Making Your Site Healthy – PART I

The movers arrive in Cleveland today! While John and I are trekking to Maryland and getting ourselves organized, I’ve arranged for some great guest posters over the next few weeks. I’ll be stopping by with baby updates on Tuesday’s and life updates on the weekends.

Our first guest poster is John’s sister! Sara is a graphic designer and has extensive experience in SEO and Web Marketing! She is certainly a wealth of knowledge and I hope you enjoy her post! 

SEO & Helpful WordPress Plugins for any Blog

Crazy Blogger

Blogging can be extremely rewarding. Some brave, creative souls might even say that it’s fun. So it’s no surprise that keeping a blog updated for a long period of time can make you feel warm and fuzzy. (Think of it as that wearing-clothes-straight-from-the-dryer-feeling.)  But what if there is more to blogging than JUST that wearing-clothes-straight-from-the-dryer-feeling? Is there more out there?

Newsflash.

Knock-knock.

Yarr, me mateys.

There is.

However, it’s not easy to make your blog into something more than a regularly updated site with a small user base. Just like working out without keeping proper posture or baking without the correct ingredients, if you put time and effort into updating a blog without the basic building blocks of success – then it might be all for naught. No one likes straining a back muscle when picking up a box. And a brownie without chocolate is a sin against mankind.

So what do you need to do?

First of all, identify some goals of yours: Do you want a big readership? Do you want to make more than $500 a month? Do you want 1,000 search engine visitors a day? To meet any (possibly all, you crazy blogger you) of these goals, all you need to do is perform some relatively simple SEO and web marketing tasks on your site. It’ll be much easier than resisting that second helping of Thanksgiving dinner. Trust the girl who may-or-may-not have went back for thirds.

I am a list-happy person. So, prepare to be list’d (via two separate posts).

PART I – Use WordPress Plugins to Ready Your Site for SEO

Challenge Accepted

This first section may not apply to you because you may not be using the WordPress platform. Please skip to PART II if you would like to learn how to excel at SEO without discovering some extremely useful WordPress plugins. Feel free to curse my existence.

These plugins can improve a site’s usability, search engine optimization and the overall functionality. None of this is guaranteed of course, but you can put your best foot forward by installing them (and remember what our mothers always said about putting your best foot forward):

1. All in One SEO Pack (free version)

This plugin is a must-have for blog search engine optimization. It makes optimizing all of your pages and posts extremely simple. Right now, you might not understand what your page titles and meta tags are, but you will soon enough, Grasshopper.

2. Akismet

Basically, Akismet protects you from spammers (you wouldn’t believe how many robots are floating around the WordPress world, just waiting to spam up your life). You will need a WordPress account in order to verify this plugin, but it is a piece of cake to do.

3. 404 SEO Plugin

Ah, 404s. The dreaded “where the hell did I go wrong?” page. With this plugin, you can save your users a lot of heartache. You can set up a customized, smart 404 page. That way, when your users take a wrong turn, then can be directed to some relevant links on your site. By installing this plugin, you can make your site seem to have relevant pages even for those messed up, nonexistent URLs that users attempt to reach. Silly, lost users!

4 .Google Analytics

So let’s assume you run a site – do you have Google Analytics installed on said site? If the answer to that question is “no,” then RUN – don’t walk – to www.google.com/analytics. (Not literally, of course, because this is a website.)

Create a Google Analytics account and use the Google Analytics plugin to set up tracking on your site by pasting in your ID number. Google Analytics is helpful, free software that allows you to keep track of site stats such as traffic, traffic sources, most popular content, etc.

If you don’t know how to use it now (or understand why you should use it) I would suggest going here and studying up. You’ll learn so many things about your website that you never knew before. Plus, afterwards you’ll be able to work words like “bounce rate” or “click through rate” into boring dinner party conversations.

5. Google XML Sitemaps

An XML sitemap is a very simple list of all pages that you have on your site (in simple, tiny-word terms). You want one of these because you can use them to tell Google, “HEY! Index these pages of mine!” Sometimes Google has issues crawling through sites and finding every URL to index (i.e., list in its search engine results). By creating this XML sitemap, you give Google a super easy way to find your content. Alas, this is a two-step process (see below).

6. Google Webmaster Tools

Once you create your XML sitemap using the plugin listed above (and it is usually created at www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml), you will need to submit it to Google Webmaster Tools so that Google sees it. This is a somewhat painless process: just create a GWT tools account, add the “Webmaster Tools Verification” plugin to your WordPress site and then verify your brand, spankin’ new GWT account using the plugin. (Google gives you pretty detailed information on how to do it, so don’t worry if my vague, rushed instructions are leaving you feeling a little fightened and alone.)

7. Redirection

This little plugin helps you manage all your 301 redirects and monitor 404 errors. 301 redirects are short lines of code that you can create to tell the Internet which pages of your site you would want to display in lieu of others (my God, I love using the phrase “in lieu”).

For example, lets say you created an OMG CATS page on your blog. Two weeks later, you decide that you don’t really want an OMG CATS page. So, you delete it. Then you create an I Mildly Enjoy Cats Page (because, hey, no one likes a drama queen)… you would use a 301 redirect to push any users attempting to get to your OMG CATS (via links or the search engine) page to the I Mildly Enjoy Cats Page.

Why? OMG CATS no longer exists. The users would end up at a sad 404 page if they attempted to get to it. Then your users would be sad, too. Broken links and 404 errors are strikes against your site, so use 301 redirects when deleting or replacing content, comrades!

8. Robots Meta

You might not understand what Robots Meta does, but trust me, you will want it installed. In the settings, you can checkmark whether or not you want certain pages to be blocked from being indexed. You might think getting 100% of your pages indexed would be great but … do you really want all of your admin pages indexed? User profile pages? (Most likely, the answer here is “no.”) You don’t want random strangers with candy to stumble across your poor, defenseless pages. So use Robots Meta to keep them out of unmarked, white vans (i.e., search engines).

9. SEO Friendly Images

Most savvy, photo-happy bloggers write posts that include 2 to 49 relevant photos. This is good. However, if most of these photos do not have optimized alt tags or descriptions, it is bad. (But not terrible, so don’t beat yourself up about it.) This plugin will attach helpful alt and title attributes onto all of your images. So then the next time you upload, you can edit these attributes before publishing your post. For example, if you upload a picture of a gourd, you can make the alt tag and title “yellow gourd.” This can improve traffic you get from image and normal search engine results.

10. SEO Smart Links

Before I tell you what this plugin does, let me say just one thing: I hate automation. Logically, you would think that automation of mundane tasks makes life filled with sunshine and puppies… but it doesn’t. Life might seem easier to you, but your users and the search engines can pick up on robotic automation. So just keep that in mind. (Whew. Ranting over.)

So with that being said, this is a plugin that automates internal linking within your site. I know, I know, this goes against what I just said. But if you don’t like linking to your own content in posts, this plugin will help you out. You can specify how many links you would want per page and the plugin automatically creates the links for you. This helps the search engines find all of your content. It’s not vital, but it does help you. (Like taking the stairs or parking far out from a store – it’ll help you burn some calories, but you won’t be dropping pounds just because you do it.)

And thus, PART I has concluded!

If you are SEO and web marketing savvy, take these helpful SEO plugins and run with it! Otherwise, if you’re in need of SEO guidance, check back for PART II – Learning (and Applying) SEO Theory.

What an informative post! Thank you so much Sara! I can’t wait to get started on some blog “homework” after reading this! 

Comments

  1. 2

    There is so much helpful knowledge here. I really hope more take advantage of all of it. Thanks Sara for sharing such great info!

  2. 3

    I don’t see the free version of the All In One SEO pack plugin? Help?

  3. 5

    Thanks for all the useful information!! Now I just have to move to self hosted on WordPress first….

  4. 6

    This is perfect! Just what I was looking for…found the link through the HLB page. Now, on to install some crazy plugins :)

  5. 7

    Quick question. Just switched to self-hosted and am uber-confused. I signed up for Google Analytics and installed the plug-in, but have no idea where I’m supposed to paste the tracking code to start using it? I’m trying to customize my blog now, but it’s not going well (twitter and instagram plug ins dont seem to be working/showing up, etc)

    • 8
      Katie Heddleston says:

      I already emailed you – but wanted to have an answer here for cohesiveness as well!

      I recommend putting the GA code in your header code – this way it will track all your pages since your header is on every page!

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  1. [...] John will be joining me in Maryland tomorrow! I hope you enjoyed Sara’s post yesterday about wordpress plugins; today I have Holly for [...]

  2. [...] back with another informative post today! She taught us last week how to keep our site healthy with helpful wordpress plugins and today she’s going to provide us with some awesome SEO [...]

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