Superspeed Me – An Easy Guide To Speeding Up Your Website

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Down with King Content – long live user experience!!  The new focus on user experience is coming ever more sharply into the everyday lives of webmasters – and you could be forgiven for thinking that the world of image compression, CDN’s, and theme optimisation is well beyond you.

However, it’s easier than you might think to give your site a bit of a “superspeed” makeover!

Super Easy CDN and Website Protection

We’ve all heard about Content Delivery Networks and cloud servers and similar and many of you may think that implementing one is beyond you. However fear not, the good people at Cloud Flare are riding to your rescue with their FREE CDN.  This system has a five minute install that just about anyone can implement and will not only superspeed your site but also protect it from internet bastards and vagabonds (as I like to call them).

Using data from Project Honeypot it protects your site against spammers, hackers, and other ratbags. I have implemented Cloud Flare on one of my sites and it has halved the download speed. So far this month it has saved my users on one small site 20.7 hours waiting for my pages to load, which also saves me bandwidth.

You can find out more about all the features offered by Cloud Flare on their comprehensive Tour Page.

Get A Speed Monitoring Plugin For Your Browser…

The Firebug plugin lets you use a whole wealth of web development and debug tools as you surf the net using Firefox. On it’s own I find it very handy to nosey around other people’s source code. If you’re interested in how someone’s done something or want to check out an element of your own site without trawling through code, it’s great. You just right click on the bit you want to look at and select “inspect element”. It’s a great everyday timesaver for me.

You can then grab the Site Speed Addon from Google. Given that these are the guys we’re all trying to impress it seems sensible to refine site performance by their standards. There’s also a Chrome Addon. You can access their widget directly through your browser without any addons here.

This cool little tool gives your site performance marks out of 100 and a great big “to do” list. It also has a feature to show you versions of your images which are “losslessly compressed”. You can just save these and upload to your site for improved performance.

My own worst site had a rather dreadful score of 44 / 100 – which we very quickly got up to a 93 / 100 with the help of the Firebug site speed addon.

WordPress Site Speed Plugins and Wizardry

If you have a WordPress site you can do all of the above… and also make use of some handy WordPress resources!

First of all, read Yoast’s Guide to Speeding Up WordPress. He mentions you should install a caching plugin. I use W3 Total Cache which was recommended to me by my hosting company, Clook. I’ve found it to be excellent and regularly updated. It’s recently been updated for better compatibility with Cloud Flare and Yoast’s SEO Plugin. Whilst you’re giving your site a bit of a makeover do download and use this if you haven’t already – I think it’s the absolute dogs danglies and it does all the little SEO tasks that are too easy to forget about when setting up a site.

Don’t forget to grab an image compression plugin – Smushit is from the same guys who created W3 Supercache and is a great tool to squeeze that extra efficiency out of your web pages.

That’s pretty much everything I’ve personally used recently – if any of you guys have anything to add to this resource please post in the comments below – I’d love you to add your own hints and tips!

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Google Panda Recovery – The Journey So Far

Google 27 Comments »
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Welcome to part two of my series of an unknown length looking at my exciting adventures recovering one of my affiliate sites from it’s Google Panda woes!

The first thing I did after returning from New Zealand and getting over the huff that I’d been in was formulate a recovery plan.

Here’s The Plan Stan!!

  • Removing all site content except the core pages around which the site is themed and rebuilding the whole thing from the ground up. In a site of almost 1,300 pages this leaves me with around 150 to play with.
  • Increase average page views per user, time spent on site, and general visitor happiness by not having any core pages that redirect straight out to merchant.
  • The core pages (which feature individual fashion brands) will be completely redesigned to form decent information resources about the brand beyond the current description and “shop now” type links. Things like sizing guides, information on the types of product they specialise in etc. I’m also going to have a special offers widget created for the site that’ll allow me to present information on sales, discount codes, and offers for each brand or by specific category.
  • Investing heavily in site functionality. I have an early version of a plugin that’ll let me take merchant feeds, grab and save all their images, resizing and renaming them automagically (Oh how I’m coming to love that word). The plugin also creates masked affiliate links and will allow users to browse all the products in ways they wouldn’t be able to on a single merchant site. Each core page will have a small widget which will display the latest products on the site for the brand. I started organising this back in January when I realised that we had a problem.
  • Thin “product reviews”  which were really only rewritten product overviews and whizzed people straight back out to merchant will be replaced by newsy items and how to articles.  These will not be monetised.
  • I’ll also start doing real product reviews under some kind of nom de plume.  We’ll be setting up a mini photo studio to take detailed pictures of bras. I will not be modelling these :D . These  reviews will also form part of my shiny new social media strategy. I shall be trying to get the merchants and brands to bestow some retweetage upon me for my efforts. Again, these will not be monetised but I’m holding out real hopes of scoring serious amounts of free underwear and link love once I get it going.
  • Competitions – again around social media to try to get people retweeting, liking, and generally engaging with the site.
  • I’ll be going through and re-optimising the core pages, well de-optimising them really. I’ll also be rewriting anything that isn’t clear and concise and where there’s too much repetition of terms closely related to the page content.
  • Lots of social media type fun, all totally new and nosebleed inducing but I think essential for the longer term.
  • Theme update.
  • Site speed overhaul.

If you read the above carefully you’ll see it caters for an awful lot of things Google could use to tell you are an unoriginal site.

It Is Alive!! The Early Results

I’ve already put in two solid weeks of work on pulling my site apart and starting to reconstruct it and am seeing some early, but limited, results.  Here’s a list of what changes I’ve made, when I made them, followed by some results and observations.  Hope you’re still awake by the time you’ve gotten through ‘em!

First of all, here’s the Google referral data from my Analytics account: -

Encouraging hey?

The upward trend is all the more pleasing when you consider that the increase in traffic is being countered by the removal of all the pages that were generating 90% of the traffic we’d regained as at April 25th or so. In a twist of fate only Google could engineer the only pages left ranking were complete and utter spammy shite which I’d accidentally let get indexed – they were old PPC pages and had no unique content whatsoever.

What Have I Done So Far From My Plan?

I hear you ask. Here’s a list of what we did, and when.

  • April 3rd. I changed all the brand overview pages so that rather than the user going straight out to merchant from my “view whole range” button, they were directed to my internal product feed section which I thought would increase the average page views per user that Google was seeing happen on the site.
  • May 2nd. I removed all the content from the site except my main pages. This took my 1,300 page site down to a whopping 169.
  • May 4th. New site design and structure is put in place. For now, I’ve based the site completely around the core content. Replacing the old feed content in the top bar with links to categories containing all my brands.
  • May 6th. I began the process of deoptimising my pages and rewriting content where needed.
  • May 12th Finish the deoptimisation and rewriting. I can assure you alcohol will be taken this evening!

Observations

  • Like Site B I found some pages on Site A where my SEO plugin had let me down. A significant number (but not all) of them were quietly ranking away. Not enough to alert me by producing much traffic, but high enough to cheer me up significantly.  This reinforced the idea that softening the SEO on the site was looking like a winner.
  • As I went through my pages on I also did test searches and discovered that many pages that were previously totally buried or around page 5 were now mid page 2.  Another trend was that in many cases “softer” site pages that perhaps mentioned the brand name once were ranking relatively high in the serps i.e. within pages 2 to 5.
  • The cached date on the majority of the pages returning to the rankings was initially around April 14th to 18th.  So either my change to the way people flowed through the site early April was something Google liked, which has resulted in some pages at least appearing within the first five pages (they weren’t before!) or I’m simply benefitting from an algo adjustment and this information is meaningless.
  • Many of the pages I adjusted on were reindexed immediately. Some of them were suddenly looking a lot sunnier on the rankings front. Others still nowhere in sight. An oddity with this is that the new titles and meta descriptions are showing in the index but the cached version of the page is still old.  Another thing I’ve seen is that pages I’ve adjusted will often be catapulted back into the SERPS but it’ll be the old page version ranking rather than the new one. I’ve seen this repeatedly in the last two weeks.
  • Average time spent on site and visitor page views have more than doubled and are now in line with my other sites.

Wow. Well this post has got a bit on the long side but it’ll hopefully be useful in this form.

Before You Get Jealous Of My Recovery…

Green eyed SERPS monster bothering ya? Never fear!

Because I still have a very, very long way to go.

With having made the decision to take the site back to it’s core I’ve lost a large number of pages that previously brought traffic and income to the site. I decided that for my site there was no quick solution because when I looked at it and asked “does this add value and could it stand alone without the affiliate content?” The answer was a resounding no.

I think it’ll probably take me at least 6 months to get back to where I was but I honestly believe it’s more than worth the effort. I know I’ll end up with a much stronger resource that really does add value in the long term – which will put me streets ahead of those not prepared to put in the work.

Good luck to everyone out there who has been Pandalised – and remember the road to recovery isn’t an easy one but it is worthwhile!

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Google Panda – A Tale of Two Websites

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Affiliate marketing has always been fun. The dynamic cut and thrust and the thrill of making those sales until… the horror of a Google update that wipes you off the planet. More of a slash and stab than cut and thrust!

I thought about trying to write an affiliate guide to the Panda update. But given the many faceted ways this simple sounding “content farm and quality” update is affecting my affiliate colleagues I decided I just wasn’t qualified to talk about things I don’t understand. However what I can do is talk about what’s happened in my own tiny corner of the affiliate sphere.

My Tale of Two Websites

I’m in a bit of a unique situation. I have two websites that, at least on the face of things, are identical in structure and SEO strategy and are even occupying similar niches. One took a downward spiral to bogey town whilst the other enjoyed a meteoric rise to SERPS wonderfulness.

So paying special attention to user experience or things that might give off poor quality signals similar to those employed by naughty spammers here’s the key differences I found between my sites.

I’m sure regular readers will know which sites I’m talking about, but I’m going to refer to them as Site A (affected) and Site B (unaffected) to make this easier to read.

User Experience

  • Engagement – Site B has a much higher repeat visitor rate, double the average page views per visitor, and almost double the average time spent on site than Site A. It  is generally a much more efficient website and seems to engage the users much more. The majority of Site B’s main pages channelled users into a feed section where there was product data from several merchants. Site A zipped visitors straight through to merchant from key pages – effectively “getting in the way” of the merchant.
  • Site Performance – Site B has a faster download speed whilst Site A is increasingly slow, clunky, and inefficient. It also has a dated design in desperate need of updating.

 

Quality Signals

  • Usage Patterns – Visitors to Site B tend to have a more natural pattern of moving through the site whilst Site A’s visitors are more likely to be catapulted straight out to a merchant. The main categories are populated with useful content and rank well whereas Site A is the exact opposite. From a common sense POV having useful content in parts of the site architecture that Google would expect to be key to the site, and having users interact with it, does make sense from a quality perspective.
  • Thin Affiliate – Google had indexed all the masked redirects on Site A despite them being blocked via the Robots.txt – thus it knew exactly what all those links were i.e. of an affiliate nature. Site B did not suffer this fate.
  • Site scrapers – Site A is absolutely plagued by these whilst Site B hasn’t had many hassles. Pretty much all my mini articles have been scraped back to front and sideways. For many, the site doesn’t even rank first for unique text snippets and hasn’t done for quite some time.  There are literally hundreds of these and they outweigh the brand pages in terms of volume. They are all also very thin and will be pages people only spend a few seconds on. Sounding toxic much??
  • Link Profiles – Site A has quite a poor link profile. Too many exchanges and directory submissions and not enough natural looking link love. On the other hand, Site B has a bit more content with “oh my god would you look at that” appeal. It has therefore got a smattering of unrequested links from quality sources.
  • Highly Optimised Pages - Thanks to a malfunctioning SEO plugin many of Site B’s page titles were much less optimised than Site A’s. Totally unoptimsied even. I noticed this after being given the heads up on “Soft” pages ranking better than more aggressively optimised pages post Panda by SEO champ Lee McCoy (he has my eternal gratitude). To my surprise many of Site B’s pages were ranking better in their less optimised form.

Conclusions?

There are some pretty glaring differences between those two sites – and it seems Site A has an awful lot of tell tell negative factors.

However fear not! By paying attention to the above factors plus some other common sense stuff I’ve already managed to get Site A on the long trudge back up the SERPS.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode where I’ll tell you my recovery plan, what changes I’ve made so far, and how they have affected Site A’s performance!

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In The Huff

Affiliate Annoyances 6 Comments »
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The title is in response to your question “where have you been?” and I reckon that “in the huff” neatly encapsulates it.  I’m aware that probably makes me sound a teeny bit childish, but it just so happens to be true.

It’s Been A Funny Old Time Since January

Since January I’ve been in a terrible old state really.  In my post back then I mentioned my site, Lingerie Brands was looking to be falling out of favour with Google ever so slightly.  Realising I had to improve quality dramatically I had to take an unprecendented step….

Yep, shock horror… I had to let someone else do some development work for the site. In my 8 years as an affiliate I’ve always done my own work and development. Thusly I could do a bit, tinker around with it, change my mind, and generally fart around to my hearts content.  For the first time ever I had to admit something was beyond me and go through a process to develop a brief and actually visualise (or try to) a project from start to finish.

Get Out The Thumbscrews Dan…

To say that this was a mental nosebleed for me is a positively rabid understatement.  Fortunately Dan at WP Doctors is everything I’m not and managed to steer me through the process without ever letting on his desk now sports a forehead shaped dent thanks to his efforts at getting me to tell him what I actually wanted beyond “look, just make it good eh??”. More about the ins and outs of the project at a later date when it’s all integrated into the site.

Combine this with me trying to work out what Google actually wanted, and the further decline of my site in several depressing stages and by the end of my working day I wasn’t in any fit state to actually talk to you guys.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bemoaning cruel fate – Lingerie Brands has been in dire need of improvement for a long time now. And that’s exactly what it’s going to get.  Fortunately I’m in a position where other sites rose as good ‘ol LB fell… so I’m only marginally worse off in terms of revenue.

Again, more from me on all of this later. On another note it’s also solved my far too hasty complaint about being a bit bored!

On A Brighter Note I’ve Also Been to New Zealand!

Very therapeutic this was – I’ve returned with a clear head and a quite badly dented bank account. Hey ho, it was all worth it to finally see a little bit of the South Island.

Here’s The Obligatory Boring / Smug Holiday Snaps…

Some dazzling (and slightly squint) self photography at Lake Tekapo observatory

We grabbed a helicopter to take us to look at Mt Cook. I didn't know you could scream inside your head till it took off...

Duncs and I on our overnight trip around Milford Sound. It were bloody freezing so don't laugh at my hat!!

Although Just To Show You Can Never Escape From Your Work…

We had a lovely time spending the night on a boat on Milford Sound. We were seated with two of the only other young-ish people on the boat for dinner (much to our relief), two lovely lads from San Francisco.

As we all got stuck into our respective bottles of wine we talked about technology, the internet, and travel. Eventually I mentioned a bit about what I did for a living and how Google was being causing me a few wee hassles at the moment and that I was convinced Matt Cutts was stalking me because every time I went on holiday there was an Algo change (I arrived in New Zealand on April 12th).

“Oh really?” they said. “Ahhhh… we work for Google.”

“What?!” I said. “REALLY??!! Back of the boat – youse are leaving!!”

They hastily explained search quality was not their bag, and cordial relations resumed.

I should really have asked them if they wouldn’t mind letting Matt Cutts’ tyres down when they got home and perhaps popping a wee note on his windscreen saying “Get it right Matt! Leave me alone and stop ruining my bloody holidays! Lots of love from Kirsty xxx.” I was to polite to ask, but I’m sure they would have been happy do it if they had a notion never to work in the tech industry ever again. ;)

I will always smile when I remember meeting those guys.

Anyhoo…

There be more from me soon on fun topics such as my Google Panda recovery strategy and similar type stuff. LB has been terribly affected by the update, odd considering it’s so similar to my other sites in structure (don’t know if I’m relieved or terrified about that one!). I have some theories on this though and will share them once I’ve thought about them a bit more and played around with things. I don’t want to go chucking red herrings around the joint, there’s enough of those on that subject already!

Cheerio :D

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