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WordPress is planning to go HTTPS only this year. Matt Mullenwag, the founder of WordPress, announced in December 2016 that certain features of WordPress will soon require that WordPress is installed on a secure server. So, what does this mean for web developers, businesses and users?
If your business website is hosted on WordPress, there is no immediate cause for concern. In fact, you may already have an HTTPS website, in which case, this news does not affect you – and well done for adopting the latest standard early! It is highly likely that WordPress will release an HTTPS only version, but this will probably be a major release. The latest WordPress version is 4.8 “Evans”, and our guess is that WordPress 5.0 will be the HTTPS version. Everybody hosted on non-secure sites will receive upgrades up to this version, and security patches will no doubt still be issued for 4.X.X versions.
We talked about HTTPS Everywhere on our FSE Online blog in February this year. This is an initiative, driven by Google, to encourage a totally secure Internet. Web security is becoming more important every week, with new reports of hacking, cyber attacks and data breaches becoming standard.
The Google Chrome browser started warning users of unsecured websites some time ago, and Google Search has suggested on multiple occasions that it will start to rank SSL secure sites higher to encourage businesses and web developers to build a stronger and more secure internet. Finally, “not using HTTPS” was listed as a common ecommerce fail. The writing has been on the wall for a long time already – it’s only a matter of time before we see a 100% secure WordPress.
WordPress is a double edged sword. It provides a very easy way for web developers to create modern business websites (it is largely responsible for so many small businesses getting online), but it is also prone to vulnerabilities.
WordPress itself is no worse than other CMSes in that matter, but due to its huge popularity (there are over 75 million websites built on WordPress today, which represents around 25% of all websites) hackers tend to target it.
As the software is released under an open source, creative commons licence, it is very easy for hackers to thoroughly investigate and analyse the latest versions. WordPress therefore has a duty to encourage its users and customers to adopt a safer, more secure way to host websites.
What is HTTPS?
HTTPS is HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), with a Secure layer added to it – either SSL or TSL. HTTPS encrypts any data that is passed between the web server and clients, and the end users, i.e. the web browser. Without HTTPS, cybercrimonals can access private data over insecure connections. For example, if you use an open public WiFi connection to view a website, it is possible for a hacker to monitor the information that passes between your phone or laptop and the web server, if there is no protective secure layer in place.
The great thing about HTTPS is that you do not need to change your website as such, as it is the web hosting platform that is updated. There will be changes to website URLS, but with the help of a technical SEO consultant, it is relatively straightforward to redirect all old non-secure pages to the new https formats.
It’s also worth noting that users are getting more savvy with regards to website security, and many are demanding HTTPS – it is becoming normal to check that any ecommerce website is secure before heading the checkout, and this is helping to create a much safer Internet.
The Advantages of HTTPS
So, there are two main advantages of HTTPS. First, your website data is better protected – a serious data breach can ruin a company. Second, both users and Google like HTTPS, and this means that by adopting this standard you could gain higher rankings in Google and be more appealing to customers.
Don’t Get Complacent
HTTPS is a massive improvement over HTTP, however, do not assume that using HTTPS makes you or your business website immune to hacking. A lot of work still needs to be done to make client accounts more secure. Only recently, hundreds of UK politicians had their accounts blocked after a massive brute force attempt was made on MP’s computer accounts. Simple usernames and passwords are still just as big a threat to your privacy and security than secure web connections.
A few years ago changing to HTTPS was a huge and expensive challenge for web developers, but it’s reasonably straightforward today. If you need help setting up a secure WordPress website, speak to our technical SEO team and we’ll audit your site and advise you of your options. Don’t ignore web security.
Last month an ecommerce website came to us requesting an SEO audit to help highlight any issues that are holding them back online, and the conclusion was that either an absence of canonical tags, or often worse, badly implemented canonicals following a website redesign, was a major problem for them. It is evident from our discussions that very few clients know what a canonical link is, and also, unlike our web developers, few web designers fully understand them either. So today, we’ll provide a brief guide to canonical tags so businesses can better understand why they are so important.
What is Canonicalisation?
Canonical tags are lines of code which are added to the head of a webpage – the same area where we set page titles, meta descriptions and site languages, for example. The tag tells search engines when multiple URLs are in fact the same product or service – they can even be used across multiple websites. The idea is that you define the “parent” page for a particular product, which prevents Google trying to index every page.
A Simple Example
Imagine a website is selling a range of shoes, with many styles different designers. Each shoe will come in different sizes, some may be available in different colours, and some may come with slightly different features as standard. For example, Nike Air Max 1 is currently one of the most popular trainers on the market. You can order these in white, blue, grey, navy, red, plus several other colour combinations. They also all come in different sizes. If the ecommerce CMS provides different URLs for each colour and size combination, Google will crawl all these pages, and treat the various multiples as duplicate content. Many eCommerce CMSes create dynamic URLs, which can amplify the problem even more. Duplicate content can negatively affect ranking – the Google Panda algorithm may be triggered.
So, the best solution is to choose a single URL that is the main page, and point all other pages using the rel=canonical linking tag. However, care must be taken to not over do things. In the case of shoes, although it is important to have all sizes served from a single product page, for very popular shoes, stores may benefit from maintaining different pages for each colour. However, separate pages for each colour won’t always be a good idea, especially if the product descriptions are a bit thin – if there’s one thing Google hates more than thin product pages, it’s duplicated thin product pages!
Why is this important?
Google penalises duplicate content and thin content. Using the rel-canonical tag is the easiest way to prevent such penalties, and if a website has already been penalised, it will help it recover.
Why Not Just 301 Redirect?
If multiple identical pages are a problem for Google, why not just redirect all to a single page? Well, while we need to help Google better index websites, we also need to provide an optimum user experience, and this often involves giving unique URLs for specific products. Creating different URLs also helps when people wish to bookmark or share a product; without them, somebody may add the blue Nike Air Max 1 to their birthday wish list, only to receive the white ones, as this was the page their link led to.
Which URL To Canonicalise?
This is a difficult one to decide. In theory, all the URLs should be equal. If your CMS provides a relatively clean URL for the first option, e.g. white shoes, size 9 (9 being the average male shoe size) then pick this as the “master” canonical URL. Alternatively, just chose the product that sells the most. The whole idea is that when you’re using canonical URLs, it does not matter which one is the parent, as Google will direct all the link juice to that one single URL regardless.
Setting Up Canonicals
The rel=canonical tag is added to the head section of your website. It should always look something like this:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://fseshoeshop.com/nike-air-max-1/white/size-9″>
We use the All In One SEO Pack plugin on our blog, which, when configured, takes cares of canonicals for us:
The big question is, how do you add to all relevant pages? The only way to be sure that it is done correctly is to use a trusted plugin or module. Some CMSes do now support canonical tags, especially eCommerce CMSes. However, if it is not supported as standard, you should be able to install a plugin or module that manages them for you. If all your pages are manually created (which is really not a good idea!) then you need to manually insert the canonical tag into each page.
Canonical URLs To Other Domains
You can even use canonicals between domains. For example, if for legal reasons you had to operate multiple TLDs, e.g. .co.uk, .com, and .eu, but each website was essentially identical, you could set a canonical URL so that all domains point to the .co.uk pages. This will provide the user experience you desire as well as meeting legal requirements, without incurring a penalty from Google. Obviously, the best option is to ensure that each website is completely unique, but this is rarely a viable option for businesses.
When Canonicals Fail
Unfortunately, we often see badly implemented canonicals. This often happens after a major website redesign, when previously well-ranking pages would be “canonicalised away” to new pages that contain inferior content. If the web developer also failed to set 301 redirects, all previously gained Google rankings could quickly be lost. It is possible resolve such issue by rebuilding old URLs, resetting canonicals and creating 301 redirects, but sometimes once the damage is done, it can take a very long time to recover.
Last week, I took part in the Enspire Success: Work Ready & Mock Interview Programme at Thomas More High School for Boys in Westcliff on Sea, Essex.
The initiative, which was co-ordinated by EnSpirit Global, was designed to help Year 10s at the school improve their interview skills. With the support of EnSpirit’s experienced organisers, Baiju and Penny, students were encouraged to think carefully about their future education and their wider career choices. They were then given the opportunity to speak with external business men and women, including me, about their ideas, before receiving tailored feedback on their presentation and overall communication skills.
Each local volunteer ‘interviewed’ around six students each. I have to say, I was completely blown away by the intelligence and insight demonstrated by many of the students, and it was a real pleasure to help them put together a plan for their future.
EnSpirit is always looking for volunteers for similar programmes in the Essex area. If you’re interested in getting involved, you can start by completing the company’s Contributor Enquiry Form here.
You can also join EnSpirit’s Twitter community using the hashtags #NoPlanB and #StartYourFire.
I hope to see you at the next event!
Monitor the Leading Blogs to Create Timely and Relevant Content
To keep your content current and relevant, it is vital to know what people are talking about. Monitor the trending topics to make sure yours is a voice they want to hear.
We all know this is the communication age, and that to succeed in business in the 21st century, you need to reach out to customers and engage with them through great content on your website and social media channels.
Reaching out is one thing, but providing the content that people really want to read, watch, share and talk about is another. That’s where an aspect of communication that is often overlooked can make the difference between success and failure – the ability to listen to what other people are saying before you put your own words across.
With the ever increasing amount of content out there, along with the growing number of outlets by which it is published, the idea of monitoring the most important blogs and topics can be easier said than done. There are a number of media monitoring tools that aid social media management – let’s take a look.
Google has cornered the market in many areas of our online activities, from basic web searches to data analytics, so it should come as no surprise that their media monitoring tool is the go-to app for many.
Given Google’s massive reach, budget and experience in web crawling, you would think it would also be the best available, but it is actually not as effective or reliable as some others we will look at. Having said that, it is free, simple and intuitive to use.
This media monitoring tool allows you to track PR campaigns, identify the influencers in your industry or subject matter and create simple yet incisive reports.
All in all, it feels more professional than Google’s freeware, while remaining simple to use without wasting time on learning any complex systems. Of course, the downside is that you have to pay for it. Basic plans start at $29 per month, and thereafter there is a sliding scale depending on how much usage you need.
This content tool combines media monitoring with more general applications to help you find content that is relevant to you and your audience.
It has a very broad coverage and is easy to use via a user-friendly dashboard that puts all the key metrics at your fingertips.
The downside is that it is more expensive than other offerings, but it packs such a punch that used to its full potential, it can still represent a fantastic return on investment.
More a tool for managing your own social media platforms than monitoring others, Hootsuite is nevertheless worth a mention, as it gives you instant information on what people are saying about you and your brand across all your social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and others.
It is highly valuable for ensuring that all your content is consistent and on-brand, and for allowing you to react quickly to any comments or discussions that need your attention. After all, in the digital world, Oscar Wilde’s comment about the universal benefit of being talked about does not always hold true.
Update Rated 9.5 is Among Most Significant Seen This Year
Google issues updates every day, but according to commentators in the SEO world, the one that took place on 25 June was something a little out of the ordinary in that it appears to have had a dramatic impact on ranking positions.
At Freelance SEO Essex we soon spotted that the update received a ranking of 9.5 on the SEMrush sensitivity sensor, which is far higher than anything else SEMrush has tracked this year – routine updates typically rank between five and seven. MozCast also recorded a high temperature:
Not over yet
Some commentators believe that this was just the start of a significant update, and it is still in the process of rolling out. This means that we have probably not seen the full effect as yet.
Google, was, as ever tight lipped on the subject. When asked whether there had been an update, Google WebMaster Trends Analyst John Mueller tweeted the stock answer that they make updates all the time, a response that was received with the expected derision and comments along the lines that he could get the phrase tattooed to his forehead.
Who is affected?
Data is still flowing in, and analysis is ongoing, but at this stage, reports from RankRanger suggest that the algorithm update primarily affected sites that were ranking around positions six to ten on Google searches.
The analysis was also broken down according to niche. While every sector saw some fluctuations, the hardest hit appeared to be the food & beverage industry, followed by websites in the health and fitness, retail, gambling and travel sectors.
Why so quiet?
For what looks like the most significant Google update of 2017 so far, there has been a distinct lack of chatter and media coverage. This is possibly because, as mentioned earlier, there has been little impact on the top ranked sites, with all the action in positions six to ten.
However, the extensive fluctuations in these lower ranking positions is still big news for thousands of sites.
What to do
If you have been affected, the most important thing to realise is that Google updates happen all the time, so the question is as much about what you should do to weather the storm of Google updates and make them into a positive experience.
A useful experiment is to take a look at your historic ranking data on Google Analytics. Chances are, if you’ve been hit by one Google update, you will have been hit by another, so check for past fluctuations and see if they correspond with previous updates. This could give valuable clues as to what it is about your site that is causing the problem.
Ultimately, it all comes down to good SEO. If you have a site with plenty of interesting, original, relevant content that is constantly updated, if you have the right links to other reputable and relevant sites, and if you leverage your social media channels properly and get content shared and retweeted, Google will be your friend.
And that means, the next Google update will spell good news for your rankings compared the competition.