Google: Slowly moving back to 10 blue links

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Last night Google’s John Mueller announced on Google+ that “authorship” had been removed completely from the search results. Just like Google has recently removed most video snippets, this is another step towards Google’s search result pages going “back” to being 10 blue links.

Brief history of author highlighting / authorship

We were among the very early adopters of author highlighting, building features into WordPress SEO that made this very easy as well as writing tutorials on how to achieve the author highlights. The format went from a picture on the right of the search results (notice the +1 button that appeared in the SERPs at the same time):

rel=me / rel=author search in Google showing my author highlight

to the picture being highlighted on the left, removing the +1 button but adding the number of “circles” the author was in on Google+:

wordpress seo article Google Search 133

to (more recently) it just being the name below the URL, with no mention of Google+ left:

recent author highlight

“no traffic impact”

John Mueller, anticipating flack from SEOs and webmasters worldwide, said this in his post:

(If you’re curious — in our tests, removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites. Nor does it increase clicks on ads. We make these kinds of changes to improve our users’ experience.)

Now, that doesn’t surprise me, because they probably tested against the 3rd iteration of author highlights shown above. I’m guessing the impact was quite different when they took away the picture, and the impact might actually have been different for different audiences as well. I know I’ve had my fair share of tweets and mentions of people saying they saw my face in the search results the whole day, as they were working on specific WordPress stuff. It definitely had a branding impact.

Schema.org

In his post, John makes it a point to highlight that they’ll continue to show rich snippets based on Schema.org markup:

Going forward, we’re strongly committed to continuing and expanding our support of structured markup (such as schema.org). This markup helps all search engines better understand the content and context of pages on the web, and we’ll continue to use it to show rich snippets in search results.

All four major search engines are backing schema.org and they’re used, for instance, in the creation of rich snippets with ratings and prices like these:

wordpress seo plugin rich snippet

As AJ Kohn showed in his excellent post on rich snippets, schema.org data seems to be used for Knowledge Graph results too, for instance for books results. Another area where (the data from) schema.org markup is used heavily is in Local search, our Local SEO plugin does lots of schema.org markup around locations and business type.

Standing out in a crowded search result

Author highlights, video snippets, ratings: they’re all ways to stand out in a result that is otherwise just a “bland” 10 blue links. When we’re being limited by Google in how to stand out, we immediately start looking for new ways.

The third screenshot above shows that we’ve been playing with separators, a recent feature in our WordPress SEO plugin that lets you choose which separator to use:

title separator option

While implementing this I was testing which separators still worked in search results. In the “old” days, you could use diamonds, airplanes and all sorts of other weird characters. This too has been severely limited. A few years ago, 888 used special characters in their titles like this:

888.com result with special characters in the title

They no longer do that as most of those special characters no long work.

So what’s the next step for creative optimization?

With all these changes, a few things remain that allow you to really stand out:

  • rating snippets (though one must start to wonder for how long those will remain, with results like these);
  • news results (for which you have to be included in Google News, in which case our News SEO plugin is awesome);
  • YouTube videos still stand out (it’s no coincidence that we’ve finally gotten a Yoast YouTube channel) – note Google owns YouTube;
  • optimizing for the knowledge graph. AJ Kohn’s earlier linked post is a good starting point for thinking about that. The knowledge graph comes with its own dangers though, if you search for [how to boil an egg] you’ll see what I mean.

Who knows what the future brings?

And of course, there will always be new features in Google. When we were discussing these changes with some SEO friends, one of them said “it’s awesome, it’s a chance to be the first movers on another new thing”. That’s one thing you can be sure of: we’ll be there helping you make the most of it!

 

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

August 29th 2014 wordpress

WordPress SEO Tutorial Videos

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One of the returning questions we get from customers is for better tutorial videos for our SEO plugin. That’s no “simple” thing as we quite regularly update the plugin and add new features to it, changing the interface. So we’ve teamed up with Shawn Hesketh, from WP101, who has created (and will continue to update) a beautiful set of 17 videos. These videos are now included in our WordPress SEO premium plugin:

WordPress SEO tutorial videos as seen in the premium WordPress SEO plugin.

WordPress SEO tutorial videos as seen in the premium WordPress SEO plugin.

These WordPress SEO tutorial videos will be kept up to date with all the changes we make to the plugin. In fact, when we did the initial set of videos, I was smart enough to make so many changes in one update that 4 of the 17 videos had to be redone. Shawn must hate me already ;)

Let me show you the first WordPress SEO tutorial video, which is the first of 17 videos. It highlights how to use the snippet preview and focus keyword functionality:

If you like what you see, upgrade to our Premium SEO plugin and you’ll have this set of videos available (and up to date) all the time!

But you already had WordPress SEO tutorial videos?

We used to have a separate Video Manual plugin; that plugin has been discontinued, as those videos weren’t up to date. It will continue to work for a while longer, but will not be updated. The license holders for that plugin can upgrade to the premium WordPress SEO plugin at a very nice price: we’ll give you the original plugin purchase price as a discount. Email support and we’ll set it up for you.

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

August 28th 2014 wordpress

The demise of Video SEO

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Recently, Google removed, without any warning, the video snippets in the search results for a large group of sites. This followed pretty quickly on Google’s removal of author highlight pictures from the search results. First discussed by Seer on July 16th and slowly becoming more and more visible, we’ve been testing and trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Of course this heavily impacts the benefits of our Video SEO plugin so we wanted to make sure we knew what was happening before making any rash decisions.

It’s now pretty clear what Google has done. For those interested in the deeper workings, AJ Kohn’s post on rich snippets explains it better than I could. The gist of it is simple: video snippets now only show for sites purely dedicated to video or very large sites with clear sections dedicated to video. Which, incidentally, is why some of our clients still have them.

A clear example of the new landscape is this query: [iphone 5 review video], which has 3 videos from YouTube at the top and a video snippet for the Guardian below. As Danny Goodwin shows in his post on SearchEngineWatch, it used to be rather different.

What does this mean for the Video SEO plugin?

This doesn’t mean our Video SEO plugin becomes entirely useless, luckily. It still allows sites to:

  • show up in the video search results;
  • heavily enhances the experience of sharing posts with video in them on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest;
  • allows you to make videos responsive through enabling fitvids.js.

It does, however, mean that the direct traffic impact from Google will be less for our users and that we should focus more on the social sharing aspect.

We’re very close to releasing a major update of Video SEO that we’d been working on for months, actually from before we saw this happen, but it actually lies a better foundation for all the social stuff. We’ll probably end up renaming the plugin to “Video SEO & Social Sharing”, but that shouldn’t affect anyone.

If you bought the plugin in between June 16th (a month before it happened) and now, and no longer want to use the plugin, we’ll give you a full refund. Just let us know through our plugin support and we’ll take care of it.

Feel free to ask your questions in the comments!

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

August 22nd 2014 wordpress

Regular security audits: taking our responsibility

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Yoast SecurityToday, we’re announcing that we have partnered with Sucuri, in the interest of pro-actively securing our plugins. As our plugins run on more and more sites, we have a responsibility towards our users and the web at large to make sure that we do our utmost to make sure our code doesn’t make them vulnerable.*

We’ve been preparing this release for over two months. In that time, Sucuri has identified vulnerabilities in plugins across the WordPress ecosystem affecting over 20 million downloads. This shows the need for users and web hosts to update plugins promptly on security updates. If you look at it, it beckons for a more “forced” way of updating plugins. It also places additional scrutiny on us, plugin and theme developers, to ensure that we are not only focused on features but place additional emphasis on good, secure, code.

Once a security problem is public there’s no stopping the bad guys in any other way than to update. To us, as authors of plugins that all combined have more than 20 millions downloads and run on over 5% of the top 1 million websites, it made even more clear the need for more scrutiny in our code writing. We could think of no one better than the guys working in the trenches, Sucuri.

Improved security, so we can sleep better

Let me be honest: there’s no such thing as 100% safe software. Ever. But we can strive. From now on, Sucuri will review all the code in our major plugins at least four times a year, on top of our own testing and development best practices. They will work with my team to ensure that the patches we push are adequate and work with us to get the word into as many hands as possible. For all intents and purposes, they will be an extension of my development team, focused strictly on security. We are not foolish enough to think that this is the end all be all to security, no, we realize this is a process and will continue to evolve.

Like all of you, we’re not perfect. We’re sure though, that having the pro’s at Sucuri review our code regularly will lead to our plugins being among the safest out there, which is how we want it. It’s how we, as the good web stewards we strive to be, will take responsibility for what and how we do it – providing our users the best, and most secure, options available. Not just because you sleep better because of it, but because we sleep better because of it too.

But you said “partnered”?

Yes. This will be a relationship in which we reciprocate the service by being an extension of their online marketing team. Sucuri will review our plugins, we’ll help them by reviewing their online practices from a website optimisation point of view. Let’s face it, we can’t all be good at everything, they are great at Security, but could use some help at online marketing and website optmization, and they recognize this, which is why we are going to help them get better.

To start, they have already received our diamond review, our ultimate review package in which we provide a thorough review of their SEO practice, website usability and conversions. Have you seen their latest changes?

In a similar fashion, we’ve made the first improvements to our plugins based on their reviews, luckily showing no critical issues yet.

Additionally, they will be working with us beyond just the code we ship. They will be working with us to improve our overall security posture as an organization and we’ll be leveraging their Website AntiVirus and Firewall products to ensure a safe online experience for all our online visitors. They are the premiere Website Security company and we rock at what we do, it’s only right we make full use of each others services.

Lead, not follow

When I was on the Dradcast 2 months ago, I hinted at some of this. We should lead by showing how people can improve their products and processes. I personally think every premium plugin / theme company should have a process for regular independent security reviews of their product(s). This is an example which I’d love for every company in the WordPress community to follow and document.

We’ll be as transparent as possible about all of the things we do, both Sucuri in how they improve their site as we in how we improve our code. As you can see, we’re very excited to be working with the team at Sucuri and we look forward to making the web safer together!

* For the record: from a purely juridical point of view, the GPL basically disclaims all warranty.

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

August 5th 2014 security, wordpress

Automattic Experiments With Selfies App For Android

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Selfies App Automattic A couple of days ago, an acquaintance on Twitter pointed out the website for Selfies, a new social app from Automattic, best known as the company behind WordPress. I found it odd that the app was out in the wild and hadn’t received any press coverage, but according to the site’s FAQ, that was the point: to see what would happen if they just put it out there. Read More

July 26th 2014 wordpress

Oh man, I just scanned…

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Oh man, I just scanned down http://2014.nyc.wordcamp.org/attendees/ and now I'm really sad I'm not going to @WordCampNYC #wordpress

July 26th 2014 personal, wordpress

WP Email Login Video

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The folks over at 1wd liked my WP Email Login plugin for WordPress enough that they made this quick tutorial video for it:

July 4th 2014 video, wordpress

Google Panda 4, and blocking your CSS & JS

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Yoast liked Google PandaA month ago Google introduced its Panda 4.0 update. Over the last few weeks we’ve been able to “fix” a couple of sites that got hit in it. These sites both lost more than 50% of their search traffic in that update. When they returned, their previous position in the search results came back. Sounds too good to be true, right? Read on. It was actually very easy.

Last week Peter - an old industry friend who runs a company called BigSpark - came by the Yoast office. BigSpark owns a website called iPhoned.nl and they’d been hit by the every so friendly Google Panda. Now iPhoned.nl has been investing in high quality content about (you guessed it) iPhones for a few years now, and in the last year they’ve stepped it up a notch. They are pushing out lots of news every day with a high focus on quality and their site looks great. Which is why I was surprised by them being hit. You just don’t want your Searchmetrics graph to look like this:

iphoned searchmetrics

Notice the initial dip, then the return and the second dip, leaving them at 1/3rd of the SEO visibility they were “used to”. I dove into their Google Webmaster Tools and other data to see what I could find.

Fetch as Google’s relation to Google Panda

In Google Webmaster Tools, Google recently introduced a new feature on the fetch as Google page: fetch and render. Coincidence? I think not. They introduced this a week after they rolled out Google Panda. This is what it showed when we asked it to fetch and render iPhoned’s iPhone 6 page:

fetch as google no css

Even for fans of minimalism, this is too much.

Now, iPhoned makes money from ads. It doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of them, but because it uses an ad network a fair amount of scripts and pixels get loaded. My hypothesis was: if Google is unable to render the CSS and JS, it can’t determine where the ads on your page are. In iPhoned’s case, it couldn’t render the CSS and JS because they were accidentally blocked in their robots.txt after a server migration.

Google runs so called page layout algorithms to determine how many ads you have. It particularly checks how many ads you have above the fold. If you have too many, that’s not a good thing and it can seriously hurt your rankings.

In the past blocking your CSS was touted by others as an “easy” way of getting away from issues like this, rather than solving the actual issue. Which is why I immediately connected the dots: fetch and render and a Google Panda update? Coincidences like that just don’t happen. So I asked Peter whether we could remove the block, which we did on the spot. I was once again thankful for the robots.txt editor I built into our WordPress SEO plugin.

Remarkable resurrection

The result was surprising, more so even because of the speed with which it worked. It’s now a week ago that we changed that block and their Searchmetrics graph looks like this:

iPhoned survived Google Panda

They’ve returned on almost all of their important keywords. Just by unblocking Google from spidering their CSS and JS.

When we saw this we went and looked at some of our recent website review clients and we found the exact same pattern. One of them turned out to have the same problem and already looks to be returning too.

Confirmation from Google: don’t block your CSS & JS

Now I don’t usually post my “SEO theories” on the web, mostly because I think that’s more hurtful than helpful in many, many cases as they’re just theories. So I didn’t want to write this up without confirmation from Google that this was really the cause of the issue here. But then I read this live blog from last weeks SMX, and more specifically, this quote from Maile Ohye embedded in it:

“We recommend making sure Googlebot can access any embedded resource that meaningfully contributes to your site’s visible content or its layout”

That basically confirms our theory, which had already been proven in practice too, so I went ahead and wrote this post. Would love to hear if you’ve seen similar issues with the Google Panda 4 update, or (even better) if in a week from now you’re ranking again because you read this and acted!

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

June 20th 2014 wordpress

WordPress SEO Premium 1.2

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Premium 130x100 x2As I announced yesterday on the Dradcast, we released a new version of WordPress SEO premium. This is another feature packed update with a lot of things people had been asking us for. Let me go through the list of new features:

Import redirects from your .htaccess file

If you have a lot of redirects in your .htaccess file and find it a hassle to manage, you can now import them into WordPress SEO, just go to SEO → Import & Export and you’ll see this:

redirects import

Just copy / paste your redirects and they’ll be imported!

Write redirects to .htaccess file

Once you’ve imported your redirects, you can then also write them back to that file using the plugin. This means you have the best of both worlds: your redirects are as fast as can be because they don’t need WordPress to load up, but you can manage them from inside WordPress!

Choose the redirect type

Up until now, every redirect you created with the plugin was automatically a 301 redirect, also known as a permanent redirect. We realize that sometimes you’d rather do a temporary redirect, (a 302 or a 307) so we allow you to choose the redirect type now:

redirect type

Catching post slug and category / tag slug changes

When you change the slug of a post, WordPress automatically creates a redirect for you from the old post URL to the new post URL. The issue is that it’s rather hard to change that redirect at that point, should you want to. So we intercept that and now we create the redirect in WordPress SEO premium, so you can change it should you want.

Even worse, if you change the URL for a category, tag or other custom taxonomy, WordPress does absolutely nothing to prevent users from getting 404s. WordPress SEO premium will now automatically add a redirect from the old URL to the new one for you.

Redirect when deleting posts / terms

Similar to when you change the URL, when you delete a post, tag or category, the old URL for that post, tag or category would at that point go to 404 not found page. WordPress SEO premium will now offer you the option of redirecting that URL to another one if you remove a post / page from the trash:

delete redirect notification

Miscellaneous bug fixes

Of course we’ve also asked some bugs to go away and we’ve updated the core WordPress SEO plugin to the latest version, so there’s lots of good stuff to play with!

If you haven’t bought WordPress SEO premium yet and this has convinced you that we’re doing cool things, go here and buy it!

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

June 6th 2014 SEO, wordpress

Feedback on #WordPress WP-API 1.0…

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Feedback on #WordPress WP-API 1.0 http://www.maxcutler.com/2014/06/03/feedback-on-wp-api-1-0/

June 5th 2014 personal, wordpress