SEO Case Study 1

SEO Case Study Infrastructure Optimisation

SEO Case Study – Infrastructure Optimisation

This first SEO Case Study is number one in a series of posts. We’re doing some work on my photography site with the intention of optimising our ability to sell online courses and workshops in 2022 through the website.

This gives us twelve weeks to go through an SEO cycle geared towards attracting traffic in the form of photographers to the website, building a mailing list and doing twelve weeks of conventional marketing on the back of an optimised website to sell the first workshop which will be in Granada, Spain in May or June 2022.

Components of the SEO cycle

This list is not definitive, and some parts of this such as the last two have nothing to do with SEO, but are continuing steps on the same road.

Server Optimisation is contentious. I would argue that it is a precursor to technical SEO in that it removes obstacles to ranking.

Which begs the question – what is SEO for if not to advance towards a meaningful goal?

  • Server Optimisation
  • CMS Optimisation
  • Content Optimisation
  • Backlink Outreach
  • Mailng List
  • Specific Marketing Campaigns

Current status of the site

We’re looking here at the data from Google analytics and GTMetrix.

Google Analytics

Users per month – 701

50% of these users are landing on one specific post

Bounce Rate – 35.27%

Returning Visitors – 1.1%

Number of Posts – 31

Conclusion: Unhealthy reliance on a single high-ranking post. Decent bounce rate so content is satisfying, poor interior linking, lack of pillar posts.

To be Addressed: Pillar posts, internal linking, target specific topics.

GT Metrix

The site was hosted on Siteground and used the Divi theme with Cloudflare, SGOptimiser plugin, and WP Rocket, Perfmatters and OMGF plugins to hurry things along. After the Divi speed upgrade, we found the performance was radically better.

GT Metrix Before Migration

1.4 seconds is not to be sniffed at, it comfortably passes the Google Web Vitals tests, scoring an A.

But – looking at the thumbnail, top left we can see that lazy loading above the fold has not loaded the hero image. This is not a good user experience.

So if we could match the performance, including the hero image being fully loaded we thought we would do better for the users.

Server Optimisation

We’re in the fortunate position of hosting websites with a couple of different providers. We’d worked hard to get the performance from the combination of the Divi theme and Siteground but it came at a cost. The Galleries plugin wouldn’t work properly on the site and I couldn’t figure out why. Quite important for a photography site.

We’d been hosting a client’s site at Brixly with an architecture based around Litespeed Web Server and both my client and I were very impressed. We were able to use the Litespeed Cache to duplicate the functionality of WPRocket, PerfMatters, and OMGF to a large extent, so that is what we did here.

Migrating Divi to a different Theme

This could be a post in itself, The problem with page builders like Divi and Elementor is that they leave acres of shortcode infested content that is a complete pain to clean up manually. The database is probably worse.

Because I don’t know what I didn’t know (the database) I decided not to simply lift and shift the site to staging and then remodel. For all I knew that could leave the database cluttered with unnecessary tables and data. Why start on the wrong foot?

I decided to use the Kadence theme as it has worked well on the last two sites we have built, the code is cleaner, it is well integrated with WordPress, and out of the box, it is fast.

The approach I took was to create a brand new instance of WordPress, install Kadence theme and Kadence Blocks, and then import the Media Library from the old website. It is important to maintain the directory structure so that references to images in the posts will not be impacted.

The first step was to copy the Uploads directory from the Divi site to the new one.

The second step was to install the Moving Media Library plugin by Katsushi Kawamori and export the JSON file describing the media library record in the database. Then install the same plugin in the destination WordPress and import the JSON file. This “registers” the images in the Uploads directory with WordPress.

The third step was to export the posts from the original site and import them them into the new WordPress using the built-in WordPress tools.

This sequence results in the posts being visible in WordPress with the correct links. Almost magical!

The last and most time-consuming part was rebuilding the rest of the pages. With the original site to refer to this didn’t take too long. I used the Kadence Galleries plugin to produce much more appealing galleries and made a couple of minor improvements to the page layouts.

Server Optimisation

I am now using cPanel enabled hosting so we have access to all the tools that interface offers. The first thing to install was the LiteSpeed Caching plugin. This plugin is a work of genius. It is as straightforward to use as WP Rocket and in my view works just as well.

As I am using LiteSpeed I thought I’d also use Quic Cloud to process my images instead of Imagify. It does exactly the same thing, uploading the images to the cloud, reducing the size, and producing WebP versions. There is an option to keep EXIF data which I always do because I’m a photographer, but I’ve heard that this gives a slight advantage in terms of indexability too.

I intend to leverage the caching capability of Quic Cloud too, but until the domain is transferred that would cause more pain than it would solve.

This is the GT Metrix Result after migrating the theme to Kadence and the server to Litespeed Web Server

GT Metrix After Migration
GT Metrix After Migration

This is much better! We’ve succeeded in loading the hero image and still reducing the LCP by 600 milliseconds – a full half-second.

The overall loading time on the new server is 0.3 seconds. Reduced from 1.4 seconds on Divi theme hosted at Siteground.

Note that 1.4 seconds is still a pretty good loading time, but this is spectacular and buys me some future-proofing. Acceptable loading speed is only going get quicker.

CMS Optimisation

This is about WordPress and its plugins.

I have a policy of only using lightweight plugins. This might seem over the top for a photography site, but the user experience is a lot about speed. The half-second improvement is noticeable.

Because of the new theme, LiteSpeed Web Server, and the LiteSpeed Cache plugin I was able to get rid of the following plugins.

CloudFlare – redundant as I’m now using Litespeed and will configure Quic Cloud for remote caching.

Easy Table of Contents – redundant as Kadence Blocks provides a better solution.

Envira Gallery – Redundant as Kadence Galleries provides a more elegant solution.

Imagify – redundant as Quic Cloud can handle image optimisation

Monarch – redundant as I decided to use social Warfare instead.

OMGF – redundant as LiteSpeed Cache can be configured to preload fonts

PerfMatters – redundant as LiteSpeed Cache can handle minification

SG Optimiser – redundant as I’m no longer using SiteGround

WP Rocket – redundant as I’m using server-level caching instead

I hadn’t particularly realised but the net effect of all this redundancy has pushed a lot of work away from the CMS (WordPress) towards the server itself. This can only be a good thing and with hindsight has now become a policy.

Conclusion

I now feel I’ve got a platform for the foreseeable future.

The next phase is Content Optimisation. This will mean creating a pillar content-oriented structure so that we can help the site rank for more difficult keywords, and continue to write content with long-tail keywords to attract more viewers and start to balance the audience a little better.

Check out the next stage of the SEO Case Study – Content Optimisation.

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