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WP Troubleshooting Tips From the Trenches

This guest post is by Dan Sheehan of DSConstructiontahoe.com.

I’m one of those types who believe when something’s working fine, it’s a good time to mess with it. After all, isn’t that how progression and innovation happen?

My construction business had been slow so I decided to build my own website during some down-time.

I learned a lot about WordPress and SEO through my toying, tweaking, and dismantling of this website, and I think my tips might help newbies and seasoned WordPressers alike!

Google Webmaster Tools

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you sign up for a free Google Webmaster Tools account.  Much of the following post is based on the information you can get from this extremely important tool.

It is never fun to go to your Google Webmaster Tools account to find that the Googlebots have been discovering pages of your site that you never knew existed, or URLs that are non-existent. Or to find that your home page isn’t being indexed because there’s a trailing slash on the end of your home URL. The worst was when I found that both the www and non-www versions of my URL were being indexed—that’s not good for SEO.

Redirection and link juice plugins

Along the journey, I’ve tried many plugins. One thing I have tried to do is use as few a plugins as possible in an attempt to make my site as fast as possible (since Larry Page is such a speed freak).

I present here are a few plugins that I have found help my site play nice with Google, and are well worth the weight they add to my WP installation.

After changing my permalink structure four or five times and my domain name twice, I had a mess that Google pointed out to me under the “crawl errors” and “html errors” sections in the Webmasters tools.

Two plugins helped clean up a lot of this mess: Redirection and Link Juice Keeper.

The Redirection plugin allows you to place a 301 redirect on any URL within the domain. To tell you the truth, in many cases I had no idea where these bad URL’s came from—I only knew that Google was telling me they were crawl errors. And the reasons as to how I got all those errors are beyond the scope of this post.  When you use a 301 redirect, any PageRank from that homeless page transfers to the page you are 301-redirecting to.

Link Juice Keeper (or LJK) is what I use to basically clean up all the bad URLs for which I can’t find a page to redirect to. LJK automatically redirects all non-existent URLs and 404 errors to your home page. So after you go through and 301-redirect URLS that can be pointed to good, specific pages, you can let LJK pick up the rest—plus any others that pop up.

However, keep in mind that any of the subsequent redirections that LJK makes might be better replaced by a redirection to a more appropriate page on your site, so it’s good periodically to check for any new errors, and properly redirect them if possible, rather than just letting them go to your home page.

By giving a home to all these “homeless pages” you are preserving any link juice that those pages have within your domain. If a page with a bad URL can be found on the ‘net, then it has value—but not if it goes to a “page cannot be found” page. Why not make use of all those pages and have them become paths to the content that you want to rank for?

Anti-spamming plugins

Another great plugin I came across is cbnet Ping Optimizer.

Did you know that every time you make an edit to a post or a page on your WordPress blog, you’re pinging a bunch of update services like Google, Technorati, and many more? This action lets them know that you have some new content and that they should send over their crawlers to take a look.

That’s great … unless you’re like me, and are constantly correcting some spelling, or tweaking your pages on a very regular basis. Maybe you’re reformatting a post, and keep updating and publishing over and over until it looks just right.

While you’re consciously improving your content, you’re also making yourself out to be a spammer in the eyes of those update services. What cbnet Ping Optimizer does is control those pings so that you only ping the update services when you create something new (a post or a page)—not when you edit an existing post or page. If you’ve made a bunch of edits that have significantly changed the page or post, then you can go ahead and manually force-ping the services.

A Firefox addon that’s been helpful to me is SEO Doctor.

SEO Doctor provides great SEO-related information about the page that’s displayed in your browser. It will let you know, for example, if you are using two H1 tags (not good), as well as many other SEO blunders.

SEO Doctor told me that an important page on my blog was not being indexed because of a canonical link issue. In the end I found that the plugin All In One SEO was the culprit. Once I unchecked the Canonical URLs option, the issue resolved. I still love AIO SEO and find it invaluable, but without SEO Doctor, I’d never have found this problem.

Site Meter: a handy watchdog

The other day, I had noticed from my Site Meter account that Google was indexing my site with both www and non-www URLs.

Site Meter, unlike many other trackers, shows Googlebot visits, which I love. I was able to see that Google actually came to my site using specific keyword search terms! Tracing these back to the SERPs, I saw that there were both forms of the URLs in the search results. After an unrelenting research, I came across a website that mentioned the same WordPress problem. The author disabled the plugin W3 Total Cache and the problem was resolved.

I cleaned up my .htaccess file and reordered the rewrite rules and that seemed to fix it, but I’m skeptical.  To be sure it does not happen again, I made the non-www URL (www is my preferred format) the link I use to check out my site from my desktop and bookmarks. So when I click the link, I look in the Address bar of the browser to be sure that the non-www URL resolves to the www version.

The last thing you want is to make Google unhappy with you. For the beginner I think it is important to monitor all these things vigilantly until the dust settles. If you do not think you need to monitor your site then you must be doing nothing to optimize it. If you are, you’ll have no feedback about the search engine, and your progress could be hindered.

These are my favorite WP troubleshooting tips. What are yours? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Dan Sheehan is a snowboarder, general contractor, and jack of all trades.  His hobby with PCs has also turned into a small computer repair business on the side. Typically he works on something until it breaks and then he improves on it.

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Comments

  1. Kent says:

    Question…

    How do you get rid of that trailing slash on the end of your home URL?
    I’m going to download those Google Webmaster Tools right now. Thanks for the advice mate.

  2. mario_monk says:

    glad to see a ‘real thing’ finally here on PB. There have been so many ‘philosophic’ posts here lately that I was thirsty for stuff like this. Thanks!

  3. Jason Hobbs says:

    Very good article.

  4. Deepak yadav says:

    there are many people who don’t use wordpress and i am one of them….and i believe that no body make posts about blogger ……………. ??

    • Dan says:

      Sorry Deepak. Webmaster tools and SEO doctor work for blogspot. SEO Doctor tells me the url you are linking to is not being indexed, but I am sure you know that already, and have a good reason for it?

      I used blogger and still do; and everyday I worried that like Facebook they will change something I do not like.

  5. Would you recommend against using w3 total cache?i

    • Dan says:

      Abbas, W3 can backfire on you if you do not set it up right. At first it pissed me off so I went back to WP Super Cahce, which works great and is less prone to user error. But I think W3 total Cache is much better if you can configure it right.
      there are a few good tutorials on setting it up that lean towards the conservative side. I used this one http://tinyurl.com/37un6q4 initially and have slowly been tweaking it more.

      So… if your site speed is good and you do not like messing with stuff then I would go with super cache. If you need all the help you can get or just like to tweak for the most performance then go with W3

      hope that helps.

      Dan

  6. Dan says:

    @Kent, right on! Webmasters tools is key if you wanna play with Google. imo
    For the trailing slash i think i got rid of the subfolder ones with my permalink settings and the root one I left. I did have both versions on my root url and I went with the slash version. I just know it is not good to have both. I solved it through my .htaccess; I am sure you can google it and find the code if you want to remove it.

    @mario thanks! I am glad you liked it. I do not blog a whole lot but when I do it is really nice to get feedback. Silence kills me!

    Cheers

  7. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for the tips particularly the one about pings! I do indeed from time to time update my post after I find a spelling error or when I think of adding something new. I never thought this could make me look like a spammer.

    Cheers and good luck,
    David

    • Dan says:

      Thanks David, I am really happy you got something out of it.

      I go back and edit constantly so the cbnet tool has been a good one for me. Also, if you do edit a lot then you leave a lot of revisions in your database which can slow down your WP installation after a while. A plugin I turn on and off as needed for cleaning up my database is WP-Optimize. it saves me the hassle of going into my servers admin to do it manually.

  8. I prever Smart 404 Redirect plugin over LJK. It helps to keep the visitor for a longer time & will also help the reader in reading the related article in case of a 404

  9. Thanks, Dan! Had no H1 tags on my page and in posts, I’d normally use h3 tags, so now I’ll be using h2. The SEO doctor addon is excellent!

    • Dan says:

      Jordan…. Stoked it helped you!

      I know people that only use Firefox because of the SEO Doctor addon since you cant get it on chrome.

      cheers

  10. Tony says:

    Hi Dan,

    Here I Thought I was the only one have the crawl error issues. I for the life of me had no idea how or what it meant, I tried to figure it out but gave up on it. Now I hope with those plug-ins the errors will e corrected. Also to you or Darren, my url has a dash as u can see, could this affect the crawl errors?

    Thanks,
    Tony

    • Dan says:

      Hi Tony,

      I do not think the slash matters and it will not cause errors in of itself. I think what matters is to not have both versions being indexed. That little slash will basically make the 2 url’s look to be 2 different sites so you will be splitting all your “link juice” and page rank between the 2 rather than to one.

      Maybe someone else will chime in?

      thanks for commenting!

  11. There are a couple of plugins that I didn’t know about here. I disabled my W3 cache as well. Causing me some problems.

    • Dan says:

      Justin, I turned my W3cahce back on and found that using “disk” “enhanced” page caching was problematic. so I am using “basic” now ans so far so good.

      I also figured out how to combine some java without breaking my site and now I am scoring 92/100 on google pagespeed.

      w3total cache is hard to configure right but when it is (configured right) it works great.

  12. Carleen says:

    One word of warning about the link juice keeper plugin. If you use the ninja affiliate plugin, link juice keeper will redirect all of your ninja links to the home page. I assume that it would do the same with other link shortening or cloaking plugins. I’m glad that I caught that rather quickly!

    • Jon says:

      Thanks for the heads up, Carleen.

      It’s important to keep an eye on dead links as well as the bloated databases we get from hundreds of saved post revisions!

      -Jon

      • Dan says:

        For sure Jon, as I mentioned in a comment reply above, I also use WP-optimize to clean my database. I turn it off “deactivate” it when I’m done though to keep things lean.
        http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-optimize/

        those little googler crawler guys find plenty of dead links etc and that is why Webmasters is the first thing you do before going live.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the great heads up Carleen! now when someone is searching for problems with Ninja they might find your insight helpful. when they google into ProBlogger

  13. Nikki says:

    Wow! Great post. Being the perfectionist I am, I update my posts so so often. Thanks for the tip on the cbnet ping. Installed on all my sites :)

    • Dan says:

      Nikki,

      that is great ! I am really happy it can help you. It sure hasn’t hurt my infant sites.

  14. Denys Yeo says:

    Good to see a discussion on this technical stuff – thanks for the post!

    • Dan says:

      right on Denys Yeo ! I am happy you like.
      Hopefully it will help add to my “digital presence”

  15. Google Webmaster Tools also lets you set up site alerts, a relatively unknown feature that automatically monitors your traffic for anomalies (major spikes or drops, increase in bounce rate etc..) and emails you. Actually did a post about it a few weeks ago – http://changetheworld.me/save-time-monitoring-your-site-traffic-with-google-intelligence/

    • Dan says:

      @Kevin
      excellent point !
      I have Webmaster alerts set to email me. I originally learned about the alert feature from this video by Google employee Maile Ohye . It is a GREAT overview on using/utilizing Webmaster Tools.
      http://tinyurl.com/5rccd47

      I will check out your post you did on it.

      Thanks a lot for replying and bringing up the alerts. I have never had an alert but it is just one more tool to throw in the seo quiver.

  16. bee says:

    Useful article, thanks for taking the time to compose it. I like the direction you are taking your blog. I’ll be bookmarking your site so I can follow along down the road. Hope to see more posts soon.

  17. I love Googlebots as well. I think they’re cute.

  18. This post was so good, I demand a follow-up with more detail! (;

    Seriously, though, this was chock full of goodies. Someone above said that they’ve been reading a lot of philosophical stuff, and that it was nice to read something concrete. I’ve been reading a lot of philosophical, speculative SEO posts lately, too, so this was definitely refreshing.

    Someone else asked how to get rid of the trailing slash in a URL. There are tons of ways to do it. There are WordPress solutions as well. All of my WP sites seem to have trailing slashes by default, and always have. However, I noticed that Google Analytics takes my URLs and displays them backwards. Is this an issue or just something I can continue to ignore?

    Anyway, if you ever guest post here again, you should totally go into more detail. *nudge, nudge*

    • Dan says:

      @ Elizabeth…… RIght on! thanks so much.

      Again for people wondering about the slash. it is not bad to have but it is bad if your website will display using both. You only want one. Like I spoke of how Google was indexing both the www and non www version of my url and it was not good.

      I use www. Now that it is fixed (knock on wood) if you go to this url http://tahoecomputerrepairs.com/
      look in your browser address bar and you will see it resolving/changing to the www version automatically.

      I felt that nudge!… I have a lot more ideas just like these and more details etc. and I have since learned a lot more and by the time this comment publishes I will probably learn something else about WP. so..I am working on a new post “from the trenches”

      cheers

  19. trailsnet says:

    A few different SEO-enhancing plug-ins have been mentioned in this helpful post and in the comments below. My question: Which plug-in is the best for someone who is less knowledgeable than most of you seem to be? It would be helpful to find one that’s:
    a.) easy to install
    b.) fairly idiot-proof so it didn’t cause more problems than it solved
    c.) has good tutorials to help install, maintain, and troubleshoot it
    It sounds like most of you have a lot of experience with these plug-ins, and I’d appreciate any suggestions.

    • Dan says:

      @trailsnet, thanks for the comment.

      The plugins I mentioned are all for WordPress. so they do you no good with blogspot.

      But Google Webmaster Tools and SEO Doctor could help you with blogspot possibly

      If you do go to WordPress (which is a good idea) the only plugin I would stay away from if you are looking for “idiot proof” would be W3total cache. I would instead use WP Super Cache as it is much more idiot proof and does a great job.

      good luck and start thinking about going to wordpress for more flexibility and options.

  20. trailsnet says:

    P.S. I’m currently using Blogger for the blog portion of my website. Since my domain host provides troubleshooting for WordPress & not blogger, I may make the switch someday, but I will continue using Blogger for a while.

  21. Jeff Goins says:

    I LOVE redirection. One of my most favorite and useful plugins. I also use broken-link checker to kill broken links (which has been especially useful when people include bad links in their comments).

    • Dan says:

      Jeff,
      I am gonna check out the “broken link checker”.

      My downfall is that even when something is working I still try other options.
      My strength is that even when something is working I still try other options.

      So I am always experimenting for better options.

      I just read your post on why you guest post…very clear, concise and insightful. Even though it is not new to me, I think you just got another follower.

  22. Glynis Jolly says:

    Dan, I was wondering about W3 Total Cache. I’ll be disabling it. I downloaded the 2 plugins. This is one of the areas I’m trying to work on but because I haven’t been educating myself on what goes on in the back room, I’ve been at a loss. These ‘tool’ should help. Thank you.

    • Dan says:

      Glynis, I checked out your site and the first thing I would do is use SEO Doctor w/ Firefox and work on the issues it points out; like 2 h1 tags etc (u only want one). You also have a huge amount of links leaving your home page/domain (page rank flow) in relation to the number of links to other parts of your own domain. which can hurt your page rank. You should check it out.

      hope I have helped some, good luck with everything.

  23. Madhavi says:

    And I thought I was the only one who dreaded visiting Google’s Webmaster Tools!
    When I looked on the net, there was so much confusing stuff out there which was no help at all….Talk about synchronicity – I was really trying to figure out how to solve all those crawl errors and this post pops up!
    I plan to fix those crawl errors over the weekend.. And your post has shown me exactly where to look!
    I can’t thank you enough!

    • Dan says:

      @mandhavi,

      soooo happy it was helpful.

      As another commenter mentioned , webmaster tools has a great feature that will email you if something is wrong.
      Here is the video by a Google Employee that I learned about it:
      http://tinyurl.com/5rccd47

      Spend lots of time monitoring your site in webmaster tools! it is a good thing.

  24. Dan,

    OMG! this could be a series of posts – hum…

    Question: In WP in “Writing Settings” there’s the “Update Services” section. I which have an extensive list of services that are notified when I publish.

    Now, I just loaded “cbnet Ping Optimizer” (I actually think the list of services is the same that I have in the Update Services section).

    Will this mean that the services will get pinged twice – once with “Update Service” and also with “cbnet Ping Optimizer”?

    If so, is that OK or do you recommend a fix?

    Thank you – Thersea

  25. Useful information, but this is the kind of article that makes my eyes cross and scares me into panic mode.

    I’ll try some of your links and suggestions, but I am so not a techie.

    Being a serious blogger takes courage. I understand is not enough to write great content, but the things I don’t know make me wonder if I am wasting my time even trying.

    Thanks.

  26. Thanks for the useful information. I just started my blog and have so much to learn. I recently got scribe to help me analyze my posts for google. But what was happening was I was constantly editing the posts to get my score higher in Scribe( it is rather addictive). I never thought this editing would cause problems until I read your post. But like Theresa asks I wonder about the Update Services function I already have. Does this conflict with cbnet ping Optimizer?

  27. saadah says:

    i think joint with kiss community help you revenue instantly from ads

  28. Usama says:

    nice detailed information helps me a lot thanks for sharing mate May you have more success.

  29. I’m almost too scared to look at Webmaster but I know it has to be done.

    Definitely downloading SEO Doctor, and Link Juice Keeper. I didn’t set my permalinks format in the first days of blogging so I may have lost something along the way.

    SOOO much to know but posts like these help so thank you!

  30. Susie says:

    I have never heard of Link Juice Keeper in my whole 1 year of using WordPress! I was checking my crawl errors on Google Webmaster yesterday and I came across some really weird URLs that never existed before. I was really puzzled to find that Google Webmaster actually found those URLS! Anyway. I have got my answer to fix this up. Hope this works for me.

  31. Lauren says:

    Is it possible to set up the Link Juice Keeper for blogger? I have maintained a Pagerank 6 blog for a year and a half, and suddenly after the Pagerank change, I went to 5. I did notice, however, that when I changed my template, I lost some widgets and links, which caused several 404 pages. I’m assuming this is the main reason for the drop.

  32. Vin Jackson says:

    Thanks for nice sharing ! Good information about Webmaster tools, redirection and link juice, Site meter, Anti spamming and also SEO Doctor.