How Hosting on WP Engine Helps Your SEO
WONDERBUILD.com has chosen WP Engine as its managed web hosting provider for a variety of reasons – SEO being just one. Hosting with WP Engine provides you some unique advantages that can help you rank higher on search engines. In this section we’ll talk about the factors that influence SEO related to your host and how WP Engine delivers a service that sets you up for SEO success.
The speed of your website is a known factor in the Google search algorithm as confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts (http://goo.gl/W1tP). While the influence of page speed on your rankings can vary, what remains consistent is Google’s position that usability and accessibility are important factors in their search algorithm and page load time is a huge influence on both of those factors.
If you’d like to see for yourself how Google looks at page speed and accessibility, you can test your site using the Google PageSpeed tool http://goo.gl/mJDhV. This tool has been constantly improved and promoted by Google further underpinning their focus on the importance of page speed.
Luckily, WP Engine delivers a hosting service that serves your content lightning-fast, allowing you to reduce your page load times and increase your Page Speed. Not only does this translate into a better user experience for your visitors, it also gives search engines like Google the trust they need to rank your sites in prominent positions on search results.
Hosting on WP Engine can help you deliver a super fast experience for your visitors, which can help reduce your bounce rate.
Bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave your site after only viewing one page and may also include visitors who leave your site before the content is even loaded. Imagine clicking on a link in a Google search result, the page starts loading, your progress meter spins, the page takes too long to load, and you click the back button. Congratulations, you just bounced.
Depending on the type of site you have, bounce rates can have a disastrous effect on your business and your SEO.
To make matters worse, it is often a metric you can’t even measure as slow loading websites won’t even load your Analytics tracking code before the visitor bounces!
A study by KISS Metrics illustrates that “a 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions”. Not only do increased bounced rates translate into lost sales, but also lost engagement which can nuke your site’s rankings.
Bounce rate and its influence in the Google search algorithm is a controversial subject. Google iteself has publicly stated that it is not a factor in their algorithm, but independent studies show variations ranging from slight to significant impacts on rankings (http://goo.gl/hR8pZB). Of course, there are too many factors to know for sure, but there are some very significant indirect effects bounce rate can have on your rankings, which these studies may be illustrating.
First of all, Bing has publicly stated that social engagement with your content is a signal in their search algorithms. A high bounce rate can have a compounding effect on your social engagement. When you have a high bounce rate that means a higher percentage of your visitors will not wait for your content to load which means less social sharing. For those who do share your content, their friends and followers are also more likely to bounce when visiting your site and less likely to share the original post. This compounding effect reduces both the flow at the beginning of the social funnel (people who post links to your content) and further down the funnel (people sharing those posts). This overall reduction in social engagement can have a big impact on your site in the search results.
Additionally, high bounce rates reduce the number of bloggers and webmasters viewing your content deep in your site. This means that it will be less likely that bloggers and webmasters will link to your content. Outside of the content on your site, the volume and quality of links to your website is the number one factor influencing your search rankings (see http://goo.gl/Uu0p6S). Hosting with WP Engine gives you the high page speeds necessary to combat bounce rate, deliver a great customer experience, and make webmasters proud to link to your content.
Another factor influencing search results is the trust level of the IP address (in some extreme cases blocks of IP addresses), which serve up your website. The easiest way to think about this is that if a search engine sees severely abusive activity coming from certain IP addresses, one of their few resolutions is to flag or block those IP addresses from their systems. Even having your own IP address may not be enough if abusive behavior is being bounced around a block of IP addresses you’re associated with!
Companies who have hosted on hosting platforms with lax abuse policies may have experienced this effect after encountering problems with search engines, anti-virus scanners, and IP address blacklists.
These negative associations are usually caused by someone hosting a site on the same host as you who is spamming, hacking or distributing malware. Having your IP address associated with malware distribution or malicious attacks can have a disastrous impact on your search results. Even if you avoid an algorithmic penalty, being picked up as a malicious site by virus scanners can cause in-browser alerts next to your search result listings showing that you may be a problem site. This can cause your search result listings to elicit a lower click-through-rate which some studies have shown may have an impact your search rankings.
WP Engine helps you by enforcing aggressive abuse policies and actively scanning for sites running malware. Additionally, WP Engine’s shared hosting plans are hosted on servers that maintain an extremely low ratio of websites per server. Cheap hosts may have thousands of sites per server, but WP Engine runs a few dozen per server at most (the majority of servers host only a few customers per server). In addition to the website speed and traffic burstability this gives your website, your chances of having a misbehaving neighbor are also much less.
With WP Engine, you won’t have a churn and burn host looking to cram as many customers as possible onto a server with very little oversight. WP Engine helps you make sure your website’s reputation is safe with the search engines.
If you’re redesigning a website or simply changing the names of pages on your website, you are at risk for severely damaging your search rankings.
As discussed previously, the volume of links pointing to your website is a determining factor in your ranking in search results. When you redesign a website you often get rid of pages, rename pages, or totally redo the structure of your site. Any links pointing to the old page names will be broken for both search engines and your visitors. The result is visitors being served 404 errors and search engines decreasing your rankings.
The proper method for dealing with renamed pages is to implement what is called a 301 redirect (permanent redirect). On most hosts this is done by editing the code on a very scary and dangerous file called the htaccess file. There’s no faster way to cripple your site than by making a mistake editing your htaccess file. If you don’t have any familiarity with code, it’s all but impossible without the help of a developer.
WP Engine understands this basic needs of webmasters which is why you’ll have access to redirect functionality inside your WP Engine portal so you can quickly and easily create properly formatted redirects. You’ll be able to quickly and easily create redirects to keep your old links working and your search rankings firmly in place without the need to know how to code your htaccess file!
Hidden Staging Environments
One concern that most webmasters ignore is hiding their staging environments from search engines. Staging environments are basically a copy of your website where you can test changes without those changes being visible to your live visitors. When webmasters “hide” these staging environments it’s typically done via “security through obscurity”. Basically, that’s the principle where you pretty much have to know the exact URL of the staging site in order to find it.
The problem is that search engine bots are super clever and may be alerted to the existence of your staging environment through accidental links on public pages and possibly through the use of Chrome and services like Google Analytics (although the latter two are denied by Google as being actively used in organic search indexing).
The traditional approach to solving this problem is to implement a line of code on your staging environment’s web pages called a “noindex” tag (tells search engines to ignore those pages) or through a robots.txt entry (general instructions to search engines to ignore your web pages). The risk in these approaches is that developers often forget to turn off these instructions when pushing from staging to production. This can have an immediate and catastrophic affect on your search rankings.
WP Engine makes hiding your staging environments easy for you. All staging environments at WP Engine are hidden from Google by default. This means that you can skip special steps to hide your staging environments from search engines, deploy sites faster, and nearly eliminate the risk of accidentally publishing code that blocks search engines from your website.
All WP Engine accounts come with a guarantee against hacking. If your site gets hacked, WP Engine will help you secure and restore your site for free. In and of itself this is a great benefit, but there are also great benefits for SEO with this feature.
One of the reasons WP Engine can make this guarantee is that the WP Engine development team maintains a database of known threats, malicious plugins, and badly behaving themes. WP Engine then blocks customers from installing these known threats which can have a negative effect on the site itself and other sites on the server. Additionally, when new known threats emerge, WP Engine scans its systems for instances of the threat and helps you remove new threats if they affect your site.
There are two primary SEO concerns that hosting on WP Engine’s secure platform can help eliminate. First of all, sites that are hacked are often used for malware distribution. If your site is hacked, used for malware distribution, and discovered by a search engine you can pretty much guarantee immediately being delisted from the search engine. Recovering from this penalty can sometimes be difficult and lengthy.
Additionally, if your site is hacked it can be repurposed to show new content, place hidden links to bad websites, and a whole host of other nasty tricks you might not even be able to notice when looking at your website. These attacks can make search engines think you’re a nefarious webmaster violating its terms, or that your site is associated with spammy content sites (payday loans, pornography, etc), and much, much worse. If your site is hacked and your content and links are compromised you could be facing a huge search penalty that may be impossible to recover from and could result in your site being banned in the search engines forever.
WP Engine’s super secure service and hacking guarantee lets you rest easy knowing you have a partner who has your back in keeping your visitors safe and your reputation spotless with the search engines.