In this round-table show we go deep into SEO and what works in 2016 and what can really damaged your website’s placement with Google. We have an excellent panel of WordPress expert with lot of experience working with real live clients.
The Main WordPress News Stories We Discuss During This Round Table
1 – ButterBean Post Meta Box Framework 1.0 Released
2 – WordPress for Enterprise: Why Your Enterprise Business Should Use WordPress
3 – Why customers want WordPress Page Builders
In our WordPress news stories for the podcast this week, we looked at the ButterBean Post Meta Box framework, which is a new plugin framework for organizing meta boxes in a cleaner, more elegant fashion. This new framework comes from WordPress core contributor Justin Tadlock, and offers an alternative to some of the other plugin frameworks for post meta boxes, such as WP-Alchemy.
In our second new story, we dove into an article by Thomas Ewer on the Kinsta blog about using WordPress for enterprise sites. Jackie pointed out that WordPress was mainly for blogs many years ago, but outgrew that classification early into its existence. Unfortunately, a lot of that stigma still remains. Some enterprise companies embrace open-source solutions like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla, but some enterprise companies want to spend millions on a proprietary CMS (The reasons why, I’m not sure). More enterprise companies are using WordPress every day, and WordPress currently powers about 26% of all websites in existence.
Jonathan said that the REST API is a feature coming to core soon that promises to open up a lot more use for WordPress in the enterprise, but maintaining backwards compatibility has made some more complex database integrations tricky.
Sallie said the article claimed the steady updates of WordPress was a positive, but certain enterprise clients may not see it that way. She said the VIP sites on WordPress.com do not use what you get on WordPress.org straight out-of-the-box. She pointed out that WordPress.com VIP does some interesting things with the database and MySQL to make those sites faster. Her point was you can use WordPress in an enterprise setting, but you can’t just install it and expect magic. You need someone who understands WordPress at a high level to configure it for an enterprise environment.
Jonathan said if you expect to buy multi-purpose hosting and buy a ThemeForest theme and have high performance on a high-traffic site, that is a fallacy. Enterprise sites running on any platform take time and planning to pull off successfully.
John said WordPress is on par with any CMS that is out there, and is superior to Drupal in many ways. He referenced episode 120, where Matt Medeiros said many enterprise companies like the more glacial developmental pace of platforms like Drupal. Many people that work in government and education spaces are Drupal fans, and that is why Drupal is used so often in the enterprise.
John said that there are agencies out there that will try to sell enterprise companies their proprietary CMS, but then the companies are forever tied to that agency. No one else can work on their site. One advantage of an open-source CMS is there are many people who know how to work on it, meaning there are more possible developmental partners for an enterprise company.
Our third WordPress news story was from Chris Lema’s article on Why Customers Want Page Builders.
Jackie noted that customers want to make changes quickly while watching their costs, and page builders give them that flexibility. She noted that the controversy comes from whether customers want to use page builders later on to keep making changes to their site. She mentioned tools like Design Palette Pro for Genesis as signs that clients want to make changes without touching HTML or CSS. Jackie said she doesn’t use page builders, but understands why people would want to use them.
Jonathan stated there are both benefits and drawbacks to page builder. He said many clients will focus on moving page elements around instead of focusing on producing quality content. He brought up a great point, that what you see in the WordPress text editor doesn’t always translate to what will show up on the finished page.
Sallie said there are plenty of reasons to object to using page builders (poor quality code, shortcodes left behind), but we need to do a better job providing alternatives. Because not everyone can code, we need to either fix the problems with the tools, or fix the problems with the core text editor in WordPress, or a combo of both.
Sallie related a great story of a new tool someone told her about at WordCamp Los Angeles, where if you wanted to disable their page builder plugin, you could export the page as HTML.
Another argument is web developers don’t want to give clients a tool to turn a meticulously crafted website into GeoCities. Just because you have the tool, it doesn’t make you a designer. Sallie said there is only so much you can protect clients from themselves. She said we need more page builders with portable content and improvements to the core WordPress editing tool.
John said Chris’ article ended with an invitation to use Beaver Builder, which if you are going to use a page builder, is perhaps the best option. John said Visual Composer and Divi are very bad for page speed and site performance, because they are built on shortcodes. Jonathan stated performance and speed will cause issues on mobile, because most of your customers will be browsing your site on mobile.
Jackie said many clients turn to page builders because they want to add buttons or icons to a page, and adding the exact HTML and CSS to reproduce them is tricky and complicated. She said, in the end, much website development will end up as adding page elements without having to write code.
John thought there were two primary types of people who would want a page builder: clients who want to make changes without calling a developer, and WordPress implementers who sell client websites without knowing how to code. Jonathan said there was a third category of people who want page builders: hardcore marketers who want to put together a website quickly.
John said there was nothing wrong with putting together a site with page builder to test an idea before building the final version of a website. However, John thought the article was mostly addressing clients who didn’t want to pay a developer more than $500 for a website. John thought those were not the types of clients a freelancer or consultant could make a living from anyway, and most people should not pursue do-it-yourselfers as clients. He said for sites that are enterprise level, page builders might not be the best solution.
Main Topic: Black Hat SEO and Outdated SEO Techniques That Are Hurting Your Rank
John asked the panel what are the craziest SEO myths that clients still believe are helping them rank, but are really hurting them?
Jackie said duplicate content is a big problem. Oftentimes, people will read an article somewhere else and copy-paste the whole thing onto their site. Not only will Google instantly recognize this as duplicate content, but they may be in serious trouble for plagiarism and copyright infringement.
Buying links is also one of the biggest things that still goes on, that ends up hurting your SEO. Jackie said a lot of black-hat SEO agencies have complex link schemes. Google started penalizing link farms, link schemes, and private blog networks some time ago. Most people know you need lots of back links to rank well, so they purchase links from disreputable sources, and end up penalized by Google for trying to unnaturally manipulate rankings.
Jackie also mentioned spam comments with exact match keyword text. Most blogs no-follow comment links, so these really provide no benefit, except for the curious few that click on them to see where they go. Jackie also mentioned article spinning, which is where you just change a few of the words around from an existing article, to try and avoid duplicate content. John said Google actually understand synonyms, so this is completely ineffective now, and can get you flagged.
Another thing Jackie mentioned is keyword stuffing, specifically in local SEO. People like to create a bunch of similar pages with the names of nearby cities and the service they provide, and put these in the footer of their site. This is a spammy SEO practice that has produced nothing but diminishing returns in recent years.
Jonathan also mentioned blog networks, and John mentioned an article called Confessions of a Google Spammer that shows how much money the black-hat SEOs were making back in the day, and how quickly it fell apart once Google figured it out.
Jonathan said if you get a link from a reputable source, like the New York Times, it can make a world of difference in your page rank.
Sallie said many people hold on to outdated SEO ideas. For example, the search engines have not paid attention to the meta keywords in about fifteen years. She said any SEO plan that relies on Google being stupid will be short-lived. Google dies not hire stupid people, and black hat SEO schemes are eventually found out.
Sallie had a great insight, that many sites don’t even have enough content to optimize. Trying to over-optimize a website with only five hundred words on it can make you look like a spammer to Google. If you work too hard on a site with no content, search engine will assume you’re trying to trick people.
Sallie said people are more prone to make errors from lack of knowledge than malice, such as having duplicate meta descriptions on multiple pages. But because people don’t know much about the world of online marketing, they are vulnerable to SEO snake-oil salesmen who will end up hurting their website with bad practices.
The biggest thing that people don’t want to hear is that SEO is a long term process. They don’t want to hear that you have to produce quality content for a long time, and get good back links. In Sallie’s famous words, SEO is not a condiment.
Jonathan recommended Rebecca Gill’s SEO course for people wanted to learn more about best practices for SEO. Jonathan also said internal linking plays an important part in building up your SEO.
John said most business owners are busy, and don’t know how to evaluate one SEO company from the next, and asked the panel what qualities people should look for in a SEO consultancy.
Jackie said SEO is based on two things: content that people want and a great user experience. Jackie tells a great story of how she dominated organic search for a particular site by going above and beyond with the site content, and making it easy for users to navigate. This was something none of her competitors were doing.
SEO for a site really boils down to solving problems and answering questions better than your competitors, and having great user experience. She says many people build for Googlebot instead of the actual site users. John says Google looks at how users interact with a site to determine how useful it is to visitors.
Sallie says it is in Google’s best interest to serve the most accurate results and best results to users, or they won’t be back, and they won’t see any AdWords ads.
One of the big keys is to have mobile-friendly site that loads quickly. It also helps to make things easy to find on your site. If people can find stuff on your site without having to search in Google (instead of on-site search) that’s what you should be aiming for.
Jonathan said a lot of enterprise sites are still not mobile-friendly. John said there is still several years of work for all the web designers and developers in existence, just to improve the mobile experience for existing sites.
John said that even now, web designers for the most part don’t design for mobile first, but start with the desktop version, even though more people use their phone than a desktop or laptop computer. Perhaps if enough people within the design community carry on about this for long enough, eventually it will change.
Jonathan mentioned sites with sliders with un-optimized images as a prime example of not designing mobile-first. We wondered about services like Wix and other platforms. Sallie said Wix was okay if you only have five pages on your site, and those pages are never going to change.
In the bonus content overrun, Jackie said that a lot of designers seem to focus on desktop and mobile portrait mode, but there is little focus on tablet layout or mobile landscape mode. She cited several examples of layouts not lining up correctly in landscape. Layout is part of user experience, and can affect bounce rate.
Sallie said it is important to consider the layout for mobile early on and not as an afterthought. Mobile design forces you to prioritize content, which is something people may not be ready to do early on.
Sallie started us on a discussion about Flexbox, which makes it easier to move content around in ways that were not possible before with CSS. Browser support is good for Flexbox, and the Flexibility.js script from 10up provides support for older versions of Internet Explorer.
John said in Safari, you have to explicitly declare width and height on container boxes if you are using Flexbox for automatic layout. Jackie says her recent podcast guest, Erin E Flynn, does not support older versions of browsers like IE6 unless the client specifically asks for it. These older browsers require lots of extra support, and are charged for by most web designers accordingly.
Jackie says she uses an auto-prefixer in Sass to takes care of browser-specific declarations. Sallie also mentions an auto-prefix mode in Sublime Text. Sallie says you should use analytics to gauge what browsers and devise you need to support. The numbers will tell you what browsers your site visitors use.
Jonathan tells an insightful story about looking to hire a firm for paid advertising, and the stark contrast between that world and that of WordPress consultants. He says most paid advertising consultants won’t even look at you for less than $3,000 a month, and many clients in the lower end of the WordPress space won’t spend close to that for a finished website.
John says that there are companies that spend $10,000 a month on AdWords, but won’t invest in their website, because they and quantify what the paid ads will do, and it is more difficult with SEO. He compared pay-per-click to heroin – once the rush is gone, they need to go shoot up some more. But they can measure what they get, so they stay with it, even if it is a terrible bargain.
He tells a story of a prospect doing close to $2,000,000 a year in revenue that would not invest in their website, but was spending money on third party marketing and pay-per-click hand over fist. This company had to spend so much on pay-per-click because their SEO was non-existent. He says they never became a client because their budget was not appropriate.
John mentions two SEO myths not covered in the main portion of the WordPress podcast: that installing Yoast SEO will make you rank higher, and that spending money on AdWords will make you rank higher. (Both are false).
He says many people just Google for SEO companies and pick the first person they find, without looking deeper. Sallie says God forbid anyone go with one of the companies that cold calls you. If you were any good at SEO, why would you need to cold call anyone?
Sallie says traditional advertising like pay-per-click may not produce any results, but management will not push back on that decision. Jackie said no one can guarantee you ranking at certain position, because things change so rapidly. She said the one thing you can guarantee is that you will be following best practices, and that companies that follow SEO best practices rank better in the long run.