White Hat SEO Experiment: Month 1

Welcome to the first monthly update in my white hat SEO experiment! This update covers the 10th November 2013 – 10th December 2013.

A Quick Recap: What Is My White Hat SEO Experiment?

Quite simply, I want to prove that white hat SEO works.

I figured that the best way to do this was to demonstrate it, so I have taken on my friend Michael Sherry’s site (planet-wax.com) as a project and will share the exact methods I use to increase organic search traffic and rankings over a 6 month period.

I am confident that the results and traffic gains over this period will be testament to the power of quality, content based SEO, networking and white hat link building.

You can read my full introduction to the experiment (which includes initial traffic) here.

So, on with the first update….

What Have We Done This Month?

You will I am sure be aware of the following mantra….

‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’

Well, for me, the first month of any new SEO project has two key purposes: –

  1. Getting our house in order
  2. Preparing our strategy

Getting Our House In Order

This involves the nuts and bolts, the old fashioned on-site SEO. You know, the boring stuff… page titles, internal linking etc.

You can’t built a house without a solid foundation right?

Preparing Our Strategy

This involves taking stock of where we are (current traffic/rankings), analysing our competitors (rankings/backlinks) and working out a solid ongoing content and link acquisition strategy (for the next 5 months and beyond).

Sound wooly? Well don’t worry, I’m going to break it all down!

Here are the key elements I have worked on/implemented this month, which are all explained in detail for you to follow below.

  • Creation of key hub pages
  • Updating internal linking to ‘power up’ our hub pages
  • Turning our search results into adverts
  • Competitive analysis
  • Creation of content strategy

Ok, let’s get into the meat.

Creation Of Hub Pages

The site offers 3 key services; car valet, car detailing and leather repair – you could say that these are our focus keyphrases.

The Problem

While there were pages for individual services underneath these main headings (such as Interior Valet, Exterior Valet etc) what was missing for each was a parent page which we could focus our SEO efforts on.

Here is a snap shot of the old menu. To clarify, the first level (valet services, detailing, leather repair) were not links and did not have individual pages.

old menu

The Solution

A ‘hub page’ has been created for each of the main services. Menu links to the individual services (Interior valet etc) have been removed and we now link just to these hub pages.

new menu

The hub pages are optimised for the keyphrases and link to the individual services. Better for the search engines and better for our users right?

Here is a snap shot of one of the new hub pages.

hub page

The text for the page was written by Michael as an introduction to his service. This will be a key landing page and should convert well (that’s what it is all about after all!).

We have: –

  • Written unique content, creating a valuable page
  • Included text links to the individual services (and pricing)
  • Included an image with car valet in the alt text
  • Laser focused our H1 tag to our key phrase

We have not: –

  • Written the content for the search engines (we have written it for visitors)
  • Stuffed keywords
  • Written a spammy document title (more on this in a moment)

How These Pages Could Be Improved

Once we start to build up traffic we will probably want to revisit these pages and make them a bit more attractive… but we’re not too worried about design for now.

The Takeaway

Internal architecture is a key on-site SEO factor. Consider creating hub pages for your key product groups/services. In an ecommerce site this of course could refer to top level categories.

Powering Up Our Hub Pages

Now that our hub pages were in place, I started to look at the internal linking/structure of the site and focus on passing pagerank to these pages.

I have already explained above how I changed the main menu to link to our hubs.

My next focus was links from the home page, which (as this is normally the most powerful page on a site) are generally the most powerful.

Home Page

There is an introductory panel at the top of the home page. The image below shows how this was before (with links to the individual services).

home_panel

This has been amended (shown below) to include links to our hub pages from within the first paragraph. I have also changed the title (which is an H1 tag), which now tells a new visitor exactly what the site is about… and… as a bonus… includes some keywords 😉

home_panel_after

At the bottom of the home page there are 3 panels. Panel 1 links to our ‘about us’ page (which is an important page!) and panels 2 and 3 previously linked to the individual service pages (see below).

front_blocks_before

I have updated blocks 2 and 3 to link to the hub pages instead (below). Note that I have deliberately used a generic, instructional (click here type) phrase for the link as opposed to another anchor text link.

front_blocks_after

Takeaway

Carefully consider the content you link to from your homepage, as these pages are likely to be seen as important.

Contextual Links

Now we have our hub pages in place we can link contextually to them from within content on other pages – boosting their relevance and power. No need to go overboard on this and ideally just once per page (and not on every page either!).

Here is an example from the about page (contextual link to valet hub page).

contextual_link

As with most things in white hat SEO, the key thing to consider is (if search engines did not exist) would this link be valuable to a visitor. The answer is yes as it helps them navigate through the site.

So basically… I have placed contextual links within content where they are… contextual (the clue is in the name)!

Turning Our Search Results Into Adverts

Ok, so we had created our hub pages and adjusted the site’s architecture. Time to take a look at how our pages were going to be displayed in the search results.

I’ll use our newly created hub pages as an example again.

Title Tags

At first I went with the usual method of directly targeting the key phrase (and nothing else except the brand) in the title. So, for our valet page, the title was: –

Car Valet Glasgow | Planet Wax

But then I thought… isn’t there a better way of doing this? It doesn’t exactly look very enticing does it? We want something that is going to stand out in the search results.

So I decided to include the key phrase, but go for something a little more ‘clicky’. I Settled on this.

Car Valet From Only £40 In Glasgow

We are still getting in the words ‘car valet glasgow’ (ok, not in exact order, but that’s arguably a good thing these days…), but we are also telling the customer exactly what they will be getting when they click on the page.

It makes our search result stand out and means the customer will be pre-primed to the price and more likely to convert.

Having settled on this format I used it consistently throughout the site on all service pages, i.e. for the Showroom Valet detail page the title is: –

Full Showroom Car Valet From Only £80 In Glasgow

For the home page I went for a branded title (which is best practice) with a couple of keywords: –

Planet Wax Glasgow: Affordable Mobile Car Valet & Detailing

Meta Descriptions

I wanted to use the site’s meta descriptions to help reinforce branding, so I picked up on a phrase Michael had used ‘We will come to you!’ and used it in most of the meta descriptions.

For example, the description for our valet hub page is: –

Planet Wax offer a fully mobile car valet service covering Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Central belt of Scotland. We will come to you!

And for our home page it is: –

Servicing Glasgow & central Scotland, Planet Wax are experts in mobile car valet & detailing. Valets start at just £40 & we will come to you!

The Result

So in a search for ‘car valet glasgow’ our valet page would show up like this…

car_valet

… which should stand out in the search results and encourage clicks!

Competitive Analysis

Time to take a look at what we are up against!

I used opensiteexplorer to analyse the backlink profiles of several competing sites in Michael’s niche. The results were extremely encouraging…

Identifying The Competition

I searched for a number of key phrases and picked out the top 10 sites that were showing up for various queries.

Here are the vital stats from opensiteexplorer for each of the sites and average scores across the top ten: –

Domain AuthorityPage AuthorityLinking Root DomainsTotal Links
Site 113253109
Site 21024311
Site 319321274
Site 417311331
Site 51522127
Site 61120110
Site 7102123
Site 81622328
Site 931422768
Site 1092325
Average15.126.26.736.6

For comparison, Planet Wax currently has: –

Domain Authority: 16
Page Authority: 27 (homepage)
Linking Domains: 5
Total Links: 27

The Takeaway

There ain’t no 500lb gorillas here and with some strong, authority building links supporting solid content the site should quickly start to climb the rankings and (if I do my job correctly…) has every chance of dominating the niche locally and going on to become a player nationally (I’m sure Michael would be up for expansion!).

For good measure I have of course downloaded all the links of the competing sites and will be introducing Planet Wax where appropriate 😉

Content Strategy

(Quality) Content is king in white hat SEO and with that in mind we will be aiming to publish one high quality, informative article per week on the site.

Additionally, quality guest posting will be a major part of our inbound link strategy and we will be aiming for 2/3 guest posts per month.

I have initially outlined 6 article ideas for Michael to prepare (he is the expert!), providing him with post titles and a summary of what I am looking for. I will take an editorial overview of the content and make any amendments before publishing/guest post outreach etc.

The posts for Planet Wax will be highly detailed, focused and authoritative in tone, aiming to showcase Michael’s expertise.

For off site content, there will be a mixture of similar authority content, plus some more light hearted ideas (we have a cool James Bond car themed article in the pipeline…) to mix things up a bit.

Michael is busy with his pen just now and I am expecting the first articles to be ready next week.

Hopefully it goes without saying that all content will be very high quality, offering real value and completely unique (nb spun content is not unique!). Michael is a genuine expert in his field and can offer solid, useful, actionable advice.

Note: Guest posts will be completely transparent and linked to Michael’s google+ account (i.e. with authorship). I will expand on this next month.

So Where Are The Stats?

Well…

Like I said at the start, month 1 has been about strategy and getting our house in order. While the on-site changes which have been implemented may have a minor impact, it is when the site starts to build authority that they will really pay off.

So…

No stats for this month, but the next update will include a full update on progress with visitors, rankings etc (I promise!).

This is not an overnight process (which is why it is a 6 month experiment). We are playing by google’s rules, building quality content, networking, acquiring strong links and building things up slowly but surely.

I am aware that you can rocket a site up the rankings in a week with some dodgy SEO, but you can also expect to see it crashing back down a few weeks later when it picks up a penalty!

So, stats next month!

Time Spent

Ok, so here comes the money shot…

In the last month I have spent around 14 hours (so just under 2 working days if I had such a concept of a lunch hour…) working on the site, analysing the competition, preparing the content strategy, liaising with Michael etc.

It should of course be pointed out that this is (at the moment) a small site and a larger scale site, or more competitive niche would take longer than this to work out a strategy for, sort out on-site SEO etc.

Additionally, Michael has been preparing the content under my direction. If I was writing the content myself my guess is it would have added a further 4/5 hours on.

I would expect to spend similar time next month as my main focus will be on outreach, social media strategy and securing high quality links. I would imagine Michael will spend around 10-15 hours preparing content (say 2 hours per article).

It also helps that the site is ‘clean’ and doesn’t have any previous dodgy SEO work/link building to undo, which can be very time consuming!

Hopefully this is proof (or at least will be when I show the results!) that while white hat SEO is not ‘set and forget’ or ‘point and click’, doing things the right way isn’t the endless laborious process that the black hatters would have you believe.

Of course I have 15 years experience in SEO and internet marketing behind me, so I know exactly where to focus my efforts, but my aim with the posts in this series is to provide information that you can follow along the way to implement on your own site.

Additional Reading

As an accompaniment to this post, you might find the following tutorials useful, in which I go into further detail on some of the methods implemented above: –

Next Update

And that’s it for my first update! If you have any questions please feel free to drop a comment below or send me an email.

The next update to my white hat SEO experiment will be around the 10th January 2014. Oh, and just in case you forget you might want to subscribe to the blog below 🙂


About the Author

I'm a web developer, programmer, blogger and SEO expert from Glasgow, Scotland, with over 15 years experience in the industry. When I'm not writing about marketing and SEO you'll find me strumming the guitar in my band or listening to Revolver on repeat. Follow me on twitter, connect with me on google+ and add us on facebook to keep up with all the latest trends in SEO and online marketing.

Leave a Reply 21 comments

Yannis - December 12, 2013 Reply

Hi David. I’m quite surprised not to see more comments as your posts have been top notch.

It’s great to see you take the “business-building” approach when it comes to seo. Il be following along 🙂

    David McSweeney - December 12, 2013 Reply

    Thanks a lot Yanis. Published late last night and just getting round to promoting now, so hopefully a flood to come 🙂

Brandon Bear - December 12, 2013 Reply

I think lots of people grossly underestimate the value in (heavy) on-page optimization. I mean putting the time and effort in to really cover all the bases, with contextual linking/the site layout like you did (not over-optimization).

Honestly though, the funniest part to me was the competition analysis. I look at a few of my 35+ DA sites and think that’s low… it must be nice to work in low-comp local markets.

Best of luck with the site!

    David McSweeney - December 12, 2013 Reply

    cheers Brandon, yep should hopefully get the site rocking and get Michael a load of new business!

Justin - December 13, 2013 Reply

It’s so refreshing to a post that goes “back to basics”. Structure and internal linking is so important and I love the easy way you’ve put this across.

Will follow the progress with your test!

    David McSweeney - December 14, 2013 Reply

    Thanks Justin, yeah, often people are so concerned about building links etc that they ignore the easy fixes that are right under their nose

Mart - December 13, 2013 Reply

I’m predicting some basic Google Places optimisation, “thank you” business cards asking for online testimonials, and perhaps a little citation building for month two.

Maybe a video knockout in round 5?! I’ve seen some great YouTube expert videos on car detailing.

Mart

    David McSweeney - December 14, 2013 Reply

    … I can neither confirm nor deny 😉

    You’ll just have to check the next update (nice tip on the thank you cards!)

Shockley Au - December 13, 2013 Reply

Hi David,

Great experiment and post! I’m curious to see how much of an effect pure white hat SEO will have, and how long it would take. It’s good that you’re taking on a site that has relatively few links and not much on-site optimization. It will probably help that the competition isn’t doing much either, so that your efforts will have a larger impact.

Lack of hub pages is fairly common, and it often happens whenever SEO isn’t considered in the creation of a website.

I like the tip about using title tags as ad headlines. I’ll consider doing that too. 🙂

    David McSweeney - December 14, 2013 Reply

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed the post – lots more to come!

Brian - December 13, 2013 Reply

Great post!

as a fellow Local SEO’er – I strategize and work very similar to your methods, except I prefer to start a project like this off with finding out the company’s citations/NAPS listings, make sure they are accurate and getting control of their Google places accounts (along with the other first month on-site mods that need to be done).

Looking forward to the updates!

Brian

    David McSweeney - December 14, 2013 Reply

    That’s all good advice Brian and some of the areas I will be looking at.

Ngan Son - December 14, 2013 Reply

Hi David,

This is an interesting post, I will try applying to my blog. I think SEO White hat is good for new website, it will help us get the longer top page on Google.

    David McSweeney - December 14, 2013 Reply

    Thanks Ngan, glad you found the post helpful

Spook Seo - January 3, 2014 Reply

You are going on the right track and hopefully will get long term benefit by following a white hat method. It’s amazing to read your clean strategy and its absolute fact that slow and steady will win the race. You are going in the right direction so keep sharing your further strategy report.

Darren - February 6, 2014 Reply

Hi David,

Are you still planning on updating this experiment. You mention an update in January but I have not seen anything yet.

I am following this with interest as I am trying the same sort of approach on a site of mine.

Darren

David - July 31, 2014 Reply

Hi David,

Great job with this post! I’m also curious to hear an update. Has anything happened with this?

Best,

David

    David McSweeney - August 1, 2014 Reply

    Hi David, unfortunately things stalled as Michael was unable to find time to provide the content (which was the key part!). We will probably pick it up again later this year though + I have another experiment ready to go.

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