Users expect websites to be fast. As the world becomes increasingly mobile, and as consumers expect services to be on-demand and seamlessly delivered, having a poor site speed can seriously impact your SEO.

Google understands that the time it takes for a page to load is a key part of the overall user experience. Waiting for content to appear, being unable to interact with a page, and even noticing delays creates friction.

That friction costs not only time, but also money. Research from as far back as 2016 showed that 53% of mobile website visitors will leave if a webpage doesn’t load within three seconds. And those kinds of bad experiences can leave a lasting negative impression of a brand.

In fact, research shows that the level of stress from waiting for slow mobile results can be more stressful than watching a horror movie.

So it’s no surprise that Google has been measuring the speed of your site, and using that in their ranking algorithms, since 2010. More recently, in 2018, the speed of your site on/for mobile devices became a much more important signal, too. They understand that a good user experience is a fast user experience.

Frustration hurts your users, and hurts your rankings

And it’s not just Google – research from every corner of the web, on all aspects of consumer behavior, shows that speed has a huge impact on outcomes.

  • 47% of people expect a site to load in less than 2 seconds (wired.com)
  • 20% of users abandon their cart if the transaction process is too slow (radware.com)
  • Amazon found every 100ms of latency cost them 1% in sales
  • The BBC found they lost an additional 10% of users for every additional second their site took to load

These costs and this type of site abandonment happen because users don’t like to be frustrated. Poor experiences mean that they go elsewhere, visit other websites, and convert with competitors.

Those behaviors are easily tracked by Google (through bounces back to search engine results pages, short visits, and other signals), and are a strong signal that the page shouldn’t be ranking where it was.

Google wants a faster web

Speed isn’t only good for users – it’s good for Google, too. Slow websites are often slow because they’re inefficient. They may load too many large files, haven’t optimized their media, or don’t make use of modern technologies to serve their pages.

That means that Google has to consume more bandwidth, allocate more resources, and spend more money.

Across the whole web, every millisecond they can save, and every byte they don’t have to process, adds up quickly. And quite often, simple changes to configuration, processes or code can make websites much faster, with no drawbacks.

That may be one reason why Google is so heavily invested in the AMP Project, and why they’re so vocal in their education on performance.

A faster web is better for users, and reduces Google’s operating costs significantly. Either way, that means that they’re going to continue rewarding fast(er) sites.

Getting started

Unsurprisingly, some of the best resources on optimizing your website are from Google themselves.

We recommend that you explore their Web Fundamentals documentation to get an understanding of the techniques, tools, and approaches to building faster websites.

There are also a variety of tools available for measuring and monitoring the speed of your site. Here are a few which we recommend trying out:

  • Lighthouse, for Google Chrome – one of the most sophisticated performance measurement tools available, and great for benchmarking.
  • WebPageTest – provides a waterfall diagram of how all of the assets load on your website. Great for spotting slow resources and bottlenecks.
  • Our posts – we have a bunch of great blog posts which explore tools, techniques, and terminology!

Any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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We’ve said it time and again: site speed is a crucial aspect of your SEO. That’s why we often write about site speed tools, speed optimization, and other things you need to know to make your site lightning fast. One factor in site speed is image optimization: on most sites, images will play a part in loading times. So, giving your image SEO some thought will pay off.

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Besides resizing and compressing your images to improve loading times, there’s the option to implement ‘lazy loading’ on your site. Lazy loading means that an image or object on your site doesn’t load until it appears in your visitor’s browser. For example: if a page has 8 images, only those that appear ‘above the fold’ load right away, while the others load as the user scrolls down. This can significantly improve speed, especially on pages that contain a lot of images. There are several plugins you can use to add lazy loading to your WordPress site. But is there really no catch? Will Google still index all your images?

MaAnna emailed us, wondering exactly that:

I’m testing the lazy load image function in WP Rocket. In online testers like WebPage Test, the waterfall doesn’t show the images loading, but when I do a Fetch and Render in Google Search Console all images on a page are shown. Can Google deal with lazy load and still index our images, as Fetch and Render seems to indicate?

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

Can Google deal with Lazy Load?

“Yes, it can. It renders the page, it waits a bit and it scrolls down the page a bit to generate all the events that it needs to generate to make sure that it has loaded the entire page.

So yes, it can deal with that. You’re very fine using something like that lazy load image function. Google actually has code itself as well, in which it promotes the lazy loading of images because it really enhances people’s experience because pages get faster using lazy load. So, by all means, do use it. Use it well. Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast, we answer SEO questions from our readers. Do you have an SEO-related question? A pressing SEO dilemma to which you can’t find the answer? Send an email to ask@yoast.com, and your question may be featured in one of our weekly Ask Yoast vlogs.

Note: you may want to check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question could already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about the Yoast SEO plugin not working properly, please contact us through our support page.

Read more: Does site speed influence SEO? »

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If you’re serious about your WordPress website, you have run a page speed test at some point. There are many variations of these tests out there. Some more convenient and true to your target audience than others. But they all will give you a pretty decent idea of where you can still improve your site. 

Certain speed optimizations may come across as “technically challenging” for some of you. Luckily, you have set up a WordPress website. And one of the things that make WordPress so awesome is the availability of WordPress plugins. Some free, some paid, but they all will help you to simplify difficult tasks. In this article, we’ll first show you a couple of page speed tests so you can check your page speed yourself. After that, we’ll go into a number of speed optimization recommendations. And show you how to solve these using just plugins.

Running a page speed test

Running a page speed test is as simple as inserting your website’s URL into a form on a website. That website then analyzes your website and comes up with recommendations. I’d like to mention two of those, but there are much more tests available.

  1. Pingdom provides a tool for speed testing. The nice thing is that you can test from different servers. For instance, from a server that is relatively close to you. Especially if you are targeting a local audience, this is a nice way to see how fast your website for them is.
  2. Google Lighthouse is a performance tool that lives in your browser. Click right on a page, choose Inspect and check the Audits tab in the new window that opens in your browser. Here, you can test speed for mobile device or desktop, and on different bandwidths for example. The test result looks like this:
    Google Lighthouse test result
    Small remark: most sites appear slower in Lighthouse. This is because Lighthouse emulates a number of devices, for instance, a slow mobile/3g connection. (see the second bar in the screenshot above). With mobile first, this is actually a good thing, right?

Before Lighthouse, Google PageSpeed Insights already showed us a lot of speed improvements. They even let you download of optimized images, CSS and JS files. As you are working with WordPress, it might be a hard task to replace your files with these optimized ones though. Luckily, WordPress has plugins.

There are many, many more speed testing tools available online. These are just a few that I wanted to mention before going into WordPress solutions that will help you improve speed.

Optimizing your page speed using WordPress plugins

After running a page speed test, I am pretty sure that most website owners feel they should invest some time into optimizing that speed for their website. You will have a dozen recommendations. These recommendations differ from things you can do yourselves and some things that you might need technical help for.

Image optimization

Your speed test might return this recommendation:image optimization for speed
Images usually play a large part in speed optimization, especially if you use large header images. Or if your site is image-heavy overall. It’s always a good idea to optimize these images. And it can be done with little quality loss these days. One of the things to look for is, like in the page speed test example above, images that are in fact larger than they are shown on your screen. If you have an image that covers your entire screen, and squeeze that into a 300 x 200 pixels spot on your website, you might be using an image of several MB’s. Instead, you could also change the dimensions of your image before uploading. And serve the image in the right dimensions and at a file size of some KB’s instead. By reducing the file size, you are speeding up your website.

Setting image dimensions in WordPress

WordPress comes with a handy default feature, where every image you upload is stored in several dimensions:Settings > Media
So if you want all the images in your posts to be the same width, pick one of the predefined ones or set your custom dimensions here. Images that you upload scale accordingly to these dimensions and the image in the original dimensions will also be available for you.

If you load, for instance, the medium size image instead of the much larger original, this will serve an image in a smaller file size, and this will be faster.

Image optimization plugins

There are also a number of image optimization plugins (paid and free) for WordPress available, like Kraken.io, Smush or Imagify. These might, for instance, remove so-called Exif data from the image. That is data that is really interesting for a photographer and will contain information about what settings the camera used to make that photo. Not really something you need for the image in your blog post, unless perhaps if you are in fact a photographer. Depending on your settings, you could also have these plugins replace your image with an image that is slightly lower in quality, for instance.

Some of these aforementioned plugins can also help you resize your images, by the way. Test these plugins for yourself and see which one is most convenient to work with and minifies your image files the best way. For further reading about image optimization, be sure to check this post about image SEO.

Browser cache

Another issue that comes across a lot in page speed tests is browser cache optimization.
Pingdom browser cache recommendation
Browser cache is about storing website files, like JS and CSS, in your local temporary internet files folder, so that they can be retrieved quickly on your next visit. Or, as Mozilla puts it:

The Firefox cache temporarily stores images, scripts, and other parts of websites you visit in order to speed up your browsing experience.

Caching in WP Super Cache

Most speed optimization plugins help you to optimize this caching. Sometimes as simple as this:
WP Super Cache
The Advanced tab of WP Super Cache here has a lot of more in-depth configuration for that, but starting out with the set defaults of a plugin is usually a good start. After that, start tweaking these advanced settings and see what they do.

Note that WP Super Cache has an option to disable cache for what they call “known users”. These are logged in users (and commenters), which allows for development (or commenting) without caching. That means for every refresh of the website in the browser window, you will get the latest state of that website instead of a cached version. That last one might be older because of that expiration time. If you set that expiration time to say 3600 seconds, a browser will only check for changes of the cached website after an hour. You see how that can be annoying if you want to see, for instance, design changes right away while developing.

Other WordPress caching plugins

I mention WP Super Cache here because it’s free and easy to use for most users. But there are alternatives. WP Fastest Cache is popular as well, with over 600K+ active installs. It has similar features to optimize caching:
WP Fastest Cache
A paid plugin that I also like is WP Rocket. It’s so easy to configure, that you’ll wonder if you have done things right. But your page speed test will tell you that it works pretty much immediately straight out-of-the-box. Let me explain something about compression and show you WP Rockets settings for that.

Compression

Regardless of whether your page speed test tool tells you to:

  • Try to minify your CSS files,
  • minify the JS files of your site,
  • minify your HTML files or
  • enable (GZIP) compression

These recommendations are all compression related. It’s about making your files as small as possible before sending them to a browser. It’s like reducing the file size of your images, but for JavaScript or CSS files, or for instance your HTML file itself. GZIP compression is about sending a zipped file to your browser, that your browser can unzip and read. Recommendations may look like this:
Minify recommendation Lightspeed
In WP Rocket, the settings for compression look like this:
WP Rocket - Compression
Again, a lot is set to the right settings by default, as we do in Yoast SEO, but even more can be configured to your needs. How well compression works, might depend on your server settings as well.

If you feel like the compression optimization that is done with any of the plugins mentioned above fails, contact your hosting company and see if and how they can help you configure compression for your website. They will surely be able to help you out, especially when you are using one of these WordPress hosting companies.

Serving CSS and JS files

One more thing that speed tests will tell you, is to combine (external) CSS or JavaScript files or defer parsing scripts. These recommendations are about the way these files are served to the website.

The combine option for these files is, like you can see in the WP Rocket screenshot above, not recommended for HTTP/2 websites. For these websites, multiple script files can be loaded at the same time. For non-HTTP/2 sites, combining these files will lower the number of server requests, which again makes your site faster.

Deferring scripts or recommendations like “Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content” are about the way these scripts are loaded in your template files. If all of these are served from the top section of your template, your browser will wait to show (certain elements of) your page until these files are fully loaded. Sometimes it pays to transfer less-relevant scripts to the footer of your template, so your browser will first show your website. It can add the enhancements that these JavaScripts or CSS files make later. A plugin that can help you with this is Scripts-to-Footer. Warning: test this carefully. If you change the way that these files load, this can impact your website. Things may all of a sudden stop working or look different.

We have to mention CDNs

A Content Delivery Network caches static content. With static content, we mean files like HTML, CSS, JavaScript and image files. These files don’t change that often, so we can serve them from a CDN with many servers that are located near your visitors, so you can get them to your visitors super fast. It’s like traveling: the shorter the trip, the faster you get to your destination. Common sense, right? The same goes for these files. If the server that is serving the static file is located near your visitor (and servers are equally fast, obviously), the site will load faster for that visitor. Please read this post if you want to know more about CDNs.

There are many ways to optimize page speed in WordPress

Page speed tests will give you even more recommendations. Again, you might not be able to follow up on all of these yourself. Be sure to ask your expert in that case, like your web developer or agency, or your hosting company. But in the end, it’s good that you are using WordPress. There are many decent plugins that can help you optimize the speed of your website after a page speed test!

Read more: Site speed: tools and suggestions »

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You don’t even have to listen very carefully because SEO people are shouting it from the rooftops: site speed is everything. Not a day goes by without a new article, white paper, Google representative or SEO expert telling us that optimizing for speed is one of the most important things you can do right now. And they’re right, of course! Site speed influences SEO in many ways. Here’s a small overview of how site speed and SEO go together.

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You won’t have a second chance for that first impression: Everything starts with speed

Picture this: you have put in a lot of effort to make sure that your site works well, it has a great structure and includes fabulous targeted and relevant content. But that won’t be the first experience your potential visitor/client/consumer has with your site. They will have to load your site first before they can access that killer content. If it takes ages to load, there will be a significant drop-off and a lot fewer people will visit your site. A much faster competitor is just a single click away. Not investing in a fast site is almost like you don’t care for your customers. No reason for them to stay, right?

On mobile, site speed is even more of an issue. According to research by Google, the average mobile site takes over fifteen seconds to load while people expect them to load in less than three seconds before they consider leaving altogether. Every second counts, as conversions drop sharply with every second longer, your site takes to load.15 seconds to load a mobile page google research With that said, what are some reasons to improve the loading speed of your site?

  • Site speed is a ranking factor
  • Fast sites are easier to crawl
  • Fast loading sites have higher conversion rates
  • It reduces bounce rates
  • It improves general user experience (less stress!)

It all boils down to this: improve your site speed if you want happy customers and happy search engines! And who doesn’t want that, right?

Site speed is a ranking factor

Google has said time and again that a fast site helps you to rank better. Even as recently as this month, Google launched the so-called ‘Speed Update’ making site speed a ranking factor for mobile searches. Google stressed it would only affect the slowest sites and that fast sites getting faster won’t get a boost, but they are surely looking at site speed across the board. Only the slowest sites get hit now, but what about the future?

Loading times influence crawling

Modern sites are incredibly wieldy and untangling that mess can make a big difference already. Fix your site structure, clean up old and outdated posts and bring those redirects in order. Invest in a better hosting plan and turn those servers into finely tuned machines. The bigger your site is, the more impact of speed optimizations will have. These not just impact user experience and conversion rates but also affects crawl budget and crawl rate. If your servers are fast, Googlebot can come around more often and get more done.

Fast loading sites have higher conversion rates and lower bounce rates

Your goal should be to be the fastest site in your niche. Be faster than your competitors. Having a site or an e-commerce platform that takes ages to load won’t do you any good. People hit that back button in a split second, never to return. Not good for your bounce rate! By offering a fast site you are not only working on improving your conversion rate, but you’re also building trust and brand loyalty. Think of all the times you’ve been cursing the screen because you had to wait for a page to load — again — or been running in circles because the user experience was atrocious — again. It happens so often — don’t be that site.

Site speed improves user experience

Did you know that people experience real stress when experiencing mobile delays? And that this stress level is comparable to watching a horror movie? Surely not you say? That’s what the fine folks at Ericsson Research found a couple of years back. Improving your site speed across the board means making people happy. They’ll enjoy using your site, buy more and come back more often. This, of course, means that Google will see your site as a great search result because you are delivering the goods when it comes to site quality. Eventually, you might get a nice ranking boost. It’s a win-win situation!experiencing mobile delays ericsson research 2015

Optimizing your site is not just looking at pretty numbers

Optimizing your site for speed is not as simple as getting a good score in all those site speed test tools. Don’t blind yourself on scores and metrics. Most tests emulate an unrealistic environment, but guess what: the real world matters even more. Every user is different. Every visitor uses a different type of internet connection, device and browser. Find out who your users are, how they access your site and what they do while they’re there. Combine classic tools like Google’s recently updated PageSpeed Insights, WebPageTest.org and Lighthouse with analytical tools to get a broad overview of speed issues on your site. Use the recommendations to get started on improving your site speed, but do take these with a grain of salt; these recommendations are often hard to implement and not really realistic.

Ps: You are optimizing your images, right? Quick win right there!

Read more: Why every website needs Yoast SEO »

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A content delivery network (CDN) is a network of servers in different geographic locations working together to get content to load faster by serving it from a location near the visitor. Here, I’ll explain what this all means and what a CDN can do for you and your SEO.

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What does a CDN do?

A CDN caches static content. Static content is files like HTML, CSS, JavaScript and image files that stay the same for every user. These files don’t have to be dynamically generated based on a set of rules — that’s dynamic content; static files are just there and everyone uses these. By making these static files available on a CDN with many servers all around the world, you can get them to your visitors super fast.

Picture this: you’ve hosted your site on a server in San Francisco, California. I hear you asking: “But I have a web host, why would I need a CDN?” Well, whenever you load your site from your house near Oakland, it loads lightning fast. You’re physically close by, right? But do you think someone from Mumbai, India would have the same experience if he or she were to visit your site? Probably not. Why is that? Among other things, latency.

The longer the distance between a server and client — a.k.a. your browser —, the longer the latency will be. Latency is the time needed for the server to respond to a request. In suboptimal conditions that latency will keep getting worse. You can use a content delivery network — or CDN — to move your site closer to your visitor, so to say. The result? Less latency and a fast loading site. But a CDN can do a lot more, and we’ll get to that in a minute.

no cdn vs cdn wikipedia

On the left a typical situation without a cdn. Every visitor requests the site from the same server, no matter how far away they are. Right: with a cdn, every user requests the same site from a location near them. CC image: Wikipedia

What are the benefits of using a CDN?

There are several reasons for using a CDN for your site. Remember, you can do a lot of complicated stuff with a CDN, but most people will use it to get that nasty latency down and speed up the loading times of their sites. Here are several reasons to use a CDN:

  • Speeds up your site
  • Reduces bandwidth costs
  • Adds scalability: improves availability and uptime
  • Improves security

A CDN speeds up your site

For most people, the speed bump a CDN can deliver will be their main focus point. We’ve talked about that first reason already. Everyone wants a fast site and site owners do everything in their power to make their sites as fast as possible. A fast site offers a great experience for everyone. Plus, Google loves fast sites!

A CDN reduces bandwidth

The other reasons might be less obvious. A CDN helps you to get your bandwidth costs down because it serves up static content to users for their servers, not yours. This can have a drastic impact on your costs for web hosting. Often, traffic comes in waves and if the traffic exceeds the limits set by your hosting plan, you have to pay — big time. Of course, you have to pay for a solid CDN so you won’t keep a lot of extra cash in hand, but it does give you a firmer grip on what you’re spending.

A CDN can add a layer of security to your site

Adding a CDN in front of your site is a great way to improve security. The CDN provider has all kinds of tools that help with that. It can serve as a kind of firewall to protect your site from going down during a so-called Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS), for instance. It helps you guard against the most common threats out there. There are even specific settings to keep hackers out of your WordPress sites.

A CDN is scalable and improves availability and uptime

By hosting part of your website’s content, a CDN can help you enhance uptime and availability of your site. Also, many CDN providers also use tactics to make sure that your site doesn’t go down, whatever happens. Load balancing, for instance, can help your site stay online whenever you have a sudden, massive spike in your traffic.

Does using a CDN have any implications for SEO?

Your SEO won’t suffer if you activate a CDN. It might even help your rankings a bit because your site speed might get a big boost. In addition, by installing a CDN you can also use state-of-the-art technology like forcing a secure HTTPS connection and using the new HTTP/2 protocol to improve your site speed and uptime. In general, users should be happier if your site is excellent, snappy and secure. You should, however, take care that you implement it correctly. Most providers have specific instructions to set up a CDN without hurting SEO.

What CDN should I use?

There are numerous CDN providers out there. You should try and find one that offers the best mix of performance, features and price for your specific situation. We use Cloudflare at Yoast, but you could also consider some of the other well-known CDN providers like, for instance, Sucuri, MaxCDN, Microsoft Azure or Amazon CloudFront.

Most CDN providers have easy-to-follow setup instructions for WordPress sites, so you should be up and running in a couple of minutes. Some even offer WordPress plugins to improve the process even more. After setting up the account, you can get to work to improve the speed and security of your WordPress site.

Conclusion

A CDN is a great tool to improve the loading speed of your site. Not only that, but it also adds a layer of security to your site and improves uptime and reliability. If you are not using a CDN yet, you might be missing out. Pretty much every site can benefit from a CDN, so please investigate if it might help yours.

Read more: ‘What is SEO?’ »

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Whenever you click on a link to visit a site a request gets made to the server. The server answers with a status message (header) and a file list for that website. After viewing that list, the browser asks for the files one at a time. On the ‘old’ HTTP1.1 protocol, this process takes ages as there is only one line available that has to open and close after each file has been sent. HTTP/2 offers a dramatic speed boost as the line can be kept open and a lot of stuff can be sent at once. Meet HTTP/2!

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How does HTTP/2 work?

Let’s say you want a brand-new box of LEGO. First, you go to the store to get a specific box. When you get home, you open the box and see the instructions. The instructions say what you have to do: one brick at a time. Now, you can only get one brick at a time. You have to keep asking the instructions: “Which brick do I need now?” And the instructions will look and give you the right brick. This back-and-forth keeps happening until you have finished the entire LEGO set. Does the set have 3300 bricks? Well, that’ll take a while. This is HTTP1.1.

With HTTP/2 this changes. You go to the store to pick up your box. Open it, find the instructions and you can ask for all the bricks used on a part of the LEGO set. You can keep asking the instructions for more bricks, without having to look at the manual. “These bricks go together, so here they are.” If you want it really fast, you could even get all the bricks at once so you can build the set in an instant.

http1.1 vs http2

HTTP/2 can handle more things at once

HTTP/2 has a lot of cool features that can help speed up your loading times. The most important one, of course, is full multiplexing. This means that multiple requests can happen at the same time over a connection that stays open for the duration of the transfer process. Another cool thing is Server push; this starts as one request but when the server notices the HTML requires several assets, it can send these all at once without asking. This might be a good fit for your site, but that depends on factors too hard to explain here.

Like I said in the intro, with HTTP1.1 a browser requests a site -> server sends a header back -> that header contains a status message and HTML body -> for every file needed to build the site, a single connection has to be opened and closed and opened and closed. Whenever a piece of this puzzle acts up it can hold back the rest, slowing the process down even further. This is called head-of-line blocking and it sucks big time. This is one of the many reasons why HTTP1.1 can use an update.

Why HTTP/2 for SEO? Because site speed is important

We need speed. Site speed has been an SEO ranking factor for years. Now, with the introduction of the mobile-first index Google will take a critical look at the loading speed of your mobile site. Over the past few years, sites have only gotten bigger. Big sites have loads of assets like HTML, JavaScript, CSS, images et cetera and that equals longer loading time.

Another big issues is latency — especially on mobile devices. The longer your latency is, the longer it takes for your request to reach the server and for the server to send back the response. That’s why you should always use a CDN to reduce the time it will take to get your stuff to your readers from a nearby location. While browsers can handle a small amount of multiple connections, which in itself, adds additional time to the whole ordeal, the process of sending stuff back and forth doesn’t really change.

There are some things you can do to improve site speed by fine-tuning how your server handles these things, but at its core, HTTP1.1 isn’t a very efficient process. HTTP/2 makes this process a lot easier to manage for servers and browsers, therefore, drastically speeding things up. Keep in mind that the advent of HTTP/2 does not retire HTTP1.1 as browsers will still use the old protocol as fallback.

Implementing HTTP/2

Implementing HTTP/2 is fairly easy and it could be that your server is already using HTTP/2. Check with your hosting provider what your options are. You can also choose a Content Delivery Network, also known as a CDN, that offers a full HTTP/2 solution. HTTP/2 offers a quick performance win and it even lets you secure your site, because it uses HTTPS connections by default.

Conclusion to what is HTTP/2

HTTP/2 is a newish protocol that will drastically speed up the web. It uses new technologies to take away one of the biggest bottle necks of the web introducing full multiplexing connections. Servers can now open a single connection with a browser and keep sending all the files of a site until everything is done. After that the connection closes and the browser can render the site.

Read more: ‘Performance optimization in an HTTP/2 world’ »

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Just recently, a friend of mine asked me to have a quick peek at his website, as he felt some of his keywords didn’t perform as well as before. Some other websites outranked him in Google, and he wondered why. In such a case, it often pays to do a quick competitive analysis. In most cases, it’s not necessarily your site that’s performing worse; it’s other sites doing better. Now I know he’s all about content optimization and uses our plugin. First, I checked the configuration of the Yoast SEO Premium plugin, but all seemed to be in order. What else could have happened?

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If you want to do a competitive analysis to optimize your SEO efforts, there’s actually quite a lot you can do yourself, without having to hire an expensive SEO consultant. Let me take you through the steps!

Step 1: Define your keywords

It’s very important to use the right keywords in a competitive analysis. If you insist on using your, possibly branded, company outing as one of the main keywords, you might not even have any competition, let alone any decent organic traffic to your website. An example: if you are offering ‘holiday homes’, but insist on using the keyword ‘vacation cottage’, you are selling yourself short. Match the words your customers use.

Proper keyword research will be of help, not just for this competitive analysis, but for the entire SEO optimization of your website, so please put some effort in it.

Step 2: Analyze these keywords

Once you have defined the keywords you’d like to check against your competitors, the next step is obvious: do a search for these keywords. See who your competitors are by writing down who ranks higher than you.

Be realistic

If you are on page two in Google and want to do a competitive analysis with the number one, there is probably a lot to gain. But you should probably accept the fact that your rankings will go up step by step, and that the high ranking websites, depending on the keywords, might have a higher marketing budget than you to back their ranking strategies. It could be the main reason they rank so high. Don’t give up; our mission is ‘SEO for everyone‘ for a reason. Climb to higher rankings step by step and try to increase your marketing budget along the way.

Check the keywords and make them long-tail or add local keywords (city name, region name) to them, if needed. Do a thorough analysis. Google Trends will tell you what keywords have more traffic in the target markets for your business, and (free/paid) tools like Ahrefs.com and Searchmetrics.com will give you even more keyword insights.

Climbing up in rankings a (few) step(s) at a time

Sometimes, you can achieve a big improvement in your rankings. But if your website is ranking 6, it’s easier to climb to five or four first and then target the top three. Again, that top three probably has the marketing budget to go all out, where your immediate neighbors in rankings are struggling like you. Beat them first; it’s easier. Having said that: if you have the opportunity to dethrone number 1, 2, or 3, of course, go ahead and do so.

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Step 3: Check technical differences

You’ll need to check a number of things to determine on which aspects your competition is ahead of you. The next step of your competitive analysis, after listing the keywords you’d like to perform this analysis for, is to see if there are any technical differences.

Site speed

There are so many ways to check your site speed, which we have mentioned quite often already, like Pingdom and Google’s speed tools. No need for me to explain all that all over again. But, in a competitive analysis, speed insights will tell you if there is a huge difference between you and your main competitors in terms of serving the website and the user experience difference that goes with that. The faster the site, the happier the visitor, and the happier the search engine.

SSL/https

Https and SLL are about serving a secure website to your visitor. It’s becoming the default and for a good reason. Serving a secure website is about delivering the best user experience and gaining trust from your future customers. It is only logical to rank a secure website over a non-secure one. Again, there are multiple ways to check SLL/https in a competitive analysis. A nice overview is given by Builtwith.com, which gives you a ton of technical information, including SSL certificate, etc. You can obviously check your browser’s address bar for this as well, but Builtwith could give you some more insights while going over all other details. Like what CMS your competitor uses (and if he/she upgraded his/her WordPress install and you didn’t?).

Mobile site

Mobile-first. Mobile parity. Mobile UX. It’s all about mobile these days. It makes sense, as most of today’s website traffic is from mobile devices, exceptions aside.

A good mobile website is about getting your visitor to the right page as soon as possible. This has to do with speed, with deciding about top tasks on your website and with a clear and pleasant, branded design. Go check the websites of your competitors and see where they are clearly outperforming you. Test this, using for instance:

Step 4: Find content opportunities

Although technical optimizations are crucial, the quick wins will probably be in the field of content. What have you written about your company and products, and what did your competitor publish on their website?

Click all menu items

What are the main pages, what is your competitor trying to sell? And how did he/she manage to rank above you? See how focused their menu is and what pages they link to from there. We’ve found that placing ourselves in the mindset of our visitor pays off much more than writing about all the amazing SEO stuff we managed to add to our plugins, or all the SEO knowledge we share in our courses. What’s the end goal of all that SEO? It’s serving your website better to Google, which will lead to better rankings. You might not care about what schema.org does, or what XML sitemaps are, but if they benefit your business goals, you probably want to add them to your website.

See if your competitor tells a better story than you. And improve your story. The main menu of your website should be targeted at your visitor, not as much at explaining all the awesome things you came up with.

Category pages or product pages

If you have a shop, it could be interesting to do a competitive analysis of your competitor’s shop structure. Is he or she trying to persuade the customer on a product page, or already on category pages? In a market where there are a gazillion products, ranking in each and every niche is tough! It’s probably better to optimize most of your category pages. Write appealing, quality content, make these pages cornerstone and try to rank a lot of ’em. Here’s more on optimizing that category page of your online shop.

Your competitive analysis will tell you which of these pages are optimized by your main competitors. Optimize yours accordingly and, obviously, better.

Sitemap

A sitemap can show you the site structure of your competitor, be it via an HTML sitemap or XML sitemap. It can tell you, for instance, if he or she is targeting certain long-tail keywords via the slugs of the pages, and a few clicks to their pages will tell you how their internal linking is done.

You can find that sitemap on most sites at example.com/sitemap.xml or example.com/sitemap_index.xml or at example.com/sitemap. Sometimes a website simply doesn’t have that sitemap, but tools like Screaming Frog and Xenu might help you out. Crawl the site and order by URL.

Blog

The main question here is: do you have a blog? A blog makes for dynamic content, keeps your site current and, if you post regularly, Google will find all kinds of interesting, recent ‘Last Updated’ dates. If you don’t have a blog, and your competitor has and ranks better, get a blog. Your competitor has probably woven that blog into their content strategy.

Step 5: Compare UX

Great UX makes for better time-on-site, more pageviews, and a lower bounce rate. I’m not going into this too much here, as I think in a competitive analysis you should focus on other things first, but I wanted to highlight two things: call-to-action and contact.

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Call-to-action

A great call-to-action helps any page. Regardless of whether it’s to drive sales or engagement, every page needs a proper call-to-action. Simply go over some of your competitor’s pages and see how they went about this. See if you can grab some ideas of this and improve your own call-to-action. Oh, and remove that slider and/or video background. That’s not a call-to-action. That’s a call to no action.

Contact page & address details

Your contact page and your address details could be the end goal of a visit to your page. If so, check how the competition created that page. Did they add structured data, for instance? Is there a contact form? Did they make it easier to find these details than you did? Adjust accordingly, if comparing this sparks some great ideas.

Step 6: Perform a backlink analysis

Last but not least: if all seems reasonably the same, and there is no logical way to explain why your competitor outranks you, it just might be that the other website has a great deal more relevant links than you do. Or simply better ones. You’d have to check Ahrefs.com, Moz’s OpenSiteExplorer or, for instance, Searchmetrics for this.

Follow-up on your competitive analysis!

At this point, you know the main differences between your competitor’s site and your site. This is the moment where you start prioritizing optimizations and get to work. First, take care of low-hanging fruit, and fix things that are easily fixed asap. Next, determine what issues might have the biggest impact on your rankings, and solve these as well. If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you will have no problem with this. I’d go for any speed and content issues first, and try to get some more backlinks in the process.

If you can’t solve any of these issues, feel free to reach out to any of our partners. They can probably help you out, or perform an even more thorough competitive analysis for you!

Read more: ‘3 SEO quick wins to implement right now’ »

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We’re all ready for a new year of increasing sales, lifting engagement and giving our website the best effort possible. It only seems right to give you a three-step rocket of SEO quick wins, to kick-start your website for 2018. In this post, I will show you three things you can do right now to improve your website for your visitors, and for Google in the process. Let’s dive right in with number one.

#1 Optimize speed

No matter if you want to improve your mobile website or your desktop website, speed is something you want to monitor and improve all the time. These are fast times, and speed is definitely what you want to optimize for.

In a simple breakdown of speed optimization, we have images, browser caching, and script optimization. Google PageSpeed will tell you that, Pingdom will tell you that. Gzip Compression is the fourth one, but that should be enabled by default in my book. More on compression here. Let’s look at the other three.

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File size optimization

Optimizing your file size is an important part of image SEO, so let’s start there. There are a few ways to approach this:

  • Optimize the image file size in Photoshop (or any other image edit program you use). Usually, just exporting the image in a lower quality will already do the trick. I usually check whether reducing the quality to around 80% of the original still gives me a crisp image.
  • Download an application like ImageOptim or any of these applications and further optimize your file size before uploading.
  • Last but not least, make sure that the image dimensions of the image you use, fit the image ‘space’ that you reserved for it on the webpage. Don’t display a 1200×400 pixels photo as a 300×100 pixels image by adding CSS or whatever.

Browser caching

Browser caching is the way your browser stores files of a website, for instance the logo you see at the top of our website, so it doesn’t have to load them from the internet every time you visit another page of our website. This obviously saves time. There are many ways to go about this, but the easiest is probably (if you are using a WordPress site) using a plugin. Most speed optimization plugins support this browser caching and most set them right time for you. Among some of my favorite speed plugins are WP SuperCache, which is free, and WP Rocket, which is a premium plugin. For more on browser caching, visit this page.

Optimize script handling

You can load a gazillion JavaScript (JS) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) files to enhance your website, but in the end all these extra files just slow your website down. Please focus on these steps to optimize your script handling:

  1. Are you sure you need that enhancement? JS and CSS usually target design and user experience. In some cases, you just don’t need that enhancement. Like JS and CSS loaded for sliders, for instance. There are alternatives to sliders that work better and don’t require extra files.
  2. Is there a way to reduce the file size of these scripts / styles? We call this process ‘minifying’. We have an Ask Yoast about it. Google has some great pointers on how to approach this. Simple scripts and handy websites can help you minify your files, for instance by stripping comments. Most platforms have plugins or extensions that help with this. For instance, Magento has the Fooman Speedster (free and paid) for that.
  3. Is it possible to combine a number of these scripts into one file? That way, there only has to be one call to the server to retrieve all the scripts. Again, there are plugins for that, but if you have small pieces of JS, you might as well combine these yourself. Of course, the advent of HTTP/2 changes some of these optimization practices. Test this!

#2 Mobile optimization

It’s tempting to copy our ultimate guide to mobile SEO here, but let’s focus on the quick wins. You need to focus on mobile SEO these days, to be ready for Google’s mobile-first index. Google will start to determine rankings based on the quality of the mobile version of a site, only taking your desktop site into account after that. So, let’s get that mobile version up and running, right?

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Task-based design

Open your mobile website. Imagine you are a fresh, new user of your website. What would that person want to do here and is your site ready for that? Focus on a task-based design. If we are on a mobile website, we might need opening hours or an address. Just the other day, I purchased tickets for the Nederlands Openluchtmuseum on my mobile phone. Saved a buck and didn’t have to get in line for tickets. I did this, walking from my car to the entrance. One needs to be able to do these basic tasks without any problem. Ask yourself what the four, perhaps five main goals of a visitor on your website are and make sure these can be done on your mobile website.

Performance-based design

Are you loading any huge images on your site? Do people have to scroll for ages to read the good stuff you offer them? On a mobile website, we want to get in and get out as fast as possible – unless it’s, for instance, a news website. Loading time is a factor on a mobile site, especially with mobile connections usually being slower than most desktop connections. Make sure your design and content don’t depend on large images too much. And yes, there are exceptions to that rule. If I visit a photographer’s website, I know beforehand that I am in for longer loading times. I want crisp images and that is the price I pay. Optimize to an acceptable level for your target audience.

Write great content

This goes for mobile and desktop versions of your site: they need great content. A quick win for mobile content is to add a to-the-point first paragraph. If you tell your visitor what’s on your page, they can decide for themselves if they want to scroll down or not. It helps user experience to do this.

And of course, you’ll need to write awesome content after that paragraph as well. You still need to do keyword research, set up a great site structure and decide on cornerstone content. But you can imagine that to be a slightly lengthier process, and we’re talking quick wins here :)

#3 Serve your content in the right format

There are so many ways to serve your content to Google, Facebook and your visitors. Your task for 2018 is definitely to investigate which formats you should invest in. Some take a bit more time to implement; others can be added to your website by the push of a button, like with a plugin. Let’s go over a few important ones.

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Better social sharing: Open Graph

Forget about Twitter Cards for now, as Twitter has a fallback to Open Graph. So add Open Graph to your website if you haven’t done this already. It’s like a social summary of your website. For our homepage, it reads among other things:

<meta property="og:title" content="SEO for everyone • Yoast" />
<meta property="og:description" content="Yoast helps you with your website optimization, whether it be through our widely used SEO software or our online SEO courses: we're here to help." />
<meta property="og:url" content="https://yoast.com/" />
<meta property="og:site_name" content="Yoast" />

There’s a page / site title and summary plus link, which tells Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter all they need to know to create a great post on your visitor’s timeline. You can add an og:image to create a richer experience. Be sure to add this. Again, use a plugin like Yoast SEO for TYPO3 to automate the process (and add these Twitter Cards along with Open Graph in no time).

Quick reads on other platforms: AMP

Facebook links to your AMP article if possible. Ever found yourself reading an article in Google? Might be AMP as well. Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP, aim to strip your website to the bare necessities to deliver your reader the best mobile experience they can get. If they want to read your article, AMP will give ’em just your article in a basic design. If you want to check a certain product, AMP will strip the store to deliver a focused design. A bad thing? I think not. Every way you can help your visitor get a better experience, increases the chance of them coming back to your content / site. It might increase sales, because it’s so focused. Go read up on AMP and get your site ready. Again: plugins.

Tell Google what your page is about: Schema.org

I will end this list of quick SEO wins with something we have been telling you about quite often in the past year: add schema.org to your website. Structured data, like Open Graph and schema, create a convenient summary of your website for every other site that wants to use your content. Schema.org data is one of the main types of structured data. JSON-LD gives us a convenient way of adding it to our website. Our Local SEO plugin adds the right schema.org so that Google can add your company to Google Maps as well, for instance. Add schema.org data to your website and see your company in the knowledge graph as well.

Serving your content in the right format is essential to deliver it to other ‘places’ on the website. Be sure to use it. And if you are not sure what structured data you should use to optimize your pages, be sure to enroll in our Structured Data Training. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution? Good luck optimizing!

Read more: ‘Search and SEO in 2018’ »

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Today’s case study is about renting holiday homes. There are a million holiday homes out there in all shapes and sizes. So what about a castle? A reader sent us a link to the site of a beautiful castle, located in France: Chateau de Lastours. The rooms and apartments are for rent. Let’s have a look at their site to see how they can improve it and welcome more visitors!

Speeding up the trip to France

One of the first things you will notice about a site is the speed. How long does it take for a page to fully load? In this case, we used Google’s PageSpeed Insights to get an idea of the site speed. Unfortunately, this site doesn’t do so well. For the homepage on desktop, it scores a poor 33 / 100, and 30 / 100 for the mobile view. But the upside is that this tool immediately gives a lot of suggestions on how to improve your site.

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Improving images

For a site like this, it is important to have great pictures, so visitors can have a look at the location where they may spend their holiday. However, most of the time, quality images have a large file size, which slows down your page. Optimizing these images, for instance, by compressing them using a tool such as Kraken, you can keep the image’s quality, while reducing the file size.

Turn on browser caching and compression

Two technical aspects to improve your site speed are enabling browser caching and compression. Both sound complicated and I’m not going to lie to you, it is kind of technical, but improving these things will speed up your site a lot!

  • Browser caching has to do with all of the web files a browser must load to properly display a site. The first time you do this it can take a bit longer to load a page. But if you have browser caching enabled, the second time a lot of these static files (such as HTML, CSS and images) are stored in the browser’s cache (which means memory) and can, therefore, be accessed much faster.
  • GZIP compression is about compressing your web pages and style sheets before they’re sent to the browser. This makes your page load faster.

Both options can be activated by adding a piece of code to your .htaccess file. A .htaccess file is a configuration file for use on web servers running the Apache Web Server software. In our Yoast SEO plugin, you can easily edit the .htaccess file and put in an extra piece of code. Make sure to create a backup of your site before you do this, in case something goes wrong. But in my experience, following the steps from the Siteground tutorial, is a good way to do this. Here, you can find the tutorial for browser caching and compression.

Pardon my French!

Don’t worry, I’m not planning to curse my way through this review. But I do have some remarks about the different languages on the site. First of all, my compliments for having the ability to switch between several languages. This makes your site usable for a much larger audience. But I also see some aspects which aren’t ideal. When I open the blog page, I see posts in various languages. You should consider translating every post to every language so all your visitors can have the full experience.

Secondly, some pages have elements in various languages, which is kind of confusing. For instance, this wedding page.

Last but not least, a little comment on the menu items on the English version of the site. The ‘restaurant’ menu item is in French (Table d’hôtes). Now, my high school French isn’t what it used to be anymore, so I couldn’t figure out what this meant until clicking on the menu item itself and reading the page. This is not ideal. You want your menu items to be as clear as possible, to entice visitors to click on them.

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Make sure you don’t get lost

Lately, Google is focusing more and more on structured data. Google uses this to understand the content on a certain page. There is some basic data that almost every company can add, such as structured data for contact details. But in this case, I’d also recommend adding structured data for lodging businesses. This way, Google can immediately recognize the purpose of your site and take that into account when potential visitors search for something that you can offer them. In our structured data training, we explain everything you need to know about implementing structured data.

Another important aspect of making sure that potential visitors can find you, is registering on sites like booking.com. You can optimize your site all you want, but a lot of potential visitors will never even search in Google for a vacation rental in France. Instead, they’ll just go to large sites that offer all the the options and information they need. Fortunately, Chateau de Lastours, can be found on booking.com, which makes them findable for a large audience.

Meeting the locals

The Chateau de Lastours’ site is already doing a great job with how their site looks. It has the right ‘look’ and ‘feel’ you want for such a site; it contains lots of pictures but not in a spammy way. And it has a clear menu which shows all the services they have to offer. Yet, I do have one recommendation: adding an ‘about us’ page. This is a small business, in which the owners themselves provide all the services, which can be a unique selling point you want to display on your site. An ‘about us’ page should contain a short introduction of the owners, why they decided to move to France and start this business, and how passionate they are about their work. Don’t forget to add pictures of yourself! Such a page will increase trust among your visitors and could convince them that they want to stay with these people.

Let’s go to the chateau!

All in all, the website of the Chateau de Lastours is already doing well on many aspects. It offers content in several different languages and has a clear menu which leads visitors to the right pages. The imagery on the site evokes the warm atmosphere of Southern France. Doing this case study, I immediately felt like packing my bags and spending a week at the chateau, and that’s exactly the kind of feeling you want your visitors to have. If the site owners improve their site speed, work a bit more on the different languages on their site and add an ‘about us’ page, they’ll surely attract even more guests to stay with them!

Read more: ‘How to avoid common SEO mistakes’ »

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This week, we’ve been showing you how to perform an SEO audit on your website. By regularly auditing your – or your client’s – sites, you can get a good feel for what you still need to do to improve SEO. In part 1, I talked about user experience and content SEO and in part 2, I’ve touched on general SEO issues. Here, I’ll round off this series with a look at site speed and engagement.

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Perform an SEO audit: Site speed

Let’s not forget the speed of your site, not just because we all browse the web a lot more on our mobile devices, over not-so-broadband networks, but also because a fast site makes Google and in most cases your conversion rate happier.

Combine and minify CSS and JS files

The first and easiest check would be to open the source of your website in a browser and do a search for “.js” or “.css”. If the amount of results scares you, you know there’s work to do. I can’t give you an exact number for this, but multiple lines of JavaScript files or CSS files, usually indicate there’s a large change that you can speed up your site by minifying JS or CSS files and combine them. Google Page Speed Insights will also tell you if this is an area you can improve in, and guide you a bit in the process:

SEO Audit: PageSpeed Insights

Click the “Show how to fix links” in there for more information. Another Google tool to help you check your site speed is Google Lighthouse.

Browser caching

Browser caching is about how a browser remembers / stores your website for faster visiting the next time you come to that website. There are plenty of plugins like WP Rocket or WP Super Cache that can help you with this. If you’re not sure if you need to optimize your browser caching, simply check how you are doing in the Google PageSpeed Insights we mentioned earlier, or websites like WebpageTest.org. It will tell you among other things how if your browser caching is optimized. These websites will also tell you if there is room for improvement regarding compression.

Enable compression

Compression is making your files as small as possible before sending them to the user’s browser (where they indeed might/will end up in your browser caching). As Google itself puts it:

Enabling gzip compression can reduce the size of the transferred response by up to 90%, which can significantly reduce the amount of time to download the resource, reduce data usage for the client, and improve the time to first render of your pages.

The same tools as mentioned at browser caching work for compression, but as I feel compression should be on for every website, I really liked to mention it separately. Check your compression yourself. In addition, there’s no need to compress files when your site is on a HTTP/2 connection. Read more about performance optimization in an HTTP/2 world.

Engagement

Google will bring people to your website, but engagement can help return visitors and for instance sales promotions.

Social media

The obvious engagement related thing is social media. Check some social platforms, starting with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to see if your desired audience is present on these platforms. If you haven’t created a profile there, please do so and start building your audience.

If you are doing this, please check if these social profiles are listed on your website, and how they are listed. Would you subscribe yourself, or do you have to go on a search quest to find these buttons? Monitor clicks on these buttons, because a lot of people just look for your company on Facebook instead of clicking those. If nobody uses these buttons, replace them with a footer link or something like that. How to approach this depends on how popular your social profile is / will become.

Newsletter

We changed our newsletter approach for the better a while back when we switched from two to three newsletters a week. That seems like a lot, I know. Our main goal is to deliver something extra in every newsletter. Of course, we want to keep you up-to-date regarding SEO, our newest articles and promotions, and events. But we keep a keen eye on that newsletter and strive not to repeat ourselves.

If you are ready to start sending that newsletter, please add the subscription option for that newsletter on a nice spot on your website, not hidden from your audience, but in plain sight. Don’t ask you, subscribers, a ton of information about themselves, but simply have them fill out their email address and start sending that newsletter.

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You’ve just done your (first) SEO audit

If you have reached the end of this article series, you have intentionally or unintentionally, done your (first) SEO audit. I am sure that during the reading of this article, you have gone over your site, beit in your mind or actually over your site, and you have found something to work on.

If you perform an SEO audit now and then, you make sure your website’s up-to-date. It should be part of your frequent site maintenance cycle, I think. Good job!

Any additions for quick checks of your site’s SEO health? Love to hear from you!

Read more: ‘WordPress SEO: the Definitive Guide’ »

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