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Page Titles & Meta Descriptions

I’ve always been aware of how important having clear and properly defined html is, even at university we got into the habit of continuously leaving comments on code to help you understand your html better. Meta Descriptions & Page Titles can be an obvious oversight but might be one of the reason why i’m having an issue with Google’s definitions of my forum.

For a long time, i’ve been curious as to why Google has used these particular links when you Google ‘The Sapling Forums’:

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The descriptions do not match at all, and seem to be completely random. The off-topic discussion description is for the log in screen and the shop description is for the ‘playing online’ category. In fact, at one point, they even decided to use an error page as one of the links! SEO for Growth has reminded me of how important proper meta descriptions are, and how they help search engine’s locate and proper describe your content. Page titles usually form the blue text link in the search engine and meta descriptions the test underneath. I believe my page titles are mostly up to date, however I am going to add proper meta descriptions and see if this solves Google’s haphazard labelling system.

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Keywords

What might seem somewhat outdated, is still wholly important. Keywords are an important factor of your on page SEO. When people search, they are usually using a few keywords or even a single word. The type of keywords can help search engines find and pick out your content quickly.

I came across a website called Semalt which gives you useful information into your website statistics and tracks your website ranking in Google. In particular, it listed various keywords people had used when they found my forum and listed them in terms of popularity. It is good to see that most common expected terms are the ones that find my forum the most such as ‘animal crossing forums’ but it’s interesting to see some of the more unique searches which link to my forum. Utilising this data I can focus more on the top pages and provide content focused to this.

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“A website is not a marketing plan.”

Without an effective marketing plan, you’ll be unable to communicate your unique selling point to your intended target audience (Jantsch and Singleton, 2016. ). Your website is the cornerstone of strategy, provides the content, provides your product and your marketing strategy should properly convey to your target audience what it is you do and what you can offer for them.

Amongst my reading I came across some discovery questions which help become the basis for your strategy which i’ve yet to answer:

  • Who, exactly, is your ideal target audience?

My targeted country/region is primarily united kingdom, united states of america & japan where most games industries are present.

Nintendo’s ideology for animal crossing as a series is primarily directed towards an urban demographic (large populated areas where people can connect with each-other easily e.g. streetpass) so it makes sense that this is also my demographic.

Most animal crossing players i’ve come across tend to be varied from 10-30, this is my target age group. Gender and education is unimportant as animal crossing as a series is loved by a wide age group of male/female users.

  • What type of content does your target audience like to consume?

Animal crossing players seek to forums for these primary reasons: to play with others online, to trade items in game & to discuss the series. The areas of use on the forum I have designed, are to cater to these interests including categories for discussion, areas for trading items, sections for offering your friend code and playing online with others and guides/tips to aid the experience.

We’ve also produced our own animal crossing database to provide info/content about the items that can be found in game, a sort of wikipedia.

  • What are the goals that you hope to accomplish with your website and marketing?

To provide a family friendly community that people can make friends with other animal crossing players and get the help they need with their game.

The social mediums I use to provide news and insight into forum activity should be those used by my target audience which i’ve narrowed down to: discord, facebook and tumblr.

  • Which search terms does your target audience use when they need your product or service?

These are usually the obvious terms such as animal crossing, nintendo and precise item names from the game. Most of the search terms are shortened to the particular series names: ‘acnl’ = animal crossing new leaf.

In order to create a great marketing strategy, having goals and setting out the specific needs of your website can help aid the conversion process:

  • Why do you do what you do?

I created forums as hobbies because I loved meeting new people and creating helpful communities. Animal Crossing is a series which i’ve grown up with and is dear to me so naturally I make an animal crossing forum.

  • Who you do it for?

I created a forum for all the people who wish there were a centralised space where people can share their love of animal crossing. It is a hobby but in my life I always like to be pursuing at least one productive project as it gives me goals and satisfaction that i’m making a difference.

  • What do you do that makes your company remarkable and unique?

This is a difficult question and one that I need to work on but we do have an animal crossing database which includes every single item from the game: animal crossing new leaf. The data was provided by an already made website database, however our design is much better and easier for people to use.

I find alot of forums are strict on their rules, so our forum is unique in the sense ou can discuss and relax without feeling constricted too much about what you say (as long as it’s family friendly).

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Crazy Egg – Scrollmaps & Heatmaps

Crazy Egg is a website tool which helps track mouse-movements and gives you insight into where most of your users are clicking on your page. It also provides great insight into what parts of your pages people are most viewing in the form of a scrollmap.

For clarification, the scale goes from red having the most activity and blue having the least activity, yellow/green being mid range.

Most users are staying ‘above the fold‘ and activity steadily decreases as you scroll down. However, unlike the image above shows, there is a section below the blue which is coloured green indicating alot of people are staying at the top, but also skipping to mid way. For a forum this is very useful because it shows me which sections people are most interested in.

With this in mind, I decided to simplify my forum so most of the sections can be seen at a glance. I put all sections up on the chopping board and worked out which ones I could merge into other sections, which ones were redundant and which could become sub forums. Combining all the sections was one of the best decision I could of done even though I was reluctant at first. It is not only tidier and easier to navigate but each section looks alot more lively now the threads totals are merged. It’s also much easier to manage!

Next up is the heatmap, this shows specifically which parts of the page people are clicking on.

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What I noticed first was that most people were using the navigation bar at the top alot. People have adapted to find the quickest and easiest way to navigate a website/forum and tend to look for key points when learning a new website. It was nice to see that alot of the key functionality was being noticed such as using the short cuts, hovering over the animated spinning staff pictures, clicking the category headers to minimise the sections.

Crazy Egg has been extremely useful in helping me learn the best way to cater my forum to visitors and I wholeheartedly recommend it if you want to make your website more efficient!

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Affiliation

In my post on ‘what is SEO‘ , I talked a little about affiliation. Affiliation has always been something young forums/websites can use as a ‘you scratch my back, i’ll scratch yours’ kind of thing. Both websites link to each other through a url link (or button as commonly seen on forums) in an attempt to bolster both their traffic.

In my recent studies i’ve read that the quality of your back links is more important than the quantity. With this in mind, i’ve been reaching out to well established websites/forums in an attempt to increase the activity on my forum. I must of sent about 20 requests by email or forum message and not all got back to me but the ones that did were all super friendly and had alot to offer (it pays to ask!).

Naming a few, MFGG is a strong established mario fansite with alot of traffic and have agreed to add my button and Nintendo Castle who have added a url link, publish nintendo news quite frequently. I’ve made sure to only request affiliation with video game websites or forums which have a similar theme to mine (nintendo or animal crossing based). Unfortunately, there isn’t much active animal crossing forums out there so I had to look outside the gates a little!

In particular I was thinking, who could I affiliate with that could benefit my members with new features? I asked alot of the affiliates if they wanted to host events and alot of them seemed quite keen but when I reached out to MoriDB’s animal crossing database I received an unexpected response. The owner was willing to send us their ENTIRE database!

In return we’ve given them a large advertising space permanently in the affiliates section of our forum. With this data and with help, I will be adding a huge animal crossing database on site which users can use any time.

Another passage from my studies mentioned that alot of top sites have a feature which allows users to search for content, so with some hope, this will encourage users to stay on our forum and participate more!

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The Sapling Forums

The Sapling Forums is an animal crossing forum I created in 2014 and has since become a lifelong project/community for me to maintain. When I was around 12-13 I developed a passion for creating forum communities and video game websites. I learnt how to code minor html so I could edit specific parts of templates and how to use graphic software such as adobe photoshop so I could produce graphics to match.

Since I left secondary school, university had taken up most of my time and my old projects faded away. In 2014, I wanted to re-ignite my passion for web content and hosting communities so I decided to create a forum based on one of my favourite video game series of all time, animal crossing!

A little history, it started in 2014 with zetaboard’s free hosting service and I slowly modified the template, added new sections, produced events and built up a small following. First of all I wanted to create a name which linked to nature, represented growth and was relevant to animal crossing. I created the name, ‘The Sapling’ (a tree sprout you can buy in the game) and purchased the domain ‘www.thesaplingforums.com‘.

I was paying for ad removal and eventually it become quite costly due to the traffic, so later in January 2016 after alot of hesitation, I moved to proboards and basically had to restart along with all the people who were loyal enough to rejoin. I still pay for ad removal, albeit not that much at all (possibly might have to consider moving to a paid forum hoster eventually).

Overtime I developed it into a great looking unique forum and have optimised it to the point where it shows on the first page of google when you type ‘animal crossing forum’. There aren’t much active animal crossing forums out there currently so there is a good market for this. To increase awareness, i’ve also recently created a facebook page and discord channel so people can easily keep up with news from the forum.

What started as hobby has overtime turned into an actual project and now I take it very seriously! I hope one day it becomes a massive thriving community and I will be using it as a medium for testing my SEO knowledge along the way.

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What is Search Engine Optimisation?

Let me answer this by posing another question. Imagine two stores, located at the centre of Oxford Street in London and that Google is the street. Both are clothes stores, both have a clear sign and both show clearly what they are selling.

One shop has the latest fashion in their window and their store is easy to navigate. Inside they have a big catalogue on all their products and outside they have multiple signs along the street showing advertisements/social media.

The other shop’s window shows outdated clothes, whereas their store is difficult to navigate. Their catalogue is just a small brochure and they have no outside adverts or social media.

Which store are people more likely to go to and has a better presence on the street?

If these stores were websites, shop A would be showing great practice of using SEO techniques. They’ve shown great functionality (layout), authoritative content (catalogue) and great public relations (advertising).

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), a term originally popularised by Danny Sullivan as ‘SEM’ (Search Engine Marketing) is a tool which helps increase a website’s presence and rank in unpaid or ‘organic’ search engine results. In order to stay relevant and at the forefront of search engines such as Google, your website must be constantly optimised to reflect what their current algorithm is looking for. It is becoming increasingly common that if you’re not found in a search, you’re seen as non-existent.

As of 2017, Google’s search engine is locating not only large amounts of content, but high quality content as well. It used to be that content farms could easily bolster a website’s rank, but now search engines are much more intelligent than that. Having unique epic content is crucial for marketing your business and “well-written, authoritative , long form blog-posts SIGNIFICANTLY outperform filler blog posts” (Jantsch and Singleton 2016, p. 8).

Every business must pass three stages of growth. These are: traction, expansion and conversion. Initially, your website will have no brand, no content and you should focus on marketing your website so it gives a clear message to your target audience about what’re you’re selling. Optimise your layout so it’s fluid and seamless to navigate. Create interesting content that will bring customers to you. This is known as traction.

Once your brand is clear, you can expand your website using content marketing & link building as a primary SEO tool. Affiliating other websites can be a mutually beneficial way of advertising and offering your epic content can get you high quality back-links. It is important to note that the quality of your back-links is more important than the quantity.

Lastly, you now have a high volume of traffic and it’s time to convert them into paying customers. A highly ranked and shared website with good content will help convert visitor’s into taking your offers. A useful tool for scoring how your domain will rank in search engines is MOZ.

A good understanding of what SEO is will lay the foundation for a successful SEO strategy. Search engines are a medium for shouting out your latest projects and achievements and it’s easier for people to hear you if they can see where the noise is coming from.

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Gameo – a gamer in the world of seo

I’m often known as ‘Ray’ across my forum The Sapling and the web. My name is Steven Ford, I am 26 years old, co-habiting and from Manchester in the UK.

I am a interactive games design graduate from the University of Gloucestershire, somewhat of an entrepreneur, a major video game enthusiast (a little bit crazy) and looking to break free into a career in the world of SEO.

Gameo is a blog foremost where I can share my projects and discuss everything i’ve learnt about SEO along the way! I’m currently freelancing a project: an animal crossing forum: ‘The Sapling‘ which consists of graphics editing, content creation and web/event management which I have been optimising for google for quite some time.