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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Domain, Subdomain and Subdirectory for SEO

I want a WordPress Blog for my Website

Whatever your business may be, chances are you have a website that is developed that promotes your business or, in some cases, is your business. More often than not, the website developed is managed by the development or engineering team, and to be able to add pages, edit content, or get any changes done for the website is a development process (whether it be a waterfall or agile project flow) that can take days, weeks, or even months to see any progress on. Even most content management systems reside on a server that doesn't allow for a blog like scenario that the marketing or public relations team can easily update quickly. This is where most companies will turn to WordPress. Wordpress is easy to install, fully customizable, easy to edit, easy to update, and is virtually impossible to screw up.

"You'll Have to Put It On a Subdomain" ...WRONG!

Bad for users - Bad for SEO

I have personally experienced the scenario of coming into a company that had already been through the discussion on setting up a WordPress website on another host than where the rest of the website exists. What the people involved at the time advised the company to do is set up a subdomain of their website and link to it in the top navigation. When users click the link in the navigation they go from www.thewebsiteinquestion.com to blog.thewebsiteinquestion.com. Sadly, when doing this, the blog will often look entirely different than the website. Not to mention that the content that is being written (often for SEO) is supporting just the subdomain and not the entire website.

A great example of a larger company using WordPress as a blog that looks completely different from the website is Twitter. Yes, the famous means of microblogging and staying connected with others through quick updates, images, videos, and links has a blog that resides on a subdomain and doesn't look anything like the website.
Not only is this a poor user experience, but the content on the subdomain is counted for the subdomain as it's own website, and does not support the main domain. One way to quickly rectify this for SEO is to have links from inner pages pointing from the subdomain to the website and from the website back to the subdomain where the pages all are similar to one another. Unfortunately, this just isn't the most ideal for the user especially when the website and the blog don't behave in a seamless way, and Google has been cracking down on linking both externally and internally. If not properly or carefully executed the website could inadvertently be flagged as trying to trick Google.

My recommendation, as with most white hat SEOs, is to have the blog reside in a subdirectory of the website rather than on the subdomain. In addition, the blog should look and act just as the website does.

Subdomains are aren't Fine for SEO

When you make the decision to have your WordPress blog reside in a subdirectory of your website you might get some push-back from developers or some of the people on the engineering (or possibly other) team. Working with one of my client's recently I was referenced the YouTube video by Matt Cutts (former Head of Spam Team at Google) in which he states that using subdomains for a website is just fine. My response was a bit of a lengthy one in which I cited a few trusted resources that supported the benefits that having a blog on a subdirectory have.

While most SEOs are familiar with the video of Matt Cutts, it is from 2012 (a few years ago). Rand Fishkin of Moz.com talked about this in his more recent video this year (2015):

He states: "You're asking, "Should I put my content on a subdomain, or should I put it in a subfolder?" Subdomains can be kind of interesting sometimes because there's a lot less technical hurdles a lot of the time. You don't need to get your engineering staff or development staff involved in putting those on there. From a technical operations perspective, some things might be easier, but from an SEO perspective this can be very dangerous."

In addition he says "I can't tell you how many times we've seen and we've actually tested ourselves by first putting content on a subdomain and then moving it back over to the main domain with Moz. We've done that three times over that past two years. Each time we've seen a considerable boost in rankings and in search traffic, both long tail and head of the demand curve to these, and we're not alone."

An article I have found that supports the subdomain question:
https://iwantmyname.com/blog/2015/01/seo-penalties-of-moving-our-blog-to-a-subdomain.html Blog traffic after switch to subdomain
...and yet another example of a site seeing improvement after changing to a subdirectory: ​http://www.bloggingflail.com/subdomains-vs-subdirectories-seo/

"I went from somewhere out of the top 100, and I know for a fact I wasn’t even in the top 200, to being number 57 in the SERP’s simply by changing from a subdomain to a subdirectory.  Everything else related to my site remained constant.​"

Championing the work through is usually 90% of the work when getting the WordPress blog into a subdirectory. As Rand mentions in his video it is much easier to just add a subdomain and point it to whatever is hosting the WordPress site. Unfortunately the implications of the WordPress blog residing on the subdomain rather than in a subfolder of the website is too great to take the easy way out. Using the above articles to help state your case and to continue to persevere through the challenges of those pushing back will get you to where you need to go, and the site will be successful as the end result.

Two Hosts - One Website

In the case where the WordPress blog has to be hosted on a different server and IP than the rest of the site, there is a process to take that will show a seamless website under the same domain. I have completed this task several times now and now have it down to a streamlined process (discussions to state benefits for SEO and all). I will tell you that if you do not have the technical background to understand some (or all) of this process, don't feel you should as it has baffled every developer, CTO, Engineer, and even some of the most genius of individuals I have worked with each time I do this.

Step One - Set Up WordPress Blog

Whether there is an existing blog that the website links to on a subdomain, or the blog doesn't exist yet, you want to set up a hosting account and install the WordPress blog under a subdomain. You will eventually point your new subdirectory to resolve to the subdomain, but for now you want everything on your WordPress blog to look and act as if it was a part of the website. A great example of a successful separate WordPress blog to website is the usedcars.com advice section. I worked for ADP managing the usedcars.com website SEO, SEM, Social, and Analytics from 2012 to 2014. Upon my first arrival the previous social media manager has worked with the agency to create a WordPress blog that the agency hosted and had designed. Unfortunately the WordPress blog looked nothing like the rest of the website, it resided on a server nowhere near ADPs servers, and it was in a completely different language from the rest of the site. You see, usedcars.com was/is hosted on Windows servers and written in .NET. WordPress is written in PHP using Apache.
This is what the usedcars.com homepage looked like in 2012This is the blog that the user would go to when clicking the link in the top navigation of the site. 
The site had a lot more issues going on with it that were bigger than the blog being on a subdomain could solve. However, the strategy of moving the blog to the site and it being a part of the site was on my list of things to do for SEO.

In this case the idea was to have a sort of "advice" section with car buying tips, ownership tips, and so on. So we decided to have the URL www.usedcars.com/advice be the new home page of the WordPress blog.

In this case the blog had so very little traffic to it (we're talking just a few hundred a day) that I started work on developing a custom theme for the WordPress blog that looked and acted much like the website.
The usedcars.com homepage
The WordPress blog with custom theme
Now that the blog that was hosted on blog.usedcars.com looked just like the website it was time to get the blog to show up when someone would go to usedcars.com/advice, and all of the pages within to work under that subdirectory.

Note: in the case for usedcars.com we wanted the WordPress blog to be hosted on ADP servers where the site could be managed by the company and be more secure. So the process of moving the files needed to take place before rewriting the URL. Since this is not a usual case, I am skipping that part and going straight to the URL rewrite.

Step Two - Rewriting the URL

When discussing the strategy of rewriting the URL I often find myself having to explain how the URL behaves to those that aren't quite technically inclined, and find myself having to correct those technically inclined that it is not a redirect.

When working with others and to help you understand what a rewrite is let's first cover the difference between the two.

Redirect vs Rewrite - What's the Difference?

When a user visits a website from a browser, that browser is hitting the server that the website resides on. The server will return a series of codes when that happens. Among those codes is the common "404" error you often see when you come to a page that doesn't exist, but more commonly is the "200" code that tells the browser it is okay and shows the page. The code we are talking about here is the "301" redirect code. This is telling the browser that the URL that is being accessed has moved to a completely different URL and then send the browser to that new URL. For example - click on this link: http://jennmathewsconsulting.com/that-301-redirect-goes-to/. Notice how the URL in the address bar changes to http://jennmathewsconsulting.com/301-redirect/

The redirect is what we call "client side" meaning that it is the browser on the computer of the user (or client) that creates the action, and the URL will always change in the browser as a result.

Other types of redirects:
  • 302 – Found 
  • 303 – See Other 
  • 307 - Temporary
The page request flow goes like this:
  1. The browser requests a page
  2. The server responds with a redirect status code
  3. The browser makes a second request to the new URL
  4. The server responds to the new URL and displays the page
When talking about rewriting the URL the behavior of the page is completely different. A rewrite is on what we call "server side" side meaning that the response happening when the page is requested is happening on the server. With a rewrite the browser is going to a URL and the URL stays bringing up the files that reside under a different URL, but stays the same. For example take a look at our client's blog we created for them under https://health2.drinkhint.com/. When you click through the links you will notice that the subdomain stays the same. This is the subdomain where the WordPress blog resides. Then go to https://www.drinkhint.com/health/ and you will see that the homepage and all the pages are exactly the same. The https://www.drinkhint.com/health/ URL is rewriting to the files at https://health2.drinkhint.com/ telling the user and the search engines that the blog for https://www.drinkhint.com/ is located in the subdirectory /health/.

The page request flow for this works as follows: 
  1. The browser requests a page
  2. The URL Rewrite then rewrites the URL and makes the request for the updated page
Everything is happening on the server side, and completely friendly for SEO.

How to Setup an SEO Friendly Rewrite
There are quite a few steps to get to this point where the URL is staying the same while clicking through the site and the CSS, JSS and Images from WordPress are pulling in correctly.

1) Relative URLs - The first step in rewriting is setting up WordPress to have relative URLs for images and stylesheets. A couple of recommended plugins can make this job an easy one.
  1. Relative Image URLs
  2. Relative URL
You may also need to add a few lines of code to your htaccess file in addition to the plugins, but these should get you to where you need to be.

2) htaccess Rewrite - The next step is to add a few lines of code to your htaccess file on the server that your main website is hosted. It won't work if you add it to the WordPress htaccess since the URL that will be rewritten is the main domain and if you're reading this chances are your WordPress blog is not on the same hosting as your main domain.

The code that needs to be added to the main domain's htacces on the server:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^blog/(.*)$ http://blog.yoursite.com/$1 [P]

Note that the "^blog/" part of the code is the subdirectory you would like your blog to be on and the "http://blog.yoursite.com/$1" part is the subdomain that your WordPress blog is currently on. My two examples I used earlier are the http://blog.usedcars.com (usedcars.com is on a .net platform and WordPress on Apache) andhttps://health2.drinkhint.com (drinkhint.com is on an apache eCommerce CMS and the WordPress is on another hosting platform). You can read more about rewrites at apache.org.

3) Redirecting Traffic - the next step you will most likely need to make is redirecting traffic to your blog. Each server is different, and every blog is different, so explaining this part in detail is a bit more complicated to cover all of the different scenarios. Apache servers have a means to set up a proxy.

This part is best left to the experts to manage for you, or you can always ask myself and my team to help you through the process since we have done it a few times we can usually determine what steps need to be taken fairly quickly, or troubleshoot if needed.

4) WordPress General Settings - Lastly you will want to check your WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) in your WordPress Admin General Settings. The URL doesn't always need to be set, but in some cases just the Site Address (URL) will need to be set to your subdirectory. Once again, I suggest having an expert help you with this part as you can run into issues with redirect loops and/or URLs just not working.

If you follow each one of these steps and you are still having issues, or you need help with getting through the steps, you can always count on myself and my team to help you through the process. As you can see, the impossible task of getting a subdirectory to rewrite on a completely different WordPress host on a separate server is doable.

Monday, August 4, 2014


That's right, I am an SEO. So, what does that mean? It means that I optimize websites so that they show up on the search engines for certain terms. Those terms are usually focused on what your key audience might be searching.

Some Stats About SEO:
  • 93% of online experiences begin with a search on Google, Bing, or Yahoo!
  • Google owns 65%-70% of the market share.
  • 70% of users will click on SEO results over paid.
  • 70-80% of users ignore the paid ads, focusing on the SEO results.
  • 75% of users stay on the first page of search results (1-10th position).
  • SEO beats social media by more than 300% in traffic for most content sites.
  • Traffic from SEO has a 14% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) has a 1.5% close rate.
  • For Google, 18% of clicks from SEO are on the 1st, 10% of clicks from SEO are from the 2 to 3rd.
I primarily work as an in-house SEO, which means I work for large companies within the organization rather than an agency or as a consultant. I have, in the past, helped some companies out as an SEO consultant, but if it takes time away from my job and career I will generally offer to recommend someone else to consult. Most SEO consulting consists of myself reviewing the website and any possible issues the company is finding. I review the analytics looking at the SEO traffic as well as traffic from other sources. I also look at Google's Webmaster Tools data to gauge how the current SEO is doing for the site, and how the impressions for key terms look compared to clicks. Sometimes just a simple change to meta tags for a different title and description can increase the click through rate from SEO therefore increasing traffic. In most cases, a complete restructuring of the site along with basic SEO implementation is needed in order to increase rankings. After I review the site, I will come up with a list of recommendations along with how much effort it should take along with the measure of impact. Your report will also include potential traffic and current traffic from SEO so that the client can see where the biggest gaps are. At times the reporting for SEO that I send over can be pretty technical, but rest assured I spend time making sure all the data is easy to understand, and a clear direction is not only explained, but in full detail in the final recommendations. From there it is up to the client to decide on whether they can do the work themselves, hire someone, have it done by their current employees, hire an agency, another consultant, or have me do the work for SEO. Since I have a background in design and development any work needed for SEO or to simply just increase conversion rates from SEO traffic, are fairly easy for me to do, and can happen pretty quickly. It all depends on how much I have on my plate at the time the work needs to get done with my full time job.

If you're not sure you want to have me, or someone else, optimize your site for SEO, it's no problem. Most people can pick up on the basics of SEO themselves. I always like to see clients having some understanding of SEO before I work with them. If they don't have time to learn, that's perfectly acceptable, as I can explain how things work in ways most people understand and pick up quickly. The following is a check list I have come up with for SEO that will help anyone understand and get started in SEO quickly and easily. Of course, there are so many algorithms that Google and other search engines use to determine which site gets to show up for their respective terms, but this at least gets you on your way to understanding the basics of SEO.
  1. Keywords – you can't do anything with SEO until you know what keywords you are optimizing for. Once you have your basic list, then structuring your site, and any work you do with the site, around them will all fall into place. I usually recommend one or two broad terms that describe a website. These terms should only be one work, and very rarely more than two. From there a few two to three word terms that might describe a sub-category will help you structure your plan and organize for SEO. Your longtail (as SEO's will put it) or exact match (as Paid Search people call them) are the phrases that are more specific. These phrases then to be the biggest payoff for SEO since they represent terms that users will use when they really know what they want and are ready to buy. Therefore they tend to convert a lot faster and higher. I talk more about this in-depth in my workshops, and in my book titled “Search and Social” that is currently in the works. So stay tuned for the book that helps you really understand SEO on a very detailed level.

    Keywords in
     – Keywords should be in the following items for SEO.
    • Keywords in title tag  - The title tag is what show up in the browser top. It is also what search engines use for the title in the “snippet” that displays in the results after a search has been completed. Having your keyword in the title tag not only helps SEO, but will aid in the click as the user will recognize the word they searched for within your title encouraging them to click your result over the other's on the page.
    • Keywords in URL – Getting the key words in the URL is very important for SEO. Start with the broad terms in the domain if possible. If not, then in a directory with the category terms (2-3 word terms mentioned before) as a sub-directory, and then the exact match longtail terms as the name (or in the name) of the file. Your URL hierarchy is very important for SEO and having those keywords in there even moreso.
    • Keyword density in document text – Listing out your keywords over and over again in a short paragraph will harm your SEO more than doing any good. A good way to explain how to watch your densities is to look at a page that has 3 paragraphs, each having about 150 words. Let's say you need to mention your keyword 9 times in order to get rankings. If you mention your keyword 9 times in your first paragraph and then not in the others that's bad. The trick it to distribute your keyword evenly among the three. So mention that keyword 3 times in each paragraph and evenly distribute it throughout each one of the paragraphs.
    • Keywords in anchor text – The anchor text is the text that a user will click on within a page's content that sends them to another page. The text that links back to your website should include the main broad keyword that describes the site. The trick to this is to make sure that the page and the whole site linking to the site is relevant to the word in the anchor text. If the site linking to your site isn't relevant than that will actually get your site in trouble, and too many will cause you to lose rankings.
    • Keywords in tags - The alt tag is the alternative text that displays in the rare case that an image doesn't show up. It's a simple line of code that goes in the html that generates the image. For SEO purposes, the alt tag containing the keyword is important, and will actually help rankings. Be sure to stick with only the words relevant on that page, and don't list all of the keywords out with commas. That will get a site in trouble.
    • Keywords in metatags – Be sure to get your keyword in your SEO meta tags, that's the description, title, and keyword tag that resides in the background of the html.
  2. Metatags – meta tags are (as explained above) the lines of code within html for SEO that describe your page. This includes the title, description, and keyword tag.
    • meta description tag - The description tag should be no more than 150 characters, and include your keyword(s). Try to describe the page as much as possible for SEO while keeping in mind that the user will see this in the search results.
    • meta keyword tag - Some SEOs will say that keyword meta tags don't make a difference. Google doesn't really pay attention to them, but the meta driven search engines will, and there are thousands of other search engines aside from Google. So, for SEO purposes, and to help keep the focus of the page of the site, I recommend listing out the keywords in the keyword tag with the broad terms first, then the category, and the longtail. You never know, it might actually help SEO.
    • meta language - If the site is in English then adding the language meta tag will help the search engines know which language to display the site on. If you have other languages, then try to make sure the language is in the meta tag. In some cases it can really benefit SEO.
  3. Links – Internal – Linking internally to other pages of the site that are related to the page you are optimizing can be quite important for SEO. Almost as much (if not more) than external links coming in.
  4. Anchor text has key term(s) in links – As much as the links pointing to other pages, the keyword in the anchor text is important. I cannot stress just how important it is for SEO to have those internal links, and the keywords in the anchor text.
  5. Content Around-the-anchor text is relevant - If a section of pages are relevant to other pages, the cross linking with a paragraph mentioning the page before and after the link is very helpful for SEO.
  6. Content – content, content, and more content is the key to optimizing a site for SEO. Pages don't have to have large chunks of paragraphs, but can have words here and there throughout the page. Too many SEOs will put big blocks of content on the homepage of a website thinking that it will benefit it. Sure, it helps for SEO, but it looks horrible and users don't fall for it. A paragraph of 10 words at the top describing the site, and then perhaps another clock of text highlighting the value proposition of the product or service in blocks around the page are just fine. The trick is to search your term you are trying to rank for, look at the first few pages or sites ranking, and then look at how many words they have on their page with the number of mentions of keywords. Then, simply just do a little more. Once you have that content in place for SEO, you're on your way to rankings.
  7. Unique content – Unique content is very key to making sure your SEO is in place. Not only do you need to watch out for other sites having the same content that you have, but look at other pages of your site. If a block of content is repeated on more than one page, then the content just won't be counted towards SEO. If a page has less than 15% content then it will even work against SEO and even get a site penalized. Sites that use tracking tags, parameters, or might have issues with validating URLs can often run into the issue of duplicate content, and really harm the work they have done for SEO without even realizing it.
  8. Frequency of content change – A site that is recognized as a publication and pushes content several days a week (or even several times a day) will train the search engines to visit and see updates regularly. In this case SEO will work to their benefit with fresh content getting recognized and ranked quickly.
  9. Age of document - If a site is a brochureware site that doesn't update content often, the search engines will visit less, but give more value to the pages the longer they stick around. Pages that are years old will rank better than new ones added. SO keep this in mind for your SEO and your site. Are you a publication that pushes out content frequently and needs to get rankings fast, or are you a site that holds true with valuable content that gets better with age?
  10. File size – A page that takes a long time to load, or is extraordinarily large can be quite detrimental to SEO. So be wary of how big that file is that you are creating.
  11. Content separation – As mentioned before breaking up your content throughout your page is more beneficial to SEO than blocking out whole paragraphs. If the site is a known publication, or the section is a blog or article section of a site then whole blocks of content is perfectly acceptable for SEO. But pages that go up and stick around a while with the purpose of providing marketing information, should have content broken up throughout for SEO.
  12. Poor coding and design – This one gets overlooked a lot. Sure, search engines can't determine good design from poor design, but your user's sure can. If a user comes to your site from Google and then immediately bounces, Google will mark the value of that page for SEO down. Therefore, affecting your rankings. So pay attention to design, look at your bounce rate data in Google Analytics, and improve it as much as possible.
  13. Duplicating Content = NO – DO NOT DUPLICATE CONTENT… Just as mentioned earlier, this is very bad for SEO. If one page has more than 80% duplicate content to any other page on the site, then it can harm your SEO. So be sure that the content on every page of the site has more than 80% unique content.
  14. Invisible text = NO – Invisible text is content a site has hidden from users but allows the search engines to see. A div that is only on pixel high with the attribute to hide overflow, or white text on white background (both allowing search engines to see it in the code) is a huge no no for SEO and can actually get your site penalized. So don't do it!
  15. Domains & URLs – Check you domain and URLs often. Look for your keywords, check to make sure the hierarchy is clear and set properly for SEO, and make sure that there are no funky issues like parameters, easily changed (by typing anything in), or redirects to some odd UR. Check your trailing backslash or file extenions as well to make sure it either 404s if wrong or resolves to the correct one.
  16. Keyword-rich URLs and filenames – Watch for those keywords in URLs and filenames. Long URLs that mention more than one keyword will cause issues, so always check and double check the URL for SEO before going live.
  17. Site Accessibility – In some cases having an accessible for those with disabilities. Whether it be sight, or even hard of hearing if you have video. It can actually help your SEO.
  18. Sitemap – creating an page that links to all of your pages can ensure that all of your pages are getting crawled for SEO. Many times I have seen website have pages that they don't link to and wonder why those pages aren't getting rankings. If search engines can't crawl the page, then they don't know to rank it for SEO. You can also create an .xml file for Google, Bing, and Yahoo! site submission. But do remember that an xml sitemap alone just won't cut it, you have to have links pointing to pages from multiple locations. Otherwise it just won't do any good for SEO.
  19. Website size - Keep an eye on the size of your website. Large corporate sites like Amazon.com and MSN.com are expected to have thousands if not millions of pages. If your site is a mall to medium size company and website, yet the search engines somehow crawl millions of pages, then you need to relook at your SEO. Check your paramaters, or other issues that might be causing more pages than your site should have.
  20. Website/Domain age – The older the website the better. A brand new site that is loaded with pages and pages of content all in one day will get added to a sandbox as us SEOs call it. It will sit there for a few months before the search engines even give it the time of day. The reason for this is that search engines want to make sure the site is legitimate and not just a spam site there to just get rankings. To keep your site from falling under this category, having an older domain is key. If you have a new domain, then roll out your pages slowly. Push a section one week, wait a few weeks and push out another section. Having a blog is also good for SEO as you can add posts with content encouraging search engines to keep coming back regularly and learn that this site has something interesting and unique. Of course, the more traffic you can get in those first few months the better, so get your social media and advertising up and going.
  21. File Location on Site – This falls under the URL hierarchy category. Watch out for where pages and files are located on the site. For SEO and for your uses, the structure and location should make sense.
  22. Domains versus subdomains, separate domains – Watch out for the use of sub-domains for your site. Too many websites will put their blog on a sub-domain and not in a directory. This won't hurt your SEO, but it won't help either. What happens is that the search engines count the subdomain as it's very own website, and doesn't link the content with the rest of the site. It is more beneficial for SEO to have all of your content no matter what it is, on your main domain in a directory. Keep it out of the sub-domain unless absolutely necessary.
  23. Top-level domains (TLDs) – A top level domain is the main domain for the site. Even in the case of a www.yoursite.com, the “www” is considered a sub-domain. Yes, a sub-domain… So try to use http://yoursite.com if you can. If the search engines already recognize your www.domain.com then leave it alone, and let Google know that you prefer to use your www. Vs. just the domain. You can do this in your Webmaster Tools.
  24. Hyphens in URLs – For SEO, it is recommended that you use “-“ in your URL rather than “_” or even just a space (which ends up rendering to %20). Search engines just happen to prefer the hyphen to underscore or space.
  25. URL length – For SEO purposes try to keep your URL under 2000 characters, but really the shorter the better. Pay attention not to have more than 3-4 parameters, or a URL that has a really long sentence.
  26. IP address – Your IP address should reside in the country your website is ranking in. US and English should have an IP located in the US. French and Canadian, should have an IP in Canada.
  27. robots.txt – Blocking irrelevant content in the robots.txt will really make a difference for your SEO. It has been recommended in the past to block external css and image directories, but now Google has said they would like to crawl them. Search engines are getting more and more sophisticated to where they can decipher all of the code and really get a good idea of what the whole website is about. Some only block pages and content you really don't want search engines to crawl.
  28. Redirects (301 and 302) – For SEO, redirecting an old URL to a new URL will usually pass the old URLs value to the new URL. But be careful to use 301 redirecting sparingly. I personally have witnessed and dealt with sites that had issues with too many 301 redirects causing rankings to drop.
  29. Social Actions – Social actions like Facebook ‘like's, tweets, shares, Google +1s, and so on will really add  lot of value for SEO. Anytime a user has to take action to show that they see the value in the page will show the search engines that the page is relevant and valuable. Therefore, increasing your rankings for SEO.
    • Google+– Yes, Google loves their social media site, and providing a way for users to +1 your page and site will drive up rankings in Google.
    • Facebook 'Like' or 'Recommend" – The action of ‘Liking' a page for Facebook will sometimes help with Google, but really helps with Bing more than anything. Microsoft anf Facebook have a very close relationship allowing for Bing to use social actions that happen in Facebook to help drive rankings for sites.
    • Facebook comments – If you can, try to pull comments that happen in Facebook related to your site and the page into the page itself. It not only allows for more and unique content, but shows Bing and other search engines that the content on the page is valuable to the user, therefore driving up your SEO.
    • Twitter "tweet" - A simple tweet with your page's URL will always be counted as a “vote” for your page and website. The more you can get, the better for SEO.
    • OGP - Open Graph Protocol – OGP was developed and adopted by Facebook as  way to manage how a page or website looks when shared in social channels. Twitter, and other social sites have followed suit, and my prediction is that Google will start to pay attention to OGP soon. So be sure to spend the time and make sure your basic OGP tags are set for all of your pages. It could really help your SEO.
  30. Links – External – Links pointing to your site are important. As mentioned early, tread very carefully with your link building. Make sure that the page(s) linking to your site and pages are relevant to your site. Do not use directory submission websites, don't buy links, and be weary of link exchange requests. Just as external links can benefit SEO, they can also harm if not done properly. Keep the following in mind for your SEO:
    • Quality of source of inbound links
    • Links from similar sites
    • Links from .edu and .gov sites
    • Age of inbound links
    • Links from directories
    • Links from Social Media
    • Links on pages that include social actions
  31. Schema – Google places a high emphasis on schema tags and information. In the past they have said that if you can get it in there, then great. Now they look at schema information to help drive rankings for SEO. Not to mention that you can manage what is displayed in your snippet from star reviews, author information, embedded video, etc.
Of course there are thousands, if not millions, of algorithms that search engines use to determine rankings, leaving the list I gave you here a small set of what really goes into optimizing a site. In all of my years optimizing websites, I try to write blog posts when I come across issues or get into deep level discussions with my peers on SEO topics. But again, there is so much involved, and sites are all different from one another. I have been teaching workshops since 2007, and have been through thousands of individuals trying to learn SEO and optimize their own sites, only to find that they still need the help of an expert.

What I suggest is that you learn the basics, as much as you can, and start optimizing your site yourself. If you have a site that is older and hasn't been touched in years, go through and see if there are sections and pages you can add with some unique content to add to what you already have. If your site is larger and the traffic just isn't where it should be, then look at what you can do to restructure it to reflect the categories and longtails terms you found in your keyword analysis.

If you want to see how your different categories of terms are performing, you can use this handy template I created along with instructions on how to grab the traffic you are seeing. For some clients, I have used the template to show the estimated traffic I see in the keyword analysis compared to the actual current traffic to show what is missing. I will use the top few terms in the keyword analysis to see how aggressive the category terms are going to need to be to get rankings during the competitive report for SEO. The categories with the most potential, the largest gaps, and the least aggressive with competition are the ones I recommend to tackle first. The competitive report will also help determine what all will need to get done to generate rankings. Is it just one page with a bunch of content and the word mentioned several times, or is it a whole directory with files and filenames that include a mired of terms for SEO that all link to one another?

For usedcars.com the location pages where we generated rankings for the terms “used cars in”… with city and state searches was fairly easy for SEO. The content has a few lines of text seeded with the city and state from the database (also known as templatized content). Content for the page also came from inventory (car listings) provided from the database, with a block from normal listings in that city and a block of deals in which there is a calculation done in the back end that looks at the price of the car and looks up that VIN and price against the Kelley Blue Book value and returns the percentage difference showing cars that are priced under value and are a good deal. Users love those listings. There is also a large map that shows dealerships in the usedcars.com system that are located in that area. The map is generated from Google and helps those pages get rankings for that location.

Those pages were pretty easy to get rankings (after a lot of the mess was cleaned up), and have help rankings providing close to 50% of the traffic from SEO for that site.

A more complex project for usedcars.com that required more pages, and the SEO to be more aggressive is what we called the Make/Model project. The goal was to get rankings in SEO for the brand of cars and the cars with years search trends. We found that users that search the “year make model” search know exactly what they are looking for and are more likely to purchase. So, ranking for all of those year, make and model combinations were highly valuable to the business. The problem is, that all the other car sites know the same strategy and have been very aggressive for their SEO.  A set of rules for syndicated and dynamic content was set in place along with a plan to roll out pages and content in phases. When I left in May of 2014 the project was still underway, but the pages were already seeing some traction. You can see how the pages were developed at http://www.usedcars.com/car/ - considering they are still intact and working on the pages as specified in the project.

I'm always happy to talk SEO with anyone anytime. You can find me on Skype (as SEOGoddess) or fill out the contact form on my site here with any questions. I'm usually pretty quick to respond, and can help you in any quick SEO issues or questions as you try to optimize on your own. I have even been known to look at a website when an agency is working on the SEO just to make the site owner or boss feel comfortable that their agency really knows what they are doing.

There are also many resources other than myself or this blog, and plenty of SEOs with a lot of great experience. Ian Lurie is one of my favorite people in the world, and has a very successful agency with a lot of great SEOs he has taken under his wing and turned into skilled professionals. His company Portent can also help with website design, social media, and paid search marketing. Give them a glance over and see if they fit your needs. Bruce Clay is also a very close friend and someone I go to regularly myself for help. He works with very large corporations on a large scale including AT&T, CNN.com, Edmunds, and more. He is what some of us in the SEO industry call the “Godfather of SEO” since he was one of the original SEOs that has set the standards for quality in optimizing.

I do have a larger list of SEOs I know and trust, so feel free to contact me and ask me for someone in your area, or who might specialize in a site that is much like yours.

Either way, SEO can be fun and you can really learn a lot quickly if you want. You can know enough to be dangerous, but if you stick with the general rule of “don't trick the search engines” you should, for the most part, be just fine.

In the end a site that has increased traffic from SEO is a site that I generating a lot of money, and that's just good for business.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Update: SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me?

It was a little over a year ago that I posted the "SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me?" in which I detailed out the struggles I had faced with recovering a website that had been hit hard by Penguin and Panda updates. I had first identified which section of the site that was hit the most, and presented my findings to the head of the corporation's division. 
In the months that followed, there were projects quickly rolled out that were designed to fix the site, and to recover the traffic that was lost. After months of the site losing traffic and still getting penalized there was a light at the end of the tunnel in recovered traffic just before I wrote and published the blog post.
I am sure a lot of you who have read the article are wondering where the site is today. Sure, a quick hockey stick of recovered traffic is great, but did that traffic hold throughout the year? 

I am happy to report that traffic has held:

Traffic continued to grow throughout January 2013 (just after the jump in traffic in November 2012) and through February. The industry the site is in sees an overall rise in traffic and consumer interest to purchase from the last week of December through February with a downtrend through the rest of the year every year. While we saw the site follow this trend, in July we saw a boost in traffic. After careful research, it was determined that a Google Panda update confirmed on July 24th was the boost we needed. Ironically, what had taken the site down in the past was now helping the site improve as we continued to clean up issues remaining causing the hits from Panda and Penguin.

Most important issues identified:

  1. Too many on-page links
  2. Top level pages
  3. No site hierarchy
  4. An extremely high number of URLs
  5. Duplicate content
  6. Not enough unique content

In general - the site was not following the core of the Webmaster Tools Guidelines which is the Bible of SEO. If a site isn't following the core of what Google says, then there is virtually no hope for it.

As 2012 was focused on recovering from Panda and Penguin hits, 2013 was focused on cleaning up the remaining issues from parameters, thin content, duplicate content, finalizing the last pages to the hierarchy, and so on. I am happy to report that the site is now 96% complete of all issues, and the first of many projects are underway that are designed to grab new opportunity for the site. Traffic has seen increases in August, October, and another boost in December with continued growth as we are in the peak of our season again.

Courage is Grace Under Pressure

It was what was stated in the image I had added to my post along with the description of the pressures I had faced in 2012.
Throughout those grueling three months there were several Google Panda and Penguin updates. I documented each and every one of them in Google Analytics, and continued to answer questions, gathering data, and dealing with being under close scrutiny that the work I was doing was complete BS.
I sat in numerous meetings, some of which I walked out crying (I'm not afraid to admit it), being questioned about the road I had taken and why we weren't seeing results. There were people within the company recommending that they roll the pages back to where they were before, and even changing the URLs. I fought hard that they don't touch a thing. I sent an article posted on Search Engine Land by Barry Schwartz citing Google's patent that "tricks" search spammers.
But the article and my please fell on deaf ears...
It had gotten so heated and there was fear that nothing was being done while traffic was significantly declining that the company brought in yet another SEO consultant to look at the site objectively. 
It was a lot to bear, and lot to live through. Sadly, what I had experienced in the organization was not unlike the experience many SEOs face. We are constantly questioned and second guessed. Many coworkers and bosses will even take it upon themselves to learn as much as they can, only to find that there is a lot of arguing among the experts in the industry as to what is the "right" way to optimize, and what is "wrong". But for SEO there is no right or wrong way, only what works. My philosophy behind optimizing is to always follow the rules. Start with the guidelines, organize the website, provide information for the user and present it in a way that makes sense. No shortcuts, trickery, or "optimizing". It is a philosophy I fight for every day (and boy do I fight).

Today I am happy to say the tune towards myself and the SEO work that is getting done has completely changed. My Boss now gives me rave reviews, the company has belief in the work done for SEO, and the team (product and engineering) is extremely supportive with any issue or requests needed for SEO. We are a cohesive and supportive team, and the results from the work we are doing is paying off.

Many people in the industry have told me to look for work elsewhere. That not only included people in the industry and some of my supportive coworkers, but the person my Boss reports to had even recommended it. I will admit I had interviewed at a couple of places. What discouraged me was that I knew the work that had been done up until that point would eventually pay off. If I had left then credit would have been given to the next SEO hired, or worse, it would be ruined by someone focusing on getting instant results. Most importantly, leaving the team that is now supportive was just not what I wanted. I love working for this company (the benefits are good), and everyone that I work with is like family. I call us the "Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin." since we are a small office within a very large organization. We are a close family that support one another and they all seem to welcome my quirkiness.

Until Next Year

So until next year, I will be continuing my job and the work for SEO. I have big plans for the website, and will continue to fight for what I believe in for SEO. I will also try to get more informational posts on here as we continue our last bit of cleanup on the site and continue to see results. I am even contemplating writing a book (as I have been told I should for a few years now), but am still reluctant with all those great SEO books already on the shelves - most of which have been written by some very dear friends. Until then - keep optimizing, and fighting for what you believe in SEOs.