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

 

Staying in the In-Between

Staying in the In-Between

I find myself in a strangely familiar place — somewhere between what has been and what wants to become.  I can feel the reinvention that wants to happen.  I know the two end points.  But now is a still point — imbued with that special quiet as morning emerges — the in-between before the next.

I’ve been here before, sort of.  Like many of you, I’ve reinvented my life a few times.  I’ve followed my intuition and jumped into new careers, moved my family to an island that felt like home, created a business.

My usual MO, though, is to jump forward and grab the future and Make It Happen.  And here is where the sort of comes in — that’s not how it feels this time. 

So quiet.  It’s like catching a glimpse of something from the corner of your eye, and on turning your head to focus on it… it’s gone.

I am catching whispers:

Wait. 
Not yet. 
Stay open and see what comes.

If you know me at all, you know that patience is NOT my superpower.  In fact, it might be my Kryptonite.  So this waiting is uncomfortable and more than disconcerting.


Thin Places — Holy Space, Sacred Ground

Celtic traditions speak of thin places, places on this earth where the distance between heaven and earth feels especially thin and you can feel the divine.

Canterbury Shaker Village is a thin place for me.  I absorb the energy created by a community of men and women living there for decades, praying and believing “Hands to work, and hearts to God.”   It’s a place of peace and has a sense of rightness, where I breathe expansively, only then realizing just how tightly I’d been holding  on.   It is indeed an in-between space of heaven and earth.

Poet Sharlande Sledge describes it:

“Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.


Metaphorically, I am in a thin place right now. 

So I am waiting and staying open and listening for that still voice. Looking for any small step I can take to test my footing and direction.

Like sharing my thoughts with you here.

“Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey.

― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

 

Image: “Misty View” courtesy of Dan Phiffer creative commons license

Google Is Changing Again (yawn)

Google Is Changing Again (yawn)

The news is out and the e-commerce and SEO communities are abuzz.

  • Google is changing (again)
  • With a new algorithm (apparently they have moved on to cheeky birds from black and white animals)
  • And less search data about our visitors (well, pretty much no search data now)

For a moment, I got caught up in it all.  The angst, the worry, the oh-my-where-is-this-all-going.

And then I remembered what I tell my clients.  Appearing in the search rankings  is about a great user experience on your site, valuable and timely content, and an experience that customers want to share with others.

It’s about being clear about the unique value your site offers, the why behind what you do and the special community that you reach out to and help.

And if you’ve been focusing on that, you can weather whatever Google is dishing out that day.

Your business is here for the long haul, not for the quick fix.

                                 __________________________

If you are interested in the nitty-gritty details, here are some links.  But promise me you won’t get all caught up in the details.

FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm

Post-PRISM, Google Confirms Quietly Moving To Make All Searches Secure, Except For Ad Clicks

Image: Danny Perez Photography

A Word for a New Year

A Word for a New Year

There is a power in words. Especially at the dawn of a new year.

One well-chosen word can hold more truth and opportunity than a list of resolutions. My practice is to replace that traditional list of Shoulds with a word to be my guidepost for the coming year.

Sometimes the word gently finds me. Other years it takes a few weeks of thought.

It could be your biggest longing, highest hope. A quality you want to invite more of into your life. Something to celebrate. Reflect upon. Meditate. Incorporate into your life in a new way. Or release.

Last year I chose two words, linked: Creativity and Community.

I played with bringing more of both into my daily life and my business. I printed it on the cover of my day planner. I added it as a signature in my emails. I painted a sign for my studio. I lived with it, breathed it in and out, checked in on decisions and plans with it.

This year my word is Layers.

I think of it as overlaying layers of meaning and richness.

Or taking away layers — stripping to the essence. Sloughing off layers of the extraneous. Of old stories that are no longer helpful.

Letting go while adding.

In my business, SEO itself is becoming more layered and nuanced. It’s never been cut and dried, but it is becoming ever more contextual and personalized. Search optimization is about your customer more than about your product. The center has shifted. (Hmmm…. I sense a blog post coming.)

And my belief that as a business owner your business brings you face to face with your values, beliefs, doubts, opportunities — that adds a layer of spirituality or consciousness on top of the day-to-day work.

I can’t wait to see where layers takes me.

Is a word calling to you this year? Claim yours in the comments, if you would like to share. (I’d love to read it.)

Image: RachelEllen