Conventional wisdom is wrong – AGAIN. They said it couldn’t be done. But I’ve done it. Maybe I’m lucky, but I think there’s more to it than that. Allow me to elaborate.
I live in Washington State, west of the Cascade mountains, not too far from the shores of Puget Sound. My neighbors and I reside in the one of the very few regions of the US that have not been scorched by the insane summer heat of 2011. Indeed, our official temperatures have hovered in the 60s and 70s all summer long. We’ve barely touched the 80s, and nothing hotter than that. Lucky us!
Pleasant summer weather in the Pacific Northwest is one of the many charms of living here. There’s no real humidity to speak of, no swarming gnats or black flies (like there is where I grew up in the Washington, DC area!), and only very infrequent heat waves that may reach into the 90s. As a result of this wonderful weather, conventional wisdom says that you cannot grow tomatoes and hot peppers here. It is said there’s not enough sun and not enough heat. Pshaw.
My own nano-climate
The back patio of my condo has a great southwest exposure. The patio’s concrete slab heats up during the day and slowly radiates that heat during the cool evening hours. My condo patio container garden thrives back there. And no wonder my plants grow so well: an outdoor thermometer installed last year shows that my sun-drenched patio temperatures are regularly 15-20 degrees warmer than the official numbers from the local weather reports. I call this my personal nano-climate. My next-door neighbors to the south do not get the same sun exposure I get, and their stunted tomato plants must surely look at their gargantuan brethren on my patio with green-eyed envy.
For the last three years, I’ve taken what used to be my gardening black thumb and transformed it to a deep green. My first year I successfully grew sugary-sweet cherry tomatoes, then last year I added heirloom tomatoes and a variety of fiery hot chili peppers. Each year was mostly successful, and lessons were learned about which plants grow best in my hot patio container garden. However, this year promises to take the cake.
Take a look at this:
Welcome to the land of Rick’s nine-foot-tall tomato plants! This year I have two Sun Gold cherry tomato and two Brandywine heirloom tomato plants. In front of them, I have four chili pepper plants: one Cayenne, two Jalapeno, and one Serrano. I also added a pot of Rosemary to the mix this year.
The sweet, orange-colored Sun Golds are appearing in huge numbers this year (I’ll need a ladder to pick the top ones). The Brandywines are also coming along nicely, as you can see below.
But what really gets me excited is the surprise of the chilies. Despite this region never hitting New Mexico-like temperatures, my nano-climate’s heat produces beautiful, capsaicin-laden peppers, such as the Serranos below.
Bringing it back to SEO
So what’s the point of all this gardening talk in an SEO blog? Well, the success of my garden is analogous to the success I’ve had with this SEO blog, The SEO Ace. Both started out brand new in the spring of 2011 (the site in March, and the garden in May). Both are already doing very well for their niche. Indeed, my site now ranks #1 in both Google and Bing for the query phrase SEO ACE (using no search operator modifiers). It ranks ahead of all the other relevant SEO sites and blogs that have been around much longer than my site. So who says you can’t get a new site to rank well in just a few months? Pshaw.
Helping your garden grow
The process of growing a good garden is like growing a new site. To reap the fruits I wanted (be it a delicious vegetable or good page rank), I followed these steps:
1. Find a good, fertile spot in which to grow. In the case of a tomato garden, I needed a spot with lots of sun and warmth, easy access to water, and good air circulation to keep the leaves dry, all of which is relevant to the needs of the plant to prosper.
Websites need relevancy to prosper as well. Lots of it! To make that happen for me, I created a domain name that has relevant keywords for my site’s theme (theseoace for SEO—I can’t believe it was available!). I also used the most appropriate top-level domain (TLD) for my intended audience (I used .COM as I am ostensibly a US-based commercial venture, but had I been outside the US writing for a non-US-based audience, I would have used an international TLD for better geo-targeting).
Once I had my domain name set, I created a master list of keywords and phrases that became the basis of my site’s content plan, and then I broke that master list down into the most relevant subsets for each content page I planned to create. Those lists of keywords will help define the relevance of each page of my site in search.
2. Create a strong supporting architecture to build upon. For tomatoes, I needed tall cages and sturdy planters (I even added a bolted-on trellis this year!) to offer the plants the support they need to bear fruit. Anything less and the plants could potentially topple over just as they began to actively grow.
For my site, I needed to create a supportive site architecture that helped the site get indexed in search. This includes building a shallow directory structure (as much as WordPress allowed me to control), using keywords for directory and file names (called custom Permalinks in WordPress parlance), canonicalizing my domain root (via a script in the .htaccess file), and providing both well-formed robots.txt and sitemap.xml files. I also know to always use an HTTP 301 redirect to preserve page rank of pages relocated or removed from my site.
3. Setup cross-linking for added support. While using tall tomato cages was OK, I wanted more support since I was doing container gardening. In my first year of gardening, I grew tomatoes in large, individual pots with tall cages. As the plants grew and bore green fruit, they became very top-heavy. Unfortunately, a blustery summer storm came through that summer and blew over the top-heavy pots, thereby damaging some of the plants. Last year I linked the pots’ cages together with strings and then tied them to fixtures on my house, where they supported one another (awkwardly, but it worked). This year, instead of individual pots, I am using large 75-gallon planters, heavy with drainage stone, with strong trellises mounted, where I can link the cages to the trellis and to each other with string. I’ve had no troubles with plants falling over at all this year (so far!).
My site has also benefitted from supportive cross-linking. I added the URL of my blog site in the public profiles of my Twitter, LinkedIn, and my new Google Profile accounts. I also made sure my site linked back to those sites.
I also added the rel=author tag to my About Rick page on my site as the definitive biography of me, and I link content pages of my site to that bio page hub. I also link my Google Profile page to the bio page, and link that bio page back to my Google Profile. All of this is designed to further reinforce my brand as an author of technical SEO content, at least within Google.
4. Feed it! This year I chose to use a 50/50 mix of high quality organic garden soil and peat humus as my gardening medium. This was a good start, but I still wanted a little extra fertilizer to feed the tomatoes and peppers when they were in both the green growth and fruit-setting stages.
My site also needs a regular diet of fresh new content to help it thrive in organic search rankings. Search engines use hundreds of criteria to evaluate the rank of related sites for a keyword query. All other criteria being equal, the site that continues to develop new, high-quality content, especially in these days of Google’s Panda algorithm, will see more success than a site that has gone dormant. Fresh, high-quality content will feed a site’s page rank (because it offers more opportunities for search customers to browse).
I always keep in mind that the content I provide should be useful to my audience. I maintain a Resources page that serves as my online link to my favorite SEO tools and sites. I hope others find as useful as I do (it is the page I visit most often).
5. Provide regular, nurturing care. My tomatoes and peppers will only thrive with my regular intervention to eliminate competing weeds, apply supporting ties to shore up heavy, fruit-laden branches, and provide water when needed (tall, fruit-laden tomato plants can consume a lot of water on a hot day!). I also need to watch out for and remove slugs and other pests as they appear.
My site benefits from my regular attention as well. WordPress and the plug-ins I use all get periodically updated, and as these can often be security updates, it is imperative that I apply them ASAP. I also regularly update my pages as new content or relevant technologies become available. For example, I recently applied the Google +1 button to each of my site’s pages. Along with the rel=author work mentioned above, I figure as I am a professional content developer with a long history of published content, I should take advantage of this emerging trend of creating relevance between published content and its author (me!). This kind of regular maintenance will help keep the site vital.
6. Enable the power of disinfecting sunlight. My tomato and pepper plants need long exposure to sunlight to keep them healthy and vibrant.
In terms of a website, transparency in how it operates is a very good thing. Some webmasters will try malicious attempts to manipulate the search engine results through ill-advised techniques such as cloaking or paid links. This is pure web spam, which is toxic to the health of a site’s page rank in search. Maybe I’m old school, but my domain name is valuable to me. I’m not going to risk having it purged from the indexes of the search engines because I foolishly tried to earn page rank via malicious manipulation.
7. Lastly, optimize its ability to thrive. My garden needs good drainage, high quality soil, room for roots to spread out, support to grow tall, and time. I could have used small buckets as planters, sterile potting soil, and nothing else, but my results would have not been worth the effort made.
To help my site thrive, I needed to optimize it as well. I applied relevant keywords used in its metadata and on-page. I made sure every post and page I wanted indexed had descriptive and relevant <title> and <meta> description tags, <img> alt text, and <h1> tags using my targeted keywords. I worked to get authoritative inbound links (which is a never-ending process!). I developed high-quality, text-based content so search crawlers could easily read it. I also gave the process time to work. And so far, I have to say I like the results.
For more site optimization tips, I offer the following:
- Everything you need to know about SEO
- Top 10 SEO considerations for web content developers
- Is your site ranking rank? Do a site review
You’re on your own for more garden optimization tips! Until next time…