Having plenty of good quality inbound links to your blog will improve your ranking in the search engines. Google started life as a student project to rank the importance of websites based on the number of incoming links; link popularity is still at the heart of Google’s ranking process.
But for many people link building seems like a daunting task. How do you get other people to link to you? It’s actually not as difficult as it first seems—once you get into it, you’ll see there are plenty of strategies to use. The point is to stick at it and treat link building as an integral part of your blogging routine.
You can check how many inbound links Google has found for your blog by using the link: command. Enter link:http://www.packtpub.com into the Google search box to see all the inbound links for the Packt website. You can do the same for your blog.
There is a more ‘organic’ technique that we’ll discuss here.
It’s often referred to by SEO pros as link baiting. It’s basically creating content that other bloggers and webmasters just can’t resist linking to. Obviously, you should always be trying to create interesting and exciting content, but every now and then it pays to come up with a killer post that is intended purely to attract links. There are several methods to achieve this. Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking:
- Write something controversial that other people will just have to disagree with. Be careful not to upset anyone and don’t be offensive, but come up with something that goes against the grain and makes your opinion on an issue stand out.
- Disagree with a renowned expert. A post title like Seth Godin Is Plain Wrong About XYZ, backed up with a reasoned argument, could attract plenty of attention and encourage back links to the post.
- Provide a really useful resource. This could be something like a ‘Top 10‘ list or a how-to guide.
- Run a contest, competition, or some other event that is likely to attract attention.
- Give away a useful ‘freebie’. For example, a PDF e-book, a piece of software (that you own the rights to), or a free sample of one of your products.
These are the kind of posts that are likely to attract attention and links back to your blog. Try brainstorming a few ideas along these lines and you’ll be surprised how many you come up with.
As well as link baiting you can also simply ask other people to link to you. This is a fairly straightforward approach, but you need to be careful not to come across as a spammer. It may be worth restricting this to people you know or people who regularly leave comments on your blog. Some people may be annoyed about receiving an email out of the blue requesting a back link, so exercise some discretion here. Definitely don’t send out a broadcast email to lots of addresses requesting links.
Don’t be tempted to buy inbound links. There are many unscrupulous dealers on the Web who will sell you quantities of inbound links. Google and the other search engines regard this practice as ‘cheating’ and severely frown upon anyone involved. If you buy links, you will be banned from the search engines.
A robots.txt file is read by search engine robots when they crawl on your blog. You can use it to tell them which pages should be indexed. There are a couple of reasons why using a robots.txt file is good for SEO. First, Google and other search engines recommend you use one and it’s generally a good idea to do what they say. Second, it can help you to cut down on duplicated content.
Search engines do not like duplicated content (that is the same content appearing at two different URLs within a website) because they suspect it might be spam. One minor drawback with WordPress is that it can create a lot of duplicate content. For example, http://blog.chilliguru.com/category/recipes points to exactly the same content as http://blog.chilliguru.com/recipes. Also, the same content is repeated on different pages. For example, most of the posts listed at http://blog.chilliguru.com/category/recipes are also listed on http://blog.chilliguru.com/tag/receipe. We can tell the search engines to ignore any duplicate content by giving instructions in the robots.txt file. Here is the robots.txt file for ChilliGuru:
The first line is a big signpost to your Google Sitemap. User-agent: * means that the file is intended for all robots to read. It is possible to target the different search engine robots with specific instructions, for example, User-agent: Googlebot would just apply to the Google robot; however, you don’t need to do this with your blog.
The lines that begin with Disallow: tell the robots not to visit those files and folders. This is how you tell them to ignore certain parts of your site. For example, we don’t need any of the content in the wp- directories to be indexed because it’s mainly just PHP code. The one exception is /wp-content/uploads/. We haven’t included this one in the robots.txt file, because we do want the search engines to crawl its contents. There may be images in there that should be indexed. Disallow: /category/ should cure the duplicate content problem we outlined above.
You can use a simple text editor (for example, Notepad or Crimson Editor) to create your robots.txt file (you can go to http://blog.chilliguru.com/robots.txt and use that file as a starting point). Then it’s simply a matter of using your FTP client to upload it to the root directory of your blog.
Using Excerpts on the Home Page
Another way to cut down on duplicated content is to display just excerpts of the posts on your home page instead of showing them in full. Obviously, each post is displayed in full on its own single post page, so having them in full on the home page may be regarded as duplicate content by the search engines. In fact, it’s not just the home page, as the posts slip down to pages 2, 3, 4, and so on; they are still displayed in full.
Using excerpts is not only a great SEO strategy; it is also becoming popular amongst bloggers in its own right. Some people prefer it as it makes the home page more concise and there is less vertical scrolling required to get an overview of all the posts. It makes it easier for readers to scan the posts and pick the ones they are really interested in. Also, forcing readers to click through to the single post page means they see the comments in full for each post and so may be more inclined to make a contribution to the discussion.
It should still be OK to display the most recent post in full as it can take up to a week for a new post to be indexed by the search engines. By then, the post will have moved down the list and become excerpted, thus removing the risk of duplicate content.
I’m noticing home page excerpts more and more. I just did a very quick (and unscientific) survey of the current top-10 blogs on technorati.com and seven of them used excerpts on their home page (these are big names like Gizmodo, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and so on).
However, there will always be some traditionalists who prefer to see the full posts on the home page. You need to balance the SEO and usability benefits against the possibility of alienating some of your readers. Personally, I think the benefits of using excerpts outweigh any drawbacks, so we’ll go ahead and set them up on ChilliGuru.
You could go through and edit each post adding a tag where appropriate. However, there is a plugin we can use that will do this automatically. It’s called Excerpt Editor by Andrew Ozz. Go to http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/excerpt-editor/, download, install, and activate it in the usual way on your local development server.
Select the plugin (it’s under the Manage tab). First, select Auto-Generate from the menu and enter the following settings:
Click Save Auto-Generate Options.
Now select Replace Posts from the menu and enter the following settings:
Click Save the Replace Posts options and view your home page. You will see that the latest post is shown in full but all the others have been excerpted and now have a Continue reading link. The same thing has been applied on all the Archive pages (Category, Author, Day, Month, and Year).
The default settings in the plugin mean that the first 70 words are used in the excerpts. On the Auto-Generate page of the plugin, you can change the number of words to be included in the excerpts. Or, if you don’t like having the post cut-off in the middle of a sentence, you can use the Editor to select each post and then manually set the content you want to appear in the excerpt.
Having set the Auto-Generate options, every new post you publish will be excerpted accordingly. Simply deactivate the plugin if you ever want to revert to full posts.