Making Changes to Your Website? Consider Before You Click

Making Changes to Your Website? Consider Before You Click

It’s amazing how much we can accomplish these days with a click of a button or a swipe of a finger. Get in touch with an old friend, make plane reservations, film your kid at his soccer game and then show it to the world.

The same can be said in web design and development. In some cases, you no longer need a head full of complicated code and expensive software to create a website.

Between the do it yourself web site builders and site hosts offering all types of automatic features, it can seem like child’s play to get your site up and running and then make changes whenever you want with a few clicks of the mouse.

But be careful what you click. While many features that your host or ecommerce platform offers will do great things for your site, there are some that may have unexpected adverse effects.  

The following case falls under the old “too good to be true” adage, demontrating how important it is to do your homework before committing to that click.

A Mobile Meltdown

A client of ours uses Volusion for his online store – a company that provides an all-in-one ecommerce website complete with shopping cart and hosting. Logging on to his site’s administrative dashboard one day he saw that Volusion was offering a new feature – a mobile version of his site, pre-designed and ready to launch with one click of the mouse – On or Off.

With 20% of the site’s traffic coming through mobile devices and rising steadily every year, the click to “On” seemed like a no brainer. Two weeks later we witnessed the repercussions of this action:

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is just what it sounds like. It occurs when two different URLs contain identical or very similar information. “DC” is a big no-no if you want your site’s pages to rank well in search engines. (A simple explanation for why can be found in this article on Moz.com.)

When this site’s mobile feature was enabled, 81 pages duplicate to the desktop version of the site were created in a domain subfolder called /mobile, which were then subsequently indexed by Google. To add insult to injury, the site’s owner was not given any control over these pages to be able to edit the title tags, meta descriptions, page copy or any other content to make them more unique.

Disappearing Traffic

As all smart site owners should, our client had made sure that Google Analytics tracking code was on every page of his site to see how traffic was doing and what could be done to make it better. But hold up!

When we checked the mobile pages to make sure they also had this code, we were gobsmacked to discover the GA code had pulled a disappearing act – it was NOT PRESENT on any of the mobile version pages, rendering the traffic to these pages 100% untrackable.  To make matters worse, there was no way for the client to add the code.

Reappearing Products

Like most online stores, there are going to be times when an owner wants to temporarily take a product off the site, whether it’s out of stock, a seasonal item or for other reasons.

Many ecommerce platforms such as Volusion offer a nice feature that allows you to “hide” a product from the site, without having to delete all record of it so that the store owner has the option to make it available in the future.

A nasty little side effect of Volusion’s mobile version is that all those products that were hidden were again made visible for reasons unknown. 

Mobile Ready? Not So Much…

This last issue is a literal head shaker. We wanted to see what the site’s mobile version looked like on an actual mobile device. I pulled out the trusty iPhone and Googled the clients company name. I clicked on the first search result to his site. Where did my visit land? On the desktop version!! No mobile version in sight.

That’s right, there was no redirect in place to detect that I was using an iPhone and send me on my way to where I was supposed to go, which essentially rendered having the mobile version at all completely moot. Go ahead, stop reading and spend the next few minutes wagging your head back and forth in disbelief – I did.

What Can We Learn from this Series of Unfortunate Events?

Needless to say, after discovering all of this we quickly advised the client to turn off the mobile feature. Luckily the problem was caught relatively early, but how many site owners out there aren’t aware of damage being done to their rankings from something so seemingly harmless? 

If you’re about to make changes to your site or add a new feature, take the time to do the research – ask the host questions, consult with your web designer or SEO team if you have one, visit forums or read articles by others who’ve done a similar change. A little preparation and knowledge can save you a big headache later.

Chameleon illustration courtesy of Taylor Stone Illustration

Updating WordPress? Don’t Ruin Your Day, Back it Up

Updating WordPress? Don’t Ruin Your Day, Back it Up

If you are using WordPress as the platform for your website or blog, you’ve probably already seen that handy little notice every once in awhile at the top of your dashboard:

“WordPress #.## is available. Please update now.” (Love it when someone just tells me what to do.)

These update notices are important and shouldn’t be ignored. Having your site or blog running on the latest version of WordPress not only keeps it up to speed and functioning at its best, but it also helps close security vulnerabilities.

The nice thing about WordPress is that these updates can be delivered automatically with one click of a button and take only a matter of seconds. But hold on there – take heed of the warning that comes next:

Important: before updating, please back up your database and files.

Now if we’re all honest with ourselves, there are going to be times where much eye-rolling ensues, followed by your rationalizing brain chiming in with “Ugh, I don’t have time for this! I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t see that and click that oh so easy Update button – nothing bad will happen” 9 times out of 10 you’ll be correct – the update will unpack, copy its files and install without a hitch.  

But what about that 10th time? Lightening CAN strike my friends, and you don’t want to be the one with the zigzag down your back. Whether it be by the laws of Murphy or statistics, that one click could be the catalyst for an epic update fail, where all your hard work is lost and your day, if not your year is ruined.

Why do I have to backup the database AND the files? What’s the difference?
WordPress files make up the platform of your site – containing all of the instructions on how it should work and what makes it pretty. The database contains all of the information you have then put onto the site – your posts, pages, categories, tags, theme settings, user accounts and so on. Think of it as owning a brick and mortar store – the site files are your store’s building and the database is your inventory – you want to make sure both are insured right?

So take a few extra minutes and do what the good folks at WordPress say – back it up! Here’s how:

Backing up the Database

Most web hosts that support WordPress have a tool on your hosting account control panel that allows you to access your database like phpMyAdmin. If it’s not obvious which tool to use, double check with your web host.

To access the database, you’ll need the user name and password that was created when WordPress was installed. This login should NOT be the same as your WordPress login.

Once logged in, you should see the WordPress database on the left side menu.

phpmyadmin

Click on the database name and if you see tables names appear of the left that begin with wp_ then you’re in the right place. Click on the Export button on the top menu. Under Export Method choose “Quick” and then make sure the Format is set to “SQL” from the pull-down menu. Click Go.

phpmyadmin2

You should now see an SQL file starting to download to your computer, which can take from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on how large your database is. Locate the downloaded SQL file on your computer and copy or move it to a folder you’ve designated for these backups so that you can easily find it later if needed.

Done!

Next…Backing Up WordPress Files

Making a backup of your WordPress files is most easily accomplished via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) with a software like FileZilla (it’s free!)

If you’ve never used FileZilla you will need to install it first.

Go to https://filezilla-project.org/ and click on Download FileZilla client for all platforms. Choose the version for your type of computer and begin the download. When it’s finished, open the file and follow the steps to install it (just takes a minute or so)

Once you have Filezilla installed, you’ll need to connect to your site. Open FileZilla and click on File > Site Manager. Click on the New Site button and give it a name. On the right side, you will see the General tab where you will enter your site’s FTP information:

filezilla

Click the Connect button

Once connected you will see two window panes open – the one on the left is YOUR computer, the one on the right is the server where all of your website files sit. It should looks like this:

filezilla2

On the left hand side, navigate to a folder where you want to save your files. I would recommend saving them in the same folder where you put your database backup so it’s all on once place.

On the right hand side are your live website files. You need to take extra special care not to accidentally move or delete anything on this side!! Locate the file called wp-config.php. Click it once and carefully drag it over to the left side. This will make a copy of this file onto your computer. Next locate the wp-content folder. Again click it once to highlight the folder and then also drag it over to the left side. This is a larger file, so it will take a little longer to complete the copy. It is not necessary to back up the other files or folders.

Your WordPress site is now fully backed up and you are free to go forth and click that Update button. Hurray!

Photo courtesy of robin robokow

 

Ask Robin: Step One to SEO Your WordPress Blog

Ask Robin: Step One to SEO Your WordPress Blog

Whether you’re about to write your very first blog post or there’s a hundred under your belt, you want to make sure to take the proper steps to SEO your blog so that the people out there can actually find you and benefit from all the fabulous things you have to say.

We’ll get more in depth later, but today we’re going to talk about the first basic step you need to take (if you haven’t already) to get search engines to show your blog the love it deserves.

Permalinks

Permalinks are the URLs that point to the individual posts or pages on your blog. When you first install WordPress, the default structure for this URL is going to look something like this:

http://www.yourdomain.com/?p=123

Boring right? Besides basing a post’s rank on the keywords found within the content, title, etc., search engines also look to the URL for a clue as to where and how high up your post should appear when someone searches using that keyword. A permalink set up like this tells the search engines NOTHING about what your post is about.

Luckily WordPress offers an easy way to fix this.

Changing the Default Permalink Settings

From your Dashboard, click on Settings > Permalinks. You will come to a page that looks like this:

Editing WordPress Permalink Settings

If you haven’t already made this change, your setting is most likely to be at the Default. Click the bubble next to Custom Structure and then type the following into the field on its right:

/%postname%

Scroll down the page and click Save Changes.

(Note: Occasionally, some websites are set up with strict permission settings on their files. If you get a failure notice to update your .htaccess file, contact your webmaster to change the file permission to 777. They can always change it back after you’ve completed this step.)

Editing a Post’s Permalink

Now you’re ready to edit the permalinks on your individual posts. To test it out, add a new post. Making sure your post window is set to the Visual tab, type in your post’s title. Immediately you will see the post’s permalink appear directly underneath the title bar, and that it is now pulling all the words from your title instead of the original letters and numbers gobbledygook. The next thing we’re going to do is tweak that custom URL. Click the Edit button directly to the right of the permalink.

The three rules of thumb of a good permalink are keep it relatively short, include a target keyword and remove unnecessary words.

For example, say you have a post that you title “The Benefits of Hiring a Good Financial Planner” By default your new permalink is going to look like this:

http://www.yourdomain.com/the-benefits-of-hiring-a-good-financial-planner

While this looks better than http://www.yourdomain.com/?p=123, it’s too long and search engines disregard articles like the, of, a, etc. You also want to choose the fewest words that best describe this post. So keeping that in mind and assuming that “financial planner” is my most important keyword, I’m going to delete the default permalink and type in this:

/financial-planner-benefits

I’ve removed the the’s and the a’s, inserted the target keyword right at the front and have kept it short. Beautiful!

Now go try it out yourself, and stay tuned for more on optimizing your blog.

Ask Robin: Filtering Yourself Out of Google Analytics

Ask Robin: Filtering Yourself Out of Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a powerful tool for your website (and free!) – allowing you to track in-depth how your site is doing – how many visits it’s getting, where those visits are coming from, what pages they’re landing on, etc.

Looks great on “paper”, but…

You want to make sure that the incoming traffic you’re seeing is as accurate as possible. One way to ensure that is to remove yourself from the equation with a Filter. Analytics is extremely smart, but it doesn’t know that this is YOUR site unless you tell it so. Every time one of you or your co-workers or contractors visit the site, Analytics is going to record that as a visit.

You may login to Analytics one day and say “Holy cow! Look at all those visits! We must be on the right track”.  But if you haven’t created a Filter, your results are going to be skewed. It’s a simple concept and right now you might be thinking “Duuuhh” – but it’s a common occurrence for business owners to forget this important step.

First Step – Finding Your IP Address

The first thing to do is  find out what your IP address is. An IP address is the unique number that identifies your internet network. The simplest way to do that is to go to an IP lookup site like http://www.whatismyip.com. Just go to this site and your IP address will appear right at the top. It will look something like this:

Make sure that you instruct all your employees, co-workers, independent contractors to do the same to add to the Filter. Make that sure that everyone provides you with an IP address from anywhere they visit the site, including their home IP.

 Creating the Filter

Login to Analytics and click on your website’s name to access the Profile. At the bottom right you will click the link that says Filter Manager.

From this page, you will click + Add Filter

 

Enter the Filter name. This can be anything you decide to identify each individual person’s IP address. For example, if your name is Rob and you want to filter out your work computer, you would name it something like Rob – Office.

Make sure the Predefined Filter bubble is selected

Next there are 3 pull-down menus to choose from. You are going to select Exclude > Traffic from the IP Addresses > that are equal to.

Next type in the IP address for “Rob-Office”. Make sure that you keep it in the same format with the periods in the same place.

In the next window, highlight your website profile and click Add.

Click Save Changes at the bottom.

That’s it! You will repeat this process for each IP address that you want to exclude from your Analytics reports. If you’re a one-woman or one-man band, then you’re done!

 

 

Photo courtesy of Christian Beirle Gonzalez

Ask Robin: What the #$&% is fb_xd_fragment in my Google Analytics?

Ask Robin: What the #$&% is fb_xd_fragment in my Google Analytics?

A couple of months ago, I was looking at a client’s Google Analytics reports for the previous month and noticed something strange was appending to the pages listed under Top Content – something that looked like this:

/clients-page-here?fb_xd_fragment=

My first reaction was “What the #$&% is that??”

Where fb_xd_fragment Comes From

In a nutshell, what has happened is that you have placed the XFBML version of the Facebook Like button on your site, allowing your visitors to Like and Share your pages galore. This is a wonderful thing. However, in doing so, this handy little button creates a “phantom” page every time someone clicks Like, resulting in Google Analytics recording it as a separate page visited.

So for example you have a page called www.yourdomain.com/buy-my-widgets

If you have placed the Facebook button on this page, Analytics will show it twice like this:

www.yourdomain.com/buy-my-widgets  Pageviews: 500,000  – This is the REAL number of pageviews for this page

(if you actually did get 500K pageviews in a month, I’m thoroughly impressed by the way)

www.yourdomain.com/buy-my-widgets?fb_xd_fragment=  Pageviews: 100,000 – this is how many times visitors clicked the Facebook Like button while visiting this page.

I See It! What Next?

If you’ve come across this in your own Analytics reports, you’re not alone. The infamous Facebook Like button bug has been discussed and forumed and posted and shared across the Internet for a while now.

Most of these discussions involve confusing coding gobbledygook to fix the problem, but today we’re just going to talk about how to remove this parameter from your Google Analytics reports. If these FB Like pages are being indexed by Google or other search engines, that is very bad for SEO.  Contact your web developer or designer immediately so that they may find the coding solution best suited for your site.

So, on to removing this little Facebook nugget from your Analytics. There are two ways to do this.

The Permanent Solution

One is to permanently exclude it so that you never have to see it again:

1. Login to Analytics and then click on the Account name of the website you’re working with.

2. Click on the Edit link which is located all the way to the right of the screen underneath Actions.

Google Analytics Edit Profile

 

3. Click Edit on the first section called Main Website Profile Information. You will see a field called Exclude URL Query Parameters. Enter fb_xd_fragment into this field.

4. Click Save Changes at the bottom.

Simple right?

The Temporary Solution

You may decide that you want to have the option of seeing how many times the Facebook Like button was clicked, but then be able to remove it quickly for other reporting purposes. In that case, you will bypass the permanent exclude mentioned above and filter the fb_xd_fragment pages out manually each time you check your reports.

1. From the Dashboard, click Content > Top Content

2. Scroll down to the bottom of the list of viewed pages to the field called Filter Page.

3. From the pull-down menu select “excluding” and then type in fb_xd_fragment and click Go

This will remove any of the “phantom” FB Like pages from appearing in your Top Content results so that you can get a clearer picture of your real pages’ performance. This filter will remove itself when you leave the page.

Questions about this post or another question about Analytics? Post it here in comments and I’ll be happy to answer.