For many people we’re now into the holiday season. As well as lots of turkey, this probably means time away from work and at least a couple of long weekends.
For people who do SEO in-house at a company, or for people who run their own websites/businesses, this can actually be a valuable time to do some work out of the office. You can focus on tasks (big and small) that you just don’t tend to find the time to do when you’re in the office, and you might even find that your creative juices are flowing particularly well after stepping away from the ‘snow-blindness’ that a 9-5 routine can deliver.
With that in mind, I’ve suggested a few different tasks below. If you have a few minutes or a few hours over a weekend or the holidays to do something work-related, and would like to achieve something more productive than just checking your email, then one or two of the following might provide a useful diversion.
1: Double Check Your Sitemaps
Task: Parse your XML sitemaps to make sure you’re not pointing to any URLs that 404 or 500.
Why: Bing has talked publicly about how having more than 1% ‘dirt’ makes them lose trust in your sitemap. Google are likely to take a similar approach.
How to: You could co-opt your whole family to spend an afternoon checking pages from your sitemap. As an alternative, Mike King (@IPullRank) has created a nifty tool – the Map Broker – XML Sitemap Validator - to do all the work for you. Submit the address of your sitemap (or upload the file) and check up on the errors. Save the output for when you get back to the office, and you have time to start fixing the URLs in there or removing the errors.
Time Required: From what I’ve seen, I’d allow about 5 minutes per 100 URLs. The length of time that it’ll take you to fix any problems depends on how good your data quality was to begin with!
2: Reclaim Some Link Strength
Task: Find any pages where people are linking to URLs on your site that 404.
Why: Not only will Google will be wasting crawl allowance looking at useless pages, but you may be missing out on link juice from people who have mis-linked to you.
How to: In Google Webmaster Tools, click on ‘Diagnostics’ -> ‘Crawl Errors’. Clicking the link on the far right of each line will show you which pages are linking incorrectly. If there are any internal links listed here, keep a note to work through the list later to fix each one. For external links you can decide whether you’d prefer to contact the site to ask them to ask them to correct the link, or to 301 the target URL to a more appropriate page. It’s worth mentioning that in the process of reaching out to people, you may even be able to use the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them – which could be really valuable for the future.
Time Required: 5 minutes to log into WMT and to start parsing the data. 5 minutes for each site you need to contact, to find a contact email address and send them the email.
3: Add a New String to Your Bow
Task: Find one new head term that you want to rank for
Why: There’s very little risk to targeting a new term with your site, and you’ve got an opportunity now to try something that you may not otherwise have dedicated any time to.
How to: You may well have a variety of terms that you had in the back of your mind that you might want to target. For this exercise, you should look for something that’s going to be reasonably hard to rank for, but could bring a worthwhile amount of traffic to your site. Use your favorite keyword tool (I’d just go straight to Google’s Keyword Tool) to find a term that could be among your 10 biggest non-branded keywords if you ranked on the first page for it. If you’re an SEOmoz user, I’d use the Keyword Difficulty Tool to make sure that the term you’re going after is at least a 40 or 50% difficulty term.
Write content that targets the term, grab an appropriate image, and get a page up on your site with a targeted URL and title. Bear in mind the question “does this page deserve to rank in the top-10 for my keyword?” If not, think about what additions to the page would make you answer ‘yes’.
Link to the page with exact anchor text from the home page of your site, and encourage a few of your friends or fans to tweet about it. The page isn’t going to rank #1 straight away, but leave it to get indexed by search engines and see if it shows up anywhere. When you’re back in the office, think more critically about your off-site strategy for this page.
Time Required: 30 minutes research; 1 – 2 hours to build the page; 30 minutes to promote it to a few relevant people.
4: Give Your Videos a Fighting Chance
Task: Create a video sitemap for your site
Why: Video sitemaps are still incredibly effective at getting your videos indexed by Google, and giving you the opportunity to have blended video results in very competitive SERPs.
How to: Depending on time allowed, I’d suggest we get this up and running as a proof-of-concept, rather than a full blown video sitemap system right now. As such, don’t worry about an automatically updating system with all the bells and whistles. Start by collecting a list of the videos on your site (including: their titles, the page they’re embedded on, the actual location of the video file.) Look at the video sitemap format specifications on Google.com and figure out how you’re going to produce a file in that format with your data. (You could do some ‘copy-and-paste’ work if there’s only a modest number of videos. Another basic solution might be to create a sheet in MS Excel to do this for you. I’ve not been impressed by any of the various ‘video sitemap generators’ that I’ve seen online; I’m very open to recommendations.)
Once you’ve created the sitemap: upload it to your server, add a reference to it in your robots.txt and submit it to Google via Webmaster Central.
Time Required: Depending on the number of videos you have, it could take anyone from a few minutes to a few hours to collect the video data, and could take a similar amount to time to create the sitemap. If you have huge numbers of videos or don’t have easy access to video data, consider just spending 30 minutes on creating a video sitemap for a dozen videos and get this up to see if you can start by getting blended search results for those videos.
5: Appeal to a New Audience
Task: Write a blog post about something that will appeal to a very different crowd to your normal audience.
Why: The best reason to try this is to widen the potential group of people who might link to your site or promote the content on niche sites.
How to: It can be hard to pick one niche from the huge variety of people that fall outside of your typical audience, so focus on something ‘non-core’ that you’ve done recently that someone might find interesting. By way of examples: could you write about some aspect of your current website that would be interesting to Hacker News readers? (One non-technical client wrote about a custom Drupal module they’d created; the post did well on Hacker News, the Drupal forums and on other developer sites.) Could you write a post about how you designed your logo, and get it featured on Design Float? Could you write about tips & tricks you use to be more productive, with a view to coverage from sites like Lifehacker?
Do be aware of how your regular blog readers may respond to an off-topic post. If they’re interested in seeing another side of you, then that’s great. (We get good responses to the occasional non-SEO post on Distilled; SEOmoz are known to go off-topic from time to time.) If regular readers are likely to be unhappy about you going off-topic, consider publishing this type of content on a static URL or in a separate section of your site.
Time Required: How long does it take to write a blog post? You tell me. Give yourself a deadline (eg: 30 minutes for idea generation, 90 minutes to draft the post, 30 minutes to find a handful of prospects to promote it to) and see how you get on.
6: Mine your Mailing List
Task: Use a service such as Qwerly or Fliptop to gather intelligence on your contacts
Why: You can look at the email addresses in your customer database or on your email subscription list and identify the people that could be most useful to create closer relationships with.
How to: I used to espouse using Qwerly; the company has recently been purchased by Fliptop, so I don’t know what the long term plans for the Qwerly API are. I’m investigating Fliptop at the moment, and will write about that in more detail when I have something to report! With both services, you’re able to parse a list of email addresses, and get back data including the Twitter & other social media accounts associated with each email address; it will cost a small price per contact, though this can add up with thousands of contacts.
With this information, you could find the customers/subscribers with the highest follower count or Klout Score. These people would make great targets for outreach to promote content or new products. If you have limited time over the weekend, you could at least send a couple of personalized emails to influential contacts from your lists; thank them for being a reader/user/subscriber/customer and perhaps offer them something special.
Time Required: Getting up and running with a new API can sometimes be a struggle, and will depend on your tech ability. However, Fliptop does appear to be working on ways to make it easy to import your contact lists directly (from tools such as MailChimp, ExactTarget, ConstantContact and Salesforce) which may make the process much faster.
7: Impress the Linkerati
Task: Identify three influential bloggers or writers that you’d like a link from and do something to impress them.
Why: This is the kind of task that’s easy to overlook while you’re in the office; let your creative juices flow and do something out-of-the-ordinary.
How to: Though there’s plenty to say about identifying influential people in a particular space, I’d hope that you already have a good handle on who the influential writers in your niche are. If you need some inspiration, think about the blogs that you read (or the ones that you read when you were just getting into your industry.) Alternatively, have a look if there’s already a curated list of bloggers on Alltop; take a look the bloggers listed at beer.alltop.com, college-football.alltop.com, seo.alltop.com etc. Use their search feature, or I’m sure you can figure out the URL format there
What inspires your three favorite bloggers to write a post? What impresses them enough to share something? You don’t need to execute on this straight away, but try to come up with a suitably long list of ideas and start whittling it down. Do you want to follow WePay and drop a 600lb diss outside your competitor’s conference? Or like Nordstrom, and insist upon ‘one holiday at a time‘? Or Game of Thrones and release a 2 minute ‘production trailer’ on TV and online to start building buzz.
Time Required: Give as much time as you want to thinking about this. Think about it in the shower. Think about it when you’re falling asleep. Think about it when you’re reading the blogs you want to get covered on. You might suddenly have a startlingly great idea, or you might create enough average ideas that you can discuss them with the rest of your team to iterate and create something really effective.
Enjoy your holiday season and all the long weekends. Have fun with your friends and family, and don’t work too hard.
Rob Ousbey VP Operations - Seattle