You finally did it – you created a brand-new business, became incorporated, and designed a brand-new website to attract new business. After buying a domain and host, installing WordPress, and customizing a theme all by yourself, you have set the website live and are now twiddling your thumbs until the leads start pouring in.

However, as impressive as it is that you taught yourself how to design a WordPress site and were able to get a decent looking final version on the web, there were probably quite a few corners you knowingly or unknowingly cut that are ultimately hurting your rankings on Google and turning away valuable visitors. I’ll go over some of the things you likely missed that are either slowing down your site’s performance, confusing your visitors, or damaging your SEO, as well as how to fix these mistakes to minimize the damage.

 

1. Templates’ Sample Pages Are Hurting Your SEO

When designing your website from a template, which is a common practice that saves you having to hardcode a site from scratch, there are usually anywhere from a couple to several dozen sample pages that come with the template you purchase. These pages are meant to demonstrate some of the design capabilities that come with the template, while providing inspiration to apply to your own design.

These template pages can be quite useful during the design phase of your project, but they can be a major pain in the butt when it comes time to publish your finished site. This is because all those sample pages may be set live along with the rest of your site when you hit “publish” (depending on the template) – even if the sample pages aren’t on your main menu. Every live page will then be indexed with Google once its crawl bots discover your website. And, if a page is indexed, it could potentially be served up to searchers on the web. It will then be counted against your organic rankings based on the keywords on that sample page or how well the page performs with your users (hint – the page will not perform well because it will have a bunch of dummy text and will have nothing to do with your cores services).

For example, let’s say you have a 4-page website for your skiing company with “Home, About Us, Products, and Contact” that you just set live. However, you also have 25 sample pages that came with your template that are also live. One of those sample pages is trying to sell the eCommerce features of the template you purchased, and to do that they have set up a dummy baseball memorabilia shop with stock photos of baseballs, caps, etc. along with baseball-related product titles and Lorem Ipsum dummy text to fill out the product descriptions. After a week or so, Google sends a crawl bot to index your site with the end goal of letting searchers know what content is on your site. Google includes the fake baseball memorabilia shop page as one of your site’s pages, and thus Google’s robots now think that you are somehow related to baseball memorabilia. You check your Google Search Console account a few months later to see what keywords you are ranking for, and discover that you only rank 89th for “skiing company,” which is the primary keyword you are trying to rank for, but you rank 67th for “baseball memorabilia.” In other words, the keywords on the template pages are outranking your real keywords.

It turns out that Google has been serving up the dummy sample pages of your site on results pages as much as it serves up the pages you designed. This explains why your Google Analytics data is showing that your bounce rate is high (i.e. people leaving your site before clicking on anything) and average amount of time spent on your site is extremely low. It also explains why most of the keywords you rank for on Google are irrelevant to what you actually do.

You thought users couldn’t access these pages since they aren’t on the main menu of your website, but all they need to do is click on the URL that shows up in the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and they’re now on that sample page!

So how do you fix this issue? In short – you must disable all the sample pages so that Google only indexes the pages you designed with the keywords you intended to be associated with your site.

Go into the “Pages” section in your WordPress admin (shown in the photo above), and scroll through all the pages listed on your site (including the pages you designed and the sample pages). Any page that does not have “Draft” displayed to the right of the page title is a live page. A second way to check if the page is live is to look under the “date” column and see if it says “published” with a corresponding date.

For each page that is marked “published” that you do not want live on your site, hover over the page title until you see some links pop up under the title (Edit | Quick Edit | Trash | Preview | Purge from cache). Click “Quick Edit” then go over to the “Status” dropdown box and select “Draft” (shown in the image above). This will effectively unpublish that page. If you have submitted a sitemap to Google Search Console, you’ll want to resubmit that sitemap once all of the sample pages have been unpublished.

 

2. Plugins You No Longer Use Are Creating Unnecessary Clutter and Taking Up Space

When designing your site, you probably tested out a few plugins for various functionalities. You kept the good ones, but you didn’t delete the useless or obsolete ones. Your site may still be working fine for now, but one day that obsolete plugin may get hacked and crash your entire site. Or, on a milder note, it could just be taking up space on your server and slowing down your site.

Deactivating a plugin in WordPress

To minimize the risks of unnecessary (yet still active) plugins, you’ll want to deactivate and delete them. This is a simple process in most cases. Go to the “Plugins” section of your WordPress admin and locate the plugins you no longer use or need. Check the boxes next to these plugins and, under “bulk actions,” select “Deactivate” and click “Apply” (shown in the photo above). All the selected plugins will now be deactivated (if this doesn’t work, try deactivating them one at a time).

Next, select each plugin again and go to “Bulk Actions” and select “Delete.”  You’ve now freed up space on your server, which may be quite limited depending on whether or not you splurged on hosting services, and you’ve reduced the risk of a plugin going AWOL and ruining your entire site. Plus, the back-end of your site will look a lot cleaner without a bunch of obsolete plugins, and you’ll get less requests for updates.

 

3. Gigantic Images Are Causing Slow Page Load Speeds

This is the most common thing I see when helping clients clean up the back-end of their sites. Images are uploaded as-is and are often very large dimensions and file sizes. When you add the images to your pages, your theme is scaling the images down to fit within the page dimensions, and so it appears the problem has been fixed.

In actuality, the issue has simply been masked – the file is still extremely large. Each time a user visits a page they will need to download the large images, then wait for the code in your theme to convert the large images into scaled-down images that fit on the page. This will result in slow page load speeds, and will likely cause site visitors to give up and go to a competitor’s page instead.

The trick here is to ensure that you scale the images down to the largest required display size they will be on the template before you upload them to your site. I say the largest display size because it will show up larger on desktops and smaller on things like tablets and mobile. If you make the image too small, it may become stretched out and pixelated or just look too small. By scaling the image, you aren’t just reducing the dimensions of the image, you are also reducing the overall file size and thus the size of the live webpage where the image is located. A smaller webpage usually equates to faster page-load speeds, and faster speeds usually helps your SEO rankings according to Google.

For example, if you have a header image (i.e. the main image at the top of your page), the max-width will likely be 1920 pixels, and the height will be somewhere between 600 and 1200 pixels. You’ll want to scale and crop your large image, which is maybe 5000+ pixels wide and 2000+ pixels high, to match these dimensions. By doing this, you could potentially reduce your image size 10x or more. These file size savings add up the more images you have across the site. I recommend using either Photoshop or GIMP (GIMP.org), a free alternative to Photoshop, to edit your images before you upload them.

If you’ve never used GIMP or aren’t sure how to edit photos in GIMP, I recommend watching this tutorial on GIMP Photo Editing Basics:

TIP: When you are exporting your image in Photoshop, be sure to click the “Progressive” checkbox for a more appealing image load.

You can add or remove photos your photos, as well as see the dimensions and file sizes of your photos by going to the “Media” section in the WordPress Admin (see photo above). Click on one of the photos to bring up the Attachment Details dialogue box. In the photo below, you can see the highlighted file size and dimensions of this image. If your image has large dimensions or a large file size, you’ll want to edit your photo and re-upload it. I also recommend adding alt text to the image, which is the text the Google crawl bots read to determine what your image is about. This is another feature that helps your SEO as you can add relevant keywords to the alt text in your image. In the example below, I have used the alt text “GIMP Dreamy Lighting Tutorial” as this image was used in another blog on that subject.

Edit Media Attachment Details in WordPress

By making these changes in the back-end of your site, you are clarifying to both Google and end users what your site is about, while decluttering your WordPress admin and improving the overall performance of the site. You may be surprised at how well your site performs once you’ve done some housekeeping!

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