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Talking Drupal SEO with Ben Finklea

As more organizations continue to build sites on Drupal, an estimated 400,000+ at last count, the issue of search engine optimization (SEO) becomes even more paramount. Not only do customers demand an amazingly built site, but they need to employ techniques that drive higher conversions and overall traffic. At the Drupalcamp Atlanta event last Fall, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Ben Finklea. Ben is the founder of Volacci, a highly specialized consulting firm that is building a practice around helping Drupal businesses gain maximum site visibility. Ben has been busy speaking at regional Drupal events, conducting webinars, blogging, etc. and as a result become the leading voice on the Drupal SEO front. Most notably, he just released the only book on the subject called Drupal 6 Search Engine Optimization.

Ben’s message is pretty simple when it comes to optimizing your Drupal site – there is no secret sauce, but the utilization of best practices can certainly be leveraged to increase results. Drupal has been rightfully viewed as being a more SEO friendly platform than its counterparts. For example, there are a recipe of contributory modules that can be installed and Drupal creates clean URLs out of the gate. However, please note that there is no substitute for fresh, quality content – those who simply think they can build a Drupal site and expect it to surface to the top of page rankings will be sadly mistaken.

I recently had a chance to catch-up with Ben and here are six questions that we covered:

What inspired you to write Drupal 6 Search Engine Optimization?

My vision is to make Drupal the best platform on the planet for SEO. One of the major criteria that business owners look at when they're buying a website is how well is it going to attract customers. And, right now, the #1 way to do that is through the search engines. So, if we want to grow the Drupal community (and we do) then developers should be doing basic, easy, on-page SEO on every single site that they build. But, even that is not easy. So, I wrote this book to walk you through good, solid, safe, white-hat SEO on a Drupal site. Then, I added several advanced techniques and some general advice that I think everyone can benefit from.

There are 3 major open source content management systems: Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress. There are a lot of smaller ones, too. I believe the ones that will win are the ones that provide the best solution, not just the prettiest website. The best solution meets the business needs of the site owner: more revenues, more traffic, more profits.

Who is your target audience?

I wrote this book for site owners but there's a lot in there for admins and developers, too. Site owners are the ones who stand to benefit the most from SEO so that's who I had in mind as I wrote. This is not a super-technical book. There's hardly any mention of code, there's no need to understand that underpinnings or the stack, etc. Really, you just need to understand how to install a module and login as an admin and you can do 90% of the things in the book.

I've had some feedback that the book was for newbies because I explain how to install a module in chapter 1. Well, I disagree with that. This book is not for newbies! There are many Drupal books out there to get a good basic understanding of the lay of the land so I didn't really go into the things a newbie would like. Instead, I stayed focused on making your site as good as it can be for SEO.

What advice do you have for other aspiring Drupal authors?

Great question! I think the main thing is that you really need to know your stuff. And, know all the stuff that's related to your stuff, if you know what I mean. Drupal is primarily a community of technical people. They will know if you're not 100% clear on something or you don't explain something just right. A good technical editor will help but you've got to get it pretty close to perfect yourself.

Second, I'd say that it's important to recognize the people behind the code. If you reference someone else's module or work that they did, you should give them credit. Don't be stingy - it costs you nothing and it's the right thing to do. Without those contributions this book would not ever have been written.

Finally, remember that you're not a professional writer. You're a professional developer/designer/programmer. Don't sweat the writing! Get the ideas down and make sure you have a good editor on board who can help. If you're self-publishing, there are many great technical writers out there that can help you edit your work so that it reads well. If you were a professional writer then you probably wouldn't qualify to write the book. :-)

What made you originally gravitate towards Drupal?

That's easy. Clean code and a great community. I'm not a programmer but when I first saw Drupal 4.6 in early 2005 I took a look under the hood and found that I could follow what was going on. When I looked at other systems, the code was spaghetti. I had just come off of years of working with a very poorly written ecommerce platform that was a bear to work with and very expensive to maintain. So, that choice was easy for me even though Drupal wasn't as robust out of the box as other systems (at the time - I think we've caught up and passed them now).

And, I don't have to expound too much on the community thing. Anyone who has been around Drupal knows that we have the best community of any other open source CMS. That's one of the huge advantages.

If there was just one tip you could give to Drupal SEO beginners, what would it be and why?

Buy my book! :-)

Seriously, though, you can get a long way by installing the Drupal SEO Checklist module. That will walk you through most of the modules that you need. I also wrote that module (with help on the programming bits). My idea is that you can install the module and get a great checklist of what you need to do. If you want more information about HOW to do it then you'll buy the book. The module is free and the ebook version is only about $28 ($38 for the dead trees version). $28 for top advice on how to get traffic from Google to your site is a pretty great deal.

What’s next – can we expect a Drupal 7 book?

If there is interest in the community then I'll certainly write a D7 version. It probably won't appear until several months after 7 is released simply because SEO relies heavily on contributed modules that aren't updated right away. Still, the basic SEO guidelines remain the same and probably won't change much between 6 and 7. There will be little difference on what to do, more on how you do them.

There are some new things, though. One example would be that Google recently rolled out a new feature that replaces the URL in search results with a site hierarchy, showing the precise location of the page on the website. The new feature uses site navigation breadcrumbs to give a lot more information than the URL paths that were displayed before.

This is exciting news for Drupal-powered websites. Drupal generates breadcrumbs right out of the box and displays them in the default templates. Google now recognizes these navigational links and uses them in the SERPs. If you are using Drupal breadcrumbs in your template, you are essentially getting a helping hand from Google immediately.

Keep up the good work Ben and thanks for your time!


Meet team member, Dave Terry

Dave Terry is a Co-Founder and partner of Mediacurrent. In his role, he leverages a wide acumen of business and entrepreneurial experience to execute operational objectives. Dave plays a key...

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