Social engagement leads the way, trumping always-on SSL, other technical considerations
I am fortunate to be part of an ambitious online marketing team at clientattraction.com, and this month we have powered up a whole new look and feel for the Client Attraction Business School brand that has seen consistent, exponential growth in the 5 years since Fabienne and Derek Fredrickson became my clients, initially for a website redesign and later for ongoing VIP technical support.
The new Client Attraction website reinforces their evolving brand as a proven go-to educational resource helping entrepreneurs get more clients, implement effective business leverage for growth, or even manifest a deeper, bigger world purpose.
New design details were worked out at Client Attraction headquarters in Stamford, CT, with the creative talents of Chris Yerkes at Taylor Design. He created a rock solid, Bootstrap-based responsive, custom WordPress theme. We are running it as the core for a child theme — a WordPress feature that allows us to add a layer of additional styles, layouts and functions to meet ongoing and new marketing needs while protecting the original code.
While fresh on my mind, I’d like to summarize a few of the technical considerations we weighed while rebranding and relaunching a successful 5-year-old site that also serves as a hub for thousands of social connections.
- Always-on SSL – Google announced its decision to give websites using a Secure Sockets Layer a slight SEO boost just as we were ramping up for our relaunch. We quickly moved to secure our live site, upgraded our SSL certificate to be mobile-friendly and updated all of our source code to achieve a lock on every page. Only then did we realize that Facebook and other social services were still treating http and https as completely different urls even if the rest of the url structure is identical. For that reason, we decided, for now, not to risk the social capital our posts and pages had accumulated in the form of many thousands of likes and shares, which are important credibility factors in their very competitive environment. We spent quite some time working to preserve those counts by forcing the old urls into our dynamic sharing code but the always-on SSL redirects (it’s all or nothing) always intervened. If you’re starting a NEW site or if you don’t care about starting over with your social sharing counts, by all means go with always-on SSL. Additionally, we did not find that the extra encryption would hurt site performance at all. Our only barrier was the loss of some well-established social gravitas. It is my hope that Facebook and others will soon offer http/https independent counts to follow Google’s lead in encouraging sites to secure themselves.
- Permalinks – For that same reason, we decided to preserve our original WordPress permalink structure (how WordPress structures a site’s urls), which we had carefully implemented 5 years earlier (including year and month, ending posts with .php and no trailing slash on pages) with the help of an SEO expert who had built (and later sold) his own tool that strictly followed Google’s most known algorithms, measured how well our site performed and identified specific places we could improve our results. Some of those technicalities thankfully are no longer at issue as quality content is finally winning much more of the SEO races, but those urls served us well at the time, and our most heavily shared urls are now tied to their structure. We initially planned to simplify them, and we created a 301 redirect formula for our posts that worked just fine as we contemplated preserving only our most-shared resources. But the balance of five years of social sharing already in place ended up outweighing all permalink changes. Choose and preserve your permalink structure carefully. Even though many social networks follow 301 redirects just fine, your original url’s likes and share counts will not transfer over, as sharing services need to prevent potential count fraud from redirected urls. It hurts to see some hard-won Facebook counts drop from 17K to 0 in the blink of an eye.
- Social Sharing Plugins – Another concern for us in recouping/preserving social shares on key urls became a discrepancy in the number of Twitter shares recorded on Twitter via ShareThis. We ended up using Jetpack, which shows native Twitter counts but lacks some flexibility in display, as well as ShareThis, which does not show native counts but allows us more flexibility in where and how we feature our sharing buttons. We use ShareThis on our blog index page, but Jetpack on the individual posts. If you notice a difference in the Twitter counts, that’s why.
- Child Theme – While our new WordPress theme is enhanced with custom post types and backend entry points for specific types of Client Attraction marketing content, our team is always creating new campaigns and landing pages to promote diverse Client Attraction products and events. Installing a child theme layer over Chris’s core WordPress theme allows our team to stay creative and innovate or modify some site features without risking core functionality. A child theme allows us to plug in special styles or scripts while protecting the main theme. WordPress itself does this beautifully by setting up ways for developers to add to or modify its functionality without touching its core. Staying with WordPress was not in question as the world’s most popular CMS continues also to prove itself to be one of the most reliable through years of updates. Improved functionality over the years also has allowed us to rely on fewer plugins, which also boosts performance.
- Featured Images – Our theme does not display them, but our child theme enables WordPress Featured Images especially for sharing. The Yoast WordPress SEO plugin can add your Featured Image to your Open Graph social meta tags, and the_post_thumbnail can be sized and dynamically coded into most social sharing buttons. If you want your content widely shared, be sure you are offering up an attractive and colorful image along with it.
- Podcasts – If you self-host your podcast XML and files like we do, be sure your web makeover preserves their location. Your subscribers won’t appreciate if all your podcasts suddenly reload as new because they have new urls in your feed. Redirect them if you must, but make it easy on yourself and your subscribers by leaving your XML feed alone.
- Easing Into it – Many of these adjustments were implemented or changed quietly during the first week of our launch. We wanted to be flexible and open to new ideas, but as it turns out, not if they risked important proof of established social engagement. If you are considering a makeover, hold onto your site’s most hard-won and enduring qualities, preserve your social engagement, shares, likes and comments, and make it easy for your returning visitors to find their favorite content. After a week of fine-tuning, Client Attraction announced its new site to the world. We hope you like it as much as we do!