WordPress Managed Hosting Comparison

A good host and webmaster grease the SEO wheels. One of my clients is with ProntoMarketing. They’re awful. I loathe working with them. (Pronto, not the client.) I more or less told them, “It’s them or me.” Rather than leave a great client in the lurch like the prima donna I sometimes aspire to be, I’m helping them look at managed WordPress hosting options. If you’re impatient, you can just skip to the chart.

Pronto Marketing Sucks

What’s wrong with Pronto? I won’t dig into the abysmal non-hosting side of Pronto Marketing here; that hole’s too deep and dank. But even if their other aspects were acceptable, their hosting platform isn’t.

Pronto hosts all of their clients on a single multisite WordPress install. Both ssh and sftp access are therefore off the table for all of their clients. So there are things you or your web team can’t do. Conveniently, Pronto’s business model includes access to an expensive, on-demand team of unqualified non-experts to do things for you! …I spent far more time checking and correcting Pronto’s work than if I and my team did it ourselves.  Enough about them. (Edit: Well, Pronto got worse. I’ll add more about that at the end, if you’re interested.)

Comparing Managed WordPress Hosts – Which Ones?

wordpress-hosting-comparison
Teaser of the managed hosting comparison spreadsheet. Click to go straight to it.

Sure, my corybantic contender counts when comparing rank tracking vendors and choosing the best tap tremolo pedal were perhaps excessive, but not this time; I kept it simple. Here are the four contenders and why I picked them.

WordPress.com – They’re the oddball in the field. Owned by Automattic (owner of WordPress,) and more tightly controlled than other options. Not to be confused with WordPress.org, the self-hosted version of WordPress. (This blog is hosted on WordPress.com, and I’ve been impressed with their services.)

WPEngine – Probably top-mind or near it when most people think of managed WordPress hosting. I worked in their platform several years ago.

Pressable – They don’t tout it much, probably to avoid complaints from their other host partners, but Automattic owns a majority stake in Pressable. If that’s not and endorsement, I don’t know what is.

BigScoots – Who? Yeah. Not a big name. But I host 99% of my sites with them. After EIG bought and destroyed yet another host I used, I spent a good chunk of time finding BigScoots. I don’t use their managed WordPress hosting, but I’ve been nothing but impressed by their other services.

“What is managed WordPress hosting?” (My Criteria)

My expectations of a manged WP host are that they’ll largely or wholly take care of:

  • Security
  • Core WordPress updates
  • Plugin updates
  • Speed and other infrastructure concerns
  • Backups
  • Providing full access to the CMS
  • Giving me backrubs and making coffee

How is managed hosting different from other hosting options?

Most sites use unmanaged hosting. You might hear the phrases: shared hosting, dedicated hosting, or even virtual dedicated hosting tossed around; any of those could be managed hosting, or unmanaged. The “management” part pertains only to a higher level of support and services. But don’t be fooled by worthless, free add-ons to lower-tier shared hosting. Like Abraham Lincoln used to say, “extra chaff and turd-polishing doesn’t managed hosting make.”

Spreadsheet Comparing WPEngine, WordPress.com, BigScoots, and Pressable

This isn’t exhaustive. I.e. your criteria might be different than mine. And there are definitely other players in this space (Kinsta’s name pops up a lot.)

Here it is – a chart comparing several of the best managed WordPress hosts.

Want a narrative of the findings?

I won’t deprecate any contenders; I think most sites would be fine hosting with any of them. But two stand out in positive ways which may or may not matter to you.

BigScoots and Pressable both offer tangibles the others don’t:

  • more domain/site capacity (in case you want to host more sites)
  • more free migration of existing sites
  • control over whether or not you auto-update plugins

BigScoots adds:

  • the only one with full ssh/ftp access (which might not matter, really)
  • the only one with email (you have to use a third party for others, which is advisable, anyhow. GSuite FTW!)
  • …but costs more.

Pressable:

  • Is the cheapest

Pressable and WordPress.com:

  • are owned by WordPress’ parent company, which might be worth something?

WordPress.com:

  • The biggest hurdle here is their migration cost. It’s not unreasonable, but it’s not competitive with other migration options.
  • There are several notes in the spreadsheet for WordPress.com, not b/c they’re worse, but b/c their biz model is different than others.

WPEngine:

  • Migration cost is unknown. E.g. What if their plugin fails on a customized theme? Do I have to pay somebody hourly?
  • Some of the notes in the spreadsheet for WPEngine will likely turn more positive as they continue to roll out new services.
  • …but WPEngine is the most expensive

Adendum: Pronto Marketing is Worse than I Thought

Yikes. When trying to move away from Pronto, one needs to rebuild the site, almost completely. If you haven’t been with Pronto for at least a year, they seemingly won’t part with any of your data. If you’re lucky?? to have been with Pronto for at least twelve months, they’ll give you some data, but they won’t give you your theme, nor will they let you use many of the several dozens of plugins they used on your site. It’s a mess. The first quote to rebuild the site to work on Pressable came in at 80 hours @ $65/hr. Friends don’t let friends use Pronto.


 

Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO and makes noise in several bands. He enjoys sketching, films, games, beer, and his hot triathaloner-doctor-wife. He plans to turn his front yard into a two-hole miniature golf course with a dragon scultpture. Somehow, she’s on board with this.

SEO Writing 101

 

 

Google is like Pinocchio; they both want to seem more human.

pinocchio touching his nose

Write well.

That’s what Google wants you to do. Because that’s what your human audience wants too.

Become an expert on something and share well written content about that something.

But people (and Google) care about more than the naked content of a piece; we also care about its presentation. Is it easy to skim for quick grokking? Is it easy to categorize? Is it easy to find on your site? And so on.

Imagine this article without headlines. No paragraphs. No images.

Images are worth some amount of words. Right? Especially if we mark them up well with alt attributes and avoid web-image mistakes.  If nothing else, an image might make your page look better and/or encourage readers to linger longer.

Good headlines help human and robot readers quickly understand what’s in a document. Sub-headlines break up long sections of otherwise more-boring-looking text with contextual cues about what follows.

Link to relevant related content on your own site with good anchor text. Good intralinking strategy will help Google and readers learn more about you/your topic.

Invisible-ish bits are important too. (Because they’re not invisible to Google.) Learn how to write and use great titles and meta descriptions. Learn about microdata and some specific ways obscure bits of markup can help you succeed in Google.

Maybe those last two links are more “SEO 201” than SEO 101.

What else can I do for great SEO?

Plenty. UX plays a big part in SEO. Tune your website so it’s fast. Remove hurdles between visitors and the prize at the end of the tunnel. (Shorten the tunnel?) Run multivariate tests to figure out what works. Stay relevant. Integrate your social efforts with SEO and otherwise encourage people to connect with you and your excellent website. Backlinks are key.

And if you’re serious about ranking well for important keywords, your first foot forward is good keyword research. Yes. Keyword research. Those last two keyword research articles are almost a decade old. Don’t bother reading them. They’re there to underscore that “Stay relevant.” note.

…Some say video is the future of SEO. Don’t worry, there’s plenty you can do to optimize video SEO, too.

Good luck.


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO for small large businesses, large small businesses, and non-profits. He doesn’t love working with large large businesses because he likes to quickly affect change. Is it ironic that those with the deepest pockets are often the slowest? Maybe. Final note: Do as I say, not as I do; there are way too many links in this blog post!

Answered: How do I get an image next to my site’s Google SERP listing?

Astute searchers have increasingly noted Google SERPs adding images next to regular organic listings, especially in mobile search. Here are a couple examples:

 

 

I want an image next to my Google results, too!

Business image thumbnails like these are one example of what Google calls SERP enhancements. It’s important to remember that Google will do what they want to do. Nothing will guarantee an image with your listing, but you can do a few things to nudge Google toward that goal.

1. Check your Google My Business listing

Add several good images to your GMB listing, and don’t forget to add a profile photo and logo. Google sometimes uses data and assets from biz listings to enhance other, related listings. Give them something good to work with.

2. Use link tags and Open Graph meta tags to suggest a thumbnail image

Meta tags let you share information about your page with other sites. Link tags allow you to define interrelationships between assets. Various social networks use this markup to auto-set images when you share a URL, and maybe Google will use it as a signal for what image to slot next to your organic SERP listing. You can do it with either or both of these snippets:

<link rel=”image_src” href=”https://www.foo.bar/imgs/foobar.png" />

And/or

<meta property=”og:image” content=”https://www.foo.bar/imgs/foobar.png ” />

3. Google Custom Search markup

Google Custom Search allows you to adapt and configure Google for searching your own site, and the image thumbnail syntax for it is concise. Does Google use it or ignore it for regular SERPs? We don’t know. But it’s easy, so it’s another option. There are two different markup options:

<meta name=”thumbnail” content=”http://example/foo.jpg ” />

Or put a PageMap DataObject in the area. …Don’t know what the latter is? Just do the meta tag!

4. Use structured data to get an image next to your listing

This section should have been the lead, but it’s more dense, and I didn’t want to scare you off. Structured data, specifically, using bits of microdata or tags defined by schema.org, is arguably the best way to help Google understand your intentions. So why not tell them about image-enhanced SERP options with it? I’m not going to go into excruciating detail about syntax and best practices here. It’s easy to find plenty of resources about microdata best practices and schema implementation if you use a little Google-fu.

I will highlight these points:

  • Google likes it in JSON-LD, but Microdata or RDFa will work for big-G, in a pinch.
  • Definitely use markup for relevant data types available to an “organization” and a “local business”, including but not limited to “image”.
  • If you have products, specify product images and other product meta data in the code for those pages.
  • Remember to add markup for your logo in addition to your other images.
  • And when in doubt, always defer to Google’s structured data guidelines.

5. General image best practices on your site

Use good alt attributes.

Name images sensibly. (img1.jpg = nonsense. [something-descriptive].jpg = sensible)

Size images appropriately. Don’t upload huge images (dimensions or file size) unless you have a good reason. Definitely take dimensions into consideration when you’re specifying a potential SERP thumbnail enhancement. E.g. don’t make them smaller than 160p x 90p or larger than 1920×1080. Oh, and don’t use images with weird (long or tall) aspect ratios. Stick close to square, or typical TV/film aspect ratios of the past and present, at least when you’re thinking about SERP thumbnails.

Make Google’s indexing job easier, and they’ll (likely) make your SEO life easier, eventually.

Two end notes:

  • Anybody telling you to use rel=author to accomplish this sort of image-enhanced SERP listing hasn’t figured out that it’s deprecated. Just ask Google.
  • None of the above methods are guaranteed to work, but they’re about as good as it gets. If Google doesn’t love your site for some reason, you might not get an image next to your listings. Oh, and if you do get your image next to some SERP listings but not others, don’t be surprised; that’s exactly what will happen, if you’re lucky.

Good luck!

 


Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and loves running multivariate UX tests for his clients. He also helps businesses optimize certain aspects of HR (hiring/firing/training/software UX/etc.) Check out some of his improv noise at synthband.com.

Tap Tremolo Pedal Comparison/Guide

 

Updated for 2019. When this UX snob of a pedal junkie caught the tremolo bug, he started referring to himself in the third person and made a spreadsheet comparing 30+ different tap tremolo pedals. …Then he blogged about it.

If you’re lazy or impatient, use these links to skip to a juicier section of the tremolo pedal roundup. But keep in mind: my trem criteria, while not so odd, might not be the same as yours. Spoiler alert: I initially got the EHX Super Pulsar, but found reasons to replace it with the superior Swindler Effects Red Mountain V2. Couldn’t be happier.

  1. What is tremolo?
  2. My tremolo criteria
  3. Other tap tempo trem features to consider
  4. Results: Best tap tremolo pedals
  5. The 30 tap tempo tremolo shootout chart

Quick Intro: Different types of tremolo?

Tremolo, in the classical sense, is a rhythmic wavering of a note. E.g. like that produced by a violinist rapidly shaking the bow hand. But then some doofus decided to call the electric guitar vibrato system “tremolo,” a misnomer which caused a few generations of guitar wankers to not understand what tremolo means. (“Whammy bar” is a much better name for guitar vibrato, anyhow).

In the effect pedal sense, which is why we’re all here, there are two main types of tremolo.

Amplitude tremolo changes the volume of the signal at a specified speed and depth. From abrupt on-off-on-off square-wave chop, to a subtle waveform barely imparting a warble, and everything between.

Harmonic tremolo chops the signal in half, treble (high pitches) and bass (low-end), and modulates them out of phase with each other. …Which is to say, it’s more of a tonal wobbling.

All of the pedals in this tremolo pedal roundup can do amplitude tremolo; only a few of them can also do harmonic tremolo. So if you’re stuck on a harmonic tap trem, your choice is much easier. Me? I got the Swindler Red Mountain V2 in part because it is dual-mode. I like it both ways. 😉

Tap Tempo Trem Criteria

First I thought I wanted a tremolo pedal with the ability to control the tremolo speed via an expression pedal, but I quickly realized that easy, onboard tap tempo was more important. As I dug deeper, I found other things I cared about. You likely have at least slightly different tremolo criteria.

To be considered a contender for my tremolo affections, a pedal has to have all of these features:

  • Dedicated, onboard tap
    Pedals with dual-purpose tap buttons aren’t welcome here. TC Electronic Pipeline Tap Tremolo and Line 6 Tap Tremolo both use tap buttons for other commonly used tasks. Sure, it allows for a smaller pedal footprint, but usability suffers.

Tap tremolo pedals relying solely on an external tap button or expression pedal were similarly nixed. (Entries from: Moog, Strymon, Supro, Earthquaker Devices, and Source Audio)

And the Ernie Ball Expression Tremolo pedal also fails to make the cut, but it’s an expression pedal form factor, so if that’s your thing, check it out. Oh, and Matthews Effects The Conductor v2 loses here because they inexplicably put the tap right next to other controls. …I don’t want to stomp on a knob. With the Conductor, you probably will.

  • Dotted subdivision/interval (or a way to fake it)
    Sometimes it’s fun to do rhythmic things that don’t fall on a downbeat, an upbeat, or the “and” between them. Enter the dotted eighth note tremolo subdivision.

Scant few tremolo pedals have native dotted divisions. (See the spreadsheet. First link in this post, above).

We can bend most other tap trem pedals to our dotted whimsies by setting the div to “triplet” and then tapping half-time. (On the one and three, instead of on all four beats).  …Which is good enough for me, in a pinch.

But a scant few candidates failed completely here, e.g. the Fulltone Supa-Trem2 and the otherwise lauded Zvex Sonar.

  • Volume knob
    People often mention a perceived drop in volume when using amplitude tremolo. Most candidates use some sort of clean boost/gain knob to counter that.

But the Dedalo Tres Tap Tremolo Pedal does not have a volume knob.

  • Dedicated rate and div knobs
    The fewer different parameters a knob is responsible for, the smoother the user experience. Effect pedal UX is especially important for me because I often have friends using pedals, and I loathe doing technical support when I could be making noise with people.

Several high-profile tap trem pedals fail here by combining rate and div into one knob. …And I can’t even fathom that “saving space” was a real concern, because they then need to add another controller to switch the function of the rate/div knob. If you’re always going to use it one way or the other, then you might not care about this. But I sometimes use my pedal boards for noise projects, and lazy me can’t be bothered to deal with the design shortcomings of: Empress Tremolo 2, Seymour Duncan Shapeshifter, Copilot Polypus, et al.

  • Easy access to shape shifting
    Want to go from a mellow sine wave to a mad-blinky square chop, on the fly? Me too!

This is another place the Zvex Sonar doesn’t shine; it can only change wave shapes via hidden controls. I.e. you have to hold down a “shift” button and use a knob for this unlabeled purpose.

  • Reasonable power requirements
    Almost every trem pedal passed the bar here, but the Stone Deaf Tremotron fails twofold.

It requires a whopping 300ma of power and their website claims it’s picky about voltage. They say it doesn’t work with a Truetone 1 Spot power supply. …One of the most popular, high-amperage 9v power supplies. No thanks.

  • Other UX concerns
    Many features on the Chase Bliss Gravitas Tremolo pedal require flipping the pedal around to toggle one of its umpteen dip switches.

E.g. you have to pick between having access to subdivisions 1,2,4 OR 3,6,8 via a dip switch. Want to go from harmonic to amplitude mode? Yep. Dipswitch. Etc. Yes, you can sort of work around this using presets and/or midi, but that’s not what I’m looking for in tremolo UX.

  • Availability
    As of initial publication, two pedals on the list are lingering in development hell. The Luma Trueno and Coda Effects Montagne bot look great, but they’re both still preorder only. Some pedals (Waves, Semaphore) are discontinued and hard to come by. Not going to seriously contemplate something I probably can’t get.

Please note: As I eliminated pedals from contention via the criteria above, I usually stopped gathering data for the chaff. So there are several holes in the tap tempo pedal chart. (Send me a note if you want to add any data).

Other Tremolo Pedal Features to Consider

The features above were all chopping blocks for my decision process. The trem options below are added bonuses, frosting on the cake.

  • Tap once to re-sync
    I don’t know if I’d use it, but being able to synchronize the pedal to the downbeat of the “1” might come in handy.
  • External tap jack
    Maybe you want your trem high on the back of your pedal board, but want the tap tempo button easily mashable down in front.
  • Expression pedal jack
    Some control one parameter, some pedals can map an expression pedal to control one of many functions. Some can control many at once.
  • Rhythms or patterns
    A few trem mix it up with stock patterns. Some let you create and store your own. Some even have step sequencer-like controls of each beat with dedicated knobs.
  • Harmonic trem
    Want to switch from amplitude to harmonic mode, and back? No problem, for a few tremolo pedals out there.
  • Hold a button for added functionality
    Some tremolo pedals emulate a Leslie speaker brake when you hold down the tap button. Others use the tap tempo momentary switch as a kill switch or div-doubler when you hold it down. Some trem pedals turn the on/off switch into a momentary on-switch when held. Others still, use these pedals for saved preset controls.
  • Other features?
    Yep. Some trems have tone control knobs. Want to skew waveform symmetry? There’s a pedal or two for you. Dedicated space/duty controls? Yep. You can find that. Want to sync via VC or midi? Use your pedal as a global clock for other gear? Do you need stereo ping-ponging tremolo? Do you want built-in distortion or reverb? Yeah, well, there’s a pedal that can do that. …But it might not be able to do all the other stuff you want. #priorities

Results: The Best Tap Tremolo Pedal

Want a smaller, dual-mode, stereo tap tremolo with a great feature set?

s447163914514069377_p18_i10_w640Get the Swindler Red Mountain V2.

Pros: The best feature set in a small (less than 3″x5″) pedal enclosure. Red Mountain is the only dual-mode (harmonic and amplitude tremolo) in the roundup. It stores one preset/favorite for later recall. Stutter mode. Stereo ping-pong. Etc.

Cons: Doesn’t have any rhythm settings, so you get clasic on-off-on-off pattern. Plain-Jane white paint with black text will be pure minimalist (and UX) bliss for some, but flashy-pedalboard folk might yawn at that. You might be able to find the discontinued “Signature” model, if you’re looking for something with more color.

Silver and Bronze Medalists:

Don’t mind a huge enclosure, 15 buttons/knobs, and amplitude-trem only?

ehx super-pulsarGet the Electro-Harmonix Super Pulsar.

Pros: Features galore. Available below suggested retail on eBay. …which might hint at something?

Cons: All those features come at a cost. At almost 5″x6″, it’s considerably larger than the other tremolo pedals in this roundup, so make sure you have space on your board. Mediocre UX takes a while to learn, and longer to master.

Want simplicity, with a couple funky bonuses?

diamond-tremolo-pedal-300x300Get the Diamond TRM1 Tremolo.

Pros: It checks most requisite boxes with a couple bonus amenities (two rhythm patterns, kill switch, etc.) using only seven controls. …Which means it’s simpler than most. #UX
I liked the sound of its “chaotic” interval with a hard square waveform.

Cons: That simplicity comes at a cost. The Diamond Tremolo lacks extra features some may want: external control jacks, true dotted intervals, etc.

Tremolo Pedal Honorable Mentions

Want harmonic tremolo more than you care about other criteria?

Get the Walrus Monument or the Drolo Twin Peaks.

twinpeaks-monument-duo

I’ll preface by saying both the Monument and Twin Peaks are up here in the rarefied air because of their harmonic tremolo options. They’re both great pedals, but they don’t tick as many of my criteria boxes as the pedals above, (or as many as some that didn’t even make the cut). They do however tick enough of the right boxes so they’d both be in the runner-up section (below) even if they lacked the harmonic switch.

Pros: The Monument is the simpler layout of the two harmonic tremolo finalists. But the Twin Peaks v4 offers tone and wave symmetry controls, if you prefer those features to a less dense control panel. Both come in geologic-themed tri-color designs, perhaps a breath of artsy fresh air on your board, compared to the options above.

Cons: Both the Monument and Twin Peaks lack rhythmic patterns. Neither has native dotted subdivisions, but because both have a triplet setting, you can fake it by tapping half-time. For me, the extra knobs on the Twin Peaks are (probably) more noise than signal; I wouldn’t use them much.

The other honorable mentions in this tap tempo tremolo comparison go to…

In no particular order:

  • Wampler Latitude Deluxe
  • Cusack Tap-A-Whirl
  • Dawner Prince Starla

Even if your criteria is close to mine, you might find something about one of these to tickle your tremolo fancy. Look into them.

Many tap tremolo pedals not favorably noted in this review are great pedals beloved by countless people. I know that, and I don’t discount their quality and utility at all. They’re just not what I want in a trem. (Which is far from saying I wouldn’t use one if somebody gave me one!)

Is your tremolo pedal criteria vastly different from mine? You should check out the reddit comment thread about this tremolo roundup wherein people discuss other options. E.g. if you’re into menu-driven multi-effect options like the Modfactor, MD500, Mobius, etc.

Here’s a link to that spreadsheet again. Check it out.

spreadsheet

Thanks for reading.

.


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO when he’s not making noise with pedals and friends. (Check out synthband.com?) His favorite color is pizza.

Redirector Browser Extension Takes You Where You Want to Go

AT&T just installed fiber to my house. It’s fast. I get a steady 949 Mbps up and down. I had no complaints about the 160 Mbps/14 Mbps I was getting from Cox, but my inner geek couldn’t say no to faster-for-the-same-price.

attdnshijackThe install was pretty smooth, but during the bumps, I would type nonsense URLs in to see if things were working. Most of the domains actually existed, but when I hit something that wasn’t live, I got the AT&T-branded page telling me the page I’m looking for isn’t available. Well, it said that somewhere within the mess of ads. Call it what you will, it’s DNS hijacking. Amazingly, AT&T allows users to opt-out of “this service”. But some ISPs don’t.

End ISP DNS Hijacking

Before I noticed that opt-out, I took a minute to update my Redirector settings appropriately. No more AT&T DNS hijacking. (I’d previously used it to prevent Cox from hijacking my DNS).

It works in FireFox, Chrome, and Opera, and Redirector is good for more than stopping DNS hijacking. It’s a versatile browser usability enhancer.

Use Redirector to Help Your Favorite Charity

I don’t have a car, and I loathe shopping, so I regularly shop with Amazon for things I can’t get by foot or on my bike. I made a valiant effort to remember to use Amazon’s Smile program special URLs to help my favorite charity (Death With Dignity National Centers,) but I’d usually forget. The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice.

I didn’t want to leave those easy donations on the table, so I searched for something that could remember for me. Enter Redirector. Now, every time I click an amazon link, or type amazon.com into my browser, I’m taken to the smile.amazon.com version of that page, instead.

I’ve uploaded an image of my Redirector settings at the bottom of this post in case you too want to more frequently, passively donate to your fave cause, or if you want to stop your ISP from hijacking your DNS. It’s easy. For the latter, you can use the same DNS hijacking forwarding URL I use, or copy the PHP snippet from that page.

<?php
if(isset($_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'])) {
 echo $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'];
} 
?>

…Not that you need the php on the page you load instead of your ISP’s branded page, but it helps to be able to see a printout of the potentially improperly typed URL. e.g. below.

icurdDNSerror
Above: This is the plain-Jane message I get when I type in a bad URL, e.g. doesthisdomainexist.com

 

Redirector settings below. Click for larger image.

 

redirector

Let me know if you have problems. I’ll add more detail to this post as needed.

 


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO.  I also make music, and enjoy biking and walking around San Diego, when I’m not broken.

 

Comparing Rank Tracking Software

I’ve been using Advanced Web Ranking (not to be confused with Advanced Web Ranking Cloud) for eight years. Read riveting tales from 2010 wherein I try to find a replacement for WebPosition, eventually deciding on AWR. Things were simpler then; there weren’t many players in the ranking software space, and almost everything was desktop-based.

Fast forward to 2018. When AWR started shitting the bed a month ago, I was faced with more than three dozen contenders for my search engine querying and reporting needs, almost all of them cloud-based or SaaS. I could have ferreted out even more vendor options, I’m sure, but when I added the 40th vendor/software suite to my spreadsheet of rank tracker candidates, I stopped.  (Full list at end of this post.) Daunting. “If you can’t find what you want from 40 vendors, there’s something wrong with you.” I said that out loud.

This post is long. If you want to skip the criteria I used and go right to the two winners and six runners up, go ahead. But you might be looking for something substantially different than what I found.

comparing-rank-trackers
Partially obfuscated spreadsheet of rank trackers, criteria, and notes. Pure madness.

SEO Reporting Software Criteria

So, what exactly did I want? That’s an important question. My criteria are similar to those of many, but might very well be different from yours. Keep that in mind as you read on. Oh, and if you don’t have any interest in SEO software, you should probably stop reading and have fun with some of the non-SEO posts on this site, or go contemplate a tree, or something.

If you’re still here, let’s dig in for rank checking software comparison.

What I did NOT want

I already have great sources for keyword research, backlinks, competitor analysis, website violations/improvements, and some other important SEO metrics. Sometimes I subscribe to a service for a month and do what I need to do. Sometimes I lean on one of my colleagues who already has a subscription to one or more vendors. Several of the SEO software vendors I considered are full-service suites of sorts, and therefore often priced themselves out of the SEO ranking software market.

At most, I do keyword research and backlink audits quarterly for existing clients so it doesn’t make sense for me to pay for it every month. If you’re looking for a 360-degree SEO suite, this rank tracker comparison might not be for you.

Historical Ranking Data Import

Although I’m not importing data for all projects when I migrate, I’m importing historical ranking data for most of them. (A couple clients wanted to archive old data and start fresh.) Some vendors like RankTrackr (not to be confused with SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker) and Tiny Ranker don’t have a way to migrate SEO ranking data from your old projects to their platform. With them, you’ve no choice but to start with a fresh slate in reports. Other companies say they’ll import data for a fee, including SERPBook and SEMRush.

Caveat: Your data might not be in the format they want. Look before you leap.

Ability to Pause/Stop SEO Projects

Sometimes clients leave for a few months. (See my post from a week ago about why SEO clients leave.) Sometimes you’ll have cause to pause a project for years. It doesn’t happen often, but about half of rank trackers surveyed don’t allow you to pause. Or they offer janky workarounds: “Just delete the keywords and save them on your computer. When you’re ready to start again, add the keywords again!”

Who won’t let you pause an SEO project? SE Ranking, RankTrackr, Tiny Ranker, Rank Ranger, and others. SERPFox is one of a few non-pausers to offer what I consider sub-optimal workarounds, but SERPFox at least preserves your data, somehow.

Reporting Format

I’m accustomed to being able to upload several HTML reports for each client. While there are several candidates who offer access to an API so you can cobble together your own reports, I don’t want to do that. I’m also not interested in reporting software that only generates static PDF reports and/or ugly CSV spreadsheets. These are comparatively horrible ways to display report data. Rank Ranger, SE Ranking, RankTrackr, and others all fall short here.

Vendor Support Hours

Chances are, after you’re all setup with your new rank tracker, you’ll seldom need support. But take it from somebody who’s needed a lot of support from Advanced Web Ranking over the past month: you’ll care about support when you need it. AWR is in Romania, I’m in California. AWR is at the support desk when I’m asleep, and vice versa. I open a ticket on Monday. I receive a response on Tuesday, to which I reply. Wednesday I get their reply, and so on. The weekend comes, and the snail’s pace of support slows to a stop. …And that’s when they bother to respond in a timely manner.

Support availability matters sometimes. Do yourself a favor and weigh candidates support hours in your process. Spoiler: I ended up picking two vendors. One of them offers perfect support hours for me, the other one, not so much. The latter is half a world away, which is unfortunately not uncommon with the ranking software bros.

Update Frequency

Don’t let companies fool you; updating your keywords’ rankings every day, or every hour isn’t adding value for you. Well, if you’re playing at the most vaulted, vaunted levels of SEO, I suppose you could argue that point, a little, but if your clients need detailed reporting more than once a month, you should find different clients. Spend more of your time DOing SEO, and less time measuring it. Anyhow, several vendors offer different plans/options for different scanning/querying frequencies. I don’t want hourly or daily scans because I’d be paying for unused fluff. Some services, like SEO Rank Monitor, SEMrush, and others only offer daily tracking.

Obviously, you sometimes won’t want to wait a week or longer for keyword rank data. SerpBook and Rankinity get around that thusly. SerpBook gives you a bunch of monthly credits for on-the-fly, ad hoc rank checking, e.g. for research, in addition to your regularly-scheduled data, and the latter is a granularly-priced pay-as-you-go service, so…

Well, this is as good a time as any to talk about pricing and cost.

It’s so hard to compare different products’ pricing models. …No two vendors define their pricing the same way. It’s almost totally incongruous.

Comparing SEO Reporting Software Pricing – Not easy.

On January 31st, as I was deep in this ranking software comparison, I guest lectured part of a class on Digital Media and Analytics within Columbia University’s Strategic Communications Program. My spiel (“Serendipity: Two UX ROI Stories”) was last on the docket, so I got to enjoy the first hour of Ethan McCarty‘s class.

While much of the class discourse (analytics/meaningful data/correlation vs causality/etc.) resonated with my experiences, I was particularly moved by Ethan’s reflection on his experience choosing and comparing web metrics software suites.

“Buying any kind of SaaS (such as SEO software) is kind of like buying a mattress,” said McCarty. “They all might have a similar feature sets, but each vendor names things differently, accentuates their own strong points and usually does a pretty good job of obfuscating their weaknesses. They are also all sold on different pricing schemes which makes comparison shopping grueling even if you’re a diligent spreadsheet-keeper. You may as well buckle and get the one you find most comfortable to use,” he said, speaking of both SaaS solutions and mattresses, natch.

Mattresses, am I right? It was comforting to find a sense of simpatico. We are not alone. This sucks for almost every discerning consumer, it would seem. I had to ask most vendors several followup questions to try to figure out how they actually priced their services.

How do we define rank-tracking pricing units?

“Keywords” are the near-universal pricing unit in the ranking space. But different vendors define that word conflictingly enough to make apples-to-apples pricing comparisons almost impossible. That’s why it’s in quotes there!  I kid you not, the number of “keywords” I have varies by MORE than a factor of ten, depending on the vendor. It’s nuts! What’s worse, getting straight answers regarding a vendor’s definition of “keyword” is akin to pulling your own teeth. Not fun.

We’re dealing with several variables, depending on the vendor:

  • Keywords (kw) – number of different keywords in the project
  • Search Engines (SE) – # of different search engines to be queried
  • Depth (d) – number of SERPs of data you want to gather (ranged from 1 to 30)
  • Projects (p) – number of, in my case, clients
  • Frequency (f) – how often do you want to query for data?
  • Sites (ws) – number of  websites you want data for (e.g. your site/s + ‘competitors’)
  • etc.

Vendor SE Ranking defines a keyword as one keyword in a project regardless of the number of SE. Well, you can add up to five SE, and that kw still counts as one “keyword” in their pricing model. I didn’t catch how deep (d) their data delves into the SERPs, but they offer different pricing for three frequencies, ranking from one day to one week.

Some vendors, like AWR Cloud, SerpBook, and others count Google-US, Bing-US, and Yahoo-US as a single SE unit. But they count other SE and location-based SE as individual units. But AWR Cloud only goes a few pages deep for a “keyword” while SERPbook digs to 10 SERPs and still calls it a “keyword”.

Some rank checkers count a keyword as a single SERP. So if you want to check ranks 1-40 (four SERPs) for a keyword in a single search engine, that’s four “keywords”.

Rankinity, as hinted earlier, charges per kw-se combo, with pricing for each pair delivering 10 SERPs.

Some charge only once for a keyword-se combo, regardless of the number of projects in which it appears while others will count each project-keyword-se instance as a separate “keyword”.

Some rank trackers, like SerpBook essentially charge extra for competitor rankings. (“keywords”=kw*SE*s) while other rank trackers will gather ranking data for several sites/urls, for the same keyword, without counting it as extra “keywords”.

Those are just a few examples. The myriad definitions of the “keyword” pricing unit are beyond my tired brains’ abilities to concisely summarize. Sorry!  The takeaway is: Make sure you know what their “keyword” is, and how it differs from other vendors you’re considering.

Plan Pricing Break Points – Important Future Thought

Some companies, like SEMRush and Web CEO limit how many projects you can have. Add your 6th project and you have to jump from the former’s $99 “pro” plan to the $199 “guru” plan, (or the latter’s identically modeled “Startup” and “Corporate” plans,) even if you weren’t close to the other price-resource-unit limits of your subscribed service level.

Other rankers charge more to add additional “users”.  …I’m telling you, it’s complicated.

Which Search Ranker / Reporting Solution did I choose?

As I hinted before, I originally picked two. Rankinity and SerpBook. But then I learned SerpBook counts each competitor as an individual set of keywords, and that priced them out of the top spot, and maybe even out of honorable mention. BUT they’re still a great option if you don’t want to track much (or any) competitor data. Alas, they’re not a good match for me, because I like to keep an eye on the competition. …I often find it actionable.

Using Rankinity to check once a month is a great value, and I’m still waiting for them to finish importing my data. They said it’ll be a few more days.

But I’m optimistic. …And I’m willing to pay a little extra for the elbow grease that might be required to massage my data into place.

The Proof is in the Pudding

That’s an old proverb dating back to the 1300s meaning: You can only say something is worthwhile after you’ve tested it. As of this writing, I tested what I thought was a top finisher enough to know they’re not a great match for me. I’m still in bed with Rankinity, and after digging into the honorable mentions, below, I’m left with RankWatch in second place.

Honorable Mentions

Because I want to go with two vendors simultaneously, and one of my first picks didn’t pan out, I spent more time digging into RankWatch, WebCEO, SE Ranking,  and SEO Rank Monitor to find a replacement. As of this editing (a month after publication) I still haven’t signed with RankWatch, but I will, soon. If they don’t pan out, I’ll update yet again.

Thanks for reading. While I can’t answer specific questions about specific rank-checking candidates, I’m happy to opine on more general bits. Please use the comments section, or if you’re feeling shy, send me an email or something. The rest of this blog post is me kvetching about AWR, and the aforementioned list of competitors. Good luck!

Regarding Advanced Web Ranking

I’ve been unable to run reports without zany errors for over a month now. AWR wasted countless hours of my time denying the problem was theirs. They blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to a different batch of proxies. Nope. AWR still blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to another proxy vendor and dedicated proxies. No dice. AWR said those proxies too were to blame for my continued problems. So I switched to a different batch of IPs. Same problem. (Shoutout to Trusted Proxies. They helped me troubleshoot and were always quick to respond.)

I gathered and presented evidence to the contrary over and over again but Advanced Web Ranking denied any responsibility. At one point, they went nine days without responding to an email or trouble ticket, of which I sent MANY.

So, needless to say, I’d already decided to move on by the time they picked up conversation again. Then a few short days later,  on January 31st, AWR apologized and they sent a mea culpa. They’re unable to fix the problem. (Even though competing desktop rank tracker “Rank Tracker” doesn’t suffer from the same problem. …I tested.)

I pre-paid for a couple years of AWR and they gave me a full refund. While the last bit of road to the end was unnecessarily bumpy, at least they ended the relationship with class.

List of SEO Rank Trackers Compared Herein

Note re: crappy data: When I started this task, I didn’t know I’d write this blog post, so I didn’t preserve my data at first. If I determined a candidate was far from the mark, I just deleted their row from the spreadsheet. When I’d whittled down to a couple dozen, I realized I should stop doing that! (#destructive) However, I’m not made of time, so later, as I determined a vendor wasn’t a good match for me, I stopped gathering data for that vendor. The more I whittled the list down, I kept adding more criteria. So, when I mention a list of vendors lacking a particular trait in the criteria sections above, it definitely doesn’t imply all other vendors DO support it.

Here are the twenty-four I compared:

Ahrefs
Authority Labs
Advanced Web Ranking Cloud
Conductor
CuteRank
LongTailPro
Majestic
Microsite Masters
Moz.com
nozzle
Rank Ranger
Rank Tracker
Rankinity
RankTrackr
RankWatch
SE Ranking
Searchmetrics
SEMrush
SEO Rank Monitor
SerpBook
Serpfox
SERPs
SERPWoo
Tiny Ranker
Web CEO

 


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. He’s trying to find more people with whom to make music in San Diego. Dan also likes food and film. He just ate some ice cream and he’s seen five of the nine 2018 Best Picture nominees, so far. His vote goes to Aronofsky’s un-nominated “mother!” – Best allegorical thriller, EVAR!

Ending an SEO/UX relationship

I’ve blogged twice before about firing SEO/UX clients, but there are other reasons practitioner and client separate.

What are some reasons to part ways?

The best reason: “Dan, you helped us sell all the inventory. We’re done. Thanks!” (Only happened once: Hawaii housing development)

One of the most annoying reasons: “Some guy in a suit came into our office and shook my hand. They’re cheaper, so we went with them.” (Has happened twice, both clients came back.)

A middle of the road reason: “We’re growing so fast, our goals are ambitious. You’ve helped us, but we’re necessarily somewhat inefficient and crazy-swamped organizationally, so we’re going with a 360-degree, all-inclusive agency who can handle everything under one umbrella.” (Has now happened a few times, including today.)

…It’s not like I can’t help this last subset of organizations in the next step of their SEO/UX journey, (I’ve driven ambitious budgets to success-city before,) but sometimes it makes sense to move on to the next step. There’s a decent chance their new agency will kick ass or at least continue to add value. But there are no guarantees; I’ve seen these moves fail miserably, too.

Moving on

The good thing about today: I’ve moaned about this client for years. (Ask them, they’ll tell you.) As a thought experiment, I took a 2-month sabbatical from them this past summer. But I stuck with it and helped them grow. Anyhow, I’m thrilled that we’re both moving on. After a fruitful 4+ year engagement, this is a good parting. #Healthy

Hell, just a few hours ago I sent a note to one of my referring agencies telling them fficient SEO & UX is at capacity and not accepting new clients for a while. …Maybe I’ll revisit that thought in a month or two.

welcome to san diego 1973
WASHED OUT! — The blogger, his special lady friend, and some cats, parting ways with Ohio in late 2014, on the way to life in sunny San Diego. This picture is like a metaphor. That sentence was a simile. This blog post is done.

Guide: Comparing Arpeggiator Pedals

arpeggiator-pedals-roundup
Tararira, PitchGrinder, AARP, Arpanoid & More!

Wherein Dan talks himself into buying one via this arpeggiator pedal roundup/shootout. (Spoiler alert: I bought the Tararira.)

What is an arpeggiator pedal?

An arpeggiator is a sequencer. A sequencer plays a series of sounds based on a source and parameters set by you, the user/musician. In the case of an arpeggiator pedal, the “source” is whatever you plug into it: guitar, bass guitar, synth, toy, etc. The parameters are the pedal knobs and buttons, controlling things like: pitch, tempo, order, steps, scale, key, etc. We’ll leave it at that for now.

Why do I want one?

Keep in mind: My criteria for an arpeggiator are likely different than yours. That said, they’re fun. I recently picked up an Electro-Faustus Drone Thing, and this guy seems to have fun pairing it with arpeggiators, so…

EarthQuaker Devices Arpanoid

First I saw the Earthquaker Arpanoid. (Link immediately above). I wanted it.

Its small size and lack of a zillion knobs and whistles belie its nifty factor. However, it lacks a few things I’m looking for: per-note/step pitch control, CV or midi control, tap tempo, etc. And because it lacks features, it doesn’t so much arppegiate as it plays scales. At $225, it’s definitely ‘affordable’ in this lineup.

“But what else is out there?” I wondered.

Cooper FX AARP

I fell hard for the Cooper FX AARP (v1) when I saw that same dude playing with it.

AARP stands for Automatic Arpeggiated Repeating Patterns, which seems redundant, right? Also questionable product naming, what with the AARP being a 38-million-member thing, and all. Regardless, the AARP v1 has almost everything I want: tap tempo, eight pitch knobs, etc.

While looking for one, I learned about the upcoming AARP v2, but I’m not as attracted to its menu-driven interface (vs. all the knobbies on the older version.)

Regardless, both AARPs are currently unavailable, and you have to be on your Instagram game to snag one from the limited supply when v2 is released circa Q4 2017 or Q1 2018. Price unknown, but certainly higher than the v1’s $275 price tag.

Dwarfcraft Devices PitchGrinder

At $350, it’s not the most affordable option, and while I like that it crunches the signal down to 8-bit awesomeness, it lacks some features I want (external control, pattern control diversity, etc.). Another cool bit about the PitchGrinder: Its “Glide” knob acts as a portamento effect, controlling whether the pedal jumps or glides from pitch to pitch.

Hologram Dream Sequence

$425. It’s much more than an arpeggiator, but I’m not looking for more-than-an-arpeggiator, and I don’t want to spend that much. Furthermore, the UI isn’t setup for a great arpeggiating UX, if you know what I mean.

But it has midi in and out, and an assignable expression pedal insert, and it’s feature-rich. So maybe it’s your jam?

Bananana Effects Tararira

$269 + $20 shipping. This one might be my jam. It doesn’t break the bank – at least in this space, and speaking of space, it’s small, which is a plus. Each of the eight steps is knob controllable. …And if we’re grading on quantity of buttons and knobs, the Tararira is the clear winner, scoring a whopping 19 in the controller bells and whistles column.

^That was my original blurb on the Tararira. Then I bought it. Additional thoughts:

The Bananana Effects Tararira is everything I hoped it would be. (Fun and weird!) It has just about everything I want in an arpeggiator pedal. But if you want me to nitpick, I could say this:

bananana-tararira-arpeggiator
Added rubber feet for traction.

Par for the course with boutique pedals these days, the bottom of the Tararira is plain ole metal. I added four rubber feet to help it stay in place a little.

The scale, step and divider knobs are smooth-spinning, without a tactile hint when you spin to another value. …So you kind of have to visually know where the knobs are, which is tough because they’re small and black, with scant visual cue as to which number value/setting they’re pointing. I plan to remedy this with a little white paint and a tiny paintbrush, or something. If I find appropriately sized and calibrated clicky knobs, I might solder those in instead. But I doubt I’ll find any. Bananana Effects clearly had to make some minor sacrifices for the sake of size and cost. Worthy trade-offs for most consumers, I think.

I’ve no doubt I made the right choice in picking the Tararira. I look forward to many hours of noise-making weirdness with this pedal. You should get one.

 

Other arpeggiator pedals considered:

Eventide H9 – Billed as “a complete pedalboard in one pedal,” I find it way too separated from effect controls. If you want presets, this might be for you, but if you want knobbies, not so much. $399 + you may purchase/download additional algorithms (read:fx) for more $.

Line 6 RollerShifter – Near as I can tell, this is a custom-made Line 6 ToneCore module that was never available to purchase. It earned the nickname “talent simulator” on at least one pedal forum.

That’s it. I hope to get up the nerve to buy one of these toys soon. Thanks for reading!

 


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. He’s been in hardcore noise-punk band ‘Cat Shit’ for over a year now. Accordingly, he and pals are getting ready to scare trick-or-treaters with noise from: Microbrute, Theremini, Drone Thing, and guitar through sundry fx pedals on Halloween. #LureThemInWithCandy

 

Quick Guide to Meta Titles and Descriptions

fficient_logo-SOLO-128pix
Dan has a new logo. Is it a duck? A vomiting Pac-Man? A bulls-eye?

A quick post answering a common conundrum: What are title and description best practices? UPDATED for 2019.

Google already has a guide for this stuff. You should check it out. Seriously. That’s step one.

1. Read what Google has to say about writing good titles and descriptions.

2. Step two: Google is slowly scrubbing its former SEO guru Matt Cutts from its pages. Until new guru John Mueller (no relation) gets a new video on that page, here’s the video that used to be there. Watch it. If you don’t want to watch that first 8-minute video from Cutts, here’s his 3-minute version.  Sure, Cutts himself admits (sheepishly) to not using a meta description on all of his personal blog posts, but that doesn’t mean you should be lazy, too.

3. Step three: Some guy on the internet (me) has this to add:

Be mindful of your keywords while crafting titles and descriptions. Use a verbatim or synonym keyword instance or two when appropriate, but don’t keyword-stuff and don’t use keywords unrelated to the content. On larger sites, many of your titles and descrips will NOT contain keywords.

Meta descriptions are ideally between 120 and 156 characters (not words!) including spaces. They can be longer (but should not be shorter) from time to time as long as the “important” stuff occurs in the beginning. Use regular old sentences most of the time in a description.

Titles should be 30 to 65 characters (not words!) including spaces. They can be longer (but should not be shorter) from time to time as long as the “important” stuff occurs in the beginning. Try to get closer to the top end of characters. Use Title/Headline Case for Titles.

Why do we care about titles and descriptions?

Remember, titles and descriptions have two audiences:

  • Googlebot/SEO: We want Google to rank us well. Google pays attention to titles and descriptions.
  • Humans/UX: We see titles and descriptions in the SERP, where great language will influence us to click on the listing.

While I’m not suggesting you directly instruct people to click on your listing; you should write something engaging, using your keyword concepts when appropriate. …without telling them to “click”.
“Learn” – “discover” – “find out how…” – are okay, but writing something interesting w/out a CTA is okay, too. If you’re not a fan of click-baity titles, (I loathe them,) avoid that :/

Regardless, don’t neglect these important opportunities to communicate with your human and robot audiences.

Your Company Name in Titles / Descriptions?

Unless your site doesn’t rank well for your brand name, you should almost never use the client/website name in descriptions or titles, because it would be a redundant waste of precious SEO space. As much as you should omit the website/client name from almost all titles/descriptions, if a page is about a person or a thing, you should probably mention the person or thing in the description. The only other reason to stuff your brand in every title: the brand manual mandates it. (Consider rewriting the manual!)

Should I auto-append anything to my titles, site-wide?

As long as you don’t go overboard and don’t get lazy because of it, sure. Why not? Keep it short and classy. Or don’t do it. …This is more of an opinion than a well vetted SEO fact. Good luck.

PS – New logo for my fficient.com consulting biz is above. I’m going to do a post on the logo process some day. …This postscript is mostly to force me to write it up.

PPS – It strikes me that I should explain why I don’t use title/description best practices on this blog; I can’t. Well, I could, but it would be a pain in my ass. This site is on wordpress.com. If I leave it there and want to edit titles/descriptions, that’s another $20/mo in hosting to upgrade to the business plan. Worth it to a business, but my sales are all word of mouth. I could switch to self-hosted WordPress, but that’s annoying, too. Please add this to the (growing) list of: Please do as I say and not as I do.

PPPS – I’m pretty sure something like the image below used to be on the Google titles/descrips guide. Here’s an image showing where title and description usually appear in SERPs, and how sometimes they don’t.

Google SERP title and description use
Click image to enlarge.

Dan Dreifort consults on search and usability. To the dismay of his wife and cats, he makes sounds with iCurd.com, synthBand.com, and gurtrudeStein.com.