Approximately six months ago I was sitting in Morocco, working on a WordPress site for a client. One of the first issues I immediately encountered was that even though the website own had a popular SEO plugin installed, it wasn’t configured properly.
Sure, it was generating an XML Sitemap – but it wasn’t really being used anywhere. Google Search Console hadn’t been properly configured for the site, which meant the XML Sitemap hadn’t been submitted there. In addition, there was no visitor tracking script installed, so the website owner really had no sense about what their traffic was. The primary site title, the one that shows up in Google, wasn’t set to anything meaningful, which meant it was pretty unlikely that website would ever rank well.
It was then I started thinking – isn’t there a better way to do all of this? Why does performing SEO, or even setting up a website, have to be so complicated and error prone? I started making notes – what would it take for someone who didn’t know too much about how a search engine worked to be successful at optimizing their site for search?
At that time I started playing around with some ideas, and those ideas would eventually all coalesce into a plugin for WordPress. And that plugin, as of right now, is available to everyone for free.
So without further ago, I’d like to introduce you to Elevate for WordPress.
Elevate is at its core a plugin designed to help increase the search rankings for self-hosted WordPress websites. But it goes beyond that, and deeply integrates with several services (such as Google) to help automate the process and also understand, on an ongoing basis, just how your website is performing.
For example, since the speed of your website (how responsible it is for your visitors) is used by Google and other search engines to adjust your ranking, it’s important to understand at any point in time just how fast your website is. Elevate aggregates all of this information, along with important search metrics (such as how many clicks your website received from Google last week, etc.) right on the primary Elevate dashboard in the WordPress administration panel.
The Elevate Dashboard
Once configured, you’ll always have the information you require as a site owner to understand how your site is performing, both from a speed perspective, as well as a search engine perspective.
One area where a lot of work was done with Elevate was in the area of auto configuration. It turns out a great deal can be done on a website to automatically configure it without much input from an end-user. For example, using Google’s OAuth mechanism, it’s possible to verify a site on Google Search Console and automatically submit the sitemap. So Elevate does that automatically for everyone during the installing process.
In addition, if it finds an analytics script is available via your Google account, it will grab the code for that and use it. If it doesn’t find one, it can create a brand new analytics property and utilize that on its own as well. So no more heading over to Google and then cutting and pasting your code into WordPress.
Automatically setting up Google services
I went out my way during the installation wizard to try and address every single concrete stumbling block that would limit the ability for a site to be successful. For example, one of the last items I added was one I felt was important, so much so that I circled around to add it even though I was at the point where I wanted to launch – the ability to set a site wide featured image for the entire site. Most people nowadays set an image on a per-post basis, and that image often shows up on Facebook and Twitter when one of your visitors shares your post.
But what happens when they share content without an explicit photo? This is actually a pretty plausible situation, for example when someone shares a category page on WordPress, or even the main page of your website. Having the user explicitly declare a fallback image for their entire site during the install process solves this issue, and makes sure the site’s branding will always have a default state, even if a featured post isn’t added.
Adding a site-wide featured image
Another area I worked quite hard at was in the actual options available while editing post content. On the majority of sites that I have worked with for clients, it was pretty rare for them to actually explicitly adjust their search information for each posting. Knowing that, I set out to create intelligent defaults for the search information. For example, Elevate will intelligently scan the post content and dynamically populate the title and description fields. These are visible and easily editable if a site owner wants to make adjustments.
Adjusting the search information on a per-post basis; intelligent defaults are represented by the placeholder text.
This content effectively shows what will happen if the site owner publishes without doing nothing for SEO, which like it or not, is often the case. So hopefully with the intelligent defaults and policies that can be set in the administration panel, these search parameters become more useful for site owners.
For many of the posts I experimented with during development and the beta cycle, often the default content was completely sufficient. But going forward it’s great to know you can easily adjust any of the search information on a per-post basis.
Another area I fleshed out was the ability to preview how your content will look all around the internet. One of the primary goals of all content writers is to have their content read and shared, so it’s important for website owners to understand how this content will look when it is shared.
An example of the web preview widget, showing what the content will look like on Twitter
Previewing how this looks is done using the ‘Web Preview’ widget, and will show you, in real-time, how your content will look when it’s shared on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc.
To make this work instantaneously, in various states (draft vs published posts), with support for both the Classic and Gutenberg editors, it was actually quite tricky. But the end result speaks for itself – with a simple click you can quickly preview how your content will look anywhere on the internet and make adjustments on the fly.
Speaking of Gutenberg, Elevate will work out of the box with it. We have some great ideas on how to integrate better with Gutenberg going forward, but rest assured that it work just fine today and can be used for previewing and generating search related content.
Creating Elevate took about six months of part-time effort, mostly dabbling here and there on my weekends on evenings. I’m really proud of the end result, and have a few more months of features planned to make it even more useful and appealing.
For now though I’d like to thank the following people.
First, the beta testers: a special thanks go out to Paul Jarvis, Curtis Mchale, Rebecca Coleman, Tony Dehnke, Tris Hussey, and Sylvain Marcotte for their feedback during the beta phase.
Second, to the various people who helped with some of the translations: Monica Sprung and Sascia Mayer.
And lastly, to the various people I met during my month long stays in both Morocco and Spain, many of which gave me inspiration and guidance as to new tools to use, or things to ponder late at night while sipping wine by a fire: Sam Thomson, Carrie Chilton, Jon Hormaetxe Castells, Sienna Brown, Anita Oliete, Mili Caviezel,
Clément Roméas, and many more.
I hope you enjoy using Elevate as much as I enjoyed creating it. If you have any issues, please reach out to me and let me know what they are. As it’s new software, and the beta was only limited to about 10 people, I suspect there are still a few bugs that will crop up in the next week or two. But rest assured I’ll address them in a timely matter, and also start pumping out some great new features in the next few weeks.
For more information on Elevate, please visit the main Elevate for WordPress page.