I find myself becoming more and more defensive of WordPress SEO plugins, my own in particular. When people make jokes about them I tend to get angry, which is perhaps a stupid reaction, but it made me think: why would people make jokes about them, are they that stupid? What does the future hold for those plugins and what do they really do?

So I went and installed and played with a ton of SEO plugins. My conclusion: hardly any of the new ones are original or truly add value, but they all promise heaven. The more well known free SEO plugins, including my own, have mostly overlapping feature sets, with some of them having features that others lack completely, and code quality varying highly. Some WordPress hosting companies complain about SEO plugins in general, having seen quite a few of them now I understand at least where they got the idea that SEO plugins are slow. I guess the burden is on me to show that my WordPress SEO plugin doesn’t suffer from that slowness.

Luckily, I know some hosts make people move over from other plugins to mine, and I know for a fact that this migration guide on my blog is highly visited because people get complaints from their host about All in One SEO using too much resources and wanting them to move to my WordPress SEO plugin. Some other people still swear by AIOSEO though, which is, of course, fine: to each his own.

Squirrly

I was truly in shock when I saw some of the newer kids on the block though. Squirrly, notably, posted about the best WordPress SEO plugins two days back and wrote:

It should, first of all, be all white-hat and be up to date with the updates that came up post Panda and Penguin (Yoast and SeoPressor for example, are outdated from this point of view).

That’s quite a bold statement to make. When I asked them on Twitter to back up their statement, as it’s close to libel in my opinion, they didn’t really come up with a suitable answer, instead referring to my page analysis functionality recommending 300 words whereas “only 80 where necessary for Google News”.

It’s obvious what the difference is between me and them, just from that statement alone: I don’t just read Google’s guidelines, I actually optimize content and I know that you need a certain bit of content in a post to be able to rank well, even in Google news. How I know? Well I’ve worked with some of the biggest newspapers in the world to optimize their content, in fact, I’m currently working on a project for the Guardian involving a lot of Google news optimization. When asked, they couldn’t tell me what they are basing their analytics on, instead answering me with this:

But… Of course, I had to look at their plugin. Seems they’ve built a snippet preview (how original, it’s not like I didn’t add that to my SEO plugin like 2 years ago):

Squirrly snippet preview screenshot

It doesn’t even match the look of Google’s search results even in how it looks, second, it doesn’t highlight the target keyword, which they make you put in. Funnily enough, they then do a kind of analysis on your content that looks remarkably similar to what my WordPress SEO plugin does:

Squirrly SEO assistant

The difference between that plugin and mine is that they do this “live”, which is something I’ve been pondering for a while, but the way they do it is by sending all of your data to their server all the time. Now, if they did something on their server that added value, that’d be cool, but they don’t. And after 14 days of doing this for you, they make you pay for the pleasure of doing this. Now you can get the same kind of analysis, for free, by using my WordPress SEO plugin. As far as I know, only Copyblogger’s Scribe actually adds value in what they do by sending stuff to their server, this, on the other hand, is pure nonsense.

The plugin also adds an XML sitemap. Funnily enough, you’d think that if they want to sell something they’d at least have feature parity with what the free plugins do. But their XML sitemap doesn’t even contain custom post types, nor does it support images in the XML sitemap, both standard features in my plugin.

Lastly, they offer the option to add a favicon and apple icon (remember this free plugin? you might not, it’s 5 years old).

All in all, they’re trying to use a funny looking squirrel to sell something that not just my SEO plugin but several other free WordPress SEO plugins can do for you and do better. The most shocking thing? They’ve actually gotten funding, which shows you that some people will fund anything without doing research.

This is obviously not the future, so what is?

I have a whole lot of features planned for my SEO plugin, some of which I plan to add to the free core plugin, some of which will probably be more niche and I will therefore make into premium extensions, like my Video SEO and Local SEO plugins.

Scribe has been taking great steps and been adding more and more features that actually help people optimize their content properly. SEO Ultimate has some features I think people will like a lot, and though I’d implement them differently, I very much welcome competition like that: it forces all of us to move forward.

I’m looking forward to making it easier to optimize websites technically and to optimize content, as well as keep up with all the new things Google, Bing and other search engines put out there. The future of SEO is in integrating it more into all the other stuff we do, that’s exactly what my plugin aims to do.

Would love to hear what you think should be in the future of SEO plugins!

The future of SEO plugins for WordPress is a post by on Yoast - The Art & Science of Website Optimization. A good WordPress blog needs good hosting, you don't want your blog to be slow, or, even worse, down, do you? Check out my thoughts on WordPress hosting!

WordPress 3.6 Beta 1 is now available!

This is software still in development and we really don’t recommend that you run it on a production site — set up a test site just to play with the new version. To test WordPress 3.6, try the WordPress Beta Tester plugin (you’ll want “bleeding edge nightlies”). Or you can download the beta here (zip).

We’ve been working for nearly three months and have completed all the features that are slated for this release. This is a bit of a change from the betas of previous release cycles. I felt very strongly that we shouldn’t release a beta if we were still working on completing the main features. This beta is actually a beta, not an alpha that we’re calling a beta. If you are a WordPress plugin or theme developer, or a WordPress hosting provider, you should absolutely start testing your code against this new version now. More bugs will be fixed, and some of the features will get polished, but we’re not going to shove in some big new feature. We’re ready for you to test it, so jump in there! The more you test the beta, the more stable our release candidates and our final release will be.

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.

Here’s what’s new in 3.6:

  • Post Formats:  Post Formats now have their own UI, and theme authors have access to templating functions to access the structured data.
  • Twenty Thirteen: We’re shipping this year’s default theme in our first release of the year. Twenty Thirteen is an opinionated, color-rich, blog-centric theme that makes full use of the new Post Formats support.
  • Audio/Video: You can embed audio and video files into your posts without relying on a plugin or a third party media hosting service.
  • Autosave:  Posts are now autosaved locally. If your browser crashes, your computer dies, or the server goes offline as you’re saving, you won’t lose the your post.
  • Post Locking:  See when someone is currently editing a post, and kick them out of it if they fall asleep at the keyboard.
  • Nav Menus:  Nav menus have been simplified with an accordion-based UI, and a separate tab for bulk-assigning menus to locations.
  • Revisions: The all-new revisions UI features avatars, a slider that “scrubs” through history, and two-slider range comparisons.

Developers:  You make WordPress awesome(er). One of the things we strive to do with every release is be compatible with existing plugins and themes. But we need your help. Please test your plugins and themes against 3.6. If something isn’t quite right, please let us know. (Chances are, it wasn’t intentional.) If you’re a forward-thinking theme developer, you should be looking at implementing the new Post Format support in some of your themes (look to Twenty Thirteen for inspiration).

We’re looking forward to your feedback. If you break it (i.e. find a bug), please report it, and if you’re a developer, try to help us fix it. We’ve already had more than 150 contributors to version 3.6 — it’s not too late to join the party!

tabletWell, actually, I just did.

This concept of structured resource pages is really taking off here at newInternetOrder so I’ve decided to keep up the paste and publish another page today. This time, as you can see in the headline, it’s about building and launching a new online business site.

First or all, it focuses on the technical side of things. So no niche research, no keyword research, no advertising, no partnership building or anything like it. Just straightforward technical how-to for everyone who wants to launch a new site quickly, and then use it as a base of a new online business.

Here’s the link to the page:


And here’s what you can find there:

  1. Choosing a domain name for your online business – tools, how to select a domain name, what TLD to get (.com, .net, ?), where to make the purchase.
  2. How to handle web hosting for your online business – why you need a web host, free vs. paid hosting, choosing a web host and a hosting plan, where to buy hosting, connecting your domain and hosting together.
  3. How to build and install your website – getting started with a website, why you don’t need expensive designers and developers, what is WordPress and what it can do for you, installing WordPress in 5 minutes, selecting a theme (and where to get a quality one), understanding plugins (and which ones to get), SEO, site security (important).
  4. Blogging for online business; how to blog effectively – does your online business need a blog, how to blog, how to turn your blog into a valuable asset for your business.
  5. Getting an edge in online business – advanced WordPress tactics – what steps to take next in order to make your WordPress site hyper-optimized and highly reader-friendly.

There’s truly a lot of content. But you can consume it in one of three alternative ways. You can either (1) read the whole thing from start to finish, (2) go directly to the parts that interest you the most (there’s a cool navigation provided on the page), or you can (3) display the content as a list of links for future reference.

I hope you enjoy it and that it’ll help you get going with your new site. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them here.


What if I Took the COMPLETE How-To on Building a New Online Business Site and Published It IN ONE PLACE? | newInternetOrder.com

plugThere’s a lot going on in the WordPress plugins space. And I do mean a lot. For instance, currently there are more than 24,000 plugins available in the official directory, and this doesn’t include any paid plugins.

However, you obviously don’t need all of them at once to run a successful online business website. Probably just a handful, right?

That’s why I’ve created a new page on this blog that lists 15 essential WordPress plugins for online business. I didn’t want to list those plugins here because I’m planning to keep the list updated, so I figured that a page is likely a better idea for this.

In short, feel free to visit this page to get the most up-to-date list of plugins worth having on your online business website.

Also, the list features only the plugins that I’ve tested myself, so there’s no disguised promotion going underneath. Besides, all of the plugins there are free anyway.

Here’s the link, I hope it’ll make your work easier:

Did I forget to include anything? Feel free to share in the comments.


Here’s an Updated List of Essential Plugins for Online Business | newInternetOrder.com

Lately we’ve been inundated, literally, with support requests for WordPress SEO and its premium add-ons, all asking one “simple” thing: why isn’t Google picking up my page title? People who changed their page title and see that the search results still show their old title are bound to think Google didn’t “get” the new title yet and of course they blame their SEO plugin (sigh).

Well, this time, it’s not our fault… Google does all sorts of things to your title. It sometimes replaces it with parts of your URL, but it’s also known to add the brand to the end of your title, or just completely rewrite it when it feels like it.

In its help doc about titles and descriptions, Google says the following:

If we’ve detected that a particular result has one of the above issues with its title, we may try to generate an improved title from anchors, on-page text, or other sources. However, sometimes even pages with well-formulated, concise, descriptive titles will end up with different titles in our search results to better indicate their relevance to the query. There’s a simple reason for this: the title tag as specified by a webmaster is limited to being static, fixed regardless of the query. Once we know the user’s query, we can often find alternative text from a page that better explains why that result is relevant. Using this alternative text as a title helps the user, and it also can help your site. Users are scanning for their query terms or other signs of relevance in the results, and a title that is tailored for the query can increase the chances that they will click through.

So… Basically, Google says: we know better, you can try and write a title we like, but we reserve to do whatever to make people click on your result.

There is no way to prevent this from happening right now. Which is annoying in many ways, but not something we can help, sorry. If you’re mad about it, or find it annoying, tweet to @mattcutts, maybe he’ll do something about it. In the past Google sometimes used the open directory projects title for a page instead of the page title, and there was a <meta name="robots" content="noodp"/> tag to prevent this from happening. I’d love to see something similar for this, but it’s not there yet.

But…. What we do learn from this.

Write proper page titles. Not overly optimized titles targeting a gazillion keywords. No. Proper, one sentence titles that contain your brand name and your focus keyword. It’s not hard, just do it. And for your homepage your title should probably start with your brand name, 50% of the emails we get is about homepages where people have ridiculously optimized titles instead of just the name of their company.

Which is probably also why we won’t get something similar to NOODP anymore. We’ve broken the usability of the web, Google is trying to fix it for its users.

Why Google won’t display the right page title is a post by on Yoast - The Art & Science of Website Optimization. A good WordPress blog needs good hosting, you don't want your blog to be slow, or, even worse, down, do you? Check out my thoughts on WordPress hosting!

Last thursday, I migrated Yoast.com to Synthesis, the managed WordPress hosting platform operated by Copyblogger Media.

Previously this site had been hosted on a VPS.net Cloud Server, which was rock solid as this site grew to almost a million pageviews per month. VPS.net is fast, affordable, provides good support, and I continue to recommend them.

But there are features of Synthesis that I realized I could no longer live without.

Optimized WordPress Performance

First, I don’t want to do my own Linux optimization anymore. Now I won’t have to.

The Synthesis team developed its Linux server stack specifically to handle high traffic loads on WordPress websites. They have spent the last several years tweaking and perfecting this setup to provide the outstanding performance, reliability, and security that Synthesis does today.

Simply put, the Synthesis team knows WordPress and they know server performance. I wanted to align with a team that understands WordPress performance better than I do. Now I have.

Theme Support

The second reason for the switch is that Synthesis, as part of Copyblogger, can simultaneously support my hosting and my theme.

Yoast.com runs on the Genesis Framework, developed by Copyblogger’s StudioPress design team. Yes, I could host Yoast.com anywhere and still have access to StudioPress support, but no other hosting platform is specifically tuned for Genesis. This further optimizes performance and security, and it makes updates a breeze.

Plus, the Synthesis support staff is proactive about troubleshooting and quickly fixing issues specific to Genesis. A support question that might have taken two or three tickets to answer previously now will take just one because of the Synthesis/Genesis integration.

Cutting Edge Value

Copyblogger Media hosts its own business websites on regular plans from Synthesis. Beyond performance, Synthesis was designed to support the operational needs of the site owner versus that of the hosting company, and thus provides a few features that are unique among hosting providers.

Operations

First, Synthesis provides their customers with an uptime checker called Site Sensor.

Beyond normal uptime checks, it can actually perform WordPress-specific checks which ensure RSS feeds and sitemaps are current. A website with broken SEO and content distribution mechanics might as well be down. The sitemap checker even supports the indexed sitemaps produced by our own WordPress SEO plugin, I worked with the Synthesis team to add that functionality.

Second, Synthesis has backups down to a science.

Synthesis already backs up my server on a nightly basis and ships it across the U.S. to a second data center. They also make local WordPress-specific backups that make it easy for their support staff to replace plugins, WP options settings, and more at a moment’s notice. Beyond this, they provide a database snapshot tool that I can use to back up my database before plugin and WP upgrades.

Additionally, they are soon releasing a feature called Personal Backups for S3 that will allow me to send a backup to my own S3 bucket at Amazon. Unlike normal backup plugins, this service is actually driven by robust server-side processes and is not dependent on PHP.

Site Speed

Finally, I switched to Synthesis because I trust their technical aptitude and respect their forward-thinking mindset.

For example, some of you may have heard about SPDY, Google’s initiative to speed up the web by improving HTTP and TCP. I certainly have, and it is a feature I wanted implemented on our HTTPS forums and checkout pages.

With this move to Synthesis, I’ll have it.

SPDY requires server-side and browser support. (For a list of compatible web browsers, click here.) Synthesis is one of the first WordPress-only hosts to offer SPDY compatibility for qualified sites, having already tested it on a few of their own most valuable properties.

This is just the latest example of Synthesis consistently evolving to provide more value for its customers’ hosting dollar.

A True Partner

In Synthesis, I don’t see a hosting provider. I see a hosting partner. This is what I needed as Yoast.com continues to grow and evolve.

I’ll now have more time to spend doing what I love — writing plugins, reviewing websites, even writing Genesis child themes — while the Synthesis team will make sure that the site is up and ready to take advantage of the next development in WordPress hosting.

Why I Switched to Copyblogger’s Synthesis Managed WordPress Hosting is a post by on Yoast - The Art & Science of Website Optimization. A good WordPress blog needs good hosting, you don't want your blog to be slow, or, even worse, down, do you? Check out my thoughts on WordPress hosting!

clockSomething funny I stumbled upon just recently. The guys at WMPU.org published an article on WordPress 5 minute install. The article is actually a 6-part series. Let me say this again, a friggin’ 6-part series! How can you take something called the “5 minute install” and write 6 long articles to describe it?! Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that!

Then, I realized that I actually haven’t published a tutorial on WordPress installation yet, even though it’s the most essential technical activity online business owners have to go through.

That’s why today I have something much much shorter for you. The simple how-to on the WordPress 5 minute install.

1. Getting WordPress

The first step is to go to wordpress.org and download the latest version of WordPress.

All you have to do next is extract the archive and upload it to your web host via FTP. You can use a tool like FileZilla – free.

The directory to which you have to upload the files is usually called something like public-html, or www. Actually, your web host might send you to the correct directory by default immediately once you establish an FTP connection.

Basically, if you can see a file like index.html or index.php anywhere then it’s most likely the correct directory. Copy your WordPress files there.

2. Starting up the online installer

Fire up your browser and try visiting your website. This is what you’ll see:

wp-install-1

Just click the big button and proceed to the next step

WordPress will let you know about all the required details you’ll need to complete the 5 minute install.

wp-install-2

They are:

  • Database name
  • Database username
  • Database password
  • Database host

All of them are database details. Now, this is the only difficult part here. Somehow, you need to get your hands on them.

Most hosting providers will gladly set a database for you if you contact them with such a request and tell them to get back to you with the details from the list above.

Simply submit a support ticket or use a live chat feature every respected hosting provider offers these days.

(If you’re confident to do this yourself then you obviously can, through cPanel or any other hosting management tool your provider delivers.)

Once you have these details you can proceed to the next step. Press the Let’s go! button. Here’s what you’ll see:

wp-install-3

It’s a form where you can input the details we’ve talked about a minute ago.

Regarding the last field – Table Prefix – feel free to use the default value (wp_).

Once you click the Submit button you’re going to be redirected to a confirmation screen.

3. Run the install

wp-install-4

Here, you only need to click the Run the install button and watch the magic happen.

4. Basic blog settings

If all goes well you’ll see this screen:

wp-install-5

This is where you can set your basic blog details, such as the title, your admin username and so on. Here’s how to do it:

  • Site Title. You’re free to use whatever you wish. Don’t make it too long though, so it looks naturally.
  • Username. This is the main username for the admin user. The default username is “admin” but I advise you to change it to something else. That way you’re making your site a bit more difficult to hack into.
  • Password, twice. No explanation needed.
  • Your E-mail. It’s the main admin email. Whenever something occurs on your blog, WordPress will use this email to let you know.
  • Privacy. Make sure that the checkbox is checked. Otherwise, you will ban yourself from the search engines.

The only thing left to do here is click the Install WordPress button.

Fin

The final screen will let you know that all went well, and that you can now log in to your blog with the admin account you’ve just created.

wp-install-6

Nothing more to it.

See? I didn’t need six posts to explain this. Neither do you to go through the installation. I hope it helps.


WordPress 5 Minute Install – Simple How To | newInternetOrder.com

Warning: this isn’t the usual SEO / WordPress related post, but more of a “personal” post about how I’ve gone about building and changing my / our business.

When I started Yoast, then called Altha, it was just me, doing web development for a few clients here and there. It was a side job to my consulting jobs at online marketing agencies. My WordPress plugins were just a hobby and not something I thought I could ever make a living from. In 2010 I decided I was going to go solo, leaving my agency and doing consultancy for less clients, but more intensively.

Doing this freed up time to do more development and do product development. I found myself doing more and more one-off reviews of websites, people just needing a good critique of what they were doing and a list of things they should improve. This evolved into what is now our website review service and a very large chunk of our business. The good thing about that is that it doesn’t require me to go off-site, we can do it all from within our office here and I can spend a lot more time on research & development that way, figuring out how to further optimize people’s websites.

Last year I decided I’d start to sell premium plugins, with our Video SEO plugin being the first premium offering and this has gone amazingly well. So much so that I hired my brother Thijs to assist in support. Last week we launched our second premium plugin, Local SEO, which I built together with Arjan. It’s doing great so far and we’re happy with the feedback we’re getting, which is pretty exciting.

Firing clients

The combination of website reviews and premium plugins means I have less and less time to actually spend on consulting face-to-face with clients. I kept telling myself that my consulting clients were where I got new ideas for products and I thus needed to keeping doing that consulting. But that’s not true, I was just looking for an excuse. My consulting clients are all big online companies whereas our products are aimed at publishers, SME’s and their online marketing agencies mostly… In fact, the truly good new ideas for products are coming from our website reviews, because we’re selling those to exactly the SME’s we’re targeting our other products at.

What I will keep doing is training people, in our Dutch office, because in talking with them and in finding problems that people have when they make their first SEO steps or when they “grow” in their SEO expertise, that’s where I learn too. That’s a good “breeding ground” for other stuff. SEO strategy consulting for large online brands… Not so much.

Because of this, in the last few days, I’ve gone through a very weird process: I’ve been “firing” some of my remaining clients. I’ll keep a few consulting clients around because they’re too interesting, I’m doing an awesome project at the Guardian for instance, which really is teaching me new things about publishing, the web in general and SEO specifically. But most of my other clients will have to find another “home”. Luckily I’ve got a lot of good friends in the industry who can pick up where I’m leaving in a great way and with more time and enthusiasm than I can at this point.

I’ll keep some room in my agenda for 3 – 4 consulting clients a year, those will be reserved for major online publishers specifically as that’s where I feel I can make a difference and learn a lot at the same time (you can apply here, though there’s only 1 spot left for this year). People that approach me for other work I’ll start saying no to and, if possible, refer them to industry friends.

What’s next?

With that behind me, I’ve got more time to focus on our existing site review and premium plugin business and on new products. We’ve got more cool stuff lined up: two more premium add-ons to WordPress SEO are slowly being specced and developed and we’re also going to go in a “new” direction, by releasing our first child-theme in a month or two. It’s going to be aimed at a very specific market and I’m very curious how it’ll pan out. It’ll be a Genesis child-theme, because I don’t really see a need to develop a new framework when there’s something as good as that out there already and I love working with the Copyblogger family.

The direction is clear though: we develop products aimed at SME’s, publishers and their SEO / online marketing agencies to help them build & optimize their websites.

On focus, and how we’re slowly changing our business model is a post by on Yoast - The Art & Science of Website Optimization. A good WordPress blog needs good hosting, you don't want your blog to be slow, or, even worse, down, do you? Check out my thoughts on WordPress hosting!

Fibifitness, a startup offering competition and lifestyle training, has launched.

The site is powered by WordPress, to allow the owners to edit content, and the WooCommerce engine, allowing for onsite orders. It uses a highly customised version of the AutofocusPro theme to showcase post images, and features a front-page slider to highlight competitors trained by the company.

The design is by Urban Legend web.

Sometimes, your site will need some downtime, so you can fix things or update plugins. Most of the time, this tends to be a relatively short period in which Google will most likely not attempt to crawl your website. However, in the case that you need more time to get things fixed, chances are much higher that GoogleBot might come for a visit and be confronted with a website that’s down. So how do we prevent Google from deranking your website?

Become a technical SEO expert with our Technical SEO 1 training! »

Technical SEO 1 training Info

HTTP status codes and you

For those not familiar with HTTP status codes, here’s a brief summary of the ones that apply to you when dealing with site maintenance:

  • 200 OK. This status code dictates that the server was successful in returning a response.
  • 301 Moved permanently. This tells the browser that this page is no longer valid and will redirect to the correct page.
  • 302 / 307 Moved temporarily. There’s some history behind these two HTTP status codes, but what this dictates to the browser is that you’ll temporarily be redirecting the browser to a different page and that the current URL will eventually be back to its former state.
  • 404 Not Found. This status code means that the page you were trying to navigate to, couldn’t be found.
  • 410 Content Deleted. Use this if you deleted your content on purpose and there will be no replacement. Find out more about how to delete pages properly.
  • 503 Service unavailable. This is the one you want to be returning to Google when you’re dealing with site maintenance. It tells Google that you are in fact working on this page or that something else went wrong. Google knows that when this status code is returned, to check the page again later on. This is what we’ll be discussing a bit more.

Please note that Google will consider pages returning the 200 HTTP status code, despite there being an error (or very little content) on the page, as a “soft 404” in Google Search Console.

Read more: ‘HTTP status codes’ »

Telling Google you’re busy

If Google runs into a 404 while crawling your site, it’ll usually toss out that page from the search results until it comes back the next time to verify the page is back. However, if Google repeatedly runs into a 404 on that specific page, it’ll eventually postpone re-crawling which means that more time will pass before the page returns in the search results.

To overcome this potential longer loss of rankings, you need to return a 503 status code whenever working on a particular page. The original definition of the 503 status code, according to this RFC, is:

The server is currently unable to handle the request due to a temporary overloading or maintenance of the server. The implication is that this is a temporary condition which will be alleviated after some delay. If known, the length of the delay MAY be indicated in a Retry-After header. If no Retry-After is given, the client SHOULD handle the response as it would for a 500 response.

What this means is that returning a 503 in combination with a Retry-After header, which will tell Google how many minutes to wait before coming back. This does not mean Google will crawl again in exactly X minutes, but it’ll ensure Google doesn’t come back around to take a look anytime before then.

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

Yoast SEO: the #1 WordPress SEO plugin Info

Adding the header

If you want to implement the header, there are a few options you can choose from.

Using the WordPress defaults

By default, WordPress already returns a 503 when updating plugins or WordPress core. WordPress allows you to override the default maintenance page by adding a maintenance.php to your wp-content/ directory. Please note that you’ll then be responsible for properly returning the 503 header. Plan on doing database maintenance? You’ll have to take care of that as well. Add a db-error.php file to your wp-content/ and make sure that you also properly return a 503 header here as well.

If you’re looking to add something fancier to your WordPress website, check out WP Maintenance Mode. This plugin also adds a lot of extra features, besides what we mentioned in the previous section.

If you’re just writing your own code and want a solution that’s easy to implement, you can add the following snippet to your codebase and call it in the code that determines if you’re in maintenance mode:


function set_503_header() {
    $protocol = 'HTTP/1.0';

    if ( $_SERVER['SERVER_PROTOCOL'] === 'HTTP/1.1' ) {
        $protocol = 'HTTP/1.1';
    }

    header( $protocol . '503 Service Unavailable', true, 503 );
    header( 'Retry-After: 3600' );
}

Note that the 3600 in the code snippet dictates the delay time in seconds. That means that the above sample will tell GoogleBot to return after an hour. It’s also possible to add a specific date and time in Retry-After, but you need to be careful with what you add here, as adding a faulty date might result in unexpected results.

Pro-tips

Caching

There are a few things you need to take into consideration when working with maintenance pages and returning 503 status codes. If you actively use caching, you might run into a situation where the cache isn’t properly passing on the 503 status, so please make sure you test this properly, before actively using this on the live version of your website.

Robots.txt

Did you know it’s also possible to return a 503 status code for your robots.txt? Pierre Far from Google explains in this article that Google will halt crawling your website if you return a 503 status code on your robots.txt file. The biggest advantage to this is less server load during maintenance periods.

Handle your maintenance well!

As we have seen, you can avoid losing rankings by adding a 503 when you’re doing site maintenance, to let Google know it can come back to crawl your site later. There are several ways to do this. Pick what works best for you, and you’ll have a well-maintained site with no danger of losing rankings. Good luck!

Keep reading: ‘Which redirect should I use?’ »

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