WordPress – The celebrated blog platform, favored by search marketers for its amazing degree of customization and built-in optimization, comes in two flavors:
- Hosted by wordpress.com: Gets you started as quickly and easily as the perhaps more well known hosted, and Google owned, Blogger.
- The WordPress platform provided by wordpress.org: The downloadable version of WordPress which, while needing to be hosted by your own server or service, is infinitely customizable.
While other blog platforms exist, most notably the TypePad and Movable Type solutions offered by Six Apart, WordPress offers a fairly simple CMS and a rich plugins enabling customization for everything from video to eCommerce.
Therein lied an opportunity. In 1994, I founded a music website until recently known as The Octopus’s Garden. It was (is), in many ways, an exercise in web design and optimization as well as an outlet for my passion for music. Unfortunately, theoctopussgarden.com was obtained long before I had the chance (now by a squatter) so I picked up the obscure rareexception.com. Long story short, the site became my test bed for SEO. How does one effectively design a site with an unusual, unrelated domain name? Largely, I had to depend on fewer, key foundations of SEO: content, structure, and keywords.
I received early praise for my analysis of the Death of Paul McCartney from some prestigious personalities around the world, while establishing the site as the source of the original translations of Don McLean’s American Pie. More recently, the history of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire and a study of the lyrics to Hotel California have drawn attention from college professors and students alike.
Unfortunately, while the site has been a success in which I can be proud, I could never break through a series of traffic benchmarks I had set for myself.
Until I tried WordPress.
How does a blog platform serve a traditional website? It was years ago when I first met NetConcepts’ Stephan Spencer and learned of the idea. It seems Stephan, long a fan of WordPress and SEO, designed netconcepts.com entirely in WP. Truth be told, I don’t recall if I misheard him, nor whether or not it’s still the case (let alone really ever was), but I was intrigued by the idea. So much so that years later, I’ve finally had a chance to redesign and relaunch the The Octopus’s Garden as, appropriately, the Rare Exception, entirely in WordPress. While this isn’t a tutorial in WordPress, here’s a rough how to:
- Download WordPress from wordpress.org and install it on a hosted server (don’t use the hosted version of WordPress that you get from the .com – download it)
- In Settings, change the Reading setting for ‘Front Page Displays’ to a static page
- Make sure to use Permalinks – a good custom structure the eliminates the dates is /%category%/%postname%/
- Design the Page template to have the look and feel you want for your home page
- You want to remove the Archive (which lists posts by date) and rename the sidebar widgets to serve a site rather that a blog (“Popular Posts” works for a blog – “Popular Pages” is more appropriate)
- Post templates are the other pages in the site – you can give them a slightly differently look and feel
- Most importantly, you want to remove the dates from the posts so that they appear as static pages rather than time dependent opinions
- I like retaining the Comments but a more appropriate naming convention might be “Discussion”
Now, perhaps the most important part of this article, the Why Bother?
It works. On that change alone I’ve seen a 3X increase in organic search traffic. 3-4 times as many bots crawl the site at any moment and the introduction of Comments, as a form of feedback, enables readers to dynamically participate in the debate about classic music rumors and mythologies. In turn, the pages are dynamically updated while ensuring they remain unique from other instances of the content that have mysteriously appeared on other sites throughout the past 15 years.
Using Yahoo Pipes, I’ve enabled dynamic updates to RSS subscribers, leveraging that ongoing comment-based discussion. WordPress creates two distinct feeds, one for posts (which becomes moot when your site doesn’t have posts like a blog), and another for comments (should subscribers want to receive updates on comments). By blending the two feeds as one, I deliver to my subscribers all of the comments, as updates made to the site; reengaging my audience to stay apprised of other opinions about PID or Pink Floyd and the Wizard of Oz. Consider how the same can be done of your products or services, enabling customer feedback as a form of retention.
3X as much traffic merely using WordPress to host a website. Don’t misunderstand me, it takes some minor programming skills to customize the templates, let alone the time required to simply make such a significant overhaul, so it isn’t without its costs but the ROI is significant. You also need a series of plugins for optimizing the title tags, XML sitemaps, site search, and mitigating spam – all told I have close to 40 plugins helping customize the Rare Exception. That said, the structured URLs, dynamic nature of blog platforms, and various methods for updating users (and bots), easily enabled by WordPress, are challenging projects for a typical website CMS or eCommerce platform.