Everything You Need to Know About the AMP Project

In keeping with Google’s movement towards providing a friendlier user experience, the AMP project was created to get rid of mobile load times completely. While there have been changes to Google’s search engine algorithms in the past regarding mobile sites, this seems to take it to a new level, making it all but required to have an AMP-ready version to maintain high search engine ranking positions (SERPs).

What is AMP?

Simply put, the AMP version of your website is essentially a bare-bones framework that contains only the most important parts of what you have to offer. Google, along with many other observers, are convinced that the greatest opportunity for growth lies with mobile devices. In order to make the most out of this, websites need to be able to load quickly, even in areas that have less than optimal data coverage.

Will AMP Affect Your Website?

Google has made it clear that if your website loads slowly in a mobile browser, you are going to be penalized for it. Since AMP is at such an early stage in its development, implementing it on your site now could give you a leg-up on your competition. AMP results are at the top of search pages, meaning even if you have the top spot for a keyword, if you do not have AMP set up for your website, you will be below pages that do.

How Does AMP Work?

AMP works by using a specific type of code called AMP HTML which puts certain constraints on what can or cannot be published. Third-party Javascript code on your site will generally not load within an AMP page, since it can considerably increase loading times for someone on a mobile device. It is still possible to use third-party code on the AMP version of your site, but the code will need to fall in line with AMP guidelines. Major third-party developers such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram already have AMP-specific versions of their plug-ins so that they will continue to work on your website.

Implementing AMP on Your Website.

If your website runs on WordPress, there are a few plug-ins you can download straight from the dashboard that will do most of the work for you. One of the best, and most frequently updated, is the official Automattic/Wordpress AMP plugin, which can be found here. This plug-in creates an AMP version of all of your existing pages, which will then be indexed over the next few days.

For sites that do not run on WordPress, the process of creating AMP-compatible pages for existing content will require an overhaul of your CSS. This is something usually best left to a professional, since it can take a lot of time to do the right way.

Tracking with AMP.

Keeping track of your visitors through Google Analytics is fairly simple throughout the AMP version of your website, as you only need to add a bit of code to your pages. Other tracking programs may not work quite as easily, which is where professional help would usually come into play.

Keeping Your WordPress Website Secure

Millions of cyber attacks are launched against U.S. based companies, non-profits and military organizations every day.

It’s not just big businesses that need to be concerned about cyber security. Attacks on small businesses are becoming common. In fact, according to a 2013 National Small Business Survey, about 44% of small businesses have been attacked and approximately 75% of the victims are completely unaware of the breach.

Although advanced maintenance and security packages are available at firms like ours, the following are some important security precautions every website owner should take:

1) Delete out of date/unused plugins.

Although plugins can offer tremendous benefits to a website, they can also create security threats. The threat is even greater if the plugin is no longer being updated or maintained. It is important to evaluate the necessity of each plugin on a regular basis. Remove any plugins that are no longer supported or are no longer needed on the website.

2.) Use a security plugin.

It is important to be selective with any plugin you wish to install on your website, but security plugins can makes significant changes to your database and other site files which can impact how a website functions. It is important to review each option carefully and back up all website files before installing any  security plugin.

That being said, here are a few security plugins we recommend*:

  • iThemes Security: Formerly known as Better WP Security, this plugin is now maintained and supported by iThemes. It offers one of the best all in one security solutions available in a free and pro version.
  • Wordfence: Another excellent all in one security plugin option for wordpress websites. It has over 4 million downloads and a nearly perfect user rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars.
  • BulletProof Security: Another popular all in one option with about 1.5 million downloads. It offers both a free and a pro version and boasts an impressive user rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars.

If your website has been the victim of an attack, Sucuri is one of the most trusted names in malware removal.

3.) Use a unique username.

Don’t use the “admin” username. It is the most common username for WordPress websites and hackers exploit this fact for brute force attacks.

4.) Change up the password.

Weak passwords make websites vulnerable to brute force and other forms of attacks.

  • Passwords should be changed frequently.
  • The passwords you use should include letters, numbers, mixed case, punctuation and be at least 8 characters. It helps to use a random password generator.
  • Force users on the WordPress site to use strong passwords.
  • Never reuse a password, make them unique for each website.
  • Consider using a password manager such as Lastpass, 1Password, DashLane or RoboForm.

For more advice on passwords, check out WordPress’ guide to passwords.

5.) Backup the website.

Although a backup will not help you prevent a security threat, it will be a life saver if your website is hacked. The following are some recommended backup plugins*:

  •  VaultPress: Brought to you by Matt Mullenweg (co-founder of WordPress), VaultPress is a subscription based service with a few different pricing options.
  • UpdraftPlus: With over 1.6 million downloads and a user rating of 4.8 stars out of 5, UpdraftPlus is one of the most popular and highest rated backup plugins for WordPress.
  • BackupBuddy: Another plugin brought to you by the folks at iThemes, BackupBuddy is a pail WordPress backup plugin.

6.) Keep your website up to date.

In 2012, more than 117,000 WordPress installations were hacked. According to a survey conducted by WP White Security, vulnerable, outdated versions ofWordPress are one major source. Less than 20% of the websites analyzed were running the most current version of WordPress.

WordPress itself isn’t the only thing to keep up to date. Themes and plugins are just as important to maintain. A recent survey found the following:

  • 29% were hacked via a security issue in the WordPress Theme they were using
  • 22% were hacked via a security issue in the WordPress Plugins they were using

7.) Enable Two Step Authentication

Enabling two-factor authentication can significantly improve the overall security of any WordPress website. Two-factor authentication is a method of securing accounts by requiring that you not only know a password, but that you also possess something like a mobile device. Once a password has been entered, a code is sent to a mobile device that must also be entered. The benefit of two-factor authentication is that even is a password can be guessed the hacker would also need to have stolen the mobile device.

 

*This represents a thrid-party product or service. Ready to Run Designs makes no claims or warrantees for this product or service.

Search Engine Optimization for Images

How to Optimize Images for Search Engines

Optimize images and graphics for search enginesImages not only help a webpage look great, they are also an important part of a website’s search rankings. The following will examine some of the most important elements search engines use to determine which images to index.

Numerous specialty search engines, also known as “verticals,” exist within major search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. A vertical is simply search engine that focuses on a specific type of Web content, such as the items on the Google menu bar (YouTube, Google Shopping, Google Images etc.). Following the best practices will not only increase the likelihood of a webpage being ranked higher for relevant keywords in a general search, but also the image being found through a vertical.

In addition to being found through searches on these verticals, content within these categories can also appear in the general web search results. Therefore, it is important to optimize all forms of online content to be indexed by search engines.

Here are a few ways to improve the likelihood of getting search engines to index an image:

  1. Descriptive Alt Tags: Search engines are able to see that an image is on a webpage, but it cannot read what the image is without a little help. Alt tags provide search engines with a description of the image, which are used in indexing images in search results.
  2. Title Tags: Like alt tags, title tags also help search engine bots know what the image displayed is all about. It should be short, catchy and descriptive. In FireFox, Opera, and other browsers, the title tag pops up when a visitor hovers over an image.
  3. Image File Names: Include keywords that describe the image in its file name. For example, the file name web-design-professional.jpg would be a better name than stockpic18662k334d772.jpg for the image below. Also notice that the name of the file is more than one word, which have been separated or “parsed” with hyphens. Although website copy should be written naturally, image files should exclude non-keywords in the title.
  4. Image Size: Large photos should be resized to help preserve page speed. The image size should also be included in the html on the page to give search engines details on the size of the photo. (Note that the image size code should not be used to resize the image on the page). Images should be resized prior to being uploaded to the website.
  5. Add Keyword Rich Captions: Adding keyword-rich captions directly above or beneath an image can also improve its chances of being indexed higher by search engines.
  6. Anchor Text: Just like using links to a page or article, including good anchor text is important when linking to an image. Using the picture below as an example once again, change generic links, such as “View Photo,” to something like “Website Developer – View Larger” to include keywords in the anchor text.
  7. File Formats: If you have access to Photoshop or a similar program, take advantage of the “Save for Web” option to optimize a photo. If this is not an option, try to save photos in JPEG format and set to a resolution of 72 pixels per inch. A full discussion of image format & SEO is beyond the scope of this article, website owners may also want to look into Google’s WebP image format.

Image Optimization Helpful Hints

Image Optimization Helpful Hints

In addition to these more technical aspects, some general SEO rules apply to images as well.

  • Avoid Keyword Stuffing: Stuffing keywords into any of the areas discussed above will be seen as a “black hat” SEO tactic by search engine and have a negative impact on search rankings. Instead, use keyword-rich text that is written in plain English.
  • User Experience: Like all other content on a website, images should be chosen based upon the value it will add to the visitor’s experience. Carefully select pictures or graphics that will both resonate as well as immediately communicate the message of that web page. Put differently, if a picture is worth a thousand words, make sure it reinforces a message consistent with the text on the page.
  • Consider Image Quality: Good quality photos make for a better user experience, so avoid using blurry or low resolution photos. However, before you start uploading huge, high resolution images; remember files that are too large will take longer to load, slowing down page speed and diminishing the overall user experience.
  • Image Placement: Many visitors will not scroll to the bottom of a page, so it is generally a good idea to position images higher on a page. According to Google’s guidelines, image captions, titles, and other content surrounding an image provides search engines with important information used to understand an image.

To conclude, be mindful of how search engines read and index content and how that relates to search ranking. Following best practices for image optimization and general search engine optimization, your website will see drastic improvements.

SEO & the Importance of Meta Tags

One question that seems to come up over and over pertains to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the importance of meta keywords. Plainly stated, we don’t use them. For the simple reason that they are almost completely irrelevant and often do more harm than good. Nearly all major search engines that once used them stopped in the late 1990′s. For some reason, this is a SEO myth that never seems to die.

In 2009, Google announced on its official blog that it does not use meta tags for ranking websites (and has no intention of using them in the future). Why? About a decade ago, keyword meta tags quickly became a way to stuff a website with irrelevant keywords to dive traffic from unrelated search terms. As a result of this persistent abuse, most search engines quickly abandoned (or significantly reduced the importance of) keyword meta tags in ranking websites.

Below is a video of Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, giving an explanation of why keyword meta tags are not a factor for Google.

In addition to Google, other search engines have made similar announcements regarding the keyword meta tag. In October of 2009, Yahoo! had made an announcement similar to the one Google made just one month before. In addition, Bing representatives have stated that meta keywords are mainly used to identify spammers, but if used perfectly will make very minor improvements to a website’s search ranking.

In the end, meta keywords are basically a waste of time and energy. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Here are a few basic steps to improve user experience to improve a website’s search rankings:

It is very likely meta keywords will hang around for some time, but we hope this article will make even a small contribution towards debunking this myth. There are many factors that effect search rankings and many more articles will be posted to provide methods and insights into improving SEO. But for now, we encourage all website owners to focus on improving user experience, which is perhaps the most important place to start in any SEO strategy.

Responsive Website Design Explained

As the importance and regular use of smartphones and tablets continues to increase, many website owners are looking at ways to improve the user’s experience on these devices. Developing a responsive website is a solution that has been growing in popularity in recent years.

Responsive Web Design

In order to understand the benefits, it’s important to understand what it means for a website to be responsive. Without getting overly technical, a responsive website uses “media queries” to discover the resolution of device it’s being served on and adjust its appearance to fit the size of the screen. In other words, the content on the page adapts to make the layout match the screen size it is being viewed on.

Benefits of a Responsive Design

The obvious benefit of a responsive website is that it is compatible with devices of any size. Although it is possible to achieve the same results (and in some cases an even more tailored experience) by creating different sites for each device, the time and cost associated with multiple sites can quickly become overwhelming.

A responsive web design is highly recommended for the following reasons:

  • Single website code base: Rather than maintaining a separate code base for different devices now used for internet searches, responsive websites can be updated from a single source to reduce time and money. It is possible to create a website for desktop, tablet, mobile as well as mobile touch devices that are available, but this also means creating, testing and maintaining each of these sites.
  • Preserves Link Juice & Page Authority: Link Juice refers to the number of times other websites wish to link to a page and is one of the major factors search engines look at when evaluating the value of a website. Multiple websites will create multiple URLs (links) to that page and will split or compete for the link juice benefits of that page.
  • Less Duplication of Content: Search engines like high quality, unique, informative content. Responsive website design reduces the amount of pages that a search engine needs to crawl and helps to ensure content is being served from one address.
  • No Redirection Required: Redirecting users to the device-optimized view increases loading time and diminishes user experience, which search engines really frown upon. Responsive websites avoid this additional loading time as well as errors that redirection often creates.

In addition to the reasons listed above, perhaps one of greatest arguments for responsive design is that it is Google’s recommended configuration. Responsive web design is still relatively new, but growing trend that is starting to be used by some of the most prominent websites on the internet. One of the most noteworthy examples this year was President Obama’s reelection website. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that responsive web design is rapidly transitioning from a web trend into web standard.

Online Marketing Primer

As a business owner, researching the seemingly endless online marketing options may be overwhelming at first. The internet is full of web development companies and online marketing firms that try to convince business owners to invest in all kinds of products and services. If you are uncertain about the best way to start promoting your brand online, the following provides simple ways to start an online brand for a small business.

Social Media Strategy

Online Marketing for Small BusinessesSocial media sites are great tools for businesses to connect to customers, capture new leads and improve its website’s rank on major search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. However, as important as it is for a business to have social media accounts, it is even more important to use them appropriately.

  • Do a few things well: Rather than try to be on every social media site, pick only a few that are most likely to have your target audience and actively participate on them.
  • Understand the platform: Different social settings can call for very different behavior, which is also true for social media. Try to look at the ways other users already interact on the social media site to get a better understanding of the ways to participate.
  • Monitor social media sites: Customers use social media to communicate with businesses and expect responses to be made promptly. Failing to check social media sites can result in customer dissatisfaction.

Developing a Professional Website

A professional website does not mean complex or expensive per se. In fact, a small business should create a website that is well laid out, easy to navigate and engages the target audience.
Small businesses drive website traffic with the following:

  • Demonstrate Value: Keep the language clear and easy to read. Avoid industry jargon and focus on the benefits of your products and services.
  • Mobile Design: Allow customers to visit your website from any location with mobile and tablet version.
  • Frequent Updates: Websites that are active with frequent updates are heavily favored by search engines. Consider adding a blog to your website and publishing content on a regular basis.

Local Business Search Optimization

Local business search sites are a powerful tool for allowing customers to find your business online. These are websites that provide reviews and other information about businesses, such as Superpages, Yelp, Citysearch etc. In addition to submitting a website to major search engines, find business directories that will help potential customers find you online.

  • Provide details: Add as much relevant content in your listing as possible, including contact information, link to your website, photos, videos and the products or services the business offers.
  • Update information: Remove any out dated content, such as old contact information.
  • Niche directories: Local directories that are relevant to your business can provide better results. These directories also appeal to an audience that is interested in your industry and will likely drive more traffic to a website.
  • Build over time: Avoid submitting to as many directories as possible all at once. Search engines look unfavorably on businesses that just spam directories.