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WordPress SEO: Your First Five Steps

In this article, I will lay out what I believe to be a solid set of five first steps for SEO optimizing your new WordPress site. Of course, there is always more SEO to be done, but these five steps are crucial for success. In my experience building dozens of WordPress sites, they aren’t too time consuming either!

1. Pick a Theme that Won’t Hold You Back

There are a lot of themes out there that, while “pretty,” are total garbage from an SEO perspective. They don’t allow for sufficient content that Google can index, and may have bizarre linking structures. Here’s a great example of a theme NOT to chose if you want to succeed in SEO:


What’s wrong with this theme from an SEO perspective? Well, simply put, there’s no parseable text whatsoever on the page. So unless you have a boat load of links, search engines won’t view it as an authority on… pretty much anything. Don’t get me wrong, themes like these are great for personal or portfolio-based websites, but if the goal is maximizing your exposure in organic search, it’s best to steer clear. You’d be much better suited with a theme that has plenty of space for text-based content and hyperlinks, like this one:


 2. Form a Content Plan by Polling your Audience and Create Individual Pages

This step is crucial. I’ve seen many businesses flounder in SEO by writing exclusively about what they know, rather than what their audience wants to read. Chances are you are friends with some folks that fit into your key demographic – just ask them what they are interested in right now. Then write up a page (or post) of at least 300-500 words for each of these. Try to avoid combining multiple topics onto a single page, because it often makes it more difficult to rank well in Google when spslitting your effort between two or more topics.

For example, suppose a friend of mine wanted to create a website about house music, with the goal of eventually selling related merchandise once he had built up an audience. He polled his audience and found that many of them were confused about all the different subgenres of house music. So, he saw this as an opportunity to create individual pages about the different subgenres in order to capitalize on people looking these terms up. So he ended up with pages like:

What is “deep” house music?
What is “progressive” house music?
What is “tech” house music?

Having individual pages for these was a much stronger approach for SEO than having one page addressing “What are deep, progressive, and tech house?”

3. Install the Yoast SEO Plugin

There are a lot of SEO plugins out there, some better than others. But the one I’ve come to trust has been the Yoast SEO Plugin. It’s free, not prone to bugs, and effective. You can find and install it just by visiting the plugins section of WordPress, clicking “Add New” and searching for Yoast SEO. Then just click “Install Now” under Yoast.

What will this do you for? Well, to start, it will clean up your URLs and generate you a high-quality XML sitemap (you might need to check the box at the top of the XML Sitemap page to enable that). Overall, it works really well out-of-the-box, but I recommend browsing through each of it’s options, as the exact setting to choose will depend highly on your website. If you don’t understand it, just install it, enable XML sitemap creation, and forget it.

4. Make Sure your Homepage and Key Landing Pages have Enough Text

So I’ve already touched on this twice, but it’s worth talking about specifically. Simply put, your chances of ranking well are much lower if you have only a small amount of text on a page. Generally, we recommend having at least 500 words of text (including a given keyword at least 2-3 times) on a page that you want to make visible in the Google or Bing search results.

This is absolutely crucial on your homepage, but can benefit other pages too – including your category pages. This might take some fiddling with the code of your theme, and so if you’re not up for that, don’t worry about it. But if you have the programming chops, I highly recommend including at least 300 words of text on each of your category pages.

5. Write Optimized Title Tags and Meta Descriptions for your Key Landing Pages

Finally, using the Yoast SEO box that appears beneath the text editor in the page editing interface of WordPress, you can specify custom title tags and meta descriptions for your posts and pages.

For any page that you’d like to see appearing in Google or Bing, take the time to write a unique title tag and meta description. Here are some guidelines:

Title tags:

  • Keep ‘em under 70 characters.
  • Include at least one keyword, preferably at the first start of the title tag.
  • If you need to separate keywords, do so with a “pipe” symbol: | . For instance, a good title tag could be: Deep House Music | How to Make Deep House | HouseGuru2013.com. This includes two separate keyphrases and also the website name.
  • Try to make them unique for as many pages as possible.

Meta Descriptions:

  • Keep ‘em between 70 and 155 characters.
  • Include at least one keyword – doesn’t matter where it appears in the meta descriptions.
  • Include a call to action, like “click here to learn more about..” or “find out how you can maximize …”.
  • Try to make them unique for as many pages as possible.

Is Affiliate Marketing Right For Your Business?

Affiliate Marketing

For those unfamiliar, Affiliate Marketing is a performance-based marketing strategy that rewards affiliates (or partners) for certain types of conversions (usually acquisitions or leads). If you sell shoes, for example, you could join an affiliate network, allowing other people to sell your shoes for you. They would then be rewarded (usually a flat fee or % of revenue) for every sale they made.

Many online marketers have a love/hate relationship with affiliate marketing, and many businesses are torn between its potential benefits (i.e., growing their business) and its potential problems.

So how do you know if affiliate marketing is right for your business?

Affiliate Marketing Pros and Cons


  • No marketing expenses – The obvious downside of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) is that you actually have to pay for that click! With affiliate marketing this is a non-issue; others are putting forth their own money and time to promote your product/service. If they fail, it’s their loss. If they succeed, you pay them a percentage of the profit and it’s a win-win.
  • Brand Advocacy – On the same note, affiliate marketing is recruiting brand advocates. Affiliate marketers have a choice, and if they choose to promote your product/service amongst the sea of other options they have, that’s saying a lot! Either they love your product, know how to promote it, have the right infrastructure/network to do so, or all of the above.
  • Reach and Expertise – A growing network of affiliate partners has the potential to find you new demographics, verticals and marketing channels that would require an army of a sales/marketing team to match. You would also benefit from each affiliate marketer’s skill set and “know how” in promoting your product.


  • Brand control – In a way, affiliate marketing is a Pandora’s box. You never really know what you’re going to get. Ultimately, you rely on people you don’t know who, in some cases, might resort to dubious techniques for selling your product. Some examples: using copy that isn’t appropriate to your brand or your messaging; advertising your product on unsuitable sites; spamming inboxes with advertisements of your product; and much, much more. Although there are many steps you can (and should) take to minimize the risk involved (mainly due diligence and approval of every potential partner), this can be a demanding task and you still won’t have 100% control over your brand once you give them the green light.
  • Sales Cannibalism – In many cases, when you let someone sell your product, you’re creating competition with yourself. Your partners may be bidding against you in PPC. They may be pushing their websites up the organic rankings for your keywords, resulting in your site losing its rightful organic placement. Or, they may be marking up your product for a higher price. In any case, be very clear with your affiliate partners about where they can and can’t sell your product. Sidenote: This is why Google is wary of affiliate marketers – rewarding them only if their techniques actually provide real value to consumers (i.e., additional valuable information, reviews, comparisons, etc…).
  • Affiliate Marketing Arbitrage – The affiliate system can only work sustainably if affiliate marketers can sell your product in a way that’s profitable for them and for you. Your affiliate partner is getting a piece of the pie (assuming every sale is divided between yourself, your affiliate partner, and the affiliate network you’re using), and if that piece is still a profitable engagement for them, you might want to check whether you might be better off spending your own advertising money while cutting out the middle man.

To sum it up, here are some of the key questions you should be asking to decide whether or not affiliate marketing is right for your business:

  • How important is controlling your brand?
  • How engaged are your consumers with your brand?
  • What are your marketing budget and resources?
  • What product/service do you sell?
  • How high is your profit margin?
  • Can other people be more effective at selling your product than you?
  • Do you have the right infrastructure in place to deal with sudden peaks in demand?
  • Are your competitors utilizing affiliate marketing? If so, how? If not, why?

Agree? Disagree? Have anything to add? Feel free to share your thoughts below!

Attribution Modeling…Crawl Before You Walk

With the release of the Google Analytics Attribution Modeling tool to all users, I am sure many marketers are excited but don’t know where to start.

To start, you need to crawl before you walk. Start with what you know by using your current reporting as your framework. Google Analytics’ Multi-Channel Funnels reports are the gateway to Attribution Modeling. Let’s review a few of the reports.

Use the Overview report to see how your channels interact (see Venn diagram, below). If there are large overlaps between your channels, this shows that multiple touch points happened before the conversion and is a sign you should look into attribution. Remember which ones overlap so you can pay close attention to those in attribution.

Next, view the Time Lag and Path Length reports to see how often visitors came to your site and how many interactions visitors had with your site before they converted. If a high percentage of your conversions are greater than 0 or 1 visit or interaction, then you should consider looking at the attribution tool.

Review the Assisted Conversions report to see how each channel initiated, assisted and completed as well as the value of those sales and conversions. Look at the Assisted/Last Click Conversion value (last column below) to determine if the channel value is:

  • Close to 0, primarily functioning as the final interaction
  • 1, primarily functioning equally in assist and final interaction
  • Exceeds 1, primarily assisting conversions

Use the Top Conversion Path report to see all of your unique conversion paths that lead to conversions. This can also help confirm what you will eventually see in the attribution modeling tool.

  • Create custom channels that are based on your channel structures
  • For example, you could create a custom channel grouping by breaking out branded and non-branded PPC and organic terms.

The use of multichannel funnels and attribution modeling allows for marketers to gain control of their ROI and make smarter decisions when allocating marketing dollars. You also see the big picture as you view your marketing campaigns as unified. This will give you more insight and the ability to change campaigns based on consumer behavior. You will do a better job providing clients with information when they want it along the customer journey.

Advanced Location Targeting for AdWords

AdWords provides search marketers with many location targeting options. For campaigns promoting specific business locations, determining how to reach your target market is a crucial step in optimizing your PPC campaigns.

These are a few examples for advanced users. If you’re looking for basics, Scott Dunroe’s post in the AdWords Community is a must read.

Display Targeting: Regional vs. National

A client wanted to promote a new property. We developed a campaign on Google’s Display Network to target people searching for apartments in a specific city.

Targeting Clicks Impressions CTR Conv. Rate
National 112 31,439 0.36% 9.82%
Regional 20 5,409 0.37% 5.00%

The “National” campaign was set to target the entire U.S. on pages that mentioned the targeted city. This was done with a combination of managed placements and keyword targeting. The “Regional” campaign used the same list of managed placements but instead of keywords, location targeting was used. This allowed the campaign to reach anyone looking for apartments in the target city.

The National campaign was expected to generate more impressions since it targeted a larger area. In this example, clicks from the National campaign also converted at a higher rate. While there are many contributing factors, it is important to test different methods of location targeting to determine which is most effective for that specific campaign.

Targeting Nearby Locations

AdWords typically does a good job determining the geographic area a search is referring to. Sometimes a business may have a mailing address just outside a larger town or city. The target area could also have a low population. While this can complicate your location targeting, experimenting with multiple locations can lead you to the best geographic settings.

Targeting Clicks Impressions CTR Conv. Rate
Nearby Town 1 13 251 5.18% 9.09%
Town 264 2,940 8.98% 18.50%
Nearby Town 2 569 5,998 9.49% 19.71%
Town Zipcode 0 11 0.00% 0.00%
Nearby Zipcode 1 18 5.56% 0.00%

The above example shows results for five locations entered into one campaign. The business’ mailing address is the same as the “Town” targeting. You can see that even though the business is in one town, people searching for the second nearby town converted at a higher rate. This is not uncommon. If the location you target in AdWords has a low population, target other nearby towns or zip codes.

Using Location Bid Adjustments

With AdWords Enhanced campaigns, bid adjustments can now be added to different locations. Incorporating location extensions allows you to increase bids if a search is performed close to the business’ location.

Targeting Clicks Impressions CTR Conv. Rate
National 481 35,482 1.36% 1.67%
National +20% 1,230 53,564 2.30% 1.87%

The two targeting methods are from the same campaign. “National +20%” increased the maximum bid by twenty percent if the search was performed within three miles of the property. This specific method of targeting generated a higher CTR and conversion rate.

There are many more location targeting methods PPC managers can use within AdWords. Try experimenting to see what works best.

Three Reasons Your Agency Should Hire Recent College Grads

Alright, here’s a quick rundown of why it’s a bright idea to hire recent grads to work at your marketing agency. A lot of this comes from my own agency experience, some of it comes from logic, and some of it comes from ancient mathematical equations known only by eldritch sorcerers such as myself. Anyways, here goes:

Masters of Switching Between Tasks

The average full-time college student takes four or five courses at a time and has to learn to switch between the different subject matters and projects. In many agencies, having four or five clients at a time is fairly common.

Both in undergrad and grad school, I often found myself managing two projects, three papers and a presentation simultaneously. And at first, this was overwhelming. But like most things, you adapt to it, and it just becomes the norm. Transitioning from this sort of lifestyle into marketing agency life felt natural.

I remember spending my college-era summers at in-house digital marketing positions and being bored to tears. There was a seemingly infinite backlog of recommendations to be implemented, and things moved slowly. Each day I would be looking at the same website, seeing the same problems, and growing more impatient. Agency life was a cure for this, as working with multiple clients allowed for each of them to stay fresh and exciting.

TLDR: The level of task-switching in college life is similar to that of agency life, so hiring recent college grads makes sense for agencies.

All Deadlines, All the Time

Meeting multiple deadlines and dealing with confounding variables – time management issues, unavoidable delays, the occasional crashing of Microsoft Word – is right in the recent grad’s wheelhouse.

The college experience forces you to get good at this. While many freshmen may wait until the night before to write a 10-page paper on Kant, by the time senior year rolls around, they’ve straightened themselves out. They know how long tasks are going to take, in what conditions they work most efficiently, and how to prioritize.

TLDR: Recent grads are used to deadlines. Agency life is filled with deadlines. Do the math.

Learning, Duh

Even if you hire someone who has been in the industry for quite some time, there will always be something new to learn during the first couple of weeks on the job. For me, it was BrightEdge and Majestic SEO. And Basecamp. And a whole lot of other stuff. Invariably, a new job means new skills.

Recent grads are still in information-absorption mode. College students have no fear of acquiring and applying new information. They’re not stuck in a routine drilled into them from years in a position somewhere else, and they don’t hold onto any stubborn opinions or previously-obtained misinformation. They are clean slates.

TLDR: Learnin’. College grads are in the right mindset for it.

AdWords Ad Testing: Simpson’s Paradox and Aggregating Stats

Typically with A/B ad testing it is necessary to aggregate statistics across ad groups in order to come up with statistically significant conclusions. Unfortunately, when doing this, if your ads are not being displayed evenly, you can run into Simpson’s Paradox.

According to Wikipedia, Simpson’s Paradox is “a paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data.” Simply put, when you combine data for ad groups, you may draw the opposite conclusion than you should, picking poorer performing ads over better performing ads.

As an example, say you are testing ads for greater clickthrough rates. You created two variations, with different description 1 lines, and have applied them to two different ad groups (four ads total). At the end of the test you aggregate data for the two variations to find a winner:

Aggregate Data

Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad1 10,600 125 1.18%
Ad2 7,500 125 1.67%

From this data, you’d conclude that Ad2 is the winning ad because it has the best CTR. But say you decide to look at individual statistics by ad group:

Ad Group 1 data

Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad1 600 25 4.20%
Ad2 2,500 100 4.00%

Ad Group 2 data

Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad1 10,000 100 1.00%
Ad2 5,000 25 0.50%

Now you see that Ad1 has the best CTR in both ad groups. Because Ad Group 2 tends to have lower CTRs and Ad1 gets displayed there much more, it has skewed your results. Ad2 is not the best ad even though it appears to be when you look at aggregate stats.

This is made-up data, so it’s important to consider whether it’s possible to actually see numbers like these inside of AdWords. Based on experience, you’d be most likely to see numbers like these with optimized ad serving turned on (“optimize for clicks” or “optimize for conversions”). Optimized ad serving distributes ads more frequently when they have greater CTRs; this is the case for Ad Group 2. It is also possible to see ads with greater CTRs distributed less by ad group if the data is not significant and occasionally if the better performing ad has such a different quality score that it gets distributed much more frequently for generalized queries. This would be the case for Ad Group 1. When optimized ad serving is turned on, aggregate statistics can be misleading in reporting.

If you’d like to see which ad is winning overall, you can still do so by looking at which ads are getting distributed more frequently. It may be possible for poorer performing ads to have greater overall distribution if the ad groups in the test are not similar. Another method is to look at ad groups individually and label which ad wins in the most ad groups; however, the reason why stats are aggregated in the first place is because individual ad groups are not providing statistically significant data. The best solution is to look at overall stats and ad group stats in pivot tables to check whether there are any anomalies or if there really does appear to be a winner across the board. It’s common to see one variation winning in some of the ad groups but not others; it’s rarer to see very dominant winners unless you haven’t followed best practices in the initial drafting of your ads. Seeing mixed results in ad groups can mean that your ads all perform very similarly. It can also mean that you aren’t looking at significant data in a lot of your ad groups.

Reducing the Risks of Simpson’s Paradox

If your ads are distributed evenly across ad groups, and your ad groups are closely themed, there’s no risk of falling into the Simpson’s Paradox trap. Google has an ad serving option for “rotating ads indefinitely.” This option can be useful if you’re interested in aggregating statistics to draw broad conclusions about what types of ads work for your account. There are a few drawbacks to doing this:

  • Optimized ad serving automatically adjusts serving to maximize performance at the ad group level. You lose this automation when you turn on even rotation.
  • Certain ads may perform better in some ad groups but not in others while another ad does better overall. When you apply ad changes universally across ad groups, you can lose optimization at the ad group-level that automatically takes place with optimized serving.
  • Rotating ads don’t actually rotate ads evenly – just approximately. If you have two ads that perform very differently, they are going to have different quality scores. The ad with the higher quality score will get distributed more frequently because it will be eligible for more auctions.

Speaking to this last point, here is real data from a campaign with ads set to rotate evenly:

Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad1 9,284 307 3.3%
Ad2 3,235 58 1.8%

These ads performed so differently in terms of CTR that one got distributed a lot more. The bids were set too low for the second ad to be eligible for the same number of auctions.

While even rotation may seem like the way to go, you can still run into distribution problems, lose more granular optimization, and lose out on automatic optimization.

Using Conversion Metrics for Optimization

Most of this post talks about using CTR as the metric for optimizing ads. It’s possible to use alternative metrics like conversion per impression or profit per impression. Most of these concepts still apply when using these other methods for optimizing ads – perhaps more so because you’ll be more likely to group data when analyzing less frequently occurring events like conversions and sales. Using these other metrics does not solve Simpson’s Paradox (and in fact, they have many drawbacks, but that is outside the scope of this post).

When looking up statistics across very different entities, be careful that you are reporting the results correctly. Besides wasting a lot of testing time, you can even make your account worse off!

International SEO Infographic

Hey everyone! I wanted to explore a new service called Infogr.am that creates semi-interactive infographics. I needed a topic to play around with, so I chose to create a quick introduction to the concepts and themes of international SEO. Embedded below is my first creation:

Well, I hope you enjoyed the infographic. Keep in mind this is only the most basic introduction to international SEO – more information can be found by Googling these strategies. And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line.

Communications: simple, easy, and stress-free!

This quarter, 2013 Q2, we at PV spent many fruitful hours exploring different communication influencers like gender, generation, and behavior. Each of these lunch and learn sessions added new value and dimension to the art of interacting with internal teams and external clients.  Personally I enjoyed and participated in all these sessions, although I must admit the ‘behavior session’ was my favorite!

Basically, the entire team took the DiSC assessment, which outlines four major behavior styles:

  • Dominance: direct, results-oriented, and firm
  • Influence: outgoing, enthusiastic, and optimistic
  • Steadiness: analytical, reserved, and precise
  • Conscientiousness: even-tempered, accommodating, and patient

What is so special about DiSC, given a whole slew of similar tests employed by human resources teams?

DiSC quadrant of our team: each dot represents one team member's behavior style

Individual team member’s behavior style plotted on the DiSC quadrant.

First of all, everyone has a primary style; most people have a secondary style as well – at the most two letters. For example, I am CS style (Conscientiousness / Steadiness) compared to an INJF in Myers-Briggs.  This is not just a matter of being lazy and cutting down letters; it does reduce the number of possibilities, thereby allowing for more generalization without discounting accuracy. This allows the subjects to think more generally about their behavior, rather than nitpick about details.

Additionally, at this session, we were sent off armed with a lot more applicable information like:

  1. Our own behavior profile: detailing our primary and secondary styles,
  2. A diagram of how everyone else (1-2 letters per person) on the team fit in the DiSC quadrant,
  3. A simple cheat sheet to help us assess a new person’s natural behavior style,
  4. (Some of us got) A ‘comparison report’ when we had other styles in the group that were drastically different from ours.

Right, how’s this different from the outcome of other such sessions?

For me personally, it was immensely helpful to have #2, #3, and #4:

An 'i' style!

Enthusiastic, passionate, and loves team bonding: ‘i’ style – also our resident ‘happy hour’ co-ordinator!

  • Item # 2 helped me plan internal conversations, difficult or otherwise, knowing the other person’s natural style. Does the person enjoy a bit of small talk or should we hit the meeting topic straight off? On the flip side, being an introvert, I have a natural tendency to be quiet and invisible in large group settings. Also, with my CS style, I take my time to share my opinions: especially in  technical matter until I am confident in the subject. Since this session, I have noticed my colleagues take the time to bring me out of my shell and let me sharemy opinions.
  • Item # 3 is fantastic to have, given the number of people we get to meet and interact with in our field. The cheat sheet lets me prepare for prospect calls or client meetings. Detail-oriented person or high-level visual picture? Loves to share or would like to run through the agenda? Again, given my natural tendency to be shy, this is such a useful tool in easing myself into new situations.
  • Item # 4 works like a nice individualized cheat sheet to interact with certain styles, especially if you are working with them on a daily basis and on challenging projects. A couple of us with these polar styles met in a coffee shop togo over our reports and to work towards adapting to each other styles which proved productive and lasting.

Not to say that #1 was not useful, it was more for myself – validating my strengths and accepting myself for who I am and what I bring to my team everyday.

The 'C' profiles working quietly in their corner!

Quiet, independent and thoughtful: our team members with strong ‘C’ style working in their corner.

All in all, the DiSC session and the homework from the session proved to be hands-on and practical on a day-to-day basis. In so many ways, it has brought the team even closer together: it only gives us more opportunity to adhere to our core value ‘bring the fun’ – you’ll overhear the C types saying “Don’t make eye contact, he is an ‘i’ and won’t stop talking!”

Convinced yet? Want to invest in productive and professional team development? We chose the ‘Everything DiSC Management’ option that included individual assessments (and the aforementioned handy tools/reports) as well as a facilitator session. The session itself was about 3 hours and the assessment took about 20-30min from each individual.

Our facilitator: J Simpson and Associates, LLC [1.810.533.3410]

Here’s to fruitful ways to communicate!

Google Analytics: GDN Impressions Now Available!

Just earlier today, Google announced it will soon be reporting ad impressions from the Google Display Network, or GDN, in Google Analytics under the Multi-Channel Funnels report. This new feature is an effort by Google to give google display networkadvertisers visibility as to how their unclicked ads have an effect on users who eventually convert. Conveniently for Google, it will show advertisers and/or their clients how lucrative advertising in the GDN can be.

To enable this feature, you’ll need to have a linked AdWords and Analytics account. You’ll also need to change your code snippet, or check a box in the Tag Manager interface. If you haven’t switched over to Tag Manager, there’s no time like the present!

There is more information about settings and accessing the information in the Google Analytics interface over at the Google Analytics support site.

Happy Analyzing!