Monthly Archives: December 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It’s also worryingly easy to come across outdated or generally dubious advice about SEO while browsing the web, so it’s worth your while getting your head around the basics to avoid getting led down the garden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 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’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 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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Installing an image optimization plugin like EWWW Image Optimizer is an excellent idea for minimizing overall page sizes by chomping down your images to something reasonable. A caching plugin like W3 Total Cache will also improve server performance, speed up download times, and supercharge your site speed when integrated with a content delivery network (CDN).

More Information About Web Design, Virtual Reality, & WordPress

Virtual reality promises massive changes to the way we experience and interact with technology. Despite that, VR has failed to burst into the mainstream. At least so far…
But with cheap cardboard boxes that turn smartphones into virtual reality headsets and intrepid developers pushing for VR standards for web browsers, widespread virtual reality on the web is getting closer and closer.
In this post, I’ll dig into some of the implications of virtual reality on both WordPress and in web design in general.

What Virtual Reality Tech is Available Right Now?

Virtual reality sounds expensive, right? That’s what most people think. But VR tech can be surprisingly affordable, at least if you already have a smartphone. Here’s a brief overview of some of the most popular headset options:

– Google Cardboard – Google Cardboard turns any compatible smartphone into a VR headset for the cost of a few cups of coffee. Yup, about $10-15 can get you your very own VR headset. For a quick overview of Google Cardboard, this YouTube video is a great start.
– Oculus Rift – Best known for being snapped up by Facebook for a couple billion dollars, Oculus Rift creates quality, but expensive, headsets.
– HTC Vive – HTC Vive isn’t cheap, but those willing to shell out ~$800 get what is, by all accounts, an amazing virtual experience.
– Samsung Gear – Samsung Gear is one of the few headsets to rival Google Cardboard in terms of affordability. It costs around $100 but is limited to working with certain Samsung smartphones.
While not an exhaustive list, these are the virtual reality headsets which come up most commonly when discussing virtual reality and the web.

What About Website Support for Virtual Reality?
Getting headsets into the hands of the public isn’t the only problem with virtual reality. We also need libraries to support easy virtual reality implementation for websites. Thankfully, those are coming along well, too.
WebVR is a JavaScript library that offers access to Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, or Google Cardboard in your web browser. Essentially, it aims to make virtual reality available in regular web browsers, rather than specialized apps.
It’s available in the nightly builds of both Firefox and Chrome and seems to be seeing increasing adoption.

How Do Virtual Reality and Web Design Intersect?

Imagine a site on the scale of Wikipedia with virtual reality. Instead of reading about famous locations, you could actually experience them through virtual reality. It may be a long way off, but that’s where I see the web going…eventually.
But there are other specific areas in which I already see VR being heavily pushed.

Virtual Reality for eCommerce Websites
I don’t know about you, but the only reason I go to physical stores nowadays is because I want to experience a product in person. Amazon might be cheaper and more convenient, but I can actually interact with the product at Target.
But virtual reality could change all that. Imagine being able to experience products on Amazon in virtual reality. You could see it from different angles, watch it in action. It would be incredible.
It’s not just a pipe dream, either. Some eCommerce sites have already moved to incorporate virtual reality into their shopping experiences. Take IKEA for example. Their Virtual Kitchen experience allows HTC Vive users to move through IKEA kitchen displays in virtual reality:

And companies like Prizmiq are already bringing detailed 3D imaging to product pictures. How long until they can offer compatibility with VR headsets for truly immersive product views?

Virtual Tours for Real Estate or Travel Companies
Another major use for virtual reality is all types of tours. Whether for real estate or travel, virtual reality will let websites in these niches offer immersive experiences. Sotheby’s real estate already made waves by offering virtual reality tours for some of its property listings.

I think such uses will only expand as virtual reality gains traction.

Roadblocks to Widespread Implementation of VR and Web Design

Beyond the rather obvious roadblock of VR headset adoption, there are some other things standing in the way of virtual reality.
Responsive Design
How do you build a website that functions for both virtual reality headset wearers and regular users alike? That’s the major problem designers will need to cope with. Right now, most implementations involve a toggle to move between modes. But is that really the best virtual experience?
And how do you handle menus? Eye-tracking menus work great for wearable headsets but obviously not for desktop browsers.
I don’t have answers to these questions. But I do know that having to grab my headset and hit a toggle button isn’t a very immersive experience. And it probably would relegate virtual reality to “occasional treat” rather than “daily habit.” At least for me.
Bandwidth
We already know how massively important page speed is. Are visitors really going to be willing to wait for large 4K 360 degree videos to load? For special occasions, I think yes. But for everyday browsing? That’s a tougher question to answer.

Virtual Reality and WordPress – What’s There?

Let’s start with the big news, it was just announced that all WordPress.com sites will now support virtual reality images and videos. That means the 409 million visitors to WordPress.com blogs every month now have a chance to be exposed to virtual reality images. I only hope this pushes virtual reality more into the mainstream.
And it’s not just limited to WordPress.com – some developers are already making it possible to add virtual reality to self-hosted WordPress via plugins. I did some digging around the plugin repository and I found two promising plugins:

VR Views
VR Views helps you embed 360-degree mono-and-stereoscopic images and videos into your WordPress site. It uses Google’s VR Views library, which makes it fully compatible with Google Cardboard.
To handle issues with responsive design, i.e. users who don’t have Google Cardboard, the plugin defaults to a “magic window” that will work on any desktop or mobile browser, regardless of hardware. The “magic window” allows readers to move their screen around to view the image in 360 degrees of glory but lacks true virtual reality. Here’s a screencap of what it looks like on my web browser:

To create your virtual reality content, you can use any device that is capable of capturing 360-degree videos or images. And once you have your content, implementing it is as easy as adding a shortcode to your WordPress site.

WP-VR-view
WP-VR-view is another plugin which lets you add Google Cardboard compatible virtual reality media to your WordPress site.
And just like VR Views, it degrades considerably for anyone who doesn’t have virtual reality hardware:

Smartphone users can easily move between regular mode and Google Cardboard mode to take advantage of their VR hardware.

Where Can Virtual Reality and WordPress Go From Here?
I would love to see virtual reality product views for WooCommerce. In fact, Michael Tieso has a post delving into this very topic. He’s even created some experimental implementations of virtual reality for WooCommerce. And while he cautions they aren’t to be used on production sites, savvy devs may want to delve into his GitHub to see what can be done.
I also hope that, with the inclusion of virtual reality for WordPress.com blogs, virtual reality images and videos make their way to self-hosted WordPress without the need for a plugin. It seems like the technology is there, we’re just waiting for it to be accessible to everyone!

Wrapping Things Up

My Google Cardboard is already on the way, so I’m excited to be able to try out some of these concepts for myself.
Virtual reality isn’t quite there yet for the web as a whole. But I think in a few years we’ll be seeing more widespread implementations of virtual reality. With WordPress.com rolling out virtual reality and major corporations like IKEA and Sotheby’s diving in headfirst, it’s only a matter of time.

Improve Viewership In Facebook With Use These Tips

You’ve likely noticed how many videos are published on Facebook each day. So many, that getting yours noticed is more challenging than ever. It’s hard even for an established publisher. For newbies … it’s like heading down a blind alley. Fortunately, you can cut through the noise by utilizing Facebook Live, an in-the-moment feature that allows you to stream live video content in front of your audience.
Facebook revealed that users spend 3x more time on average watching live videos compared to normal videos. Most broadcasts come from regular folks even if big brands attract the most audiences. You can use Facebook Live to deliver exclusive content, how-to videos, behind-the-scenes footage and much more.
Making the Most of Facebook Live Broadcasts

Instead of throwing a bunch of advices at you and leaving you to figure out what works and what doesn’t, I’ve decided to cover tried and tested best practices. You can implement them separately, or simultaneously based on your needs. Here are 5 Facebook Live tips to attract audiences with your next broadcast.

1. Get the Background Right
Take a good look at your background before doing a live video. While viewers will expect you to go with the flow and be a bit raw in the broadcast, you don’t want background noise and unexpected entrants (pets, individuals who’re not a part of your footage, etc.).

Make sure the audience will be able to hear and see you without distractions. Here’s an example of a Facebook Live broadcast by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. Notice how he selected a plain background with no hanging objects, and there’s minimum audio distortion.
2. Rehearse
If you have not done a live broadcast before, consider rehearsing. And change the privacy setting from “public” to “only me” before going live. You’ll see the production as it will appear, but it won’t be visible to anyone else.

To start the live video, launch the Facebook app on your smartphone and go to the group, business, event, or personal page you want to use. Then, look for the icon “Go Live” at the middle or bottom right of the screen.

Tap this icon and enter a catchy description for your video. Then record the video, rehearsing how you plan to introduce yourself, what you plan to cover, and how you’re going to interact with the audience. And don’t forget to use friendly gestures throughout.
Change the setting back to public once you’re done rehearsing.
3. Take Measures That Enhance Production Value
If you want your target audience to tune in and stick with you till the end, the broadcast you put forth should be worthy of their attention. On that account, here are some helpful tips:

Pick A Theme: Choose some kind of theme for your live video. You can do a Q/A session, review an item, do a tutorial, take people behind-the-scenes, etc. Also, make notes of the things you want to showcase, call-to-actions you need to make and links you might share.

Make It Visually Engaging: Visual improvisations are key to making people stick around. That means using visual cues and not just standing / sitting idle – something done really well in Liz Melville’s video. You can use anything from facial expressions to objects to visually engage your viewers.

Ensure Your Internet Connection Is Strong: You want to have a WiFi / 4G connection with the strongest signal. Connections that get flakey at times might force you to drop mid broadcast. Ideally, you should be near a WiFi unit when using Facebook Live.

Broadcast Long Enough: Facebook recommends a 10-minute duration for Facebook Live, though it offers a feature called “continuous live video” for publishers who want to broadcast up till 24 hours. Therefore, broadcast for at least 10-20 minutes.
These measures will boast your chances of increasing viewership on Facebook Live.

4. Engage With Your Audience
When you’re using Facebook Live don’t forget to be social. Remind viewers that you welcome their questions. When replying to comments or answering questions, mention the viewer’s name so they know that you are seeing the comments feed.

This is an example of a Facebook Live broadcast done by Elegant Themes. The answers indicate that the host paid attention to the questions at hand. Also, by tagging viewers, he made the audience know that he was actively watching the feed.
Additionally, you can hand pick the best questions and highlight them in a separate social media post, and see how people react to different comments, to learn what type of answers work best. Also, encourage comments, questions and other feedback after the broadcast comes to an end to engage replay viewers.

5. Play to Your Strengths
When you go live on Facebook, introduce your area of expertise to gain credibility with your audience. The more you know about a subject, the more value you can provide to your audience. Direct the broadcast and conversation around your expertise to produce a really powerful broadcast.

That’s what Terry White did in this Facebook Live video. He showcased his expertise on working with type in Adobe InDesign CC. The audience were quick to notice his depth of knowledge, and appreciated him for teaching them about typography.

Bonus: Adding Facebook Live Functionality to Your WordPress Site

As you prepare and create Facebook Live broadcasts, you might want to integrate those videos in your WordPress site. On that account, here are your options:
Video URL
Get the URL for your live video by right-clicking on the video and selecting “show video URL” from the tab that appears. You can then copy and directly paste this URL into your WordPress editor.
Facebook Live Video Auto Embed for WordPress Plugin
Available at CodeCanyon, this plugin automatically identifies if your Facebook page has a live video and embeds it. Additionally, you can configure it to display a site wide top notification bar when you do a Facebook Live session.
However, all that convenience and functionality comes at a price. You have to shell out $29 to use this plugin.
Facebook’s Native Embedded Video Player Tool
You can use Facebook’s social plugin for embedded videos to configure the primary settings of your live video and generate an embedded code according to your requirements. Right-click on the live video and choose “show video URL” and wait for the URL to display. Next, paste the URL in the Video Player configurator to generate the code.
In addition, you would be able to choose the pixel width should you need a specific size. Then, click “Get Code” to generate two embed codes for your website – one Javascript SDK, one IFrame. From here on, the simplest way to proceed is copying the IFrame code and placing it in your WordPress editor.