Domain Authority tips from Eat Local Ballarat

On June 1st this year, I launched Eat Local Ballarat, a non-commercial advocacy blog covering locally produced food in the Ballarat region. I set out to make a website that would rank among the best in town.

Eat Local Ballarat screenshot ca. October 2016
The Eat Local Ballarat site features articles to help Ballarat residents eat more locally, seasonally, and sustainably.

Before I launched, I did some research into Ballarat’s top websites as judged by their Domain Authority.  Among the top ranks were Federation University, the City of Ballarat, Sovereign Hill, and Ballarat Health Services.  I also catalogued around 40+ other local sites that had a DA (domain authority) of 25 or more.  DA’s a rough measure, but I figured it wasn’t a bad guideline for which sites would be the best known, most widely linked, and most visited in town. Sure enough, most of the names on the list were recognisable local businesses and institutions.

My goal was to be on this list within six months. I knew there would be challenges writing about a niche topic for a small audience, but I was pretty sure it was achievable.

Since Eat Local Ballarat’s launch, I’ve been watching its DA each time Moz release an update to their scores. As of last week (five months after launch) Eat Local Ballarat has a DA of 25, enough to have got it onto that original list.  The homepage has a PA (Page Authority) of 37.'s Moz domain authority score
Eat Local Ballarat’s details on Moz’s Open Site Explorer.

On the grand scale of things 25 isn’t that huge a number. The highest possible is 100, which is held by sites like Facebook and Youtube, and it’s a logarithmic scale which means that it’s easier to move up the lower ranks than to reach the top.

On the other hand, the websites I consider to be my “friendly competition” (that is, other local websites about related topics) have DAs ranging from 16 to 33. Some of them have been operating for nearly a decade, so it’s good to be ranking alongside them after only a few months.

How to quickly get a good DA for your niche website

Here are some of the techniques I used to quickly establish Eat Local Ballarat as a useful, authoritative resource in our community, rank well in the search engine results, and get noticed by local eaters:

  • Do keyword research up-front to know what people are searching for. Target keywords where you can most easily outrank existing sites.
  • Write or create content about local events and topics that people are interested in, but which don’t have their own websites.
  • Pay close attention to on-page SEO for every page and blog post you create.  Titles, meta descriptions, canonicals… there are dozens of useful things you can tweak.
  • Make sure your site is mobile-friendly and loads reasonably quickly.
  • Minimise dead links and 404s. (This sounds obvious, but many local sites have heaps of these problems.)
  • Seek out appropriate backlinks from other sites, including local media.
  • Update your site regularly. You don’t have to blog daily or even weekly but don’t let it languish for months or years.
  • Always post first on your own site, then automatically syndicate it out to social media. Don’t let Facebook own what you have to say.
  • Promote your content widely, including one-to-one outreach where appropriate.

If you’d like help getting your website to rank well and get noticed, I’m available for consulting work with clients in Ballarat and beyond. Drop me a line.


Don’t let your website migration break your links

don't let your website migration break everything

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of local businesses going through website migrations – upgrades, redesigns, or moving to a new platform – then winding up with broken links all over their site. It’s depressing to see. So much work goes into a migration, and then the results are:

  • heaps of “404 Not Found” pages
  • broken search engine listings
  • lost traffic
  • frustrated visitors who leave without engaging

It’s enough to make you wonder why you bothered “upgrading” your site at all!

Don’t be like these sad sites.  Use the tips below to make sure your migration goes smoothly.

Know what pages you currently have on your site

Do you know how many pages you have? There might be hundreds or thousands hidden away in unexpected places, especially if you’re using a CMS that offers multiple ways to navigate, such as categories, tags, or date based archives.

You can get an overview of the pages of your website by using a tool like the Screaming Frog SEO Spider (free for sites of up to 500 pages).

Know which pages get traffic

Of all the pages on your site, which ones get visitors, and where do they come from?  You can find out using Google Analytics (you do have Google Analytics on your old site, right?  If not, install it and give it at least a month to collect data before you migrate.)

The first and most important step is to run a report on page views using Behaviour -> Site Content -> All Pages.  Grab all the data for a reasonable period (say 3 months) and download it to a spreadsheet.

Another useful report is Behaviour -> Site Content -> Landing Pages, then add a secondary dimension of Source/Medium and export this as well. It’ll help you understand where visitors are coming from, not just what pages they’re looking at.

Understand the value of every page on the site

You can combine your Screaming Frog data and Page Views data in Excel using a VLookup function.  At minimum, you should have columns for:

  • URL
  • Page title
  • Visitors / period

You might also want to add columns for bounce rate, time on page, or page value (if you have conversion goals set up).

Using this data you can get a sense of which pages are most important to keep on your site, and which ones matter less

Don’t migrate worthless pages

Sort your spreadsheet by visitors, descending.  Look at the bottom of the sheet. These are the pages that get no visitors.

When you migrate to a new site, you should strongly consider pruning your website of pages that get little traffic.  If this makes you uncomfortable, then think about how you’d go about improving the content so that people start visiting it.  There’s no point spending time and money migrating a page that nobody will look at.

Make an action plan for every page

Add four new columns to your spreadsheet:

  • Action
  • New URL
  • Noindex?
  • Notes

Now go through every page and categorise them as follows:

  • Keep (no change in URL, so leave URL blank)
  • Move (fill in new URL)
  • Merge/Redirect (fill in URL of the page you’re going to merge this content into)
  • Delete/Redirect (fill in redirect URL)
  • Delete

If you’re moving platforms (eg. from one CMS to another) then you’re likely to have a lot of redirects.  It’s important that you plan where all your content is going to go, so that traffic to the old pages aren’t lost.

In the “Noindex?” column, note whether any pages should be marked noindex for search engines.  For example, author archives on WordPress are often noindexed, especially on single-author sites, as they largely duplicate the content on the homepage.

Under “Notes”, you may note any pages that need improvement, or where a custom canonical URL should be set, or other thoughts that occur to you as you review all the pages on the site.

Migrate or redirect each page

Sort the spreadsheet by the “Action” column, and either migrate the pages that need it, or check that your upgrade or import migrated them correctly.  If content needs improving, or two or more pages need to be merged together, edit as needed.

For the pages you will be moving or deleting, use a plug in like Redirection to set up redirects (“301 – Moved Permanently”) for all those that need it.

For pages that you want to delete entirely and which will never come back, use the Redirection plugin to set them to “410 – Gone” rather than simply returning a 404.  This will tell search engines to give up and stop crawling the page.

Don’t be tempted to automatically redirect all 404 pages to your homepage or some other single page that you want to get traffic. This can cause more confusion for visitors than a clearly worded 404/410 page and won’t serve you well in the long run.

Don’t lose your keyword ranking

Use your Source/Medium spreadsheet to find those pages which get heaps of traffic from search engines. Make sure you understand what search terms are bringing people in.  You can use Google Search Console’s search analytics to filter by page and then see the queries that brought people to that page.

Use something like the Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress to check whether your migrated page still targets relevant keywords effectively.  Even if you haven’t changed the content, Yoast will point out issues you might not have considered in your migration plan, such as image alt tags.

Make sure search engines understand your new site structure

If you’ve moved lots of your content around, you don’t want the old URLs showing up in search results forever. The quickest way to get search engines to understand your new site structure is to create an updated sitemap.xml and point them to it.  The Yoast SEO plugin contains a feature to do this on WordPress.

Google Search Console has a feature to submit a sitemap, and equivalent tools are available for Bing and may be available for other search engines (check your Analytics to see which ones send you traffic).

Additionally, use Yoast (or equivalent) to make sure that pages you don’t want indexed are marked “noindex”, and that any pages that duplicate the same content (such as an article which has a screen view and a print-friendly view) have canonical URLs pointing to a single, preferred version of the page.

Have a good 404 page

No matter how much effort you take, you’ll probably still have some people landing on your 404 or 410 pages.  Make sure your 404 page is well designed, and they might not bounce immediately.

Things to include:

  • standard site navigation menus
  • prominent search function
  • links to popular pages on the site
  • a way to contact the website manager – email and/or social media

Sort out your backlinks

Hopefully, heaps of external sites link to you already.  Many of those links will now be pointing to deleted or moved pages.  Get a list of your backlinks (Google Search Console or the referral data from Google Analytics will give you a rough list, or you can use a paid solution like Majestic or Ahrefs which tend to providing a more comprehensive list.)

If these are too numerous to deal with manually, use another VLookup to cross reference incoming links, find those that have moved, and show you the new URL they’ve moved to.  You could also incorporate the data from your Source/Medium spreadsheet to prioritise those sites that send you the most visitors.

Now, your job is to contact all the owners of the external sites and let them know about your updated links.  This is a great opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the other site owners, and maybe explore further opportunities for links or other collaborations.  Make contacting them part of your website relaunch publicity plan.

Watch your traffic for problems

After you relaunch, keep an eye out for problems that might indicate people are winding up at dead URLs.  Some places to look include:

  • Google Search Console: watch the Crawl Errors report for 404s, mark them as 410 if that’s what you meant, and mark as fixed.
  • Screaming Frog: recrawl your site and look for redirects or 404s from internal links, and fix them. Also check that your “noindex” and canonical tags look right.
  • Google Analytics: use the Behaviour -> Site Content -> All Pages report to look for “Not Found” in the page title (or whatever your CMS does). Mark any frequently accessed pages as 410 or redirect them to somewhere useful.
  • Additionally, add a secondary dimension of Previous Page (for internal traffic) or Source/Medium (for external traffic) to see where these people are coming from, and take steps to fix the broken links at their origin.

That’s all, huh?

Yeah, I know it’s a lot of stuff to do.  But if you care about traffic to your website, you really don’t want to be losing most of it just when you’ve spent time and money on an upgrade.

If you need help with a website migration, feel free to contact me.

Why a new site shows “There is no data for this set of filters” in Google Search Console

The problem: missing data in Search Console

On a new website with very low traffic, Google Search Console shows a small number of clicks in the graph on the front page, but when you click through to the more detailed analytics reports, it says “There is no data for this set of filters.”  In my case, my site had page views in the low 100s, because it was nothing more than a simple “coming soon” placeholder. Still, if it’s getting traffic from the search engine results page, I’d like to know more about it!  Unfortunately, Search Console won’t tell me anything.

Continue reading Why a new site shows “There is no data for this set of filters” in Google Search Console

How to Track Instagram as Social Traffic in Google Analytics

Although I spend most of my work time at my laptop, I love paper notebooks.  I’m a fan of the bullet journal technique, and when I started to get back online again I was inspired by Kara of Boho Berry, a popular bullet journal blogger, to set up a blog journal like hers.  It’s a pleasant, grounding way for me to keep track of all the tasks I have to do, and to celebrate achievements as they happen.

When I saw Kara mention in last month’s stats roundup some problems she was having with Instagram traffic in Google Analytics, it got me thinking.

Continue reading How to Track Instagram as Social Traffic in Google Analytics

Using keyword research for concept validation

Today I want to write about using basic SEO keyword research techniques to validate my early ideas about Eat Local Ballarat and get a sense of whether it was a workable opportunity.

First, the background: I’m planning to create a comprehensive, informative, up-to-date site on the subject of local food in the Ballarat region.  To meet its goals it needs to perform well in search engine results, build a strong following on social media, and generate plenty of visitors and buzz.

But how can I tell whether there’s any hope if it doing those things? What I need is concept validation: an early test that will show whether the concept is viable before I throw too much effort into it.

Continue reading Using keyword research for concept validation

Ballarat’s Best Websites: Rankings for 40+ Local Sites

I’ve set myself a bunch of audacious goals for Eat Local Ballarat, and one of them is to be among Ballarat’s best websites.  But how can I tell if I’ve made it?  To start with, I’m going to have to figure out the best websites Ballarat currently has to offer.

Measuring Website Quality

The first part is easy enough: Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) is a measure of how well a site will rank in search engines.  Since search engines are looking for high quality sites that meet people’s needs, DA is not a bad proxy for site quality. You can find the DA for a site by using Moz’s Open Site Explorer, or installing the MozBar in your browser.

DA is based on a logarithmic scale from 1-100, where Google itself is 100 and a new site with no content is 1.  Because of the logarithmic ranking, it’s much easier to gain points in the lower ranges than the higher ones. Many, many websites hover around the 10-30 range; those above 50 are usually quite authoritative websites, and anything over 70 is generally a household-name brand, a university, or a branch of government (at least in Australia, where I’ve mostly been looking.)

Continue reading Ballarat’s Best Websites: Rankings for 40+ Local Sites