Are Website Uptime Monitoring Services Reliable?

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Example of downtime email notification.

When your website is down you miss out on sales and make a poor first impression. Oh, and it’s bad for SEO. Never fear–it’s easy to get notifications when your site is down. And if your webhost sucks, you can switch to a better host. (See previous post re: the best managed WordPress hosts. Spoiler alert: Free migrations!)

I’ll blab specifically about Uptime Robot below, because it’s the uptime service with which I’m most familiar, but I’m not endorsing anybody here. There are several other similar website monitoring services: Pingdom, StatusCake, and if you’re on WordPress, JetPack offers monitoring. …There are others, too.

The competitors are all more or less the same; they’ll send you an email when your website goes down, and then again when it comes back up. These services are almost always free for basic use. Extra features most people don’t need cost a little. Note: Pingdom does not have a free tier.

But how accurate are the outage notifications?

Sometimes not very. But it’s easy-ish to fix.

When I sent my host a note about outage notices from Uptime Robot, my host had this to say:

“We’ve been getting more complaints specifically from uptimerobot users. There are literally just that many people using their service so at times it triggers a throttle because the checks come from identical IP addresses, often across many sites at the same time. We’ll look into updating IP ranges in our firewall.”

Since that exchange about 14 months ago, notices about alleged outages have almost disappeared.

What causes website monitoring false positives & how do I fix it?

When Uptime Robot (or one of its competitors) checks to see if a site is up/down, it’s actually checking many sites on each of the big hosts. Those pings can easily be misconstrued as a malicious DDOS attack. Hosts try to stop DDOS attacks, which might inadvertently cause your monitoring service to show your site as offline.

I’ve worked for and owned parts of web hosting companies a couple times in my life and can appreciate how hard it must be to choreograph the careful dance between security and being able to automate measuring uptime. That said, a good host can balance the two.

If you’re getting an inordinate number of “Monitor is DOWN:” emails from Uptime Robot, I recommend you start a discussion with your host to see if they have anything to say about the alleged outages.

If your host claims they’re just false positives, tell your host to update the IP ranges in their firewall to allow for reasonable pinging from Uptime Robot’s IP addresses.  If they’re unwilling to do that, find another host.


 

Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. And apparently hosting, too. He knows enough about hosting to know better than to own part of a hosting company for a third time. His favorite number is 867-5309.

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 the client, “It’s them or me.”

Rather than leave a great client in the lurch like the prima donna I sometimes wish I aspired 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 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, SLA, etc. But to be fair, my needs are minimal.

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

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 with their other hosting 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 back-rubs 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 hosting. 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 every time Martha wanted to switch the White House website to Go Daddy or HostGator to save a couple bucks, “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  proprietary plugins they used on your site. It’s a mess. The first quote to rebuild the site to make it 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 hanging with his hot triathaloner-doctor-wife. He plans to turn his front yard into a two-hole miniature golf course with a dragon sculpture.

Automated Scheduling Google My Business Posts

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This is Google’s default “Google My Business Post” image. Will they make me take it down? We’ll see.

I won’t tell you much about Google My Business posts and how they’re potentially great for your business, your business’s SEO and your company’s findability. Because other people have already written about that. (Lie. I later wrote this post about GMB posts: What and Why?)

Instead, I’ll help you figure out how to pre-schedule several posts at once.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Google My Business allowed us to schedule future posts? Yeah. That would be nice, Dan. Until that happens, you have a few options.

In no particular order:

Yext allows users to schedule GMB posts. I have never used Yext. I don’t know exactly how much it costs, but I’ve heard rumors of $500/yr and up. I don’t know which of their plans include GMB automation, and they don’t list pricing for any of them, so, you’ll have to contact them for more info.

Sendible lets you schedule GMB posts. I haven’t used Sendible either. Sendible starts at ~$300/yr, and that includes automating your future GMB posts.

Do you use WordPress?

At least a couple WordPress plugins empower you to easily create and auto-publish Google My Business posts. I’ll highlight two of them, with the same caveat emptor: I haven’t used either of them.

WP Google My Business Auto Publish is 100% free. $0. I recommend you change the default plugin settings so that it does not publish all posts to GMB automatically. …Unless that’s something you want. (Lazy?)

Post to Google My Business is by an outfit called Tycoon Media, but that old-school-ritz name isn’t the only reason I think this one is not free. Something on their website mentioned needing their $80/yr plan to support “Post scheduling”.

I might use the gregariously named ‘WP Google My Business Auto Publish’ in the near future but I’d take a couple hours to customize and finagle things so that any GMB-WordPress post would NOT be visible on the WordPress website/blog. I just can’t wrap my head around a good, dual-purpose blog post/Google My Biz post. …They seem like two entirely different things to me, and I would squeeze that delineation out of the plugin.

Schedule Google My Business Posts Now

Anyhow, there you have it. Several decent-ish options to automate and schedule Google My Business posts. And if you’re not going to take the time to login to GMB once a week to publish a post, you should pick one.

In case you’re wondering, Hootsuite doesn’t help here. They’ve known for more than a year that Hootsuite users want GMB post automation. Hootsuite doesn’t seem to care.

 

 


Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and UX. He just joined veteran San Diego experimental-punky-prog-horror-garage-noise band Gurtrudestein, and he’s jazzed about that. …Except for the fact that if you accidentally spell it with an “e” instead of a “u” the band is invisible on Google. (Regardless of how many helper words you use). Thanks, Gertrude Stein.

SEO Blogging Best Practices

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(WARNING! This article is several years old now. The world of SEO changes often. Take this and any other SEO advice with a grain of salt and an eye for the contemporary.) This article assumes your web team has already configured your blog on a good blogging platform like WordPress with all the best SEO plugins installed and configured. It also assumes that you’ve gone through the complex decision of deciding where to put your blog: e.g. mysite.com/blog vs. myblog.com

Let me know if you need help or want further discussion on any of those prerequisites.

SEO Blogging Basics

  • Write often.
  • Know your keywords.
  • Focus all page and post elements.
  • Leverage links.
  • Embrace community.

Content is King

When done well, blogging benefits your brand, customer community and valuable search rankings.

Write well and often. Avoid blogger burnout by using multiple bloggers. Invite guest bloggers who will give you great content and buzz in exchange for a link to their site in the byline. Do whatever it takes to get content flowing regularly. There’s no upper limit to quantity but you want to make sure you’re cranking the quality too.

Your audience is twofold and you should write for both humans and robots. We’ll assume you know how to connect with those humans but the pesky search engine spiders are a little different. If you blog a lot, you don’t need to always pander to the bots. But…

All in-house bloggers should be aware of your SEO campaign’s keywords and should be updated as the list changes. If it’s ever convenient to fit a keyword phrase into your blog post, and it sounds natural, do it.

Page Elements and Agreement

But sometimes you’ll want to take it a step further. The best SEO blog entries have some sense of agreement throughout disparate page elements. These elements are opportunities for us to convey semantic information to Google. Some of these elements:

  • title (appears in the very top left of the browser and often is the top bolded part of the Google search engine result page (SERP) listing)
  • description (not visible on page, but often used by Google in SERP listings, below the title)
  • body content – copy in your paragraphs – the beef
  • Headlines – your primary headline on almost any blog entry is the Blog name. it’s the h1. You then define a headline specific to your entry (h2). And break up your text with tertiary (h3) and sometimes other sub-headlines (h4, h5) These headlines help both humans and robots to better understand what’s important.
  • alt tags – any time you use an image you have the ability to specify an alt tag to tell search engines and accessibility devices (screen readers) some info about the image.
  • page name / entry name / headline / title – in WordPress, the “Enter title here” field is often used to populate several fields including
  • the first, primary headline in your post
  • the page name
  • the page title (see above)

For example in this post:
https://dandreifort.com/2010/10/08/the-fall-of-uncool/
I entered “The Fall of Uncool” into that field.

  • Which was used verbatim as the main headline of the post
  • hyphenated in the page name /the-fall-of-uncool/
  • and prefixed to the blog title to create the title

The Fall of Uncool << Dan Dreifort

  • WordPress SEO plugins like Platinum SEO Pack, allow you to specify unique page  titles, page names, descriptions, etc.  apart from what you enter into the “Enter Title Here” field. You should use these fields to your advantage as specified below.

Titles – Should be no more than 65 characters in length including spaces. Anything more than that and you’ll be wasting energy; Google won’t display >65 characters in the headline of the listing and won’t pay attention to the additional characters for indexing. (Use Title Case for Titles) They’ll often be similar and sometimes even identical to the main headline of your blog post.

Description – Keep them under 165 characters. Use sentence case for descriptions. This is your opportunity to suggest to Google what they should put under the search engine result page (SERP) headline.

Google uses these various bits of info you provide to create an outline of your page and they toss it into the algorithm and do the ranking magic. We don’t want to miss out on these easy opportunities to tell Google what’s what. It’ll become second nature in no time.

Back to the concept of agreement, try to avoid stuffing important SEO keywords in the title, description, alt, etc. while NOT also using the phrase in the plain body content too. Or put positively, if you use a keyword phrase in the title and headline, it should appear at least once in the body too.

Your ideal Keyword Density for a campaign keyphrase should be between 1% and 3%. Don’t go too much higher or you risk retribution. Ideally, at least half of that keyword density will come from your plain sentence/paragraph body text. Err on the side of caution; if you’re copy starts to sound unnatural, don’t fret about low keyword density.

I’ll use another example:

https://dandreifort.com/2010/09/07/wordtracker-kei-fail-wordtracker-alternatives-seo-news/

Take 15 seconds to scan it.

Notice that there’s a theme? (No, it’s not ‘whining’. That’s just the modus operandi, not the theme.) How did you notice the theme? Some will mention the headlines. Some will mention the images and the captions. Others might have scanned the body content. Regardless, it’s easy for both humans AND bots to figure out the big pic of what this article is trying to say. When you google some phrases about this entry, many show up first SERP on Google.

“wordtracker alternatives”

“wordtracker kei”

etc.

What if I’d used the same “Wordtracker” headlines and images but my body text was about something totally different like cooking? While most humans wouldn’t be able to notice the incongruity (or lack of agreement) at first blush, it takes Google a fraction of a second to judge every detail of your content. If you stuff a keyword into important fields like title, headline, alt, etc. but don’t also use it in your body content, Google knows you’re stuffing keywords to try to game the system.

Post tags and categories

Whether or not you choose to make them visible on the page, you have the ability to tag and categorize your posts.

Develop a main taxonomy of your content to establish your main categories. If you start writing about new content, add a new category. A post can be in more than one category. You can leave a post uncategorized but why? Put it where it belongs!

Use several words and concepts to tag your post. A tag is usually a great place for the SEO keyword on which you’ve focused for the post. Choose several tags. There’s no hard upper limit, but use common sense. Don’t overdo it. There are also WordPress plugins that will suggest tags for you.

Linking

Linking to relevant sites can add value to your post. Your readers might benefit, and it lets you tell Google more about your content via association. You can also use linking to help your main (non-blog) site’s SEO.

There are two main elements of a link. The target URL is the page the link points to. The anchor text is the text that is the link. I.e. in the web’s early days webmasters regularly employed “Click Here!” as the anchor text for most links. Click Here tells neither human nor bot anything about the content on the other side of that link. We can do better.

Linking to third-party sites

When you link to a site you’re letting Google’s algorithm know that you’re sort of voting for that site. We can greatly diminish the vote by using a trick called “nofollow”. Nofollow instructs Google that the link is censured and should be ignored vis-à-vis their index.

Unless you’re feeling generous, always specify nofollow and never use an SEO keyphrase as the anchor when you link to a site you don’t control.  The WordPress plugin “nofollow post”  allows you to select “nofollow” when creating a link. (See my earlier post about the best WordPress SEO plugins for more.)

Linking to your own site

Just like linking to your competitors’ sites, but 100% opposite! Always try to use a relevant SEO keyword phrase to link to your own pages. Never use nofollow. Furthermore, you should use Google’s guidance to decide which of your pages gets the incoming link.

First determine which of your pages already ranks best for your keyword phrase.

If you type this into Google

site:dandreifort.com seo

You’ll get a list of the highest ranking dandreifort.com pages for the phrase “seo”

The page on top has the best foothold (highest rank) and is a great candidate for some SEO love.  I.e. the page on top would be the ideal target URL for a link with anchor text “seo”.

Unless it’s your policy to only link to your own site, don’t overdo the links to your own site. Try to link to your own site less than half the time. I.e. for every link in a post to your site you should include at least one nofollow link to different sites. There are arguments for and against excessive self-linking.

Links to your site from third-party sites

Encourage others (readers, friends, etc.) to link to your site. Getting a quality incoming link (“ backlink”) to your site is SEO gold. What is a quality link?

The BEST incoming links:

  • Link from another site to yours
  • Are on a page that has high Google PageRank (PR)
  • …on a page with content closely related to yours
  • …on a page with only a few or no other links to external sites
  • …hosted on a different server, different domain registrar info, etc.
  • Use relevant anchor text (“[good keyword]” vs “Click here!”)
  • without reciprocity (i.e. you don’t link back)

How do we get links?

  • Ask nicely (ultra low success rate)
  • Offer to trade links (also pretty low)
  • Rent them (expensive and frowned upon by Google)
  • Do some press releases (hope for links)
  • Befriend bloggers (hope for links and/or a review)
  • Other networking (hope for / trade for links)
  • Etc.

Syndication and Community

Encourage syndication of your content via RSS. Provide multiple opportunities for readers to subscribe to your RSS feed.

Use a plugin to enable easy liking/sharing of your content on popular social networks.

Enable comments. Always reply to comments. Using keywords in comments is smart too.

Spelling

Last but not least, always run a spell check before publishing!

Dan Dreifort consults on usability and search. Contact him… if you can figure out how!