeks or months it could take search engines to revisit a page without a link from somewhere. But recent statements from Bing caused me to think twice about that recommendation. And this great post by John Doherty had me wondering the same about submitting a “dirty” sitemap to Google.
What Bing Says…
“Only end state URL. That’s the only thing I want in a sitemap.xml. We have a very tight threshold on how clean your sitemap needs to be… if you start showing me 301s in here, rel=canonicals, 404 errors, all of that, I’m going to start distrusting your sitemap and I’m just not going to bother with it anymore… It’s very important that people take that seriously.” - Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager, Bing Webmaster Tools
“Your Sitemaps need to be clean. We have a 1% allowance for dirt in a Sitemap. Examples of dirt are if we click on a URL and we see a redirect… If we see more than a 1% level of dirt, we begin losing trust in the Sitemap”. – Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager, Bing Webmaster Tools
In preparation for this post I asked for some clarification. I’m not sure how “clear” this makes it, as the seriousness of the statements above seem to be at odds with the following advice:
What I Took Away From All of This…
#1 Despite what I’ve heard during several interviews and straight from him at conferences, it seems like Bing will let you get away with more than 1% of “dirt” on your sitemap, at least if it isn’t an ongoing thing. Sometimes I get the feeling Duane Forrester makes some stuff up as he goes along, which is fine. Sometimes it is better to be decisive and give an actionable answer than to hedge your bets by talking on and on without actually saying anything (*Ahem).
#2 As long as your old URLs redirect to the new ones it is OK, perhaps even preferable, to leave the old internal links up for awhile. Best Practices for redirects has always been to update all of the links you have control over. This is for several reasons. First, it helps you avoid multiple redirect hops if/when it comes time to change all of the URLs again. It is also good htaccess housekeeping since old redirect rules can often get broken without being noticed during the QA process. Last but not least, according to Matt Cutts a 301 redirect does not pass 100% of pagerank on to the destination page. However, losing out on a tiny percentage of inherited pagerank for a few days and having a good excuse to procrastinate on housekeeping is better than having your traffic drop off a cliff for weeks or months at a time.
#3 The old adage about “Knowing enough to get yourself into trouble” is as true as ever.
#4 Leaving the old links up for a few days seems to work equally as well across major search engines. The Google Analytics screenshot above shows traffic from all search engines, but looking at just Yahoo, Bing or Google individually tells pretty much the same story.
#5 You can do it either way. Since every site is different it is good to have more than one option. One could stick with the XML sitemap resubmission to each of their webmaster tools accounts as a best practice, and that “should” work just fine. Given the results of this case study I’m going to recommend that most clients leave up the old internal links (especially nav and category links) for about one week after re-launching a website with new URLs on the same domain (a new domain is slighly different, and you can use the change of address tools).
#6 Domain Authority doesn’t necessarily mean squat for weak internal page crawling. Free Shipping Day was the third largest online shopping day of the year in 2010 and 2011. FreeShipping.org is the only official sponsor, and benefits from massive amounts of press coverage. The site has about 12,700 links from about 1,110 domains, including the New York Times, CNN, MSN, TIME, Huffington Post, Mashable, USA Today, Forbes… Not bad for a coupon affiliate. Yet it was a week after the relaunch, and both Google and Bing were uninterested in revisiting any of the FreeShipping.org pages in their indexes that didn’t have their own strong external links.
This guest post is by Dawn Walnoha of Brandsplat.
In all writing, blogging being no exception, there is a fine line between borrowing ideas and plagiarizing content. Since the issue is not clearly defined the same way everywhere, it is open to interpretation. And that means the line is somewhere in a gray area between the black and white of honest content and dishonest theft.
One area that has been a perennial gray zone is that of borrowing another writer’s structure or approach to their writing style, while not borrowing their content. This is absolutely, in no way shape or form, plagiarizing. But because of the nature of ideas and how they originate and propagate through society as memes, there are people who take this kind of structural borrowing as a theft of ideas.
So how does one evaluate the matter to be sure they’re simply using a reasonable approach, rather than stealing from another writer?
Let’s take a look at two very popular television series, two of my personal favorites in fact: ABC’s Castle and Fox’s Bones.
Castle, which first aired as a mid-season replacement in 2009, features a male and female partnership duo heading up an ensemble style cast of quirky police detectives. Rick Castle, an author who is tagging along on police investigations in order to do research for his books, often clashes with the experienced police detective Kate Beckett. Castle lacks any kind of police training and can’t protect himself like a cop could, but their personality clashes hide a growing and intensifying attraction to one another.
Compare that to Bones, which first aired in 2005. Temperence Brennan and Agent Seeley Booth head up an ensemble cast of quirky characters. Brennan (who is an author) is working with the experienced FBI field agent Booth. Booth often clashes with her over decorum in the field because she wants to get close to the action but lacks the training of an experienced officer. However, their clashes hide a growing and intensifying… you can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.
On the surface, these two shows look very much alike. Just looking at the facts as presented, you would probably excuse someone for making the initial assumption that Castle ripped Bones off. But looking a bit more in depth, you’ll see that it is not the case.
Bones is a show focused on forensic anthropology based out of a lab in the “Jeffersonian” institute (a Smithsonian analog) working with the FBI on high profile cases. It showcases the very real concerns of the interactions between specialists who are civilians and actual agents invested with police powers.
Castle, on the other hand, shows a rich playboy author who does a “ride along” with Detective Beckett and becomes fascinated with her. He decides to base a novel character on her, and uses his pull with the mayor to get assigned to her cases. This scenario is well into the realm of fanciful whimsy, rather than the situation in Bones, which at least attempts to illustrate the actual way two different agencies might interact.
Further, before Bones could make a claim against Castle, one has to remember that Bones is simply a retread of the tried and true “buddy cop” formula itself, which dates back much further than either series.
Both shows use a very similar format, but Castle is not a copy of Bones. They simply start from a similar premise, and follow the creators’ logic and own unique creative processes from there.
So it is with blogging. Perhaps one day you come across a format from a favorite blogger that you can see will work for you. Maybe the way they present their research and conclusions appeals to you in an organizational sense, and you borrow the format. This does not mean you’re borrowing the ideas, nor are you stealing actual content. Thus, it should not be considered plagiarism or intellectual property infringement.
Maybe it even goes further than that. A blogger could write about a specific topic you find interesting, and you decide to use the topic as a starting point. So long as you do your own research and do not simply take their article and rewrite it, again you are not plagiarizing.
Ideas are very fluid concepts. It is very difficult to demonstrate exactly where any one meme began in most cases. You should not be afraid of reading your favorite blogs and drawing ideas on what to write about from them. On their road to success, Bones and Castle weren’t afraid to revisit the buddy cop series idea, borrowing liberally from CSI and, yes, each other along the way. (The creators of Castle have even acknowledged that the relationship between Beckett and Castle has similarities to the one between Booth and Brennan.)
Don’t be afraid to look for ideas anywhere, so long as you are honestly willing and able to do the work yourself to flesh those ideas out.
Dawn Walnoha is the VP of Production at Brandsplat. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles and social media in the voice of our client’s brand. Click here for the Brandsplat Report or visit our blog at www.ibrandcasting.com.
This guest post is by Matt Hooper.
After reading through Darren’s census of ProBlogger results, a couple of numbers stood out to me.
- 8.7% of ProBlogger readers haven’t started a blog of your own yet.
- Only just over half of the respondants are on the WordPress.org platform.
The latter caught my attention since you will find a lot of tips and tricks for the WordPress.org platform here on ProBlogger. From looking at these two numbers, you could make a relatively educated guess that there are still a lot of people out there looking to start a WordPress blog.
Finding a home: web hosting
Before you can even start writing your first post, you need to figure out where your online home is going to be. This will be the place that all of your files will live online.
There are different kinds of hosting but they can essentially be classified into three types.
- shared hosting
- virtual private server (VPS)
- dedicated server.
Shared hosting is where most people start out and it is usually adequate for new site owners. Shared hosting is where different users are all on the same physical hardware. This can be compared to roommates. Everyone has their own room but there could be times when someone has a party and nobody gets up early. Like I said, this is good in most cases but if you or one of your roommates gets too much traffic, then the whole server could become slow.
A VPS is the next stage. You are still on a shared machine, but you are more isolated from your neighbours. This usually gives you more processing power and more RAM so that when your traffic spikes, your site isn’t likely to go down. Think of this as having your own apartment where there is a shared building but you can lock the door, and your noisy neighbours really need to have a shaker of a party to disturb you.
Finally, when your traffic is at massive levels, you might consider moving to a dedicated server. As the name implies, this is a dedicated piece of hardware that is entirely yours. All the RAM, the processing power and disk space is yours to do as you wish. This is your own house on acreage and you have no neighbours to worry about. However, the mortgage can start to put a dent in your finances. If you’re at this point, the rest of this post probably isn’t for you.
There are many hosts online, and I’m sure that someone will recommend a good host if you ask nicely. Make sure that you do your research and know what you’re getting into, though. Some shared hosts are crippled in their abilities and will only let you have one domain hosted with them, for example. Or, once you sign up, you discover that “unlimited” isn’t really unlimited.
Moving in: installing WordPress
After you’ve found a place for your blog to live, you’ll need to install the software that will be managing your posts and pages. If you’ve gotten to this point in the post, I’ll hazard the guess that you are probably going with WordPress.
Most shared hosts that are worth their weight will have something called “one-click” installs (it’s actually more than one click, but not much more) or something similar. The “one-click” software varies a bit depending on hosting provider, but they all do the same thing.
This gives you the ability to install WordPress with a few clicks of the mouse. You’ll still need to fill out a username for your site, passwords, site name, etc., but it’s a relatively painless process. The one-click software will set up the database for you, so you don’t need to worry about messing around with that. If you do encounter any problems, the support team at your host should be able to help you out.
Painting the walls: installing a theme
It’s not difficult to find WordPress themes on the internet these days, but you do need to be a little cautious. It’s widely know that the number one result in Google for free themes are full of malware and other nastiness that you’ll want to stay away from.
If you are interested in a free theme then you’re best to look in the WordPress theme repository. The people over at WordPress do their best to vet the themes before they make them available in the repository.
You may not be interested in any of the free themes; instead you might be looking for something with a bit more of a professional look and feel. If this is the case then, you are probably going to want a premium theme or framework. A premium theme or framework usually has a stronger development team behind it, and that team’s there to give you support when you need it. You won’t often get much support with a free theme.
These themes won’t often break the bank, but they will give your WordPress site a little more polish. Frameworks are becoming more and more common, and are probably your best bet. They take a little more work to set up than themes, but will provide you with a custom look without requiring you to drop the cash on a completely custom design.
When you are more established, you may decide that you’re bringing in enough income to justify the custom development costs of a one-off design. A custom design is a complete ground-up design, but in these days of custom frameworks, I think you really need a good reason to want to go with something like this.
Choosing your art: creating content
It’s often a good idea to have some content ready to go on your blog before you launch. This ensures that your visitors have more than just one thing to read when they visit for the first time.
I often recommend what I refer to as the “rule of fives”: launch with five pages, five categories, and five posts for each category. This rule isn’t etched in stone, so there is some flexibility for you to use your creative judgement; nevertheless, it gives you a starting point.
You don’t need to publish all of those posts on the first day—if you like, save some content to slowly roll out. It helps you set the theme of your blog and keeps your content focused. Keep in mind, too, that this doesn’t all need to be written content. It can be a mix of text, audio, images and video, for example.
Home sweet home: everything else
The above will get you started on your journey to blogging bliss, however there are other items to look at. WordPress is very extensible and things like plugins and widgets can really start to make your website your own. However, if you ask 100 different bloggers what their favourite plugins are, you’ll get a hundred different lists.
Later today on ProBlogger, we’ll be talking more about plugins. We’ll show you how to install your first plugin, and take a spin through some of the more popular plugins you might want to consider.
In the end, it’s all about building something that you can be proud of. If it isn’t enjoyable, you might be on the wrong path. Take your time and discover only what you need in order to get to the next step, just don’t sit around trying to figure out everything before you begin. Take action and push through the road blocks—and enjoy the process!
Matthew Hooper helps individuals, small businesses and organizations start blogs or websites as a step to building an internet presence. You can get his free guide on building an internet presence or check out his online WordPress course full of step-by-step videos so that you can learn WordPress in a single weekend.
This guest post is by Sean M. Madden of Mindful Living Guide.
I’ve been teaching creative writing, along with mindful living, for years now. And I can say, without hesitation, that fear is ubiquitous. Its presence, more than anything else, stops writers in their tracks.
All seems to be going along beautifully, words and ideas are flowing, characters and plots are taking shape, and wham! a certain self-consciousness seeps in. The flow slows to a trickle, we begin to falter, and, worst of all, we judge ourselves harshly, comparing our present writing to our glory days. Or we compare ourselves against other writers, those in our midst, or literary greats of times past.
Just a few minutes ago, I finished up an informal discussion which I was leading on the web. The talk shared the exact title of this article, and one of the participants is a long-time student of mine. He’s the sort of guy you’d never guess would be fearful of losing his writing voice. He’s a confident and successful middle-aged businessman, and he’s led an unusually creative life. He’s gigged as a singer-songwriter, owned and managed art galleries in London, has a lovely family, and travels widely.
Yet Alex has a lingering concern—the very one detailed above, whereby his writing seems to get off-track, falters and he starts doubting his abilities, whether he’ll manage to write with ease as he once did.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take which, if heeded, will do more than help us to find and keep our writing voice. These steps can help us to move beyond fear and to live more creatively.
Ten steps to help you move beyond fear and find and keep your writing voice
- Acknowledge your fears: don’t pretend they’re not lurking there behind the scenes.
- Face them: Face your fears with a simple, uncomplicated awareness of the corresponding bodily sensations. In other words, notice how your fears (and thoughts generally) make you feel, physically.
- But don’t feed them: As with online trolls who get their jollies trying to wreak havoc, your fears will lessen and eventually fade away if you stop engaging with them on their terms.
- Recognize that your fears are illusory: You can smile at their devilish innocence.
- Simply put pen to paper: Write through your fears. Write down whatever comes up.
- Notice our tendency to negatively compare ourselves with others: These crippling, judgmental thoughts are another illusion, another trick our minds play to limit our naturally creative selves.
- Realize that action trumps fear: When things get tough, go for a good long walk, take a yoga class, return to your breath. Do such things as these on a daily basis and things will not get so tough so often.
- Write down your inner truths: Do this with great courage and honesty. You’ll thereby find your voice.
- Take heart knowing you’re not alone: We, all of us, feel these fears. Don’t believe otherwise.
- Trust in the process: Nurture an awareness that everything, even fear, can be a great teacher!
What fears tend to squelch your writing voice, and what strategies do you use to overcome these fears? Please leave your comments below. Let’s get the conversation flowing.
As a Creative Writing Mindful Living Guide, Sean M. Madden offers Writing, Literature Mindful Living courses and workshops — and one-to-one guidance — worldwide. He’s also the creator of the new #mlmon and #wpthu communities. To keep apprised of Sean’s live web-based writing workshops (Next Up: April 8 15) and other online and in-person offerings, sign up to the MLG newsletter. You can also follow (@SeanMMadden) or email him.
This guest post is by Eric Siu of Evergreen Search.
WordPressers are always looking for helpful plugins for their blogs, and if you’ve been following today’s posts on ProBlogger, especially Install Your First WordPress Plugin, you’re probably in the same boat.
So I thought I’d compile a list of the most popular to get you started. To make things simple, the plugins in this post have been broken into different categories.
- WordPress SEO: If there’s one plugin from this list that you should get, this is the one. It sets up title tags, breadcrumbs, meta robots control, XML sitemaps, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, and much more.
- Broken Link Checker: This handy plugin will tell you which links on your site are broken – an automated problem spotter.
- WPTouch: Easily create a mobile version of your site.
- nRelate Related Content: Make it easy for people and search engines to find related content around your site.
- WP Editorial Calendar: Make blogging more manageable by setting up a blogging calendar with this plugin. Very simple drag-and-drop editing on a calendar.
- SEO Auto Links Related Posts: Autolink words to URLs of your choice—great for internal linking.
- WP Super Cache: This plugin will speed up your blog—and site speed is an SEO factor. While not necessary for smaller blogs, bigger blogs will definitely want this plugin.
- Blogging Checklist: Sometimes you might forget to include some important steps while blogging. Blogging Checklist allows you to add a list of helpful reminders before you place a blog post. Forget no more!
- Social Analytics: Want to see which users are logged in via Google, Google+, Facebook, or Twitter? You can do it with this plugin.
- Social Sharing Toolkit: This flexible plugin allows you to add “social bling” to your posts or pages. You can add buttons from various social networks in a clean and minimalistic manner. Here’s how it looks:
- Tweet Old Post: If you have content that you’d like to resurface to your audience every now and then, Tweet Old Post lets you do it.
- Google Analytics Dashboard: Adds a Google Analytics dashboard as well as a graph for every one of your posts.
- Subscribe to Comments: Gives your audience the option to subscribe to comments so they will be alerted when people are posting new comments.
- Outbound Links: Automatically makes all outbound links open in new windows. Helpful in the sense that you don’t lose your audience completely. These clicks can be tracked in Google Analytics.
- Post Ender: Add a message at the end of each post—think email subscription and RSS subscription opt-ins, like this:
- Akismet: Eliminate comment spam. This plugin is already installed—all you need to do is enable it and get an API key.
- Widget Context: A custom sidebar widget. Sometimes you might need to rotate in different ads or use different widgets for various pages or posts. This plugin helps you accomplish that.
- WP Database Backup: Backing up your blog is extremely important—you don’t want a freak accident to destroy all your work. This plugin allows you to schedule backups. I personally send them to different gmail accounts for each blog.
- WordPress Backup to Dropbox: Back up your WordPress files to your Dropbox account.
There are a ton of great WordPress plugins out there—this list is intended just to help you get a head start. You’re sure to find some incredible plugins that suit your needs down the line. What are some other essential WordPress plugins that you use?
Eric Siu is the Vice President of SEO at Evergreen Search, a digital marketing agency in los angeles. He’s also written about Minimum Viable SEO: 8 Ways To Get Startup SEO Right and 10 Immutable Laws of SEO. In his free time, he likes watching football, playing poker, hiking, reading, or eating ice cream. Feel free to follow him on Twitter: @ericosiu
This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.
WordPress is a platform that’s rather easy to use, for the most part. Publishing new posts is easy, creating new pages is easy, and moderating comments is—again—easy. And that’s great because, this way, the platform can be used by anybody. As Matt Hooper explained earlier today, in his post What Your Need to Know Before You Start a WordPress Blog, no web development or programming skills are required.
Just to make one thing clear, WordPress doesn’t need any additional software, tools, or plugins to operate. Once you get a clean version you are well-off to join the blogging world. However, if you want to include some extra features in your blog, make it SEO friendly, or enable just a simple contact form, in most cases you’ll have to use plugins.
The word “plugin” sounds like a piece of code or software that needs to be included manually in your WordPress by a professional. This isn’t the case, however.
I admit, if you want to work with other platforms then you might stumble upon some difficulties while installing plugins, but with WordPress you can get any plugin installed in less than a minute.
What are plugins, and what’s their job?
There are almost 20,000 plugins available (at the time of writing) in the official directory, and they enable you to turn your blog into whatever kind of site you like.
Among the things plugins can do for your blog are: improve its typography, tune the SEO structure, help you to proofread and edit, take care of backups, check for broken links, provide a contact form, protect against spam, connect your site with social media profiles, display social media share buttons, enable Google Analytics, cache recent posts, enable AdSense, make it possible to display different forms of advertising, and many many more.
Where can you get plugins from?
You can use the search engine to find any plugin you want by its name, or to use keywords that describe the functionality you’re after. For example, here’s how you’d find the “coming soon” plugin by ThemeFuse:
Now, in this post I’m using ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode —the “coming soon” plugin—as an example to guide you through the whole process of installing a plugin. The process is universal and you can follow it to get any other plugin installed as well.
There are two main ways to “get” your hands on a WordPress plugin, so to speak. You can either:
- download it from the official directory (or any other website) as a ZIP file
- have it put straight into your WordPress blog.
The latter is, of course, a much easier way, and a much faster to go through. However, I’m going to tell you about both to make the picture complete.
Instal a WordPress plugin through your admin panel (the easy way)
I know that it sounds like a big deal, but this is actually the easier way to install a plugin, and one that can be done in less than a minute.
First, you need to log in to your WordPress panel on an admin account. Installing new plugins always requires admin access rights; it can’t be done through author accounts.
Next, go to Plugins Add New, as shown below.
There’s a search field in the center of the page. It works almost exactly the same as the one in the official directory available at wordpress.org. You can use this search field to find a plugin by name, or you can use keywords to describe the functionality you want.
In our example, we’ve decided that we want to get the ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode plugin, so this is what we’re going to put in the field. Inevitably, the first result shown is the plugin we want to install.
Now, to the best part. You can have the plugin downloaded to your WordPress and installed just by clicking the link labeled as Install Now, that’s next to the plugin’s name.
The installation itself is pretty quick, and if everything goes well you should see something like this:
The only thing left to do now is to click the link labeled as “Activate Plugin,” shown above. By default, every plugin that gets put in your WordPress blog is deactivated. If you want to use it you have to activate it first.
If the plugin activates successfully it should be visible in your Plugins section and marked as active:
At this point, three main links are visible: Settings, Deactivate, and Edit.
- Settings: This is where you can set the basic things about your new plugin. Usually, it’s where you start working with a plugin.
- Deactivate: You can deactivate your plugin if you don’t want to use it anymore.
- Edit: It’s not advisable to go there if you’re a beginner. This is the place where you can edit the source code executed by a given plugin.
That’s it. Your new plugin is up and running!
Now let’s take a look at a more complicated way of installing a plugin.
Installing a WordPress plugin manually
In this approach, you’ll have to get the ZIP file of the plugin you want to install (1), upload it to your blog through FTP (2), and then activate it in your WordPress admin (3).
1. Getting the ZIP file
As usual, start by searching for a nice plugin in the official directory at wordpress.org. Once you stumble upon something interesting you can download it to your local hard drive.
When you’re at the plugin page (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/themefuse-maintenance-mode/, for example) click on the Download button and save the ZIP file somewhere on your computer:
2. Uploading through FTP
For this step, you’ll need a piece of FTP (file transfer protocol) software to transfer the files to your blog hosting directory. Thankfully, there are some free ones, like FileZilla.
Before you can use FTP, you need to take the ZIP archive of your plugin and extract it to a location on your hard drive.
Now, in your FTP software connect to your site (your host will be able to give you the details you ned to be able to do this) and navigate to the wp-content/plugins directory.
Next, upload everything that has been extracted from the plugin’s ZIP file to that location.
3. Activating the plugin
Once you upload the plugin via FTP, you should see it listed in the Plugins section of your WordPress admin panel. But this time it’s deactivated.
The only thing left for you to do now is activate it. Simply click the Activate link, as shown above.
At this point, your new plugin is active and ready to be used, and the same three links (Settings, Deactivate, Edit) are displayed under the plugin’s name.
Since there’s not much more we can say about the installation process itself, let’s take a minute to follow the Settings link mentioned above and see what a standard plugin configuration page looks like.
Adjusting plugin settings
ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode lets you welcome your visitors with a sort of “coming soon” message. This comes handy if you haven’t finished working on your blog yet, and you don’t want anyone to see it half-baked.
Here’s an example screen that a reader will see when they visit a site where the plugin is active:
The best part is that a user who’s logged in to the site’s admin section (wp-admin) sees the blog normally, so they can work on it without any problems. The screen above is what normal blog visitors see. Now let’s go back to the settings section:
This is what you’ll find when you navigate to Settings ThemeFuse Maintenance Plugin from the left-hand menu of your WordPress admin area.
Many WordPress plugins provide a small set of initial options that need to be set, but then the rest is done without any additional attention on your part. With this plugin, everything is pretty much set up right from the get-go, and if you want to, you can take care of some adjustments to make the plugin fit your needs perfectly.
The plugin provides some basic customization regarding the way it looks. The first two fields (Upload Logo and Upload Background) let you give the plugin a little branding. I advise you to change at least the logo to one you’re going to use on your site once it’s live.
The easiest way of changing the logo or the background is to upload these files through your blog’s media library, and then copy and paste the file links to the aforementioned fields.
In order to do this, just go to Media Add New (the left-hand menu of your WordPress admin area):
Click Select Files. After your files are successfully uploaded, you’ll see a screen similar to this:
The marked URL is what you need to copy and paste into either the Upload Logo or Upload Background field.
The remaining fields enable you to customize your welcome message even further:
- You can input the date on which your site is planned to be completed.
- You can set a label for the loader bar.
- You can set the percentage of completion, to give some visual representation of what’s going on.
- You can include any content you find suitable through the standard WordPress visual (or HTML) editor.
- Finally, you can set your Twitter username if you want to display a follow button along with your latest tweet.
One important thing you have to remember is that if the plugin is active, everyone who visits your blog and is not logged in will see the Coming Soon page instead of the blog’s normal appearance. When you are done working on your blog, and ready to launch, always remember to deactivate the plugin.
What’s the next step?
That’s all for this guide. I hope that you’ll visit the plugin directory and get yourself a nice shiny plugin right away. Later today, we’ll be publishing a list of some of the more popular plugins for you to check out.
For now, though, what other things about WordPress do you find challenging for a beginner to take care of? Let us know in the comments!