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SEO Tips for Curators and Aggregators

We’re often asked how to improve the on-page SEO for a curation or aggregation site. We’ve worked with a number of different groups to build and optimize sites that include content from existing sources and SEO is always a challenge. The challenge comes from the same thing but can be seen 2 different ways:

  • Not enough original content
  • Too much duplicate content

Because we believe that curation and aggregation sites can add value to the web at large, we want to help you do the best you can in search engines, whether you’re using WP-Drudge or not.

We’ve seen curation sites that do very well, in fact, whole businesses can be built on curation and search engine traffic can be a component. Following our guide here can help you get the most out of your WP-Drudge or other curation site.

A quick note: this guide is meant for people who are thoughtfully collecting and organizing existing content. There are a lot of pure aggregators out there that do nothing but pull in content without a human being behind the helm. That is a tough business model and, in many cases, against the content producers’ stated copyright. Please be responsible and respectful with your curation and aggregation.

First, the bad news

Put simply, search engines don’t like 2 copies of the same thing in different places. From their perspective, an extra copy does not add any value, it’s just another blob of text to index and store (or, in many cases, to ignore). Duplicate copy on the web is, and always will be, something to overcome.

The take-away? The less duplication you’re doing, the better.

In addition, search engines love original content. We’re talking actually original, written from scratch, not duplicated. Copied content, even if it’s rearranged, is surprisingly easy to discover. Original, from-the-horse’s-mouth blog posts, content pages, and descriptions are the bread-and-butter of good SEO.

The take-away? The more that you’re actually writing, the better. We’ll talk about how to do that below.

Now, the good news

So, we know that duplicate content is bad and original content is good. What else is good? Links!

Google figured out a long time ago that the web, built out of links, has preference inherently built in. If someone has a website and 100 unrelated people point to that website as a source of good information, that probably means that this site is a source of good information.

Do you buy it? Either way, that’s the basis of Google’s ranking algorithm and we need to play by their rules for the next decade, at least.

So, people linking to you are a good thing. What other kind of linking is good? Linking out to other sites, surprisingly.

If preference on the web is measured by links, then the more we can measure, the better. It’s like a poll. If I have a 1% sample, that’s pretty good. If I have a 10% sample, that’s even better. If sites are indicating what they prefer more often, search engines have more to go on.

There is a caveat to this, though. More incoming links (from good sources) is better. Outgoing links, however, have a point at which their return declines. There are no hard and fast numbers here but it’s safe to say that more and more and more outgoing links won’t help a site’s SEO without limit.

Our take-away here: don’t be afraid to show your preference on the web and link out to other sites.

Putting it all together

Let’s review what we learned above, so we’re on-track:

  1. The less duplicated content we have, the better. The best-case scenario here is literally no duplicated content.
    Less = better.
  2. The more original content we have, the better. This, generally, is a “the more the better” situation until you start to get into the 5 and 6-digit page numbers. Think in terms of a ratio: original / duplicated, the higher the better.
    More = better.
  3. The more incoming links from good sources, the better. No caveat here, take what you can get.
    More = better.
  4. Outgoing links are a good thing. Combined with original content, it’s even better.
    More = better (up to a certain point)

The best site you could possibly have with respect to SEO is a site with next to no duplicated content, tons of original content, lots of incoming links, and a healthy number of outgoing links. Wikipedia, right?

How to get there

I’ve been speaking in a general sense so far because there are simple “best practices” to SEO that have been the same for a long time and will continue to be important. Now, I want to make this very specific for curators.

I’m going to break these tips into sections below based on the learning above, with a bonus step for those just getting started.

Step 0: get your ducks in a row

This step is the “due diligence” step. I call it “step 0″ because a lot of folks have already walked through these changes. This is basically a checklist for WordPress SEO and can be used on any site.

  • First, install WordPress SEO by Yoast. This is the best SEO plugin, period. The default settings are fine so I wouldn’t tinker with anything unless you’re clear on what it’s doing. If you’re using comment or interrupt pages, make sure to turn on the sitemap function.
  • Make sure you have Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools installed. You can use the “Additional footer code” and “Additional header code” on the Advanced tab of the WP-Drudge options page to add the tracking code and meta validation, respectively. If you’re generating a sitemap, make sure to add that to Google Webmasters.
  • Choose a specific keyword phrase or two for your homepage and make sure those are in your title and description. You want to concentrate on 2 – 3 keyword phrases for you homepage max. The more you do for those phrases, the better you’ll compete. More information about choosing keywords can be found here.
  • Search engines can parse a whole site as long as there are links to all the pages. Turn on “categories in the header” (Header tab of the options page) or the Archive widget (use links instead of a drop-down) to create archive pages that are index-able.

Step 1 & 2: Avoid duplicate content, create original content

This is where curation and aggregation sites will get into trouble: content pulled from other sources.

We know from above that we want the highest ratio of original content to duplicated content so a purely duplicated site is where you’ll see the worst SEO.

So, how do we create content that’s original from content that is not? You’ll need to be creative but that is where the value lies. The more content you can create on your own, the better.

  • One of the Drudge Report’s tactics is to re-write headlines to fit the political leaning of his site. He adds his own spin to the story by hardly ever using the standard title. The WP-Drudge template makes this very easy, as you have to create your own title each time. Re-write the headline to generate interest and to be original.
  • One thing Drudge Report doesn’t do is post any text that isn’t linked somewhere. The WP-Drudge template allows for short blurbs on link listing pages. This is the best way to create original, search-engine-friendly content. You read the article you’re posting, right? Type up a quick 1 – 2 sentence summary and add it to the Headline blurb.
  • Using our template, you’re able to post your own blog stories in addition to the curated links. Set aside the time to write a 400+ word article every month based on the trends you’re seeing. You can use content you’ve been adding over the last month to create a summary of your niche.
  • Create resource pages with the best information on a particular subject. You’re exposed to a lot of information so take advantage of it. Create a buyer’s guide or a “free tools” page or “people to follow” for you niche. Create it with a few pieces of information, and then add to it over time.

Step 3 & 4: Incoming links & outgoing links

This is where curation and aggregation sites will shine: links, both incoming and outgoing.

Links are what makes the web go around and curation sites have these in spades. Assuming that you’re pointing to good content and providing a bit of your own value using the tips above, your curation site is one of the best attractors of incoming links possible.

  • Well-curated resource pages, like the one you can create with WP-Drudge, are notoriously great for sharing and linking to. Google likes resource pages as long as they have some substance to them. Curation sites are built to attract links, as long as people know about them.
  • Activate and link to archive and category pages to make sure you have lots of findable and linkable content. The more specific and valuable your pages are, the better they attract links.
  • Link building, the action of going out and finding links for your site, is certainly the most difficult, and valuable, aspects of SEO. There are lots of great resources out there to get you started with this process (here’s one I wrote on incoming links and SEOMoz has many excellent posts on the topic) but start by thinking creatively. Are you building a news site about outdoor activities? If you are, you probably know a few (or a lot of) people who enjoy the same. Make sure your network is well aware of your project, then branch out from there.
  • Outgoing links are, of course, simple to create and manage with WP-Drudge. Make sure you’re linking to quality sites and that you’re adding good keywords into the link text you generate.
  • The old technique of adding blog comments works great for content curators. You already have a built-in comment: “This was a great resource, particularly the part about XYZ. I added you on my ABC topic curation site.” Many blogs have social commenting installed so look for an option where you can add your URL.
  • Speaking of links, great content is a huge part of social networks. Make sure your site is hooked up to Twitter through a plugin or third-party service. We usually recommend Facebook for curators with enough time to write something specific for those posts; automated posts there don’t seem to do as well in our experience.

Step 5: Don’t mess around

This is a critical final step and it’s much easier than the other because it involves, specifically, no action at all.

When it comes to SEO, don’t get caught in the “easy fix” trap. This includes paying for incoming links, trading links with unrelated sites, black hat techniques like hidden content, or any other kind of gaming.

If you’re already duplicating content in some places, you’re already on thin ice with search engines so make sure everything else you’re doing is above the board. Working on SEO for your site can help a lot over time but looking for that big spike of traffic from search engines is a fool’s errand. Organic, sustainable search traffic is a steady growth pattern, not a sudden massive bump. As long as you’re growing month-over-month, you’re doing the right thing.

Anything else?

We’re happy to answer any questions you have about SEO for the WP-Drudge theme or curation sites in general. Just ask!

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