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Large forum with very poor SEO, where to start?

     
9:49 pm on Apr 30, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I run a large forum with over one million posts. Over the years we've seen our traffic and rankings fluctuate quite a bit, though I really didn't do much SEO-wise. We started with vB 3, upgraded to vB 4 with VBSEO, and last month made the jump to XenForo.

Now that the migration is complete, I'd like to do what I can to increase our rankings. There is so much SEO information out there and so many people who say they know exactly what to do, it really is overwhelming. I'm concerned I might try something, only to find out it's a blackhat technique and get dinged by Google.

With over a million posts we certainly don't lack content, but our visits are down from around 14,000 to 10,000 per day.

If you were I, where would you start?

[edited by: aakk9999 at 10:17 pm (utc) on Apr 30, 2014]
[edit reason] Forum Charter [/edit]

11:22 pm on Apr 30, 2014 (gmt 0)

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1. Visits going down
a. There are reasons other than SEO and rankings to explain why visits may drop. Technology change, adoption of different products, unpopularity of the topic, tastes have changed- those are all reasons that can explain a traffic drop. The solutions are varied but SEO is not one of them.

b. Make sure former URLs moved to new URLs.

2. SEO 101
There is no voodoo to SEO. At its heart SEO is
a. about making your content easily crawlable by the search engines.

b. taking steps so that the content is coherent, as understood by the guidelines explained in the book, Elements of Style (i.e. HELP ME! does not adequately describe a typical forum post)

c. The site structure is arranged in a manner that makes sense.

3. SEO 201
a. Make sure your content is easily shared

b. Make sure your meta tags are meaningful and are structured like an AdWords ad and will incite a click when it shows up in the SERPs.

c. Promote the site. Advertise the site. Tell others about it.

4. If you're worried about Google's Webmaster Guidelines then visit the site and read them. It's not rocket science.

That in a nutshell is where to start. ;)
12:41 am on May 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I'd start with the site architecture.

And I'd look to see how much of that one million plus posts are really relevant and popular with your users - it might be time to do some pruning. If you're only getting 10k visits per day, it sounds like there's a lot of content that never (or rarely) gets viewed anymore. You might not want to take it, but you might want to block it out of the search engines.
1:56 am on May 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I also have a large forum and I think my biggest problem is thin pages. Over a decade you tend to accumulate a lot of threads with no replies that result in a thin page. Not sure what to do about it though.
2:43 am on May 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I'd start with the site architecture.


That's a good point. After a period of time a broad topic forum category can accumulate enough variety that it can be split into separate categories to cover the subtopics better. So a category about dogs can be split into sporting, working, lap, whatever. When that gets crazy split the working dogs forum into sheepdog, australian shepherd, etc. It's better for site architecture, it's better for the users.

Over a decade you tend to accumulate a lot of threads with no replies...


That's unfortunate. Getting questions answered should be a priority, particularly for the mods. It kind of helps it helps to make the UNANSWERED POSTS link obvious to logged in members. Also helps to edit titles so they get the attention they deserve.

Perhaps you can fix the titles and sticky a batch of three of them at a time? Obviously the posts can be deleted but it seems like such a waste.
6:48 pm on May 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I'm not allowed to post a link to let you guys take a look, right?
6:24 pm on May 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Not here; if you are a subscriber there is a way to do it in the subscriber forum (but you also have to give your own opinion on others' sites)
6:32 pm on May 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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If you know how to hack your forum code then you can take what I outlined above and either do it yourself or find instructions on the XenForo support pages with recipes or mods for accomplishing them. That's pretty much how I do it, although I sometimes code basic things like if/else statements to make things work the way I want them to.
9:16 pm on May 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I tried pruning and noindexing posts with no comments or with less than 3 comments or posts with little content. It made no difference in ranking on my site. Even the bounce rate and time on site remained the same.

This makes me wonder if all this cleanup will actually help.
10:41 pm on May 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I still think it's all about links for Google. I know a few forums running old software that have absolutely atrocious on page SEO with lots of dupe content and thin pages yet they are < alexa 5000 with crushing traffic stats.
10:46 pm on May 1, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I would start with doing what you can to get rich snippets working
12:03 am on May 2, 2014 (gmt 0)

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What kind of rich snippets would work for forums?
1:02 am on May 2, 2014 (gmt 0)

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have you looked at the webmaster consoles for any clues?

for example the "crawl errors" and "html improvements" sections of GWT...
5:27 am on May 2, 2014 (gmt 0)

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The rich snippits for breadcrumbs seem to work well if you forum structure makes some sense. Other than that i have not found much richsnippits which are suitable.

In the past it would help if you forum was very active. So more than a 100 comments a day. Not sure if this still works because I am below that number at this moment.