My Authority Site’s SEO Optimized Setup
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!
If 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!
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:
There are however a couple of noteworthy points:
- The number of keywords that Google is ranking me for has increased from 8 to 11
- 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):
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:
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:
I did actually make a few minor tweaks to the theme, which I added in a child theme:
- I edited the footer.php file to remove the WordPress attribution and include a copyright notice
- 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.
I had a similarly no-frills approach to plugins. I installed the following:
- Better Internal Link Search — extremely useful for interlinking between posts
- Clicky by Yoast — to link my analytics account with the site
- Contact Form 7 — for my contact page
- WordPress SEO by Yoast — incredibly important for onsite SEO
- WP Smush.it — lossless image optimization
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
- Be a relevant phrase that someone would actually search for in Google
- Look presentable in the search engine results page (i.e. be written in title case)
- 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).
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.
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 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.
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