Having a solid statistical and scientific background, I often find myself frustrated by research and data-analysis in User Experience Metrics, Conversion Optimization and Google Analytics. In my opinion, doing research and analysing statistics requires proper training and understanding of what you are doing. Am I the only one?

You need a brain to do statistics!

Just last week, I have resisted to various inclinations of throwing ‘Measuring the user experience’ by Tom Tullis and Bill Albert against the wall. After reading the book completely, I found it to be a brave attempt to explain statistics as well as a total over-simplification of doing research. In my view, such a simplification really messes up the reliability of results.

The common message in the online research community appears to be that research and statistics are easy and can be executed by everyone. True, all kind of packages like Google Analytics or Convert make doing statistics that much easier. But still… you really need a brain to do it!

3 pitfalls

Research methodology and simple descriptive statistics are not easy. In my first year of university, three quarters of the students failed their first (mainly descriptive) statistics exam. Also, my years of teaching made clear that mathematics and statistics are the most challenging subjects. It is hard! Executing research and analysing data without proper knowledge of both research designs and statistics can lead to serious misinterpretations in results. I will discuss 3 pitfalls:

1. Doing statistics with small amounts of data

I am not going to argue that statistical analysis with less than 30 observation is not possible, because there are tests (student T-test for example) specifically designed for doing just that. Still, one should be aware that small samples have limited power. This means that differences between two small samples will only be significant if the difference is obvious and large. For instance, if the old design of your checkout page did an average conversion of 2 % and the new design has a conversion rate of 20 %, then the difference will appear significant with 20 observations. But usually differences aren’t that obvious. Small differences or nuances cannot be tested with small samples.

More importantly, I really wonder whether you should do statistical analyses with a very small sample at all. I would always advice a qualitative approach if you have a sample of 15 individuals or less.  In a qualitative research design you gather in-depth understanding of human behaviour. Ask open questions and try to discover why visitors of your website buy your products, (dis)like your design of read your posts. Analysing these answers (in a non-statistical manner) will be of great value to increase the conversion of your site. ‘Measuring the user experience’ actually gives a nice introduction to a more qualitative approach of user experience research.

2. Representative sample

Equally important to the sample size is the question whether the sample is representative. Does the sample of individuals you research upon resemble the total population. An example:

If we would do a User Experience study of Yoast.com and we would ask totally random people to visit our website, the sample will not be representative. No offence, but to visit the Yoast-website, you have to be some kind of nerd.  You can imagine that the User Experience of random people will probably greatly differ from those of nerds. A representative sample of our population would thus be a random sample of nerds. We would need nerds from all over the world, because our readers from the US probably differ from the ones we have in Europe, India or Australia. And maybe, because of a recent growth in our reader population, our current population also includes some non-nerds. We should definitely take into account the nerdiness of the individuals in our sample. Making a representative sample is hard, the more if you do not know exactly what your population looks like. Taking a large random sample takes care of most of these issues. But: especially with small samples, it is hard to make sure your sample is representative. And: a non-representative sample leads to non-representative (and thus worthless) results.

3. Validity: GIGO

Website analytics is awesome because a lot of measuring is very easy. You can just count the number of visitors on your page and the number of clicks on a button. Attitudes towards your brand and self-reported issues with usability are much more difficult to measure though. If you want to measure these kinds of things, you could do a qualitative study with a small sample. But a quantitative design with a larger number of individuals is also possible. Possible but also challenging and difficult! The drafting of questions in a survey (especially with limited answering possibilities) is difficult and requires proper testing. You should make sure that your questions really measure what you want to know. Measuring what you want to measure is what we call validity of your measurements.  An example:

You want to measure the extend to which people like the design of your website. You ask whether they like the colour. The answers to this question indeed say something about the degree to which people like your website. But design is more than colour. You would probably need more questions to really capture the degree to which people like the design of your website.

If the questions you present to people are of bad quality, the data will become of bad quality as well. Thus remember GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out!

Interpreting invalid data (whatever sophisticated statistical analyses you will apply) will always lead to invalid results.

Conclusion

Research is definitely a very powerful tool. But, I think you should have some statistical and methodological background in order to interpret results and execute proper analyses. Taking the time to really understand what you are doing is required.

In this post, I have only discussed very basic methodological and statistical topics. If this is out of your league, you should definitely brush up your statistical knowledge (only if you want to do research, otherwise please do something more fun).

This being said, I do understand the seduction of simple statistical techniques that are available for a broad public. Testing is a beautiful tool to improve your website! For the future, I expect research to become more and more important for websites owners.

This is why we are currently brainstorming at Yoast about designing a tool or a service, which will help people with interpreting test results and statistics. We will keep you posted about developments in this new project!

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Local SEO pluginToday we’re releasing a major update to our Local SEO plugin, bringing it to version 1.2. This new version has functionality that quite a few of you requested, most important of them is a new store locator option.

Store locator

When you’re a brand that’s sold in several stores throughout a country, continent or even the entire world: you’ll want to tell people where they can buy your product. If you’re the owner of a chain of stores, you’ll want people to be able to easily find where the nearest store is. We’ve made that ridiculously easy.

When you have created multiple locations in your site using our Local SEO plugin, you’ll see a new button:

store locator button

Click on it and you’ll get very fancy store locator functionality. I can write for ages about it, but it’s probably easier if you just try it on our new demo site. That demo site has two stores close to our office and our office in it, typing in a postal code like “6605 PD” or a city like “Nijmegen” will show you how it works. We’ve updated the data to be a bit more international, it now contains Apple store locations in the US, UK and Canada, so type in a city or address in one of those countries to get the best results.

Duplicating locations

Other feedback we got is that people would like to copy data from other locations to be able to more easily set up new locations by copying the data from another location. Well, now you can: just create your new location and in the Local SEO settings you’ll see this:

copy location data

It really is as easy as you’d expect it to be.

Different URLs per location

When you have multiple locations, some of these might actually have their own URL. Up till now, the plugin didn’t allow for that, now it does. With that addition in combination with the store locator, this plugin basically becomes an entire shopping directory solution in its own right…

More changes

Some of the other changes:

  • We’ve added import functionality for the SimpleMap plugin.
  • Support for the new business.business Facebook OpenGraph type.
  • Added a field for a business cellphone number.
  • When you insert a map you now get a nice image of the different map types to help you in choosing the right map type.
  • We’ve improved the way the icons for the different shortcodes are shown in the backend by adding a textual label to them.

Go update! (or go buy it!)

So, if you’re already a user, go update! If you’re not a user yet, go look at our demo site or go buy the plugin now. We’d love to know what you think of the new features in the comments!

Check out our Local SEO Plugin

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

We’re entering the quiet but busy part of a release, whittling down issues to bring you all of the new features you’re excited about with the stability you expect from WordPress. There are just a few days from the “code freeze” for our 3.8 release, which includes a number of exciting enhancements, so the focus is on identifying any major issues and resolving them as soon as possible.

If you’ve ever wondered about how to contribute to WordPress, here’s a time you can: download this release candidate and use it in as many ways as you can imagine. Try to break it, and if you do, let us know how you did it so we can make sure it never happens again. If you work for a web host, this is the release you should test as much as possible and start getting your automatic upgrade systems and 1-click installers ready.

Download WordPress 3.8 RC1 (zip) or use the WordPress Beta Tester plugin (you’ll want “bleeding edge nightlies”).

If you think you’ve found a bug, you can post to the Alpha/Beta area in the support forums. Or, if you’re comfortable writing a reproducible bug report, file one on the WordPress Trac. There, you can also find a list of known bugs and everything we’ve fixed so far.

We’re so close to the
finish line, jump in and help
good karma is yours.

Have you ever monitored the viewing pattern of people visiting your website? This is the pattern in which people view, in this case, websites. There are a lot of ideas about this out there. Now I’m wondering: is there one ‘right’ pattern? Can we somehow turn all the results of research about this into one optimized website? In other words: is there one pattern we should follow when designing our product and landing pages? Unfortunately, it seems there isn’t one ‘golden rule’ for this. These kinds of patterns are subject to culture and education. Most probably the patterns are also vastly different for languages that are read from right to left. And of course, it could be different for men and women as well.

That doesn’t mean studying the behavior of your visitors isn’t interesting. Your target audience might be a specific group, consisting of people that follow one of these patterns. Which means you can optimize for them.

Optimize your site for search & social media and keep it optimized with Yoast SEO Premium »

Yoast SEO: the #1 WordPress SEO plugin Info

Viewing patterns

There are numerous patterns out there. The aim of this post is to shed some light on these and help you recognize them. The most important ones we found, or what I feel are the most common ones, are these three:

  • The F-Pattern
  • The Gutenberg Diagram
  • The Z-pattern

The F-pattern

This is probably the one most people know. As the name already infers, the F-pattern suggests that people’s viewing pattern of a website is similar to the shape of an F:

Viewing patterns: The F-Pattern

Image source: nngroup.com

Users will view the top content of a page horizontally first. After this, their view will go down the page, and they’ll view another part horizontally. However, this area of horizontal viewing will usually be smaller than the top viewing area. Users will end up just ‘scanning’ the left side of the page’s content (best shown in the middle screenshot).

Now this F-Pattern is very different from the next two viewing patterns. It focuses mainly on the left reading line of a site, whereas in the Gutenberg Diagram and Z-Pattern the user ‘finishes’ at the lower right corner of a page.

The Gutenberg Diagram

The Gutenberg Diagram suggests that people are subject to a ‘reading gravity’ that goes directly from the top left of a page to the bottom right:

Viewing patterns: Gutenberg Diagram

Based upon the image found on vanseodesign.com

Users will start at the top left of a page, and end at the bottom right of a page. However, they don’t do this by viewing everything: the Gutenberg Diagram suggests that users go there in a straight line, almost just scanning the page.

To make things more complicated, the ‘Axis of Orientation’ is from left to right, making the top right area more likely to be noticed, and therefore stronger, than the bottom left.

The Z-pattern

Like the F-pattern, the name of the Z-pattern already gives away its meaning. It suggests that people view a website’s content in the shape of a Z. The pattern is also known as the inverted S-pattern:

Viewing patterns: The Z-Pattern

This viewing pattern presents a more engaged reading path. People viewing a website like this will see every part of the website. The start and the endpoints are the same as in the Gutenberg Diagram, but the top right and bottom left will not be disregarded as easily.

Nick Babich has written a clear post on UX Planet about this Z-Pattern you should read.

Other viewing patterns

There are several others, but for the sake of keeping this post readable, we’ll only mention them. They all have great similarities with one of the patterns explained above. There’s the Golden Triangle Pattern, which is very similar to the F-pattern. And there’s the Zig Zag Pattern, which is basically just a lot of Z-patterns underneath each other. This is usually a viewing pattern for the most engaged form of reading: people searching for something specific.

Learn how to structure your site well with our Site structure training! »

Site structure training Info

Structure and hierarchy

There are a lot of patterns and a lot of ideas of how people are viewing websites. But what can we learn from all of them?

We’re inclined to believe that the way people view a page is dictated by the structure and hierarchy of that page they’re viewing, as well as personal preference. This idea has been around for ages. In fact, Researchers concluded the same in 2004, saying:

The present research confirmed previous work in that individual characteristics of the viewer as well as the stimuli both contribute to viewers’ eye movement behavior.

So, viewing patterns could mean something when people are viewing a website that lacks a clear hierarchy. But as soon as you add focus and hierarchy to your website, people will start following that hierarchy. Several other researchers all reported similar findings.

The ‘structure’ of a page is made clear by the ‘viewing heatmaps’, as we’ve seen with the F-pattern. A lot of these studies focused on search result pages, which are already content heavy on the left side. So people will obviously view the left side of those pages more. However, if you add a ‘heavy’ or large object, whether textual or visual, to the right side, people’s eyes will almost certainly be drawn to that. So, how you’ve structured the design of your page will direct how people view your page.

In our post about image SEO, I mentioned that images should be aligned to the right, or should be full-width, to maintain the left reading line. This makes perfect sense if your visitors follow this F-Pattern. By the way, in all patterns, images can be directives for that viewing pattern, as also highlighted in this post: Visually direct and captivate your visitors.

Similarities

All these patterns are, in their basis, very similar. So similar, in fact, that UX Movement reviewed the Gutenberg Diagram without discussing the axis of orientation, which makes it a clear Z-pattern.

The patterns have different names, but you can’t ignore the fact that they all start in the top left. And from the top left, they move to the right. This is either the top right or bottom right. We shouldn’t need research to know that, because most people in the western world read from left to right. There is a reason your favorite webshop’s titles and buy buttons follow that viewing pattern!

What should we do with this information?

My advice to you is to have a clear structure on your pages, with a clear hierarchy. Don’t let yourself get distracted too much by specific viewing patterns, and definitely don’t read too much into them.

The best way to go is probably to have some people, who are representative of your website’s visitors, work their way around your site. This will give you far more insight than generic patterns and/or studies like the ones mentioned above. Every website is different; every audience has its own characteristics. Find out what practices fit your website!

Read more: ‘About headlines and taglines’ »

The post Demystifying Viewing Patterns appeared first on Yoast.

tools

Productivity was always my topic. I enjoyed the fact that you could take a man who once wasn’t able to get crap done in a day – me – and turn him into someone who’s pretty organized and knows exactly what is there to do, when it needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and how to do it.

Studying productivity has done a lot for me. Without it, I would achieve nothing. Fact.

So today, I wanted to publish a post that would be a way of saying thanks to all the great publishers around the web who share their productivity advice on a regular basis. Here, you’ll find 35 great resources that are sure to make you more productive and thus more effective as an online business owner.

(Okay, I did include some links of my own here too.)

There are 7 chapters:

  • Chapter 1 – Getting Started
  • Chapter 2 – Work Environment
  • Chapter 3 – Creating Habits
  • Chapter 4 – Time Management
  • Chapter 5 – Projects and To-Do Lists
  • Chapter 6 – Productivity Methodologies and Systems
  • Chapter 7 – Tools

Chapter 1 – Getting Started

This chapter is all about starting your journey to being productive as an online business owner. It will give you insights on how to start from scratch, what you need to know, what factors to consider, and what you should expect as your final result.

  1. Productivity Improvement for Online Entrepreneurs – The All-You-Need-to-Know Resource
  2. 9 Wonderful Ways to Get Started in the World of Personal Productivity
  3. How to Get Started with (and Stick with) a New Productivity Tool
  4. The 1-Step Plan for Super-Productivity

 

Chapter 2 – Work Environment

This chapter talks about how you can setup your work environment towards productivity. The setup of your workplace is an important factor in achieving maximum productivity. Know how you should set up your computer, workspace, desk, getting the right furniture and everything else that can help you become more productive with your work environment.

  1. Top 10 Ways to Create A More Focused and Productive Work Environment
  2. Set Up Your Work Space to Increase Productivity
  3. Setting Up a Home Office that Fuels Productivity
  4. 12 Ways to Improve Productivity at the Workplace
  5. Creating a Workspace that Promotes Your Productivity
  6. How to Improve Productivity When Working from Home

 

Chapter 3 – Creating Habits

To become productive, first, you need to create some habits and introduce them into your life. Here’s where I’d start.

  1. Productivity Secrets for Savvy Small Business Owners
  2. Living in an i-world: a new way to think about work-life conflict
  3. Ten Steps to Achieving Work Life Balance-Small Business Edition
  4. How to Destroy Your Productivity by Answering Emails

 

Chapter 4 – Time Management

This chapter teaches you how to manage your time properly. Good time management helps you achieve work-life balance, which in turn will make you a more productive and successful business owner. Learn how to dedicate time for work, family, social life, hobbies, relaxation and other areas of your life. Time management takes practice though.

  1. 10 Time Management Tips that Work
  2. 13 Time Management Tips You Ought to Know
  3. The Top 10 Life Benefits of Time Management
  4. Top 15 Time Management Tools and Apps
  5. Time Management Tools and Techniques

 

Chapter 5 – Projects and To-Do Lists

This chapter talks about how you can organize, monitor and keep track of your projects and to-do lists. As a business owner, things to do will keep stacking and you might lose sight of what you need to accomplish first. It is necessary that you know how to manage projects properly to make sure everything gets done in time.

  1. Effective Project Management in the Small Business Organization
  2. 3 Project Management Tools All Small Businesses Need
  3. Project Management for Small Businesses-An Introduction
  4. The 10 Benefits of Project Management
  5. Project Management Methodology Explained
  6. How to Handle the Top 5 Challenges in Managing Your Projects
  7. Productivity Made Simple: How to Keep Your Projects from Killing You

 

Chapter 6 – Productivity Methodologies and Systems

This chapter will talk about how you can use productivity methodologies and systems to make you a more productive business owner. Know what you should focus on every day and know the best methodologies to use.

  1. Five Best Productivity Methods
  2. How to be Productive? The Simplest Possible Productivity System
  3. Get Out of Your Head and Get Things Done- How to Create A Basic Productivity System
  4. Do I Really Need to Learn a Productivity Method?
  5. Productivity Made Simple: The Key to GTD – Your Daily Graph of Activity

 

Chapter 7 – Tools

Everyone needs some tools. Here are the ones you can look into first.

  1. Getting These 6 Apps … All it Takes to Improve Your Productivity
  2. Best Productivity Tools for People-On-the-Go
  3. 5 Online Tools to Improve Small Business Productivity
  4. 8 Best Apps to Make Your Small Business More Productive

 

I hope this list will inspire you to take action and make some improvements in the way you’re going about your day.


35 Great Resources on Becoming Productive as an Online Business Owner | newInternetOrder.com

If you’ve wondered why there’s been no work ‘from our desk’ recently, it’s because I’ve been beavering away in silence. Heads down … etc. Working that is, on half a dozen or so relatively larger projects from two New Zealand agencies. That is, site builds, using WordPress, and wrangling supplied documents ( designs, specified functionality ) into custom WordPress themes and functionality. I’m bound by Non-Disclosure agreements ( content is still being entered ), so can’t give any more details until the sites are launched ( soon, I hope ) . Watch this space…

Update 29-11: we’ve found a developer, @cagenl, he’ll be starting January 1st. 

We’re growing at Yoast, our plugins are doing extremely well and we’ve got lots more in the works. What’s becoming clear though is that we are in dire need of an addition to our team: we need a senior WordPress developer.

So, if you’re that guy or girl who:

  • can easily develop a WordPress plugin given a set of functional and technical requirements and come up with better requirements themselves if what Joost thought up was actually stupid;
  • has proven experience in developing WordPress plugins;
  • knows how to combine your CSS with your jQuery and hook it properly;
  • knows how to write decent inline documentation according to the WordPress standards;
  • enjoy collaborating with open source developers from all over the world;
  • can fix a bug in any of our plugins when you’ve been given access to a clients site and have to figure out what the hell is going wrong yourself.

We’d love to talk to you and see your portfolio. You’d basically become my main sparring partner for all things code at Yoast, developing code that runs on – literally – millions of websites.

Location

You’d have to be willing and able to come work with us (at least a few days a week) in our office in Wijchen, the Netherlands. We’re in the center of town, close to the train station, with ample parking space available. I know working remotely is all the rage in the WordPress world these days, but I need someone to bounce my ideas off and can do that more easily when I’m in the same room.

What we offer

A couple of LEGO boxesWe can offer you:

  • a competitive salary;
  • a good benefits program including a company paid for pension plan;
  • a great and inspiring group of people to work with;
  • a laptop of your own choice;
  • an avatar just like everyone else in our team has, drawn specifically for you by our own illustrator Erwin;
  • lots of LEGO to play with.

How to apply

Send an email and resume (preferably including a list of plugins you’ve built) to jobs at this domain.

This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

We get a lot of submissions to the WordPress.org plugin repository, and so there is often a lot of dangerous code submitted. Usually this isn’t malicious, it’s just by people who honestly don’t know that their code has problems. Understanding those problems is the first step to fixing them.

So here’s one common vulnerability we see in code submissions a lot: SQL Injection

To understand SQL Injection, let’s quote Wikipedia for a moment:

SQL injection is a code injection technique, used to attack data driven applications, in which malicious SQL statements are inserted into an entry field for execution

Here’s a piece of code made for WordPress, which is querying the database for a post:

// bad code, do not use
$results = $wpdb->get_results( "SELECT * FROM $wpdb->posts WHERE ID = $id" );

If you don’t see the problem with this code right away, then you should continue reading this post.

(Yes, this article shows the basics of the prepare() function. If you already know about the prepare() function, you might be shocked at the number of people who do not.)

The problem with SQL Injection vulnerabilities is that sometimes they can be hard to spot. The issue with the above code is actually context-dependent. The question you must answer is “What are the possible contents of the $id variable?”.

If $id = 123, then all is well.

But, if it is at all possible for $id = “-1; SELECT * from wp_users;” then you might have a real problem.

Sometimes we see code like this in submitted plugins:

// bad code, do not use
$results = $wpdb->get_results( "SELECT * FROM $wpdb->posts WHERE ID = ". $_GET['id'] );

Now, we have no idea what “id” contains, and in fact, we’re leaving that entirely up to the visitor of the site. Or the hacker of the site, in this case.

There should be no case where user-input can make it into an SQL statement without being first checked for sanity.

Sometimes, that check is easy. In this case, the ID should always be a number. So we can secure the query like so:

// kinda bad code, still, do not use
$id = (int) $_GET['id'];
$results = $wpdb->get_results( "SELECT * FROM $wpdb->posts WHERE ID = $id" );

This is relatively safe, but not the recommended solution. It’s the naive approach, because we’re thinking that hey, we can just check the value ourselves and handle it accordingly. For integers, sure, but for more complex cases we can’t. Sometimes we can’t even do it for integers, so it’s best to avoid this sort of thinking entirely.

Don’t try to sanitize your inputs to SQL functions yourself. Let the sanitization functions do it for you. WordPress includes a function called prepare() to handle this safely.

The right way:

// good code
$results = $wpdb->get_results( $wpdb->prepare( "SELECT * FROM $wpdb->posts WHERE ID = %d", $id ) );

The prepare() function goes through a number of various checks and such, but eventually it ends up replacing the %d with the integer value of $id. Sure you could have done that yourself, but with prepare, you don’t have to think about how it’s doing it.

Because what if $id wasn’t an integer? If it’s a string, then prepare eventually ends up calling a function named mysql_real_escape_string(). This is a core PHP function that does the necessary escaping for you. It needs to always be called for data inputs to SQL, so the upshot is that you must always use prepare.

That bit is important, so read it again: Whenever you make a direct SQL call, any variable inputs to that query must go through a prepare() cycle. Not sometimes, always 1.

Here’s another example using a string:

// good code
$results = $wpdb->get_results( $wpdb->prepare( "SELECT * FROM $wpdb->postmeta WHERE meta_key = %s", $metakey ) );

I’m selecting all the rows from the postmeta table with a specific meta key. Note that meta_key is a string, so I used the %s instead of the %d (string vs decimal). Because of this, prepare will take care of the proper quoting of the string for us, we don’t need (or want) to add quotes around it ourselves.

Given this, no matter what $metakey is, it should be safe and properly escaped. SQL Injection should not be possible, barring a bug deep in the mysql library itself or some sort of configuration error. It’s as safe as we can reasonably make it, and certainly safer than any code we try to write ourselves to handle sanitizing it for SQL.

You can use more than one argument if needed:

// good code
$results = $wpdb->get_results( $wpdb->prepare( "SELECT * FROM $wpdb->postmeta WHERE meta_key = %s and meta_value = %s", $metakey, $metavalue ) );

So that’s SQL Injection and how to avoid it. Just always use prepare().

See how simple that is?

So go forth, examine your SQL, and please make sure you prepare’d it properly. Let’s reduce the amount of bad plugin code out there. And if you find plugin authors not using prepare(), email them about it. But be nice, they probably just didn’t know.


1. Rules are there so that we think before we break them for special cases…

When I started blogging, everyone used an RSS reader and your RSS feed was the way of getting your new content in front of people. The use of RSS has dwindled, at least for us because the readership here on Yoast has quadrupled over the last 2 years but the number of RSS subscribers is now less than 1/4th of what it was 2 years ago, let alone the traffic.

We had passionate discussion about full-length RSS versus summaries in those days.Full length would mean people could read your content but would not get to your website, meaning you’d have less ad views, if that was how you made money. On the other hand, especially tech savvy people preferred full length RSS because it was easier to read. In fact, I think a lot of people who still use RSS still do prefer full length RSS. There’s just so few left.

Decline in usage of RSS

Using our Google Analytics plugin we’ve been tracking RSS click throughs to our site for several years now and that statistic tells a tale of steady decline slowly going to zero: rss-traffic-yoast FeedBurner, which I used to love with a passion died quickly when it was bought by Google and in the last few days I’ve actually, finally, made the move off of FeedBurner to FeedPress, which is a rock solid replacement. It shows us as having around 12,000 RSS subscribers. If you consider we had just 2,340 clicks from RSS last month (which is less than 0,5% of our traffic), you could argue that 12,000 RSS subscribers doesn’t necessarily help us much, but we honestly also don’t really know because we don’t know who read our posts. So RSS is becoming less important, at least to us. At the same time, RSS is not without its dangers from an SEO perspective.

RSS and SEO

Scraper sites have been feeding (pun intended) off of RSS feeds for years, pulling in all the content and republishing it in the hope of ranking in the search engines with that content. This lead to duplicate content problems in the search results which had to be mitigated, or a scraper site with a bit more authority than your simple blog would simply outrank you with your own content.

From the very beginning our WordPress SEO plugin has, for that reason, had functionality to add links back to your site at either the bottom or the top of those RSS feed articles. This practice, which we first invented in January 2008 in our RSS footer plugin, worked like a charm for quite a while. It showed search engines the original source of the article and while a large portion of these scrapers removed all links, the few that let the links go in actually helped in getting Google especially to float the right content to the top.

We actually used that functionality ourselves to add some more links to specific pages on yoast.com to help those pages rank. Now over the last few years while checking the rankings of those pages for the specific keywords we were targeting, we saw a trend of steady decline in rankings. This is almost certainly the result of Google treating too many exact anchor texts as a negative.

Along came the Panda

Yoast liked the PandaWhen Google released their Panda update / filter, that hit a lot of scraper sites and the duplicate content ranking problems began to be somewhat less of a problem.

If a truly high authority site copies your content and doesn’t link back you’re still done for, as you stand no chance of ranking. “Silly” scraper sites had a bit more of a hard time ranking. But linking back the way we used to was still a better solution than doing nothing in our experience. Overall, I was rather happy with Panda, it seemed the first time in a couple of years where Google had really made a difference.

But then… Penguin hit.

Among our site review customers we’ve historically had a fair portion of Penguin victims. Google’s Penguin update should be hitting sites that have lots of low quality links pointing at them. You can probably guess how this is a problem… Yoast playing Google's PenguinThe sites that had used to help us rank our own articles a couple of years before, were now dragging us down.

To be honest, I’ve not seen a site that was hit by Penguin purely based on these RSS scraper links. Usually there were large portions of other, problematic, usually obviously paid for, links. More recently though, we’ve seen more and more people who needed to do link removals and / or disavow for sites that had links because of scraping their RSS feeds. So what was once a best practice is now a bad practice.

As a result, we’re slightly changing how the functionality in WordPress SEO works as of the next version. If you’ve had it configured to link back to you, you don’t need to do anything if you don’t want to, the only change is that those links will be nofollowed from now on, so Google doesn’t count them. We’ve added a filter nofollow_rss_links that defaults to true. If you return false on that filter the nofollow will be removed but there will be no option to do so in the settings area for the plugin as I think it’s a bad idea.

Taking it to the extreme

Some SEO’s, like Dave Naylor, have taken it to the extreme, they’ve removed all content from their RSS feeds outside of their titles or even removed the RSS feeds altogether. Doing the former is actually not that hard in WordPress either:

I’m not 100% sold yet on whether that approach is a good idea for everyone, but in our good old tradition of eating our own dog food we’re going to try it here on Yoast first to see what happens. Might be good to note that we’ve already had our first complaints from readers. I’m curious what you all think and what you think about RSS in the first place!

Update: after feedback from some very valued readers from the WordPress community, I’ve decided to put our full feeds back on. I first DMCA’d some 40 odd sites and had them remove our content though. We’ll be sure to keep a closer eye on where our content is going henceforth, as it was rather shocking to see just how many full feed scrapers were out there…

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This post first appeared on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

The first beta of the 3.8 is now available, and the next dates to watch out for are code freeze on December 5th and a final release on December 12th.

3.8 brings together several of the features as plugins projects and while this isn’t our first rodeo, expect this to be more beta than usual. The headline things to test out in this release are:

  • The new admin design, especially the responsive aspect of it. Try it out on different devices and browsers, see how it goes, especially the more complex pages like widgets or seldom-looked-at-places like Press This. Color schemes, which you can change on your profile, have also been spruced up.
  • The dashboard homepage has been refreshed, poke and prod it.
  • Choosing themes under Appearance is completely different, try to break it however possible.
  • There’s a new default theme, Twenty Fourteen.
  • Over 250 issues closed already.

Given how many things in the admin have changed it’s extra super duper important to test as many plugins and themes with admin pages against the new stuff. Also if you’re a developer consider how you can make your admin interface fit the MP6 aesthetic better.

As always, if you think you’ve found a bug, you can post to the Alpha/Beta area in the support forums. Or, if you’re comfortable writing a reproducible bug report, file one on the WordPress Trac. There, you can also find a list of known bugs and everything we’ve fixed so far.

Download WordPress 3.8 Beta 1 (zip) or use the WordPress Beta Tester plugin (you’ll want “bleeding edge nightlies”).

Alphabet soup of
Plugins as features galore
The future is here