SEO stands for search engine optimization. Reich Web Consulting provides organic search engine optimization and local search optimization services.


Google SEO Starter Guide 2017

SEO Starter Guide 2017

Are you a small business owner trying to improve your search engine optimization without hiring an SEO?

Most of Reich Web Consulting’s clients are! We focus on small local businesses. So we work with many clients who save money by being very hands-on. Even though we’re happy to handle your SEO strategy, we get it. I like to split firewood and bake bagels myself. (Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m doing either one efficiently.)

If you’re not a web expert then jumping into Search Engine Optimization is often overwhelming.  What you need is a guide.  One might even say a Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. 

The Google 2017 SEO Starter Guide

SEO is tough. Search Optimization is not a button you can push or a person you can throw money at once and declare “Hoorah! My business has the SEO now!” It’s an ongoing, dynamic strategy to hit a moving target.

(And some of the most critical parts of web marketing, like social outreach, link building, and SEM don’t even take place on your website.)

The components of Search Engine Optimization that you can directly control by optimizing your website are known as Technical SEO and On-Page SEO. Technical SEO involves taking steps to make sure that search engines can find, understand, and index your content. On-Page SEO is about altering your website design and site content to optimize for relevant keywords and phrases and providing a good user experience that keeps users engaged after they land on your site.

Google recently updated its SEO Starter Guide for 2017. Google’s SEO Starter Guide will help you get the basics of Technical and On-Page SEO right. It will guide you towards relevant Google tools like Google Search Console that will help you on that journey. Just keep in mind that this guide helps you optimize for Google using Google’s tools. It is not a complete guide to SEO and there is every chance that the information within it is intentionally incomplete or self-serving because, hey… it’s Google.

If you just want experts to help solve your business’s online marketing challenges, give us a call. But if you’re feeling adventurous, Google’s Guide is a great place to start.

Get the Guide

An Open Letter to Content Marketers and Link Builders

Dear Content Marketers and Link Builders,

Do you send emails to authors and publishers that frame a backlink request as if you’re doing them a favor?

I’m on to you. And hopefully, other web publishers are too.

I know it’s becoming rare, but I research before I write about a topic. If a link helped me, it’s likely to help my readers, and so I always cite those sources and provide those links. Your URL was not a source for my article, and in spite of your claims, it almost never offers any value to my writing.

The dark secret you don’t authors to know is that giving you a backlink could affect their ranking.  If they link to your content using the keywords they want to rank for, Google may just decide your content is more authoritative than theirs.  But you already knew that, didn’t you? I understand this game because I’ve dipped my toes into your water deep enough to know just how gross it can be.

So I’m unlikely to ever respond positively to these emails. If you’ve got a “blacklist,” then kindly add me to it.

On its face, this strategy feels like it’s light-years ahead of old techniques like blog-spamming. You’re selective about your backlink targets. You’re asking permission rather than posting the unwanted link yourselves. But you’re still gaming the system by soliciting links your content hasn’t earned, and instead of exploiting weak comment forms you’re leveraging human psychology by framing the request as if you’re doing the author a favor.

I appreciate that folks in your line of work are putting effort into finding pages relevant and authoritative on a specific topic if that’s what you’re doing. But are you?

I have no proof, but my coder’s brain thinks you’re working smart, not hard.

It would be easy to write code that calls Ahrefs or some other keyword research tool to build lists of high-authority pages for a keyword. That script could then submit the site’s contact form automatically, filling out the message from a template.

You’ve got to accept that someone like me that works on the web every day knows what’s up when you send these requests. Unfortunately, I also understand I’m a minority. You wouldn’t be doing it if your game was well-understood because it wouldn’t be profitable.

I know you folks are just trying to make a living and I don’t fault you for that. But what you’re doing hurts the web, and it harms humanity.

Thanks to Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, we’re all agonizingly familiar with the concept of fake news. But the problem did not start with them. Propaganda is probably as old as language itself. But the Internet scales the danger of misinformation like the atomic bomb scales the risk of combustion.

The world wide web started with the potential to transform humanity positively. It could equalize. It could bring us together in ways that physical geography makes impossible. All of the sudden we had a source of virtually free information that could level the intellectual playing field between the haves and the have-nots. Hyperlinks offered a mechanism to reference sources and other information in their entirety, making it very easy to quickly “deep dive” on topics or skills we wanted to master.

I had hope for this technology’s potential to improve our access to low-cost, high-quality education.

But money, advertising, and political gamesmanship left their mark, and now we’re left with a near limitless supply of untrustworthy information in which users ask questions, and get answers whose validity is gauged by how well their authors gamed the algorithms rather than quality or correctness.

The SEO field grew because everyone thinks their content deserves to be in the top 10 search result, or if they recognize that it doesn’t deserve a high ranking, they’re willing to pay to get it anyway. Search engines respond to this challenge with better algorithms to reward better answers and better content. Marketers react by switching tactics. This strategy of benevolent solicitation adds some nuance to link building efforts, but it’s still a game.

You want your client’s content to be the “best answer” to a particular search query. I get that. But unless the material actually fits that description, you’re hurting the web.

As long as marketers can influence and control what users see when they search, those marketers are helping to build the post-fact world, and shift the Internet from a tool of intellectual and political freedom into an engine of global propaganda. </tinfoilhat>

Plus your non-stop emails and follow-ups are just f*#!ing annoying. Make great content, and if it’s worth linking, I’m going to find it. I promise.


What is a Soft 404?

What is a Soft 404?

A Soft 404 is an error that describes a web request that returns a successful response code (200), but the response does not contain the expected content.

Regular 404 File Not Found Errors

404 is the HTTP (the communications protocol of the web) error code that means File Not Found. Error 404 is so well-known that it’s wormed its way into our pop culture. Error 404 occurs on a static website (a site that just serves files from a folder on a web server) when a file is requested and does not exist.  A 404 may occur from a site running a content management system like WordPress or Drupal when a user requests a page that does not exist in the site’s database.

To differentiate between soft 404 errors and the type we just described, we call a standard 404 a Hard 404. A Hard 404 occurs when the server returns the 404 response code.

How a Soft 404 is Different from a Hard 404

Soft 404 occurs when the server returns a successful response code (200), but Google, Bing, or some other service determines that the reply doesn’t contain the expected content.

How does that happen?

If you have a WordPress site, it’s very easy to replicate. Create an empty category, tag, or other taxonomy. Make sure there are no posts assigned to it.  View the new category’s page on your website.  WordPress will return a successful response code, but in most cases, the page content will end up displaying a message saying the content is missing.

A successful response code, but a response that doesn’t contain the expected content. That’s a soft 404.

Why does that happen?

Think about what’s happening. If you visit the URL for a blog category and the category exists, then the content was found, right? But if the blog category contains no content, the right thing for the CMS to do is to inform you that there are no blog posts under that category.  WordPress is doing the right thing.  Google is responding by telling you about the issue. Now it’s up to you to fix your content in a way that’s most helpful to your visitors.

Where Can I See My Soft 404 Errors?

Login to Google Search Console and select your site. Click the Crawl tab and then choose the Crawl Errors report. You’ll be able to see all of your crawl errors including soft 404 errors.

How do I Avoid Creating Soft 404’s?

Generally speaking: don’t create scenarios where your web server is sending a 200 (Success) response code, but sends a response body that indicates missing content.

Helpful, right?

I most often see soft 404 errors occur when I restructure the tags and categories used on a WordPress site.  You can avoid this by thinking about your category and tag structures before you start creating content, so you don’t have to restructure later and accidentally cause a variety of crawl errors, including both hard and soft 404’s.

How do I fix a Soft 404?

There’s a good chance you’ll eventually run into soft 404 errors no matter how hard you try to avoid them.

Fixing them depends on the cause and your website’s platform.  Generally speaking, you repair a soft 404 by making sure that the URL returns the right response code for the actual response content. Here are some ideas on how to fix a Soft 404:

  • Make it a Hard 404.  If the content doesn’t exist, ensure that your website is returning the appropriate response code. Of course, this is just another error that will show up on your Crawl Errors report. So this is the Viagra solution because you’re making your 404 hard, but the only thing getting screwed is your website.
  • 301 Redirect it to a valid URL.  Make the URL point to existing and relevant content. A 301 resolves the error while helping visitors to stay on your site.
  • Make it valid. Figure out why the request is being considered a soft 404.  Did you accidentally create a category or tag structure with no associated posts?  Add some content to the taxonomy, so there is content there when the page is indexed.

Do Soft 404 Errors Affect My SEO?

Soft 404 errors, like hard 404 errors, can harm your SEO ranking.  Search engines don’t like to discover that they’ve indexed and linked to content that no longer exists. These sorts of errors send a signal about your content quality, and Google eventually removed URLs that result in 404 errors (hard or soft).

Another reason to care about soft 404 errors: a search engine will only exert so much energy toward crawling your website.  This is called your crawl budget. If Google only plans to spend so much time on your domain, you want them focused on your working content, not broken links.

add a google reviews badge to your wordpress site without a plugin

Add a Google Reviews Widget to WordPress Without a Plugin

This article will teach you how to leverage the Google Places API to add a Google reviews widget to your WordPress website.

Why Customer Reviews Matter

It doesn’t matter if you’re an online-only or a traditional brick-and-mortar business: customer reviews matter. Reviews are an important ranking signal for local search optimization (increasing the visibility of your business listings in services like Google My Business). In addition to getting visitors to your site, reviews provide trust and credibility that turns a casual visitor into a customer. In other words, they can influence click-through rates, bounce rates, and conversions.

If your website hosts it’s own customer reviews (in the right format), Google will show review stars as part of your organic listings.

But if you don’t have reviews built into your website, getting review stars to show up can be hard to achieve. And why add review functionality to your site when Google already provides them?

We’re going to leverage the reviews that are already on our Google My Business listings to add a reviews widget to a WordPress site.

Get a Google API Key

First, you’ll need a Google API key. Follow these instructions to create a project and create an API key, and then follow these instructions to enable the Google Places API for your new project:

  1. Go to your Google Developer Console and make sure you are on the app you just created.
  2. Click Enable API, search for the Google Places Web Service and click the link for that service.
  3. Click Enable to allow calls to the Google Places Web Service from your application.

This configuration will provide you with a key to access the Google API and query the Google Places web service.

Write WordPress Code to Pull Your Business’ Google Reviews

There is a little bit of code involved in this process, and I admittedly don’t write short code.  So rather than reproduce it here, I’ve added it to a Gift which I’ve embedded below.

This code is split up into several sections.

RWC_Google_Places Class

The RWC_Google_Places class acts as a wrapper around the Google Places web services that we need to access.

Create a new instance by passing the API key to the class’ constructor. The findPlaces() method searches the Places API for all locations that match the query. The query can be a business name or address. The method returns a PHP object built from the JSON response retrieved from the API.

The getDetails() method queries the Places API for in-depth details about a particular “place” using the ID associated with the listing. Pass it a place ID, and it will return a PHP object containing the listing’s details.

RWC_Google_Reviews Class

The RWC_Google_Reviews class leverages the wrapper class to retrieve Place details and generate the badge via the WordPress Shortcode API. Create an instance by calling the constructor and passing your Google API key. It will automatically register shortcodes with WordPress.

Displaying the Google Reviews Widget

To generate a shortcode, add the No query or placeId attributes specified on shortcode. shortcode to your page content. Of course, that’s not quite enough.  To create a badge, you’ll also have to specify one of two shortcode attributes: query or placeId. The query attribute can be used to send a query string, such as a business name or address, to Google Places, and it generates a badge for each match.  If you happen to know your business’ placeId, you can use that instead. Examples:

[google-reviews-badge query="Reich Web Consulting"]
Google Reviews Widget Without a Plugin

The shortcode output

The Code

The code is long, but it’s not complicated. You can quickly reduce this code to just a couple of lines if you don’t care about things like comments and error-checking.

If you look closely at this code, it doesn’t load any styling. That’s intentional. The HTML output is pretty raw, and I decided to leave it up to anyone who decides to use this code to make their badge match their website.

So go ahead and give it a shot. Leave a comment with any questions or feedback about the code.

Search Engine Optimization Featured Image

Recovering from a Website Migration Gone Wrong

This is the story of how a budget web design service tanked a small online business with a website migration gone wrong. This customer came to us after the fact for help.  While Reich Web Consulting has had success in helping them recover, their story serves as a cautionary tale for others.

For the sake of privacy we’ve changed the names of everyone involved in this story. I have no desire to publicly shame the company involved in this story even if they deserve it.

What’s a Website Migration

website migration is when a website’s domain name is switched from pointing to one version of a website to another. This can happen when when a website is redesigned on the same platform. A good example would be when a company rebuilds their site with a new WordPress theme.  This can also happen when a website is rebuilt on a new platform. An example would be when moving a website from SquareSpace to WordPress or vice versa.

Migrating a website requires more planning than launching a new website. Since search engines, social media, and other websites already have accumulated links to your site, you have to ensure that those links are not broken in the process. Otherwise the Internet’s collective trust in your site will plummet.

How a Budget Web Design Service Ruined an Online Business

A few months ago I received a call from the owner of Hand-Forged Widgets Inc. (not their real name)The company is a husband & wife team selling some very attractive iron work they make themselves. They had a flourishing store on a platform that had gone stagnant and chose to move their website to a WordPress/WooCommerce solution.  Green Servers (changed for privacy) is a well-known budget hosting company that also offers web design services. Green Servers sold them on a low-cost all-inclusive package. They would host and migrate their content to a new site on WordPress and WooCommerce.

Green Servers delivered on what they promised. But their promise what a ticking time-bomb, and the client was not SEO savvy enough to see it coming.

A Website Migration Gone Wrong

The moment Green Servers updated DNS to point to the new site, Hand-Forged Widgets business flat-lined.  I don’t mean they experienced a small and temporary reduction in sales. I mean orders stopped coming in completely for months.

Hand-Forged widgets found us through our YouTube Channel and decided to give us a call. As soon as I had access to their website and Google Search Console data the problem was obvious: the new website wasn’t redirecting the old URLs. Whomever built the site failed to account for the hundreds of existing URLs.  Every link to every page of their websites that search engines had indexed was now a 404 error. To make matters worse, their website had been switched from http:// to https:// without a proper redirect between them.

Google lost trust. Fast.

The customer was no longer appearing in either organic or paid search results. Google Search Console was full of hundreds of Crawl Errors, and Google’s crawl rate for their site was flat. This suggested that Google no longer found their site valuable enough to crawl and update in their index. And since Google stopped crawling their site, their new URLs would never make it into search results.

A Successful Website Migration Starts with Planning

Green Servers treated the project as a new website. They didn’t apply any of the planning and care required to successfully migrate a website from one platform to another. They made two simple mistakes:

  1. The designer didn’t collect and redirect all the URLs from the old website.
  2. When they switched the site to SSL-only they didn’t setup a redirect from http:// to https://.

Let’s explore these topics in some detail.

Why Redirecting Old URLs Matters

First let’s understand a few important search engine terms: crawl and index.  Search engines crawl websites. This means that the search engine starts with a list of websites, downloads important information from those websites, and follows any links they contain. Wash, rinse, repeat. Search engines keep an index of websites: basically a massive list of links on the Internet. The search engine uses a collection of algorithms to determine when which indexed pages should display in search results for which search terms.

Existing websites have already been indexed by Google. This means that search engines have already compiled a list of pages on your website. If those pages instantly disappear, what do you think will happen?  Google’s algorithm may consider your content unreliable, and your rankings will suffer.

How to Handle Redirects

You can see that it’s critical to maintain the integrity of your URL structure when you migrate a website.  This process doesn’t have to be difficult, and there are two ways to handle it:

  1. When building the new website, take care to maintain your URL structure. Use a tool like Xenu Link Sleuth to compile a list of existing URLs. Compare them to the new site’s URLs before launch and make sure that all existing URLs will still function.
  2. Use a tool like Xenu Link Sleuth to compile a list of existing URLs on the old website. Use this tool to build a list of 301 (Permanant) redirects from old links to the most appropriate pages on the new website. Import this redirect list into your new website.

Green Servers did none of this. As a result Google, Bing, and others essentially saw Hand-Forged Widgets website disappear instantly. A search engine stays successful by offering high-quality links in their search results. If your links are no longer high-quality there is no reason to serve them up.

The Right Way to Handle a Conversion to a Secure URLs

It’s true: Google offers higher ranking for secure websites versus insecure websites. But the switch to https:// needs to be done strategically. If your site will be served completely over HTTPS you should setup a site-wide permanent redirect from the http:// version of your URLs to their https:// equivalent. These redirects keep links intact and tell Google to use the secure version of the URL rather than the insecure version going forward.

So what happens if you neglect to redirect?  Google and other search engines have a concept they call duplicate content. Duplicate content occurs when two web pages contain identical (or very similar) content.  Search engines hate duplicate content, and penalize it. As far as you’re concerned you probably see the http:// and https:// versions of your website as the same thing.  Search Engines do not, and if both are accessible and serving the same content, they’ll see duplicate content.

So when you setup SSL on your website it’s important to handle it correctly in one of the following ways:

  1. Setup a site-wide 301 redirect. Most CMS software makes this easy, either through a configuration option or a plug-in.
  2. Use rel=canonical to tell search engines which version of your URLs are authoritative. Again, most CMS software makes this pretty simple.

Related Side Note: decide on whether you want to standardize on the www or non-www version of your website and make sure that one version 301 redirects to the other. Otherwise you can face duplicate content issues between the two as well.

The key take-away is to make sure that search engines don’t see multiple versions of your content due to lack of planning and bad configuration.

Can These Mistakes Be Fixed?

If your web designer/developer botches your site migration, can the mistakes be rectified?  Of course. In the case of Hand-Forged Widgets I’ve been working with them for two months, and we’ve made significant progress.

The problem is that the damage done by a website migration gone wrong is long-term.  Discovering and repairing the problems using the advice above isn’t particularly complicated. But improving your site’s reputation with a search engine once’s it’s damaged can be slow, and completely at their discretion. Fixing the technical issues that caused Google to lose trust in your website isn’t enough.  You also need to give Google a reason to start trusting your content again, and give it reasons and signals to start crawling your content at regular intervals.

Ways to Suggest to Google to Crawl your Websites

Here are a few ideas on how to jump-start that process.  I owe a thank you go the guys at the SEO 101 podcast  and the SEO 101 Community at Google+ for fielding my question about this. I had already implemented most of their suggestions before the episode aired, but they did confirm my theories on how to convince Google to crawl the customer’s site.

  1. Fix all of the technical issues described above.
  2. Monitor Google Search Console for crawl errors and fix them as-needed.
  3. Submit a sitemap.  If possible, use the sitemap to specify a high crawl frequency to suggest to Google that they should re-crawl your content sooner than later.
  4. Create new, high-quality content.  Creating new content will give Google a reason to crawl your site.
  5. Get active on social media. Start publishing to social media sites and sharing links to your website. Social media activity can suggest to Google that your site is alive, well, and active.
  6. Paid Search. Putting all your eggs in the organic search basket can lead to disaster. Site changes like those that happened to my customer can tank your ranking. And ranking algorithms change.  Website owners can find their Google ranking tanked through inaction. Google changes ranking factors regularly, and rankings can drop when sites fail to accommodate them. Utilizing paid search is a great way to keep steady traffic to your site through those hard times. And successful interactions from paid search visitors can help Google see that your site is, indeed, worthwhile.

The Moral of this Story

This story should help web designers and developers properly plan website migrations.  It should also help business owners know the right questions to ask when they’re hiring a developer or agency to redesign their website or migrate it to a new platform.  These are the key steps to follow:

  1. Ensure that all old URLs are left intact, or that 301 redirects have been correctly implemented to maintain link integrity.
  2. Make sure that multiple versions of your site don’t result in duplicate content problems with search engines.  Ensure that you have a single “canonical” version of your website (either www or non-www) and that the non-canonical version 301 redirects to the other. If you’re switching to SSL-based URLs make sure http:// is 301 redirected to non-http://, or that you’re utilizing rel=canonical to tell Google which site to consider the primary source of your content.
  3. Utilize tools such as Google Webmaster Tools to monitor your website’s health and crawl statistics.

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