Over the last couple of weeks, I have been trying to increase the PageRank of the WordPress site I created for Dordogne wedding band SouthWest (south-west.fr.).
Wedding band “SouthWest” website front page
[Full disclosure: This is not just a client website – I am the keyboard player in the band, so have a serious interest in getting the site to the top of the first page of Google. There are other wedding and party bands in the area, with good or very good SEO, so my performance is instantly measurable. Until just before Christmas, the url was just a pointer to another url, so it is effectively a new website. We want more gigs, so my job is to get the page to the top of Google – fast.]
Here’s what I’ve learnt and applied so far, using the most current information I could find. You can use this post as a checklist to help boost the Google ranking of your WordPress site. Or any other site. I just happen to use WordPress for all the websites I create.
If you have anything to add, please do use the comments below. This post is for anyone and everyone trying to increase their Google PageRank – including me. Any help you can give will be gratefully received.
Social media essentials
In no particular order, after you publish your new website (which must have great content – words and images, useful links, and answers to queries your target readers will type into a search engine), you should:
There are other sites you can link to, but these were my social media essentials for SouthWest. You will have noticed there’s a certain amount of work involved. None of this gets made by itself. But it’s all (almost certainly) important. If you click the links, you should see some consistency across the sites. I used the same logo (in two formats), an almost identical main image, and very similar wording. If you have already created your website, it is pretty easy, enjoyable and very satisfying when you see the end result.
One thing I found slightly irritating is that many of these sites (at the moment) ask for different image formats. You’ll need square, landscape, display, thin, very long, very thin, high-res, low-res and more. When you get into the swing of it, cropping and re-sizing the images doesn’t take long (I used free Mac software iPhoto and Preview). Just keep separate folders for your words, images, logos (etc), label the files in a way you will recognise again and keep the main folder somewhere easy to find.
Having written websites in the past, I thought I knew a bit about SEO and wrote intuitive keywords on pages throughout the website. But despite significant tweaking, Google was placing the website on the third page or even further down, even after a couple of weeks. Confusingly, I was finding links to the site from Twitter, directories – even my main blog – long before I was finding the home page. I was obviously missing something.
After a bit more research, I learnt that Google is constantly changing the way the search engine finds pages. It’s too complex to explain (or understand), but my impression is that a website needs to have a certain authority to rank highly. Those essential social media links (above) tell Google your site exists, but it can’t know how useful or important it is. For that, it needs to see “backlinks” – that is, links to your site from sources already trusted by Google.
Backlinks from established media, universities and government sites carry a lot of weight and will boost your PageRank enormously. I can’t tell you how to get those – you will have to be ingenious – but coming up with ideas and trying them out is more fun than Su Doku and will help your website become more successful.
You’ve been reading backlinks all the way through this post. Every link will be noticed by Google, and add a tiny bit of credibility to the all the websites mentioned – including south-west.fr. If this post was published by the BBC, New York Times, New Zealand Herald (etc), even more weight would be given to the site and the PageRank would increase even further.
During the last few weeks, I learnt that my knowledge of SEO was hopelessly out of date. It’s no longer enough to use keywords and phrases in slightly different ways (although this is still important). The position of those words in headlines, captions, image descriptions (etc) also has a huge impact.
As a writer, I find this disappointing. I have always enjoyed writing headlines and sentences that not only communicate information, but also sound lovely. I’ve always tried to find what a designer friend calls “resonance”. Attempting, I suppose, to appeal to the reader’s humanity – with text, subtext, shared cultural history, allusion, assonance, melody and more. Even my use of punctuation is exact in a way most people would find weird. I used to spend days reaching for what I called the “Buddha concept”. Simmering ideas down to their essence. Using the fewest number of words. (Preferably two.) I am convinced that search engines will never fully perceive the subtlety of a human-made headline containing a cleverly concealed keyword. So don’t bother.
Current thinking is this: Stick your keyword at the beginning of the headline. Like I did with those last three subheads.
Four final things
Before I sign off, with an apology for writing such a long post, here are four more things worth mentioning.
- Enable “breadcrumbs“. Don’t ask me why. I read that it’s important in a couple of places that seemed credible – and so I’m going with it.
- Use an SEO plugin. I use WordPress SEO, which is free. In the source code of one of our rivals, I see they use a paid-for plugin. If I can’t beat them using my own skills, I might try it.
- Register, submit, verify (etc) your site with Google Webmaster Tools, Bing, Pinterest and anyone else you can think of.
- Explore Google Analytics.
It may seem like a lot to take in if you’re new to this, but you’ve learnt in a few minutes what it’s taken me days to get my head round. I hope you find it useful. If you do, throw it a backlink and we’ll see how far it can go to the top of the Google charts.
UPDATE (September 17th 2015)
I just watched this video and took three pages of notes. It’s a bit long, but will give you a lot to think about.
UPDATES (February 4th 2016)
Over Christmas, the SouthWest website moved to a new host. Unfortunately, a cloning plugin let me down and I had to rebuild the site from scratch. Fortunately, I am now offering one-day courses on website creation and management, through yourwebsitecourse, and re-building the site was a good exercise for me.
Since this article was written, Google has made several hundred changes to the way it looks at websites. There is little point in trying to keep the article up to date – I read that Google makes over 300 changes every year.
More bad news: The free WordPress SEO plugin mentioned has been gutted by the developer and so it’s not as brilliant as it was before. Some good news: It’s still quite useful.