WordPress: The Missing Manual (2014)
Part III. Supercharging Your Blog
Chapter 12. Attracting a Crowd
Now that you know how to build a fantastic WordPress site, you need to show it off to the world. That means you need to spend some serious time promoting your site.
Web promotion can be grueling work, and many WordPressers would rather avoid the subject altogether. Not only does it take a significant amount of effort, but the benefits aren’t always clear, and you often need to pursue a promotional strategy without knowing how well it’ll work. The best approach is to make web promotion as easy and natural as possible. That means weaving it into your daily routine and integrating it into the way your website works. It also means using honest promotional strategies rather than search engine ploys and other trickery. Follow the guidelines here, and you’ll still have plenty of time to pursue your real job—publishing fabulous content.
In this chapter, you’ll learn a common-sense approach to web promotion. You begin with the best type of advertising a site can have, word-of-mouth recommendations. That doesn’t mean waiting for your site to crop up in casual conversation. Instead, it involves learning how to help your readers rate, “Like,” and tweet your content through social media services such as Facebook and Twitter.
Next, you’ll help existing readers bond with your site. You’ll notify them when you publish new posts and alert them when their comments receive a reply. Done right, these steps build long-term relationships with your fans and increase the number of repeat visitors.
After that, you’ll consider a few basics of SEO (search engine optimization). You’ll learn how to use plug-ins to make your site more Google-friendly, so web searchers can stumble across your site while hunting for content. Finally, you’ll take a look at web statistics so you can assess how well your promotional strategies are working.
Encouraging Your Readers to Share
There’s a gaping chasm of difference between commercial promotion and personal recommendations. If you can get your readers to share your posts and recommend your site to friends, you’ll accomplish far more than the average ad campaign.
Usually, sharing means enlisting the help of Facebook and Twitter, two social sites that are all about exchanging information, from gossipy chitchat to breaking news. With the right WordPress settings and widgets, you can make it easy for your visitors to recommend your site to their friends and followers.
Most of the features in this chapter require WordPress.com or the Jetpack plug-in for self-hosted sites. So if you’re building a WordPress.org site, now is a good time to get Jetpack up and running, if you haven’t already; The Jetpack Plug-In explains how.
UP TO SPEED: FACEBOOK AND TWITTER: A REFRESHER
Without doubt, Facebook and Twitter are the kingpins of the social Web. It’s unlikely that either service needs an introduction, but if you’ve spent the last several years asleep in a cave, here’s what you need to know:
§ Facebook (www.facebook.com) is a social hub where you keep up with your friends and report the goings-on in your life (usually by uploading pictures and writing short, semi-public posts). Facebook is also a great place for musicians, artists, local businesses, and big companies. They can interact with customers and fans through a Facebook Page, a special promotional tool you’ll consider on Letting People Like Your Site.
§ Twitter (http://twitter.com) is a service for sending micro-sized messages out to the world, for anyone who wants to read them (by signing up to become your “follower”). For example, the people following your messages might include friends, colleagues, or rabid fans.
The two sites are complementary—some people favor one over the other, while many use both. The important detail for a website builder like yourself is this: Out of all the people visiting your site, a significant portion will have a Facebook or Twitter account. So far, your website has ignored this fact. But WordPress helps you put social media to good use with features like enhanced comments (Facebook and Twitter Comments), sharing (Encouraging Your Readers to Share), and publicity (Publicizing Your Posts on Social Media).
How Sharing Buttons Work
Sharing is often an impulsive act. You stumble across a site, it catches your easily distracted mind for a few seconds, and you pass the word out to a few choice friends. You’re more likely to share a site if the process is quick and easy—for example, if the site provides a handy link that does the bulk of the job for you. If a guest has to fire up her email program or log in to another site (like Facebook or Twitter), she might just defer the task for another time—and then forget about it altogether.
The best way to make sharing easy, quick, and convenient is to add buttons that reduce the task to a couple of mouse clicks (Figure 12-1). That way, your readers can share your site before they move on to their next distraction.
Figure 12-1. This site has three sharing buttons, which appear after the post and just before the comments section. Readers can share a link to this post by email, Twitter, or Facebook.
Email sharing is great for guests who may not use social media. Best of all, it works even if your visitor doesn’t have an email program handy, because WordPress sends the message on your guest’s behalf.
To share a post by email, a visitor starts by clicking the Email link. A box drops down so he can type in the recipient’s email address, his name, and his email address. Once he fills in those details and clicks Send Email, WordPress delivers a short message that looks something like this:
Jason Minegra (firstname.lastname@example.org) thinks you may be interested in the following post:
The Felon I Didn’t Represent
Facebook sharing is another good option, simply because of Facebook’s mind-boggling popularity. When a guest clicks the Facebook button, WordPress takes her to the Facebook site, where she can share the link and post an excerpt on her timeline (Figure 12-2).
Figure 12-2. Two mouse clicks and an optional comment are all it takes to share a post with your Facebook friends.
Twitter sharing is a great way to get the word out into the ever-chattering Twitter-verse. Serious Twitter fans are always looking for small tidbits of interesting material, and your Tweet button will be a hard temptation for them to resist. When a guest clicks it, WordPress pops up a new browser window, asking the tweeter to log in to Twitter and offering to send the link to his followers.
Adding Sharing Buttons
To add sharing buttons to posts or pages, your site needs to run on WordPress.com or use a plug-in. In this chapter, you’ll stick to the familiar Jetpack plug-in, which adds the same sharing buttons as WordPress.com. To get started, choose Settings→Sharing to go to the Sharing Settings page. There, you choose the buttons you want to add to your site and decide where they appear.
WordPress divides the Sharing Settings page into several sections. In the Available Services area, it displays a long list of sharing buttons. To add one to your site, drag it to the Enabled Services section of a post or page (Figure 12-3).
Figure 12-3. Adding sharing buttons is a lot like arranging widgets. You pick the ones you want (by dragging them into the Enabled Services section) and arrange them in the order you like. Below that, the Live Preview section shows you exactly what the buttons will look like on your site.
Email, Facebook, and Twitter aren’t your only sharing options, but they’re three of the best. Another good choice is the Print button, which gives people an easy way to print out your post and take it to their friends on foot. But the best advice for sharing buttons is to use just a few of the most useful ones (ideally, cap it at four or five). Too many buttons can overwhelm your readers and make you look needy.
Once you pick your sharing buttons, you need to tell WordPress where to display them—on your home page, on posts, and so on. You do that by turning on the checkboxes next to the places listed under “Show sharing buttons on.” Here are your options:
§ Posts. This adds the sharing buttons to single-post pages—the ones with your post content and comments section. You definitely want sharing buttons here.
§ Pages. This adds sharing buttons to each static page (for example, the About Me page you may have on your site). Static pages usually show content that doesn’t change often and isn’t as newsworthy as your posts, so you might not want sharing buttons on these pages.
§ Front Page, Archive Page, and Search Results. This adds sharing buttons after each post, when it appears in a list of posts—for example, on your site’s front page or in a page of search results. You might choose to put sharing buttons here if your home page shows complete posts rather than just excerpts. In that case, it’s reasonable to assume that some visitors will do all their reading on your home page, without clicking through to the single-post page. But if your home page displays excerpts, you definitely don’t want sharing buttons, because it’ll seem wildly presumptuous to ask your readers to share posts they haven’t even read.
It’s unfortunate that WordPress combines the Front Page, Archive Page, and Search Results options into a single setting. When you perform a search, you never see more than an excerpt of a post, so it doesn’t make sense to have sharing buttons in search results, even if you do want sharing buttons on your front page. Sadly, WordPress won’t let you make this distinction.
§ Media. This adds sharing buttons to attachment pages, which display media files. For example, readers can get to this page by clicking a picture in a gallery (Better Performance with Caching). It’s not terribly important to add sharing buttons here, because most of your readers won’t go to these pages or spend much time on them.
Once you pick your sharing buttons and choose where they’ll appear, click Save Changes. You can now browse to your site and give them a whirl.
More Ways to Customize Your Sharing Buttons
WordPress gives you a surprising degree of control over your sharing buttons. Under the Live Preview section, you’ll find several options:
§ Button style. Ordinarily, this is set to “Icon + text.” Choose “Text only” to remove the tiny pictures from your sharing buttons, or use “Icon only” if you want tiny picture buttons with no text (which makes the buttons more difficult for people to understand but does save space). The “Official buttons” option is a bit weirder—it uses the style conventions of the appropriate service (in other words, the Facebook button has the visual styling set by Facebook, the Twitter button has the look designed by Twitter, and so on). The drawback is that you end up with a mishmash of subtly different fonts, colors, and spacing in your sharing buttons (see Figure 12-4).
§ Sharing label. This is the text that appears just before your sharing buttons. The standard is “Share this:” but if you want to write “Spread the word!” no one’s going to stop you.
§ Open links in. Some sharing buttons take your readers to another site. For example, the standard Facebook button takes guests to Facebook and asks for a comment (Figure 12-2). Ordinarily, this means your visitor leaves your site. But if you choose “New window” for the “Open links in” option (Figure 12-3), the browser opens a new window when a visitor clicks a sharing button.
Figure 12-4. When someone on Facebook clicks the Like button under a post, the post’s Like count increases. In this example, four Facebook users enjoyed this post.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION: SELECTIVELY HIDING SHARING BUTTONS
I don’t want all my posts and pages to be the same. Can I show sharing buttons on some but not all posts and pages?
To understand how, you need to understand that WordPress displays sharing buttons only if your site meets two criteria. First, in the “Show sharing buttons on” section, you must turn on the Posts checkbox. Second, when you create or edit a post, you need to check “Show sharing buttons on this post.” WordPress automatically adds the checkmark for every new post, but you can change that.
Consider an example. Imagine you have a site with 36 posts and you want to allow sharing on all but three. First make sure you have the Posts checkbox at Settings→Sharing turned on. Then, turn off the “Show sharing buttons on this post” checkbox for the three posts that shouldn’t have sharing buttons.
The same technique works for pages, except that WordPress pays attention to the Pages checkbox rather than the Posts checkbox on the Settings→Sharing page.
If you host your site on WordPress.com, you see an additional option that lets you turn WordPress.com “Likes” on or off. You’ll learn more about that feature on Letting People Like Your Site.
There’s one quirk in the way the Facebook button functions. Ordinarily, clicking the Facebook button shares a post by inviting you to publicize it on your timeline. But when you switch on the “Official buttons” option, the Facebook button becomes a Like button, which simply collects your vote of approval and counts the number of Likes the page has (Figure 12-4).
“Liking” isn’t quite the same thing as sharing. For example, if Victor Gonzales shares a post (using the standard Facebook button), he gets the chance to add a comment on his Facebook timeline. If he “Likes” a post (using the Like button), Facebook makes a note of the action but doesn’t ask Victor to supply a comment. In both cases, Victor’s friends will see a link to the post in their News Feeds, along with an excerpt.
The Sharing Settings page has one more nifty feature you haven’t used: a pop-up panel you can add to a post that reveals additional sharing buttons. If you feel compelled to stuff your page with a large number of sharing buttons, you can hide some of the less important ones in this panel. That way, they’ll be tucked out of sight until a visitor clicks the “+ Share” button, which WordPress adds automatically (Figure 12-5).
Figure 12-5. This site crams in nine sharing buttons. However, the less commonly used ones start off hidden. When someone clicks “+ Share,” the additional options appear in the drop-down panel shown here.
Letting People Like Your Site
As you’ve seen, visitors can use the Facebook button to share and “Like” your posts. But you might prefer to let Facebookers show their appreciation for your site as a whole, using the sort of Like box shown in Figure 12-6.
Figure 12-6. This Facebook Like box sits in a post’s sidebar. It lets visitors “Like” your entire site. It also counts up the total number of Likes you have and displays profile pics of your most recent Facebook fans.
There are two good reasons to create a site-wide Like box:
§ It advertises your whole site on Facebook, not just one post. As a result, it’s more likely to get people interested in your content.
§ It centralizes voting in one place. If your site doesn’t attract huge amounts of traffic, your posts may accumulate only a few Likes. But if you include a single Like button for your entire site, your Like count will probably reach a larger, more respectable-looking number.
There’s one extra hassle with the Like button: To let people “Like” your site, you need to create a Facebook Page for it.
A Facebook Page is a public meeting spot you create on Facebook. You use it to promote something—say, a company, a cause, a product, a television show, or a band. You might already have a Facebook Page to promote your business or yourself (for example, musicians, comedians, and journalists often do). Any Facebook member can create one.
A Facebook Page is similar to a personal Facebook profile, but it’s better suited to promotion. That’s because anyone can visit a Facebook Page and read its content, even if they aren’t Facebook friends with the page owner, or don’t even have a Facebook account. Those who do have accounts can do the usual Facebook things—click Like to follow the page, post on the page’s timeline, and join in any of its discussions. Generally, a personal Facebook profile is better suited to keeping up with friends or networking with business contacts, while a Facebook Page offers a better way to promote yourself, your business, or your cause to masses of people you don’t know. If you don’t have a Facebook Page and you aren’t sure how to create one, see the box on Creating a Facebook Page.
Once you create a Facebook Page, it’s easy to add a Facebook Like box to your site. Once again, your site needs to run on WordPress.com, or you need the Jetpack plug-in. If it meets either of these requirements, follow these steps:
1. Choose Appearance Widgets.
The familiar Widgets page opens.
2. Drag the Facebook Like box into one of the widget areas.
Ideally, you should add the widget to your home page (with its list of posts), and to your single-post pages. Some themes (like Twenty Eleven) don’t include a sidebar on the single-post page. That means you need to put the Like box somewhere else, such as in the footer area.
3. Type in the Facebook Page web address.
The easiest way to do that is to visit your page through Facebook and then copy the address from your browser’s address bar.
4. Optionally, configure the other settings for the Facebook Like box.
Like any widget, you can give the Facebook Like box a title, but that’s really not necessary. You can also set its width, change its color scheme, and choose whether you want to display your fans’ faces (as in Figure 12-6), the latest posts from your page’s news stream, or the latest posts from its timeline. If you opt out of all these options, you get a very compact box that includes a Like button, the number of Likes you’ve received, and a tiny thumbnail of the profile picture from your Facebook Page.
5. Click Save.
This adds the Like box widget to your page.
UP TO SPEED: CREATING A FACEBOOK PAGE
To create a Facebook Page, go to www.facebook.com/pages/create.php. You start by clicking the button that best represents the type of page you want—for example, you can create one for a local business, a big company, a band, a product, a public figure, or a cause. Depending on the button you click, Facebook asks you for more information, like your name and address. Once you fill that in, you click Get Started.
You now need to either sign in to your Facebook account or create a new one. It’s easy—all you need is an email address, a password, and a birth date.
When you finish signing in or registering, Facebook asks for a few final ingredients (Figure 12-7):
§ A description. This is a few sentences that describe you or your business. It shows up on your Facebook Page, so make sure your description is fun and engaging.
§ A link to another site. This part is optional, but it makes sense to supply a link to your WordPress site here.
§ A profile picture for your page. You can upload it from your computer or grab it off your WordPress site, if you have a link. Facebook pictures are square-shaped, so don’t try to use your WordPress site header picture.
Click Save Info, and Facebook creates your page. Make note of its web address, which appears in your browser’s address bar—you need to copy it into the Facebook Like box widget to set up the link in WordPress.
Figure 12-7. This is the description for the Magic Tea House’s Facebook Page.
Using WordPress.com Ratings
WordPress.com offers another rating system you can use. It’s called WordPress.com Likes.
Ordinarily, WordPress turns WordPress.com Likes on, and a Like button appears in every post, just after the sharing buttons. It works just like the Facebook Like button, but only registered WordPress.com members can use it. (WordPress asks everyone else to sign up when they click it.)
WordPress.com tracks all the posts a person likes, just as it tracks the sites he follows (Exploring the WordPress.com Community). WordPress visitors can review their favorite pages in their account—to do that, they visit http://wordpress.com, log in, click the Reader tab, and then choose Posts I Like (on the right).
If you don’t want to use WordPress.com Likes, you can turn them off site-wide at Settings→Sharing. You can also switch them off when you create or edit an individual post, by unchecking “Show likes on this post” in the Likes and Shares box.
WordPress.com Likes are a good way to engage the very active community of WordPress.com bloggers. Some people get quite fanatical about them. They also work with two nifty widgets:
§ Top Posts & Pages. This widget shows the hottest pages on your site, based on either the number of times guests have viewed them or the number of times visitors have liked them. It’s a great way to highlight popular content. But don’t confuse the Top Posts & Pages widget with the similarly named Top Rated widget. The latter is for Polldaddy ratings, an alternative ranking system described in the box on Yet Another Ratings System.
§ Posts I Like. This widget shows the posts on any WordPress.com site that you like. Similarly, if someone uses this widget on her WordPress.com site and then “Likes” one of your pages, a link shows up on her site, inviting readers to check out your content. That makes it a great way to lure new readers.
GEM IN THE ROUGH: YET ANOTHER RATINGS SYSTEM
If you use WordPress.com, you can be forgiven for getting confused by the panoply of rating options available. You already know how to integrate Facebook sharing and WordPress.com Likes. In addition to those options, you can use the Polldaddy rating system on WordPress.com sites. (Self-hosters can get a plug-in that offers the same features at http://tinyurl.com/wp-polls. However, it’s a bit finicky, and it forces you to sign up for a free Polldaddy account.)
Initially, WordPress has Polldaddy ratings turned off. To add them to posts, pages, or comments, go to the Ratings→All Ratings section of the dashboard. There you can position the ratings section above or below your content. When you apply the ratings to posts and pages, readers can rate a post from one star (very poor) to five stars (excellent). When you add the rating system to comments, visitors choose from simple thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons. Self-hosters who use the Polldaddy widget get a rating system called Top Rated; it lets guests link to your top posts, pages, or comments, depending on the options you pick.
It doesn’t really make sense to use both WordPress.com Likes and Polldaddy ratings. There’s only so much feedback you can request before your readers get tapped out. Both systems have advantages. WordPress.com Likes requires guests to sign in but provide extra features—namely, it lets people log in to the WordPress.com home page and see all the posts they’ve “Liked.” But Polldaddy ratings are more inclusive, because they let everyone participate, no login required. They also include a reporting feature that lets web authors review their most popular posts (to see it, choose Feedback→Ratings). You may need to play with both systems before you decide which one better suits your site.
Finally, it’s worth noting that even if you choose WordPress.com Likes for your posts, you might still decide to use Polldaddy to let readers rate comments (Comment Ratings), because you can’t add WordPress.com Likes to the comments section.
Keeping Readers in the Loop
The best sites are sticky—they don’t just attract new visitors; they encourage repeat visits.
To make a site sticky, you need to build a relationship between your site and your readers. You want to make sure that even when your readers leave, they can’t forget about your site, because they’re still linked to its ongoing conversation. One way to do that is to notify readers about posts that might interest them. Another strategy is to tell readers when someone replies to one of their comments. Both techniques use email messages to lure visitors back to your site.
If your site is on WordPress.com or you installed Jetpack on a self-hosted site, you automatically get a convenient opt-in system for email notifications. It starts with two checkboxes that appear in the “Leave a Reply” section (Figure 12-8).
Figure 12-8. After Serge enters his email address and writes his comment, he can sign up for WordPress notifications. WordPress lets him know when someone replies to his comments (so he can remain part of the conversation), or when you publish a new post (if he really loves your content).
You can hide the post notification and comment options. Go to Settings→Discussion and then uncheck “Show a ‘follow comments’ option in the comment form” and “Show a ‘follow blog’ option in the comment form.” But there’s really no reason to do that, unless you use a plug-in that adds similar options somewhere else on your site.
UP TO SPEED: TAKING CARE OF YOUR PEEPS
Even on sites with thousands of comments, most readers keep quiet. Whether that’s due to laziness, indifference, or the fear of being ignored, the average reader won’t leave a comment. So when someone does speak up, you need to do your best to keep him in the discussion.
One way to do that is with the comment-tracking option you just read about (see Figure 12-8). You can also reward commenters and stoke the conversation several more ways:
§ Comment on your commenter’s sites. You already know that, every once in a while, you need to step into a discussion with your own comment. Visitors like to see you involved because it shows you read their opinions just as they read yours. However, if you see a particularly good comment, you can take this interaction a little further. Follow the commenter’s website link. If the commenter has a blog, stick around, read a bit, and add a comment to one of his posts. Comments are a two-way street, and the more you participate with others, the more likely it is that a reader will keep coming back.
§ Thank commenters. Not every time—maybe just once. If you notice a new commenter with some useful feedback, add a follow-up comment that thanks her for her input. If you want to get fancier, you can use a plug-in like Thank Me Later (http://tinyurl.com/wp-thank) to send an email message to first-time commenters, telling them you appreciate the feedback. (But be warned, you need to tweak this plug-in carefully to make sure you don’t send out too many emails and annoy both your commenters and your web hosting company.)
§ Ask for comments. Sometimes, non-commenters just need a little push. To encourage them to step up, end your post with a leading question, like “What do you think? Was this decision fair?” or an invitation, like “Let us know your best dating disaster story.”
Signing Up Subscribers
Although it makes sense to put the comment notification checkbox in the comments area of your posts, that spot isn’t a good place for the checkbox that lets readers subscribe to your posts. Ideally, you’ll put a prominent subscription option after every one of your posts and on your home page.
There’s another problem with the standard post notification checkbox. To sign up for notifications, a reader needs to leave a comment. Not only is this requirement a bit confusing (readers might not realize they need to write a comment, tick the site-subscription checkbox, and then click Post Comment), it’s also unnecessarily limiting.
Fortunately, WordPress offers a better option, with a subscription widget that can sign up new followers any time. If you use WordPress.com, the widget is called Follow Blog. If you use Jetpack, it’s called Blog Subscriptions. They’re virtually identical, the only difference being that the WordPress.com version recognizes WordPress.com users and lets you address them with a customized message.
WordPress.com site owners get one other feature: They can adjust the frequency of their outgoing emails so readers get notified only once a day at most, or just once a week.
To use the subscription widget, choose Appearance→Themes, and then drag the plug-in onto one of your site’s widget areas. You can then customize several bits of information, including the widget title, the text that invites readers to sign up, and the text on the Subscribe button (Figure 12-9). (For best results, keep the text in the widget brief.)
Figure 12-9. If you configure the subscription widget like the one on the left, your readers see a subscription box like the one on the right.
You can also choose to show the total number of subscribers, in which case the subscription box adds a line like “Join 4 other followers.”
It’s a good idea to include the subscription widget in two places: your home page sidebar and the footer area of each post, with a message like “Liked this article? Subscribe to get lots more.”
Occasionally, you might want to reach out to your followers and send them an email that doesn’t correspond to a post. For example, you might offer a special promotion or solicit feedback on a website change. If you decide to take this step, tread carefully—if you harass readers with frequent or unwanted emails, they’ll feel like they’re being spammed.
If you decide to go ahead and email your followers, you first need to get their email addresses. Here’s how:
§ If you use WordPress.com, visit the WordPress.com home page (http://wordpress.com), log in, and choose the Stats tab. Scroll down to the “Totals, Followers & Shares” box. Under the heading “Followers,” WordPress counts up the total number of people subscribing to posts and comments. Click the Blog link to get their email addresses.
§ If you use Jetpack on a self-hosted site, choose Jetpack→Site Stats and scroll down to the Subscription box. You see the total number of people subscribed to your blog (and those who are registered to receive replies to a particular comment). Click the Blog link next to the number to see the full list of email addresses.
PLUG-IN POWER: EVEN BETTER EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES
Jetpack gives self-hosters a solid, straightforward subscription package. The WordPress.com servers handle all the user tracking and emailing, making your life easy. But Jetpack doesn’t include any settings that let you customize the way it handles subscriptions. More advanced email and newsletter plug-ins (some of which will cost you a bit of cash) offer more features.
One example is the popular Subscribe2 plug-in (http://tinyurl.com/wp-sub2). It adds the following useful features:
§ Digests. Instead of sending readers an email after you publish every new post, Subscribe2 lets you send a single email, periodically, that announces several new posts at once. Subscribe2 calls this message a digest. For example, you might choose to send subscribers a weekly digest summarizing the past seven days’ posts.
§ Excluded categories and post types. Perhaps you don’t want to send notifications for every new post. Subscribe2 lets you exclude certain categories or post types (like asides and quotes) from notification emails.
§ User-managed subscriptions. If you’re willing to let readers sign up as subscribers on your site (Adding People to Your Site), they can manage their own subscriptions. For example, they can subscribe to just the post categories that interest them, and pick the most convenient digest option.
Publicizing Your Posts on Social Media
As you’ve seen, one good way to get the word out about your site is to get your readers talking and sharing on social media sites. But you don’t need to wait for them to do the work for you—if you have a Facebook or Twitter account, you can use it yourself to announce new content.
This technique is often called publicizing, and it’s not quite the same as the social sharing you learned about earlier. Sharing is when a visitor introduces new people to your content. Publicizing is when you tell readers about new content. The difference is that the people you tell probably already know about your site. Your goal is to get them interested enough to come back.
Publicizing is an increasingly important way to reach your readers. Twitter fanatics may pay more attention to tweets than they do to email messages. Facebook fans who won’t bother to sign up for an email subscription might not mind liking your Facebook Page and getting notifications from you in their News Feeds. For these reasons, many WordPressers choose to publicize their posts.
WordPress.com sites get a built-in Publicize feature, and self-hosters can use the Jetpack plug-in. Either way, you need to connect your site to the social media account (or accounts) you want to use. To do that, choose Settings→Sharing and then click Connect next to the appropriate social media icon (Figure 12-10).
Figure 12-10. The WordPress.com Publicize feature lets you post to services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Yahoo Updates. Once you pick a service, you need to log in to your social media account to complete the connection.
The Publicize feature springs into action every time you publish a new post. However, WordPress lets you control the process using the Publish box.
Once you write a post, look in the Publish box. Next to the word “Publicize,” you see a list of the services you can use to publicize your post. Click the Edit link, and more options appear (Figure 12-11). You can choose to tout your post on only some services, or none at all. You can also edit the message that WordPress sends out to announce the new post. Ordinarily, WordPress uses the post title for the message, but you can substitute more descriptive text.
Figure 12-11. When Charles Pakata publishes this post, WordPress will publicize it on Twitter, but not on Facebook.
If Charles Pakata publicizes the post in Figure 12-11 to Twitter, his followers will see the tweet shown in Figure 12-12.
Figure 12-12. The tweet WordPress sends includes Pakata’s custom message and a link to his full post.
Sharing Your Tweets on Your Site
You already learned how to encourage people to tweet about your site, but the integration between WordPress and Twitter runs deeper than that. If you’re a Twitter-holic, WordPress has a nifty way to integrate your Twitter feed into your own site.
Before you dive into this feature, it’s worth taking a moment to ask why you’d use it and how it fits into your site’s promotional plans. There are several good reasons to use it:
§ To offer extra content. If you’re an avid Twitterer, you can stuff your feed with news, tiny tips, and micro observations related to your site. Those details might be interesting to your readers even if they aren’t worth a full post.
§ To make your site feel alive. Having a Twitter feed can make your site seem more current and dynamic—provided that you tweet regularly.
§ To attract new followers. If you display your Twitter feed on your site, there’s a chance that some of your readers will decide to follow your feed. If they do, you’ll have another way to reach them. This is particularly useful if you use Twitter to announce your blog posts using WordPress’s Publicize feature (Publicizing Your Posts on Social Media).
To display a Twitter feed on your site, you need the Twitter Timeline widget. WordPress.com sites automatically offer it, but self-hosters need the trusty Jetpack plug-in.
To use the Twitter Timeline widget, you follow an unusual two-part setup process. First, you head to the official Twitter website, where you create a customized widget that has the exact look you want. Then, you go to your trusty WordPress dashboard and link your site to the widget you just built. (This system is made more confusing by the fact that Twitter and WordPress use the word widget for two slightly different things. You already know that a WordPress widget is a chunk of intelligent content that you insert into your site. A Twitter widget is a customized view of a Twitter feed that you can show on any site.)
Here’s a walkthrough of the process:
1. Go to the Twitter site (http://twitter.com) and log in with your email address and password.
Now you’re on the Twitter home page, where you see recent tweets from the people you follow.
2. In the top-right corner of the page, click the gear icon (“Settings and help”) and then choose Settings.
The settings page lets you configure a great number of details about how Twitter works.
3. In the panel on the left, click Widgets.
You see a list of all the Twitter widgets you’ve created. (Chances are, that will be exactly none.)
4. To create your first widget, click Create New.
Twitter takes you to the widget-creation page shown in Figure 12-13.
Figure 12-13. As you configure your timeline (on the left), Twitter shows a preview of what it will look like (on the right).
5. Configure your widget.
You don’t need to change anything if you don’t want to. Twitter automatically creates a timeline that shows just your tweets. However, here are some details you might want to change:
o Exclude replies hides a tweet if it’s just a reply to someone else’s tweet (which readers can find confusing because they’re out of context).
o Auto-expand photos displays the pictures you link to in your tweets right in your timeline (no extra click required).
o Height sets the vertical size of the timeline, and therefore determines how many tweets readers can see at once. Choose a height that fits nicely into your sidebar alongside your post content and leave room for any other widgets you need. Don’t worry about the width of the timeline, because you set that when you add the Twitter Timeline widget to your site.
o Theme lets you change the color scheme from light (the standard) to dark. The dark option blends in better on dark backgrounds, like the black background featured in the Twenty Fourteen theme.
Alternatively, you can create a different type of Twitter timeline by picking a different tab (just under “Choose a timeline source.” Ordinarily, Twitter assumes you want the “User timeline” option, which shows all your tweets. Alternatively, you can show favorite tweets, tweets from a list you created, tweets that match a search keyword (for example, tweets about you or your business), or tweets from a custom timeline you created. Twitter provides plenty of information about these more exotic choices.
6. When you finish, click Create Widget.
You can always return to Twitter and modify the widget later (or create a new one).
7. Now copy the widget ID, which you can find in the web address.
Take a look at the address that appears when you view or edit your widget. It will look something like this:
The only important detail is the long numeric code that follows the /widget/ text. That’s the widget ID, which WordPress needs in order to show your widget. In the example above, the ID is 456104541360881667. Select it and copy it to the clipboard by pressing Ctrl+C (Command+C on a Mac)
8. Return to the WordPress dashboard and choose Appearance→Widgets.
The familiar Widgets page appears.
9. Drag the Twitter Timeline widget into a widget area, and then configure it.
To properly configure the Twitter Timeline widget, you need to supply the widget ID you copied in step 7 (put it in the Widget ID box). You should also set a value for the width that’s narrow enough so that the widget fits in the available space.
10.Click Save to finalize your changes.
Figure 12-14 shows the final result.
WordPress.com truly loves Twitter. Although the Twitter widget may be the only tool you need, WordPress.com sites can get additional Twitter integration by using two shortcodes (Understanding Embeds and Shortcodes) that put Twitter content inside a post. The [tweet] shortcode lets you show a single tweet, and customize its appearance (learn about it athttp://tinyurl.com/cwfa77u). The [twitter-follow] shortcode lets you add a Follow button anywhere you need it (http://tinyurl.com/cn29khu). Jetpack doesn’t offer these features, so self-hosters will need to choose from one of the many available Twitter plug-ins to get the same feature.
Figure 12-14. If you configure the Twitter widget like the one on the left, your readers will see a Twitter feed like the one on the right. In the feed, each tweet becomes a link that, if clicked, takes readers to Twitter to read the whole conversation.
Managing Your Site’s Feed
A feed is a computer-generated document that lists your recent posts, and the content they contain, in a computer-friendly format. Feeds are a cool and slightly geeky tool that people use to keep up with their favorite sites. The essential idea is that a site—say, a WordPress blog—provides a feed of recent posts. People who read that blog can use another program—a browser or a feed reader—to subscribe to the feed.
Here’s the neat part. Once you subscribe to a feed, your browser or feed reader automatically checks the sites you signed up with for new content. That saves you from visiting the same site 47 times a day, or digging through an endless stream of spammy notification messages in your email inbox. Best of all, one feed-reading program tracks as many sites as you want.
Feeds have been around a long time—they’re far older than social networking sites like Twitter. The advantage to them is that the feed-reading program does all the work—you don’t need to check sites for new posts, read your emails, or click a link in a tweet. However, feeds today are a niche feature. The average person doesn’t use them (or even know they exist), but plenty of computer geeks can’t live without them.
All WordPress sites automatically support feeds. In fact, you can take a look at the feed your site sends out by adding /feed to the end of your website address. So if you have a WordPress site at http://lazyfather.wordpress.com, you can see its feed by requestinghttp://lazyfather.wordpress.com/feed.
On a self-hosted site, the /feed syntax works only if you use post titles in your permalinks, which you definitely should (Permalinks in WordPress.com). Otherwise, you’ll need to replace /feed with the more convoluted code /?feed=rss2.
Depending on the browser you use, you might see the raw feed document when you request it, or you might see a lightly formatted feed (Figure 12-15).
Figure 12-15. Top: Behind the scenes, a feed is a long and technical-looking document written in a computer language called XML. Here’s a very small portion of it. Bottom: When you view a feed in Internet Explorer, it automatically creates a page like this, based on the information in the feed.
Most browsers provide some sort of feed-reading feature. For example, Internet Explorer keeps a list of the feeds you bookmark in the Feeds tab of the Favorites panel. Point to one of these links, and it automatically tells you how many new posts have been published since your last visit.Firefox has a slightly different feature—subscribe to a feed and it adds a live bookmark that automatically collects every new post behind the scenes. Google Chrome works similar magic with a tiny icon in the search box that, when you click it, pops open a list of new posts (however, you have to install a small browser extension to activate it; find it at http://tinyurl.com/28q8dth). Safari is the lone holdout, with no built-in feed reader.
To make reviewing feeds truly convenient, you can use a specialized feed-reading program (or a feed-reading app, if you want to check feeds on a smartphone or tablet). Good options include FeedDemon (www.feeddemon.com, Figure 12-16) for Windows and NetNewsWire (http://netnewswireapp.com) for Mac addicts. Tablet lovers can use feed-reading apps like Flipboard (http://flipboard.com) and feedly (www.feedly.com) to stay current. All these programs let you read posts right inside your feed reader, without making a separate trip to the website that publishes the feed.
Figure 12-16. In a feed-reading program, you see all the new posts for all the sites you follow. With FeedDemon, it’s like checking your inbox for new email.
Getting Customized Feeds
Adding /feed to the end of a site address gets you the standard feed, the one with all the site’s posts. But you can filter a feed if you tweak the web address slightly.
For example, you can get a feed that provides all the posts in a specific category, like this:
Or all the posts with a certain tag:
Or all the posts by a specific author:
But the most interesting type of feed just might be the one that grabs the comments from a post (on crystal jasmine tea in this example):
Or the comments from your entire site:
Try plugging all these variations into a feed reader to see what posts show up. Or check out the WordPress feed documentation at http://tinyurl.com/64lmdo to learn about a few more exotic feed filters, such as the ones that exclude a specific category or tag, and those that return all the posts that match a search keyword.
Using a Feed Widget
Here’s a universal truth of the web publishing world: Even if your site supports a feed, visitors aren’t likely to subscribe to it unless you display a big, fat Feed button.
Some themes automatically include one. Usually, it looks like an orange-colored square with radiating semi-circles that suggest transmission (see Figure 12-17). If your theme doesn’t offer a Feed button—and the standard WordPress year themes don’t—you can add one using the RSS Links widget, which is available to all WordPress.com sites and included with Jetpack. (If you’re wondering, RSS is the name of the standard that feeds must follow.)
Figure 12-17. When you add a Feed button to your site, it tells readers they can easily keep up with your posts. Clicking the button launches your feed document, although this isn’t much help unless you click that button in a feed-supporting browser, or copy the link to a genuine feed reader, like FeedDemon.
When you add the RSS Links widget, you need to choose whether to include a link for the posts feed, the comments feed, or both. If you want a more specialized feed, like one for a specific category, you need to create the link yourself and put it in the Text widget (The Text Widget).
You also need to choose the format for the feed button (text only, image only, or image and text). If you use an image, you need to specify its size and color. Once you finalize these details, you’ll be rewarded with a button like the medium-sized text-and-image link shown in Figure 12-17.
Don’t confuse the RSS Links widget with the similarly named but completely different RSS widget. The RSS Links widget provides links to your feeds. The RSS widget looks at someone else’s feed, finds the most recent entries, and displays links for them on your site. In other words, the RSS Links widget tells visitors that your website provides feeds. The RSS widget lets you display links on your site that lead to someone else’s content.
Search Engine Optimization
As you’ve seen, you have an exhaustive range of options for getting the word out about your site. You can share your posts, publicize them, use email notifications, and tweet the heck out of everything. All these techniques share something in common—each one is a type of social networking, where you use connections to people you already know to reach out just a bit further.
There’s another way to get people to your site, but it’s more difficult and less fun. You can try to attract complete strangers when they run a web search for content related to your site. To perform this trick, you need to understand search engine optimization (SEO), which is the sometimes cryptic art of getting web search engines like Google to notice you.
The goal is to make your site appear in a highly ranked position for certain searches. For example, if your WordPress site covers dog breeding, you’d like web searchers to find your site when they type dog breeding into Google. The challenge is that for any given search, your site competes with millions of others that share the same search keywords. If Google prefers those sites, your site will be pushed farther down in the search results, until even the most enthusiastic searcher won’t spot you. And if searchers can’t find you on Google, you lose a valuable way to attract fresh faces to your site.
Next, you’ll learn a bit more about how search engines like Google work, and you’ll consider how you can help your site rise up the rankings of a web search.
In the following sections, you spend a fair bit of time learning about Google. Although Google isn’t the only search engine on the block, it’s far and away the most popular, with a staggering 80 percent (or more) of worldwide web-search traffic. For that reason, it makes sense to consider Google first, even though most of the search engine optimization techniques you’ll see in this chapter apply to all the major search engines, including Bing, Yahoo, and even Baidu, the kingpin of web search in China.
PageRank: Scoring Your Site
To help your site get noticed, you need to understand how Google runs a web search.
Imagine you type dog breeding into the Google search page. First, Google peers into its gargantuan catalog of sites, looking for pages that use those keywords. Google prefers pages that include the keywords “dog breeding” more than once, and pages that put them in important places (like headings and page titles). Of course, Google is also on the lookout for sites that try to game the system, so a page that’s filled with keyword lists and repetitive text is likely to get ignored at best, and blacklisted at worst.
Even with these requirements, a typical Google search turns up hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of matching pages. To decide how it should order these pages in its search results, Google uses a top-secret formula called PageRank. PageRank determines the value of your site by the community of websites that link to it. Although the full PageRank recipe is incredibly convoluted (and entirely secret), its basic workings are well known:
§ The more sites that link to you, the better.
§ A link from a better, more popular site (a site with a high PageRank) is more valuable than a link from a less popular site.
§ A link from a more selective site is better than a link from a less selective site. That’s because the more outgoing links a site has, the less each link is worth. So if someone links to your site and just a handful of others, that link is valuable. If someone links to your site and hundreds of other sites, the link’s value is diluted.
Finding Your Pagerank
Because of the power of PageRank scores, it’s no surprise that web authors want to know how their pages are doing. But Google won’t give out the real PageRank of a web page, even to its owner.
That said, Google does allow website owners to see a simplified version of their PageRank score, which gives you a general idea of your site’s performance. The simplified PageRank is based on the real thing, but Google updates it just twice a year, and it provides only a value from 1 to 10. (All things being equal, a website rated 10 will turn up much higher in search results than a page ranked 1.)
There are two ways to find your website’s simplified PageRank. If you use the Google Chrome browser, you can add a handy browser plug-in to do the job (get it at http://tinyurl.com/pr-extension). Another approach is to use an unofficial PageRank-checking website, likewww.prchecker.info (Figure 12-18).
The simplified PageRank score isn’t always accurate. If you submit a site that’s very new, or hasn’t yet established itself on the Web (in other words, few people are visiting it and no one’s linking to it), you may not get a PageRank value at all.
Don’t worry too much about your exact PageRank. Instead, use it as a tool to gauge how your website improves or declines over time. For example, if your home page scored a PageRank of 4 last year but a 6 this year, your promotion is clearly on the right path.
Figure 12-18. To see the PageRank for your home page, type in your site’s address and then click Check PR. Here, http://lazyfather.wordpress.com scores a middle-of-the-road 4 out of 10.
Making Your Site Google-Friendly
You can’t trick Google into loving your site, and there’s no secret technique to vault your site to the top of the search page rankings. However, you can give your site the best possible odds by following some good habits. These practices help search engines find their way around your posts, understand your content, and recognize that you’re a real site with good content, not a sneaky spammer trying to cheat the system.
UP TO SPEED: GETTING MORE LINKS
The cornerstone of search-engine ranking is links—the more people connect to you, the greater your web prestige and the more trustworthy your site seems to Google. Here are some tips any WordPresser can use to build up her links:
§ Look for sites that are receptive to your content. To get more links, you need to reach out and interact with other websites. Offer to guest-blog on a like-minded site, join a community group, or sign up with free website directories that include your type of business. Or, if your site has a broader reach, search for your topic in Google Blogsearch (http://blogsearch.google.com) to find similar sites.
§ Keep sharing. The social sharing techniques you learned about in the first part of this chapter are doubly important for PageRank. Although tweets and Likes aren’t as powerful as website links, Google still counts them in your favor when respected people talk about your content on social media sites.
§ Add off-site links (that point to you). You don’t need to wait for other people to notice your content. It’s perfectly acceptable to post a good comment on someone else’s blog, with a link that references something you wrote. Or post in a forum, making sure your signature includes your name and a link to your site. The trick is to find sites and forums that share the same interests as your site. For example, if you’re an artisanal cheese maker in Chicago, it makes sense to chat with people running organic food cooperatives. But be careful. There’s a thin line between spreading the word about your fantastic content and spamming other people. So don’t post on a forum or someone else’s site unless you can say something truly insightful or genuinely helpful. If you’re not sure whether to post, ask yourself this question: “If this were my site, would I appreciate this comment?”
§ Research your competitors’ links. If you find out where other people are getting their links from, you may be able to get links from the same sites. Google has a nifty feature that can help, called link. To try it out, go to the Google search page and type in a full website address, with link: in front of it. Google will then find other pages that lead to the web address you asked about. For example, searching for link: www.magicteahouse.net shows you all the sites that link to the home page on www.magicteahouse.net.
Here are some guidelines to SEO that don’t require special plug-ins or custom coding:
§ Choose the right permalink style. Every WordPress post and page gets its own permalink. If you create a self-hosted site, your permalinks should include the post title, because the search engine pays special attention to the words in your web address. (Permalinks on a Self-Hosted Siteexplains how to change your permalink.) If WordPress.com hosts your site, you already have the right permalink style.
§ Edit your permalinks. When you first create a post, you have the chance to edit its permalink. At this point, you can improve it by removing unimportant words (like “a”, “and,” and “the”). Or, if you use a cute, jokey title for your post, you can replace it in the permalink with something more topical that includes the keywords you expect web searchers to use. For example, if you write a post about your favorite cookware titled “Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire,” you ordinarily get a permalink like this: http://triplegoldcookwarereview.com/out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire. If you remove some words, you can shorten it to http://triplegoldcookwarereview.com/out-of-frying-pan-into-fire. And if you substitute a more descriptive title, you might choose http://triplegoldcookwarereview.com/calphalon-fry-pan-review.
§ Use tags. Google pays close attention to the tags you assign to a post. If they match a web searcher’s keywords, your post has a better chance of showing up in search results. When choosing tags, pick just a few, and make sure they clearly describe your topic and correspond to terms someone might search for (say, “artisanal cheese,” “organic,” and “local food”). Some search-obsessed bloggers scour Google statistics to find the best keywords to use in attracting web searchers, and use those as their tags in new posts. However, that’s too much work for all but the most fanatical SEO addicts.
§ Optimize your images. Google and other search engines let people search for pictures. When someone searches for an image, Google attempts to match the search keywords with the words that appear near the picture on a web page, and with the alternate text that describes the picture. That means people are more likely to find your pictures if you supply all the details the Insert Media window asks for, including a title, alternate text, a caption, and a description (Putting Pictures in a Post). Remember to use descriptive, searchable keywords when you do.
GEM IN THE ROUGH: HIDING FROM SEARCH ENGINES
You don’t have to let search engines find you. If you want to keep a low profile, choose Settings→Privacy, and then turn on the radio button beside “Ask search engines not to index this site.” That way, your website won’t appear in most search engine listings.
People will still be able to find you if they click a link that leads to your site, or if they know your site address. For that reason, you shouldn’t rely on this trick to conceal yourself if you’re doing something dubious or risky—say, planning a bank robbery or cursing your employer. In cases where you need utmost privacy, you can use WordPress’s private site feature (Creating a Private Site), or just keep yourself off the Web.
Boosting SEO with a Plug-In
If you run a self-hosted site, you can make it even more attractive to Google and other search engines by using an SEO plug-in. But be warned, most SEO plug-ins are an extreme case of overkill for the casual WordPress site-builder. Prepare to be swamped by pages of options and search settings.
If you search WordPress’s plug-in repository for “SEO,” you discover quite a few popular plug-ins. One of the best is WordPress SEO by Yoast (http://tinyurl.com/seo-yoast). Its creator is WordPress über-guru Joost de Valk, who also blogs some useful (but somewhat technical) SEO articles at http://yoast.com/cat/seo.
Once you install and activate WordPress SEO, you see a new SEO menu in your dashboard, packed with a dizzying array of options. You can ignore most of them, unless you want to change the way the plug-in works. The following sections explain two useful features you can tap into right away.
Creating an XML Sitemap
After installing the SEO plug-in, your site gets one immediate benefit: an XML sitemap. This is a document that tells Google where your content resides on your site. It ensures that all your posts get indexed, even if your home page doesn’t link to them. Although you don’t need to give your XML sitemap another thought, you can take a look at it by choosing SEO→XML Sitemaps and then clicking the XML Sitemap button. Needless to say, WordPress SEO updates your sitemap every time you publish a new post or page.
The XML sitemap feature works only if you use descriptive permalinks that include post names (as explained on Permalinks in WordPress.com). If you use the stock ID-based permalinks, the plug-in won’t create an XML sitemap.
Tweaking Titles and Descriptions
The WordPress SEO plug-in also gives you control over two important details: the title and description (known to web nerds as the meta description) of each post or page. These details are useful—even to SEO newbies—because Google displays them when it lists a page from your site in its search results. Figure 12-19 shows an example.
Figure 12-19. Google displays the title of a relevant web page with every search result—technically, that’s the content in the HTML <title> tag. Below that, it includes an excerpt from the page (as shown here) or the meta description (if the description is available and it matches the search keywords).
The title and description are also important because Google gives more weight to keywords in those places than keywords in your content. In other words, if someone searches for “dog breeding” and you have those words in your title, you can beat an equally ranked page that doesn’t.
Ordinarily, the WordPress SEO plug-in creates a good title for a post, based on a title-generating formula in the SEO→Titles & Metas section. This formula puts your post name first, followed by your site name, like this for the “crystal jasmine” post:
Crystal Jasmine Named Tea of the Year - Magic Tea House
However, you can customize the title before you publish the post using the WordPress SEO by Yoast box, which appears on the Add New Post page (Figure 12-20). For example, it’s a good idea to shorten overly long post titles, and to replace cutesy titles with ones that clearly describe your content. You can also use the WordPress SEO box to type in a meta description.
Figure 12-20. In this example, the post has a new title and a meta description. The WordPress SEO by Yoast plug-in previews what the page will look like in a Google search result. Compare it with the original version in Figure 12-19.
The WordPress SEO by Yoast box also lets you run a pretend Google search so you can see how your newly chosen title and description work. To do that, type the search keyword you want to test in the Focus Keyword box. Figure 12-21 shows an example.
For even more ways to optimize your site for search engines using the WordPress SEO by Yoast plug-in, check out the detailed tutorial at http://tinyurl.com/seo-yoast2.
Figure 12-21. Because you included the keywords “crystal jasmine” in the heading of your post, the title of your page, the permalink, the actual post content, and your meta description for the page, you increase the odds that a visitor searching for these words will find your page. Of course, all these efforts are for naught if you haven’t written a decent post.
WordPress Site Statistics
Once you have some solid promotion tactics in place, you need to evaluate how well they perform. There’s no point in pursuing a failed strategy for months, when you should be investing more effort in a technique that actually works. The best way to assess your site’s performance, and see how it changes over time, is to collect website statistics.
There are a number of popular statistics packages that work with WordPress, and a range of plug-ins that automatically add tracking code to your site. In this section, you’ll focus on WordPress’s own statistics-collection service, which it offers to all WordPress.com sites and which is available to self-hosted sites through the Jetpack plug-in.
Viewing Your Statistics
The best place to view your site statistics is on the WordPress.com home page. Go to http://wordpress.com, log in, and click the Stats tab. If you have more than one site, you need to pick from the drop-down list in the top-right corner (Figure 12-22).
Jetpack users can see the same statistics by choosing Jetpack→Site Stats in the dashboard. However, WordPress encourages everyone to view statistics on the WordPress.com home page, and it may remove the statistics link from the dashboard in the future.
Figure 12-22. There’s a lot of information jockeying for your attention on the Stats tab. Here are the details for The Real Estate Diaries site.
The obvious question is now that you have all this raw data, what can you do with it? Ideally, you’ll use site statistics to focus on your strengths, improve your site, and keep your visitors happy. You should resist the temptation to use it as a source of endlessly fascinating trivia. If you spend the afternoon counting how many visitors hit your site from Bulgaria, you’re wasting time that could be better spent writing brilliant content.
The following sections present four basic strategies that can help you find useful information in your statistics, and use that insight to improve your site without wasting hours of your time.
Strategy 1. Find Out What Your Readers Like
If you know what you’re doing right, you can do a lot more of it. For example, if you write a blog with scathing political commentary, and your readers flock to any article that mentions gun control, you might want to continue exploring the issue in future posts. (Or, to put it less charitably, you might decide to milk the topic for all the pageviews you can get before your readers get bored.)
To make decisions like that, you need to know what content gets the most attention. A Facebook Like button (Letting People Like Your Site), a WordPress.com Like button (Letting People Like Your Site), or Polldaddy ratings (Keeping Readers in the Loop) may help you spot popular posts, but a more thorough way to measure success is to look at your traffic. On the Stats page, focus on the Top Posts & Pages box, which shows you the most read posts and pages over the past couple of days (Figure 12-23).
Figure 12-23. The Top Posts & Pages box ranks the most popular parts of your site over a single day (either today or yesterday, depending on which link you click). In this example, the most popular page, “Home page,” is the list of posts that visitors see when they first arrive.
The Top Posts & Pages box gives you a snapshot of the current activity on your site, but to make real conclusions about what content stirs your readers’ hearts, you need to take a long-term perspective. To do that, click the Summaries link. Now WordPress lets you compare your top pages over the past week, month, quarter, year, or all time. Just keep in mind that bigger timeframes are often biased toward older articles, because they’ve been around the longest.
If you analyze a site on WordPress.com, you can also check out the Tags & Categories section. It shows you the categories and tags that draw the most interest. You can form two conclusions from this box: Popular categories may reflect content your readers want to keep reading, and popular tags may indicate keywords that align with popular search terms (see Strategy 3 on Strategy 3. Play Well with Search Engines).
Strategy 2. Who’s Giving You the Love?
There are three ways a visitor can arrive at your site:
§ By typing your address into his browser (or by using a bookmark, which is the same thing).
§ By following a link from another site that points to you.
§ By performing a search and following a link in the search results page.
The first type of visitor already knows about you. There’s not much you can do to improve on that.
The second and third types of visitor are more difficult to predict. You need to track them so you can optimize your web promotion strategies. In this section, you focus on the second type of guest. These people arrive at your site from another website, otherwise known as a referrer.
If you followed the link-building strategies laid out on Making Your Site Google-Friendly, the social sharing tips from Adding Sharing Buttons, and the publicizing techniques described on Publicizing Your Posts on Social Media, you’ve created many different routes that a reader can take to get to your site. But which are heavily traveled and which are overgrown and abandoned? To find out, you need to check the Referrers box, which ranks the sites where people come from, in order of most to least popular (Figure 12-24).
Figure 12-24. Use the Referrers box to see where your visitors come from. It shows you the referring sites from a single day. You can click a specific referrer to get more information, or you can click Summaries to examine your top referrers over longer periods of time.
Once you know your top referrers, you can adjust your promotional strategies. For example, you may want to stop spending time and effort promoting your site in places that don’t generate traffic. Similarly, you might want to spend more effort cultivating your top referrers to ensure you keep a steady stream of visitors coming to your site.
Strategy 3. Play Well with Search Engines
In any given minute, Google handles well over a million search queries. If you’re lucky, a tiny slice of those searchers will end up at your site.
Webmasters pay special attention to visitors who arrive through search engines. Usually, these are new people who haven’t read your content before, which makes them exactly the sort of people you need to attract. But it’s not enough to know that visitors arrive through a search engine. You need to understand what brought them to your site, and to understand that, you need to know what they were searching for.
The Search Engine Terms box can help you find out (Figure 12-25). It lists the top queries that led visitors to your site for a single day (or, if you click Summaries, over a longer period of time).
Figure 12-25. Here are the keywords that led searchers to the Magic Tea House. Notice that you may not see the common, short keywords that you expect (like “tea,” by itself). That’s because the more general a keyword is, the more sites there are competing for that keyword, and the less likely it is that a searcher will spot your site.
If you use SEO to find what you think are the best keywords for tags, titles, and descriptions (see, for example, Tweaking Titles and Descriptions), the Search Engine Terms box helps you determine if your efforts are paying off. And even if you don’t, it gives you insight into hot topics that attract new readers—and which you might want to focus on in the future.
Strategy 4. Meet Your Top Commenters
If WordPress.com hosts your site, you can tap one more set of useful statistics. Take a look in the Comments box to see which of your visitors left the greatest number of comments and which posts stirred the most conversation (Figure 12-26).
Figure 12-26. Comments are the lifeblood of a WordPress site. A site with a thriving Comments section is more likely to attract new visitors and to keep existing ones. By examining the Comments box, you can see who deserves the most credit for keeping your conversations alive.
The most interesting information is the top commenters. These people are particularly valuable, because their input can start discussions and keep the conversation going.
Once you identify your top commenters in the past week or month, you can try to strengthen your (and therefore your site’s) relationship with them. Make an extra effort to reply to their comments and questions, and consider making a visit to their blog, and commenting on their posts. If they stick around, you might even offer them the chance to write a guest post for your site, or to become a contributor.