(A guest blog by Tom Pick, author of that blog’s design I improved recently)
When you first launch your blog, most of the visits you get are likely to be from your direct efforts — telling people you know about your blog, linking to your posts on Twitter, getting like-minded online or offline acquaintances to recommend it, etc.
Over time, however, most blogs drive the majority of their traffic through search engines. Getting traffic from search requires that your blog rank well (show up highly — preferably in the first few results) in search engines, and getting a high ranking for a specific search phrase requires that you do a bit of search engine optimisation (SEO) on your blog.
SEO is not magic, ‘secret’ or even all that complicated. You may hear some SEO ‘experts’ throw around terms like canonicalisation, long tail, 301 redirects, cloaking, or latent semantic indexing. While these terms have some real meaning, particularly for large, complex websites competing to rank on commonly used and therefore highly competitive search terms, they are all SEO jargon. Too often they are used not to convey meaning, but rather to make the person using them feel smart, and to make you feel stupid. Don’t fall for it; making your blog search engine-friendly isn’t terribly difficult and you can do it without having to learn a whole new language.
Here are six tips to help you get your blog to rank well in search and draw visitors who are interested in what you have to say:
1. Think about your keywords. ‘Keywords’ is actually a somewhat misleading SEO jargon term; ‘key phrases’ would be more accurate. These are phrases, usually 3-4 words, that communicate to your readers (and to the search engines) what your blog, and what each post, is about.
First off, your blog needs one high-level phrase that describes the subject you’ll be writing about on a regular basis. Then each post you write needs to focus around one or two key phrases or ideas in the post. For example, this post may rank well for the phrases ‘jargon-free SEO’ and ‘SEO for beginning bloggers’. That’s the core topic of this post, and used in the title to communicate that both to people and search engines.
2. Use keywords in your blog name and post titles. The high-level phrase that describes your general topic, as noted above, should be used in your blog name. For example, if you are writing about natural and organic foods, or the best pubs in London, don’t call your blog ‘Fred’s Blog’ or ‘Mary’s Thoughts’. Make it something like ‘Natural and Organic Food with Mary’ or ‘London’s Best Pubs by Fred’. Over time, your blog should rank well for your title phrase (as long it isn’t too common or generic).
My blog is called the Webbiquity B2B Marketing Blog. Webbiquity is a made-up word (meaning “to be findable in many places online”), so no one is likely to search for that unless they’ve actually heard of my blog. But B2B (short for business-to-business) marketing blog is a common search phrase. At last check, my blog appeared on the lower half of the first page for this term; not bad for a fairly new blog with a lot of competition (and actually my old blog, WebMarketCentral, still ranks for this term as well even though my last post there was in January 2010).
Similarly, each post should you write should contain one or two key ideas, phrases that are used in the title, content, and meta tags (oops, more SEO jargon—I’ll explain meta tags shortly).
3. Write interesting content. This is really the single most important thing you can do for SEO. Interesting content naturally includes key phrases that are important to your topic. It also attracts links from other bloggers and will result in people recommending your content through social bookmarking sites like Digg and StumbleUpon as well as through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
4. Use keywords in meta tags. Meta tags are simply bits of content that describe your blog and each post on it, more for the benefit of search engines than human visitors. Think of meta tags like the dust jacket of a book. When you look at the front and back covers of a book, you can immediately glean key information such as the title, author, perhaps a short description of the contents, and recommendations from reviewers. These enable you to get a pretty good idea of what the book is about without even opening it. Meta tags serve the same function for search engines; they communicate, briefly, what each page or post on your blog is about.
Most blog platforms provide a way for you to easily edit your meta tags. In WordPress for example, it’s best to install a plugin called the All in One SEO Pack. With this plugin installed, simply scroll to the bottom of any page or post in the WordPress editor and you can add three bits of meta tag content: title, description and keywords.
The title tag is the most important element for search engines. It can be the same as, or slightly different from, the actual title of your post. But it should be no more than 80 total characters and include the most important key phrase for your post right at the beginning.
The description is a short summary (generally 150-200 characters) designed to hook search engine users into reading your posts. For example, a meta description for this post might be:
Learn how to get your blog to rank well in the search engines using this simple, jargon-free guide to SEO for beginning bloggers.
Note that it’s short, action-oriented (‘learn how’) and describes the benefit readers will get from this post (rank well in search).
The meta keywords tag is the least important for search; Google no longer uses this, though some of the lesser-known search engines do. Still, this can he helpful in clarifying your thoughts, and it doesn’t hurt to include 2-4 keyword phrases, separated by commas, in this tag.
5. Get links to your blog. The two core elements of SEO are content and links. Content tells the search engines what your blog is about; links tell them how much popularity or authority your blog has.
There are many ways to get links, but the best is by writing interesting content that others want to link to. For example, if Fred (from the example above) wrote a post about ‘The Ten Best Pubs in London’ and included brief reviews of each, it’s highly likely that others interested in the London social scene (such as bloggers and even journalists) would link to it.
Social bookmarking and networking sites are another source for links, though it’s not clear exactly how much weight these carry with the search engines (and their engineers won’t tell). These links appear to only have a real impact on search if many people are linking to particular post or blog.
A great way to jumpstart links to a new blog is by submitting it to blog directories, sites dedicated to categorizing and linking to blogs of all types.
6. Have patience. Unless you are writing about a very obscure topic with low search competition, a new blog is unlikely to rank highly in the major search engines. It generally takes a fair amount of content (at least a couple of dozen posts), links and time before search engines, particularly Google, really start paying attention to a blog.
However, by focusing on writing compelling content, and following the steps above, your blog will inevitably rise in the search engine ranks and attract more readers interested in your writing.
About the author: Tom Pick is an online marketing executive with KC Associates, a marketing and PR firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, focused on B2B technology clients. He’s also the award-winning writer of the Webbiquity blog, which focuses on B2B lead generation and Web presence optimization – the fusion of SEO, search marketing, social media, content marketing and interactive PR.
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