One of my projects is helping out a small non-profit. Their advocacy website is in WordPress. So when WordPress.org let them know that a new version was out, WordPress recommended upgrading 3 days after the release. The non-profit had a natural question: Should we upgrade our site to the new version? Seems logical. Newer is better, right?
Well not so fast.
The issue is one of managing risk by understanding the risks and the benefits. Here is where some analysis can be helpful.
Story of Wedding Cakes
In one of my former lives, I was an event photographer. I always vowed (pun intended) to not do weddings. The primary reason – the expectations of the customer (bride) are unreal. On that magical day, expectations are unreal and beyond control. If the baker makes a mistake, I as the photographer am already doomed. The expectation is perfection. For the entire wedding day. Everything. Including the weather. If anyone on the ‘team’ makes a mistake and all fail. Especially since everyone can make a cake, press a button on a camera (or cell phone, or a computer). So the question becomes why is making a cake (especially for a wedding day) so complicated? Well after listening to a few bakers and artists, I learned there are a thousand critical points where a simple cake turns complicated. Mostly because for each layer you add, all the little mistakes on the layer below it show up. Those little mistakes get amplified until you end up with the tower of Pisa or worse. While it may all work in the shop, taking it to the wedding or putting it out in public can expose those issues in ways not desired.
It becomes about risk. And managing risk. You cannot get rid of all the risks, but you can mitigate and prevent risk in many ways. Did I mention that risk plays into it.
Simple WordPress Upgrade – that’s all
A similar situation exists with a ‘simple’ WordPress website.
Now don’t get me wrong, I feel WordPress is a great tool for most websites (since most websites are simple in objective and construction). For those websites that is is not the case (more complicated) the conversation becomes far more nuanced. And I recommend WordPress as the 1st consideration for a site. Even if it does not belong on WordPress, it becomes a great prototyping tool, and scrum development platform for at least a place to converse with key stakeholders.
Recently, I was asked ‘should we upgrade to the latest version of WordPress?’ WordPress 3.3 had been released 4 days ago, and logging in to update the site created a prompt to upgrade. The short answer was ‘not now’. But I was not in a short answer mood. A big part of the issue was risk management, and the software layers involved like the layers on a wedding cake. I took this opportunity to have a teach able moment in understanding more about what is happening on a website.
Layers Upon Layers Upon Layers
In the world of web services, that layer cake that creates a website is sometimes referred to as LAMP (Linux, Apache, MS Sql, PHP). A whole other topic worthy of its own site, let alone a single entry. But back to the layers on our website ‘cake’ for this non-profit site.
- Why, let me start with listing the layers we are using, and where there could be issues:
- The hosting company hardware – usually shielded by the operating system. In fact most people working with a hosting company do not even know what the hardware is, or when it was last updated or changed. Not knowing is fine, but that hardware may not play well with this new version. But maybe this new release creates a lot more disk input/output and an old model hard drive cannot handle it. It it is a new ‘fancy’ SSD drive not optimized for this change and will wear out in only a couple of week. Perhaps the hardware is very slow in its RAM, and this new version is optimized for fast RAM and actually slows down because of this hardware configuration. Probably only a .1% chance of causing grief in this scenario.
- The hosting company OS (operating system), typically a Linux variation for most hosting companies not using heavy database tools. Again typically hidden, and takes some effort to determine the micro-release. But this is key in making sure all the hardware plays with the software. Whose version (or distribution) of Linux probably adds .1% risk. The micro-release adds about a .2% chance of challenge. (.4% running total)
- The web serving software (typically Apache or Microsoft IIS) and it’s micro-release. Again another layer to work in partnership with all other layers. This adds a .8% chance of challenge, mostly because it is more directly accessed and more configurable by the hosting company to meet the needs of the type of hosting (shared, virtual hosting, VPS-virtual private server, full server, reselling…). (1.2% running total)
- The control panel software (cPanel being the largest in the Apache web hosting management arena). This is the tool that lets you manage your hosting account. It lets you:
- create users,
- email accounts,
- empty log files,
- add more space for x subdomain,
- lock out Suzy’s account until she pays, or forward until she returns from long term absence.
- This adds about .3% risk to the stack. (1.5% running total)
- The install software. This is typically a button on the control panel software. Sometimes it needs to be updated to handle the customizations in the lower layers. This adds about.5% risk to the stack (2% running total)
- Add-ins – these can be at almost any of these levels but 2 main areas would be at the Apache/web serving software like a spam tool on the server, or log tracking tool (for collecting traffic statistics). Depending on how many are running, for a stable hosting company they add .1% risk to upgrading a WordPress level. (2.1% running total)
- WordPress release itself. This it what is creating the website on top of all the other layers to be shared with the world through the WWW. This adds risk based on where WordPress is in its lifecycle (the risk changes from when the product is new and ‘raw’, to stable, to needing to change and catch up to other tools that are ‘beating’ it in the industry, to being at its end of life cycle). At this point in WordPress’ cycle I would estimate that a .x (vs x. or .xx release) adds 1.5% risk to a stable ‘simple’ website. Part of this risk is just updating any software that is installed and running over installing from scratch. It is much easier to build from scratch in most software then to overlay running software and not do any harm (3.6% running total)
Plugins or Add-ons to WordPress. These are the SEO optimization tools, traffic analysis tools, and the other 17,409 plugins currently registered at WordPress.ORG (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/). These can add lots of challenge and conflicts. This is where a patient attitude can pay off in saved aspirin and Tylenol. This adds 2% to the risk (5.6% running total)
- The theme in WordPress. There are 1,458 as of today registered at WordPress (http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/). This is just what is registered at the site. This layer is the template gives the look and feel of the site, integrates all the previous layers (especially the plugins) to the site. Since this is on top of WordPress, it is more susceptible to issues. The risk level here is a function of how mature the software it is sitting on, and how major the release is. In this case a 3.x release, and a simple theme with few plugins (sorry for adding so many weasel words here, but it gets specific quickly) I estimate the risk at .2% (5.8% running total)
- Customization of the WordPress theme – this can be very minimal from changing the color theme from blue to green, or as major as adding a blog to a theme that was not designed for it. In this example, we had minimal customization on a simple theme. I estimate it adds .1% risk. (5.9% running total risk)
- Some tweaks to the stack that the hosting company added that is not clear, documented and well maintained. This is a black box of unknown. Since I did not choose or research this hosting company, I will guess the risk factor by the size and reputation of the hosting company. A better way to determine a more accurate risk estimate would be to look at the questions and comments posted by customers of the hosting company based on real issues they have had. Part of the detective work is to look at the responses and timeline of the hosting company. My estimate is .2% in this instance. (6.1% running total)
- Security patches applied to all the layers listed above based on when they came out, how thoroughly they were tested and how long they have been applied. Add .1% risk this month. (6.2% running total)
Add all the risk estimates up (sorry, the risk is cumulative), and the potential risk to upgrade is around 1 in 18 upgrades will have some challenge. This is where a testing and roll-back plan comes into play. And that is a whole other entry.
Conclusion on New WordPress Release
As complicated as this all sounds, new releases do usually work quite well. They typically run far more reliably then my car. The world we live in is complicated, but our ability to understand its systems is also incredible. Embrace the fun of change. Even a field of sugar cane and acres of wheat that make the wedding cake changes and evolves. Ask any farmer and they will certainly tell you about risk and risk management. Just like our web serving stack.
But remember there is risk, and consider the trade off of benefit to risk in your upgrade decisions. Oh, that is a whole other side to this analysis – what are the benefits of a change, or in this case an upgrade?
What kind of risk management do you typically perform in your decisions to upgrade software? Comment and contribute to the conversation below.
Continuing on with our discussion from Part 1 of How Do I Get Bad Stories About Me Off Google…
Google will also change it results based on what it learns about the web. That is changing second by second as its ‘bots (computer programs running day and night reading and analyzing website pages) return each second with new information. Those ‘bots are busy looking at:
- What sites are out there,
- what sites do they link to,
- what sites are most popular
- how the pages are optimized?
Search Engine Reputation Management
So what to do? Here is a starter list of steps for improving your search engine reputation:
- Get your story out there – create a website and promote it on the search engines. Like any website, you need to follow the basics –
- Buy the domain name for at least 2 years – get your full name as the domain name or whatever keyword phrase is causing you the most grief. The reason for buying your name as a domain name is that if someone is writing a negative story about Ebenezer Pumpkin, (which is your name), then when someone else puts in a Google search for Ebenezer Pumpkin, they are directed first to your website, not the negative press story. The reasoning for buying a domain name for keyword phrases is the same. Consider getting a few domains based on your top keyword phrases. Ideally, you want to have the websites active, and not just by the domain name and lock it up. The more active a website is, the better it is for search returns. When you buy and lock up the names for the websites, you do actually have to do something with them, not just let them sit there unused.
- Fill out your meta tags especially the ‘description’ – make sure your name and top keyword phrase is in the description. If you can not edit the code directly (such as if you are using a site template that generates your site, look for a place to create a description.
- Put effort into the 1st 70 characters of the ‘Title’ tag – again include your name and primary keyword phrase.
- Use header tags in your content (H1, H2, H3) to alert Google what is really important about your content.
- Put your photos and images on the site with ALT tags. The reason this is important is that Google searches for things in different ways. Google searches by video and picture in a different program, so its important to cover that base as well. The more you can get your name out there referenced in a positive way, the better off you are. These ALT tags need to have your name in them. Google has a separate search engine just for images. This is your opportunity to directly ‘feed’ it what it is looking for. These should also have your name in them as part of the file name. In other words not picture1.jpg but barackobamastanding.jpg or johnmccainmad.jpg If your site creation or your abilities allow, create captions that match the images and the ALT tags.
This lets you more easily dominate one whole search engine aspect (images) which is often one of the key links on ‘normal’ text links. But it also lets you ‘prove’ your content on another part of Google’s search.
- Visit your content from the search terms in Google. Google looks at what you (and everyone else) visits when you put searches into the search. If you visit your results, then it feels that those results were relevant to the search terms you entered. If your friends do the same, all the better. Do an intentional search on your website to see what it pulls up. Google does keep track of the number of times you do this, so you can’t use it forever to drive up your search engine results.
- Create a WordPress blog about something you are passionate about. Plan on creating at least 10 entries – they don’t have to be long treatises; plan on 400-800 words each. Make sure you put your name, and post some more photos. Make sure it is good content. Don’t just put up garbage, or things you’re not interested in, just to have content up on a blog.
- Make a list of all the search keyword phrases that you are trying to shift your image. This list may be as short as 5-10, but probably should be as long as 50-100. Do a search on the terms You can use Google keyword phrase generator and many other tools as discussed in other posts. This is where you can keep an eye out for the hidden spots that you are gaining a reputation that you do not desire.
- You can also considering having free cartoon versions of your image made for free at befunky.com – the key is to create different images of you that are well indexed by Google. Rather than just having one photo of yourself on your site copied across all the pages, have different photos of yourself, with ALT tags on them, so that Google will pick up your name more often, and in a good sense. You can repurpose a photo and have it made into a cartoon version of you, rather than just having different regular photos of yourself. Google will think its a different photo of you, even if you see it as the same photo of you, just in cartoon form. Also post these on your other sites –
- Create accounts on the social networking sites – you may want to be conservative in how much others are allowed to post content related to you, but you can use this to put your version of the story. If you limit the responses that others can make, you can control to some degree your image. Most of these are not create and forget types of efforts. You will need to keep adding content to the accounts to show they are active. Again you can use your images here as well links to positive stories.
- Post content on a regular basis on sites with links to your site.
- Post content on Craigslist with your keyword terms. Even though Craigslist is primarily a classified ad market, you can also post a message about yourself, your services and jobs. This is shorter term, and will probably need to be reposted every couple of weeks as Craigslist takes down the ads after a couple of weeks.
- You can use tools to make reposting easier such as Craigslist Bot Pro – I have not personally used this yet, but have read many good things about it.
- Ask your network to social bookmark your preferred sites and stories. This includes sites like digg.com, Mixx, delicious, reddit, metafilter. This lets others see your ‘good’ content over the ‘bad’ content, as well as letting Google know your ‘good’ content is better then the ‘bad’ content.
- Write press releases and submit to PRNEWSWIRE and other newswire services. These are great sites as far as reputation with Google and other search engines. Of course these need to be properly written to include your keyword phrases and related phrases frequently throughout the release. Include links back to yourself at least 2 times.
- Review your content for your keyword phrases and related terms. If you are not being explicit in your descriptions, don’t expect Google to know what you are thinking and where you want to be ranked as well.
- Consider tools for managing your efforts – WebPosition is one that I have used over 12 years. Many of its best strengths are no longer relevant but, it can still be helpful for a variety of tasks.
- Optimize your website including creating a page specific for the keyword phrase.
- Link to good articles ranked rather than bad articles. You want to make sure that when you do a Google search, the number of good articles and references about you comes up higher in the results list than the number of bad items.
- Create a personal link for your Facebook page
- Create a Wikipedia page – Be careful with this. Be ready to manage this page. It is open to anyone to edit, and there are people who put many hours towards making sure all discussions are complete, as well as balanced. You may need manage the updates on an ongoing basis. Ignoring this option of course does not prevent someone else creating a negative page about you. So at least start thinking what you would want on your Wikipedia page. In the meantime look to see if you are listed anywhere on the site as well. Also look how other biography pages are formatted and what is listed.
- Create a (at least one) blog. You can create multiple blogs on each site about different topics.
- Create on
- Use tags on your different postings
- Use categories in your postings
- Link to individual pages from posts or comments on other sites. These links improve the reputation of your content, by linking to your site.
- Link to other pages that you like from posts on other sites.
- Link to ‘good’ articles that are ranking well on Google about your reputation.
- Link to other social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace especially your personalized URL.
- Keep updating your content. Google assumes newer content is ‘better’ and more relevant then older content. Sites that are updated regularly are more relevant to ‘stale’ sites. This becomes key when going against news sites that continue to update on other pages, even though your ‘bad’ pages may never change.
- Consider using RSS feeds to auto update your blog or website.
- Create on
To be continued in Part 3 of How Do I Get Bad Stories About Me Off Google…
Just like in ‘real life’ your online reputation is key to building trust and credibility. That trust and credibility is key to having visitors convert into customers who convert into fans. It is key to continually keep building your reputation with your potential customer base in all your online interactions.
One of the best ways to build your reputation if your niche is not a large category where you need to prove your expertise by printing 27 books, is to show your expertise on smaller questions. Show the community that you understand and can explain what you know. So what are some ways to do that?
- Talk to the local Rotary, Chamber, BNI group, leTip or other community service organization.
- Write articles for your customers, not necessarily for your peers – this might be for the local newspaper or consumer magazines.
- Invite your potiential customers to breakfast and give a presentation.
- Create a Blog and share your information.
- Put White papers on your website.
- Answer question on question websites.
What are question websites? They are sites that collect answers to community asked questions, that volunteers answer. Why would volunteers work to answer questions? Self promotion. By answering the question, everyone reading the answers can see you are the expert. Including the search engine experts.
Are you a local dry cleaner that knows how to remove stubborn stains – answer questions on Yahoo’s Answer (a site that Yahoo bought because it was such a great way to understand and generate traffic) – http://answers.yahoo.com related to laundry and stains. Build a profile and put links to your website. Have more details on separate pages where visitors can get the full scope.
Are you a handyman that knows the secret to fixing squeaky stairs – post and answer questions at answerbag.com and let the world know they can trust you over the next guy.
http://www.marketingvox.com/draft-question-answer-site-visits-up-118-percent-yahoo-answers-is-clear-leader-037442/ reviews how traffic at these sites is up.
This trend is part of why Microsoft rebranded its search engine to Bing.com to go after the market that ASK.com was going after – providing answers, rather than references. These are great ways for the search engines to know what your site is about and why it should trust your site over others and rank it higher for the answers that visitors are looking for.
Once again – like a smile that you share – the more you share your wisdom, the more you get back from others.
The ultimate place to post articles is on Wikipedia. But be prepared – if you do not create very informational and really curb your marketing, the open nature of Wikipedia can allow you to be edited right out in hours. If you are posting information, try to site sources with high credibility. But if you can get your postings to stay up, that is a great way to create traffic to your site.
Any recommendations to your site are usually welcome, the more credible and liked your recommender is, the more it can help create traffic.