It’s been exactly four years since I went live with my first blog. I wanted to take my love of hockey, specifically the Boston Bruins, and do my own thing.
When I first started in 2010, I was in over my head. Before I worked in SEO, for instance, I didn’t understand how my previously published articles written on other sites were getting so much more traffic and exposure than my new site. So, I sought the help of a Senior SEO Analyst who helped me propel the blog to new heights.
I launched "The Hub of Hockey" (later, "Bruins Daily") in January 2010. In under three years, I had a Google Page Rank of 5, increased page views by nearly 130% and unique visitors over 60%, and decreased the bounce rate by 40%. I was then approached to sell — and I did — my blog.
So, how did I do it? And what would I do differently? Read on.
When I launched my blog, this was my first introduction to the curious world of search engine optimization and Google. After a few months in, I decided to ask for some professional online guidance from a very senior SEO Analyst based in Colorado, Joel Murphy. Joel helped by not only telling me what I should be doing, but why I should be doing it.
I stuck to his advice and recommendations. Knowing what I know now, I decided to put together a comprehensive "to-do" checklist before you decide to launch your new blog. By getting these things in place upstream and prior to launch, you will get your site off the ground much quicker than I did.
- 1. Build a WordPress Theme
Now that I have learned CSS, HTML and PHP (I’m not a developer by any means, but know enough to be dangerous), and realized how intuitive WordPress is, I would create my own child theme.
Purchase (or create) your own logo and infographics, and begin customizing your own website. And for some of the heavy lifting that you may not know how to do, there’s probably a plugin for that.
- 2. Domain
I would have bypassed "The Hub of Hockey" and jumped right into "Bruins Daily." This signals to search engines and visitors that the website is about the "Bruins," and cuts away from the rather vague, original name.
For your blog, create a more descriptive than broad URL. Keep it under 15 letters, avoid stop words, and avoid unnecessary letters and hyphens.
- 3. Redirects
One of the first things I check when handed a new client at work is the website’s protocol and redirect rules. Take your pick between www. or non-www., stick to it, and make sure the 301 redirects check in the .htaccess file. I’m partial to the non-www. version, but whatever floats your boat. Don’t dilute your link juice — you can’t control how people link to you (www. versus non-www.) but you can control where those links go via redirects. Double-check all possible URL variations (~/home.aspx is a common variant in Kentico CMS). Make sure these are in place before the site goes live.
- 4. Host
In an effort to pinch a few pennies during my web launch, I opted for the cheapest hosting option out there. Bad, and costly, mistake. My website went down during the busiest time of the year: the NHL playoffs (Bruins vs. Canadiens, to boot).
Use someone reputable like GoDaddy — I personally love their 24/7 support and intuitive FTP — and that has one of those easy one-click/five-minute WordPress installs.
Get onto a Linux OS server and spend the extra money on more storage and disk space. Don’t let small storage and a slow database get you down and out, and don’t lose out on loss of traffic and potential ad revenue. After all, it’s just a couple of extra bucks per month.
- 5. Optimize
WordPress is awesome. I’ve been a faithful user for over four years now. A lot of themes are very SEO-friendly out-of-the-box, but you will need more.
The SEO plugin by Yoast is the one-and-only SEO plugin I use and recommend. There are options and tools and settings galore, so take advantage of everything this has to offer.
Generate an XML Sitemap and submit it to both Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. Link your Google+ and other social media sites, and from Day 1, don’t forget the meta descriptions!
- 6. Permalinks
On your WordPress Dashboard, go to Settings and Permalinks, and then get out of the Default option ASAP. Click "Post name."
By using Post Name, your URLs will look like: ~/boston-bruins-player-of-the-week instead of /?p=678
Categories and tags will be displayed as: ~/category/bruins-history instead of ~/?cat=3
- 7. Images
Before Bruins Daily started hitting its stride, I relied on images and image searches as one of my top-10 sources of referral traffic. I was fortunate enough to have a database of images — provided by the Bruins communication and PR staff — readily available to use 24/7.
First, get permission to use licensed images. Next, save them to your desktop and rename them something other than 5239802.jpeg. Something like ‘patrice-bergeron-headshot.jpeg’ is the SEO way. Then upload them to the WordPress dashboard and Media gallery. Add a description and ALT Texts to each image.
- 8. Categories and Tags
The awesome thing about blogs is that each and every page, category and tag has the potential to rank for keywords and phrases. If I could do it all over again, I would get a list of my five-to-10 ideal categories and stick with them, and not confuse them with tags.
Categories are meant to be broad, while tags are more specific. For example:
- 2010-11 NHL season (category), and
- Patrice Bergeron, TD Garden, Montreal Canadiens and shootout (tags).
- 9. Find a Team
Not only did I come to the realization that I couldn’t do it without the guidance of a seasoned SEO, I also realized I couldn’t do it all myself. I was fortunate to get two rockstars to join the team and take ownership of specific duties. I sincerely owe it all to the guys who bought into the site, and shared the same passion for the sport and vision of the blog.
Tim was the social media guru who helped put the blog over-the-top — on Facebook and Twitter, especially — while continuing to contribute to the blog with feature articles and exclusive videos. Anthony helped quarterback articles and columns such as Midseason Report Cards, and pre- and post-game wrap-ups. Chris (feature and gameday articles) and Dan (NHL contributor) were next up, followed by professional photographers.
I took a backseat to the games and focused on linking strategies and guest blogs. I connected with opposing NHL teams’ bloggers for gameday collaborations, fantasy hockey sites for in-depth Bruins information and insight, and eventually a partnership with Boston.com.
- 10. Tools
When writing about something niche like a particular sports team, the keywords and organic exposure will come. But I used SEMrush to check where I started stacking up against the competition. With SEMrush, I was able to see which specific keywords the big guns (ESPN, Boston.com, NESN, etc.) were ranking for, and started slowly tapping into those as well.
Selling the blog
The current owner owns StinkySocks Hockey, an adult league I used to play for, in Boston. I gave him free ad-space on my blog in exchange for free hockey. It was win-win.
Anyway, he approached me in the summer of 2012 and asked if I was interested in selling it. He essentially wanted to use the blog and its high traffic volume (and PageRank) to help grow his hockey brand.
Just before I was relieved of all duties in April 2013, I was approached by the Sports Editor of Boston.com for a partnership. Bruins Daily now provides content for The Boston Globe Bruins' section. It also employs one-to-two photographers, the same four content creators, as well as a new on-air personality.
There you have the story of how I launched and sold my sports blog. Feel free to share your tips or experiences in the comments section.
*Blog screenshots courtesy of www.johnmmurphy.com
Mark Marino is an SEO Specialist for Wakefly, Inc. He was the founder and managing editor for Bruins Daily from January 2010 to April 2013. Some of his previous work has been featured on RLD Hockey, CBS Sports, Left Wing Lock and Kuklas Korner, and Mark has made numerous radio appearances on Blog Talk Radio, WGAM/ESPN New Hampshire and The Pulse Network.