Anyone who has been following Out of My Tree Genealogy knows that I’ve recently been doing a total makeover on the website. I’ve installed a new theme, introduced a custom post type of Series and a new custom tag taxonomy of Surname. That kind of major surgery created some 404 errors for the Googlebot as it attempted to crawl my website, so this morning, I went to my Webmaster Tools to see what the problems were so that I could create some 301 redirects from the old URLs to the new URLs.
Google Webmaster Tools
Google provides free webmaster tools that let you see your website as Google sees it. In the toolkit, you can see how people find your website with Google search, see how much of your website that Google has indexed and find any errors that need correcting such as pages or posts that might have moved. They have a support area for webmasters that can help you get that all set up. In addition, their Google Analytics console lets you see how many people visit your website, where they are from, and what pages they are looking at, which never fails to fascinate me. If you haven’t set up your website on the Google Console, I highly recommend that you do. After all, you can’t beat free!
What is a 404 error?
You’ve probably clicked on a link in an old webpage and received a 404 error telling you that the page or post that you tried to access no longer exists. Sometimes this means that the information was removed from the website, but more often, the webmaster has just moved things around. If this happens on your website, you can help your readers find what they are looking for by creating a 301 redirect from the old link to the new one.
What is a 301 Redirect?
Google provides an explanation of the 301 redirect which might just confuse things more but like most things in WordPress, there are a number of plugins that can help you create these 301 redirects from your dashboard in an intuitive way, rather than messing around with the .htaccess files directly. If you search the plugin directory in WordPress, you will find many free options but I decided to install the Yoast Premium SEO plugin to handle this for me.
So how does it work?
Let’s say that someone finds a link to an old post on your blog on someone’s website that goes to http://www.yourblog.com/old-post/ but you’ve done some housekeeping on your blog and now that post is located at http://www.yourblog.com/new-post/. Creating a 301 redirect sends your reader to the new post even if they click on the old link. It’s that simple. Pretty cool eh?
How I Know Googlebot Loves Me
While I was working on creating my redirects, I did some checks in some of the other areas in the webmaster tools. When I clicked on my crawl stats, I was instantly blown away by what happened when I changed hosting providers at the end of February this year. Certainly I had noticed that my websites were much faster since the switch but take a look at what impact that has had on the way that the Googlebot has been crawling my website! A picture is worth a 1000 words.
Why I Changed Hosting Providers
I originally chose iPower as my hosting provider many years ago based on a low introductory price. For the first few years, things were fine but as time went on, I began to get frustrated by slow server speed and poor support. The last straw was the last support ticket I opened.
In mid February 2016, I began receiving regular messages that my websites, Out of My Tree Genealogy and The Social Historian were down. Sometimes this lasted a few minutes but sometimes they were down for an hour or more, usually in the early morning hours. I contacted my hosting provider, iPower, and created a support ticket detailing the problems I was seeing, including the service I was using to monitor my websites and a list of the most recent dates and times of the down times.
What followed was an exasperating exchange of messages between the support staff at iPower and me. One of the suggestions was that I clear my browser cache. Clearly they did not read the ticket since it was not me who was seeing that the sites were down, but my monitoring software. I explained that in my reply and they responded, suggesting that I try another browser. By then I was getting quite frustrated. Then one day, I happened to be sitting in front of my computer when the monitoring alerted that my site was down. When I tried to access my website, it returned a 406 – not acceptable error. Some searching the web told me that the cause of a 406 error is usually due to a Apache related mod_security rule on the server so I updated the support ticket with my findings. The next response from support was stunning. They suggested that I disable my website monitoring since I found these reports so upsetting! My reply to that was to thank them for helping me understand the best course of action to solve the problem and asked them to close the ticket.
I immediately began researching new hosting providers and after reading many reviews, I moved my websites over to SiteGround. The whole process was painless and I’m thrilled with their support in getting things set up. My issues so far have been minor but I get a sensible response to my question, usually within an hour and clearly Google is enjoying the speed of their servers as much as I am. It has been a wonderful transition!
There is an affiliate link in my sidebar for SiteGround and although I get a small commission should you click on it and sign up for hosting, that is not why I’m recommending them. If you check the crawl stats image in this post for my website, you can see that their speed just rocks and their support is excellent so far. If you are frustrated with your own hosting company, you might want to check them out.