I was recently asked to help spruce up the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for the website for Robert Maier, an indie film veteran who wrote the hilarious, must read memoir Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies With John Waters.
Maier worked with underground filmmaker John Waters first on Female Trouble all the way through Waters’ first foray into studio filmmaking, Cry-Baby. But, Maier has also had an extensive filmmaking career beyond Waters, having run-ins with the Coen brothers when they were just starting out, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat when he was still struggling and Chris Stein and Deborah Harry of Blondie when she was a mega-star.
In addition, Maier worked on films like Alone in the Dark, Cocaine Cowboys, numerous documentaries and even directed his own short doc, Love Letter to Edie, about underground film actress Edith Massey. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that Maier is a very interesting guy and a great storyteller. His website just needed some extra SEO juice.
Maier’s website is published using WordPress and is using the theme Coraline, which is an “official” theme created by Automattic, the company that owns WordPress.
The general WordPress philosophy of their software, as I interpret it, is that everybody who publishes a blog has their own methods and processes, so they need their software to appeal to as many different working scenarios as possible. Normally, this is a good thing.
By offering so many various publishing options, WordPress is fantastically customizable for all kinds of situations. The drawback occurs when a blog publisher who doesn’t know much about HTML, CSS and PHP code — which is probably a majority of people using WordPress — has their website sunk by search engines because it’s so bloated by so many options that are hidden in the code.
The thing about getting chummy with search engines is that it’s not just about the content that is displayed. In Maier’s case, while he writes about many different films and pop culture topics, he does focus many of his articles on his days working with John Waters. Yet, running a general search for “John Waters” on Google, Maier does not have a highly ranked website for the filmmaker, even though Maier should since he has so many great articles about Waters.
The issue is that all that content about John Waters is spread out across so many articles that search engines aren’t 100% sure how to target a general term, i.e. “John Waters,” to the specific articles on Maier’s website. And the Coraline theme wasn’t helping matters at all.
The most important thing about Search Engine Optimization is keywording: Making sure a website is filled with the keywords that that website wants to be known for.
But, the second most important thing about good SEO is proper targeting of search engine crawl spiders. If a webpage is filled with links directing users to visit any number of archives and random articles or five links on one page to the same article just because different users might want to click through or ingest that information differently, then search engines get freaked out by all the options and don’t make definitive judgements of what are the most important links on the site.
Coraline, while being a nice, clean looking WordPress theme, has loads of extraneous links programmed into it, including old-fashioned “Bookmark This Permalink” alerts, date permalinks for each article, double Previous/Next Post links — one “live” and one hidden — on every article page, links to comment areas, links to the same Category and Tag archive on each archive page, links to date-based archives that no real person has ever found helpful anywhere on the Internet, and other non-displaying links hidden in the code.
All of that, while seemingly useful, is actually a complete drag on resources, including search engine spiders pounding hidden links that human visitors don’t see.
I did perform a lot of other SEO operations on Maier’s website, but I think fixing the over-linking problem may have had the biggest impact on Google and other search engines slowly reconsidering and re-classifying the site.
If you would like an SEO evaluation of your own website — WordPress powered or otherwise — please feel free to contact me and we can discuss.