This post is pretty technical and if you are not interested in learning more about the specifics of web applications, pass it by.

Making a website like Cheerful Ghost isn't too hard but it does takes time. When I first launched it I was proud of it and over the last few years I have improved it. Two ways the site lacked at launch was in terms of SEO(Search Engine Optimization) and social site sharing. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is basically the art of engineering your website in such a way that it is more attractive to search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo. The more search results you show up in the more people come to your site and the better your site does. At first I simply thought that I all I needed to do was focus on writing great original content and that alone would incentivize Google to give us a great search ranking. Whereas it's awesome to focus on great original content like we do, it's not quite the silver bullet I thought it would be.

So I started the long process of a ton of little improvements that have improved our SEO.

Unique Post Titles Make Google Happy

Cheerful Ghost requires everyone to select a game from their list when they post to the site. When the site first launched we didn't allow people the ability to add titles to posts so all games contained a heading like "Travis's Post on Terraria" or "Adym's Post on Skyrim." Because of this requirement each post about Skyrim or Terraria effectively had the same title. So if Travis wrote about Terraria 25 times each of his posts were titled in the exact same way. Originally I thought this was a good idea because I didn't think anyone would care about customizing their post heading. Come to find out this was not right from a user perspective as people really wanted to personalize the post by providing a title, but this also sucked for Google too. Google thought a lot of our content was spammy because it contained the same title and as such our SEO score was pretty bad.

After enough people asked to create custom post titles I decided to change this. Initially I was skeptical as I thought people were simply asking for something they wouldn't really use. Apparently I was wrong because they added them to each post. Not only that but Google started scoring us better and as such, we got more hits per month.

This is So Meta

When Google crawls Cheerful Ghost it checks the HTML and embedded in that HTML are two meta properties that Google uses for search results. One is the title tag, which in Cheerful Ghost's case is populated with the post title and the META Description which is populated with the post body. These show up in Google as the page title and description, but don't take my word for it. In Google Chrome you can check this out by clicking "View / Developer / View Source" on the following page:

Search engines love titles and descriptions that naturally flow from the content of the page as do people searching for content as they can use them to find the content they want.

Human Readable URL's Are Magic

Another SEO trick I have heard about for quite some time and got around to implementing recently are user readable URL's. It's easier to show it off so i'll paste one below.

Basically, we put the post title in the URL. Not only does this allow the user to know what they can expect by looking at the URL before they click, Google also seems to love it too. When I created Cheerful Ghost I wanted our URL's to be meaningful by design to allow the user to know something about the content. By visually parsing that URL you know that Travis wrote it, it's post 2106 and now, what the post is about.

But we don't just do it for posts, we do it for events too.

And games.

So not only can a user visually understand what is going on, but Google loves it too.

After adding relevant text for the content at the end of the URL and updating the Cheerful Ghost sitemap to reflect this we have seen a very significant jump in the pages Google now holds in it's search index for Cheerful Ghost but also a jump in search listings and clicks. It's hard to say how significant right now, but the numbers keep going up so in a few months i'll know with greater detail.

Incremental Improvements Over Time

There is no silver bullet to making a website that does well online. I think it's a bunch of things starting with a simple design, awesome content, a great community and a solid set of technology. If I hear about a new thing that I add to the site that makes things better, I do a bit of research on it and if it makes sense I incorporate it into what we do. After that I use analytics to determine how effective it was. If it works, I keep doing it and if it doesn't I rip it out.

As I learn more about what works i'll let you know.

Azurephile   Super Member wrote on 06/28/2014 at 11:54pm

Maybe you can forgive me for my proof-reading eye, but I just found an error; "we have seen a very significant jump in the pages Google google now holds.." Do you see "Google google?" Oh, there's another; "It's hard to say how significant right now..." Do you mean "how significant that is right now?" =)

Well, you've created an awesome website and I think you've done a wonderful job with it! I think it's cool, too, that you're sharing this kind of information with us. One phrase I saw often in this post was that "Google loves it." I'm glad for that, I love Google! I'm also glad to see that the site is attracting more positive attention.

Recently, you posted on Facebook about how the site is getting targeted by hackers. I thought about posting a video of the song, "It Wasn't Me," by Shaggy. Hahahaha. Anyway, I hope those hackers have laid off of their attempts to bring this great site down. Although, I'm into computer technology and many aspects of it, I don't really know what you could do to prevent hackers from messing up this site. I do wonder what the status of that is though, if you've thought about things you can do to make this site less susceptible to hackers.

Keep up the good work and thanks again for an awesome website! =)

jdodson   Admin   Post Author wrote on 06/30/2014 at 02:16am

Thanks Greg, an eye to editing isn't a bad thing.

I also don't think you are hacking us :D

Azurephile   Super Member wrote on 06/30/2014 at 05:16am

=) I kind of hate pointing things out that I see because I'm afraid someone would take it personally or think that my intentions are to make one look stupid and myself smart. That's definitely not the case. I guess I feel like a natural proofreader. That said, Facebook is so damn annoying because people really seem to have no knowledge of the proper usage of the English language, including grammar and spelling. I think it's a bit ironic that many Americans will say, "you live in our country, you should speak our language," yet at the same time those people who say such things don't seem to have ever taken any elementary or remedial English courses in their life time. I recently saw a picture on Facebook of one person who had a sign that read something like, "you live in are country, speak English." Here in Virginia, a lot of people say "I seen," which gets on my nerves! Which reminds me of another Facebook post I read that said something like, "if you say 'I seen," then I assume you have never seen the inside of a book." HAHAHAHAHA. Anyway, I think typos and minor things such as I pointed out to you are just a part of the writing process. It happens and doesn't mean someone is stupid. Hahaha. After a while of posting on this site, I decided to re-read everything that I've written before posting so that what I've written makes sense and is free of error. I think it's just the part of me that's always been a writer.

Thanks again for an awesome website! Keep up the good work!

jdodson   Admin   Post Author wrote on 06/30/2014 at 10:06pm

Yeah, no problem Greg!

Azurephile   Super Member wrote on 07/03/2014 at 05:37pm

I just had an idea that will perhaps change the way I create headings in my future posts. I noticed that the URL for my Fallout 3 post included the original heading I created. Neither the original heading nor the current heading contains the game's name and therefore is not reflected in the "friendly" URL. So I was thinking, what if the post's URL included the name of the game. Although, I also realize that it might be more simple for you if we included the name of the game in our headings, so you don't have to re-work the "friendly" URL. I think that will also help generate some results on a search engine.

jdodson   Admin   Post Author wrote on 07/03/2014 at 07:37pm

Unless it makes sense to include it, I wouldn't add the game name to the post title. Again, unless it makes sense to add it.

Reason why is because I already add the game name to the HTML meta tags on the page. So Google Search, sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ include it in the title(try it and see). ALSO we list the game name on the post page itself too.

Occasionally I put the post title in the header when it makes sense too(for interviews) but otherwise, i'd leave it out.

Azurephile   Super Member wrote on 07/03/2014 at 09:04pm

Ok, that's cool. I was just looking at the friendly URL.

jdodson   Admin   Post Author wrote on 07/04/2014 at 04:33am

Right. I'd leave it our of the friendly URL as if we do it all the time it might give us a less awesome google SEO score.


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