Leaving Work Behind

My Authority Site’s SEO Optimized Setup

Written by Tom Ewer on September 27, 2012. 41 Comments

The following is part of an ongoing series, The One Hour Authority Site Project. If you’d like to read more about it then click here!

One Hour Authority Site Project: My Site's SEO Optimized SetupIf you have been following along with this project, you will know my short term focus is almost solely on content. All of the things I would typically focus on, such as design and marketing, have taken a back seat.

However, there is one thing in addition to content that I haven’t skimped on — onsite search engine optimization. Given that my aim is to rank in Google without doing any black hat link building, I need to make sure that my onsite SEO is spot on.

In this post, I am going to take you through exactly how I have set up and optimized my site. Although the following is specific to my authority site, I believe that the process could be adopted to suit just about any site.

There are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission. It will cost you nothing extra. I only ever endorse products that I have personally used and tested extensively. Thank you!

Site Update

Before we begin, let’s take a brief look at how my site is getting on.

There is very little to tell you further to last week’s update — not a great deal has happened in the past seven days. I have written another five articles, each of which has exceeded 500 words (with a couple over 1,000).

My most recent ranking update didn’t reveal anything particularly dramatic:

Market Samurai Rank Tracking

There are however a couple of noteworthy points:

  1. The number of keywords that Google is ranking me for has increased from 8 to 11
  2. I have my first ranking on the first page for a keyword

Before you get excited, that first page ranking is for a search term with just 22 exact match searches per month. That term has only brought one visitor to my site so far.

Speaking of visitors, the site remains all but desolate, with only the occasional visitor. I’ve got a long way to go yet!

Naming My Site

Before we get onto the nuts and bolts of how I set up my site, I want to take a moment to address an extremely important factor — its name.

I decided early on that I wanted to find a keyword rich domain name. It seems apparent to me that Google still loves exact match domains, and I therefore consider partial match domains to be pretty useful too. It means that every single page on your site is partially optimized for a particular keyword before you have written a word.

The keyword I chose has a fairly healthy number of exact searches (2,400 per month) and is highly relevant to my niche. This keyword also “devolves” nicely — take a word off and you have a keyword with 27,100 searches. Take another word off and you have a keyword with 40,500 searches. All three keywords are relevant to my niche.

Furthermore, the front page competition for the keyword isn’t horrendous (screenshot from Market Samurai):

SEO Competition

There are only two root domains on the first page, and the number of referring domains isn’t particularly imposing — especially when you consider that future organic links back to my site will include the search term. I am pretty confident of being able to establish myself on the first page in the long term.

I couldn’t get my hands on an exact match domain for this keyword (no surprise there), so ended up with a domain like this:

http://www.free[myniche]advice.net/

Setting Up My Theme

Getting the site up and running was a relatively simplistic affair. Whilst it is all too easy to spend days or weeks working on a site launch, I had mine live within a few minutes.

My site runs on the default WordPress Twenty Eleven theme. And why not? It is extremely well-coded, clean, minimalistic, and content-focused:

Twenty Eleven

I did actually make a few minor tweaks to the theme, which I added in a child theme:

  1. I edited the footer.php file to remove the WordPress attribution and include a copyright notice
  2. I added CSS to remove post meta data and make some minor formatting changes

That was the extent of my work on the design of the site.

The thinking behind my limited approach was very simple — what is the point on pouring a whole load of time and effort into the design of a site that no one is going to see? If we adopt the principles of The Lean Startup for authority sites for a moment, you should start with the most basic design, and only upgrade when the size of your audience warrants it.

The focus here is cost benefit — i.e., what benefit does the cost of my time in improving the design have on my goals? The answer, at this stage, is no benefit at all.

Plugins

I had a similarly no-frills approach to plugins. I installed the following:

Whilst there are plenty of other plugins that I could install, at this stage, there is little point in doing so. As I keep pointing out, my focus is entirely on content. The more distracted I am by fiddling around with plugins, the less time I have to produce content.

Pages

Again, I stuck with the bare minimum here.

I created a simple About page with a with a few brief paragraphs — a quick overview of the benefits that my site brings, along with a brief biography. This is something that I definitely would look to develop more as traffic to the site grows, as your About page is pivotal to engagement on your blog.

The only other page I created was a Contact page. This is something of a necessity if you want your site to seem approachable and non-spammy. After all, how many blogs do you read that don’t have a contact page? I used the aforementioned Contact Form 7 plugin to place a contact form on this page.

Search Engine Optimization

This is the area into which the bulk of my setup time went — it wasn’t something that I wanted to skimp on. In fairness, site optimization is something of an ongoing process for me — I am often getting new ideas.

SEO by Yoast

This is (in my humble opinion) by far the best SEO plugin for WordPress. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but it didn’t take me too long to get everything to my liking.

My first port of call was the Titles & Metas settings screen:

Titles & Metas

As you can see, I had to check the force rewrite titles in order to get the feature to work properly. Furthermore, I noindexed subpages of archives, and decided not to use meta keywords (by all accounts I have read, they are redundant).

I then turned my focus to each of the tabs, where I could set how title tags would be displayed on my site. In case you don’t know, title tags are the titles that show up in the search engines and in the title bar of your browser. Filling your title tags with relevant keywords is absolutely vital, and a major part of onsite SEO.

The title template for my homepage is simply the site’s name (which is keyword rich by default). I also wrote a custom description, which will show up in search engine results. Whilst Google doesn’t take keywords within the description into account when ranking a site, writing a good description can make the difference between someone clicking through to your site (or not).

Next, I set the title templates for posts, pages, categories and tags:

Title Template

As I will better explain in my post on content creation, this template gives you a keyword rich title without it seeming unnatural. You’ll end up with titles like:

How to Throw a Curve Ball — Free Baseball Tips

The title is perfectly optimized for SEO, but also seems completely natural. The best of both worlds.

I also disabled the date and author-based archives, which you can do in the “Other” tab. Given that my site is to be a single-author blog with evergreen content, there’s no point filling Google’s index up with useless duplicate content.

Just to clarify, I left the settings so that the following content formats and taxonomies were indexed:

I believe that each one offers an opportunity to rank in Google, should you go about things in the right manner.

Although there are a huge amount of settings within SEO by Yoast, the only other thing I did was check to enable sitemap functionality on the Sitemaps screen:

XML Sitemap

Although they are not a necessity, sitemaps help search engines crawl websites more effectively. Since SEO by Yoast automatically keeps my sitemap up to date, I had no reason not to enable this feature.

Categories and Tags

This is a fairly large topic, and this post is getting big enough as it is. Fortunately, I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago which demonstrates exactly how I have set up categories and tags for my authority site: The Right Way to Use Categories and Tags in WordPress to Boost SEO.

I basically keep three things in mind when creating categories and tags. Each one must:

  1. Be a relevant phrase that someone would actually search for in Google
  2. Look presentable in the search engine results page (i.e. be written in title case)
  3. Actually serve a useful purpose to the end user

I am pretty conservative with my tagging. At the time of writing, I have just 39 tags across 31 posts, but almost all of them are used more than once (and some as much as eight times).

Webmaster Tools

The final thing I did to set up my site was add it to my Google Webmaster Tools account. This is basically a way of saying to Google, “This is my site”. It also gains you access to a whole bunch of analytics tools and gizmos.

Adding a site is a piece of cake — just follow these simple instructions. One thing I will mention is that you should add both the “http://” and “http://www.” version of your site, and then tell Google which one to prioritize. Don’t worry if this all sounds foreign — I wrote a simple to follow guide which you can find here.

Finally, you should upload your sitemap to Webmaster Tools by navigating to Optimization > Sitemaps in the sidebar, and clicking on “Add/Test Sitemap”. This is your way of telling Google that your sitemap exists, so that its spiders can utilize it when crawling your site.

Rank Tracking

Once my site was set up, I needed a way of tracking the huge number of keywords that I was going to be targeting. Doing so isn’t just an exercise in curiosity — I will be carefully analyzing keywords that I do rank for, so that I can gain a better understanding of why I don’t rank for others.

Your keyword list will probably start with a bunch of relevant search terms with high search figures. Then as you add content, you will add any long tail keywords relevant to each article that you write (more on this in a later post).

I decided to use the rank tracking feature that comes packaged with Market Samurai. It updates once per week, and gives you fancy graphs so that you can track your progress:

Market Samurai Rank Tracker

Market Samurai is a piece of software that I have been utilizing heavily for this project, and rank tracking is just one aspect of its feature set.

What Next?

That’s it folks — a breakdown of my entire site setup process.

In the next post in this series, I’m going to be getting onto the most important part of the process — content creation. I will be revealing, in detail, my approach to writing posts for my authority site.

Until then, I’d love to know what you think about the process that I have revealed above. Do you think it is a sensible approach? Do you think it could be improved? Let us know in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of S. Diddy

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41 Responses to “My Authority Site’s SEO Optimized Setup”

  1. CFA
    September 27, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Very interesting read indeed. Are you going to ever reveal details of the site?

    By the way this post can easily pass for a “easy wordpress site setup guide” 🙂 Keep up the good work!

    • Tom Ewer
      September 27, 2012 at 7:48 pm

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your kind words! Unfortunately not. As I stated in the first post in the series, what with all the content scrapers around, unfortunately it’s too big a risk to take.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  2. Kent Faver
    September 27, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Excellent post Tom – thanks. Would love to see a video at some point on this endeavor. 🙂

  3. Peter
    September 27, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Hi. I’m curious why you think you only rank for 11 keywords? Isn’t every search query a keyword? Or are these just 11 keywords of the ones you planned to target?

  4. Charley
    September 27, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Very informative post and apt for newbies who are just getting started. Design is contradictorily my top priority, lol 🙂 I’ve already created a logo and installed a premium theme for my latest site. I consciously wouldn’t those annoyingly responsive themes – it’s static width all the way. Looking forward to more updates.

  5. Andrew @ JRC Web Design & SEO
    September 28, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Great post Tom!

    Got me thinking that I haven’t really spent enough time working out just how to use the Yoast SEO plugin – originally I just learnt how to setup the basics and meant to get back to it. I had a look around for some more info and found this video very helpful to learn a bit more about what all those other screens do 🙂

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOjY4LVoghE

  6. Henri
    September 28, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I like it. It’ll be fun to see how well the site does in the long-term.

    Is there hope for pure, great content? Perhaps there is. I think it might be even more powerful if once you start seeing results to get some high-quality backlinks.

    Although, if things start taking off and you have great content, those backlinks will find their way to you anyway 😉

    Keep up the good work, sir.

    • Tom Ewer
      September 28, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Hi Henri,

      I’m not convinced that there is hope for great content alone. If you can get enough traction in Google, it might be enough to start the ball rolling in terms of organically attracting links (which will then of course lead to more traffic and higher rankings), but I’m not convinced. I am expecting to shift into a split between content creation and link curation in the future.

      Having said that, I am going to hold out for as long as possible, because I really do want to give the site a good chance of ranking without link curation, as a useful experiment if nothing else.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  7. Jamie Alexander
    September 28, 2012 at 9:10 am

    That’s interesting about the tags. I use categories, but never thought to add more tags. It’s probably because I hate to see them on peoples site when I’m looking down their posts.

    I personally think a basic theme is taking it a little too far when going lean start-up. I think for the $100 it would take people to buy a nice theme, for the site that’s going to be earning good money, they should definitely do it. The main reason is for people coming back. Maybe they won’t if the site is ugly. I hate the typography on basic themes.

    • Tom Ewer
      September 28, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Hi Jamie,

      I think you may have missed my point regarding the theme.

      First of all, creating a great theme for your site doesn’t just involve the $100 investment — it’s all the fiddling you do afterwards as well, all the time that takes. You could invest that time in content creation.

      Secondly, when there are no visitors to the site, there are no visitors to bounce off, so why worry about it? Concentrate instead on what you can do to get visitors to the site in the first place (i.e. create content). Building a great theme doesn’t bring people to a site.

      Once you’ve built up the site and have a healthy of flow of visitors, you can then consider the cost benefit of investing in a top-quality theme. For instance, what if your bounce rate, time on site, and page views are all great? Then you might consider that your time is better taken by creating more content and getting more visitors. There are a lot of examples of highly popular blogs with crappy designs.

      This is the whole concept of the lean startup in action — let your target audience tell you what they like — don’t try to guess. Far better to have a whole bunch of people say, “This sucks — do it differently”, than to try and guess what they want in advance.

      Finally, saying that you hate the typography on basic themes is a bit of a sweeping statement, isn’t it? 😉 Not only that, but changing typography is easily done in a few minutes. But again, what’s the point in doing so before you have an audience — you may hate the typography, but it may not bother them. Better to wait for the evidence before taking action, in my opinion.

      Cheers,

      Tom

      • Jamie Alexander
        September 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm

        I definitely see what you’re saying. And I agree with everything you’ve said.

        I would just start with a better theme and something slightly different to other blogs, then say what people say.

        But I suppose sticking to one hour per day wouldn’t leave much room for anything else, so I can see why you’re doing.

        I also agree it’s a good idea if you don’t have the spare $100.

        Regards the typography, maybe it’s because I don’t know coding lol.

      • Andrew @ JRC Web Design & SEO
        September 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm

        I think the lean basic/free theme to begin with is great! Sadly I’ve spent ages building some great looking sites and getting everything ready to go before never quite getting round to doing anything with them a few times! lol

        Admittedly it wasn’t totally wasted time in the long run as it was good practise for layouts/css etc. but realistically I would have been much better off getting a site up and running in 10 minutes and getting on with writing content, engaging in social media, visitors etc. As Tom says above there are some hugely successful sites that look terrible!

        Best example of this I can think of off the top of my head is a site that gets something almost unbelievable like 3-4 million unique users per month – if you’ve never been on the site take a quick look at how much time they’ve spent on design – its certainly not one I’m overly fond of! 😉

        http://www.universetoday.com/
        http://foundertips.com/traffic/how-fraser-increase-his-traffic-from-3500-to-100000-per-day/

  8. Joe @ How I Got Rich
    September 28, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I’m re-starting work on my authority site.

    Why have you called it the one hour site?

    I put a free theme on mine for now, its ok to look at but I will buy a better theme once I’ve got my content up.

    I’m not sure I’ve done my kw research correctly but I’ve started now so will keep going.

    Good luck!

    • Tom Ewer
      September 28, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Hi Joe,

      It’s called the One Hour Authority Site Project because I spend an hour each weekday on it (I mentioned this in a previous post).

      Cheers!

      Tom

      • Joe @ How I Got Rich
        October 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm

        Doh! That makes sense. I’m following the 60 Minutes Authority Site approach which I guess is similar.

        I’m also starting to give content writing a try too and have even set up a little site for that too.

        • Tom Ewer
          October 1, 2012 at 3:24 pm

          Hi Joe,

          Not heard of the 60 Minutes Authority Site approach — what’s that (apart from the obvious ;))?

          Cheers,

          Tom

  9. Thomas @ Mobile App Tycoon
    September 29, 2012 at 3:31 am

    Love the fact that you are using tactics from the lean startup with your web design. It annoys me when people think they need professional web design, a professional logo, a brand new computer, desk, business cards, etc. in order to start a blog or web business.

    Thomas

    • Tom Ewer
      October 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      Unfortunately, those people are invariably the ones that do not succeed. It’s easy (and fun) to get caught up with those type of things, but they do not actually advance your business one iota unless you already have momentum.

  10. Matt@Matt's Affiliate Journey
    September 29, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Hello Tom,
    I think that this is a really well though out post that you wrote for us and I really appreciate your whole “complete transparency” thing that you have going on.

    I also greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your hard work and ‘lessons learned’ with the blogging community.

    However, in my SEO readings, I came across the following post, and I was wondering if you had taken this information into account and if you thought that it “might” (E.g. I guess there is hardly anyway to know exactly what Google will do) affect your new site?

    I look forward to your reply and I appreciate your input. Thanks.

    • Tom Ewer
      October 1, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Hi Matt,

      First of all, it’s my pleasure! 🙂

      Secondly, thanks for the article. Not worried about it at all, for a few reasons:

      1. My domain isn’t an EMD
      2. It isn’t low quality

      Is that a succinct enough answer? 😉

      Cheers,

      Tom

  11. Joe @ How I Got Rich
    October 1, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    It was a WSO by Nate Rivers from Strayblogger. Basically write a few articles each day in the 60 minutes you allocate to the site and in 90 days you will soon be getting $100 days. Covers KW research and so on.

    I’m starting to think its claims were a bit ambitious! My site only has about 40 articles but only gets 10 hits a day!

  12. Chris Walker
    October 2, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Hi Tom,

    I’ve been using the All In One SEO plugin on my sites up until now (I think that was the plugin Pat used in his guides), but have just had a look at WordPress SEO by Yoast and am really impressed so far. If switching over isn’t too difficult, I’ll give it a go. Do you know if I’d have to rewrite the titles and descriptions for all of my posts? Thanks for the recommendation!

    Chris

    PS – Thanks again for picking me in the Tweet Adder Giveaway 🙂

    • Tom Ewer
      October 2, 2012 at 9:26 am

      Hi Chris,

      I don’t know how easy (or difficult) the transition would be, but I certainly consider Yoast’s plugin superior. I think you’ll find most other WordPress enthusiasts agreeing with me too.

      Cheers,

      Tom

      P.S. You’re welcome — check your emails 🙂

  13. Alan | Life's Too Good
    October 2, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Hey Tom,

    thanks for a great post and also for your help & advice yesterday – I really appreciate it.

    Is there any way of qualifying why the Yoast plugin is better (and how much better it is)? Or is it just because you’ve tried both & Yoast seems to get better results?

    The reason I ask that is because like Chris above, I use the All In One plugin and I’m not sure how easy it would be to change (I don’t fancy re-doing all of the meta titles & descriptions for every page & post).

    Aren’t both plugins essentially doing the same thing? Adding meta-data to posts & pages or is there much more to it than that?

    thanks Tom!

    Alan

    • Tom Ewer
      October 2, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Hi Alan,

      I should probably clarify my preference. AIOSEO is a good plugin — meta titles set in one plugin won’t be any more effective than in the other.

      What Yoast does offer is a better depth of settings and functionality. If you’re happy with AIOSEO then I’d stick with it for the time being. You may want to compare the two plugins to see if Yoast offers anything extra that you’re specifically looking for though.

      Cheers,

      Tom

      • Alan | Life's Too Good
        October 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm

        Cool – thanks for clarifying Tom,

        The more I look at the ‘technical’ side of my site, the more cans I find full of worms!

        I think I will leave AIOSEO for now – I’m currently looking at header tags which I think I have configured all wrong which I think in turn is down to my theme (I use Weaver) which looks like it defaults post title tags to instead of .

        So my first challenge is whether I can actually upgrade that theme without all of the various customizations on my site going haywire.

        All this technical stuff is doing my head in today so first off I’m having a cup of tea and taking the dog for a walk 😉

        thanks for getting back to me – take care,

        Alan

        • Alan | Life's Too Good
          October 2, 2012 at 1:48 pm

          p.s. that last comment did say which looks like it defaults post title tags to h2 instead of h1. but because I put the h1 and h2 in the lt and gt signs, they vanished!

          doh!

          OK – I’m gonna shut up now and go and get that cup of tea…

        • Zimbrul
          October 6, 2012 at 9:09 pm

          Alain I’d like to give you a piece of advice: dedicate a day or two in learning the Yoast Seo Plugin and what it does. It could look overwhelming at the beginning but you’ll buy me a beer when you’ll understand what it does and what it can do for your blog.
          Also, for In page seo I use Prelovac’s SEO add on for firefox… Very good to see how the page situates from a SEO point of view

  14. Zimbrul
    October 6, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    This must be the best article I read recently about setting up a niche blog and setting up a blog in general.

  15. Jayr
    November 27, 2012 at 3:42 am

    If you aren’t ranking for the name of your site you have bgiger problems than article submission (unless your site name is a very competitive keyword). Work on your on site . What is you website?References :

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