SEO Contest Winner: The Elisha Foundation - 90 Day Update
I can't begin this report without expressing my thanks and appreciation to Bruce Clay, Robert, Virginia, Lisa and the rest of the Bruce Clay team for everything they have meant to us at Strider during the launch phase of our company, and for providing this opportunity to promote the vital work of The Elisha Foundation. You guys at BC rock - and it can't be said enough!
The announcement of our win in the Give, Get, Go SEO contest came exactly 11 days after our incorporation for Strider was filed. This was my big step from freelance SEO to running a real business. The team was assembled, things were lined up, optimism was high - and then it became real when Lisa published the list of winners on February 15th. At the time, we were each working from home while we searched for office space. We didn't have a Web site yet. I had barely started training my team in the concepts of search engine optimization... but we were going to SES NY!
In truth, I cannot think of a better way for someone to be introduced to the search engine optimization industry than by attending a conference like SES, followed quickly by in depth advanced training from Bruce Clay and finally spending two days in Houston at Small Business Marketing Unleashed [Editors Note: Just to clarify, Bruce Clay, Inc. did not sponsor Ryan's trip to SBM Unleashed. - Lisa]. In two months, we were lucky to experience the broad scope of SES NY, advanced SEO concepts through the Bruce Clay Advanced Certification training, and the practical application of the SBMU workshop format. This was better, than any in-house SEO training I could have given my team.
Our work on The Elisha Foundation's Web site began with consolidating their domains to eliminate the duplicate content and canonicalization issues that were present. All the usual suspects were there: www and non-www URLs, .com and .org TLDs, and domains with and without "the" in the domain name. In the end, we selected "www.theelishafoundation.org" as the primary domain name and implemented 301 redirects to eliminate duplicate content issues. At this time there is only one remaining duplicate page in the index.
The Elisha Foundation brings together families of people with special needs and organizes retreats for the entire family, including specialized medical care, trained supervision and activities for able-bodied siblings and parents. All the leaders, teachers, pastors, childcare workers and support team volunteer their time to help out on these retreats. Many children require constant care and attention, so for the parents the 2-3 hours a day of child care during the retreat is only "time-off" they get during the year. It is also a rare opportunity for the families to meet with other families in a situation similar to theirs.
In our estimation, this is a situation ripe for an online social environment. The families meet for a few days and then go their separate ways all across the USA and Canada. Friendships and bonds are formed during these retreats that should be fostered and supported throughout the year. We have implemented a vBulletin forum, complete with all the new social goodness that comes in the latest edition. I'm a big fan of vBulletin, having implemented in various applications with much success. The forums have been created and will be formally launched this week. Features include all the typical forum interactivity and structure, along with the ability for users to create new social groups (private and open) to discuss niche topics. Users have customizable profiles, photo albums, and profile and private messaging. It is our hope that families who attend the retreats will then use the TEF forums to post pictures and memories of the retreat while staying in touch with their new friends. There is also a section of the forums for members to discuss products, equipment and general tips and techniques for daily living with disabled family members. This should lead to a steady supply of user-generated content on topics related to special needs living.
The Elisha Foundation Web site was recently updated from a Wordpress blog to my favourite CMS, Movable Type, in December of 2007. Unfortunately, there were no redirects implemented at the time to direct users from the old pages to the new. This was resulting a lot of 404s and lost link juice. We ran reports to see what pages the search engines had indexed from all the TEF domains, and created 301s for each outdated URL. We also examined the log files to see what missing files were resulting in the 404s and added appropriate redirects to our list.
Movable Type is a very user-friendly and search-friendly CMS, with minimal tweaking out of the box. In this implementation, the publishing settings were set to generate all the common blog archives - monthly, author, category and (my personal favourite) category-monthly. This is a recipe for death by duplication. We removed the excess archive options, keeping only Category active. We also changed the publishing path for the content pages from "year/month/filename" to "category/filename" and created redirects through MT's template system. In doing so we are aiming to set the foundation for appropriate siloing of content as more content is prepared for the site. MT made it easy for us to create an XML Sitemap that is automatically updated when new content is published to the site.
Content is noticeably thin at this point. During the past few months TEF faced the rescheduling of a retreat (no small task), the recent arrival of a baby for TEF founders the Reimer family, and some hospital time for Justin Reimer. It's understandable, then, that work hasn't progressed on the site as quickly as we would have liked. However, we have committed to continue working with TEF for a full 12 months; in fact, I don't see us stopping even then. The work they do and the ministry they provide is too important, and it's a blessing for us to be involved.
The TEF site did not have an analytics package installed, so the only stats we have to benchmark from are produced by a pitifully outdated log analyzer. We have implemented Google Analytics to track our progress going forward. The primary domain is now a PR4, and we are seeing improved rankings on a number of keywords, including ranking #1 on Google for [special needs retreats].
Our plans for the near future include reorganizing the site's content, revisiting the use of video on the site, soliciting user-generated articles for the main site and creating more content to better outline the services offered by TEF. With better communication of their goals and ministry I am confident they will see an increase in donations of money, time and supplies. We will also be deploying content specific to TEF's new military ministry aimed at assisting families of soldiers disabled in combat.
[To hear Ryan and Bruce Clay talk more about The Elisha Foundation and the challenges of optimizing for small businesses, tune into SEM Synergy.]
Ryan Freeman is the founder and president of Strider Inc, an SEO firm based in Toronto, Canada. Strider specializes in assisting small businesses and non-profit organizations with their internet marketing initiatives. Ryan's background in internet marketing started with a local ISP in 1995 and evolved through web design into search optimization.