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A Strategic SEO Upfront Content Approach for WordPress SEO Success

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This chapter discusses starting SEO and developing a content strategy; outlines the best SEO content objectives, plans, and guides; explains how to pick the best keywords; and shows how to manage the WordPress SEO tools.
This chapter is from the book

It is instrumental to form strategic plans to drive the web build and SEO process. Each of these steps is explored in depth in this chapter:

  1. Conduct digital audits.
  2. Write the digital strategy brief.
  3. Conduct the keyword research.
  4. Plan network architecture.
  5. Sitemapping.
  6. Assess content and keywords.
  7. Write SEO page forms.

Step 1: Conduct Digital Audits

Your blog or website does not exist in a vacuum. This is an important driver for doing an audit of your digital footprint. Even if you didn’t have a website before, if your name has existed, chances are you have a digital footprint. So often companies don’t realize that their presence can already be found on so many existing directories, social sites, and blogs. Location-based business directories such as whitepages.com pull business license registrations and include the business info in their listings for consumer convenience. Social sites can also contain information about you and your company history by trading info with other databases. Years ago, Plaxo.net attempted to be a networking site with calendaring but never gained a huge following. Today it still retains valuable information. All these digital assets can contribute to SEO benefits, such as inbound links and social reputation.

You might think you already know these characters, but you’ll be surprised, particularly by keyword and content competitors. These are sites that are already coming up top-of-the-list for the keyword search results that you want! Often these can be sites that you don’t consider to be true competitors at all, such as directories or content resources such as Wikipedia or About.com. Either way, you must be aware that they are beating you at the keyword and content game.

If Wikipedia is winning, what is their content about? Is it of interest to your audience? You might want to be writing content like that on your own site, especially if Wikipedia’s version of your brand name presents a nocturnal marsupial in New Guinea that sucks entire chickens down through hollow tree limbs to feast on their blood—sweet! Your guiding digital audits can help you in all respects. These digital audits can guide you to define your new site’s competitive positioning. Do you want to fit or break the mold of your overall industry? Now’s your chance to achieve your brand messaging differentiation.

What Should You Check These Sites For?

You’ll want to refer to a checklist for your audit, so try using the list that follows. All this will give you great, valuable data for an audit report. But be careful with the time investment; if you’re an SEO conducting this work for a client, be sure the budget will cover the checklist. If not, balance the most important SEO activities for the buck (or for the bang!).

What to Research on Sites

  • Canonicalization: Canonicalization is a big word that sounds important, and it is. Since the beginning of the web, we have identified website URLs as either http://example.com or http://www.example.com/. These are subtle differences to you and me, but very, very important differences to search engines. If an SEO hasn’t done her job to tell the search engines correctly, the engines see both examples as two different websites. They don’t know which to serve in results, and they don’t know how to rank them as one. You’ll start accumulating inbound links for both URLs (read more about this in the “Inbound Links” bullet item), and eventually giant meteors hit us as the sky is falling! Don’t let this happen to you. We’ll get more into how to fix canonicalization errors in Chapter 4, “WordPress On-Page Architecture and Basic SEO Execution,” and Chapter 5, “Real-World Blogging,” but for now you should understand what they are. If your competitor has them, that’s an easy win for you right there! The web analysis tools you use for your digital audits can reveal if canonicalization errors exist.
  • Social and keyword monitoring (reputation management): Important research to do, for both your own brand and competitors’, is social reputation monitoring. Where do brand names appear online? What are people saying about them? In which social and local channels do they appear, and where don’t they? (See the tools for social and keyword monitoring in the “Tools to Use for Your Audit” section).
  • Rank and authority: The search engines and analytics tools examine the websites for SEO quality and use their algorithms to assign rank and authority scores to these sites. Basically, the higher the better. Read more on this in Chapter 7, “Analytics for WordPress.”
  • Search engine traffic: Yes, you can see what kind of web traffic your competitors have been getting! This assumes that their site is search-engine friendly and has been achieving good, regular visitors. Remember that the data from these analysis and spy tools is not as reliable as Google Analytics. But some data is better than no data!
  • Primary keywords: What are the most relevant keywords for the sites in question? This is great info to have. But what do you do with this info after discovery? First, in most cases you do want to focus your own website SEO for short-tail keywords—you know, lone keywords such as “pie,” “shoes,” or “software.” These are the most competitive, but you still want to integrate them into your site and have content devoted to them (chances are, you will anyway, by default). But this is also your opportunity to differentiate your “sweet spot” and chase after those keywords. The total process of online industry audits, as well as a client strategic marketing interview, can all funnel toward this knowledge. I once had a law firm client who, when they hired me, started by saying they served anyone and everyone and wanted their SEO to reflect that. By the end of the marketing interview, we identified that that wasn’t their sweet spot, those weren’t good clients for them, and that didn’t present their best services. So we targeted the work at which they excelled and optimized for long-tail keyword phrases, such as “surety contract litigation Atlanta.” They were now differentiated and branded. They could promote their expertise on their website and get discovered for those specific keywords more often than their competitors.
  • Inbound links: Inbound links are also called backlinks. If they send you web traffic, they are referrals. But they are links, located on web properties outside of your website, which are directed back to your site. Conversely, outbound links are the links you have on your site to send traffic elsewhere. These backlink web properties are critical to assess for several reasons:

    • The more of them you have, the higher rank you achieve in the search engines.
    • You want to know who’s giving you “props” (and if it’s only your own social sites).
    • It’s best if the links are all from various sites. However, they may all be from one referral domain. Either way, you want to know (and if it’s the latter, set a strategy to achieve the former).
    • Are you, in turn, providing reciprocal links (that is, two-way links; one-way links are best)?
    • Who has the link juice, the higher authority score? Are you the gainer or the loser in the equation?

Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools provide some indications of your own inbound links, but other tools exist whose sole purpose is this reporting; they will provide this info whether the site is yours or a competitor’s. MajesticSEO, Blekko, and OpenSiteExplorer—all featured sites within the SEO Book Toolbar—will conveniently report backlinks for the site in question. Not only is this info good for gauging competitive SEO, it also reveals good sources for industry, competitive content, and content quality. Remember, third-party content sources, such as industry directories or trade pubs, can be huge and beneficial to your own SEO.

You can see Google Analytics only for your own site’s data. But often website owners have no idea if or where they have such accounts. I hear the story once a month—they had their website built three years ago, they’ve lost touch with the designer, they don’t have emails or paperwork on special accounts’ access, and they don’t even know if the website ever had Google Analytics turned on. Fortunately, this is an easy assessment for you to make.

If the code is there for your own site, you should do everything in your power to obtain access to that account. Try logging in to Analytics.Google.com with the company’s existing Gmail account. Don’t know the password? Ask Google for a temporary password. Still no go? Try hunting down the web designer; search in LinkedIn, Facebook, wherever. Check all old email accounts, ask the previous digital marketer. You can start from scratch with new code if you absolutely need to, but you will not have any previous data shown if you do. All this goes for Bing as well, but the truth is, not many web developers or SEOs care to go that deep for the much smaller Bing, especially because Google Analytics will already show the quantity of Bing referrals to the site. Enjoy your quest for the holy data!

The Tools to Use for Your Audit

  • SEO Book Tools: SEOBook.com is a great, free, SEO industry resource of information and technology (see Figure 3.2). You’ll find a number of great tools there, offering some data that even WordPress analytics and the coveted Google Analytics don’t easily provide. However, remember that all different tools and different algorithmic data need a baseline in common. The best way to operate on this with these tools is in competitive measure. To say it more specifically, SEO Book Tools and spy tools (discussed later) are great for understanding competitive strengths and weaknesses in the digital space. Using the same tool to compare an inbound link’s quantity and quality across your competitors and your own website is worthy research. Using a common tool to measure web traffic or search referrals, across major competitors, gives you a common benchmark and worthy data. The further we get away from apples and apples, however, makes it more difficult to justify. I believe that some data is better than no data, so dive into these tools and have fun! Just don’t forget to click all the “?”s and “i”s within the tools and algorithms to understand exactly what they’re measuring for you.

    Figure 3.2

    Figure 3.2 SEO Book Tools and the SEO Book Toolbar for Firefox.

  • How to do it? First, you should already have the Firefox browser installed. If not, find Firefox via your existing web browser; download, install, and run Firefox. Then go to http://tools.seobook.com/seo-toolbar/ and download and install the SEO Book Toolbar (see the toolbar within Firefox and some of its tools in Figure 3.2). You will instantly notice the plethora of analytics tools right there on the top of your browser. Try them out and see what they do. Some of them, such as Quantcast, OpenSiteExplorer, Blekko, and MajesticSEO, have already been discussed.
  • Spy Tools: Spy tools allow you to “spy” on any sites on the web. Examine their primary keyword drivers, their PPC ads, web traffic, ranking, and so on. These are typically freemium tools (meaning they provide both free and advanced paid levels). Revisit the Note on these in Chapter 2, “The Search Engines, WordPress, and SEO Tools,” for more info.
  • SocialMention.com: Input any brand name or keyword to discover where mentions occur. In the words of SocialMention, “From across the universe....” (See more on SocialMention.com results and analytics in Chapters 7 and Chapter 8, “Social Media Connectivity.”) This is similar to Google Alerts. You can set up your Google Alerts to email you whenever and wherever specific brand name or keyword mentions occur.
  • HootSuite: Technically it is a social dashboard, and I will go into more depth in Chapter 8 on integrating social functionality with WordPress. But for our purposes here, it is a social dashboard useful for monitoring your brand name and keywords for Twitter and Facebook (and others). You set up an account (it can be the free version) in HootSuite and sync with your Twitter and Facebook accounts. HootSuite then gives you the option to set up “streams,” cascades, like your social walls, to view preferred content. By setting up streams to search for your various words, such as brand names, you can see all this data in one resource. So if you’re mentioned in the social space, you can find it, judge the SEO value, and determine if there’s an opportunity to reach out and request an inbound link to your site, if it’s not already there.

What Should a Good Competitive Audit Look Like?

Here’s the type of research the data might reveal:

  • A site achieves 30,000 searches for the brand name per month.
  • The most common brand services industry keyword searches receive 35,000 a month at most.
  • The site’s search engine traffic continually trends up.
  • Unique visitors (first-time visitors to the website) trend down.
  • The observations that you as an SEO might make here are that the brand has become a household name and when people want facial tissues they search the brand name Kleenex. Because of this occurrence, the majority of website visitors already know the name and have previously visited the site. All this is good, but there must be fringe keywords for services that can align SEO for this site.
  • The digital audit should present these observations, data, and recommendations accordingly.
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