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.


Should I Re-Brand?

Posted: January 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Google Page Rank, SEO | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

I have noticed that many sole proprietors brand themselves. And re-brand themselves. Is this a good idea?

I’m going to address this from an SEO perspective. And it does take careful consideration. Building your current site’s ranking took time. You don’t want to throw that away because you thought of a new business name you like better. If things have gone relatively well, other sites link to you, and maybe not just to your home page– maybe you’ve got valuable “deep links” to your other content. Search engines have found you and indexed your pages, and are even taking into account the age of your domain.

Let’s backtrack for a minute though. If you are a sole proprietor or sole practitioner, and plan to stay that way, do you really need to brand yourself in the first place? Maybe you should build a reputation for your real name, instead of a brand name. The brand name may sound outdated within a year or two, if trends change, or if your business goes in another direction and, you will find yourself in this re-branding pickle.

Assuming you already went the brand route, and realize now that you chose the wrong brand name, what now? Do not have any illusions here– when you change your domain name, your search engine ranking will be affected, probably for several months, but hopefully there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Think carefully, and choose a new domain name that can be with you for a long time, even if you narrow or widen your business focus, or alter your business in some other unforeseeable way.

  1. Go through your old site, and make sure you have a record of each and every URL.
  2. Go to Yahoo.com and type in link:http://www.yourolddomain.com and find out who is linking to your old site, and what pages they are linking to. Use the dropdown menu to Show Inlinks “Except from this domain” to “Entire Site.”
  3. Think about whether you are going to use the same URL structure (will your about page still be called about.php or is it going to be called about-our-company.php?).
  4. Launch your new site.
  5. In your server’s .htaccess file, use 301 redirects to re-direct each old URL to each new one, or if file structure remains the same, you can redirect the whole site to the new domain in one fell swoop. More on this.
  6. Go to your Google Webmaster Tools account for your old domain. If you never did this before, you need to now. Fill out a “Change of Address form”.
  7. Get a Google Webmaster Tools account for your new domain, and submit a sitemap of all your new URL’s.
  8. Contact all the web sites from step #2, and request that they update their link to your site. Even with the re-direct, you should do this, to preserve your “link juice” from those backlinks.
  9. Don’t wait too long to take your old site down if there is duplicate content. You can be penalized for this.
  10. Have patience…. several months of patience.

Ask yourself… is it still worth re-branding?


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.


Why Local Matters

Posted: November 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Brooklyn, Local SEO | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The Internet, to many, is an opportunity for global exposure. So, why focus on local markets? There are several reasons.

  • Money that you spend outside your local area or at chain stores, whose headquarters are generally outside your area, is siphoned right out of your community. Every dollar that is spent locally, however, stimulates about 32 cents in additional economic activity in your community. Read more about local economies here.
  • Your local area can serve as your niche– if you offer a service with a lot of competition, it’s much easier to differentiate yourself in your local area.
  • Your Internet marketing strategy works in connection with word-of-mouth referrals from others who know you– and more often than not, those people live in the same region as you.

So now that I’ve convinced you that local matters, make sure to set up your Google Local listing and to print your location information in your page footer!


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


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.