Thursday, December 3, 2015

Domain, Subdomain and Subdirectory for SEO

I want a WordPress Blog for my Website

Whatever your business may be, chances are you have a website that is developed that promotes your business or, in some cases, is your business. More often than not, the website developed is managed by the development or engineering team, and to be able to add pages, edit content, or get any changes done for the website is a development process (whether it be a waterfall or agile project flow) that can take days, weeks, or even months to see any progress on. Even most content management systems reside on a server that doesn't allow for a blog like scenario that the marketing or public relations team can easily update quickly. This is where most companies will turn to WordPress. Wordpress is easy to install, fully customizable, easy to edit, easy to update, and is virtually impossible to screw up.

"You'll Have to Put It On a Subdomain" ...WRONG!

Bad for users - Bad for SEO

I have personally experienced the scenario of coming into a company that had already been through the discussion on setting up a WordPress website on another host than where the rest of the website exists. What the people involved at the time advised the company to do is set up a subdomain of their website and link to it in the top navigation. When users click the link in the navigation they go from www.thewebsiteinquestion.com to blog.thewebsiteinquestion.com. Sadly, when doing this, the blog will often look entirely different than the website. Not to mention that the content that is being written (often for SEO) is supporting just the subdomain and not the entire website.

A great example of a larger company using WordPress as a blog that looks completely different from the website is Twitter. Yes, the famous means of microblogging and staying connected with others through quick updates, images, videos, and links has a blog that resides on a subdomain and doesn't look anything like the website.


Not only is this a poor user experience, but the content on the subdomain is counted for the subdomain as it's own website, and does not support the main domain. One way to quickly rectify this for SEO is to have links from inner pages pointing from the subdomain to the website and from the website back to the subdomain where the pages all are similar to one another. Unfortunately, this just isn't the most ideal for the user especially when the website and the blog don't behave in a seamless way, and Google has been cracking down on linking both externally and internally. If not properly or carefully executed the website could inadvertently be flagged as trying to trick Google.

My recommendation, as with most white hat SEOs, is to have the blog reside in a subdirectory of the website rather than on the subdomain. In addition, the blog should look and act just as the website does.

Subdomains are aren't Fine for SEO

When you make the decision to have your WordPress blog reside in a subdirectory of your website you might get some push-back from developers or some of the people on the engineering (or possibly other) team. Working with one of my client's recently I was referenced the YouTube video by Matt Cutts (former Head of Spam Team at Google) in which he states that using subdomains for a website is just fine. My response was a bit of a lengthy one in which I cited a few trusted resources that supported the benefits that having a blog on a subdirectory have.

While most SEOs are familiar with the video of Matt Cutts, it is from 2012 (a few years ago). Rand Fishkin of Moz.com talked about this in his more recent video this year (2015):
https://moz.com/blog/subdomains-vs-subfolders-rel-canonical-vs-301-how-to-structure-links-optimally-for-seo-whiteboard-friday

He states: "You're asking, "Should I put my content on a subdomain, or should I put it in a subfolder?" Subdomains can be kind of interesting sometimes because there's a lot less technical hurdles a lot of the time. You don't need to get your engineering staff or development staff involved in putting those on there. From a technical operations perspective, some things might be easier, but from an SEO perspective this can be very dangerous."

In addition he says "I can't tell you how many times we've seen and we've actually tested ourselves by first putting content on a subdomain and then moving it back over to the main domain with Moz. We've done that three times over that past two years. Each time we've seen a considerable boost in rankings and in search traffic, both long tail and head of the demand curve to these, and we're not alone."

An article I have found that supports the subdomain question:
https://iwantmyname.com/blog/2015/01/seo-penalties-of-moving-our-blog-to-a-subdomain.html Blog traffic after switch to subdomain
...and yet another example of a site seeing improvement after changing to a subdirectory: ​ http://www.bloggingflail.com/subdomains-vs-subdirectories-seo/

"I went from somewhere out of the top 100, and I know for a fact I wasn’t even in the top 200, to being number 57 in the SERP’s simply by changing from a subdomain to a subdirectory.  Everything else related to my site remained constant.​"

Championing the work through is usually 90% of the work when getting the WordPress blog into a subdirectory. As Rand mentions in his video it is much easier to just add a subdomain and point it to whatever is hosting the WordPress site. Unfortunately the implications of the WordPress blog residing on the subdomain rather than in a subfolder of the website is too great to take the easy way out. Using the above articles to help state your case and to continue to persevere through the challenges of those pushing back will get you to where you need to go, and the site will be successful as the end result.

Two Hosts - One Website

In the case where the WordPress blog has to be hosted on a different server and IP than the rest of the site, there is a process to take that will show a seamless website under the same domain. I have completed this task several times now and now have it down to a streamlined process (discussions to state benefits for SEO and all). I will tell you that if you do not have the technical background to understand some (or all) of this process, don't feel you should as it has baffled every developer, CTO, Engineer, and even some of the most genius of individuals I have worked with each time I do this.

Step One - Set Up WordPress Blog

Whether there is an existing blog that the website links to on a subdomain, or the blog doesn't exist yet, you want to set up a hosting account and install the WordPress blog under a subdomain. You will eventually point your new subdirectory to resolve to the subdomain, but for now you want everything on your WordPress blog to look and act as if it was a part of the website. A great example of a successful separate WordPress blog to website is the usedcars.com advice section. I worked for ADP managing the usedcars.com website SEO, SEM, Social, and Analytics from 2012 to 2014. Upon my first arrival the previous social media manager has worked with the agency to create a WordPress blog that the agency hosted and had designed. Unfortunately the WordPress blog looked nothing like the rest of the website, it resided on a server nowhere near ADPs servers, and it was in a completely different language from the rest of the site. You see, usedcars.com was/is hosted on Windows servers and written in .NET. WordPress is written in PHP using Apache.
This is what the usedcars.com homepage looked like in 2012This is the blog that the user would go to when clicking the link in the top navigation of the site. 
The site had a lot more issues going on with it that were bigger than the blog being on a subdomain could solve. However, the strategy of moving the blog to the site and it being a part of the site was on my list of things to do for SEO.

In this case the idea was to have a sort of "advice" section with car buying tips, ownership tips, and so on. So we decided to have the URL www.usedcars.com/advice be the new home page of the WordPress blog.

In this case the blog had so very little traffic to it (we're talking just a few hundred a day) that I started work on developing a custom theme for the WordPress blog that looked and acted much like the website.
The usedcars.com homepage
The WordPress blog with custom theme
Now that the blog that was hosted on blog.usedcars.com looked just like the website it was time to get the blog to show up when someone would go to usedcars.com/advice, and all of the pages within to work under that subdirectory.

Note: in the case for usedcars.com we wanted the WordPress blog to be hosted on ADP servers where the site could be managed by the company and be more secure. So the process of moving the files needed to take place before rewriting the URL. Since this is not a usual case, I am skipping that part and going straight to the URL rewrite.

Step Two - Rewriting the URL

When discussing the strategy of rewriting the URL I often find myself having to explain how the URL behaves to those that aren't quite technically inclined, and find myself having to correct those technically inclined that it is not a redirect.

So, when working with others and to help you understand what a rewrite is let's first cover the difference between the two.

Redirect vs Rewrite - What's the Difference?

Redirect
When a user visits a website from a browser, that browser is hitting the server that the website resides on. The server will return a series of codes when that happens. Among those codes is the common "404" error you often see when you come to a page that doesn't exist, but more commonly is the "200" code that tells the browser it is okay and shows the page. The code we are talking about here is the "301" redirect code. This is telling the browser that the URL that is being accessed has moved to a completely different URL and then send the browser to that new URL. For example - click on this link: http://jennmathewsconsulting.com/that-301-redirect-goes-to/. Notice how the URL in the address bar changes to http://jennmathewsconsulting.com/301-redirect/?

The redirect is what we call "client side" meaning that it is the browser on the computer of the user (or client) that creates the action, and the URL will always change in the browser as a result.

Other types of redirects:
  • 302 – Found 
  • 303 – See Other 
  • 307 - Temporary
The page request flow goes like this:
  1. The browser requests a page
  2. The server responds with a redirect status code
  3. The browser makes a second request to the new URL
  4. The server responds to the new URL and displays the page
Rewrite
When talking about rewriting the URL the behavior of the page is completely different. A rewrite is on what we call "server side" side meaning that the response happening when the page is requested is happening on the server. With a rewrite the browser is going to a URL and the URL stays bringing up the files that reside under a different URL, but stays the same. For example take a look at our client's blog we created for them under https://health2.drinkhint.com/. When you click through the links you will notice that the subdomain stays the same. This is the subdomain where the WordPress blog resides. Then go to https://www.drinkhint.com/health/ and you will see that the homepage and all the pages are exactly the same. The https://www.drinkhint.com/health/ URL is rewriting to the files at https://health2.drinkhint.com/ telling the user and the search engines that the blog for https://www.drinkhint.com/ is located in the subdirectory /health/.

The page request flow for this works as follows: 
  1. The browser requests a page
  2. The URL Rewrite then rewrites the URL and makes the request for the updated page
Everything is happening on the server side, and completely friendly for SEO.

How to Setup an SEO Friendly Rewrite
There are quite a few steps to get to this point where the URL is staying the same while clicking through the site and the CSS, JSS and Images from WordPress are pulling in correctly.

1) Relative URLs - The first step in rewriting is setting up WordPress to have relative URLs for images and stylesheets. A couple of recommended plugins can make this job an easy one.
  1. Relative Image URLs
  2. Relative URL
You may also need to add a few lines of code to your htaccess file in addition to the plugins, but these should get you to where you need to be.

2) htaccess Rewrite - The next step is to add a few lines of code to your htaccess file on the server that your main website is hosted. It won't work if you add it to the WordPress htaccess since the URL that will be rewritten is the main domain and if you're reading this chances are your WordPress blog is not on the same hosting as your main domain.

The code that needs to be added to the main domain's htacces on the server:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^blog/(.*)$ http://blog.yoursite.com/$1 [P]

Note that the "^blog/" part of the code is the subdirectory you would like your blog to be on and the "http://blog.yoursite.com/$1" part is the subdomain that your WordPress blog is currently on. My two examples I used earlier are the http://blog.usedcars.com (usedcars.com is on a .net platform and WordPress on Apache) and https://health2.drinkhint.com (drinkhint.com is on an apache eCommerce CMS and the WordPress is on another hosting platform). You can read more about rewrites at apache.org.

3) Redirecting Traffic - the next step you will most likely need to make is redirecting traffic to your blog. Each server is different, and every blog is different, so explaining this part in detail is a bit more complicated to cover all of the different scenarios. Apache servers have a reverse proxy, though there is no guarantee that will always work.

This part is best left to the experts to manage for you, or you can always ask myself and my team to help you through the process since we have done it a few times we can usually determine what steps need to be taken fairly quickly, or troubleshoot if needed.

4) WordPress General Settings - Lastly you will want to check your WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) in your WordPress Admin General Settings. The URL doesn't always need to be set, but in some cases just the Site Address (URL) will need to be set to your subdirectory. Once again, I suggest having an expert help you with this part as you can run into issues with redirect loops and/or URLs just not working.

If you follow each one of these steps and you are still having issues, or you need help with getting through the steps, you can always count on myself and my team to help you through the process. As you can see, the impossible task of getting a subdirectory to rewrite on a completely different WordPress host on a separate server is doable.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Is Your Site Mobile Friendly?

With the launch of my agency we have been busy working on getting clients ready for the April 21st launch to prioritize mobile friendly websites in search results on mobile devices. Luckily, most of my existing clients are good as I have been passionate about responsive design for years now. Even so much so, that I pushed it with the team at usedcars.com while I was there (though not well received).

Since my client's websites are all ok, and we have been taking on more clients with the push, I thought it might be fun to look at some businesses in the Seattle area and see who is and who isn't mobile friendly. I used the list of the top 100 companies to work for in 2014 on Seattle Business Magazine (plus my Father's company), and looked at each site on my Samsung S5 phone. After which, I then ran each one through the Google Mobile Friendly Test. I did grab the first marketing agency that failed the mobile friendly test, but felt it wasn't right to keep going with all the ones I found since they were direct competition. Though, I have to say I am shocked at how many marketing and IT companies don't have mobile friendly websites.

The following is a list of those sites in no particular order:

Kidder Mathews

Yes, let's start with my Father's company. It is a very successful commercial real estate firm that started in Seattle, WA and now has offices spanning down the West Coast (note: My Father has retired). I have worked for them in the past, but only as a receptionist in 1989.  Since then, I have had dinner with the CEO and President(s) and have had many a conversation regarding what I do for a living. Each time those around understood the value of SEO, but in the end it was not considered a route valuable for a Commercial Real Estate firm. The website itself is managed by a single person that has done a great job of designing and developing it throughout the years, but sadly, the site hasn't changed much, and the old school html website could probably use a refresher. Not to mention so much needed analysis on traffic, usability, market research, and now getting it up-to-date as a responsive website.

I figured it would also be kid of fun to see how many people search on Google (and partners) for terms around commercial real estate. So, using Google's Keyword Tool I plugged in the following terms, and set the location to Seattle, WA, Tacoma, WA, Redwood City, CA, Portland, OR, and San Jose, CA - all cities I know that the firm has offices. The terms include: property management, office space, commercial realtor, office space for lease, investment buildings, invest in real estate.

In February of 2015 alone 39.2% of searches around those terms were on mobile devices, with over 50% on October of 2014.
By not optimizing for SEO, or even bidding on these terms in SEM, the company is missing out on ~100k impressions and nearly 50% of those users bailing because the site isn't easy to navigate on a mobile device - and that's just the local searches in the cities I chose. 

Goldberg Jones

One of the next several companies I pulled off of the top 100, the company looks to be a Divorce attorney firm that focuses on Men. I'm not going to perform the keyword analysis I do for my clients that I did for Kidder Mathews (it takes a bit of time). But, I am, however, going to show you the results of the Google Mobile-Friendly test for them.



As you can see, Google is showing the site's text is too small, that links are too close together, and the mobile viewport is not set. There is also an issue with the css not being pulled in to show the nice design and layout. I looked at the website's robots.txt to see what is blocked, and in it lies the /templates/ directory on the server that hosts the include css files for the website. Google has a lot of great information on how to make sure the css and javascript files are being properly accessed, and therefore could be an easy fix for this site by just removing that directory from the robots.txt.

The site is a pretty basic brochureware site that could easily be created in WordPress so that the client could continue to blog, and the pages set up just the same in a responsive theme. It wouldn't cost them much more than a few thousand to have it done, or they could spend some more and get a full analysis for SEO done and really capture the traffic as well as providing their visitors with the proper information and guidance and convert them to a lead quickly.

FHC - Family Home Care

The site here looks like it could be a great resource with a tone of information for it's visitors. However, when entered into the Google Mobile-Friendly test I am once again getting the site's text is too small, that links are too close together, and the mobile viewport is not set.

PeopleFirm

The banner on this website is great for the desktop, but if the site was mobile friendly then eliminating the banner altogether, or perhaps showing a more mobile friendly size to it, would be better for the user. The list of value props on the main content could be resized easily to them fit on the screen with links on each image so that the user could quickly navigate. I am also seeing that the site's text is too small, that links are too close together, and the mobile viewport is not set in the Google Mobile-Friendly test.


Northwest Cadence

This one was an interesting site as it is a tech company. With new technologies providing users with the means to access the internet on their mobile devices and tablets, not to mention that some business professionals walk around with tables heading to meetings and browsing websites from these devices. Once again, another site with the site's text is too small, that links are too close together, and the mobile viewport is not set in the Google Mobile-Friendly test - but this time with the addition of the content being wider than the screen.

I am sure this firm is very capable of updating their website to a mobile friendly one, it's just a matter of prioritizing within the organization, and with Google's push on April 21st, I am sure they will notice a decent drop in traffic as a result.

SGFS

A law firm that has a responsive and mobile friendly website, but I added to this list mainly because the content is too simplified with the way it is presented. The navigation is difficult to find, and the simple phone number is great for being aggressive with capturing leads, however, it is a bit off-putting to users that need a bit more information about the lawyer to feel they can trust them before making that phone call.

A simple analysis of the website and some market research to get a gauge on how users feel and use the website when they are visiting will help take these lawyer's website to the next level and performing as a great lead generation tool.

Chronus

The Chronus website is very professional and has a great means of sending the user through a qualifying funnel. Sadly though, by not being mobile friendly the site is losing all of that great work they had put into it with roughly 30%+ users that could be visiting each day. By looking into their Google Analytics (or whatever they choose for their website analysis) the company could see just how many visitors are coming to the site on various devices. Also, looking at the number of visits that are referred by Google and reducing that number significantly could show just how much they will be losing on the April 21st update.

The rest:

Since the remainder of the sites all have issues when viewed on a mobile device, I thought I would just breeze through them with a screenshot of how they look and leave out the Mobile-Friendly test since they all seem to ended up with the same results. Each and every one of these websites all failed the Mobile-Friendly test in Google, and all have issues when viewing on my Samsung S5. Leaving much room for improvement.

James Alan Salon

The James Alan Salon website is very typical of the smaller businesses. The last thing they want to think about, or worry about, is their website. This brochureware website was designed and developed with a simple design and layout in mind that conveys what the business is, what they do, and information for the brick and mortar location. But with users now looking for locations of brick and mortar shops on their devices, not being mobile-friendly can seriously harm a smaller business like this one.

Atlas Coffee

The dreaded splash page. It's a fact that a website will lose roughly 20% or more of it's users when they click through from one page to the next, so by adding a page that they have to click through to get to the homepage dramatically reduces the number of visitors to a website on a desktop computer, and even more-so on a mobile device. On top of the splash page, the website is poorly coded for the smaller screen causing a real problem for the user.

Exclaim LLC 

Another advertising and design firm that isn't staying up with the latest technologies themselves. While their work is quite impressive (I would definitely hire them) their website isn't reflecting that they are keeping up with industry trends. If they were a traditional firm working mainly with print and video, then I would give them a break, but they have a portfolio of clients who's websites they have created for them. The sites are traditional "old school" table layouts (as I call them) but their work needs to be brought into the 2015's with some web 2,0 and responsive design layouts. I also noticed that their website is very slow to load. The web page test shows the original being more than a second longer to load than an optimized version that works much faster, Add that load time on a cellular network and you've lost your users before they even get to see the first image load.

video

Tangerine Travel

I absolutely love the top banner interactivity, however the site seems to have been updated without any consideration as to being consistent with design. This one stuck close to my heart as they have a Concur login link (I worked for Concur in the past), and was excited to see the logo there. If only they could work on a responsive design layout, or a mobile version then they could 

Level11

My last in my sites and commentary. This one is even worse than the others as the site won't even scale down for the device which causes the user to scroll right and left to try to see where to go next, or just simply find information. My laptop is a Windows 7 computer with a touch screen, which will often trick websites into thinking I am on a tablet. I tried clicking the navigation with my mouse and the links won't work, however, when I touch the screen I jump to a #services type of link. This is called a "Push State" which is great for a seamless user experience on a website. It's also a strategy one of the developers brought up with me while I was working at usedcars.com managing the SEO. If implemented correctly, it can be very powerful for the user, but if not, then the ramifications for SEO are extremely harmful. In this case, they did not implement the push state correctly and the results leave Google only able to crawl one page of the website:


Not only will this site see trouble on April 21st, but the site is already having issues with content being crawled and rankings as a result of poor development.

So there you have it, my list of sites I chose to review before the Google update on April 21st. Full disclosure: I have reached out to a few of the people associated with the websites (including my Father as an FYI, though he has no say in the website now that he is retired and playing golf in Palm Desert). It will be interesting to see if any of these sites take a hit and/or update to a more mobile-friendly design after April 21st.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

SaveTheBreakfastSandwich.com

Little did I know that in 2008 when I created the savethebreakfastsandwich.com website that it would become such a phenomenon. Not only mentioned in Howard Schultz's book "Onward" the website has mentions in major publications. The following is a list of just a few:

The Starbucks Egg Sandwich Double Cross - New York Times
The Starbucks woman also pointed me to a Web site called “Save The Breakfast Sandwich,” claiming that it showed there was a groundswell of customer support for them.  
How Burnt Cheese Almost Undermined the Starbucks Aroma - 250 Words
Schultz resisted hot food at Starbucks from day one. Yes, innovation is good, but not when it cannibalizes a brand. By introducing novel products, Starbucks moved away from Schultz’ original insight, which focused not on selling coffee but creating an ideal atmosphere for coffee drinkers. The smell of burnt cheese undermined that atmosphere. Yet those cheesy sandwiches were profitable. How could Schultz convince the board to stop selling something that made money? In the end, he didn’t. In January 2008 Starbucks removed the sandwiches from the display window only to experience a backlash. When Savethebreakfastsandwich.com emerged the food team returned to the lab. They adjusted the ingredients (higher quality cheese and bread), moved the cheese to the top of the sandwich and reduced the baking temperature. The infamous sandwich returned in June 2008–with Schultz’ blessing.

Creating Lasting Value: How to Lead, Manage and Market Your Stakeholder Value - By Jeroen Geelhoed, Salem Samhoud, Ingrid Smolders

After four inspirational days, Howard Schultz ended the leadership conference by reminding Starbucks' leaders of their responsibility towards employees, customers and the company: 
Please remember what you have experienced here. Remember how you felt. And when you get back, please do not be a bystander. Change and refine behavior when you see it it inconsistent with the standards that we all have observed here this week. We made this investment in you because we believe in you. And all we ask is that you take all this back. Do not allow the pressures of the day to in any way erode the emotion, the feeling, and the power of 10,000 that you have each experience in the last few days. 
Filled with inspiration, the company continued innovating to enrich the Starbucks experience. Succesful innovations added to Starbucks' offering included the Tazo tea line and the return of the infamous breakfast sandwiches. As expected, sales had declines at stores that sold the sandwiches after they had been pulled from the shelves. What the company did not expect though were the impassioned comments posted by customers on MyStarbucksIdea.com and submitted to Starbucks' customer service. A website called Savethebreakfastsandwich.com was even created.