/ SEO, WORDPRESS

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Blogging is very interesting, but just as for cars, it’s (unfortunately) not only about driving the car, it’s also about its maintenance. As I believe there’s some worthy content inside, and I’ve reached +20k visits per month, I thought it would be time to add or complete some features.

Though "normal" blogging sites such as mine are probably below the radar of governments agencies, European laws mandate for sites to ask about users consent before storing cookies - even though no modern site cannot do without. As I use Google Analytics to keep track of visits, I prefer to try to be compliant…​ just in case. Google provides an out-of-the-box script for web masters with the relevant documentation. Two flavors are available, one pop-up and one bar. You can choose it by calling the relevant method.

Automated SEO

I thought I achieved some degree of SEO via the SEO Smart Links Wordpress plugin ages ago. In essence, I just installed the plugin, the configuration itself being very crude: you just had to edit the different files.

I recently stumbled upon another plugin that is much easier to configure, the WordPress SEO by Yoast. It provides a friendly user interface with which you can design the pattern of the SEO metadata e.g. blog name plus post title, the type of metadata - Facebook OpenGraph, Twitter Card and Google+. This can of course be overridden on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, it offers a preview of the snippet as it would be displayed on Google search page. There are also plenty of configuration settings I’ve yet to use (and understand).

Google Webmasters Tools

The preview provided by Yoast’s SEO is nice but doesn’t replace the real thing. Fortunately, Google offers a neat near-real preview page to test in real-time the final result of your changes (no caching involved). The greatest advantage of this preview feature is that you may add set an URL but also raw HTML code instead. This lets you check how Google parses the metadata of your unpublished pages.

For sake of completeness, there’s a similar tool provided by Yandex (the Google from Russia) that gives slightly different results. From my microscopic experience, Yandex is slower, but seems to less lenient and more importantly, provides solutions. For example, it tells me that the date value is not in the correct format (ISO 8601) and that I forgot the itemscope attribute at some point, which corrected the error I had on both Google and Yandex.

Both were very effective in pointing out one problem: it seems the post’s author linked to a URL that displayed the home page. Since it didn’t give out a 404, I had no hint about that. (I fixed that by a simple 301 Redirect)

Manual SEO

All this automated stuff is nice but somethings cannot just be automated. For example, I’d like my book Integration Testing from the Trenches to be referenced on the page with the right kind of information and this, I have to do by hand. I’ve searched for metadata frameworks and it seems there are two W3C standards, RDFa and Microdata and OpenGraph by Facebook. The latter seems to be quite crude, so I chose to use RDFa and Microdata. For example, for the page about my book, I use the Book schema and for the page introducing me, I use the Person schema.

Interestingly enough, the book is quite straightforward: either add the relevant itemscope, itemtype and typeof or itemprop and property attributes  to an existing tag or to a new span and you’re done. However, this is getting harder on the Me page; challenges include:

  • Referencing entities in other entities. For example, how to set the author of my listed presentations. This requires usage of itemref
  • Setting data that shouldn’t be displayed. This requires usage of the meta tag in the header.

Conclusion

In the end, I noticed the whole SEO thing is still very in its infancy. There are a lot of contradictory norms, standards and proprietary stuff around. The good thing, is that I think I achieved some things:

  • Google Search results display regular posts in a more detailed way
  • Google Search results also display manually referenced pages in a nicer way. You can have a look at the pre-parsing in their tool.
  • Google+ automatically use the correct data to preview the pages I intend to share
  • (As I have no Facebook account, I couldn’t check there)

On the other hand, I’ve checked other sites, and it seems they do only the automated kind of SEO, and not manual. I can only infer why: it’s going to cost you a lot of time. All what I did is probably not necessary, I could have used the Yoast plugin to only override the title, the description and the image. But as always, it made me learn stuff.

Nicolas Fränkel

Nicolas Fränkel

Developer Advocate with 15+ years experience consulting for many different customers, in a wide range of contexts (such as telecoms, banking, insurances, large retail and public sector). Usually working on Java/Java EE and Spring technologies, but with focused interests like Rich Internet Applications, Testing, CI/CD and DevOps. Currently working for Hazelcast. Also double as a teacher in universities and higher education schools, a trainer and triples as a book author.

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