Choosing the Best Host for WordPress

Posted: January 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Wordpress | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

After working with web sites on many different shared hosting providers, I have been able to see what works and what doesn’t work well for a self-hosted WordPress blog. It’s true that the requirements for WordPress aren’t that extensive, but there are still many reasons to be careful about whom you choose for hosting. Many have drawbacks that won’t become apparent until you are up and running.

Here are some of the hosting criteria that make for a smooth WordPress experience

  • Easy backups via Cpanel: When you back up your WordPress files via FTP, you are not backing up the database, which is where all the pages and posts live. It’s crucial to back up the database, and doing so through phpMyAdmin can be quite confusing. It is recommended that you back up both database and files every time you need to update to a new version of WordPress (which, trust me, is often). Cpanel offers an easier way to back up your files and your database.
  • One-click WordPress Installation: It’s easy enough to install WordPress yourself, but 1-click installation is even better. You get database creation and connection all with one click! And hosts that offer this are more committed to supporting WordPress and staying up to date with the WordPress requirements (as far as version of PHP, etc).
  • Hack-free: Since my clients’ blogs have been hacked on Dreamhost and Lunarpages, I’m not inclined to recommend those. (Yes, this blog is still on Dreamhost… but that might change soon). With shared hosting, the hacking seems to spread from account to account, so, once bitten, twice shy.
  • Support for WordPress: Some popular hosts offer WordPress but don’t want to support it. I found that Network Solutions would not help with an issue I was having moving a client’s blog from a subdirectory to the root folder, because they “don’t support WordPress in the root folder.” That’s pathetic for someone like Network Solutions.
  • Support: Most of the inexpensive shared hosts charge extra for phone support. Almost all of them have email support. Some answer emails within 24-48 hours (Dreamhost….) and some, usually within the hour (Hostgator).
  • Minimal (if ever) Downtime: I don’t want to name any names, but I’ve had terrible experiences with hosting providers’ servers being down for long periods. OK, I’ll name names. Dreamhost and Network Solutions are really guilty of this, in my experience.

My favorite host for WordPress so far? Hands down, Hostgator. I’ve always gotten the support I’ve needed, none of my clients’ sites have been hacked, the prices are great, WordPress installation is a snap, as are backups. And I can’t remember any of my Hostgator sites going down for more than a couple of minutes.


Google Places Allows Spam Reviews

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Brooklyn, Local SEO | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Unfortunately, Google is failing to crack down on fraudulent spammers who post negative reviews about their competitors. This particular spammer is a local cabinet maker who posted two dozen 1-star reviews about its competitors’ businesses, all on the same day. And on the same day, gave itself a 5-star review. It’s pretty dumb, because it makes it really obvious who the culprit is.

Google allows users to report inappropriate comments. Several of the companies affected have reported the spammer. But, Google has done nothing about it. Owners have the opportunity to respond to to negative reviews, and can point out that the comment is spam. But, if Google does not take down the review, the affected company’s average star rating remains compromised. In fact, one of the affected companies is a client of mine. Because my client is honest and does not inflate his listing with fake reviews, he has a modest number of reviews, all positive except for the fraudulent 1-star review from his competitor. That 1-star review brings his average rating down to 3.5 stars. That’s what you see when my client comes up on Google Places. Maybe some potential customers will take the time to click for more info and see that the one negative review is a fake. But most won’t. Why would they, when several other cabinet makers with higher averages appear in the local search results?

I warn all of my clients of the dire consequences of trying to trick the search engines. “You WILL be caught,” I always say. So, it’s really frustrating to watch this one company get away with it. It’s been two months now, and Google has done nothing so far.


Make a Referral Week: A Small Business Stimulus Program

Posted: March 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: SEO | Tags: | No Comments »

It’s Referral Week! This is my favorite idea over at Duct Tape Marketing. Make a referral this week– refer someone to a small business that you love to support. Then, give your referral an extra boost by bragging about it on the Referral Week web site. This is a great way to help out small businesses. But don’t let it stop there. Make a habit of making referrals often–it’s good karma. What a feeling to bring more customers or clients to a business that has served you well– especially a business that is small and local.


E-commerce Platforms: is yours search engine friendly?

Posted: January 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: E-commerce, SEO | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

If you are planning to launch a small e-commerce site, you may want to stop and consider whether search engines will be able to find the products you will be offering. Some platforms don’t offer the ability to edit certain criteria that are crucial to search engine friendliness.

Here’s a short checklist.

  1. Customizable Page Titles: Above all, the page title MUST be editable for each individual product. Remember, the page title is what you see on the search engine results pages and in the top of your browser window. As far as Google is concerned, it’s the most important element on the page.  Some e-commerce platforms use a template that only allows you to specify one page title that will be used for all products. This is disastrous for SEO!
  2. Customizable “Alt” Tags: You should be able to specify the “alt” tags for the product images. Some e-commerce platforms automatically use the product name as the image “alt” tag– which is better than no “alt” tag at all — but ideally you want to specify your own tag. Why? Well, more and more searchers are using the image search on Google to find what they’re looking for. For humans, a picture’s worth a thousand words. But not to Google, who can’t see the pictures unless you describe what’s there in the “alt” tag. So if you’re selling a pair of kid’s shoes by Stride Rite, maybe your product name is “Corey”. That doesn’t tell Google much. You’d want the “alt” tag to say “Stride Rite Kids Shoes – Corey – Pink/Silver Sneaker”. That way, an image from your site could come up for a search like “pink kids sneakers”.
  3. SEO-friendly URL’s: Many e-commerce platforms use database-generated URL’s such as www.site.com/product/19. Since the number 19 doesn’t tell us anything, it’s preferable to use descriptive words instead. Consider an e-commerce solution that generates static HTML pages rather than generating dynamic pages on the fly. Search engines prefer permanent links.
  4. Related products: It’s really useful to be able to link to related products within your catalog. Good for users AND good for search engines. Check to see if your e-commerce platform provides this option.

Please comment with your own suggestions to add to the checklist. Also, if you have a favorite e-commerce solution that fits the bill for SEO, please post it here.


Notes from a Handful of SEO Audits – Part 2: Stream your blog posts and tweets to your static home page

Posted: October 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Brooklyn, Google Page Rank, Local SEO, SEO | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This month I’ve been auditing some small, local Brooklyn web sites for searchability, or more accurately, findability. In Part 1 of this article, I touched on a few elements that help a page stand out on the search results page. Here in Part 2, I’ll offer two tricks for keeping some fresh content on the home page of your static web site.

From an SEO perspective, static web sites are at a certain disadvantage compared with blogs. Search engines like to see text, and they like to see that pages are updated periodically. A blog automatically fulfills both of these criteria. The home pages of the static web sites that I looked at were just that — static. And some were almost completely graphic without hardly any text at all.

For those owners of static web sites who also have blogs, there is a quick and almost automatic solution. Create a box on your home page that will automatically display your latest blog post titles with links to your blog posts. You can also include a short excerpt from each blog post if you desire. I employ this tactic on my own static home page. This is relatively easy to accomplish using this Feed to Javascript service.

In the same vein, if you use Twitter, then you can automatically display your most recent tweets on your web site. Go to the Goodies/Widgets section of Twitter to get the code to add a Twitter badge to your home page.

Doing one or both of these will keep your home page fresh with updates and relevant keywords. Best of all, once these are set up, you will be able to see changes to your home page that you generate yourself without any help from your webmaster.

If you have neither a blog nor a Twitter account, then I recommend adding a Twitter account to get started — it’s a much smaller commitment than blogging, and it will still help enliven your static home page.


Notes from a Handful of SEO Audits – Part 1: Mind your search engine results page.

Posted: October 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Google Page Rank, SEO, Web Design | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I’ve had a good response this month from Brooklyn bloggers, entrepreneurs and artists looking for ways to increase traffic on their web sites. I’m happy to report that all the sites I looked at are headed in the right direction and can easily increase their traffic by devoting about 5-10 hours to that end and changing a few habits. I’ll be devoting the next few posts to talking about some of the things I found when doing these audits.

Many small business web sites use the same duplicate page title on every page. My guess as to why this happens is that the coder uses a template, and doesn’t think to change the title when plugging copy into the bodies of the pages. The small business owner who is employing the designer/coder doesn’t, in most cases, know what a page title is. If they don’t see it within their design they don’t realize it exists. It’s seemingly a small oversight but the stakes are high. Google awards quite a bit of weight to page titles, but there’s another reason to be concerned about them. They are what users see in the search engine results page (SERP). Getting a page onto the SERP is only the first step. On the SERP, there are 9 other pages competing for one click– so the title really has to be right.

While we’re on the subject of SERP’s, let’s talk meta tags for a moment. Ever since we found out that Google doesn’t use the description meta tags, many web designers and coders out there have decided that meta tags are dead. That may be when it comes to PageRank but that’s not the whole story. If there’s no meta description tag, then Google grabs the first few words of the web page and uses those as the description on the SERP. In many cases, it’s the navigation that shows up– and it’s great to be using text links in the nav — but, which of the following two examples would you click on?

Example 1:
SERP example 1

Example 2:
SERP example 2

So, before spending money on PPC ad campaigns, small businesses should take a look at their sites and see if they can make a few small tweaks that could go a long way.

Notes from a Handful of SEO Audits – Part 2


Why doesn’t anyone read my blog? 5 blogging fixes for newbies

Posted: September 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Starting a blog is easy. But building a readership for that blog is not. If you are a small business owner, you may have decided to start a blog to bring more attention to your business. But if you thought, “If I write it they will come”, you may be wondering now where all those readers are. Here are the top 5 mistakes I’ve seen, in no particular order.

  1. You are using your blog as a platform for advertising yourself instead of offering useful content. Try offering some of your expertise. Your services are the solution to a problem that people have. What is that problem? State the problem, and then offer free advice. Most of what you write should be useful. You should only occasionally try to plug your services.

    Of course, make sure that people know where to go if they do want to find out more about your offerings. If you have a separate web site, be sure your blog links to it. If your blog is your web site, make sure your contact info is easily accessible.

  2. You are not participating in the “blogosphere”, yet you expect others to participate on your blog. You need to find other blogs that are relevant to yours, and participate meaningfully in discussions. Even better, add those blogs to your Blogroll. Stop thinking of them as the competition, and start thinking of them as colleagues. And be a good citizen of the web– contribute to the discussion, don’t just leave a comment that says “Visit my blog” — it’s very doubtful that your comment will get approved.
  3. You don’t post often enough. People are not going to check back or bother subscribing if you post too rarely. Write several posts before you launch your blog, and then post them one at a time, about two posts a week. (And yes, I realize that I’ve already violated my own rule! But, it’s still a good rule).
  4. Google hasn’t found your blog. Google finds sites by following links on existing sites. Make sure you link to your blog from your static web site, if you have one. Or go one step further and have the home page of your static web site programmed so that an excerpt from your most recent blog post automatically appears on your home page, with a link to the rest of the post. (Here’s an example: www.jdainternational.com)
  5. You are not taking advantage of categories and tags. Here’s some good advice on how to use categories and tags. Scroll down to the “Categories vs. Tags” section. This will help your site get indexed with the proper keywords that will bring the right traffic to your door.

There’s a lot of information out there on this topic. Here are a few other blog posts to get you started.


Does your web site say what you are?

Posted: September 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Local SEO, SEO | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

I am repeatedly amazed by how many businesses, large and small, do not define themselves on their web site home pages. When I point this out to clients, they are stunned.

Take, for example a Brooklyn hair salon with a highly functional and well designed site. When you arrive at their home page, you can tell immediately that they’re a hair salon, and if you already know that the famous neighborhood Park Slope is in Brooklyn, then you can tell it’s a Brooklyn hair salon. But, Google can’t! The words “hair” and “Brooklyn” do not appear on their home page! The word “Slope” as in “Park Slope” does appear, but is invisible to Google because it’s part of a graphic in the logo.

With the yellow pages model, hair salons are forced to think of themselves as hair salons, and can be found in the hair salon section under the letter H. The freedom of the web unfortunately frees us up to completely miss the most basic opportunities for getting found.

One way to make sure that your business is correctly defined is to create a footer that appears on every page of your web site. The footer should include, in HTML text, your business category as it would appear in the yellow pages as well as your location.


If you do nothing else to promote your small business web site, do this

Posted: September 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Local SEO | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Register your business location and web site with Google Local. Your web site itself may rank low for the search term “Brooklyn bike repair”– but without doing a single thing to your web site, you can get listed on the first page of Google’s search results by verifying your business address with Google Local. When you do this, you have the opportunity to appear on the Google map that appears at the top of your search results when you search for location-specific businesses.

Simply go to http://www.google.com/local/add and add or claim your business. Even if your business has already been listed, you should claim your local business listing so that you can edit it and add more specific information.

For example, a client of mine is an artist with a storefront studio. In addition to selling his art, he also does commissions, such as ketubahs and pet portraits. By claiming his listing, he was able to label his business with up to 5 categories. Now, he is not limited to coming up for the broad term “Brooklyn portrait artist”– for which there are a lot of results. He also added “ketubahs” and “pet portraits” as categories and he now comes up for those as well.

Here’s some more information on Google Local