Why it is important to update your WordPress website (and properly)

WordPress powers almost 30% of websites and many of the top 100 in the world. It’s insanely popular, but prone to hackers and small errors or ‘bugs’ which are found at later stages. With a massive development community, these issues are quickly addressed, which means you should be updating your website regularly for peace-of-mind. Here are all the components of your website that require updates, and why it is important to do so.

What you need to update

Backups

Firstly, backups of your website database and site files should be performed before and after any updates. Before going into the types of updates, it is important to note they can break the functionality of your website. In order to avoid this, a backup is performed so the website can be ‘rolled back’ should any issues occur.

PHP Updates

PHP is the ‘computer language’ that WordPress is built on. The version is set by your hosting company or via cPanel (if you have access). Your website will be faster, as the latest version provides up to 3 or 4x increase in speed. It will also be more secure, as older versions have security flaws found by hackers. It’s more efficient, saving on computer resources, and thus, the environment! Latest PHP version: 7.3.4 (04 April 2019)

WordPress Core updates

The WordPress CMS ‘core’ provides the foundation of your website (being able to login, add pages, blog posts, upload media, etc). Hackers find flaws in the software to exploit them, but usually, the good guys find them first. These security holes need to be addressed in updates to secure your website. New versions bring new features, functionality and better performance. WordPress releases minor and major updates almost once a month. So far, there have been 4 releases in 2019, with 12 releases in 2018. Latest WordPress version: 5.1.1 (13 March 2019).

Plugin updates

Plugins provide extended functionality to your WordPress website, such as selling products (via the popular WooCommerce), contact forms, maps integration, social icons and more. Both free and paid plugins are built by third-party developers (other programmers not directly associated with WordPress) who are responsible for addressing the same bugs, vulnerabilities and hacks faced by the WordPress ‘Core’ mentioned before. 25% of plugins are updated every month, which means you should be applying them regularly.

Theme updates

Unless your theme has been built from scratch (most unlikely), it will require theme updates from the third-party developer (like plugins). As always, security is the most important element delivered in updates, but small bugs, fixes and new features are released in theme updates too. If your website has been built with a good theme, updates will occur fairly regularly throughout the year.

Security and malware cleanup

Approximately 1% of all websites are infected with malware every week, almost 50 websites a day. Once you’re infected, it’s possible Google might blacklist you from search engine rankings, which will be costly for your business. Your website should be scanned for potential vulnerabilities, malware, changed files and problematic plugins before the issue occurs.

Performance Optimization

There are a number of optimizations to perform including checking Google Analytics and Search Console is properly integrated, cache functions correctly, the database should be optimized, maps function, any new image should be optimized and old content removed. Once complete, a performance test is done to make sure the website is performing optimally.

Check Google Search Console for errors

Google Search Console is a tool by Google to monitor the health and performance of your website. It helps you check if Google is having any issues reading the content of your website. Any broken links on your website will be found. A large portion of your traffic is most likely coming from search engines, so it’s important to check for any abnormalities. Your sitemap (the file that tells Google what pages to ‘read’ on your website) should be setup correctly and submitted through Search Console.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

You might argue that your website functions fine – so there’s no need to perform any updates. But that’s like not servicing your car until it’s stuck on the highway, not going to the oral hygienist / dentist for a check occasionally, or not cleaning the pool until it’s mucky and green. Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it?

Waiting until your website is hacked or infected with malware can expose you and your customers’ information. Sometimes, you might not even be aware of an issue as it silently performs malicious duties. Regular updates are also recommended as waiting too long may result in complex update procedures – such as incompatibilities, plugins no longer maintained, etc.

Lengthy updates, or removing malicious content is ultimately more costly in the long run. if your website hasn’t had updates in more than a year, it’s time to take care of it. Are you ready to begin updating your website? For more information, please contact hi@evan.co.za


SEO ranking factors that will matter in 2019

In the early 2000’s we saw the rise of Google as the most popular search engine to use. Back then, search engine result pages (SERPs) were determined using a combination of about 200 different factors. If you knew what to optimize for, it was almost guaranteed your website would start to rank.

However, a lot has changed over the years. The algorithm Google uses for SERPs is much more complex and its endless changes are not always disclosed. Going into 2019, there are still a number of important factors that we know directly effect your search engine rankings.

Install an SSL certificate

See the HTTPS found in this websites URL and the green lock? Since July 2018, Google Chrome browser has been marking websites without an SSL certificate as ‘Not Secure’. It’s time to get up to speed an install an SSL certificate. With increased uncertainty on the internet, an SSL certificate will also give your website visitors peace of mind.

It’s quick to implement, and sometimes even free if your host supports Let’s Encrypt. If you

Speed up your website

The speed of your website will directly impact your rankings as well as the ease of use of your website. In the end, a slow website will reduce traffic and conversions due to frustrated visitors.

According to Google, more than half of mobile website visitors will leave a page that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. The average website loads in over 20 seconds.

Can you imagine how many visitors are leaving?

There are several ways to optimize the page speed of your website including:

  • Use a server that is closest to where you receive website traffic.
  • Make sure your images and other files have been compressed.
  • Make sure you’re running the latest version of PHP (currently 7.2)
  • If you’re using WordPress, reduce the amount of plugins used.
  • Try out a Content Delivery Network (CDN).

Make sure your mobile version rocks

Early on in 2018, Google began using mobile-first indexing of websites. This means that the mobile version if your website is considered before the desktop version. If you haven’t built a responsive website, you might be hurting your rankings.

There are several ways to optimize your website for mobile-first indexing:

  • Make sure your website functions properly on mobile, tablet and desktop devices.
  • Avoid the use of popups. Google hates popups.
  • Make sure your website is serving scaled images (a smaller version of the same image for small screens)
  • Make sure your buttons are easily clickable

AMP it up

While AMP has been largely debated about its usefulness, Google has mentioned it is a ranking factor. What is AMP exactly? It stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages and is an open source initiative to make it easy for publishers to create mobile-friendly content. It’s essentially a stripped down fast loading version of your website, however it sacrifices a ton of the design elements.

Take care of the technical

You might have built your website yourself. You might have hired someone to do the job for you. While it might look fantastic at first glance, there are a number of technical elements that need to be taken care of, and sometimes maintained over time, including:

  • Make sure .htaccess file is setup correctly
  • Make sure robots.txt file is setup correctly
  • Make sure your sitemap is being indexed through Google Search Console
  • Fix any duplicate page titles or descriptions (this is bad for SEO)
  • Check for any dead links on your website

Make your content fulfill user intent

The user intent, or search intent states which goal or intention an internet user has when entering a search term into a search engine. User intent is now a central factor in content and search engine optimization and is eclipsing individual keywords as a dominant ranking factor.

Start writing a lot of useful content

Content creation is becoming one of the most important factors in 2019. If you’ve got useful information that people can benefit from, Google will start ranking your website quickly. However, the competition is fierce, with a ton of new content being produced every day.

It’s time to start getting involved with:

  • Create photos and videos
  • Create useful and informative content (over 1000 words if possible)
  • Create news articles related to your service / product / industry
  • Create a social media plan for posting created content

Check your Schema markup

Schema markup helps Google identify particular information on your page and enhances search results with the content. For example searching for a concert date might provide you with the venue, time and date, ticket price without having to click on the link. Schema has a number of uses including events, people, products, reviews and more.

Make sure the User Experience UX is great.

There are a number of best UX practices to focus on in 2019. Improving on any of these factors will directly improve your rankings.

  • Make your content unique
  • Make sure your website provides value
  • Make your website easy to navigate
  • Make sure your website is accessible to people with disabilities
  • Make sure your website is credible
  • Make sure your website is overall a pleasurable and fun experience

Create links to your website

Although link building was often abused by blackhat SEO menaces, building quality links is still an important factor.

A few whitehat techniques that are still valid include:

  • Guest Posts
  • Web directory listings
  • Commenting on forums and other blogs
  • Turn unlinked mentions into backlinks
  • Utilize resource pages aka skyscraper technique

Best Website Speed Tests

Did you know that most people will exit your website if it does not load in a just in a few seconds? Improving the load time of your website should be at the top of your priority list. But how do you figure out how long it takes to load your website and where the issues lie? Here are a few simple tools to test the performance of your website.

The five best website speed test tools

Pingdom

Pingdom’s easy to use speed testing tool displays everything that loads on your website in what is called a ‘waterfall’ view. Your website will also be given a score, so you can determine how your website compares to others. You can also apply several filters to identify issues on your website. For beginners, this is a good introduction to testing your website speed. Pingdom uses onload time to calculate a load time.

GTmetrix

GTmetrix is usually my go to for speed testing as it identifies a number of performance issues and makes recommendations. This is a better solution than Pingdom if you know how to apply the information given to you. GTmetrix makes use of ‘fully loaded time’ load time calculation, which waits for the entire page to be loaded.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Why not use the tool given by search engine giant Google? Google PageSpeed Insights will give you real page load times for both First Contentful Paint (FCP) and DOM Content Loaded (DCL). These are basically two different ways of deciding when your site is “finished loading”.

Google Mobile Speed Test

This tool is based on PageSpeed Insights but specifically geared towards testing if your website is mobile-friendly. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, chances are you’re missing out on a bunch of conversions and  organic traffic from Google, since its a large ranking indicator.

WebPagetest

An ex-engineer of Google put this open source tool together that allows you to run a free website speed test from multiple locations around the world, using a variety of real browsers like Chrome, FireFox and Safari. If you’re an advanced user who requires additional information, definitely check out WebPagetest.

Two things to consider when running tests

1. Test servers in different geographic locations

The starting point of your test will naturally have an effect on the page load times. To start, you should test from a location that’s close to where you’ll be receiving traffic from. It’s also a good idea to thoroughly test out different locations, so your website loads fast just about everywhere. If you’ve picked up that some areas are slower than others, it might be worth spending a little money on a Content Delivery Network (CDN) like Cloudflare, which distributes your website on various servers across the world.

2. The load time is calculated differently

The load time you see using each tool will differ considerably. That’s because what they define as ‘load time’ is not equal. There are several methods of recording load time like DOM content loaded, first contentful paint, on-load time and fully loaded time. Some tools calculate the time until everything a human sees, while others might wait until everything is loaded.


NightsBridge Realtime Availability and Bookings

Are you having trouble with managing your property and online bookings? NightsBridge is a service that allows Bed & Breakfasts, Guest Houses, Game Lodges, Boutique Hotels, Self-catering Apartments and Backpackers to manage property and take online bookings from a central system. Your guests can check the availability of rooms, book and pay online in one solution.

Your guests will receive real-time booking availability

Potential guests during their search for accommodation online are keen to book the perfect place at the right time. They need all the information they can get their hands on upfront. It can be highly annoying for a guest to send off an email, only to find out the accommodation is fully booked.

You’ll be able to integrate with platforms like Airbnb and TripAdvisor

NightsBridge does offer some integration with existing platforms like Airbnb, TripAdvisor, FlipKey, Wimdu, uGuest and Hotel Lettings using the iCal calendar format. There are definitely limitations as only the availability of rooms is updated. You will Airbnb bookings will not reflect on the NightsBridge calendar and you will not be able to update the rates on Airbnb automatically.

You’ll be able to automatically request reviews from guests

Potential guests will always read reviews of accommodation online so it’s important to gather as many positive reviews as possible. Good reviews will also assist with your rankings on search engines and TripAdvisor. NightsBridge allows for automated review requests from guests who have recently stayed at your property.

 


Why you need an SSL certificate today

Most site owners think securing a website with SSL encryption is necessary only if they’re selling products or services via their website and collecting credit card information. What many website owners do not realize is that SSL encryption has other very important benefits for small-to-medium business owners, accommodation websites, restaurant websites and more.

What is SSL encryption?

SSL (which stands for Secure Sockets Layer), is an encryption technology that creates a secure connection between the server hosting your website and your website visitor’s web browser. This allows for information to be protected during communication between the two (like when a contact form or credit card information is filled in), without any interception from unwanted third parties (hackers).

How do I know if a website or my website is encrypted with SSL?

It is easy to identify a website that is secured by SSL. Firstly, the address or URL of the website will start with https:// instead of http:// and a green lock should be displayed adjacent. If your website does not have an SSL certificate, it might display a ‘Not Secure’ warning. If you are still unsure, use a tool like SSL Checker.

Why you need SSL encryption on your website

SSL builds trust with your visitors

Online users are more knowledgeable about security than they used to be in the early days of the internet. They are informed of common signs to check if a website is secured. Since July 2018, Chrome will make all HTTP sites (websites without a valid SSL certificate) as ‘Not Secure’.

Having an SSL certificate installed on your website not only encrypts your visitors private information on your site, your SSL certificate also confirms you are the verified owner of your website. Your SSL certificate is a confirmed credential that you are who you say you are. This will essentially build trust with the visitor.

SSL helps your website rank higher in search results.

Everyone wants to increase their search engine rankings, but it’s easier said than done. With an ever changing list of of criteria used by Google’s algorithms, which are often not publicly disclosed, you want to make sure you’re ticking the boxes for every known ranking indicator. Since 2014, Google has confirmed having an SSL certificate and your address starting with HTTPS will increase rankings.

It’s might be available for free, but not always

There are several SSL certificates available that offer different levels of encryption and features that vary in cost. However, check if your host has Let’s Encrypt – a free, automated, and open certificate authority brought to you by the non-profit Internet Security Research Group (ISRG). All hosting packages through this website include Let’s Encrypt for free and have RapidSSL, GeoTrust, Thawte and Symantec as paid options.