Google Analytics is a great free service that allows you to track information about your website visitors and learn more about their behavior while they’re on your website, and how they got there. There’s a treasure trove of information available, and the only thing that’s required to get it is a YouTube account.
I’ve split it into two videos, but both are only a few minutes long and easy to follow.
If you’re looking for more help adding Google Analytics to your site, join me for my upcoming webinar where I’ll be covering this and more. Sign up for the webinar now!
This post is the first in a new series I’m going to be doing, called WordPress Weekend Projects, where you will find bite-size tips to enhance, secure, or optimize your website. Each tip should take an hour or less, and can be done without interrupting your precious weekend time too much.
Your website is only as safe as your last good backup…
Thanks for checking out my talk at WordCamp Lehigh Valley. I am passionate/slightly neurotic about backups, mostly because I’ve seen lots of cases where bad things happen to good websites because they don’t have a good recent backup of their site.
Enjoy the slides, and be sure to make a backup of your site when you get home.
I was at a business growth workshop one time and was asked by a professional photographer at the end of it, “With all of the DIY website builders available these days, do I really need to hire a professional website developer?” I spun the question around and said to him, “Well, with all of affordable professional-grade cameras available these days, do I really need to hire a professional photographer?”
The other people still in the room reacted with a mixture of gasps, “oooohs,” and at least one “oh, burn” reactions. The photographer looked a bit taken aback with my response, and I could almost hear the throught process going through his head – Of course you need a professional photographer. Just because you have access to the tools that I would use doesn’t mean that you know best how to use them. And most people certainly don’t have the training and experience that I have on how to compose a great shot, using lighting effectively, editing and post-production – ohhhhhhhhh. That’s what you mean.
Offering the services that I do, it’s a daily struggle to convince people that there is value in hiring a professioal website developer – even if you’re using CMSs and other tools that make it easier for a layperson to create a site. The value is in the experience, the training, and the exposure I have to tools and training and tips to present a more polished finished product.
The same could be said for many professional service providers – copywriters, copyeditors, SEO specialists, graphic designers, and social media managers. Yes, you can do all of those things yourself, and it’s certainly understandable to want to do them, or at least attempt to do them, when you’re just starting out and are bootstrapping it all with a small budget. The cost of doing it all yourself, though, could be much more in the long run than simply hiring someone.
You lose time in learning how to do all of these things that could be spent networking, creating your products, or performing your services for your customers. And with all of the differing opinions that exist on the internet, the source you’re learning from could have incorrect or outdated information that could greatly hinder your progress and success.
Websites aren’t just websites any more
It used to be that a business owner could get away with a simple “online brochure” style website. Then, you could grab a free template from somewhere, slap up a 5-page site, and call it done. These kinds of websites weren’t meant to be marketing powerhouses – they were simply brochures. They existed to legitimize a business and provide contact information.
Now, though, websites have to be so much more, especially for online businesses. For a virtual business, your website is your store; it is how you connect with your customers, it’s where you advertise the new fall line and draw them into check out your new offerings. This is where you draw them in, convince them to browse, hope they sign up for your mailing list, show them other similar offerings they might like, educate them, entice them, and, hopefully, sell to them. Websites have forms and funnels and optins and analytics and affiliate links and privacy policies and disclaimers and information about your products, services, expertise and experience.
But even for brick-and-mortar businesses, the days of a simple website are past. Think about the last website you visited for a brick-and-mortar store. Websites for restaurants list hours, contact and location info, menus, specials, and maybe even online ordering capabilities. Heck, even my kids’ pediatrician’s website has downloadable forms, information for parents, staff bios, and education classes and meetups. And their dentist’s website let me request an appointment, make payments, and sign up for a text message reminder of their appointments.
So, sure, you can build a website (or hire your niece/neighbor/some college student) but to really utilize it as the powerhouse tool it can be, you need someone that understands all of the pieces and how they work together. (PS – that’s me, if you weren’t sure.)
What do you get from a professional website developer?
So, what specifically do you get from working with this professional WordPress website developer?
11+ years experience – I’ve been making websites for over 11 years (almost 21 if you include the terrible, cheesy sites I made when the ‘Net was in its infancy and I learned HTML right out of high school). Which means I’ve had time to make lots of mistakes, learn how to fix them, learn what works better, and what is appealing to target audiences.
Countless hours of training – Because this is something I’m passionate about, and it’s how I make my income, I spend a lot of time learning how to do it better, what current best practices are, and how to optimize everything. This training comes as formal courses, informal discussions, blog posts, reading books, watching video courses, and simple trial and error. Sure, you could do all of this, too. But, if this isn’t what you’re passionate about, do you really want to?
Active in WordPress community – I’m a co-organizer for our local WordPress meetup group, and lead organizer for WordCamp Pittsburgh 2017, and I attend as many other WordCamps as I can. Staying active in the WordPress community helps me to stay up-to-date on recent and pending changes, learn new best practices to better optimize sites and resources for better performance, and meet other WordPress pros so that we can learn from each other. (If you’re local to Pittsburgh and interested in WordPress, I highly recommend checking out the meetup group and our upcoming WordCamp.)
Beware of imposters!
Just because someone has the tools doesn’t mean they know how to use them properly.
I once talked to a graphic designer that declared that since she had the full Adobe Creative Suite, including Dreamweaver, she was going to start offering website development services. She really didn’t know the first thing about what makes a good webpage or site, didn’t know the difference between DNS records and MX servers, didn’t know any HTML code (which is the basis for all websites – even WordPress websites), but she had software that could build the site for her. Going with this logic, I should start offering accounting services. After all, I have QuickBooks, and it can do all the balancing and stuff for me, so I should be fine. Except I don’t really understand accounting beyond entering transactions, invoices and payments – nor do I want to.
You could go to just about any store that sells software and buy some home design software, sometimes for as little as $5. But, would you trust someone to design your new home with that?
Aside from being able to produce a final product, a professional website developer should be able to tell you why the did what they did – why is the site responsive, why are they recommending the hosting company they use, why are certain elements or practices encouraged or discouraged? Not how, certainly. Unless you’re paying them to teach you how to do it, they don’t need to explain how they created the finished product, but they should at least be able to explain why.
1 – Not making regular backups.
Even if you correct all of the things listed above, your website could still get hacked. Or your webhost could crash. Or you could update a plugin or theme that breaks your site – nothing’s infallible. Having current backups will help you recover more quickly in the event that something goes wrong. I generally recommend keeping 4 weekly database backups, especially if you blog or update content frequently, and 1 complete backup – files and database – that is no more than a month old. Sure, you could do a full backup each week, daily even, but that’s a lot of resources and a lot of storage. If you need to restore your site, you can use the full backup and then the incremental database backups to get the content current.
2 – Not updating WordPress, including themes and plugins.
This one goes along with the one above. Most hacked WordPress websites get hacked because they are running outdated versions of WordPress. The second and third most common reasons are themes and plugins that aren’t updated. Always keep your WordPress software updated. If you’re concerned that updating your site, plugins or themes will cause issues with your site, make a backup first, so that you can restore it if needed while you figure out the issue.
3 – Using ‘admin’ as your username.
If you used Scriptaculous or some other automatic installer to setup your WordPress website, there’s a good chance that your primary username is ‘admin’, and if it is, you are making it much easier for hackers to get into your site. This screen shot shows a hacker trying to get into a client’s site using the ‘admin’ username – almost 500 attempts in about 10 minutes.
4 – Not using a strong password
Using strong passwords is talked about everywhere, right? And not using the same password everyhere. Especially right after some online retailer gets hacked or something. And yet I still have clients with passwords like ’82pickles’ or something else rather simple.
Now, there’s a lot of debate in certain circles about what makes a strong password, but here’s some basic pointers:
- don’t any part of your name or username in the password
- password should be at least 12 characters
- passwords should not be repeated across multiple sites (I know, we all do it, but we shouldn’t)
- some say that 4 random words separated by hyphens make pretty good passwords (like purple-horsefly-brown-coat)
- many recommend using a combination of character types – upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols
I use Passpack.com to keep track of my password – at least the ones I don’t write down on sticky notes on my desk. (I’m joking, I promise.)
5 – Not using reputable themes.
It’s tempting to use one of the hundreds of thousands of free themes available, and if you’re using one for the free themes from the WordPress repository (https://wordpress.org/themes/) then you’re chances are better, but there’s still an issue. Free themes can have spammy links and other issues in them, and these could be well hidden. Premium themes may cost a bit of money, but it’s worth it, especially if you’re using them for business.
And please, for the sake of your website, do not buy a premium theme off someone on Fiverr or Craigslist (also called nulled themes), even if it is a really good deal. Because you never know what nastiness they added to the theme files between when they downloaded then and when they made it available to you.
When in doubt, or if you bought your Premium theme through a third party, the Theme Authenticity Checker plugin can help you find common spamminess that might be present in your theme.
6 – Not using a security plugin
Even when you’ve taken all the other precations for keeping your site safe, using a security plugin is helpful. The can handle some of the techy stuff for you if that’s not your thing, as well as provide some monitoring for when you can’t be there to make sure everything’s okay.
My preferred security plugin is iThemes Security. I’ve talked about it before and have some videos about it on my YouTube Channel. It’s a great plugin and judging from the number of security notices I get for my site and my maintenance clients’ sites, it does a great job of keeping unauthorized access out.
As part of their continued effort to make mobile internet usage more user-friendly, Google changed their search algorithm to penalize pages that have “instrusive interstitials,” which refers to popups and popovers that cover the majority of the visible area. “They can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.”
Beginning January 10, 2017, “pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”
Google has included these example graphics on their official blog post.
If you use a pop-up or pop-over on your site, which are commonly used to encourage list subscription, you should evaluate it on mobile devices to see if it covers most of the visible area. If so, it’s probably in your best interest to look into using a different pop up plugin, or one that can be better optimize for mobile usage.
“Do I really need an SSL certificate for my website?”
This is one of those questions that I’m hearing a lot more often from my clients. Typically, they’ve heard a rumor or something from a friend of a friend and are confused about it all.
Strictly speaking, the only time you need an SSL certificate is when you’re collecting or transmitting sensitive information through your website. Although there’s never really a strong argument not to use an SSL certificate, unless you really needed one, most people didn’t get one primarily due to the cost of obtaining one. But, starting in 2015, an organization called Let’s Encrypt began offering free SSL certificates in an effort to make the web more secure.
Google first started talking about HTTPS/SSL certificates back in August 2014, stating at the time that it was going to be a “lightweight” ranking factor that they estimated would affect fewer than 1% of global queries.
In December 2015, Google announced that they would be adjusting their indexing to look for more https pages, looking for the https version of http pages without being told to. Additionally, Google says that if both http and https versions of a page exist, they will choose and index the https version, assuming it isn’t blocked.
Enabling HTTPS on your website requires the use of an SSL certificate. SSL certificates and HTTPS protocol encrypt the information sent between your computer and the internet so that it can’t be read by unknown parties if intercepted.
Many hosting companies now offer Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate registration and installation in an easy to use interface on your control panel. Check with your hosting company to see if they offer this benefit. My preferred hosting company, Siteground announced that they spent some time over the holidays issuing “several hundred thousand” Let’s Encrpyt SSL certificates for all domains currently hosted on their servers, and will automatically issue them for new domains and accounts.
If your hosting company does not offer free Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates, you can choose to keep your site there, either without a SSL certificate, or purchase a SSL certificate either through your hosting company or a third-party provider. Depening on your current search engine ranking, hosting without a SSL certificate may or may not have a sigificant impact on your site’s ranking.
If you choose to move to a hosting company that offers it included with your hosting plan, many hosting companies will offer to move the site for you. But, that complimentary move may not include converting your site to using HTTPS or making sure redirects are put in place properly so your existing links and traffic aren’t affected.
If your website isn’t using HTTPS, I can help. Get in touch so we can discuss options.
According to a recent report from Pew Research Center, 77% of all American own a smartphone. When they first surveyed smartphone ownership conducted in 2011, that percentage was only 35% – that’s a fairly significant jump in only 6 years.
An August 2016 blog post from Search Engine Land state that Google reports indicated that greater than 50% of global search queries are from mobile devices.
And if you want a bunch more stats on mobile marketing, check out this blog post (but finish reading this one, first.)
So, now I have to ask you – is your website mobile-friendly?
If your answer was “I don’t know,” then test it out at https://search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly.
Why is it important for your website to be mobile-friendly?
Beginning in April 2015, Google changed their algorithm to show mobile-friendly websites higher in search results that originated on mobile devices. If people are searching for a restaurant or coffee shop or service provider from their mobile devices, then Google wants to make sure they’re going to see a web page that renders well on their device. If you are a local service business, having a website that’s not responsive or mobile-friendly, you could be missing out on business and potential customers.
So what can you do?
Well, if you tested your site with that link I gave you up there, Google has some suggestions of things you can do to optimize your site for mobile traffic. If you have a WordPress site, you can switch to a responsive theme (make sure you do a backup first.) or use a mobile plugin. Switching themes can be tricky sometimes, depending on the theme you started with and what you’re switching to. If it’s been a while since you’ve done (or redone) your site, it might be time to discuss redeveloping your website to make sure it’s optimized for both mobile devices and your target audience.