Monthly Archives: November 2016

Know More About Yoast SEO

WordPress is famous for being well designed for SEO right out of the box. All of its features and functions have been built to guide search engines through every post, page and category of your site, so it’s not absolutely essential to install third-party SEO plugins for your sites to rank well.
Though search engines have no difficulty dealing with WordPress sites, users who are serious about SEO often still turn to popular, highly-rated plugins in an effort to supercharge their results. And with over one million active installs, Yoast SEO is the leading plugin on the market.
Yoast SEO is a powerful option, but do users really need all those options to deliver effective SEO, or can they achieve similar results with simpler plugins?
That’s the question we’ll be covering in depth in this article. Let’s start with some basics.
Getting to Grips with SEO

Getting SEO ‘right’ obviously makes an enormous difference to your site’s chances of success, but it’s by no means straightforward. Any WordPress user who’s made it past the beginner stages will know all too well just how involved things can become when you start getting serious about SEO. It’s a moving target; tips and techniques that work one year can fall radically out of favor the next, depending on both trends and the whims of Google.
It’s also worryingly easy to come across outdated or generally dubious advice about SEO while browsing the web, so it’s worth your while getting your head around the basics to avoid getting led down the garden path. Google’s very own SEO starter guide and Moz’s beginner’s guide to SEO are two excellent resources to start with for familiarizing yourself with legitimate best practices. You should also consult our recent piece on SEO myths to further clarify things in your head.
Make your way through the resources above and you’ll soon realize that the core set of on-site factors you need to take care of is relatively limited: page titles, descriptions, URLs, navigation, content quality, anchor text, image optimization, correct use of headings and tags are among the main ones.
WordPress plugins that help with these areas while taking both the guesswork and time-sucking drudgery out of the process are worth looking into.
Yoast SEO plugin.
Yoast SEO provides handy options for dealing with page titles, descriptions, and URLs and we’ll be concentrating on these areas for the purposes of comparing it with other plugins. It also adds integration options for major social networks, but we won’t be dwelling too much on that as there are any number of dedicated social plugins that can handle that side of things better.
The other two main standout features of Yoast SEO are XML sitemap generation and URL redirects – the latter being a premium feature. Again, there are dedicated plugin solutions available to handle both of these requirements but they’re certainly pretty handy to have available in an SEO context. We’ll cover options for these as well.
Before we get into our comparisons, it’s worth mentioning that all themes available from Elegant Themes come with a built-in SEO section in the theme options settings which can be a great alternative to using plugins if you’re comfortable enough with using custom fields.
When you navigate to your ePanel, just click on the SEO tab to enable or disable custom SEO settings for your homepage, single post pages, and index page:
Elegant Themes ePanel access.
Let’s move on to looking at how Yoast SEO’s major features stack up in terms of hitting the sections we’ve identified above, and how well it compares to competing solutions these days.
Comparing On-Page SEO Options

Though it’s the best known, Yoast isn’t the only powerful SEO plugin that gives you control over optimizing your individual posts and pages. We’ll be comparing it to three other popular SEO plugins in this article: All in One SEO Pack, SEO Ultimate, and Squirrly SEO.
Each of these plugins has a general configuration section that can be accessed through the plugin’s Settings panel in the WordPress admin area. They also all offer a range of fields and options when composing or editing posts and pages. We’ll start with an overview of what Yoast offers, then look at the comparable sections or options for each of the other three plugins.
Yoast SEO for Posts and Pages
Yoast’s General Settings tab serves as a starter page where you can check out their resource listings, set up some personal information, and integrate different webmaster tools such as Google Search Console.

To access the fields where you can customize your on-page SEO, you have to navigate to the Titles & Metas tab where you’ll find tons of customization options for the homepage, post types, taxonomies, and archives. Each section is nicely organized in tabs with title templates, meta description templates, and several other options for each major page type.
Yoast SEO settings.
Yoast also includes customizable options that appear beneath every page and post editor which forcefully remind you to choose a keyword and encourage its use in the heading, page title, URL, content, and meta description of your posts or pages. You can also switch through the tabs to get a page analysis, customize some advanced robots.txt settings, and specify what information you want social networks to use.
All in One SEO Pack for Posts and Pages

All in One SEO plugin.
All in One SEO Pack offers comparable settings to Yoast’s Titles & Metas tab in its General Settings tab. Rather than using tabs to separate each section, All in One SEO Pack has it all laid out on one page. Just scroll down and you’re able to customize everything from your home page settings to your custom post type settings.
Like Yoast SEO, All in One SEO Pack includes an SEO section beneath every page and post editor too – although minus some of the more advanced tabs Yoast SEO offers. For example, it doesn’t give you a count of how many times you used your keyword throughout the content of your page or post – one of the big highlight features of the Yoast option.
Being the full-feature plugin that it is, Yoast offers a lot more options compared to what you can do with All in One SEO, but that may not matter if you don’t plan on using them. The keyword counter and snippet preview features that come with Yoast are still big pluses though and not having them is a loss.
You can also check out this detailed comparison post to get a clearer picture of how they stack up head to head.
SEO Ultimate for Posts and Pages

SEO Ultimate plugin.
SEO Ultimate is more advanced than All in One SEO Pack and a stronger direct competitor to Yoast SEO. Instead of having a general tab with all the main settings, the plugin adds a handy link to the admin bar that you can access everything from. Roll your mouse over it and you’ll see 25 different features split out into individual tabs.
Beneath the post and page editor options, SEO Ultimate keeps things simple by adding straightforward sections you can fill out for your search engine listing, social networks listing, links and other miscellaneous options. Although the plugin itself has some useful keyword research features built right into it, it doesn’t have any keyword fields, counters, or page analysis features as Yoast SEO does.
Both Yoast SEO and SEO Ultimate offer a generous range of useful features, yet each one provides quite a different experience when you’re actually using it. For example, the Deeplink Juggernaut feature SEO Ultimate offers – which helps intelligently link your content based on keywords – may put the plugin out in front if that’s a priority for you. It also offers some useful social media options that Yoast doesn’t have, like its Rich Snippet Creator and Social Network Listing feature.

You could possibly use both plugins together if it’s too hard to choose, as long as you make sure to disable the SEO Ultimate modules that may conflict with Yoast.
Squirrly SEO for Posts and Pages

SEo Squirrly plugin.
Squirrly SEO is a free plugin offered by content marketing software provider Squirrly. It’s become quite a popular option – particularly for beginners – and has even been recommended by Kissmetrics co-founder Neil Patel.
Unlike Yoast and a lot of other SEO plugins, Squirrly SEO is a very visual plugin that seeks to simplify the world of SEO and carefully guide users through everything step by step (which may be helpful if you have less experienced users or clients).

Squirrly SEO includes slideshows for all of its main features on its Dashboard tab and does a great job in guiding users through available options. Navigate to its SEO and Settings tabs and you’ll see that there’s not a huge amount of customizable settings available, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re looking to concentrate on the essentials.
When you edit any post or page, a bunch of very prominent Squirrly options immediately appear in the right sidebar. You’re automatically asked to enter a keyword so that the Squirrly SEO Live Assistant can tell you how your keyword is being used throughout your content in an easy to understand way: anything colored green is good to go, anything left white hasn’t been set up yet, and anything colored red needs to be fixed.
Squirrly SEO is clearly geared toward newbie users and performs admirably in that context – SEO experts may find themselves needing a little more control.
Social Optimization

SEO is critically important, but there’s no ignoring social media these days either. Making sure that your titles, descriptions, and feature images look great when shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and other platforms is essential if you want to drive traffic through social promotion.
Yoast SEO’s Social tab enables users to inform Google of their social profiles and integrate their site with major social platforms by enabling Facebook Open Graph, setting up Twitter Cards, and adding Pinterest verification and Google+ specific post meta data. That’s more than enough for most users but there are dedicated plugins out there if you want to dive deeper.
Since we’re on the subject, here are three options you can consider as alternatives to Yoast’s social optimization features.
1. Facebook Open Graph, Google+ and Twitter Card Tags
Facebook Open Graph plugin.
This plugin claims to be compatible with Yoast SEO, so you can use it as an additional social plugin if you want more options like including (or excluding) Open Graph tags and choosing a default feature image if the post doesn’t have one. Yoast has useful basic set-up options for both, but this plugin offers more settings that you can enable and disable for even more effective and efficient sharing results.
2. WordPress Social Sharing Optimization
WordPress Social Sharing Optimization plugin.
This plugin gives users complete control over the information provided to social networking crawlers, including Facebook, Google+ Twitter, Pinterest and others. In addition to basic meta tag support for Open Graph, Rich Pins, and Twitter Cards, this plugin will blow you away in terms of all the configurable and customizable options it provides. It should also play nicely when used in conjunction with Yoast SEO.
3. The Official Twitter Plugin
Twitter plugin
Not only does the official Twitter plugin enable you to integrate Twitter Cards with your site for more media-rich tweets – it also enables users to embed Twitter content and Vine videos easily, with the added bonus of having Twitter buttons built right into the plugin itself. If you heavily rely on Twitter for content promotion, this plugin may be more useful than the basic Card style option Yoast SEO offers in its Twitter tab.
XML Sitemaps

An XML sitemap makes it easier for Google to discover the pages on your site, including pages that may not be as easily discoverable by Google’s standard crawling process.
Yoast’s XML Sitemaps tab enables users to generate a sitemap which is automatically updated any time a new post or page is published. It also enables users to specify post types, individual posts, or taxonomies that should be excluded.
XML Sitemap plugin.
As an alternative to Yoast SEO’s sitemap feature, Google XML Sitemaps is one of the highest rated XML sitemap plugins and has been going strong for over nine years. It gives users even more control over their sitemaps, specifically in terms of setting up post priority and change frequencies. Users can also add specific files or URLs to be included in their sitemaps that don’t belong to their WordPress site.
Yoast Premium Features

We’ve looked at some interesting plugin options you can use to match the main features of the free version of the Yoast SEO plugin but there are also the premium features (starting at $89 for a single site) to consider. Even if you’re sticking with the free version of Yoast SEO, it’s worth looking at other free plugins that may be able to replace its premium features.
URL Redirects
If you have broken links and old pages that need to point to newer pages, you’re going to want to use a redirect tool to stay on Google’s good side. Yoast SEO offers a redirect manager as a premium feature that integrates directly with Google Search Console. If you run a big commercial site with lots of pages that require quite a bit of maintenance, the premium upgrade to get this redirect feature could easily pay for itself in terms of the time it will save you.
If you’re just looking to simply clean up a few of your URLs, Redirection is a popular free plugin that makes it easy to manage 301 redirects and keep track of 404 errors. It’s easy to use and best suited for smaller sites that need a quick and effective tool for tidying things up.
Video SEO
How cool would it be if the videos that you posted on your site showed up directly in Google search results? Yoast SEO’s premium video extension claims to do just that but, as with any SEO topic, there are naturally caveats to consider here.
It doesn’t look like there are any other WordPress plugins out there that offer this. While the official YouTube plugin is quite popular, its focus is on embedding YouTube videos in WordPress.
News SEO
Ranking in search for news is different than ranking for evergreen topics, meaning those who manage news sites may need a different approach. Yoast offers a news extension that creates XML News Sitemaps and editors picks RSS feeds to stand out for Google News.
XML Sitemap & Google News feeds may be a possible alternative plugin for news sites and has attracted some decent reviews from users attracted by its simplicity.
Local SEO
Business sites that target visitors from a specific geographical area have to make sure they tell Google the right location-specific information if they want a chance at a top spot ranking. Yoast SEO’s local plugin claims to help sites optimize this aspect of their information so they can rank better in their local results, and in Google Maps.
Local SEO and Business Listings is one free option if you’re not prepared to shell out for Yoast’s premium package. Its core plugin functionality includes local SEO road maps, a keyword research tool, a competitor keyword spy tool, suggested content submission websites, and a proprietary keyword effectiveness index.
Other Optimization Plugins to Consider

Yoast SEO offers a ton of SEO features but certainly doesn’t encompass everything you can do to optimize your site. For example, you’ll want to do everything you can to improve your site’s loading time since speed is a ranking factor.

Add Meta Boxes to Provide Extra Content

I started a new blog several months back and I wanted to include extra boxes on the WordPress edit/add post screen to provide extra “behind the scenes” data.

More specifically I started to learn more about how meta tags (HTML elements that aren’t shown in the browser unless “viewing source”) can influence what is shown when a web page is shared to social networks like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, and on search engines.

Wanting to control each aspect of the sharing for each site, I decided to create the necessary fields to allow me to do that on a post-by-post basis.

Examples of Meta Tags and Open Graph Tags
There are elements in HTML called “open graph tags” and when used will be the first place specific web sites, like Facebook and Google+, will look to learn about the content (rather than guessing).

A few examples of these tags include: og:title, og:image, and og:description. When included in between the “head” HTML tags of a web page, sites (Facebook for example) will use the values when the URL to the web page is shared.

There are also Twitter-specific meta tags that can be added to create media rich Twitter cards when the URL is shared.

Here’s how the Facebook Open Graphs would look within the HTML code when viewing the behind the scenes (or source) code:

<meta content=”This is the Open Graph or Facebook specific title” />
<meta content=”http://web-site-example.com/images/example-image.png” />
<meta name=”description” content=”This is the Open Graph or Facebook specific description” />
So, what’s the point? If you want to have the ability to a) explicitly tell Facebook what data to use when displaying your content so it doesn’t guess which can be embarassing especially when it uses an ad image as the image, and b) have more control over your call to action, etc. when your content is shared throughout Facebook (or Twitter, etc. – whatever the case may be).

Creating the Boxes to Add the Extra Data Into WordPress Posts
Now, this post isn’t about sharing content to Facebook or Google+, it’s about adding the Meta boxes to posts to provide extra data, so I don’t want to pigeon hole this idea for just the “social sharing” concept.

I just wanted to provide an example of one purpose that they could be used for. Meta boxes are the foundation of why many plugins are built, and they also exist for many themes. Really, they just provide a way to include extra data for posts (and pages in some cases). Custom post types are borne from them.

In this example I will show you how to include one panel with one text box to add a value. Then I will explain how to retrieve that information within a template file. The code can be modified to include more than one text box (or other form element) to add to the functionality. It’s easier to just start with one and you could work up from there.

Here’s the code which can be placed in the functions.php file to create a box beneath the post edit and add screens:

<?php
add_action( ‘add_meta_boxes’, ‘m_param_meta_box_add’ );
function m_param_meta_box_add() {
add_meta_box( ‘m_param_post’, ‘Box Title’, ‘m_param_post_meta_box_cb’, ‘post’, ‘normal’, ‘high’ );
}

function m_param_post_meta_box_cb( $post )
{
$values = get_post_custom( $post->ID );
if ( isset( $values[‘m_meta_description’] ) ) {
$m_meta_description_text = esc_attr( $values[‘m_meta_description’][0] );
}
wp_nonce_field( ‘my_meta_box_nonce’, ‘meta_box_nonce’ );

?>
<table class=”form-table”>
<tr valign=”top”>
<th scope=”row”><label for=”m_meta_description”>Meta Description (max 160)</label></th>
<td><textarea rows=”5″ cols=”100″ name=”m_meta_description”><?php echo $m_meta_description_text; ?></textarea></td>
</tr>
</table>

<?php
} // close m_param_post_meta_box_cb function

add_action( ‘save_post’, ‘cd_meta_box_save’ );
function cd_meta_box_save( $post_id )
{
// Bail if we’re doing an auto save
if( defined( ‘DOING_AUTOSAVE’ ) && DOING_AUTOSAVE ) return;

// if our nonce isn’t there, or we can’t verify it, bail
if( !isset( $_POST[‘meta_box_nonce’] ) || !wp_verify_nonce( $_POST[‘meta_box_nonce’], ‘my_meta_box_nonce’ ) ) return;

// if our current user can’t edit this post, bail
if( !current_user_can( ‘edit_post’ ) ) return;

// Make sure your data is set before trying to save it
if( isset( $_POST[‘m_meta_description’] ) ) {
update_post_meta( $post_id, ‘m_meta_description’, wp_kses( $_POST[‘m_meta_description’], $allowed ) );
}
}
?>
In the above code, you would change “Box Title” to name the box that all your custom fields will be encased in.

I created a custom field called “m_meta_description” so you can duplicate/modify that as desired.

Then I created an HTML table to display the multi-line text box for the input of the “meta description.” Of course, other form elements can be used. A single line text box can be easily swapped in the above code for example.

Ultimately we save the custom values when the post is saved.

That’s it, the code above is all that is needed to display the custom fields (and their values when they exist) and save the values after saving a post.

Now, we can learn how to retrieve the values for use in template files.

Retrieving Custom Values Within Template Files
In my example where I created extra boxes for social sharing meta values, I needed to retrieve the values for use in the header between the “head” HTML tags. There are two ways to do that. One is by editing a template file directly to access the values in the custom fields and then display them, and another is to use some WordPress “actions” to “inject” the values between the HTML head tags.

I will show both options here as one may be more appropriate for your situation. You might not need to add anything in the header, but perhaps a sidebar or single post page, so the second set of commands below will offer guidance in those situations.

Here is the code for retrieving the custom values and inserting them into meta tags in between the “head” HTML tags using a WordPress hook. This code can be added to a custom plugin or to the functions.php template file.

<?php
add_action(‘wp_head’, ‘add_to_wp_head’);
function add_to_wp_head( )
{
if (is_single())
{
global $post;
$m_meta_description = get_post_meta($post->ID, ‘m_meta_description’, true);
echo ‘<meta name=”description” content=”‘ . $m_meta_description . ‘”/>’;
}
}
?>
The code would be very similar for retrieving the value in a template file as for including the value in the head with a WordPress hook. I’m not suggesting here though that modifying a theme with custom code is a good idea, because unless you are very organized, you may lose the functionality if you ever update the theme files, or use an entirely different theme.

But perhaps in a pinch you want to get this working until you have more time to write a plugin. Whatever the reason, let’s take a look at how we can get the custom field value from within the… say, the single.php template file.

<?php
$m_meta_description = get_post_meta($post->ID, ‘m_meta_description’, true);
echo ‘Here is the meta_description custom field value: ‘ . $m_meta_description;
?>
For the above code we are not “injecting” the code into any of WordPress’s code so there is no need for an “action” or “hook.” Also, we already have access to the $post variable providing we are in the loop so there is no need to re-declare it. And of course, there is no need to check if we are looking at a single post since we are executing this code within the single.php file.

Are There any Other Purposes for These Custom Fields?
I spoke of why I used these custom fields in WordPress already. Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ being the 3 biggest social sharing networks (arguably), and having a distinct audience (for the most part)… our content could benefit from being shared in unique ways.

I only touched on it briefly before, but each of the sharing sites, while they may fall back on standard meta data or Open Graph tags, each have a default place that they look to retrieve pertinent information about a given web page.

The most pertinent of the information for a page on the web would be title, description, and image (and maybe video in some cases). Now, each site has different maximums for each of those fields, and they all display images differently, plus like I mentioned, the audience for each is unique. So, it makes sense to use different data for each site, yeah?

Now, as for other reasons to use custom fields… consider if you use the same sort of data in a post often. As an example, you might create a unique summary for a post when reviewing a restaurant for example. Well, if that summary is in a separate field, it can be shown differently. Perhaps there is different criteria that you review the restaurants based on. Those can now be done in custom fields.

Or what about ingredients for a recipe? When in their own fields they could be used later in different ways, like for sorting.

Or for the affiliate marketers out there, maybe you want to link the featured image to the affiliate product that you are discussing. You can upload the featured image like you would normally do but wrap it in an anchor tag as it gets printed to the screen, using a custom field as the affiliate URL.

Web Design Tips

In today’s time-crunched world, most people literally don’t have a minute to spare. This hurried pace extends to the realm of website design — your professional Web design must satisfy the demands of users with a wide range of options for viewing the Web.

Even if you create a website design that’s worth a wait, visitors faced with slow download speed aren’t likely to stick around. So how can you make sure that time is on your side? Pay close attention to seven professional Web design tips to create a website that won’t slow your business down.

#1: Limit use of flash

Flash is a classic example of style over substance and, while it definitely has its place in professional Web design, it must be used sparingly when you create a website. Even if your visitors have the right flash player (and many won’t), it will increase your site’s download time. Flash is also one of the Web site design elements that is not yet accessible to search engines, which means it can only hinder your search engine optimization efforts.

#2: Compress your images

Images are a great example of how looks can be deceiving in professional Web design. You might not realize just how much space they occupy when you create a website design. By compressing your images before adding them to your professional Web design, you can reduce/shrink a GIF or .JPEG image by up to half its original size. You may also want to specify the height and weight of your images in your HTML, which can decrease loading time.

#3: Clean up your code

While HTML text is much faster than graphic text, there are ways you can make it even faster. Watch out for extraneous HTML coding – like spaces, unnecessary tags and even white space — that can increase the size of your files. Remember that less is more, and use defaults for tags or remove them wherever possible.

#4: Use thumbnails

Thumbnails are an especially helpful website design technique for ecommerce websites. Provide customers with a small, fast-loading image of your product and let them decide whether they want to view the larger version of the image.

#5: Switch to CSS

Many Web designers now use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) instead of the more traditional table layout. CSS is a styling language that has a dual purpose in professional Web design: it can save you time when you create a website and save your visitors time by drastically reducing page size and download time.

#6: Reduce server requests

Any element of your design that loads from a different server – whether it be a graphic, an audio clip, or an ad – will elicit an HTTP request each time the page loads. Create a website with limited external content to reduce loading time.

#7: Pay attention to page size

Even if you use all of the tips above, your page size may still be big enough to cause a slow response when all the pieces of your website are put together. Remember that less is often more in professional Web design, and use only the content that is absolutely necessary. Ideal page size is around 30KB.

When you create a website design for your business, go the extra mile to ensure your website has the speed your visitors need — or risk getting passed by.