Meetup: SEO for WordPress

October’s WP Durham meetup covered SEO for WordPress:

Special thanks to GoDaddy Pro for sponsoring our group.

Our presenters

Natasha Burtenshaw-deVries is a digital marketing and SEO specialist living in Hamilton. After making a career pivot from teaching into digital marketing, she now spends her days building SEO strategies, crafting content, digging through data and helping businesses be found online. Follow her on Twitter.

Sergey Alakov is an SEO Director at GroupM Canada where he helps some of the largest brands (e.g. PC Financial; Pizza Hut; KFC; Mazda; Nestle, Kimberley Clark, etc.) achieve Organic and Local SEO growth. As a freelance consultant, Sergey has 6+ years of experience helping small and medium-sized businesses drive their search visibility and sales.

Troy Fawkes is one of two founders of Delta Growth, a 14-person digital marketing agency based in Toronto. Troy’s background in strategy, sales, marketing, management, and education gives him a unique perspective on managing modern leadership challenges.


Blogging for SEO

Slides from Natasha’s session

Natasha kicked off our session with an intro to blogging as part of a search engine optimization strategy.

Why should you blog?

  • Publish content that’s interesting for your audience
  • Improve your SEO, grow organic search traffic

Recommended approach

  1. Planning
  2. Writing
  3. Publishing & promoting

Choose your topics

Answer questions that your readers (customers) ask.

Choose topics that address different stages of the marketing funnel:

  • Awareness: Researching a problem or need
  • Consideration: Looking for potential solutions
  • Conversion/sales: Choosing a solution

Related: Marketing funnels for beginners (ahrefs)

Write about topics related to your site, or what your audience cares about:

  • Seasonal trends
  • Hot, unexpected trends
  • Recent news or events

Consider the “topic cluster” approach (aka “hub and spoke” or “skyscraper”):

  • Create authoritative pages about broader topics
  • Publish related articles/posts branching out from the broad topic

Related: The hub and spoke content strategy (Jimmy Daly)

Keyword research

Refine your topics instead of defining them:

  • Think of relevant topics first
  • Use keyword research to find the right language, wording, etc

Consider the intent behind keywords and SERP results.

What are searchers trying to accomplish? What’s the implied intent behind a given keyword? You won’t rank if your content doesn’t align with the intent.

Topic/keyword idea tools

Writing

Write good content for humans.

Write a good title vs crafting an attention-grabbing clickbait title.

Use shorter sentences and paragraphs for readability, especially on mobile.

Use sub-headings for keyword targeting, readability.

Use bullet points and lists where appropriate.

Leverage internal linking, i.e. linking between related posts and pages on your site.

What’s the best length for a blog post?

It depends!

Quality and comprehensiveness are more important than quantity.

The average blog post length is ~1000 words.

Check out the Content Comprehensiveness episode of Whiteboard Friday from Moz. It’ll help you with writing comprehensive blog posts.

General rule of thumb: No less than 500 words, aim for 700-1200 on average.

Things to avoid:

Keyword stuffing. Don’t cram bunch of different irrelevant keywords into your posts or pages.

Plagiarism. It causes duplicate content issues. Give credit where it’s due, if you’re citing other sources.

Obsessing over algorithms or best practices. Things change. Stick to the fundamentals.

Use your SEO plugin to run a content analysis

Recommended SEO plugins:

Publishing & promoting

Fill out the meta info/tags for your blog post using your SEO plugin.

This helps control how your page appears in search engine result pages.

Titles can have an impact on click-through rates (CTR) from search results.

Google will ultimately decide on what meta description or snippet to use. They may not use yours. Still, it’s important to fill yours out.

Tend to other on-page optimizations:

Set the alt text for images. Improves accessibility, too.

Optimize and properly size your images. Plugins like Smush and Kraken can help automate the optimization process.

Consider adding schema markup to indicate content type, e.g. review, recipe, FAQ, product, etc. The All In One Schema plugin can help.

Add internal links to new blog posts from your existing posts and pages.

Check Google Search Console.

Google Search Console is a wonderful free tool. It reports on your site’s performance in Google search results. It’s a goldmine of data and insights.

Publish to social media.

According to HootSuite, there’s a strong correlation between social activity and search rankings.

If nothing else, publishing to social media aides with content discovery, can get your posts in front of more people, and keeps your profiles active.

Make the most of available WordPress plugins.

Automatically post to social media:

Send new blog posts to subscribers via email:

Add schema markup to your site:

Set up redirects:

Manage web analytics:

Optimize your site for speed:

Enable SSL:

Secure your site:

In a nutshell…

Put your audience at the forefront of your content strategy.

  1. Write good content
  2. Don’t forget on-page optimizations
  3. Promote your posts for an extra boost
  4. Make the most of WordPress plugins
  5. Write good content

Local search & Google My Business

Sergey was our second presenter, going deep into local SEO and Google My Business. His work with small and medium-sized businesses has given him a deep, first-hand look at competing in local search.

Local search is important for businesses serving a local market with products or services. You can optimize your local search presence to get as much business as possible from local search results.

Local businesses can have an advantage at competing locally. It’s harder for large organizations to compete if they don’t have a real local presence.

Related:

Topics covered in this session:

  1. Overview of local search
  2. Local search ranking factors
  3. Optimizing your local search presence

Overview

What is local search?

Any online search to find something from a specific geographic area.

What is local SEO?

Optimizing your online presence to attract more business from local searches.

Local search results:

  • Local Pack Results are Google My Business listings.
  • Localized organic results are pages ranking for local search queries.

Why should you care about local search?

  • 46% of all Google searches are local
  • 78% result in a purchase
  • 75% of users don’t look at the second page of results
  • 86% of users use Google Maps to find local businesses
  • 50%+ of Google searches end without a click to other content
  • 56% of local retailers have not claimed their business listing

Local search ranking factors

Google weighs three things for Local Pack results:

  1. Relevance
  2. Prominence
  3. Distance

Drilling down into ranking factors, in order:

  1. Google My Business listing
  2. Reviews
  3. On-page optimization
  4. Links
  5. User behaviour
  6. Citations
  7. Personalization

Source: Local SEO ranking factors (BrightLocal)

Claim your Google My Business listing.

You don’t need to provide an address. You can claim it as a service area business. Go to the Google My Business site to claim and verify your business.

Ranking factors for business listings:

Primary business category: You can change this later if you want to cater to different trends, if the business provides different kinds of products/services.

Keywords in the business title: Keyword stuffing is against Google guidelines.

Proximity of business address to user location.

Physical address matches the city the user searches from.

Additional business categories: Keep these as relevant as possible.

Completeness of listing details: these help build trust/credibility.

  • Keep information up-to-date
  • Add the business website URL
  • Select primary and secondary business categories
  • Add lots of helpful photos
  • Select relevant attributes
  • Enable messaging
  • Add Q&A
  • Regularly publish new posts to your listing

Related: Google My Business Help (Google)

Optimizing your local search presence

Build online citations.

This is a fundamental local SEO activity. Citations include online mentions of the business name, street address and phone number (NAP).

Basic process:

  1. What is your NAP?
  2. Find existing online citations
  3. Fix incorrect/inconsistent citations
  4. Remove duplicates on top directories
  5. Submit business info (NAP + URL) to top business directories (also look for niche directories that are industry or region-specific); find directories that competitors aren’t listed on

Free citation audit tools:

Related: Guide to Local Citations (Moz)

Improve your site’s local relevancy.

Basic on-page optimization:

  • Understand your audience’s needs first
  • Conduct a thorough keyword/topic research to find terms and questions that people use when searching for your product/service/category
  • Pay particular attention to location-related terms and questions
  • Include your NAP on your website
  • Include your city/location in your site’s header tags, meta titles and descriptions
  • Create unique, high-quality content to answer user’s questions

Work on online reviews.

  • 82% of consumers read online reviews.
  • Only 53% of people would consider using a business with less than 4 stars.
  • 97% of consumers who read reviews also read business responses.

Always ask for reviews in person, or after a good interaction, e.g. in a follow-up email or text message.

Respond to all reviews left on your business listing.

Work on acquiring reviews in top business directories, especially industry-specific directories. Follow their specific review policies to avoid penalties.

Fight Google My Business spam.

Things to look for:

  • Name spam (keyword stuffing)
  • Virtual offices
  • Multiple fake locations
  • Lead gen services
  • Fake reviews
  • Reviews left by staff
  • Lead gen listings
  • Duplicate listings
  • Unverified/non-existent businesses

To fight spam:

  • Suggest an edit for the listing
  • Follow the redressal process
  • Post on the support forum

Related: Guidelines for Google My Business profiles


On-page (technical) SEO

Troy Fawkes from Delta Growth wrapped up our session with a detailed summary of technical SEO. From Troy: “When I say something’s important, I’m saying it in the context of everything you’re doing in marketing.”

Troy works with leading brands like Honda and Acura Canada; Maple Online Doctors; LowestRates.ca; and CARFAX Canada. Most of the technical considerations are just as relevant to smaller businesses.

You can view the deck on Google Slides.

Three pillars of SEO:

  1. Content – Address different user needs along the buyer’s journey
  2. Technical – Code and site architecture speaks clearly to search engines
  3. Authority – Natural links to your site from authoritative sources

On-page (technical) SEO covers the quality and quantity of correct communication with web crawlers (e.g. Googlebot).

Search engines read code. Technical SEO ensures that code is read correctly. There are two aspects of the work: preventing problems and pursuing opportunities.

Preventing problems, like:

Hiding valuable content from search engines.

Deprioritizing top content by telling Google that insignificant pages are more important than they actually are.

Systematically duplicating content, e.g. every page has 5+ versions.

Creating challenges for robots to understand content, e.g. crawler issues with JS-generated sites.

Exposing the site to penalties, i.e. any “quick win” SEO advice you find in forums, like hiding text on the page.

Pursuing opportunities, like:

Using meta data to provide context around language, region and device targeting.

Using schema to specify content types, like aggregate ratings.

Improving site speed.

Prioritize tasks by considering:

  1. Impact – Does it support your business goals?
  2. Effort – How much work will it take, relative to other tasks?
  3. Priority – Weigh impact more than effort.

Tools for your technical SEO toolbox:

  1. Yoast SEO: Preferred SEO plugin for WordPress
  2. Screaming Frog: Powerful tool for crawling sites
  3. Google Mobile Friendly Test: Sites are indexed for mobile first

Check for the most common technical SEO issues:

  • Make sure Google can index your site
  • Use one unique, descriptive title and H1 tag for each page
  • You pass the Google Mobile Friendly test
  • Most important pages get the most internal links

Advanced stuff

Indexation:

Ensure the right content is visible to search engines.

Robots.txt should allow all CSS, JS and images; links to a sitemap or index sitemap; and “only disallow on behalf of, or in consultation with, an SEO specialist.

Related: Robots.txt and SEO (ahrefs)

Blocking CSS makes Google assume your site isn’t moible-friendly, because it can’t check for media queries.

Add your sitemap to your robots.txt file to assist with indexing.

The noindex and nofollow tags should never be used at a page level. It will hide the page from search traffic (noindex) or block crawlers from visiting links (nofollow). Only use these in specific circumstances. Consult an SEO expert for guidance.

Check for server errors, error pages and incorrect error messages. Incorrectly handling status codes can cause indexation issues.

Look out for systematic URL creation. URLs appended with automatically generated parameters can cause indexation and duplication issues.

Duplication:

Set your standards at a site level:

  • HTTP vs HTTPS (it should always be HTTPS)
  • WWW vs non-WWW
  • trailing slash vs no trailing slash
  • Query strings
  • Capitalization

Set up 301 redirects for “useless” URLs, e.g. redirect HTTP to HTTPS.

Apply canonical tags to “useful” URLs, e.g. pages subject to query string parameters for UTM codes should have a canonical tag.

Related: Why HTTPS matters (Google)

Localization, internationalization and mobile:

Most relevant to larger, multi-language or multi-region sites.

Use a self-referential hreflang tag to identify the region and language used by the current page.

Set an alternative hreflang tag to identify regions and languages covered by equivalent pages.

See this hreflang guide from Yoast for details.

Tagging:

  • Have only one <title> tag, descriptive and not duplicated
  • One <h1></h1> tag, descriptive and not duplicated
  • Use other headings (h2, h3) when they’re unique
  • Don’t use heading tags in your navigation
  • Meta descriptions should be unique to each page
  • Always use anchor <a> tags for links

Schema:

  • AggregateRating is Troy’s favourite for stars, ratings and votes
  • Product for reviews and pricing information
  • FAQ for related links and featured snippets, like “people also ask”

Tip: Check out this handy schema builder for Chrome. (Thanks Paul!)

Authority:

  • Smart linking between pages
  • Incorrect internal linking can impact your authority
  • External links don’t affect your authority

If you’re linking externally, you’re implying trust. For things like blog comments or sponsored content, there are special rel= parameters you can use.

Site speed:

  • Developer or server admin is responsible for site speed
  • SEOs are usually the most technical marketers, they push on behalf of the entire marketing team for performance improvements
  • Site speed has more impact on other channels than SEO

To improve your site speed:

  • Make heavy websites leaner (reduce page size, smaller media assets)
  • Diagnose slow server speed with “time to first byte”
  • Cache as much as possible

Helpful resources for improving WordPress performance:

Dealing with JavaScript & JS frameworks:

Most relevant to WordPress when you use it as a headless CMS with a JavaScript front-end. Common problems:

  • Not following HTML standards
  • Blocked rendering behind API calls
  • Inaccessible URLs

Penalties you may encounter:

  • Unnatural links from your website
  • UGC spam
  • Hacked site
  • Spam
  • Spammy site structure

Check your Google Search Console dashboard for issues and recommendations.


Q&A

For Sergey: “Is it worth creating content around competitive topics, if you’re targeting a local audience?”

Yes. Local audiences have unique needs.

For example: The cost of a particular service may depend on a local area. This is low-hanging fruit. Nobody else targets that, aside from local competitors.

You have more opportunities in niche search queries. For example, you can publish content related to a top-of-funnel (awareness) topic, then retarget those visitors through display ads or social ads.

Related: Retargeting 101 (AdRoll)

Localized organic results are another big opportunity. These results aren’t tied to Google My Business. Content can also target areas outside where the business serves, e.g. business in Durham Region targeting Toronto searches.

This is a good tactic for building visiblity, especially in less-competitive categories.

“Is it worth the time to chase business listing spam from competitors?”

Yes. It’s one of Sergey’s go-to tactics.

Whatever your service is, search for “category + city”. You’ll find a lot of ranking businesses breaking Google policies, like keyword stuffing their name.

They rank because of the spam. Report them. Google incentivizes it.

“Any favourite plugins for local search?”

Most of the SEO plugins recommended here will help you with SEO in general. Sergey hasn’t seen any particularly useful plugins specifically for local search.

There are 3rd party tools to help with citation, acquiring reviews, etc. They’re not specific to WordPress, but you can use them with WordPress.

“How do you keep track of everything?”

There’s no single tool that does it all.

Many (most?) SEOs use spreadsheets. Track the following:

  • Page name
  • URL
  • Title tag
  • H1 tag
  • Meta description
  • Target keywords

One page can target multiple keywords.

Consider segmenting your keywords/search terms to know what’s where.

Thanks to Natsha, Sergey and Troy for sharing their expertise with us!

Next steps:

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