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.
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?
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.