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Australian Search Marketing Academy (ASMA) - Optimising WordPress for Bloggers




Peter Mead: Here we are, welcome to the Australian Search Marketing Academy. I'm Peter Mead and today we're talking about optimizing WordPress for bloggers. 

We have a very special guest, Casey Markee who has helped many of the world's top bloggers with their WordPress sites. Casey, you're in San Diego.

Casey Markee: That is correct.

Peter Mead: I usually start these webinars by asking our guests just a very quick question. What's hot in SEO right now? 

Casey Markee: Well, I tell you what, if there's been a lot of volatility in search engine rankings, especially over the last several months, that, of course, started back in March and we had the core update, March the 11th and accelerated even more back in June when Google re-ran the core algorithm possibly with other changes. That was on June the third. 

We've heard a lot about that. I know that others on your calls have talked about that. What many people might not be aware of is that there was yet another update and this seems to be a significant one that happened on or about June the 27th. 

On the positive, it seems that a lot of people, especially a lot of bloggers specifically were positively impacted by this. If you're on the call and you're thinking, "I seem to have a pretty good weekend." Go back, take a look at June the 27th run an analysis and see if you notice an uptick.

As I tell bloggers all the time, SEO is a marathon...it's not a sprint. Sometimes these algorithm updates benefit you and many times, unfortunately, they hurt you. It's a zero-sum game. We just hope that we can stay ahead of all the changes positively long-term.

Peter Mead: Absolutely. The sprint, this whole idea of trying to get fast results, I see that a lot and we see people really getting hurt. I mean going backwards by sort of taking short cuts or maybe try and taking a few risks I guess.

Casey Markee: Sure, sure. 

Peter Mead: Yeah, absolutely Casey, can I just also add to that and say it’s also important for people to be considerate about who they ask for help. Because we’ve seen it time and time again perhaps whether it be a blogger or someone who needs that help and they reach out for help and then perhaps they don’t make the best choice of who it is that helps them.

I think there's been a lot going on with the June three update where... they're a lot better at picking out those really poor link signals and especially things like from PBNs. The Private Blog Network links that are linking from irrelevant PBNs back to the homepage of the website where in the past they may have gotten away with it. 

Obviously, engaged professionals do this kind of work. I would say, please, please, please, think carefully about who you get to help. 

Casey Markee: I guess that brings up a good point. How do you determine who is competent and who is not? I mean, there's one of the criticisms of SEO, in general, is that there are no standards. You have to basically rely on recommendations or referrals or you have to adapt that professional. 

Now there are a lot of people in our niche who maybe they do a podcast, maybe they publish a book, maybe they publish an article, maybe they offer a course. They couldn't find a bad link from a hole in the wall. It's just that that's just not their forte. They're great at talking about SEO, but they might not necessarily know how to audit the site effectively. 

But if you're asking yourself, where does help exist? Go on some of these forums, ask for referrals and then vet those people accordingly. Pop their names into Google, see if they can back up what they're saying, if they're published somewhere, if they go to their Facebook page where they're going to have dozens, if not hundreds of feedbacks and referrals there. 

Peter Mead: That's exactly right. Shall we jump into some of these questions?

Casey Markee: Absolutely. There are some good ones submitted.

Best Hosting for Australian Websites

Peter Mead: We've got one from Megan and we've got Megan that's a Mad Creations Hub, I think she's from. The question is, “I would love to know best hosting for an Aussie blog still wanting speed and responsiveness for my Aussie audience, but also international as well.”

Yes, hosting, right. It's a huge deal for making your site run faster, but performance and also reliability. And, I mean, you work with some Aussie bloggers, Casey, what would you say about the quality of hosting for Aussie as well as international?

Casey Markee: Well I've heard very good things about Kinsta and I'm going to go ahead and paste over the link here. Kinsta is pretty nice, it's based in Sydney I believe. It uses Google cloud, very similar to the makeup that WP Engine uses. But here's the good news, it's one third the cost of WP Engine.

Anything that's in the cloud, I'm all for. I think traditional regular servers in a server room are kind of meeting the end of their usefulness in many ways. 

Using Keyword Variations in On-Page SEO

Peter Mead: Here we have Tanya Boylen. "How many variations of a keyword or a keyword phrase should we be using in one post? How can you increase the number of keywords that you rank for within a single post?" She's got an example, "I.e. you can use spread keywords throughout the text of the post or do you have to use them in H2 headers for them to be able to rank and what's the most glaring?" 

What do you think, Casey? I think it sounds to me like maybe getting too hung up on these keywords so far as wanting to put them into H2 headers and things. 

Obviously, your primary topic will be important to make sure that that is focused, but variations of the keyword in my experience, it should be naturally written into the post in a way that makes sense when people read it and you will rank for keywords, sometimes keywords that are not even in the post.

Casey Markee: And that's very true. One of the things that I would urge you to, for the person who submitted this question and for everyone on the call is to really not worry so much about what keywords you're going to rank for and trying to optimize the post for everything, but just try to optimize for the user. 

We should have the focus keyword, maybe two focus keywords. If you're using Yoast or if you upgrade to Yoast premium; fantastic way for you to specify multiple focus keywords. 

Go ahead and delve down into making sure that the post is optimized for one or two keywords at the most, but when you do that, you are literally going to open yourself up to dozens if not hundreds of long-tail keyword matches. 

Don't get hung up on the number of keywords that the post is ranking for. Well then we can go back to the post with that data now that we have it and then maybe we can go ahead and look at optimizing the content a little bit more around some of those other keyword phrases that Google is now showing you as algorithmically scoring on but you're not competitive for.

Why Page Speed is so Important

Peter Mead: There's another part of that question here, which there's the big question everyone wants to know, what's the most glaring SEO error in Google's eyes, shall we hit on that one, Casey?

Casey Markee: I don't know what the most glaring SEO issue in Google's eyes is because Google will tell you that everything's an issue for them, page speed, whatever. Google will probably tell you it's page speed because their goal is a bottom line seamlessly loading inter-web.

And so if you're running ads and you're at, Google would like every page on the Internet to load less than two seconds, basically impossible if you're running any sort of ads. But we can certainly get that under maybe seven or eight seconds if you optimize accordingly. 

If you're on the call and you're asking what should we hone-in on to fix on a site first, I would definitely choose page speed. Page speed involves so many linked variables; it's user experience, it's page design, it's how many elements you are stuffing or stifling the page with.

When we talk about making your content more attractive and we talk about glaring SEO errors, I have literally dozens and dozens of examples where we have done nothing but improve the page speed on the client side and their traffic has gone up noticeably. 

We want to really make it easy for Google to crawl and algorithmically score our content. And if they're timing out, they're not able to do that effectively.

Peter Mead: Yeah, absolutely. I would add a little bit onto that...be careful because a lot of people, they have their responsive version of the theme and if you're going to use the Google Page Speed Insights tool, you'll see the difference between the mobile and the desktop. 

I guess sometimes it's not so easy to diagnose what is actually happening on that responsive version of the theme that's making it run that much slower. It's a chance there to dive in or even to get a professional to help diagnose what is actually going on. It's very often that it runs slower on mobile than it does on a desktop. 

Casey Markee: And that's very true. We always have these questions about, "Oh my God I'm on WordPress and I'm just slow." Well, you're either slow, you're usually slow because of a lack of optimization. 

If we're auditing a WordPress site, one of the very first things we're going to be looking at is your bottom line hosting. Do I have a very fast server response? Do I have enough resources to handle not only my resources but also projected traffic? Very simple. 

Having a tier-one server, if you're on the call and you're hosting with Bluehost, HostGator or some of these other lower-tier hosting services, they're known for their micro-outages, literally hundreds and hundreds of micro-outages every month. 

And what's a micro-outage? Well, your site might only be down for 10 or 15 seconds, but it's happening over and over again, or maybe a couple seconds, and that's going to hurt your attractiveness when we talk about Google algorithmic consideration. 

When we're looking at diagnosing a site and we're thinking, okay, how can we work on this page speed, invest in quality hosting, invest in quality caching plugins. I personally like WP Rocket, but there are plenty of other great options. Invest in bulk image optimization. 

Use the Search Engine Console to Check Keyword Rankings

Peter Mead: Nice. Let's go to Maria. “How do you figure out your ranking and what kind of keyword search volume you should be aiming for when trying to optimize a post?” 

Casey Markee: Well there's a lot of rank checkers out there, but I always tell people to start with what they have access to for free. And that's everyone on the call. And that's search engine console. You have the ability to go into search console and to see where you're ranking competitively for a lot of keywords.

Glenn Gabe, Glen Gabe you know him pretty well. He had a fantastic guide published in Search Engine Land about I think it was early last year about how to read the Search metrics, the search ranking positions in search console.

That should be a must-read for everyone on the call. Start there. This is free. If you're finding that you're targeting the keyword that has 20, 50, 100,000 searches a month, probably going to find that you're running into competitive headaches because there's a lot of bigger sites above you that are targeting that keyword phrase. You might not have the earned authority yet, or even the strength to rank competitively for that. 

Contrary to popular belief, someone with 10 ranking domains is going to have a hard time ranking for banana cream pie right out of the gate. It's not going to work. There's too much competition for that and you have to earn that competition.

As I tell everyone all the time when we're doing these audits, you kind of have to find your sweet spot. For most bloggers, that's 2000 to 12,000 searches a month initially. 

Peter Mead: Absolutely everyone who has a blog, who has WordPress, they should be familiarizing themselves with Google search console and really learning how to read the data and how it works. 

Pros and Cons of the Gutenberg WordPress Editor

We're going on here from Joanne Williams and this is homemade food junkie. "Please explain the benefits of using Gutenberg. I've just started using it this month a lot actually, and think it might improve SEO. For example, the image links are now correct according to my SEMrush content editor. That was not the case in the classic editor. Other benefits I'm saying? what do you think Gutenberg, obviously this is a radical change for WordPress."

What do you see so far as bloggers are concerned Casey, what would you say that is the benefit of them using Gutenberg?

Casey Markee: Well, I tell you change is hard. Moving to Gutenberg was tough. And it's one of those things where a lot of bloggers are still using the classic editor and hey, I'm one of them. I'm not a fan, honestly of the block segments.

Will I eventually switch over? Yes. And I could tell you that I know I have to know the editor because I have dozens and dozens of clients who have had made the move. Positives of Gutenberg, it's easier to use blocks to add schema. That's a big deal. 

Right now you have blocks that are built specifically around various schemas which have taken off in 2019. The two most prominent being how-to and FAQ schema, which Google is now supporting fully and pushing radically in the SERPs, both desktop and mobile.

You also have blocks for basically everything. You've got your paragraph, your heading, your subheading, the gallery, a cover image, quotes, columns, lists, the videos, you name it, embeds. The block editor again has its benefits. There are lots that you can do with it. 

Here are the detriments. It can lead to decreased site performance⁠ — substantially decreased site performance because you will have all these blocks. You'll load in a bunch of blocks that add a bunch of plugins that'll add two to 20 blocks each and the next thing you know you've got all these blocks that are slowing down performance. 

You really have to be cautious and very judicious about how you're going to be using these blocks in the future. And remember that each of the blocks are loading CSS and JavaScript all the time on every page whether you're using that block or not folks, that's how it works. Your site will slow down considerably. 

But one of the things you might want to consider is trying to be a little bit proactive on that and consider something like a WP Asset CleanUp, which is a fantastic plugin that allows you to defer, and I believe Peter, correct me if I'm wrong, but it will work on the blocks. It will allow you to defer blocks from needlessly loading on a lot of pages.

Peter Mead: It's the future. That's right. I mean these things obviously take time to settle in, but we often see changes in WordPress that are not necessarily going to help performance. I mean, as you said each time there's a block, there's more CSS, there's more JavaScript.

I'll just go on here, Casey, to the next question. And the question here is, "Is there any SEO benefit to backdate a post then re-publish it at a later date to bring it forward, does Google find this confusing?" Wow. I know there's a bit of a tactic there about refreshing content and changing the published date.

Casey Markee: I'm against it. No SEO benefit in doing this at all. And here's the thing is that John Mueller has actually commented on this and he says he wants to see a date on everything and that date needs to be valid. Google does not like it when you artificially change or update dates for a non-user benefit. And there is no user benefit to that. 

If you do this, folks, you can possibly get penalized because you could lose the date from showing up as a byline completely. And I've seen this physically myself, and it's something that's been around for about a year and a half, so there's a couple of citations on that. 

Peter Mead: Yeah, absolutely. Carlos has got a question here. "What is the best way, whether it's manually or using a plugin to manage schema on WordPress and avoiding the common technical issues about incomplete organizational schema " 

I know you had some thoughts here, Casey, around the whole schema topic and in particular what's happened with Yoast recently, things can go wrong with schema and what are your thoughts here on this one?

Casey Markee: Yoast decided that it was their God-given right to start serving schema to everyone regardless of whether you wanted it or not. Well, that caused a lot of consternation and downright descent online, especially for anyone who is using a theme that already had schema built. Genesis is a prime example of that. 

Now I can see the logic for that because it might be better to have your plugin take advantage of the most schema as opposed to coding it into a theme, which in many cases is not updated regularly and can be outdated quite a bit and has poor support in many cases. I could see why Yoast decided to do that. 

If you're on the call and you're upset about this, hey, I get it. But this is, again, the future is just like the stupid Gutenberg editor. Now because Yoast has decided to do so much, they've had growing pains. So what's happened is if you didn't choose the correct type of schema on your blog, you immediately started throwing up errors site wide. And fortunately, they're mostly easy fixes.

Do LSI Keywords Matter for SEO?

Peter Mead: Cory Wolf, so Cory Wolf, he runs the Adelaide Digital Marketing Meetup group. And so Corey has a question here. "Are LSI keywords still important for SEO and blogging. 

Casey Markee: Right Let's go ahead and define those for the rest of you who might not be aware of this. LSI stands for latent semantic indexing, and it's basically an essence, it finds the hidden or latent relationships between words or semantics in order to improve information understanding indexing. That's why you have the latent semantic indexing. It's one of the simplest ways to explain it.

The proposition is that for the blogger, regular blogger, you could go ahead and use LSI. You could basically include synonyms for your target keywords within a piece of content and that will kind of help Google better algorithmically score the content. That's the most simplistic way for me to explain LSI. 

However, if you talk to people much smarter than me and there are a lot of them, Bill Slawski is one of them. He will tell you that they don't use it and they haven't used it in years.

Best WordPress Plugin for SEO

Peter Mead: The question here is, "What is your favorite SEO plugin for WordPress with the arrival of Rank Math. Do you think that this is a competitor to the Yoast plugin? And how do you manage the plugins?" 

I mean Yoast has been in the game for a long time, I'm still using Yoast and I haven't tried Rank Math myself, so I'm not sure, have you tried Rank Math, Casey?

Casey Markee: I have and I think it's fine, but there's also you could tend to do too much and SEOPressor is another one. SEOPressor and Rank Math both suffer from the same issue, which is feature overload. 

You do not need as an average blogger to have that many features in a plugin because you are going to have analysis paralysis. And I can tell you that I've seen it in practice multiple times from bloggers who come to me and said, "Oh, while I was using this and it told me to do this and I did this, and all of a sudden my blog tanked, or my posts didn't rank well, or oh my gosh, it's telling me to get to an 88 but then if I do this, I got to 93 but I didn't really see any difference." You need to find a process that works well for you.

I'm a big believer in Yoast. Again, I don't get paid for that opinion. It seems to be the better plugin. When we talk about that we want something that's stable, we want something that has good support, we want something that is constantly updated and maintained. 

I don't mind saying that that's Yoast and I will tell you that for years I never recommended the premium version of Yoast. I thought, “waste of time”; totally changed my tune on that about a year ago.

And the reason I did is because Yoast actually added some functionality that was really pretty damn cool. And one of the functionalities they added was an orphaned content filter. I love the orphaned content filter because I can immediately see at a glance which posts on my site I have not linked to at all. They're basically content islands. 

And that doesn't even count the fact that there's increased internal linking suggestions now. They've got the builtin redirect manager. You've got the ability to optimize for multiple keywords. You've got the priority support. Yeah. It's worth it. So Yoast premium all the way.

Peter Mead: I mean, look, the way that I look at that is all I can do is recommend people not to switch and change too much. I see this a lot. I think it's probably one of the big downfalls that people have with WordPress is they're constantly making changes and trying a new plugin or swapping to a different plugin or changing the URLs or changing up their redirects or their home page message.

Should you Automate Internal Linking?

And so we go to the next question from James Norquay who is from Prosperity Media. The second part of his question here leads on from orphaned content. He says, "For internal links on WordPress sites, do you recommend using an internal link plugin or do it manually?"

Casey Markee: Yeah, that's a good question. And I always, especially with regards to internal linking, I never want to automate that because it can be spammy. And I'll give you an example. A couple of years ago, there was a related links plugin that caused a ridiculous amount of manual action penalties with Google because it was used incorrectly by literally thousands of WordPress users. 

It would automatically go ahead and find and highlight specific keyword phrases that you specified on the backend. And it went crazy. And the next thing you know, Google started to see all these unnatural internal links pushing anchor text rich keywords.

The good thing about Yoast premium is it does come up with a related link suggestion on every post. And you can choose to use those suggestions or choose not to. But whenever we automate something like that, it tends to go awry. I would be very cautious about that.

What to do When Updating Old Posts

Peter Mead: Let's go on to Leanne and Leanne has quite a long question here. Let's see if we can... It's to do with, "If I want to update an old post to target new keywords with a lower keyword difficulty. Am I right to think I shouldn't change the post title? I know that I don't touch the URL." Right. She's worked it out that you don't want to change your URLs on your post. "But if I shouldn't change the post title then would it be okay to put the new title as an h1 heading on the top of the post?"

Casey Markee: Well, the h1 is automatically generated by your page post title, so I want to make sure that you're not adding extra h1s just for that reason because there's no real benefit to doing that. I mean again, h1 is a deprecated factor I don't even really consider it a ranking factor anymore. 

I mean you could literally have six h1s on a page. You'll still rank just fine because it's literally such a small value issue. It's just not semantically correct.

The thing to be aware of is that the URL is...I would never even recommend you change it, period. Even if it was the wrong keyword, we wouldn't change it. Google even says the same thing, it says Google would rather have you gutted the entire post and keep the URL than put up a whole new post and redirect the old post to the new one because you're just resetting everything.

Peter Mead: Yeah, absolutely.

Casey Markee: Your goal is just to go ahead and re-optimize the post around that focus keyword and you could easily do that. And then one of the things that you didn't mention at all was how important internal linking is.

You're going to need to go back into your site and find examples where you've been linking to this post and we need to update those links when possible to reflect these new focus keywords because those internal signals to that post is going to be very, very important. 

Most Important Factors for Optimizing WordPress SEO

Peter Mead: What are the most important topics that people should think about with WordPress SEO? 

Casey Markee: When we're talking top of mind with regards to WordPress, I think I mentioned it before is that it's very important to have a quality stack in place. That's tier-one hosting, that's full-bulk image optimization; I like ShortPixel. I think it works great. Making sure that you have the premium caching plugging in place. 

I like WP Rocket because the built-in lazy loading works great on most issues and if you have issues it's always fixable. And then, of course, making sure that we're having quality security plugins like Sucuri or Wordfence and that we have a database optimization plugin and just making sure that WordPress is set up with best practices.

But when we talk about long-term success for WordPress, there are little things that go a long way. Just making sure that you're using a quality theme that's maintained. One of the things that I always look for is can I optimize category pages? 

Huge, completely untapped ability for you to generate an extra several 1000 clicks if not a month, a week, for some of these larger sites. Category pages are extremely underutilized, they're basically landing pages. There the windows into the house that is your WordPress blog. 

Tag pages, they're basically door to door salesman; we don't necessarily want to have them in the house that much. We want to maybe no-index those.

But category pages are very important because they allow us to showcase our best content. And so one of the things I'm looking for on a theme, can I optimize that category page because a lot of themes do not have that built-in functionality. I might be able to go in and specify a custom page description, but do I have the ability to go in and add above the fold content? Do I have the ability to add cross-link navigation?

Do I have the ability to add any custom schema to that with item list or category list options? Very, very important. That's what I tend to like about Genesis. There are a couple of other themes that allow you to optimize category pages, big fan of that. 

If you're on a WordPress theme, if you're thinking about a redesign, you better be talking to your developer and your designer and say, "Hey, I need to make sure that I can optimize by category pages.” You would not believe how many times I've been brought in and told them to scrap what they're doing because they're leaving all of this potential traffic on the table."

Peter Mead: If you had a choice for dedicated hosting, who would you suggest? They're saying here about the SLA and support for High CPU type website with the growth only to 100k plus and growing each month. 

Casey Markee: I'm a big fan of a Linode set up on Cloudways. Not only is it cheaper than you're going find most everywhere else, but it doesn't go down. I mean, I can't tell you the last time I've had an issue with the Linode server. Now I occasionally also recommended Vulture, which is also one of the really cool options that they have over there along with AWS. But Vulture has gone down a couple of times. 

Linode server over Cloudways is a pretty good investment, especially for your site. We've got sites over there running 500,000 to 8 million sessions a month. They're doing fine.

Peter Mead: There's some homework for people to do. I mean this sort of thing. Yeah, it's not a straightforward thing moving your site. I mean, again, you're going to want to engage a professional to help you move.

Google Core Update: Major Issues 

Peter Mead: Insight Online says, "What do you think were the major issues in the June three algorithm update?"

Well, some of the things that I saw myself were Google's increased awareness of PBN backlinks or spammy low-quality links. Also what I saw is just general quality of content and trust factors again with the trust factors of that content. But also what I saw myself was massive was to do with mobile speed page, at mobile page speed, mobile page speed. 

They are the three things that I noticed, but Casey, did you notice any trends in particular that seem to be happening from that update?

Casey Markee: And we're talking about the most recent update from last week or the update from June the third?

Peter Mead: This one's June three the question is here.

Casey Markee: Okay, so with regards to that update, this is a core update, so it's basically building upon and refining some of the signals that happen during the March update from earlier this year. 

When Google runs these core updates, there are literally dozens if not hundreds of different things being addressed. It's never just one thing, and so whenever you hear about, "Oh my God, this one had link factors or this one had paid speed factors or this one was rating EAT or the lack of expertise." They're just guesses.

For us to say any otherwise would be incorrect. What we're trying to say is that when Google pushes these core updates down there on a plethora of factors, that's why a site audit is so important. We want to go ahead and take a fine-tooth comb to your site. We want to run a couple of crawlers against it.

Because without us determining what is happening with your site, we can't offer confirmed advice. When we've had bloggers who are suffering from this, I don't give them any generic advice. I will look at their site and because I'm a site auditor, I will immediately see 100 things wrong with it because that's just what I do 24/7 every day, 365 days a year is look at sites and find issues.

If you've been affected by a core update, you can get improvement between the core updates by making your site better, but you won't have any real improvement until Google reruns the algorithm. That's the whole point of these core updates.

Lazy Loading

Peter Mead: Debra Cruz says, "Which Lazy Load plugin would you recommend?" I would say my answer to that is that it's personal preference. Again, there are lots of them. 

Casey Markee: The Lazy Loading that's built into WP Rocket is exceptional and you can even get it separately. I believe that you can actually go in and install the WP Rocket Lazy Loading separately. So that's fine. 

Another one that you might want to consider if you have issues with the WP Rocket Lazy Loading and some blogs do is called a3 Lazy Loading. 

Peter Mead: The last question here is probably a good one to end on from Matt McGregor. "If I'm about to start a new blog, what do I focus on first?" Wow, there's the golden question.

Casey Markee: You're starting a new blog. You know what? Quality themes, you know there's a lot of them out there. I'm not a big believer in a custom theme because custom themes result in custom headaches down the road. 

If you can find a quality theme that is constantly maintained, that loads fast, that is responsive, that again, has a good reputation. StudioPress, which is now owned by WP Engine, has a lot of exceptional themes on the Genesis framework. 

And search for our names. Search for Casey Markee, search for Peter Mead, search for WordPress SEO tutorials. We publish a lot of free resources. Sign up for a solid support plan.

Peter Mead: Absolutely. Well thank you so much, have a great day. And everyone thanks for joining us for the Australian Search Community.

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