Switch to HostGator Proves They’re Awesome

Ten days ago I announced my switch from MediaTemple to HostGator hosting because things were very slow.

So check this out. Google Webmaster Tools fills you in on some metrics related to Google’s crawling of your site. Here’s what I found:

Time spent downloading a page (in milliseconds)

crawl-statsNotice that huge drop off towards the end. That means that HostGator was able to serve the pages at least twice as fast as MediaTemple was.

Now here’s where it really matters. So what if it took Google longer to download my pages – as long as they’re all there, then they accomplished what I wanted. Right?

Number of kilobytes downloaded per day

crawl-stats-kilobytesCrazy! So here I found out that Google may have been downloading all of my pages, but may not have been indexing everything on those pages – or maybe they were just taking a long time to do it. Now, it seems they must be getting everything, and probably getting it faster and making my pages appear in search engines quicker.

Moral of the Story: Find a Good Host

I’ve been with several hosts now and all have their ups and downs. For instance, MT was great when I first started with them and they have good support and a really well designed control panel. They obviosuly lost it when it came to speed though (at least on their grid servers).

So, I’m now impartial to HostGator and suggest that everyone else host through them. The difference is clear.

WordPress Meetup Summary

This weekend I went to my first WordPress Meetup which was held in PD Johnson’s in Dallas. I wasn’t too sure of what to expect; the summary of the group made it seem like it would be pretty informal. It was. Everyone trickled in, about ten of us, and while some of us ate and others pulled out laptops we chatted mostly about Twitter and WordPress plugins.

Most of my time is spent with people who know little about technology, forget about WordPress and blogging, so hanging out with people who I can actually talk to those things about is refreshing.

However, I know that Dallas has a much larger audience of WordPress fans and major (or at least more than minor) bloggers. I was disappointed that the group doesn’t seem to attract enough of the audience using blogging and social media to its fullest extent. Granted, the group hasn’t been meeting for very long (just since April I think).

What I’d like to see more of is a formal atmosphere where people are encouraged to share with the whole group about how they use WordPress, what benefits it has for them, and how others can improve upon their blogging. One of the reasons I wish for this is because I’ve spent the past three years learning everything I can about WordPress and I’m dying to share the knowledge I’ve gained. It would be neat if the meetups consisted of neatly packaged topics so that the goal is clear and people know why they are coming and what they’re taking away.

On the other hand, maybe the point of these meetups is simply to socialize with other WordPressers and something so formal is outside the lines of what is thought necessary for the group. In that case, I’d love to be part of a new group that encouraged the formal training/learning of WP while the meetup group existed alongside the new group.

Any thoughts?

It’s About That Time

My apologies first. I haven’t kept up with my blog very well this year. Of course, moving, planning a wedding, and being a newly wed are factors that. All of which are null and void now (except the newly wed part). Needless to say I have more time now and will be posting more regularly.

The big news, however, is that I’ve begun redesigning my site. I’m moving on the bigger and better things with this site. There will also be a goody attached to the launch of the new site. Stay tuned…it’s not too far away.

Launched: Simple Elegance

This week I launched a new client site: Simple Elegance. Simple Elegance is a wedding decoration company in Denton, TX that serves the whole DFW area. I’m getting married (in less than a month!) and so my bride met with Simple Elegance and found out that they needed a website. Needless to say, work began a few weeks later.

Simple Elegance Home Page

Design & Home Page

In designing the site I wanted to achieve two things: simplicity and elegance. 😉

The site needed to be conducive to an audience I’m only vaguely familiar with, yet constantly surrounded by: young women in dire need for wedding decorations. I ended up giving the site a very rustic, yet smooth feel. The dark colors are a stark contrast to the traditional white wedding sites (though I will be implementing a style switcher to go between the dark scheme and a lighter one). I feel as though the browns make the site feel a little smaller, but in a good way. The perception is that the site is well maintained, updated, local, non-corporate, and easily accessible to customers.

Simple Elegance Photo

Photos

Pictures are huge in a business that is selling services based solely upon how good they look. We used in-window popups to show off the larger images, and allow visitors to browse through the many pictures. We’re taking advantage of the WordPress built-in gallery feature to make photo browsing and management easy.

Search Engine Optimization

As with all of the sites I build, I take great care into how I build a site so that it out performs competitors in search engines. This section is for those already familiar with SEO.

Simple Elegance Heading

Headers

On the home page I used the text “Wedding Decorations in Dallas, TX” as the H1 tag. While the business is located in Denton, TX, their service is as wide as the DFW area and Dallas is a more trafficked keyword than Denton is, so it made sense to draw from the bigger pool, rather than limit ourselves to Denton.

The H2 tag is “Wedding and Event Décor Specialists” so that we can emphasize even more specifically what the site is about, including a broader range of services.

Tags

For our purpose, what traditionally are called “tags” we’ll call “styles”. I wanted brides to be able to find exactly what they’re looking for. Not only did we categorize rentals into a categories like candles, candelabras, and cake toppers, but implemented a tagging feature that will tag about 700 adjectives automatically. If you look at the screen shot below you can see a demonstration of which words could be tagged. This is pretty useful for users looking for a decorations of a very specific style and for search engines because it allows optimization of hundreds of long tail searches.

Simple Elegance Styles

Conclusion

The live site doesn’t reflect everything mentioned in this post as some of the content has yet to be entered. However, I think you’ll find the site to be beautifully simple and very well optimized for search engines.

Visit Simple Elegance.

SEMPO Certified Advice from a Dallas SEO

As I wrote last week, I was nearly SEMPO Certified.

The tests are over with and I am now a SEMPO Certified, Dallas SEO. Take a look at the right hand column >>>

As I said in that post last week I’d write an in depth post on SEO tips. Here’s only one of many more to come…

SEO Tip: Keyword Research

Keyword Research is crucial, or rather, the usage of keywords correctly is crucial.

When writing content for your site, optimize your content for single pages. Its easy to work with the mindset that you’re using good keywords throughout your site and you should be ok with just that, however, think about how PageRank works. PAGErank is much more concerned with the content of the page than it is with the site as a whole (not that your whole site is negligent to your PageRank though).

For example, your small business is a web design firm that wants to rank well for terms like, “web design dallas”, “dallas seo”, etc. When constructing your site content, use those keywords more on specific pages, rather than throwing a couple ‘here and there’ throughout your site. Certainly use the keywords on other pages, but remember that you’re optimizing specific pages for SERP listings.

SEO Tip: Siloing or Theming

SEO Siloing or Theming is the idea of building your site in such a way that content is easily categorized by search engines. I’m using this tactic on this blog, though I plan to extend its usage further in the future.

PageRank Flow
Figure 1: PageRank Flow Due to Siloing/Theming

Figure 1 shows how theming might work. Let’s use an example to better understand:

Say your home page has a PageRank of 4, higher than the rest of the pages on your site. The link juice that your home page can send to other pages is the greatest you have. Using the PR of your home page to distribute PR amongst your other pages can aid in getting your lower level pages into the SERPs. So, your home page is TIER 1. TIER 2 is used for categories (product categories, blog categories, etc.). TIER 3 is your specific content (products, blog posts, etc.). You may have a couple different levels of categories, so your TIER 2 may actually turn into TIER 2 & 3, pushing your products to 4.

Notice in Figure 1, also, how the pages are linked together. The home page is accessible from every page of the site, as it should be because it is the most important page. The category level pages are only linked to the home page and the product pages, but NOT to each other. Why? Your categories are very specific buckets of content that should only be related to other like content. The same is true for your product pages. A practical way to link to other “product level pages” is to link to related products/posts. Find a useful WordPress plugin for similar posts.

Remember here that the idea is to categorize your site’s content so that the link juice flows between related content. Be careful when implementing this kind of structure, though. You could easily, accidentally block access to pages or the long tail of your links may be lost by spiders and they end up never getting to your product pages.

SEO Tip: Strict Guidelines

Don’t we always want to know exactly how to do things? SEO surely isn’t an industry of “sure-fire” methods to accomplish goals, but there are some things you should always pay attention to.

Keyword Frequency: Keep your keyword frequency below somewhere around 2.5% for each page.
If you were to repeat “Dallas SEO” 100 hundred times on a page and submit it to Google they would immediately recognize it was spam. So, keeping your keyword frequency to a low level assures search engines that your content isn’t purely for ranking in SERPs.

Outbound Links: All links pass link juice, so some people believe that linking out to other sites passes your link juice to them where you could have exploited it for yourself. Its true that you are passing some link value to the external site, however, Google recognizes that worthwhile sites actually DO link out to others and it proves them to be an authority themselves. When you link to pages with similar content you’re affirming spiders that content on your page is legitimate, and you’re willing to share knowledge with your visitors. Somewhere around 5 outbound links per page is good.

Word Count: Amongst the text in your navigation, footer, etc. your body copy should prevail as the “meat” of the page. However, don’t throw a million words on the page to accomplish this. On the other hand, don’t be so lean as to not give the content it’s due credibility. Write body copy that exceeds 500 words, enough that search engines will pick up on real story inside your words.

Dallas SEO

I’m excited to be part of the Dallas SEO community now. Of course, I have been, but maybe I’ve got a bit more show for it now. If anyone would like SEO tips or advice, let me hear from you. I’d love to help you out. In addition to being SEMPO certified now, I’m also a member a DFWSEM through Lead Maverick. It’s pretty cool that DFWSEM enables the Dallas SEO community to thrive.

Almost SEMPO Certified SEO Expert

In order to be an SEO expert you have to prove yourself, something I’m still humbly working at. But in my pursuit to become the Dallas SEO guru, I’ve been given a great opportunity to become SEMPO certified.

Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) Mission: SEMPO is a global non-profit organization serving the search engine marketing industry and marketing professionals engaged in it.

A couple of weeks my boss gave me a credit towards one of the three SEMPO courses offered to build skill in SEO and SEM. I’m about halfway through the Advanced SEO Specialist Training. Of course, anyone can take a class, wear a badge, and flaunt a certification (well, almost anyone).

Fortunately, my job allows me to constantly review our site’s SEO. Had we not been sidetracked by some other higher priority things, we’d be in the middle of a six week plan to significantly alter various aspects of our website specifically for search engine optimization (some of which we have thankfully gotten to).

My side projects have also been teaching me useful SEO tricks (not the bad kind!). Some recently launched sites have been heavy on consideration of the architecture and layout concerns of SEO. What I’m learning, though, will really show itself in my future projects.

Some SEO qualities I’ve really been able to refine and affirm recently:

  • Keyword Research
    • Planning the targeted keywords and using them correctly within the content and links of the page
  • Copy Writing
    • Writing content to be noticed by search engines first and compelling to users second
  • Site Architecture
    • Organizing pages in an understandable way for categorization of content by search engines
  • Navigation
    • Linking structures are crucial to how content is understood by search engines

So, I’m not SEMPO certified yet, but I’m well on my way and should have an update for you in couple of weeks. After my certification, I’ll have an in depth post of some things I’ve learned. Hopefully you’ll be able to put them into practice, as I’ll try to keep the post more practical than philosophical.

Make sure you’re subscribed to my RSS feed to get the in depth SEO post.

Launched: The Well at DBC Church Website

This week we launched The Well website, a media and resource rich (or at least it will be!) website for my church, Denton Bible Church. The Well is the evening service at DBC. We accomplished several things with the site that prove the flexibility of WordPress.

Link: The Well of Denton Bible Church

Home Page

The home pages consists of a featured section that scrolls through however many featured posts you want.

We’ve also got 3 “ads” that display next to the featured posts. The point of the “ads” is that they are much more static parts of the site that need constant attention, so we’re using the “ad” terminology, but in reality they’re just important posts.

Below the featured posts is a photo stream from an internal WordPress gallery, and below that are two columns of recent sermons and recent resources (books, blogs, songs, etc.).

To its right is a list of upcoming events that are being picked up from a Google calendar.

A lot of things are going on on the home page, and mostly in part to using the loop to call specific categories.

Pages

Many of the pages have unique sidebars, achieved by adding unique IDs to the widget code and allowing site administrators to add and remove widgets of their choice for specific pages. Some of the pages take advantage of unique templates as well.

Because there are many administrators of the site, those writing their own content have their own author pages to display biographical information as well as a list of their content.

There pages dedicated to photos, audio and video. The photo management was all achieved using the NexGen Gallery WordPress plugin – I strongly suggest using this for your photos!

Coming Soon…

I’ll be recycling this theme, adding to it, cleaning it up, changing the design, and optimizing it even further for release as a premium theme. Stay tuned!

Blogs You Should Be Reading

I’ve filtered through a lot of blogs the past few years. Often I’ll subscribe on a whim, only to find out that 20 posts later I’ve gotten nothing of value from the site, so I’ll remove them from my reader. Still, I have plenty more to keep me busy because there are some truly great resources out there.

You can subscribe to these without hesitation, because they’ve stood my test of time.

SEO Related

WordPress Related

Design Related

General Web

I subscribe to many more feeds than that, but these are some of the best.

So WHO ELSE should I be subscribing to?

Coming Soon: Premium WordPress Theme For Churches

Update: Checkout ChurchRoot for my WordPress themes for churches.

I’ll be releasing a Premium theme (yeah, capital P) in the next few weeks, maybe a month or so even. It will be specifically tailored to the needs or desires of church websites. Although, the very same features it will include could easily be used for any type of organization. The basis to the theme will be that the emphasis is taken off of the blogging and put on dynamic content such as events, sermons, audio, and different categories of traditional blog posts.

I’ll be doing this because I’m building a site for Denton Bible Church that will be used for one of our services. I’ve turned this into a pretty unique theme theme that I’m pretty proud of. About a year ago I built the CollegeLife, the college ministry of Denton Bible Church, site and this new theme will take what I learned from that and build upon it greatly.

Several years ago I created about 10 different HTML/CSS templates (non-WordPress though). I submitted them to 2 or 3 sites and to my surprise they’ve been downloaded probably over 100,000 times now…and they weren’t even that good!

I’ve come a long way now and I can produce much higher quality sites. So be on the lookout for the new theme!

Contest Prizes/Giveaways

All the time I see blogs offering prizes or giveaways for creating a theme, making a logo, or simply commenting. I’ve noticed that just about everyone of these contests offer an iPod shuffle as the grand prize – my guess is because its a iPod, but its cheap enough to give out and have people still think its really cool.

My question is this: what would be an even better prize than an iPod shuffle?

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