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WP Academy - SEO Site Auditing for Wordpress Bloggers




Casey Markee: Hi, everyone. Welcome to this month's WP Academy special session on-site auditing for WordPress bloggers. My name is Casey Markee. Thanks for joining us today. 

Joining me on the call today is one of the greatest guys I've ever met. I know he's blushing. He's blushing. He's a competitive bear wrestler. I don't know if you guys knew that. Arsen Rabinovich. Take a bow, Arsen.

Arsen is the owner of TopHatRank.com, which is a fantastic full-service digital marketing agency, located in... what is it, Encino? Is that right?

Arsen R.: Los Angeles, yeah. We're north Los Angeles. Encino, Sherman Oaks.

Casey Markee: Site auditing is a very interesting topic. It's amazing how many talking heads will come on and say you don't need a site audit, and then they're totally dumbfounded when their traffic falls off the proverbial cliff with Google, and they have no idea how to address that.

Our goal today is to try and provide you some tools, some strategies, to help you do this yourself, especially considering the extremely volatile nature of Google updates recently. We had a core update in June that followed a core update in March, and that followed updates last year.

What we're going to first talk about is just the general concept of site audits. I'm going to turn it over to Arsen. He's going to provide a little bit of background, and then I'm going to provide a little background. Then, we're going to talk a little bit specifically about the core updates. Then, we're going to talk a little bit about how to diagnose those. On that note, Arsen, take it away.

Diagnosing Traffic Drops 

Arsen R.: I'm going to show you guys a few slides from a talk that I did at SMX London. The talk was about triage diagnosis and resolution of complex SEO issues. But I wanted to share just maybe five, six slides from that talk. 

The important slides are the ones that talk about the process of... essentially, it's a diagnostics drill-down. Okay. You should be able to see my screen now.

This is a process that we use here in TopHatRank, internally, when we have clients who get in touch with us and let us know that... or potential clients get in touch with us, that they've experienced a decline in their traffic, conversions, or ranking. 

Right away, we get into the process of triage, trying to understand what are the symptoms. Typically, the symptoms are you've lost traffic impressions or you're losing positions. From that point, you need to start to figure out and dissect exactly what happened.

One of the things that we start right away is with a timeline that's not shown here, that lets us know what's been happening with the site during the timeframe where they noticed that drops in rankings and traffic. Then, you get into the diagnostics.

Right away, the first thing you want to do is isolate the affected areas. One of the best ways to do this is looking at Google Analytics traffic data and doing comparison views between when things were good and when you noticed the decrease in traffic. At the same time, do the same date ranges, if possible, through search console, and look at the impressions and the clicks.

After that, you definitely want to take a look at which queries lost positions. Again, in Google Search Console, search analytics, you can take a look and see for which pages, the affected pages, which queries lost positions. You can also use SEMrush to do that.

Then, once you've isolated those pages, you want to take a look at the page level assessment and see what changed. Use the Google Search Console, your own inspection report, and click on “view live page” to see what Google's picking up.

You have some pages that lost 40% in traffic, but then you have other pages that picked it up. You want to definitely isolate between the entire website or just pages on your site.

You can also take a look at impressions. If you're not getting too many clicks and you're seeing that you lost positions, you can take a look at impressions and see which pages lost impressions there.

Once you've identified the pages, you can filter by queries and look exactly at which keywords or queries lost positions. Google will, right away, tell you if there are errors on the page; index errors. Google will tell you where it discovered the page, when it last crawled, and what happened.

Then, once you've identified that, you want to get into further drill-downs and take a look at server logs. You want to take a look at spider roadblocks and intermittent alternating status codes. This is more for the advanced user. 

You want to take a look and see if Google and visitors are receiving different status response codes from your server. Check your backlinks. Look for any sudden influx of referring domains where the links drop off. Then, obviously, crawl the site. 

Google Core Update June 2019: Overview

Casey Markee: Fantastic. Thanks, Arsen. What we're going to do now is we're actually going to go ahead and talk a little bit about the core update that happened June the 3rd. We're going to call it the Tiffany Update because that was my wife's birthday. 

When Google makes a core update, it is literally dozens, if not hundreds, of little changes. It's not any one thing. It's very diverse. It is very complicated. Google even felt the need to announce it, and they, honestly, have only announced about three updates in the last two years. It's a big deal when they do these things.

The core update builds upon the March update. Google had a core update in March, around March the 12th, March the 13th, affected, negatively, a lot of bloggers. So, they took all the data. They tried to refine it as much as they can, and they did another update in June, which some people got improvement on, some people did not.

The problem with these core updates is that you will not improve until Google runs the core update again. You can have these little improvements between updates, where you can improve performance, UX, and other little variables, but until Google reruns the update, you won't really see any sort of large recovery. That's something that a lot of users don't understand, so I want to make sure that you're aware of that, right away today.

Maybe your content just isn't as good as you think it is, and that's what John Mueller (Google) will tell you. That's what we as SEOs will tell people all over again. You have been told repeatedly that you need to make these long posts, that you need to provide, ask, and answer questions, and do things like that. 

Your goal is to write a qualified piece of content that asks and answers questions the user's going to have, that provides everything the user needs to make the recipe or the content perfectly; the how-to tutorial and whatever, but it's not superfluous. 

We want to make sure that everything is as qualified as it can be. Word count is not now, nor has it ever been, a ranking factor, but you would never know that, talking to ad companies who keep telling you over and over again, "Make your posts this long", or, "Do this so that we can stuff it with more ads." 

It's not really what Google's looking for. When you look at the breakdown of sites that were affected by the core update... Search Metrics has published a great treatise on this. SISTRIX has published a great finding on this. 

One of the things that they all share, they were running a ton of ads. When you have a ton of ads that cover the main content, when you have a ton of ads that follow you as you scroll down the page, when you have content, ad, content, ad, content, ad, content, ad, over and over again, that's going to lower the perceived value of your content in the eyes of Google.

Arsen and I feel you when you say that you want to monetize your site, but there is an optimal approach to doing that. If you're relying on the logic-bearing algorithm of an ad company to determine how many ads you need, you're doing it wrong. 

You need to visually look at your site and determine, "Okay, this looks like too many ads to me. It's definitely going to look like too many ads to my customers." So, be aware of that.

I'm going to go ahead and paste over, as well, a YouTube video recently that John Mueller did, where he talks specifically about strategies to recover from the recent core update. Make a note of these, whenever you can. Okay.

Is a Google Algorithm Update Always a Penalty?

Arsen R.: I want to touch on that point about the penalty. These are not penalties. When an algorithm goes through an update, these are not penalties. When they say quality update, they're not talking about the quality of how you write. Quality in Google's eyes is relevance.

When Google does one of these updates, they're not saying that your site is bad or crap. They're just saying that somebody else is a better result for this query. Through that process, they're moving them up in rankings, and the byproduct of that is you moving down.

We did get a lot of requests for audits just as soon as this update started rolling out and people started seeing this. One of the ongoing themes was, "I was penalized by Google. I was penalized by Google." You're not penalized. Google doesn't think that your site is quality or relevant enough for the queries that you used to rank for, that used to bring traffic to your site.

Casey Markee: When these core updates pushed out, it is a whole view of your site. It's site speed. It's technical issues. It's crawlability issues. It's doing pagination correctly. It's duplicate content. If you've incorrectly used your tag structures to link internally. 

When we're looking at site auditing, we're looking at the whole thing. We call that a holistic approach. That's why, when Arsen and I do an audit, it could be 50, 60, 70 pages long, because our goal is to surface as many issues as possible and correct as many issues as we can. 

Was Your Website Impacted by Latest Google Update?

What we're going to do now is we're going to get into how can you see if you were affected by this Google core update, especially from June. One of the things that I want you guys to understand or use, if you've never heard of it, is called the Penguin Tool. 

I'm going to go ahead and paste this over into the chat for you. This is great for traffic drops because what this does is it will allow you to line up your analytics around published updates from Google.

What I've done is I've logged in here, and I've gone ahead and chosen the Google profile for the Real and Vibrant site. You can see here that traffic was going along, and then boom. There's the update. 

This is the diversity update. Google is looking to not show more than two results from the same domain with this search update but may show more than two results from the same domain name, where appropriate. Google is really trying to provide more added value to users by eliminating what they call duplicate or very closely related search results.

Google rates content on a per-page basis. They don't even have a site-wide authority metric. It's true. John Mueller's come out and said that multiple times. 

It's all about the bottom-line quality of the content. If you got the top apple pie recipe, from a user standpoint and from a literally hundreds and hundreds of other metrics, you're going to do fine.

Going back over here to Real and Vibrant, this is something to be aware of. In her case, one of the reasons that she was impacted by the core update is that she is called a “your money or your life” blogger. Let me explain that.

When you have a lot of recipe content that is tailored around different diets, gluten free, dairy free, paleo, vegan, there are very specific things that Google's looking for. 

In her case, it's imperative that, as we go through the audit, that we take a look at her perceived author expertise, that we take a look that if she makes any dietary statements or any statements that impact health, that we've supported those statements accordingly or linked out.

Again, just a reminder, folks, we had about 80 submitted sites. As we kind of went through these, we opened up a spreadsheet. We went through it to look at some of the top-surfaced issues. We found a lot of themes. One of the themes, for example, is page speed. What did you notice specifically about that, Arsen? Anything jump out at you?

Common Issues Found in Site Audits

Arsen R.: I have a unique way of looking at page speed. It's something that needs to be constantly worked on. A lot of sites that were submitted do have page speed issues. 

Page speed is something that you shouldn't look at just from a standpoint of, "Hey, this is my homepage suffering from a slowdown." You definitely want to take a look in analytics. There's a report that shows you how each page on your site compares to other pages, as far as their speed. 

Casey Markee: Now, some of the other issues that we saw when we were looking at this. Number one, we need to really talk about the correct of h tags. You do not wrap whole sentences in h tags. 

That's an over-optimization. It's the spammy signal, if anything. These little things, by themselves, are not going to tank you. Okay? We want to make sure that the structure is very clear. 

Q&A on Site Audit Tips     

We're going to very quickly answer some of these questions that are coming up, just so we don't get too far behind. “Tell me a little bit about if someone was auditing their site, what free tools are available for them that they can use? What's the best free tool for pages speed and the like?”

Arsen R.: Everything from Google. I'm a big fan of the new Search Console. I live in it. My entire team lives in it. That's essentially data directly from Google. You can't question that too much. We use POC, as far as the free tools, Google Analytics, Page Speed Insights. Anything from Google, we use.

Our other toolset, obviously, is SEMrush. Crawling, we use pretty much every single tool that's available.

There's a question here. “My website clicks when I check in GSC show the same; nothing more or less. Does this mean the website is not affected by core update?

No, that's doesn't actually mean that your site wasn't affected. It could have been affected positively. I wouldn't just look at the clicks. I would also look at impressions, and I would also look at which pages, so doing a date range before and prior to the update, and looking at that. 

Casey Markee: Okay. Meg had a question here, a question about Jetpack image optimization. I already used this on my site. Is there anything else I should look into, in regard to lazy loading images?

Yes. The lazy loading in WP Rocket will work just fine with Jetpack, and that's honestly what I would suggest.  Let's talk a little bit about chain redirects. Can you go ahead, Arsen, while I'm setting this up? Go ahead and just kind of explain to users why chain redirects are bad.

Arsen R.: Chain redirects are worst. We do a lot of migrations, as an agency, and chain redirects become a big pain in the butt for us. Chain redirect is when you have one page redirecting to another page, and then to another page, and then to another page until it arrives at its destination.

It's been kind of a known thing that Google doesn't follow anything in a chain that's over five hops on its initial visit. You want to make sure that you never have more than one hop in a redirect.

Casey Markee: You heard Arsen mention that Google can follow up to five redirects. Well, then why is this a big deal? Well, it's just not the best practice. Even though Google can do something, we never rely on them to do it. We always want to correct this stuff as much as possible. 

Arsen R.: If you were affected by these recent updates, there’s another thing you want to quickly take a look at. How well are you matching that query-intent? If the intent is to find a recipe for a specific dish, is your content super relevant? Google does a really good job in understanding that.

Is your story about this recipe being passed generation through generation being right above the actual recipe and taking up about six to seven hundred words of 1,000 word recipe post? Is that really relevant, and is that satisfying the query intent? The answer is no. The person is not interested.

If you look for things like apartments in Dallas, the results are going to be listing sites. They're going to show you apartment listings right away. They're not going to give you 12 paragraphs of text above the listings. 

Casey Markee: I know that Jim Floyd, if you're still on the call, you had a question here. “Can you get duplicate content errors through bad use of categories or tags?” Yes, you can. Honestly, because the tag pages in many cases are never going to generate a ton of traffic for you. We usually just no index those, because we don't want those to compete or cannibalize our better category pages.

Category pages are like, again, windows into our house, and our house is the blog. We can actually optimize those very effectively. Add above the fold content. Add more internal linking and the like. 

Something to be aware of folks is that if you are going to noindex something, you might want to just go ahead and make sure that you noindex nofollow it, as well. Unless... I mean, let's come up with an example of where it might be useful, Arsen, for someone to have noindex follow. If it's an expired post, but the post leaks out to very good resources.

Arsen R.: Yeah, absolutely. I've seen noindex follow used in a very interesting way in eCommerce sites, where you want to take somebody through a page or pages in the path, in a logical navigational path for a user, but that page, it could be a parent silo or a child index that shows a subcategory of products that you don't want Google to index because it's essentially a duplicate. But it's still a valid pathway to get to the asset. Then that makes sense, but I only rarely see that. I'm not a big fan of that combination of noindex follow.

Final Tips on Auditing Your Own Website

Casey Markee: Okay. Very good. Okay. We're going to be finishing up in just a couple minutes, guys. I think you can see the SEMrush questions that our fantastic moderator pasted over.

How long can it take for another core update to come into effect? Could be months. Google does not announce those. As we always tell users, your goal should be to optimize your site as much as you can in the trowels between these updates. Hopefully, we provided some issues and some guidance on things that you can do.

If you have 15 minutes a day, what reports would you run in SEMrush, Google Console to get up to speed on what is going on with the site? You know, you run the top pages report once a week. Run a comparison, a seven-day comparison, so you can see if there are any noticeable drops. 

Make sure that you stay up to date on the Google Search Console crawl report, which shows your errors, and things that are indexed, and things that are no index. Does it look strange? Why is Google ignoring all these URLs? Maybe we can make some determinations from that. Arsen, what about SEMrush? What reports, specifically, do you think that they'd want to do in SEMrush?

Arsen R.: Not reports, unless you're tracking keywords. Nothing in there from a report perspective, but I would definitely say set up a weekly crawl of your website that's recurring if you are using SEMrush, and I highly recommend using that tool. We use it internally here. Each one of our clients is in there, and we set it up so it crawls as frequently as possible, and sends us alert on every time there's a crawl. This way, you can get in front of issues super, super fast.

Casey Markee: Okay. Next question was, "Should we not duplicate any of the notes content in the post content?" There's no duplicate content issue on the same page. So, if you've got some important notes that you've put as expert tips in the recipe post, do that. Make sure you take the most important of the tips and repeat those under recipe notes it the card, whenever possible. Users like that.

“My jump to recipe buttons haven't been working in Genesis. I add them to the post, but they don't show on the published pages. Is there a plugin that is better to make the jump with recipe buttons?”

I don't know of any quality plugins that will do it. This can be custom coded, usually by your developer, or you can use a plugin like WP Recipe Maker or Tasty now supports those buttons. 

“Finally, what plugin allows us to create a table of contents with the links?” Very good question. I'll go ahead and paste one in really quickly. See if I can find it here. It's called CM Table of Contents. And I'm pasting it into the chat, TOC plugin. And we're good to go.

So, on that note, I want to thank everyone for coming out today. We tried to pull out the themes that we saw over and over again, in all of the audits. So, things like making sure that you've got the on-page optimization dialed in. 

Making sure that you're using Google Search Console competitively. Understanding how to use a tool like the Penguin tool and your Search Console to see if you were affected by these updates. Understanding how page speed works. Using the best plugins. WP Rocket. Maybe ShortPixel for image optimization. If you have Jetpack installed, even better.

I'm going to let Arsen provide a couple of words here. Thanks so much, Arsen, for joining us.

Arsen R.: Thank you for having me. Yeah, absolutely. Keep technical in mind, at all times. Don't go crazy with redirects. Constantly audit your organizational aspects of the site, from topology to information architecture. 

Look at your breadcrumbs. Do they make sense from a logical navigational organizational standpoint? Are you matching the query? Are you satisfying that intent of search? That's the question you need to be asking yourself every time you're sitting down to write a piece of content. 

Think of topics. Don't think of keywords. Am I covering the topic? Am I covering it in its entirety, or am I adding too much fluff? Also, keep in mind dilution. If you're going to be writing about something and you're going to add a lot of content just for the sake of adding content, you're going to dilute the overall focus of that page.

All of those things are important, and when we start fixing those things, especially after these updates over the last two years, or year and a half now, we're seeing results. So, keep all of that in mind.

Casey Markee: Right. If you enjoyed this content, please go down, take a minute, click the thumbs up button, let us know that you liked it. Leave a comment. Share this out. And thanks so much for attending. Have a great rest of your week and be safe out there. We'll talk to you again soon. Take care.

Arsen R.: Thank you.

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