03 Jul Building a Better Blog host: Week 4, the SEO and stats edition
Before we begin this week's edition, I would like to offer the disclaimer that I am nowhere near an SEO expert. I am just offering some advice and pointing to resources, as well as passing on some things that I have noticed after working on multiple installs for many clients.
SEO, if you aren't aware, stands for Search Engine Optimization. This is important, as we want search engines to find us (usually) and index our content fully so they can serve it up in their searches. Optimization does not guarantee results. While it can certainly help get your site higher up in ranking and search results, like I tell my kids, we can't all be first. The real key is content - if you have a lot, and it's good, the search engines will gobble you up. The optimization part is really just tweaking. It is not a be-all and end-all.
The first option is default; the second adds a "no-index" to the header of the blog. This will keep search engines from listing the blogs AND it will also keep that blog out of any sitewide listing as well.
I have found the WordPressMU-based sites get indexed quickly and frequently by search engines, without any extra help at all. Remember, WPMU does not merely add more blogs, everything is multiplied. The search engines will recognize what's going on, and will be made aware that the content on the site will be changing frequently, and in some cases near-constantly. As a side note: I have seen search engine crawlers bring down WPMU-based sites simply by crawling them so often.
Permalinks: if you like, you can set the permalinks to something other than the default using Deanna's Blog Defaults plugin. If you're really set on leaving it, you can use the disable menus plugin to disable user access so they can't change it later.
The Difference between Subdomains and Subfolders
You should have noticed during the installation process that you can pick between subfolders (or subdirectories, same thing) or subdomains when you install. How do search engines treat either setup? In a nutshell, what I have learned is the following:
Subdomain: each blog is seen as a separate site from the main site, as long as there is not too much interlinking going on. Page Rank is retained on a per blog basis.
Subfolder: each blog is seen as part of the main site, as if it were its own category or page. Page Rank seems to be inherited from the main site.
Themes & plugins
I am of the opinion that while there are plugins that handle SEO, many of the options that affect this are theme-based, and one should pick SEO themes to start with. This will cut down on the amount of processing done on the entire site. Remember, everything is multiplied, not added. If our theme is handling H1/H2 headings properly, then we won't need to add extra overhead to the entire site by enabling a plugin to make the headings have the proper tags.
I tend to not use any SEO-specific plugins on WPMU-based sites, unless and until I know for sure that some pages are being excluded for no good reason I can determine. The All-in-One SEO pack seems to work okay in WPMU. The problem is, the generic user may not know how to use it. If you are using a particular theme that has SEO options built in, then an SEO plugin in tandem is complete overkill.
There are also many sitemap generator plugin for WordPress, that simply don't work properly with MU. They can't distinguish between the blogs. I have also found that sitemap generation can slow down the blogs. I haven't fully tested DDSitemap Gen, but it seems to work and as an added bonus you can insert a shortcode in a page and generate a human-readable sitemap.
I am not sure how sitemaps work on subfolder blogs. Logically, I would think they'd include all the subblogs as part of the main site.
It really is a payoff that you may need to think hard about: which do you want, a fast site, or one that is SEO'd to the gills? Most of the time, you can shoot for the middle and do fine. If the main point of your site is to build a community, then you should not spend a lot of time on SEO. Pick some good themes, have the blogs public, and get your users posting as much as possible. Search engines will love you.
I do know the the premium plugin here works. SEO & Sitemaps
If you really want to improve your SEO skills in WordPress in general, then I'd have to recommend IttyBiz's Ninja SEO school. It's pretty freakin' awesome and she swears like a sailor. I heart her so much. Plus the ebook is extremely good.
Onward to stats
Some people are stats crazy (hello!) and love to see what's going on in all kinds of different ways. There's a built-in function we can use that pulls the number of blogs and users.
We can call this function in a theme file by pasting it in wherever we want it to appear.
That's pretty simple though, what if we want Analytics? I showed you how to write a simple plugin to hook into the footer here, then you can paste in your GA code. Or, just get this plugin. This will track every blog on the site, and you can see which blogs are popular by drilling down the GA menus.
But you can also use a plugin to let your users track their blogs with Google Analytics too.
I haven't tried any of these extensively myself. Most of the users I manage who are interested in stats were happy with Sitemeter code in a widget. Sometimes a third-party will do. 🙂
Feel free to share any of your own SEO advice, or any stats plugins you've tried - good and bad.