Spring cleaning. I picture perspiring ladies in full-skirted dresses and pearls, beating a rug thrown over a clothesline with clouds of dust puffing into the sky. But spring cleaning is vital for your WordPress site.
You use the concept all the time, but you’re essentially doing a hit and run version, eager to complete the few tasks necessary to move on. If you’re at all like me, you don’t have the time to delete things that don’t need to still be there, and there’s no way you’re going back and highlighting the stars of your site. Truth be told, change happens quickly in the Ethernet these days and attention spans seem to be getting shorter and shorter. Taking the time to evaluate, streamline and optimize your site strengthens your brand and reputation, and draws in more readers.
Let’s look at some of the ways we can do this.
Check Your Plugins
If you’ve had your site for any amount of time, you’ve accumulated plugins you needed at the time, but you haven’t looked at them again. You trust they’re still useful and performing their duty. Plugins may work at cross purposes, or they may overlap in their functions.
Examine each of your plugins individually. Review the details about each plugin to find out if it’s still compatible with the version of WordPress you’re using. While you’ll be notified when a plugin is updated, you won’t be notified if it isn’t updated. If you’re a WPMU DEV member, you can keep your plugins up-to-date from The Hub. Scan the descriptions and check the settings. Do a quick search in the WordPress store to see if another plugin combines functions you need. Staying within the same plugin family decreases compatibility issues among them.
Outdated plugins may carry risks of vulnerabilities from unsafe code. Scan your site with a plugin such as Vulnerable Plugin Checker, Plugin Security Scanner or Plugin Inspector. These plugins will inform on their fellow plugins, ratting out deprecated and unsafe code, and allowing you to view the source. This scan is vital to the proper functioning of your site, and a guard against future hacks.
When I examined my site, I found two plugins for generating shortcodes for columns, buttons, lists and infoboxes, among other handy features. Every time I need one of those features, I try both, and always end up choosing one over the other. An audit of my plugins provided a great opportunity to get rid of one. See? I’ve not only improved my site performance, but my own productivity, too. I ran Plugin Inspector, and haven’t slept for a week. Actually, the results weren’t too bad, but nearly all the plugins on my site had some unsafe code, albeit at low risk, and few bits of deprecated code.
The Hummingbird dashboard gives you a quick overall score. Individual reports allow you to fine-tune each of the areas the plugin checks. The performance report recommends procedures such as enabling compression, removing render blocking resources, and improving server response time. Besides giving your current score in that area out of 100, you’re told what type (server, resources or content), along with a friendly blue button labeled Improve Score.
Minification includes condensing files and/or positioning them in an include file. Because, as the helpful warning reminds you, these actions can break your site, you can tweak the settings in great detail. The reduction in file size is included for every action you take. Set aside some time for this if you’re really serious about squeezing every last ounce of performance from your site.
An additional plugin that I find helpful for my sites that complements Hummingbird is WP Smush Pro. It optimizes your images at the push of a button and saved me 6.74 MB of space. Not bad! The combination of Hummingbird and WP Smush Pro will have your site humming along like, well, you get the idea.
Highlight High Performing Posts
Now that your site is humming along, your content deserves the feather duster treatment as well. Featuring fan-fave posts is a way to generate more excitement about them, and give a boost to underperforming posts as well.
I determine high performing blog posts using a plugin called CoSchedule, an editorial calendar on steroids. This plugin is available on a subscription basis for a monthly or annual fee. At the same time you schedule your blog posts, you can schedule social media posts. As site visitors click or share, statistics are generated, displaying how successful your posts are.
Add an image slider if you don’t already have one on your site, and create slides that include links to these particular posts. Make sure the images in the slider are eye-catching and related to the post topic. Change them out regularly to avoid the appearance of a stale site, and you’ll be able to boost other posts, not just the high-performing ones. Three to five is a good number of slides without becoming too overwhelming.
Take advantage of the recent posts feature somewhere on your site. The excerpt should be just enough to whet the appetite of your viewer.
Write New Content and Update Static Pages
Nothing says “Neglected Website” like months- or years-old dates on blog posts. If you don’t update your blog regularly, don’t feature it on the homepage.
The About page is a prime candidate for renovation since it’s one of the most important on your site. The content on your website is about building trust, and outdated information does nothing to support the reader’s trust.
Improve Your Bounce Rates
The CoSchedule app is not the only way to look at your statistics. I like Google Analytics+ plugin for providing you with the all-important bounce rate. You may already know that bounce rate is how quickly people leave your site after visiting. If you have a blog, you definitely want a lower bounce rate, indicating visitors are engaged enough to keep reading and providing better opportunities for enticing repeat visitors.
Lowering your bounce rate is a matter of tinkering to see what works and what doesn’t. At the most fundamental level, make sure you understand your desired audience. Are they actually the ones visiting your site? Check out your tags and categories to be sure they are on target. Use a plugin such as Smart Crawl to help you with relevant keywords to attract the right readers and improve your page rank. Someone who visits and leaves immediately may have been misled by confusing or erroneous keywords.
Turn your tags pages into rich resource pages as another way to keep readers on your site.
Add a paragraph to each page about the topic in general, either a dictionary definition or (preferably) your own spin. Make sure to include a generous excerpt on those posts that appear under the tag, so visitors can easily see what you have and share them as well.
CoSchedule’s Click to Tweet plugin allows you to formulate tweets and embed them throughout your posts so readers can easily share without actually leaving your site.
All these together can help improve your bounce rate and also attract more people to your site.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Has the Freshest, Best-Tested Site of All?
Performing all these tasks only once a year, or even at the change of seasons, would be exhausting. A better way to keep the dust at bay is to incorporate them into a weekly or monthly routine. If you implement even some of them, you should see your performance and the attractiveness of your website increase.
And isn’t that a nice reflection on you?