Reality SEO: Josie Brown: Do WordPress Developers REALLY need to know SEO?

Reality SEO: Josie Brown: Do WordPress Developers REALLY need to know SEO?
Reading Time: 16 minutes

Real life business owners explain their Digital Marketing secrets.


In the Reality SEO series I interview REAL LIFE HUMANS who’ve transformed their businesses with simple digital marketing and SEO techniques.Included in this episode are their practical doable tips and advice you can implement today.

Josie Brown is an Australian WordPress developer who wanted to feel confident about building SEO websites from the get go – not just installing Yoast and saying ‘DONE’.

She talks us through the common issues she finds around domain names, image optimisation, site speed and plugins.


Tune in to learn:

  • Can you develop a website without understanding SEO?
  • Choosing a bad domain name
  • Common image optimisation mistakes
  • Site speed issues and how to fix them
  • Plugin problems – which ones play well together
  • How having a group of peers to talk with has changed Josie’s business
  • What WordPress developers charge

About Josie

Josie loves creating awesome websites for small businesses. She is an Australian web designer, based in Canberra and she’s been building websites since 2012.

For Josie, web design isn’t just about running a business. It’s about using her skills and knowledge to create something beautiful that can do what is needed and makes people proud of their businesses when they send people to their website.

It’s also about using the time she has away from kids to do something she loves. It’s about that feeling of accomplishment and pride that comes from being able to help someone to either create or fix a website so that they can focus on what they do best (their business) and she can help out with what she does best.


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Kate Toon:                          Hello and welcome to the Recipe for SEO Success show and today is another of our reality SEO episodes where we talk to real life humans trying to grapple the Google beast and D.I.Y. there search engine optimization. And today on the show we have the wonderful Josie Brown.

Hello Josie.

Josie Brown:                       Hi. How you going Kate?

Kate Toon:                          Oh, very well. It’s lovely to have you here. Now, could you just explain to everybody in the world what you do and who you do it for?

Josie Brown:                       I create WordPress websites for small businesses. And yeah, try and get the SEO sorted out as well.

Kate Toon:                          On point. Awesome.

Josie Brown:                       Yes.

Kate Toon:                          Yes. We had a … We have a fair few WordPress developers coming on the course. I’d say probably about 10 to 15 percent of my students are WordPress developers.

And you know, I think people might listen and go, “Hey, you’re a WordPress developer, don’t you already know how to do SEO?

                                                So take me back a couple of years before you kind of came on the big course and before you started really grappling with SEO. Where were you at with SEO? Where were you getting your information from, and what were you doing?

Josie Brown:                       I think I felt … I felt mildly confident with things, but I didn’t have that sort of backup. I was doing a lot of research myself, Googling things, then finding conflicting information which then confuses things.

And then so, I think when I was going to clients I was sort of saying … I guess I was sort of probably avoiding saying too much about SEO, and I was trying to do the best I could obviously for my clients, but I was sort of going, well, you know, if they can ask a question, and sort of go, “Well there’s this answer, and there’s also this one and I’m not completely sure, you know, if I can google it and then I find the most up to date information I can, but I’m still not completely sure. And it’s hard to know what sources to trust with Google.”

Kate Toon:                          It really is. And it’s funny because before the show we were talking about that there are kind of WordPress developers out there, website developers, who say,

“Look, I can build you a site, but I don’t do SEO.”

And to me it’s like “How can you build a website without considering SEO? Like “How can you say that’s a separate thing that you’re going to add on afterwards?” I just … because it’s so intrinsic to every page, to the site structure, to where you host.

I just don’t get that.

Do you? Like, it seems crazy.

Josie Brown:                       Yeah. I mean for me I think about SEO from the start, so creating the site. With everything that I do, I’m doing like all the technical SEO things and I think there are a lot of … When people … some people come to me and say, “Can I just build my own site though? I don’t need to hire someone to do it.” and I’m sort of … I’m going, “You sort of can, but you know, there are a lot of things that you don’t necessarily know and there are a lot of real like, quick simple things that you can do pretty much the right way or 10 other wrong ways, and it can make a huge difference.” And I think that sort of … And that makes a huge difference ongoing forever, and it … some things can be reasonably easy to fix, and some things can take a lot of work to fix, but if you do it right in the first place, then …

Kate Toon:                          Then you’re sorted.

Josie Brown:                       Yeah.

Kate Toon:                          Now obviously you can D.I.Y. your WordPress site with my fabulous WordPress SEO course, but even … the whole point of that, is that it takes you back to those basics. So like maybe let’s talk about a few of those things and things that struck you when you were … because you knew a lot already and you were gap filling, but you know, a couple of things that I think people get very wrong with WordPress websites is going right to basics like choosing a really bad domain name, and that’s something you’re stuck with for a long time, and migrating to a new domain name can be a bit of a pain in the ass. What other things strike you about that?

Josie Brown:                       Speaking of domain names, I actually chose my business name just before going on the course. And as I started the course, I changed my business name. That was because of you, because I had … You want to know what my domain name was?

Kate Toon:                          I really do.

Josie Brown:                       I don’t know if you remember, it was: smallbiz-webdesign, because I thought, “Oh, I just want something that gets the … and I realised it’s a very broad, random name that no one’s going to remember, and also hyphens in domain names are just so great.

Kate Toon:                          Yeah. So no one ever tells you about that, and it’s so important that your domain name is relevant, memorable, and available. Like if you’re having to shove hyphens in because you can’t get the one you want, go back to the drawing board.

Josie Brown:                       That’s fine. So I found that sort of changing that was a big thing for my business.

Kate Toon:                          Yeah, it’s huge isn’t it? And I think other things that we, you know, that we talk about a lot when we’re talking about WordPress websites is choosing a good host. You know, choosing a … because that hosting environment is going to really impact your speed and something we’re talking about the show, So one of the biggest things you find that people get wrong with WordPress websites, you were talking around image optimization.

So talk to us a little bit about that.

Josie Brown:                       Yeah, I think a lot of people will take images with their phone or camera or something and just upload them and say, “Oh, that’ll work, that’ll be ready for WordPress.”, but really you’ve got to optimise them first. Then you can get plugins like WP Smush and Short Pixel and things like that, which can make them even smaller without necessarily impacting the quality on the screen. So things like that can just speed up your site a lot. Also plugins, some plugins are just really intensive and it’s hard …

I think without doing the course and without having that bit of extra knowledge, it’s hard to sort of guess. I mean, you can spend hours and hours and hours trialling things and testing things, but if you can sort of go to someone like Kate, or like …

Kate Toon:                          Or you.

Josie Brown:                       can sort of say, you know, what plugin would work, if you assign them something for this purpose. And there are things like social media plugins which some of them could just completely drain your site, and you think that it’s just a simple little thing, “I just want it to do that”, but then another one might be okay, but some of them will make this huge impact, so I think making those choices and getting … especially like, I mean we love websites with images. Images are great.

You want sort of large sized images on the page, but you don’t want them to be large in space.

Kate Toon:                          Exactly. So it’s all about dimensions and K size and compressing them before you upload them. Like not just relying on WP Smush.
That’s almost like the final step. Isn’t it?

Josie Brown:                       Yeah.

Kate Toon:                          And the plugins, I think that’s … you know, so I’m a huge advocate of D.I.Y. but I’m also a huge advocate of getting the experts in when you need them. So yes, I think if you do have a really good course like mine, you can build your own site, but then when your site gets more complicated and you’re wanting to add more complex plugins, like say, Woo Commerce, that’s often an opportunity to go to a developer and go, “Which of these plugins play well together?”, because it’s not just these plugins are good and these are bad. It’s like this one is really great, but it does not play well with this one, so I can’t use it.

                                                And Yeah, you can have your Instagram feed pulling through if you’re happy for your site to be a bit slower. You know? And it’s just those compromises that you make that a WordPress developer is going to be really good at explaining, and because they’ve done it a thousand times before. And I also think that, you know, the value of getting an expert is, if you’re somebody who likes to problem solve and work out why something isn’t working, great. Have at it. You can spend a whole day working out why that thing isn’t working, or you can go to a WordPress developer who’s probably seen that problem 7,000 times and they can fix it in five minutes. So again, it’s where you want to invest your time and your money.

                                                So we’ve mentioned two issues that really affect speed. And you mentioned before the show that you had a client whose site was taking, how long was it to load?

Josie Brown:                       20 seconds.

Kate Toon:                          20 seconds.

Josie Brown:                       Yeah. And I mean, That’s really, who’s going to sit there and wait …

Kate Toon:                          Not me.

Josie Brown:                       … 20 seconds for a page to load. I mean. However keen you are on that brand, it’s not really going to be worth it. And then I mean, even if you then go in, like, then you think, even if it did load, going into more pages, you’re just not going to wait.

Kate Toon:                          So what were some of the things you did to reduce that down. So you obviously optimised the images.

Josie Brown:                       The images were a huge thing. Checking through the plugins, disabling or removing anything that wasn’t completely necessary. Just going through and auditing everything. I think I put a caching plugin on that one.

Kate Toon:                          Which caching plugin do you like at the moment? Are you using?

Josie Brown:                       I think WP’s Super Cache, I think.

Kate Toon:                          Yeah. I think there’s WP Cache and WP Fastest Cache. I’m using Fastest Cache, but again, it really depends on what other plugins you’re using.

Josie Brown:                       Yeah. That’s what I find, and I find that sometimes, even with any website, you’ve got to do a bit of trial and error, just to check if you’ve got, especially if you’ve got a plug in that isn’t often used. Sometimes you’ve got to do it, and you’ve got to make sure that when you instal any plugin, like a special occasion plugin, that you test it and make sure it is working.

Kate Toon:                          Fantastic. And come on then, let’s tell us, What did you manage to get it down to in the end?

Josie Brown:                       I think it was sort of just under three.

Kate Toon:                          Oh! Josie Brown, high five!

Josie Brown:                       I try and keep them under three.

Kate Toon:                          Yeah. Five and under is … it is awesome. Three and under is the bomb. That’s pretty exciting.

Josie Brown:                       That’s my …

Kate Toon:                          Well done.

Josie Brown:                       … rule, general.

Kate Toon:                          I love that. Okay, so, now you know, you did the course quite a long time ago.
You’re now in the Digital Master Chef’s group, which is my group for kind of people who want to keep on learning and be up to date on the latest stuff. How do you think SEO has affected your business for good or bad?

Josie Brown:                       I think especially having done the course, I’ve got that confidence to be able to say that I can … sort of like, that I know the most up to date things, and I think being able to ask questions in the Master Chefs group is a great sort of backup, and also hearing what other people say who in the group, because you know, I might be going along and I’m going, “I’m good.” You know? I know everything and then someone asks something and I’m going, “Oh, actually that’s, I didn’t even think, I didn’t even think that that might’ve changed, or needed updating, or just didn’t think of it at all as the issue.”

Kate Toon:                          It’s so interesting. Isn’t it? Because I … you know, I started that group in the hope of helping other people, but the group is actually helping me so much because we’ve got so many smart people in there, WordPress developers, Digital Masters, Facebook experts, AdWords people and you know, yeah, as you said, someone will mention something and it’s like I never even knew that was possible. You know? Like I’ve never even … because everyone’s bringing … the collective knowledge is obviously huge. And you know, like even the plugin comparison and we did a really interesting conversation in that group the other day about rates and what people are charging for WordPress websites, and you know, it was a huge scale from like 700 bucks up to like $20,000. And we had a big discussion about why, how you charge that much, what’s justifiable, what’s fair for the customer.

                                                I don’t know. I think those kind of peer to peer groups can be invaluable for your confidence, and also I’m very into Karma. I would never want to misrepresent myself. I’d never … I’m not one of these people who says, “You know, I’ll sell this thing and then work out how to do it afterwards.” I want to feel that when I sell the thing, I feel really good about selling that thing, and I know you’re on the same pass with that as well. Aren’t you?

Josie Brown:                       Yeah. Just making sure that I can back up what I’m saying rather than just saying, “Yeah, we’ll do a SEO, give me a thousand dollars a month and I’ll get it sort of, you know, I’ll get you on page one, top of everything, every keyword in the whole world.” You know? It’s just, it’s not … Those sort of things aren’t realistic, but at those, like I have people emailing me. I had someone email me and say, “Oh, I’ve got all these emails coming through saying my website isn’t good enough.”

                                                Is it really not good enough? Is it … And it happened to be one that I hadn’t built, but I said, “You know, it’s fine. It’s just these are spam things and they’re saying things and they’re saying “We can fix it and we can do all this stuff.”” but it’s not really proven and it’s …

Kate Toon:                          Well they’re building …

Josie Brown:                       and it’s hard to know who to trust.

Kate Toon:                          It is. Well, that’s a beautiful segue into my next thing because those people play on fear and the fear of the unknown and the fact that people are frightened of SEO and they don’t want to dip their toe into it, so these people can take advantage of them. You’ve already given some great tips around optimization, so I’d love to finish with a tip for our listeners on, you know, how to tell if someone is a good WordPress developer because how do you know? It’s really tough.

Josie Brown:                       I think it’s … when it comes down to it, it’s really impossible to tell. You can’t, I mean, I think if you have a bit of time, don’t want to do it yourself, but want to sort of back yourself up, I think doing the course and then finding someone you can sort of, as they do things, you can sort of get an idea of, “Oh, I’m not sure they should be doing that or you know, that sounds about right along with what I know.”, and back yourself up with knowledge. Otherwise, I think there was little check of approval thing from people.

Kate Toon:                          Yeah. I have a little stamp that I give out to people who’ve done the course. It says they’ve graduated, which is kind of like a certification, which is one way, because at least you know that I feel like those people have backed themselves, like they’ve invested in their education and that’s important, and also they have access to me, to kind of go, “Hey, you know what, this person wants to do this. Is this okay?” I think that’s important as well.

                                                I mean, I think it is impossible to tell, just like we were talking before the show about, if you want to get good accountant, but you don’t really know how accountancy works. So you want to get a good conveyancer or a good lawyer or whatever. You can’t just get recommendations from mates because probably your mates don’t know what they’re talking about either. You know?

Josie Brown:                       Yeah, and that’s what happened today. When I bought my house 10 or so years ago, we got a recommendation for a conveyancer and they were terrible, costs us money, lost the paperwork, and everything. It was just a headache and it was something that we didn’t need, but we got a recommendation from a friend and thought, you know, we’re all good. So you’ve got to sort of be careful who you get recommendations from and sometimes people are friends of those people and they don’t actually know them professionally. So, you know, I might have a friend who does something. You know, they’re a friend. I went to school with them, they’re all, you know, they’re a mate. They say, can you recommend me? And then I sort of … I don’t actually have a clue of what they’re doing and I don’t have knowledge of what they do anyway.

Kate Toon:                          That’s true. And anyhow, it’s the friend thing, but even more nefarious than that is the affiliate who’s actually getting a bit of a backhand from that. So I think you know, you need to get more than one recommendation. You need to ask for maybe some testimonials. You need to look. Ask them to show you a couple of sites that they’ve done, and ask them what keyword phrases they will optimise for, and do a bit googling.

                                                One thing, I think it’s a really easy test that you can do, and I’m not saying that this is a complete, you know, summation of all the WordPress developers do, but ask them for a couple of sites and put them through a speed tool like ping them site speeds, and see how quickly they load. And if you do find that those sites are loading in 15 seconds or something like that, I think that’s a really easy indication that site hasn’t been optimised and that person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. You know, it’s just a little test that you can do to reassure yourself a little bit. And I think the message is always a little bit of education goes a long way, whether it’s a course or just doing a bit of research online just to understand, just so you can’t be bamboozled. And I think good WordPress developers really try to break it down and explain it. They don’t try and bamboozle you. Do you know what I mean?

Josie Brown:                       Yeah.

Kate Toon:                          Yeah. They take the time.

Josie Brown:                       Yeah. Exactly. And I think just being able to sort of talk to people and explain things without using a heap of jargon and saying, “Oh, that’s the …”[crosstalk]

Kate Toon:                          It’s the x amount of PhD [crosstalk]

Josie Brown:                       Yeah. I can’t think of any jargon right now. But, you know, it’s sort of being able to say, “Look, you know, you find, and if you have any questions you can ask and then we can go through it.”, to an extent without like, I try not to sort of give everyone all the information because most people that I work with don’t want to know a lot of things, but I also like to say, “You know, I’ve done this because of this.” Even like “I’ve installed something because your page, because your website was really slow, or I’ve had to go through all the images because it was slowing down this like, and here’s a comparison of what size they were before and what size they are now. And it makes a huge difference.” So …

Kate Toon:                          I love that kind of, “What did I do, why did I do it? What’s the result?” I think that’s … I think all of us could benefit from that approach to talking to our clients. You know? Rather than just going, “It’s done. Here’s a breakdown of what it did, not so you can pat me on the back and go look all the things I did, but so you can understand why I’ve done the things I’ve done and the impact that they’ve had.”

                                                You know the real danger with WordPress sites is because it is accessible. I mean, obviously your developer can turn off your admin rights. People can go in and start messing. You know? So it’s like, “Don’t touch vacation plugin, it is there because it’s doing this business. I know you don’t understand what it does, so forget what it’s doing, do not deactivate it.” I know somebody who did that the other day. And then they were like, “Why all the sudden it’s going really slow?” And I’m like “Yeah, because you turned off a plugin.” And she was like “I was just trying to get rid of plugins because I know that it’s bad to have too many and I …”

                                                “Yeah, not the ones that were installed for you by your developer. Leave them there.”

                                                Anyway, it’s tough. So look, Josie, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it. Where can people find out more about you?

Josie Brown:                       I’m on my website, which is Josie Brown web

Kate Toon:                          That’s a much better domain name.

Josie Brown:                       Yes. I know, but Josie dot hyphen … I know. Yes. So we can thank Kate for that.

Kate Toon:                          Awesome.

                                                Or you can Google Josie Brown web design and I think you ranked number one for that, so if you want to find you.

Josie Brown:                       True.

Kate Toon:                          Yeah.

Josie Brown:                       Hopefully.

Kate Toon:                          We’re gonna test that after the show, and of course you can also head to the site to find out more about this episode and Josie, so thank you very much.

Josie Brown:                       Thank you for having me.

Kate Toon:                          And thanks to you for listening. If you liked the show, don’t forget to leave a beautiful five star rating and review on Tunes and Stitcher. Your review will help others find the show and learn more about the liberty world of SEO. And also don’t forget to check out the show notes for this episode. Just Google the recipe for SEO success. You’ll learn more about Josie, find some useful links, and you can leave a comment about the show, and you can also head to my I Love SEO by Kate Toon group on Facebook to ask advice.

                                                Josie is a member of that group, so if you’ve got any WordPress questions after the show, feel free to pop them in there and I’m sure Josie would be more than happy to answer them for you. So until next time, happy SEOing.