Benchmarking has been defined as “”The process of identifying the best practice in relation to products and processes, both within an industry and outside it, with the object of using this as a guide and reference point for improving the practice of one’s own organization.”
We can use benchmarking techniques to examine highly successful blogs, such as the one written by Matt Cutts, to gain insights, tips and methods and a better understanding of best practices that pertain to optimizing WordPress blogs for the search engines. Blogging using WordPress is the most popular method of blogging among professionals, and it is fortunate to know that Matt Cutts uses WordPress for his blog.
This article attempts to observe the practices employed by Matt Cutts in his WordPress blog which can be used and implemented by any ordinary WordPress blogger.
Lesson #1: Frequently publish content
Matt Cutts frequently publishes blog content in varying categories. In about a three-week period (January 1, 2010 to January 22, 2010), Matt Cutts published 12 blog posts; that is more than three posts per week.
This means frequent updating of blog content is a common practice for successful bloggers like Matt Cutts. If you are blogging and have NOT been updating your blog regularly for too long, that is clearly a mistake. If you think you are busy, consider how busy Matt Cutts must be. Yet, he does have clear commitments to blogging, and we can see him frequently post content.
The lesson here is to have some commitment to update your blogs as frequently as possible depending on your goal. You can set realistic goals, for example two blog posts per week or even at least one post per week.
Lesson #2: Post substantial and original content in a mix of lengths
Other WordPress bloggers formulate difficult rules for themselves and punish themselves by writing 1000 words per blog post! Matt Cutts’s blog entries, on the other hand, are a mix of short and long content while being substantial and original.
In the 12 blog posts observed since January 2010, the total number of words for all of Matt Cutts’s blog posts taken together is 4,697.
On average, he writes around 400 words per blog post. It might be even less, since these are plain text content. Matt Cutts also has videos, images and even lots of comments from his blog readers that dramatically increase the number of words per blog post.
Lesson #3: Matt Cutts links to quality sources WITHOUT rel=nofollow
Many professional bloggers, even big ones, seem to be afraid of losing a lot of link juice. They do not even trust external links to other websites EVEN if they are editorially given. As a result, external links from blog posts are full of rel=nofollow attributes.
This is contrary to what we observe in Matt Cutts’s blog. Matt Cutts does not worry about link rel=nofollow or any leaking of link juices. The rules are simple: if the link is given editorially (i.e. in your blog post), you trust the site; if you trust the site, then you should not be using the rel=nofollow attribute.
Locations of external links in the blog are also important. In some WordPress blogs, we can always see links in blog rolls and link pages. However, Matt Cutts does not use a link page, resources page or even a blog roll. Instead, Matt Cutts write his blog posts and includes good sources of content pointing to another website. He will put a link to it using accurate and descriptive keywords as anchor text.
The lesson here shows how to make your blog appear more naturally in search engines by proper external linking. Too many links in link pages or in a blog roll, accompanied by an absence of quality external links in blog posts, can be a red flag and connotes a spammy WordPress blog (that is perhaps being used for link exchanges).
Lesson #4: Matt Cutts cares about blog security
Matt Cutts emphasizes security a lot by implementing it in his blog.
First, the wp-admin is disabled for other uses. When you check http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/wp-admin, it is 403 forbidden. Some bloggers care less about security, and when they get hacked (common in WordPress), hackers insert malware links that cause the blog to lose ranks in Google, therefore hurting previous SEO efforts. Security should be part of any SEO effort.
Second, Matt Cutts always updates his blog to use the latest version of WordPress. Although he disabled the version generator in the <head>, he is using WordPress 2.9.1 (the latest version as of January 20, 2010) as observed in his read me URL.
Lesson #5: Matt Cutts is not a fan of category no index and robots.txt
A lot of SEO professionals and experts suggest blocking or putting noindex tags on WordPress categories to prevent duplicate content. Yet Matt Cutts allows his category pages to be crawled and indexed.
Also, his WordPress blog’s robots.txt seems to be very simple:
It does not even block particular WordPress files, folders or directories.
One very important thing we can observe is the way the archives are treated. Matt Cutts put:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow" />
in all of his archived URLs. If you are a beginner in WordPress and confused as to what are archives and categories, see the screen shot here:
The reason for this is obvious. Matt Cutts still wants his deep and old blog posts to be indexable, so he allows category URLs to be crawlable. Old posts still provide value, for example when new comments get approved. But since archives presents the same content as the categories and post URLs, putting noindex, nofollow prevents duplicate content and crawling redundancies.
Also, aside from combating possible canonical issues with robots.txt and the meta noindex tag, Matt Cutts uses link rel canonical tags. For example:
<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/" />
Lesson #6: Use of an effective content structure
Matt Cutts uses an effective content structure in his blog. Aside from using accurate and descriptive title tags, he uses <h1> and <h2> tags. For example:
Title tag: Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO
H1 tag: Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO (hyperlinked pointing to the home page).
H2 tag: PubCon 2009 talk: State of the Index (hyperlinked pointing to blog post permalink URL)
Aside from hitting three birds with one stone (benefits from keywords in title tag, internal links and header tags), this type of structure can be easily implemented using WordPress. Unfortunately, lots of bloggers have substantially modified their template and removed these important tags.
Internally, Matt Cutts only puts rel=nofollow obviously pointing to pages which are NOT important for the Googlebot to crawl, such as the feed URLs: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/feed/ .
Lesson #7: Matt Cutts is not a fan of meta tags
How many WordPress bloggers today are still obsessed with meta keywords and meta description? Matt Cutts removed the meta keywords tag from his blog and retained a funny meta description, “neat fun stuff,” which will not be shown in the Google search results anyway:
We can insert these tags for testing purposes, but it is not wise to be obsessed with them or even include these tags in the SEO checklist.
Lesson #8: Matt Cutts puts importance in content in getting links
Matt Cutts’s blog has around 200,000 back links. These links are earned for the following reasons:
1. Matt Cutts is the authority figure in Google search. So a lot of websites link to the blog for resources. Therefore, it is an important goal for your blog or yourself to get quickly established as an authority.
2. Since Matt Cutts frequently publishes content, audience engagement is high, and so is the resulting number of back links.
3. Matt Cutts posts useful content that serves as quality link bait.
The current technique employed by bloggers is getting reciprocal or three-way links, which is not a good way to get links, especially for the long run. The best types of links are those given editorially because of the website’s reputation, authority and trust.