Optimising your Blog for Search EnginesWarning – Long Post (even for me!)

Remember that when it comes to “Optimising your blog”, looking at the factors which will be picked up by the Search Engines is only one part of the equation. You also need to consider optimising the blog for your readers and optimising for your business objectives – creating a blog which happens to rank highly for certain relevant key word phrases is going to be of zero value to you if you can’t back that up with things that your readers are interested in. (We looked at Optimising for your Readers in part 1 and optimising for your business comes in part 3).

Most of the elements mention here can be applied to all full blown blogs – however, hosted blogs (particularly free ones) are unlikely to offer the flexibility to allow you to change all of these elements. So, if you are looking to really benefit from a fully optimised blog then I recommend you check out what’s on offer before you begin. For me, the full WordPress system, particularly because of the wealth of specialist plugins, is extremely powerful in SEO terms (and my first choice of blogging system), and so I will be referencing suitable sources from the WordPress community where possible.

While we will be looking at individual SEO elements, you have to remember that there are very few factors which will cause a major shift change to a post or page ranking on their own. Rather, it is the cumulative effect that has real value a prime example of “the sum of the parts being greater than the whole”. So on each page, decide on the specific keyword phrases you wish to target and make sure that all of the individual elements come together to support them. Although vitally important, I won’t be looking at inbound links here, but rather concentrating on elements on the blog itself.

1. Title Tag

Generally considered to be the most important individual item so well worth spending the time and getting right. While opinions vary, general consensus is that you have about 8 words to play with, with greater relevance awarded to those at the start of the tag to gain most benefit from this, ensure that as a default format, the title tag displays your “Blog post title” followed by “Blog name” so that the keywords in your post title are highlighted at the start of the tag.

However, whenever possible, you should take the opportunity to write a custom Title Tag – with WordPress you can use the plugins such as Stephan Spencers SEO Title Tag or All in One SEO which will allow you to do this easily. What to write? Well, remember where the Title Tags appear youll find it at the top of your browser window and, more importantly, as the clickable link on the Search Engine Results page. So while you should look to include your keywords to appeal to the Search Engines, you also need to write something which will inspire your readers to click on that link!

2. Post Text

The old adage of content is king still holds true and perhaps is even more compelling in blogs as the writing is intended to be more “personal” than the normal text penned by a corporate website scribe. In any case, what you write about and then the actual words that you write is clearly crucial in all good business blogs, there should be a clear focus or direction for the blog overall, and it is likely that the content in each post is going to be focused on a certain subject matter as well. This will naturally lend itself to a keyword targeted post but and it is a big “BUT” it must be written in a way which will attract and then appeal to your readers. They must be your primary concern and focus!

3. H1 tag

The H1 tag is usually the formatting tag used for the title (or heading, hence the “H”) of a page or, in this case, for your post. If the title of your post contains your keywords then youll benefit from using the tag, so make sure you use it – though only use it once on each page though. There are also H2, H3 etc etc tags which can be used as subheadings throughout your post these are also likely to naturally encourage the use of keywords, so make best use of them.

As a word of advice in most WordPress themes, the H1 tag is often set up as the title of the overall blog, up in the header image. It would, however, be much better to use the H1 tag for the individual post title – this will therefore allow you to benefit from a different, and specific, keyword focus on each page and therefore support the other SEO elements for each post. Its a small element, but every little helps!

4. Meta Tags

There are two metatags which people generally still talk about from an SEO perspective, the Description and Keywords metatags. In reality, the keywords metatag does very little (if anything) from a search engine perspective, mainly due to excessive spamming in the early years for me, still put them in but use them primarily as a reference for yourself.

The Description metatag does, however, have a certain value, although I prefer to use it for a specific purpose. There are still some Search Engines (including Google in certain circumstances) which use the description metatag as the text under the clickable link on their Results pages. Therefore I suggest writing it as a call to action to help you to get people onto your pages as well as for any residual SEO value. For WordPress users, the All in One SEO plugin will help you to do the job again.

5. Friendly Permalinks and URL structure

Make sure that you have activated the friendly permalinks for your blog so that the individual posts are supported by having words in the URL rather than the ?id=20 type of format. Not only are these much more helpful to your readers in identifying posts, but the use of keywords in the URL has an influence on the Search Engines, in the same way as top level domain names do, though of course with less impact. In WordPress, you can modify the permalink structure by going to Settings >> Permalinks in the admin section.

What is the best permalink structure? I have always recommended using the format of www.domain.com/category name/posttitle/ because I liked to include the additional keywords that the category names can offer. However, I have found that this format can be restrictive if you want to make structural changes to your blog at a later date, so a more traditional www.domain.com/year/month/posttitle/ will serve almost as well and give you more flexibility in modifying categories if required.

6. Link Text / Anchor Text

Blogs are full of links and, although sometimes overlooked, the majority are likely to be internal links of one type or another, whether they actually appear as categories, post titles, tags, in your blog posts or anything else. Since these links connect to different pages on your blog, they therefore all add something, not only to the page that they are on (as keyword text) but also to the pages that they point to, particularly if you make sure that the anchor text they use is relevant to the target page. Very important!

In case you are unsure, the anchor text refers to the words which actually make up the link that people click on and have a very positive effect on the page that they link to. So think about your links, whatever form they take, and when you are tempted to just put “click here”, stop, give yourself a good talking to and then put in something useful instead.

7. Category Names

Categories within a blog are designed as a way of indexing your posts according to topic and act as an ideal navigation tool for your readers looking to explore specific subject areas that you cover on your blog. However, from an SEO perspective, the category names will also appear as text links on every page in your blog which, as we have discovered, is good news all round.

In addition, blogs create category pages which bring together all your posts with similar content together on one page great news for search engines looking for targeted content to deliver to their searchers. To help them further, create an introduction to these category pages which gives a summary of the topic – of course, using relevant keyword terms. You will find that the “sticky” function in blogs like Typepad or a suitable Sticky plugin for WordPress will do the job nicely if you prefer not to hardcode it. In any case, do make sure that the category names contain your keywords because they are going to appear extensively across your blog and automatically at that!

8. Footer Text

While the post text is the area that most people focus on, and rightly so, when they consider the message they want the Search Engines to see, there are other sections of the page which can also be used to highlight text without compromising your focus on your readers. The sidebar is one such are but another, lesser used one, is the bottom of the page. Here, text used as part of the footer or indeed below the footer can be used to help support the keywords which have been used elsewhere, or indeed add additional scope to them.

Take the example of a local company looking to promote their wares in the local area. They can and should write posts which focus on the local area and this of course will feature in the body of the text. However, you can re-inforce this in the footer by including, for example, geographic references ( ie. Norwich, Norfolk, East Anglia, East of England etc.) to complement the other keywords in the text. You might also consider adding misspellings of key words which, used elsewhere, would spoil peoples views of the site itself. In an ideal world, consider making these specific to individual pages – however, even as a single site wide footer, there is certainly value to be had.

9. Blog Tags

In addition to all of the tags that are routinely mentioned with regard to SEO, there are other types of tags which are specific to blogs from generic “markers” through to tags used for specific search engines such as Technorati. They allow the author to suggest additional categories or foci for their own posts and hence effectively highlight keywords that best describe the content or help put it in context. Tags are useful in a number of ways, particularly within WordPress, acting as a type of subcategory – but importantly, they allow you to add additional specific keyword phrases which appear alongside your post and highly visible to Search Engines without prejudicing your readers.

10. Image Alt Tags

I believe that blogs benefit from having graphics included in the posts its a good way to break up the blog post or support a point being made in the text. However, since Search Engines effectively cannot “see” them, then make sure that you include some “alternative” or “alt” text partly because its good practice, but also because the text will be picked up by search engines and can help add to the other elements on the page. No keyword stuffing though! Ideally it should describe the image it is applied to but adding a relevant keyword as well can only benefit you.

11. Index only the important parts

A blog creates and updates a number of different pages each time you make a post, from the blogs homepage to the individual blog page and then those covering the categories and tags associated with it as well as the monthly archive page! Phew! In many respects, I think that this is highly beneficial (lots of new and updated pages to be indexed) but there have been some worries expressed about duplicated content on a single blog.

In response to this, some people go as far as to block everything from Search Engines except the homepage and individual post pages, often using the robots.txt file – I am, however, against that. Block the monthly archive pages if you like but I feel that the Category pages and the tags pages bring together lots of useful and similar content, therefore providing focused content, useful for both readers and Search Engines. There’s a good article at U the Guru on this and for those WP users looking for help on this, there is a handy Robots plugin which allows you to choose noindex for individual posts or categories etc.

12. Getting Indexed quickly

Normally, you are at the mercy of the Search Engines as to how long it takes them to index new pages or changes to existing pages though you can use tools such as sitemaps which will help. With blogs, you have another tool up your sleeve which is called pinging and while this isnt strictly an SEO element, you cannot start to work on the ranking of a page until it is indexed and so I think that its relevant to include.

In WordPress and Typepad, the area you want to look for is called Update Services (Options >> Writing in WordPress or Settings >> Writing in 2.5) and you need to include a specific address for the sites which you want to inform that you have added a new post pinging is rather like tapping the search engines on the shoulder and beckoning them over to your blog to index it. Anywhere, there’s a list of sites to ping here. You might as well use the XML sitemap in addition, particularly if it can be done automatically for you there are a number of plugins for WordPress users to do this such as this one.

13. Social Bookmarking

We will look at the main use of social bookmarks in the 3rd part of the series – but bear in mind that when you use them, ensure that the social bookmarking images have the alt tag automatically included which includes the post title hence enhancing the keywords it contains. If there are text links as well then include the Title attribute but, to save the pagerank for your own blog, make these links “no follow”.

Well, congratulations if you have made it through all of these and even more so if you already have them implemented on your blog. Blogs may be inherently attractive to Search Engines because of their structure and being regularly updated, but there are still many things that you can do to help develop their ranking further and I hope you will find the major ones mentioned here. Happy optimising!

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