These days doing what is required to rank well can feel overwhelming.
No longer is it possible to game the system with a mix of dubious links on blog networks and article marketing.
Link building is now a serious business that requires you to create value, build authority and attract real attention.
That's hard work and requires a long view over 12 months or more.
However, what is interesting is that many people might underestimate the power of on-page factors. Especially when you have a reasonable link profile.
As many of you know, I recently acquired AssociatePrograms.com from Allan Gardyne (a very old friend who used to be my business partner for 6 years). When I took over the site back in March, the site was getting pretty long in the tooth.
It was using an old piece of software to run it that was no longer being updated and generally the site had lots of things working against it and over the past few years had slipped in rankings considerably.
So I took on the big task of moving over 30,000 pages onto a new platform and then optimising those pages for the latest in ranking factors.
Thankfully, the result has been a big success.Search traffic to the site has doubled since the release of the new site.
I didn't do any link building at all, and haven't created a lot of new content. I just focused on aspects about the site itself.
Here are the things that I did.
Perhaps you can see if you can do any of the same things to improve your own rankings.
KILL ALL followed links
The first thing I did was add no-follow to every single link that the site came across.
The importance of this became even more apparent as I covered in this post.
With the old site, it was nearly impossible to add no-follow to hundreds of thousands of links that have built up over the past 16 years. Thankfully since I made the effort to port it all to WordPress, all I needed to was just install a plug-in.
CLEAN UP BROKEN LINKS
As the site has been running for 16 years, it's obvious that many of the sites that we've been linking to would have died.
I'm on a Mac, so I used a free piece of software called Integrity to get an initial feel for the problem.
If you've got a small site, this would be fine. However, I had a bigger problem on my hands.
So I installed a wonderful plug-in for WordPress called Broken Link Checker.
This allows you to both find and fix the problems at hand.
The one issue you might find with this plug-in is if you have a big site, web hosts hate it because it uses a lot of load. So I'd suggest just installing it, using it once, then uninstall it.
Fully Capture all your link juice
If your site has been running for any length of time, you'll find that you probably have a lot of links coming into your site that are directed at pages that don't exist. You want to maximise the value of these links and for the most important ones, redirect them onto a page that you would like that link benefit to flow to.
So as you can see, it looks like I've got a ship load.
I know it looks bad. However, it's not all that bad. I've got a lot of work to do still, but I've taken care of all the most important ones.
Unfortunately, you just need to export the file, go through it individually and create redirection rules.
I've started to use a 404 redirection plug-in for the rest of them, but it's early days so I can't vouch for it just yet.
SPEED UP YOUR SITE
Site speed is only going to become increasingly more important as time goes on.
Google wants your site to be very fast so that it can crawl it more quickly and they can continue to move towards a live index (so is almost realtime in nature).
They also want your site to be fast so the experience on mobile is better for users.
This is a big topic to cover and there is loads of work to do on the site still. In saying that, I've improved the site speed considerably (about 2 x faster).
I'm going to do a full post on this soon, however, there are some fairly simple things you can do at an infrastructure level that will dramatically improve your site speed.
Here's what I did:
- Moved to a hosting company that is designed and optimized to run WordPress.
- As part of this hosting service, they include a caching layer and a content distribution network (CDN) so that my site content gets pushed to the server nearest the person who is requesting the content.
- Moved to a hosted DNS service at Cloudflare and their automatic optimization tools as part of their Pro offering.
MAKE IT LOOK GOOD ON SMART PHONES
Google has openly said that it will openly demote sites that are not mobile friendly.
Make no mistake about it, they expect your site to not only look good, but also load extremely quickly on mobile sites.
The easiest way to do this is to make your site responsive. This brings with it other issues in terms of site speed, but is a better user experience if you do it properly. You'll notice that AssociatePrograms.com now looks good both for desktop and on a mobile device.
ADD SITE MAPS TO GOOGLE WEBMASTER TOOLS
With over 30,000 pages on the site, it was difficult to create a sitemap and submit it to Google Webmaster Tools.
Part of the work in the upgrade was to enable this functionality. Thankfully it worked.
Here is the forum archives part of the site that now is fully indexed. Before I fixed these issues, there were only about 1500 pages indexed. Now I've got almost all the pages indexed. You can see how it has helped with rankings too.
REMOVE ALL DUPLICATE CONTENT AND USE CANONICALS
The old software we were using on AssociatePrograms.com didn't use the rel=canonical functionality to tell Google that there is only one version of the page, even if there were other variables appended to the end of the URL.
So as part of the upgrade I used SEO Spider from Screaming Frog to look for a few things. Most notably were duplicate content issues. It wasn't just page content, but also title tags, meta descriptions etc.
You can see how that software works below.
ADD Authorship DATA
Authorship has been one of the biggest new features added to the search landscape in recent years. Particularly for bloggers.
Essentially what you need to do is the following:
- Correctly set up a Google+ profile for yourself if you haven't already. Ensure that within your profile, you list the site that you're set-up the authorship for. In my case, I needed to add AssociatePrograms.com to my profile.
- I then added my Google+ profile link in my WordPress profile. I actually can't remember if it's there by default yet, or if my Yoast plug-in put it there.
- You have to make sure that you are now marked as the author of the page.
So the end result is that I'm now seen as the author.
IMPROVE INTERNAL LINKING
I was able to improve my internal links in two ways.
Using the Yoast plug-in I added breadcrumbs to the site so that Google would better understand my site structure.
I also used PrettyLinkPro to look for certain keywords which then automatically links to different parts of my site.
This would send keyword rich signals to help those individual pages rank.
SEND SOCIAL SIGNALS
So… yeah… I don't know exactly how much impact they have.
However, I do know that the world is only becoming more “social” so we were sure to follow the best practices for that.
In essence, we made sure that we employed an obvious way for people to share our content socially. We did that by using those coloured boxes on the left hand side. You'll notice that it follows the user as they scroll down the page. We've found this dramatically increases CTR on ads, so we're doing it with our social triggers as well.
(How about trying it out… go on… why not show some social love by sharing this post! :))
The other thing we did was ensure that there was an obvious connection between our Facebook page and our Google+ page. We did this by using the Yoast plug-in very easily which added the right Open Graph data.
What is really cool is if you can set up the proper Twitter cards which means that when people share any of your content on Twitter, it shows not just the text based tweet, but also includes a rich version of it including a photo.
Where to next?
So there is still plenty that we've got to do, particularly around optimising for site speed and cleaning up our links, however, the changes we've made have obviously made a huge difference to how we're ranking.
So how about you? Can you apply any of these changes?
Anything I've missed?
I'd love to hear your comments below.