Search Engine Optimization
Having put so much time and effort into making your blog look pretty and creating fabulous content, you would want people to find it. The most common way for this to happen is via search engines. For many people, a typical web browsing session begins with a visit to their favorite search engine, so you want to be sure your blog appears high up in the rankings. Unfortunately, having a great-looking blog with lots of interesting posts isn’t enough. To get a good place in the rankings takes time, perseverance, and no small amount of knowledge.
The good news is that search engines love blogs. This fact, coupled with the techniques covered in this article, will go a long way to making your blog as findable as possible. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of getting your blog noticed by the search engines and ranked as high as possible. This article outlines the most important SEO strategies and how to apply them. We’ll also discuss how to submit your blog to the search engines as well as look at some SEO software and tools, which could save you time and improve your results.
The Principles of SEO
SEO is a huge subject. There are thousands of professionals all over the world who earn their living by providing SEO services to website owners. The good SEO pros spend huge amounts of time and resources learning the skills of effective optimization. This goes to show that you could easily spend your entire life boning up on SEO—there’s so much to learn. Obviously, you won’t have anything like this amount of time to spend on your own SEO education. However, you can still do a lot to improve your blog’s performance with the major search engines. The option to bring in a professional to really rocket through the rankings is there, if your marketing budget allows. If you do decide to hire a professional, make sure you choose a reputable one who does not use unscrupulous tactics, which could harm you more than help you.
The good news is that WordPress has been made with SEO in mind. The software comes with many built-in SEO features. For example, you don’t need to worry too much about the validity of the XHTML on your blog. The WordPress developers have ensured their code is valid. This is a big help as search engines will rank sites with valid code higher than those that have been poorly put together. There is plenty of other stuff going on behind the scenes in your WordPress installation that will aid your search engine findability—the WordPress developers have been very thoughtful. We’ll be considering the aspects of SEO that are your responsibility. But first, a quick ‘101’ on how search engines work.
How Search Engines Find Stuff
Search engines use special programs called robots that automatically crawl the Web and send back information about the web pages to the search engines’ servers. They navigate the Web by following all the links they find. This is how a search engine collects the data for its index. The index is a huge database of entries cross-referenced between keywords and relevant website pages. The search engines use special algorithms to determine the rank of the web pages held in their index. When a web user enters a search query, the engine returns a list of results. The order of the search results depends on the rank of the pages, as determined by the algorithm.
These algorithms are closely guarded secrets and the search engine companies are constantly updating them. The aim of the updates is to improve the relevancy of the search results. Because of the secrecy of the algorithms and the constant changes, it is very difficult for website owners to figure out the exact criteria used to rank pages. This prevents website owners from unfairly influencing the search rankings. However, by subscribing to the blogs or feeds of the major search engines, and using tools such as Google’s Webmaster tools (more on this later), you can keep abreast of major changes.
SEO professionals spend their lives trying to second-guess the search algorithms, but the search engine companies usually remain one step ahead. It’s a game of cat and mouse, with the odds strongly skewed in favor of the search engines—they make the rules and can change them whenever they want.
Despite the ever-changing algorithms, there are certain principles of SEO that stay constant. These are what we will look at in this article.
For the purposes of this article, we will be concentrating on techniques for the ‘traditional’ search engines such as Google, MSN, Yahoo, and Ask. We will look at some of the blog-specific search engines, such as Technorati, in the next article.
Keywords are the search terms that people type into a search engine when they are looking for something on the Web. They can be single words or several words that make up a phrase. It’s essential to know the keywords being used by people who are looking for the type of content on your blog. You then need to ensure that you’re using those keywords correctly. Let’s look at a few strategies for finding and using keywords effectively.
Choosing Your Keywords
You should spend some time building up a list of your blog’s keywords. The first step is to be clear in your mind about what your blog’s content is about. What are the main themes you are writing about?
Once you are clear about the main theme(s) of your blog, try a quick brainstorming exercise. You can do this alone or enlist the help of colleagues and friends. Put yourself in the shoes of someone looking for the kind of information you publish on your blog. What words or phrases are they likely to type into a search engine? We could run this exercise for ChilliGuru.com. People looking for the kind of content on ChilliGuru, may use the following keywords:
- Chilli (UK spelling)
- Chili (US spelling)
- Spicy food
- Growing chilies
- Chili recipe
- Mexican food
- Indian food
- Thai food
- Birds eye chilies
- Scotch bonnet
- Cook chilies
OK, that’s just a small handful of the more obvious keywords that took me about 60 seconds to come up with. If I spent longer, I’m sure I could come up with a list of 50 or more words and phrases. The more people you enlist into your keyword brainstorming, the more you are likely to come up with.
Once you have a fairly good list, you can use keyword software to help you find even more. There are literally hundreds of keyword tools out there. Some are free, some are paid for, and they have a range of features. Later in this article, in the section on search engine submissions, we will introduce some software called Web CEO, which includes a good keyword tool. In the meantime, you can start with some of the tools provided by the search engines themselves. For example, Google provides a keyword selector tool for its advertising (Ad Words) customers, but you can use it to research your keywords. Go to https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal and enter a keyword or phrase into the search box. Keep the Use synonyms box checked.
Enter the security code and click Get keyword ideas and you will be presented with a list of related keywords:
OK, so it’s a pretty long list; not all of the keywords will be relevant to your blog. For example, for ChilliGuru we could ignore ‘red hot chilli peppers lyrics‘ and any other references to the band, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
The preceding screen shot shows just the first few suggestions for one keyword, ‘chilli’ (the whole list runs into dozens). So you can see that if you were to use this tool for all the keywords in your original brainstorming list, you could easily end up with a very long list. This might seem like a good idea, but when we discuss using your keywords, shortly, you’ll see that you don’t actually want too many. When you’re working on your list, try to be selective and keep the list manageable. Use your judgment to pick the important keywords and also look at the Avg Search Volume column in the Google list. This tells you how often each keyword is actually being used. Focus on the most popular ones.
There’s no point in my giving you a recommended number of keywords for your list, as this will depend on the type of content in your blog. If your blog covers a fairly narrow subject area, then you won’t need as many keywords as if your blog covers a wide subject or even a range of subjects. Once you’ve read the next section on using keywords, you’ll also have a better idea of how many you need.