Moving to My Own WordPress Server: Motivations and SEO Results

This site moved from declutter69.wordpress.com to declutter69.com, my own WordPress server, and things are looking better. This overview explains the motivations, and results after a few days.

Motivations for Hosting a WordPress Server

  • decutter69.wordpress.com didn’t allow plugins, and I wanted to write my own. (I think the most expensive option does allow this, but I’m paying half that for a VPS.)
  • decutter69.wordpress.com posts often got zero views. I don’t know if it’s filtering out visitors aggressively or what. Despite this, it still seems to help with promoting listings. It seems cause sales. Perhaps Ebay sees the search engine traffic.
  • If I can get some traffic, I’d like to sell ads.

Most folks in WordPress groups said that Google likes top level domains (“custom” domains). I feared that new domains were penalized relative to wordpress.com, which is an established domain. I do feel like old domains do get more authority, though. I have a lame domain http://sign-in-sheet.com that just keeps getting traffic and a few ad clicks.

So there will be some downtime.

Reasons Not to Move to a Self-hosted WordPress

  • Convenience: no admin work at all.
  • Speed: wordpress.com will keep your site pretty fast.
  • Effective: seems to help with sales.

What I Did to Move to a WordPress.org Server

My situation was a little unusual, because I already had several WordPress sites on a multisite WordPress server.  Bringing up a new site took several minutes of work, as follows:

  1. Registered the domain. I use Namecheap.
  2. Changed the DNS settings to point to my WordPress server.
  3. Go into my WordPress server’s network dashboard and clicked Add Site.
  4. Filled the form, then created the site.
  5. Went into that site’s settings and changed the URL to http://declutter69.com
  6. Imported stories. (I only imported the tutorials.)
  7. Registered this with Google Search Console, and submitted the site.

I did slack off after step 1.  I don’t like to bring up sites immediately, and would rather let the domain “age” a bit, because I have read that Google might reject new domains as possible spam sources. So I let it age a month.

Only the tutorial articles were imported, leaving behind the “items for sale” posts on the old domain.  My impression was that Google may have rejected most of my posts because nearly all of them pointed to Ebay listings, and also had titles similar to the Ebay listings.

I assumed that Google thought my site was a link farm for my Ebay listings… which it was.  Sarcastic content didn’t overcome that.

Results

Jan 15 – Duplicate Content Problems Seemed to be Fixed

Two days in, Google searches for “site:declutter69.com” brought up 32 results.  Previously, on the old site, I had 9 or 10 results.  Today, “site:declutter69.wordpress.com” brought up 18 results!

The increase in results for declutter69.wordpress.com site may have been due to previous work to insert the “more” break into the articles. The archive pages were displaying the entire post, and that probably caused the archive page and article to be marked as duplicate content.

The quick rise in declutter69.com results may be due to rewriting a few articles, and then manually submitting them to Google (by using the Search Console’s “Fetch as Google” feature, and then pressing the “Request Indexing” button).

So, this was good: the sites’ footprints increased by five times in Google.

Over in Bing.com, the results were a bit different, because I hadn’t registered declutter69.com with their service.

Searching for site:declutter69.com has no results.

Searching for site:decutter69.wordpress.com had 517 results.  That was much better than in the past, when results hovered around 80.  However, the site had only around 220 articles at its peak, so there must be archive pages indexed now.

Jan 21 – Internal Linking Problems Revealed

Site traffic remains low, but we are now getting some clicks from Google.

More and more articles were being indexed, on both sites, but they both had a new problem, because the pages for archives, categories, and tags, were ranking higher than the articles.  To see this, you can do a search for site:declutter69.wordpress.com on Bing or Google.

Archive pages ranked higher because they had links from every page on the site. Likewise, the tags and categories pages had links from their respective articles — but these different kinds of archive pages had more inbound links. Consequently, these pages had higher ranking in the search engine.

The fix was to use the “noindex” tag on the archive (and tags and categories) pages.  The Yoast SEO plugin enabled me to do this.  So the problem was be corrected on declutter69.com, and remained, and will remain, on declutter69.wordpress.com.

I also started reading The Art of SEO, and it’s clicking. I didn’t really “get” SEO before, though I should have, because I make websites. Instead of just buying a book, I read articles on websites. That was a mistake, because most of the articles were talking about getting inbound links to pages, rather than improving internal linking.  (They also had a lot of general articles, with general advice, but not getting into the specifics of what to do.)

Internal linking, which moves authority within a website, needed to be tweaked for WordPress. How did I not know this? With Drupal, the CMS I was most familiar with, the defaults were more correct.  With hand-coded sites, and bespoke CMSs I wrote, I think economics dictated a lot of the linking, and tended to produce reasonable linking. Making archive pages, or even an archiving feature, costs money – and most websites and businesses don’t want old stuff on the site. (They often don’t even want old news on the site – and you have to convince them to retain the old information.)

With WordPress, you got a lot of internal linking for free, and it didn’t automatically truncate your articles because bloggers prefer to show the entire article on the blog feed.

Jan 24 – Finally Indexing More, but noindex pages still in the index

More pages are being indexed. 554 of declutter69.wordpress.com, and 44 on declutter69.com.

Thinking About Internal Linking on WordPress.com

Given that it was not possible to hide the category archives on WordPress.com, I started thinking about how to use the categories to organize the existing articles better, to make the archives better.

I made around 20 more categories, moved them to the top of the hierarchy, and started adding the descriptive text to the categories.  I also deleted all the tags.

Then, I got rid of the widget that listed the archives, but kept the widget that displayed the categories.  So, now, the more-specific category pages would get higher ranking.

I recategorized the posts so each category had fewer posts.  I was trying to get 12 or fewer, each, so each product is 2 clicks away from the home page, or any other page.

Right now, only 15 pages show up in results.  Partly, this is due to manually removing 11 pages from the index, but it’s also because the old crawl probably thought many of the pages were duplicates.

I’m also going in and rewriting titles and articles. This time around, I’m using the Google Keyword Planner tool, and Title Builder, to improve them.  I think rewriting a title caused the Finnish Language lot to sell.

I’ll wait and see what happens.

Improving declutter69.com

declutter69.com archive pages are still in the index, despite now having “noindex” on these pages.  I may need to remove them manually, via the web console.

On declutter69.com, I found a bunch of articles missing the MORE tag, so I added them.

I’ve also started rewriting articles and removing articles, to improve the quality of the articles.  Right now, there are around 50 articles. I don’t know the average length of each article, but if we assume 250 words per article, that’s over 12,000 words.  It’s not a huge book, yet, but substantial.

The categories have also been reworked, so each category has fewer articles.

January 25 – midnight posting

The guts of SEO are starting to really make sense to me. My first effort to put a lot of content out on the wp domain was a mistake, but not just because I was cranking out content.  That was okay.  The problem was the organization of the Categories and the Tags, and my not using the more tag. Here are the different things I did wrong, and why they were wrong.

The More tag – using it prevents the archive pages from looking like duplicate content.  Not using it gets content expunged from the index.

Categories – I had too few, so some  had these long, multi-page archives.  The “deeper” the list is, the deeper the spider needs to dig to get the page, and Google ends up favoring the pages closer to the top.  Adding more categories, so the articles can be placed into these new categories, flattens the structure, and should help.

Tags – same problem, but even worse. I just picked tags without much thought.  Don’t do that.  It not only creates the duplicate content problem, it increases the number of pages to crawl.  Tags need to be chosen from common search terms.

declutter69.com has similar problems: not enough categories, too many tags, long lists of articles, and failure to use the more tag. However, with fewer articles, it’s been indexed a lot faster.  This site also has the features to use “noindex” to prevent archives from being indexed.

The problem with declutter69.com is that this early push of articles, with the bad architecture problems, has created a bad index in Google.  It’s going to take a while to clean out the muck, and make the index better.

February 1 – Brief Update

declutter69.wordpress.com: 651 indexed, Averge Query Position 81, Average Page Position 41, Average Crawl Rate 39 pages.

declutter69.com: 121 indexed, Averge Query Position 43.5, Average Page Position 31.2, Average Crawl Rate 17 pages.

All numbers are up, except clicks kind of haven’t changed much. d.com’s crawl rate dropped.  Crawl errors have increased, as expected.

404 Errors Are Up

d.w.com’s errors keep rising, because I keep removing articles.  This might become a problem, if it isn’t already. 404’s harm the site’s authority, according to some articles.  Going forward, I’m going to create generic product pages, rather than product-specific ones.

For example, I have a FASA Earthdawn RPG book.  Instead of a page for that product, I should have a generic page for “Vintage RPG Books”.  This way, when that one book sells, I can keep the page around to promote another book.  Perhaps, even that is too specific, and I need “Vintage Board and RPG Games”, which would cover the book and the Shogun game.

What I really need is a plugin that would allow for content to be created, then eventually deleted, but the old URL will do a 301 redirect to a different page, or a parent page.  This way, stale pages in the index end up sending link juice up to a “cornerstone” page.

November 25 update

d.wp.com continues not to get many clicks, and continues to increase the views on Ebay despite this.

Long tail pages still work, but in some situations, the object is already sold.

Over the past three months:

d.wp.com – 295 pages indexed. Average position: 25.3. CTR 2.5%. 28 clicks.

d.com – 85 pages indexed. Average position: 22.5. CTR 4.2%. 1.13k clicks.

So going to a domain seems to have helped both sites, with regard to the SERP position, and significantly helped with the CTR for d.com.  Also, it looks like d.com has better content that people are seeking out.

Changing from long tail product pages to general category pages doesn’t seem to have helped.

Big Changes, Nov. 25 Continued

Starting a couple weeks ago, I started deleting low-performing pages from d.com. If a page got no traffic, or just one click, it could be removed from the site. This raised the average position a little bit.

These dead pages were hidden, and might be used as source content for new pages in the future.

Today, I also reorganized the site to make nearly all the posts into pages. The posts will now be written in a “newsletter” format, and I’ll try to push people to sign up for the newsletter.

WordPress.com’s Jetpack has a way for people to subscribe to blogs, and receive the posts by email. Perhaps by using a “newsletter” type of format, it’ll be possible to build an audience. The list on riceball.com grows, and seems to help with traffic, so I’ll try to make it happen on declutter69.com as well.

Author: John

I can be reached at johnk@riceball.com.

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