Take a look back at this crazy year of site changes, plus you’ll discover what worked and what didn’t as I continue to pivot my online businesses.
And, get a peek into what’s coming for 2021.
Big Site Changes in 2020
There were major changes to site security, performance, and SEO this year.
Let’s break them down by type.
To me, the biggest changes in 2020 that affect all of our sites came from Google.
3rd Party Cookie Tracking
It started in early January with the announcement that Chrome 80 would drop 3rd party cookie tracking.
Safari and Firefox had already dropped 3rd party cookie tracking.
And I believe the reason Chrome is still dragging its feet on this is because they have a dog in the race with Google AdSense.
This news is so big, and reaches so deep into my client base, that I immediately changed my 2020 plans for BlogAid and began to pivot so that my business is not mainly reliant on services for bloggers who run ads on their sites.
Instead, I began an intense focus on ensuring my courses got more marketing attention to help balance my income better.
Well, that was the plan, but another Google announcement changed all that for us.
Core Web Vitals
In June of 2020, Google announced new speed and user experience metrics that would become ranking factors in June 2021. Google called these metrics Core Web Vitals.
SEE: Google Core Web Vitals: What You Need to Know and Do for details.
And that one announcement changed the rest of my plans for 2020, as it then became a race for site speed as well as creating a great user experience, or UX, as Google refers to it.
Speed Case Studies
Thankfully, at the beginning of 2020, I already had several case studies and tutorial updates planned, all involving better speed for our sites.
Those case studies and tutorials included:
- How to Run a Site Speed Test Accurately
- Online Speed Testers: How to Read the Metrics
- Best Free Caching and Optimization Plugins
- Caching vs Optimization for Site Speed for details on the differences in these two important speed improvements for your site.
- Astra, Genesis, Divi: Which Theme is Fastest?
- Gutenberg vs Elementor: Which is Faster?
I’m so glad that I got at least this many case studies done prior to Google’s Core Web Vitals announcement, because from June on I was completely covered up in site audit requests, and still am.
Speed Tester Changes
In 2020, all 3 of the top site speed testers began pulling info from the open source Lighthouse Tester and they all show Core Web Vitals metrics too.
In fact, GTMetrix did a complete overhaul of its interface for it. While it took a while for them to dial in the testing and results, I believe it’s quite accurate now.
My workhorse tester is still WebPage Test. And while Google PageSpeed Insights is the least accurate tester of the top 3, it still has its uses.
And it does take using all 3 testers to see what’s slowing down a site, combined with what I find in audits at the hosting level, and how the site security is done, or lack thereof.
So, finding all of the speed drags on a site is still a big puzzle that takes experience to put to together, but these new tester improvements have really helped us get to the bottom of more of the issues that Google cares about now.
3 WP Core Updates
We started 2020 by looking at what the WP 5.4 update would bring, including native XML sitemap generation, and wondering if we would need our SEO plugins for that still. Turns out that we did still want to use Yoast SEO to generate our XML Sitemap, as it gave us better control over what was in it. And Yoast made it a seamless process to ensure there were no conflicts between the Yoast plugin and the WP core update.
WP 5.4 was also supposed to include browser-level lazy loading of images, just like the way that Chrome does it. But again, we discovered that we would be better off sticking with our caching/optimization way of doing it, for better SEO.
The WP 5.5 update broke over a million sites due to a little talked about change to jQuery. WordPress is desperately trying to bring its core code up to current industry standards, and they needed to make major changes to the way they bridged to the old jQuery code that many older plugins still relied on.
We found a way through that issue, with the help of a jQuery helper plugin that replaced what core WP took out. And we are still in that arc of change with the recently released WP 5.6 update, and with the next update in spring of 2021 with WP 5.7.
The Gutenberg editor improved by leaps and bounds in 2020 and is so powerful now that you can build any kind of page you want with it.
In my mind, page builders like Elementor, Divi, and Thrive are as good as dead already.
And I proved that in my case studies this year, especially with the head-to-head one on Gutenberg vs Elementor: Which is Faster? where I recreated an Elementor template using only Gutenberg blocks.
In fact, I have yet to see anything created with page builders that I can’t recreate in Gutenberg.
SEE: 8 Pages You Can Make with Gutenberg for examples.
And I teach you how to create all of those and more in the Gutenberg Ninja course, which I keep updated with the latest Gutenberg changes that have rolled into the WP core.
Premium Domain Name Price Increase
In February, the cap was taken off Tier 1 domains, meaning .com and .org, so that registrars could charge exorbitant amounts for domains that had extreme marketing or branding value. Some of those domains are now going for thousands of dollars for the initial purchase. But they renew at regular rates.
SEE: Your Domain Names Will Get More Expensive for details.
DDoS Attacks and Cyber Security
Massive DDoS attacks actually started cropping up everywhere in late 2019. And they never abated for all of 2020.
We have seen a constant tightening of all cyber security methods used by hosts and CDNs like Cloudflare that have a WAF (Web Application Firewall).
That caused me to write more posts for it, including How to Fix ModSecurity Errors when adding scripts to your header. That was a companion post for my tutorial on how to add Google Analytics code to your site’s header script area.
UpdraftPlus has gotten caught in the ModSecurity tightening as well, and throws forbidden errors on hosts with the latest security rules when you try to save your UDP settings.
All hosts are no longer created equal. In fact, they got even more diverse in mid 2020 when cPanel announced out of the blue that they were enacting a triple price increase.
Keep in mind that you are changing to a completely different hosting environment when you move and stuff that was setup the way the original host did things might not work at all or be in direct conflict with the way the new host does things.
Plus, given the cyber security situation, it’s now more important than ever to get a pro to help you with site migration to a new host. That’s to ensure that everything at your new host is properly secured, and to ensure that every piece of your site is properly deleted at the old host so no remaining site info is left on their server after you terminate the account.
SEE: What is Managed Hosting? for more on the RADICAL differences in hosts now.
SEE: How to Migrate Your Site to a New Host for more on what’s involved in the process.
Clients leaving SiteGround in droves
I was covered up for all of 2020 with more clients wanting to combine an audit with their migration off SiteGround.
It was no longer just a simple matter of them coming up on the triple price increase at renewal time.
SiteGround just kept getting more and more goofy as the months went on and it was becoming impossible for my DIY site owners to continue managing their sites and having to battle with every new way SG was inserting themselves as a middle man.
Not to mention how hard it was becoming for folks to leave SiteGround.
Keep in mind that SiteGround dropped cPanel in favor of their own custom built control panel. So, most of the time now it requires a manual migration on the part of the new host, which they don’t usually do for free.
That’s just one more reason folks wanted to hire me to ensure things went smoothly, as not everything gets moved over during a manual migration.
And you will most definitely want help to ensure you get away from the goofiness SG does with HTTPS, and get all 30+ pieces of their custom coded directives off your new site.
cPanel Launches WordPress Toolkit App
Another curve ball we got thrown toward the end of 2020 was cPanel’s surprise launch of the WordPress Toolkit app. And it looks like they created it without ever having a look at what WordPress itself was about to launch in version 5.6 with auto updates.
The new app quietly wrote a directive into everyone’s wp-config file to turn on auto updates for WP minor releases – which is something WP was already doing, and a directive we didn’t even need.
This new app could set up direct conflicts with other WP update settings too. In fact, several good hosts have already removed the new app from their servers.
SEE: my cPanel WordPress Toolkit post for more details.
Gutenberg Phase 2 is upon us and will bring Full Site Editing (FSE) to WordPress. In fact, Matt Mullenweg was hoping to have it released into core by the end of 2020. It’s close, and will likely start rolling in with the next WP release of 5.7 in March 2021.
Ahead of this huge change that will revolutionize how themes are built, and what we, as end users can customize ourselves, both Genesis and Astra began making major changes to their core theme frameworks in 2020 because of this.
Genesis Pro was released in late spring as an entirely new framework that would support FSE. That way Genesis could still support the current framework for a few years while folks made the transition to full block-based themes, which are required for FSE. And the new Genesis Pro version of the framework would support that effort.
Astra published a major release with their 2.0 version, and a stable version of 3.0 is expected to drop soon that is running a wee bit too far ahead of what is coming to WP core, in my opinion.
The biggest development with our site’s SEO in 2020 came from Yoast when they released version 11.0 in April.
It provided the full JSON schema markup to your whole site that Google prefers.
This threw a lot of sites into SEO chaos, as most of the themes we use already output their own schema markup. Unfortunately, it is the old microdata markup that Google decided it didn’t like as much as the JSON markup.
For Genesis users, we had to temporarily install a plugin to disable the Genesis native schema so that Yoast SEO could take lead. Genesis finally got around to including a detector for other SEO plugins a few months later and we were able to remove that plugin.
However, Astra themes are still outputting the older microdata markup and at the time of this writing, you have to hard code a directive into the theme’s functions file to make it back out and let Yoast take over. The Astra folks do have it on their list to make this a checkbox option in the future, but we don’t know when.
Bing coming on strong
By summer of 2020, there was a growing backlash toward Google over increased privacy concerns. And Microsoft capitalized on that with a huge marketing push to remind folks that their Bing search engine was still alive and kicking.
In fact, many of my DIY SEO course members reported a significant uptick of traffic from Bing.
Plus, Bing began totally rebuilding their Webmaster Tools. And once that was complete, I included a whole new Bing tutorial section in the course. Turns out that many folks enjoy using it far more than Google Search Console too.
In late 2019 I had installed Yoast’s Video SEO plugin on my Heartwood Art site and that had a dramatic effect on my site’s search visibility, plus an increase in traffic.
For 2020, I set a goal to do the necessary research on all video SEO with the intent to create a new course. That research has taken unexpected turns, and became a much deeper rabbit hole than I had allotted time for.
So, while I’m still dedicated to making the course, I’ve had to rebalance my client service workload to make the time to do the full and proper research required.
And that will also include updates to the DIY SEO course workshops for 2021 on how to check your base schema markup, as I found errors on BlogAid during this research, plus found that Astra was still outputting the older microdata markup. So, we definitely need to do a baseline check on that.
Google Web Stories
Another SEO addition in 2020 was Google’s Web Stories feature. I honestly believe they launched this to replace their failing AMP news stories that few folks are making.
The new Web Stories are far more accessible to content creators, as they are easier to make and don’t require major changes to your site or content formatting to qualify. Google even created a plugin for WP users to make it easy for them to create and embed Stories.
SEE: Google Web Stories Plugin: First Look for an overview.
SEE: How to Create Google Web Stories video tutorial.
Content Silo Tutorials
In 2020, I also added several new tutorials to the DIY SEO course for keywords and for creating Content Silos.
And creating those silos was such a popular topic that I may even break that part of the course off into a standalone mini course for 2021, as I now have a year’s worth of data on what works and what doesn’t with creating them.
More Tutorial Updates
BlogAid has been around for years. And that means I have a TON of tutorials.
But site tech and plugins change ALL the time, so that means those tutorials have a short lifespan and need to be updated.
Either updating or deleting them was my big SEO goal for 2020. It didn’t work out that I could get as many updated as I had planned, but here are just few of the ones I was able to do, plus several new ones that got created.
Besides several already mentioned in this post, here are a few more from 2020:
- How to Delete Images from a WordPress Post or Page
- Redirection: How to Easily Create Redirects in WordPress
- WP Fastest Cache Settings
- Ultimate Guide for Creating Links in WordPress
- Partial UpdraftPlus Backup – for selecting only the database or specific files
- Make a Contingency Plan for Your Website – while not a tutorial, it gives you a checklist of all the things you need to think through and plan for should you be temporarily or permanently unable to run your site
What Worked on BlogAid and Heartwood Art
I’ve always had to keep my ear to the ground to discern what’s coming for site owners, and to pivot BlogAid to meet those needs well ahead of them hitting.
Here are a few of the new things I tried in 2020 that turned out well.
Interview streaming with industry experts
Ever since Blab went away, I’ve struggled to find another way to stream live with a guest, especially to Facebook. I just didn’t like how any of the current platforms for it looked or acted.
So, I took the time early in 2020 to make figuring out how to do it with either OBS or vMix a priority.
And it worked!
I was able to come up with a branded look and a super easy way for guests to join me.
Not only can I stream live to Facebook, but I can also make an HD recording to post to YouTube as well.
Following are the awesome chats I had this year with industry experts:
- The Power of In-Person Videos with Denise Wakeman
- Rebranding with Kate Ahl
- Avoid DIY Theme Mistakes with Michelle Phillips
- Get Started with Astra and Gutenberg with Michelle Phillips
While I’m okay with wearing a lot of hats to run BlogAid, I’m just not good at some tasks and/or there are others who specialize in certain areas who can do things better and faster than I can.
So, 2020 saw me outsourcing many more projects than usual, and I’m so glad that I did!!
Some of the outsourced items were:
- New optin book and graphics for BlogAid News subscribers – created by Victoria Gazeley
- New site services info pages – with copy help from Michelle Phillips
- Special Gutenberg block styling for landing pages and flipping BlogAid and Heartwood Art to Gutenberg – by Marcy Diaz
- Mailchimp support and designs – by Larry Snow
- Total revamp of a super old hybrid site for my book – Michelle Phillips is just now starting that huge project.
Round robin course updates
Another change at BlogAid that worked very well was instituting a round-robin schedule for course updates. That took me out of dropping everything to jump on the latest change that affected one of the courses, like Yoast SEO adding something, or a Cloudflare making a change.
And it’s a good thing I chose to do it that way because all of these vendors are making much more frequent changes now, and I’d be crazed if I tried to keep up with them any other way.
I also run that schedule around WP core updates that bring new features to Gutenberg so I can get that course updated at least 3 times a year.
Putting the power of the village to work
I am so grateful to all of my clients and webmasters who are always eager to help me test new features or troubleshoot plugins or other site changes.
We truly put the power of our whole village to work for the good of all, and I could not do even half of what I do without your help.
Heartwood Art as proving ground
I am so proud of my little woodworking site. I didn’t get to spend as much time on it as I wanted to in 2020, but it still added a ton of value to BlogAid by being my proving ground for the power of Gutenberg and the eyeball getting power of making good videos and doing special SEO for them.
It is the site I use for some of my Gutenberg Ninja and DIY SEO tutorials too, as a way to show off the fact that these things work, and work well!!
What sort of worked in 2020
I had a lot of wins in 2020.
But one that didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped was running Facebook ads for my last quarter Gutenberg webinar.
As I mentioned earler, one of my big pivots for BlogAid is to ensure that my courses get enough marketing attention to be an even bigger source of income for me.
Finding a good ad agency to help with not only the ads but the sales funnel turned into a real time suck.
And the first agency I hired I had to fire, which threw off my entire last quarter schedule.
I did find another agency and we did have a decent ad run, but it was right in the middle of my regular holiday sales, which was bad timing.
While it did double registration for the Gutenberg webinar, and while conversions to sales were okay, I didn’t even break even on the deal.
But, I did get super audience data that we’ll be using in 2021 when I run an ad campaign for the new Video SEO course after I do a soft launch to my own followers.
What didn’t work at all
Everything about running an online business means keeping up with the changes and trying new things.
And some of the spaghetti I threw against the wall this year just didn’t stick.
Some Content Silos Worked, Others Didn’t
Since last year I’ve been attempting some pretty big content silos on Heartwood Art.
They included splitting one post into a series that also included a video for each one.
Videos are a big time investment, and definitely worth it.
But, too many of the projects I chose simply didn’t warrant that level of tutorial making.
I took my in-depth teaching skills for BlogAid and applied them to Heartwood Art.
The fact is, most woodworkers, even beginners, just want basic ideas for most builds and then they will modify them for their own needs anyway.
So, I won’t be doing so many of the smaller content silos with splitting small builds into multiple posts and videos.
But I will be continuing the bigger content silos for over-arching builds that require multiple skills to produce an end project.
SEE: my Hobby to Money Making Blog series of posts for details on this.
Scheduling client interviews
I want to send a huge thank you to Chas Greener for immediately accepting my invitation for client interviews. We had a super chat about her site success since her audit and courses, including just how much her traffic has grown, and about how she has added live videos into the mix to build community.
Unfortunately, that was the only client interview that I was able to schedule in 2020. As any podcast host who has guests can tell you, scheduling with others is often problematic.
I’ll try to do more of them in 2020, and let’s hope the scheduling works out better because I think it’s super important for you to hear from your peers, not just me, about how having a fast, secure site makes you more money.
The livestream chat for Rebranding with Kate Ahl of Simple Pin Media was super popular with both her folks and mine.
But, the service is turning out to be a dud.
For the most part I’m getting newbie site owners who have no idea what they want to do with their blog, and/or have already rebranded multiple times and want a redirect chain from hell.
Michelle, Marcy, and I spent a lot of time working out how to create a checklist for this service so I could outsource these clients to them if they also wanted a theme redesign. So, it was not just me who lost time on this venture.
I still have the service listed, but I’m deeply vetting the clients to ensure they are a good fit for us, and weeding out the folks who are just going to waste everyone’s time.
More case studies needed
While I was able to do several good speed related case studies in the first part of 2020, I have not been able to do all the ones that were on my list for this year.
And the truth is that we all NEED these case studies, as you count on me for recommendations on how to make your site safe and fast.
And I NEED the data to be able to advise you.
Hiring help with site services
I honestly tried hard to hire more help with site services to keep my waiting list from going into 3-4 months. But it’s super hard to find qualified folks, even among my own webmaster training peeps.
The ones who are qualified are just as covered up in business as I am.
And the rest are mainly designers who don’t want to go that far down into the site tech.
Setting office hours
As I was looking back over all of the posts I made in 2020, especially in Tips Tuesday posts, I was struck by how often I mentioned through the last half of this year that I needed a day off.
CoVid has stressed all of us in different ways. And me sitting at my desk for too many hours and days without a break most definitely had a negative impact on my mental and emotional well-being.
I tried my best to set some standard office hours. But the nature of service work just doesn’t allow absolute consistency with it.
What’s Coming for BlogAid
There are a few areas where I need to continue pivoting BlogAid, and a few areas where I need to improve my workflow.
Plus, there are a few new things coming directly for your benefit as well.
Live Discussion on Blogging for Dollars
I mentioned this potential meeting several times in 2020, but I either didn’t have deep enough info at the time, or it was just a bad time to stress folks anymore than they already were.
But, I will be scheduling a joint session for my site audit clients and webmasters to talk about what I see coming for bloggers, especially those who run ads on their sites, and how they need to start pivoting their revenue streams now.
Besides the Core Web Vital metrics, and SEO, we’ll be discussing Pinterest, videos, and why ad agencies like Mediavine increased their minimum traffic requirements.
Revised Project Schedule
As y’all know, I’ve been trying to come up with ways to have set office hours so that I’m not just working myself silly trying to do more client work projects as my business grows.
It’s not in an effort to have more time off as much as it is to ensure that I have some guaranteed time off from being responsive to clients so I can make other plans away from the office, like time in my woodshop to keep Heartwood Art a valuable proving ground, and to ensure I have the time needed to work on my business, not in my business.
The nature of this business is that I’m at the whim of client projects plus whatever fires come up that I have to drop everything and go check into for us, like the 3 posts of stuff I published in the last couple of weeks. That involved a lot of unexpected non-billable hours that I didn’t have room for in my schedule. So, while I was able to stay current with all client work scheduled, I didn’t get a damn thing done with my own business schedule, like testing for the video SEO stuff or making the new Gutenberg tutorials.
So, I’m going to have to get with reality and make sure that I balance how many client projects I take on at once to ensure I also have time to keep my current courses updated and have time for case studies and the other kind of research y’all count on me to do so that we have the best themes and plugins, hosting, security, and speed.
Plus, I need to leave a few hours open each week for these unexpected fires that seem to be happening with more frequency as the years go by.
On top of that, I’ve had to adjust my mindset that it’s okay to have a 6 month waiting list, if and when that happens, instead of trying to kill myself trying to keep it less than 3 months.
Getting super serious about “time is of the essence”
Also be aware that my contract has a “time is of the essence” clause that I’ve had to really enforce these last 6 months to keep a few drag-ass clients from killing my schedule and keeping others on the wait list even longer.
I don’t take “dump it on the tech” type work. It’s a partnership and clients have to make their parts a priority to get done too. So, if I have to nag you to do your parts, there will be extra charges involved. And if it’s constant, we will stop the project so I can move on to folks who are serious about their site success and anxious to get going with it.
Recipe SEO research and possible new course
Most all of the clients I’m working with on these video SEO tests are foodie bloggers. And that is my target audience for the new course, so I’m delighted to have the help. And they are super excited to get their SEO all squared away for doing it too.
I also discovered that the recipe and video SEO is radically impacted by the recipe plugin that is used too.
I’ve been in direct touch with the dev of WP Recipe Maker to see if I could get paid plugin versions to test. And I’ll be sharing that case study data directly with him too.
So, I can definitely see updating my recipe case study right after I release the Video SEO course.
And, I may even create a new Recipe SEO course because of this too.
Here’s another reason I may create this additional SEO course for foodie bloggers – Core Web Vitals.
You will no longer be able to scoot by with crap, filler content just to be able to insert more ad placements.
On top of that, my current speed research with new testers is revealing that a simple reduction of ad placements is not turning into a reduction of ads. I believe more ads are being put behind each placement for more rotations.
Plus, recipe posts have had such poor user experience for so many years that site visitors are now in the habit of scrolling past everything just to get to the actual recipe.
I firmly believe that I can make a course to help foodie bloggers make more money by focusing on a better way to make posts that gets them more followers and more traffic where the visitor is actually interested in reading the post, which radically increases time on site.
And that’s a HUGE ranking factor too.
Possible DIYer/Craft SEO Course
For the last 2 years I’ve wanted to dive deeper into using How-to schema markup better.
And my proving ground for that will be both Heartwood Art and BlogAid tutorials.
I can see my research and case study for this turning into another course for DIY craft bloggers.
But, 3 new courses in 1 year is pretty dang ambitious. So, we’ll see how my new work schedule pans out and how I’m able to rebalance how I spend my time in 2021.
Over to You
How was your 2020 site stuff?
What new plans are you making for your site in 2021?