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.

SEO Update, 2019-04-27

Back in November of 2018, I altered the decutter69.com, causing the clicks and search engine ranking to fall, and then rebound.

Created with GIMP

In late December, the clicks dropped off to almost nothing. I didn’t take notes so I don’t know why this was, but here are my guesses:

  • It could have been a drop in SERP due to new URLs for all the articles, and the 301 redirects. I changed the posts to pages.
  • It could have been site neglect. I didn’t write anything.
  • I also spent time deleting articles that got little or no traffic, so the overall size of the site shrank, and 404 errors increased, harming site authority.

After January, the impressions rose slowly, indicating a better SERP for the articles. Improvements in clicks followed. In April, we’re almost back to where we were in November, so recovery is taking six months.

Clicks remain low. Click through rate is around the same.

During this time, I didn’t make any “update posts”. I intended to follow more of a “newsletter” format to reach out to my (nonexistent) audience of email readers and WordPress readers. So all my traffic came from search, mainly Google.

So is this good or bad? I’d argue, give that the site has fewer articles, and the clicks are almost the same, it’s good.

However, going about the changes without carefully crafting new 301 redirects for deleted articles was very bad.

Why I Have Articles with Little or No Traffic

When I started the blog, I was trying to get some traffic from the increase in vloggers doing Ebay videos. It didn’t really work, mainly because I think the overall trend is for people to get away from reading blogs and get into watching videos.

Videos work because you can half-listen to them while working on something else. For Ebayers, I suspect, that means listening to the vlogger while cleaning up the normal messes that arise from reselling.

Reading blogs is faster, and probably more efficient, but you cannot multitask while reading.

Additionally, reading forum comments can be more productive than reading a blog, because you get a range of responses to a single question. Breadth can make up for depth.

Hindsight is 20/20.

Despite that error early on, I did find a few popular articles about placing Facebook ads, VERO, postage, and counterfeit products. These articles require some precision, lists, or detailed photos. You also want the information quickly, so, they aren’t a good fit for video.

Other articles about setting up a photo studio, general Ebay topics, and other “easy” stuff haven’t gotten traffic. The site lacks authority about photography, which has been on the web since the start (photo.net), and general Ebay topics are better covered by forums.

Had I understood the audience behavior for this niche ahead of time, I could have made better editorial decisions. (That said, I was a newbie, and more of an audience member than an authority. I did the blog, partly, to take notes about what I was learning, because some of it was complex.)

Here are some numbers to show the effect of bad editorial decisions. They’ll sound worse than they really are, because it’s necessary to make mistakes to find the niches to avoid, but they’re still interesting.

Jetpack says there are 89 articles/pages.

I deleted 53 of them. Most were deleted for low traffic, but some were deleted because I just didn't like them.

I will delete 10 more in the future.

%-age of articles removed: 70%
# of articles removed: 63
# of articles retained: 26

If I’d known the audience better, I may have avoided writing half of the articles that were removed. If I averaged 2 hours per article, that would be 63 hours of work saved. (I didn’t measure this, but I’d guess it’s around 2 hours per. It’s also a false number, because I spent a lot of time learning each topic, for my own needs. The articles were artifacts from my own self-education.)

The question on my mind is, “how could I have mapped out the audience, and figured out their behavior ahead of time?”

The best I could do is create a map of different mediums, content creators, audience sizes (youtube subs, estimated site traffic, sales figures), content topics, and maybe some other metrics. Then, I could compare what I could produce against what was already published.

Given that I am a newbie, I probably couldn’t compete, and would need to either find narrow niches (which is what happened), or create content about being a newbie (which is what some vloggers do).

Moving Forward

This isn’t my main blog, so I tend to neglect it, but future writing should focus a bit more on doing behind-the-scenes work to improve the site.

  • Fix the 404 errors to redirect to relevant pages.
  • Find keywords we rank well for, but get low click-through or don’t even have an appropriate article to promote. Fix the on-page SEO or write a specific article to capture that traffic.
  • Cull the 10 no-traffic pages, so the site doesn’t look like a bunch of chaff to search engines.

Update 2019-Jun-20

Clicks kept dropping, bottoming out to between 0 to 125 impressions per day (approx), and 0 to 6 clicks. So, removing the long tail articles was probably a bad idea. It certainly didn’t reverse the decline.

I’m not sure why, but I think I damaged the internal linking by removing posts.

However, the 6 or 7 articles that perform okay, are still doing okay.

On another site I have, I’m looking at consolidating old articles into huge articles.

I think a strategy going forward is to improve the popular articles, and build sister articles to support the popular ones.

Update 2019-Aug-4

I did a quick peek at site:declutter69.com versus site:declutter69.wordpress.com:

Pages in index, as reported from Google’s front page:

57 versus 107

Number of articles, from WP dashboard:

45 total versus 113 total

Clicks, as reported by search console:

383 vs. 29

Well, damn. The custom domain has more pages indexed than exist in the CMS (because of category and tag pages), but gets many more clicks.

The two sites aren’t comparable in the least – one is advice and bloggy stuff, and the other is just stuff I’m selling, with a “vintage” tilt.

Still, you gotta wonder if *.wordpress.com is just downgraded by Google because it’s a subdomain of a giant article bucket.

I also changed the direction of the declutter69.com blog, so it’s focused on gettng rid of junk, stuff, collections, etc. That new content isn’t really ranking, but maybe I’ll find something that works.

Update, 2020-10-09

It’s been a while since I really looked at the SEO for this site. It never really did well, except for the legacy content. Here’s the performance for the past year and a half.

Late 2019 through early 2020 were the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Traffic collapsed. It’s since rebounded. Somewhere in there, I change the site’s theme to Arimo, which is a nice looking, but somewhat old theme. I think it was being used from March 2020 to October 2020.

Back in August 2019, when I last reported, the site’s focus was changed from the “ebay” stuff more toward “getting rid of stuff online”. This content didn’t really rank. I thought I’d ride the decluttering wave, but it didn’t really gel for me. If anything, I didn’t have good strategy, because I didn’t seek out guest blogging opportunities.

As part of this change, I started to delete articles. If they weren’t already popular and generating traffic, I deleted it. I don’t recall if I requested removal from the Google Search Console, but I probably didn’t bother. You can just wait for the page to be crawled, and then dropped.

In July, search traffic increased. I’m not sure if this was due to the theme change. If it was, then, good for Arimo. However, Arimo wasn’t going to help with moving traffic from evergreen content to blog content, because the “page” layout doesn’t include a way to add widgets to show off current content, so I installed TwentySixteen, and switched to that (on October 9, 2020).

Content Quality

Starting around 2018, I started to really ditch the idea of casting a wide net of content, to see what sticks. This strategy seems to harm Google ranking, and it also ended up with a lot of crap content. So, I did some consolidation, and tried to make articles longer. Mostly, though, I just deleted pages.

Here’s an example: Giving Away Food on Facebook Marketplace, and Other Adventures in Curb Alerts

I don’t know if that page got better SEO, or if someone just passed the URL around, or if the hit counter is broken.

Over on other sites, I really clamped down on content. Dozens of pages were deleted from the sister site For Sale. My tech blog technote.fyi is still being purged and consolidated. This is hard and painful, but it seems to be working. I also got a new theme for technote that’s super plain, and seems to help with SEO. It really helps to search through old articles.

I also started two related sites. One is product8reviews, where I’m copying Amazon reviews, and zombiesoftheinformationsociety, which is supposed to be my online store, but it’s not really working right now.

All of this is just to highlight how I’m changing strategy the past couple years.

Did it work?

I don’t think this content category is that popular.

Google Ads says there’s 10k-100k searches per month for “declutter”, and most combinations are 100-1k. That’s not too bad. Search results for “declutter” 39 million pages. Top results are about cleaning up. I’m just not ranking for this topic.

Update, 2021-05-29

Plot of search performance.
Page performance plot.

Well, heck. It looks like search positioning has improved, and the click-through-rate improved. The result being many more impressions and clicks.

Most of the traffic is still going to the article about buying media mail postage online.

The only things I’ve done with that article are rewriting parts, to make it clearer, and adding information about Pirate Ship, a USPS label selling website.

In other news, I’ve been studying the Google rater book, with my friend PM. The information within is revelatory. I regret not reading it sooner.

Interim Notes

Some time between 2020 and 2023, I decided to drive traffic to Zombies, my site that looks like an ecommerce site, but is for linking to ebay sales. I took the most popular pages and moved them there.

SEO Notes, 2023

This site hasn’t made any money, or gotten much traffic, peaking at 16 clicks per day. I don’t think it was approved for ads. So I went with a new domain that’s more polite and generic, decluttermethod.com, and am moving content there. (And, given some of my pandemic life changes, I am having imposter syndrome.)

As of Feb 25, 2023, I have 14 posts and 24 pages, for a total of 38 pages (including drafts). There were maybe 30 more, but they have been moved. I use the 301 redirect, and also in-text links, to drive traffic to decluttermethod.com, and also zombiesoftheinformationsociety.com.

My current footprint in the Google Index is 84 pages (URLs). The earliest crawled page is Oct 10, so it’s taking around 4 months for Google to cycle through it’s database to index pages. That’s not even a page per day.

I think this is because Google indexes slow-changing sites slowly.

I think I need to do a big work session, and get all the pages moved out. Each move takes maybe 5 minutes, so I’m looking at around 200 minutes of work.

4 thoughts on “Moving to My Own WordPress Server: Motivations and SEO Results”

  1. Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with
    hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no backup.
    Do you have any methods to protect against hackers?

  2. Excellent blog here! Also your site loads up very fast! What host
    are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

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