I’m continuing my Start a Blog series today with a guest post by someone who knows more about this topic than I do. If you’re just catching up, we’ve covered how to start a hosted blog (better for ads), how to write good content, how to choose photos for your site, and how to get more people to see your posts. Today we’re covering SEO, which is both very important and very intimidating if you’re just starting out. I know it made my eyes glaze over for the first couple of years but it turns out that if you can get past the fact that it’s a scary-sounding acronym, it’s actually just some basic stuff you should do to help people find you out in the wide open Internet. John breaks it down very well, so you can do this! No sweat!
PS – John is also my brother-in-law. You’d like his blog.
Hello everyone. I am John Kinnear. I write Ask Your Dad, a silly little blog that, despite its name, contains no good or usable advice. I don’t recommend you visit it because it is definitely NOT funny or useful in anyway. Carly asked that I write a little bit for you about SEO. Why? Because for my day job, I work in SEO.
Anytime my blogger friends find out what I do for a living, a couple things immediately happen. First, they assume that my blog gets a ton of SEO Traffic. It does ok, but nothing crazy. And second, they ask me how much SEO they should be doing on their own blogs. Although I generally try not to be cryptic and frustrating in my answers, to the question of “how much SEO should I doing on my blog,” I always volley back with two additional questions. “How much do you know about SEO,” and “What question do you want to be the answer to?”
Both of those questions are vital to finding out how much SEO you should be performing on your blog. Let’s start with the first question. How much do you know about SEO? Most people know very little, and like most things, there is a lot of info out there. For this article I am going to assume you probably know what the letters stand for, but just in case, SEO means Search Engine Optimization. It is the practice of managing or “optimizing” on page and off page factors to maximize your visibility to search engines. What a lot of “how to” articles skip is the SE part of SEO. They get right to the optimization without explaining how it helps. This leads to lot of people following really bad advice because they don’t know the why, only the how. If you knew nothing about how cars worked, and someone told you that putting grape jelly in your gas tank would make your car run better, you very well may end up on the side of the road in a cloud of grape scented smoke. Taking SEO advice without knowing at least the basics of how a search engine works can be just as damaging.
How Search Engines Work
When you type a search into Google, how does it pick which results it brings back? How does Google even know what all is out there? Does Google have a bazillion super intelligent monkeys in a bazillion warehouses, constantly reading every piece of information on the internet, ranking it according to its usefulness, and then inputting that information into an instantly accessible database? No. That is silly. They don’t have super intelligent monkeys. They have spiders.
Not real spiders of course. Software robot spiders. They’re called spiders because they crawl the web. Ha! Get it? OK, it’s not that funny, but it is a good way to remember. These software programs called spiders go out onto the web and crawl websites, gather all the data they can (what words are on which page, what the page is talking about, where that page is pointing, etc.) and then they bring all of that information back to Google. Google then takes that ridiculous amount of data, applies an ever-changing algorithm to it, and uses it to sort which pages should show up for which searches. Here is a fun walkthrough made by Google.
There is obviously a lot more that goes into it, and this is the most simplistic version of the “how”, but it should be enough to get an SEO Novice to the second question I ask. “What question do you want to be the answer to?”
How People Use Search Engines
Think about it. What do you go to a search engine for? You go to a search engine to ask a question and to get an answer. It could be a really broad question like “potty training” or it could be a really narrow question like “What is the best pizza place in zip code 84094.” Some people type in product names, and others just ask a question outright, “How do I tie a tie.”
The more questions you are looking to be the answer to, the more benefit you are going to get out of SEO. If you are writing anecdotal, touching, and funny stories about your kids, your time will be better invested in growing your social footprint. People aren’t going to Google to find touching stories; they are going to their social networks. (I should clarify, I am sure there are a bunch of monthly queries for the term “touching stories” on Google. But unless you are going to be one of those people who calls their touching story a touching story, chances are you aren’t going to consistently rank for that term.)
SO GET TO THE POINT JOHN. HOW MUCH SEO SHOULD I BE DOING ON MY BLOG!!
Geeze. You don’t have to yell. I’m getting there. Unless you are a review site that is targeting a variety of different terms or a blog with an e-commerce aspect to it, I don’t think you should EVER sit down and say “OK, now I am going to do a bunch of SEO on my site.” I think if you just work in some best practices to your writing and posting, you will find that your traffic from search will grow naturally – which is really the best way to do it. Quick gains are also quickly lost. So let’s talk about some best practices for bloggers.
The most important piece of your blog posts is the title. The title is the first thing Google reads when deciding what your blog is about. If you want to show up in search for a specific topic or product, the name of topic or the keyword needs to be in your title. Your title is also what will show up in search. Think about what you click on in the search results. If you ask Google a question, you click on the title that sounds like the answer you’re looking for.
Input image alt text. This can be done through the HTML, or in most blogging platforms just by clicking on the image in editor. The alt text is used not only by search engines to determine what is on the page, but also by visually impaired readers who go to your site. Put a short description of the photo.
Call to Action
Call to action. End each post with some form of a call to action. Ask for comments. Mention shares. Ask a question. The point is to get people interacting with your site. When people create comments, they are creating content for you. The more content you have, the more you show up for in search.
The search description, or Meta Description is a short overview of what your blog post is about. You can enable the ability to add a search description to each post in Slogger. Go to Settings » Search Description» Enable. This will add a field in the right column for your individual posts. For WordPress, I recommend the Yoast SE0 plug in.
A site map gives search engines a complete list of all the URLs on your page. If you need help installing a site map on your blog, Google “Site map for [your blogging platform)”. There are plenty of tutorials on line. WordPress also has a myriad of plugins.
You should link to previous posts when relevant within a current post. Since blogs tend to be linear, old posts get buried and are often only findable through your blog archive (you should have an archive) and through your onsite search function (you should have one of those too).
The structure of your site should make sense. Is your blog just one long list of posts? If I wanted to read your first post, how would I find it? If I wanted to read a post about potty training on your blog, how would I find it? A search, blog archive, categories, and menus are a must. Think about how you structure these as early as possible in your development process. Going back is a pain.
Make sure you have your sharing widgets for social set up. People need ways to share your content, and the more people that tweet, Facebook, pin your stuff, the more chances you have for people to link to it on their web pages. Social does influence search. Whether directly or indirectly is still debatable, but optimizing your site to be shared socially only helps drive more traffic anyway. So DO IT.
Offsite SEO (Including a bit on social)
A lot of these tactics focus on link building. Remember those spiders I talked about earlier. Part of the data they are gathering are which sites are pointing which sites. If you write a site about bowties, and a lot of other sites link to your site when they are discussing bowties and bowtie news, then there is a good chance that Google is going to assume that your site that is all about bowties. The same goes for dad blogs, breast cancer blogs, the best online university and so forth.
Always remember. The best links are the ones that send traffic.
Reach Out to other bloggers that you admire. It is a really friendly community, and most of us want to be friends. Don’t ask for links or guest posts. Just introduce yourself, tell them what you like about their Blog, and introduce yours. Eventually some of them will read your blogs and the links will come naturally.
Comment on other folk’s bogs. This kind of an outdated link building strategy, but find that a funny, well thought out comment will send traffic to my site. Most comment plugins let you input your site and then they hyperlink your name.
If you’ve been blogging awhile, you’re probably sick of SE0 guest post requests. I am too. This is another strategy that is moving past its prime, because a bunch of us professional and “pretending to be professional” SEO’s overused it, but it can still be good for bloggers when done right. Here’s how: Don’t randomly ask people you don’t know to guest post to game the search engines. Once you’ve networked, work with your friends to guest post on their sites with content that they like. Since people within your network write about similar topics, you are actually building the kind of links that Google AND real people like – useful ones that send traffic.
Post links in relevant locations (DON’T SPAM)
Stumble upon. Reddit, All Top, Forums. All of these places allow you to link your content. Don’t just start spamming links though. I cannot stress this more. Spamming will get you laughed at, and then banned, and then laughed at some more. Get to know these communities and post relevant links to your content. Traffic will follow.
Open a twitter account and start tweeting. Don’t just post links to your blog. Talk to people. Post links to their content. Mention them when you do. Have conversations. The more your page is out there, the more people are going to link to it.
Facebook is a tricky beast these days, but it still sends a good amount of traffic and can help build links too. Optimizing for Facebook’s Edge Rank could be an entirely different post. To save time I will say post a variety of content and keep your followers engaged.
Managing Pinterest board can drive a good traffic if your content is the type of content that is Pinnable, Food blogs lifestyle blogs and craft blogs work best. Links on Pinterest are open and followed by Google and they also spread your content on the web.
Want to learn more? I think that Moz probably has the best Beginners Guide to SEO on the web. It is longer than this article, but if you want to learn more it is a great place to start! Thanks for reading!
John Kinnear is a father of two tiny humans and the prodigious, world famous, authoritative author of Ask Your Dad. He also writes his own bios. John started his blog in 2012, and has since been featured on Huffington Post, Lifetime Moms, The Good Men Project, The Today Show, and his mom’s refrigerator. He tries to be funny on purpose, but most of the time it is on accident. You can find him hiding in the bathroom, or on Facebook and Twitter.