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SEO for Drupal Series, Part 1: Project Discovery and The Google Algorithm

By tkirby
Oct. 20, 2017

SEO for Drupal Part One - Project Discovery and The Google Algorithm

In this new, fortnightly ‘A-Z of Drupal SEO and SEM’ series of Appnovation blog posts, we’ll see what it takes to turn a Drupal site into a traffic magnet, driving traffic growth and providing better Call to Action fulfillments without using Pay Per Click.

We’ll examine how we can discover a Keyword Universe, find out just what the difference is between short and long tail keywords, and look at some of the Drupal code tweaks and contributed modules that can help us optimize our pages for extra search traffic. We’ll also look at the role that site architecture plays in a well-optimized site, and how we can analyze traffic, proactively refine our content, and rinse and repeat these activities for sustained growth, whilst keeping everything on track and well-managed.

It’s aimed at a broad audience, so that an SEO Specialist might gain a new level of understanding about Drupal SEO under the hood, and so that a Drupal Developer might understand SEO beyond the code changes, become aware of the wider SEO knowledge that they should have in order to be able to come up with new ideas; and be able to tweak the Drupal codebase to perform exceptionally well for Search Placement, or as it is more commonly known - PageRank.

New Beginnings: Discovery

Every SEO Campaign should begin with a Discovery Phase, and it’s no different from a site development project in that respect. A good Discovery Phase will help us determine Campaign Purpose and Scope and Level of Effort, and define expectations.

The first requirement is to understand the client’s wider digital strategy, and to identify how your SEO efforts can be aligned to support this. In conversations with your client, this should be distilled into a single Page of Requirement, because on this all your subsequent activity will be judged. There is an element of knowledge transfer to the client here also - as the workshop or series of discussions progress, new opportunities can be identified, and these can lead to subsequent digital strategy refinement and evolution.

Client’s needs as regards SEO can vary widely. Are they primarily an e-commerce site looking to reduce their reliance on the blood money of Pay Per Click to drive traffic? Perhaps they are more services-oriented, needing better-targeted leads and a subsequent increase with Call to Action returns? Each scenario will require a different strategy, series of activities, and Campaign call.

A Discovery Phase typically encompasses:

An SEO Site Audit, including reviews of current SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) positions, identification of technical issues that might affect bot crawlability, site architecture, and some measure of how performant the site is. We need to be aware of current User behaviour, traffic and activity by examining Google Analytics and Search Console. We also need to be aware of the extent of a client’s web properties and reach extending beyond that of the main Drupal website, including YouTube, Social Media platforms, microsites and backlinks.

The creation of a Keyword Universe - the basket of keywords and key phrases that Users would enter into Google to find your site. Each keyword should be assessed for relevancy, search volume (number of queries per month), competition (how hard it is to rank for a first page position?), and most importantly - does it’s inclusion meet with client strategy requirement? There are many online tools that can help in identifying which keywords you should consider for inclusion, but client knowledge and your understanding of the client’s business will yield a starting position to begin work, consisting perhaps of thirty keywords. Discovery Focus is the key here.

Competitor Analysis - who is occupying the first page of SERPs for a particular keyword? What will it take to displace them? A Gap Analysis can help identify Keywords that your competitors are using that should be added to your own Keyword Universe.

Resource deliverables are a comprehensive roadmap and SEO strategy to move from where the site is now, to where the client wishes it to be, inclusive of levels of effort and scope. Requisite changes to a site’s content and architecture will be identified if needed, and stakeholder buy-in is essential to this.

These activities will provide a baseline from which everyone can work from. From which we can measure any future growth and effectively monitor Campaign health and wellness. New opportunities for growth will be identified, and a realistic SEM/SEO Campaign effort and strategy presented and realized.

Teamwork is essential, and a typical Appnovation Team would be cross-discipline, comprised of Project Management, Drupal Front and Backend Developers, an SEO Specialist, and Creative and Marketing support to hand. But if you’re flying solo - then this series will help you.

SEM: Identifying the Win

Google, (yes - there are other Search Engines but we’ll group under this generic), lives and dies by relevancy. It’s ability to provide a relevant list of sites in response to a User’s Search Query. The win is persuading the Google Algorithm, [good review at https://searchengineland.com/8-major-google-algorithm-updates-explained-282627], that any particular piece of content on your Drupal site is the most relevant for a particular search term - either consisting of one keyword or a pre-determined combination, and that it belongs on the first page of results. That is literally all there is to it.

But that Algorithm has many inputs and knows much competition, wise to Google alone - and Google is forever making tweaks in an effort to refine relevancy (the ‘Google Dance’), to try and understand the User’s intention, and to return ever-better, sometimes personalized, quality results. In future posts we’ll be examining the more important elements of the Algorithm and how we can best address them, but to illustrate just a small amount of its known scope, the Google Algorithm scores on:

  • Keyword frequency in a piece of content, keyword in title, h1 tag, the page title
  • Associated keywords present it might expect to find alongside a main keyword or phrase
  • User experience (i.e. not mobile-first, or a high image to text ratio is defined as a poor user experience)
  • Backlinks, especially Social Platform indicators (‘Off-Page’)
  • Site performance, render speed
  • Site architecture, structure, navigation, hyperlinks, presence of keyword-rich silos of content
  • Domain metrics, neighborhood
  • Accessibility
  • Technical issues Frequency of posts, post length
  • Presence of structured data, metadata
  • Bounce rates, visitor behaviour, visit length
  • Contextually-relevant and title-attr marked inbound and outbound links, an ‘authority site’ assay

The presence or absence of any of the above will positively or negatively affect your determined SERP positioning.

Some stats to think about:

  • 90% of Users do not venture beyond the first page of Search Results when using Google. [Source: https://www.protofuse.com/blog/details/first-page-of-google-by-the-numbers/]
  • Of the SERPs’ first page, 90% of clicks are on organic (naturally occurring) links, with only 10% on Pay Per Click [PPC] AdWords

Next post, we’ll look at how getting the site architecture right can seriously boost visitor numbers, start some keyword research, and begin installing Drupal modules that help with our Search Engine Optimization. In future posts, we’ll examine tuning content, making tweaks to your Drupal codebase, and to your server, - to further growth, and move to examine both Enterprise and Personal solutions that will increase your traffic and engagement.

Resources

Site performance - Google likes to offer fast-loading, performant sites in their Search Results - so use www.webpagetest.org to see how your site is doing. New Relic will reveal Drupal hook, view and module usage and server resource wall times. SEO Software - we use SEMRush, it integrates well with Google Analytics, and it’s reporting is good. Moz.com should also be reviewed. Both are all-in-one SEO research and tracking software that will give good results.