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  • Warren: Blogging and Social Media definitely go hand in hand. Having a successful social presence can do a lot for a...
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    While there’s always been lots of debate as to what criteria Search Engines use to rank web pages in their search results, what there is little debate about is that appearing high up on the Search Engines Results page has become of key importance to most businesses. Why? Simply because currently, Search Engines are the preferred research tools in today’s marketplace.

    As a result, Search Engine Optimisation (aka SEO) has developed into a thriving (if often maligned) industry as organisations, both large and small, strive to gain higher positions and greater visibility in the Search Engine results pages (SERPs).

    The other thing that has become increasingly apparent is that blogs (and business blogs in particular) have a number of attributes which help them rank highly in the Search Engines, making them an important or even, dare I say, a key part of Search Engine Marketing. To understand why, first let’s have a quick reminder of how Search Engines work.

    Search Engines: a few basics

    The main Search Engines – I’m thinking here primarily of Google, Yahoo and Live – collect information from websites using electronic programs called “robots” or “spiders”. They find new sites and content generally by following links and then reading and indexing the code which creates the individual pages (and hence the text they contain). This is all stored on their servers so that when a search is submitted, the Search Engine sifts through all the relevant pages in its index and then ranks them in terms of relevancy using a mathematical algorithm. The result of all this is what we see on the Search Engine results page.

    They determine this relevancy using over 100 different criteria, if we are to believe the experts in this field, though some criteria are obviously considered more “valuable” than others. Those considered particularly important include the text itself, the inbound and internal links, focus and relevancy of the information and some key onpage elements such as the Title tag. It is also worth reminding ourselves that search engines rank individual pages rather than whole websites when they create their results pages.

    So how can we apply this to blogs?

    Armed with an overview of what Search Engines are looking for to rank pages highly, it’s clear that blogs do in fact fulfil a number of these criteria perfectly, which goes a long way to explain why they rank so well. Specifically:

    • Text: Business Blogs tend to be focused in their content and that is ideal for what Search Engines look for when they are searching for pages which fit with specific search criteria;

    • External Inbound Links: the overriding philosophy in the blogosphere is to reference other blogs by linking to relevant sources; so blogs offering good (and often specific) content are likely to attract a greater number of links;

    • Internal Links: blogs are automatically structured in such a way that the internal linking is excellent with highly relevant anchor text (the words that actually form the link) which is an extra bonus;

    • Up to date information: the most successful blogs are generally ones which are regularly updated and hence offer a growing resource of recent and relevant content;

    • Onpage elements: good blogging software has excellent flexibility which gives you the opportunity to have specific onpage elements (such as the Title Tag) for each individual page.

    Blog Search Engines, Pinging and Instant Indexing

    Although blogs appear in the main Search Engines like any other online site, they also have their own set of Search Engines which focus primarily on blogs. This is important because the way that these Blog Search Engines find new content is different to the main Search Engines.

    If blogs are set up correctly, they will automatically “ping” these search engines – this is the digital equivalent to a ‘tap on the shoulder’ telling them that there is new content for them to index. This happens instantly and, with one of these Blog Search Engines belonging to Google, this means that Google’s main index can pick up your post almost immediately – my best is 6 minutes.

    Of course, if the blog is part of your main website then there is also the greater chance of the rest of your site being indexed more frequently too, let alone all the pages benefiting from the value of the inbound links coming into the blog, linking to your new articles! Ah, is there no end to the benefits!! ;)

    Conclusion: keep developing your Business Blog

    If, like me, you already use a blog for your business, then these Search Engine benefits will not be anything new – no doubt you will have already have seen the sort of great results that you can achieve. If you haven’t, then we really need to talk! :) However, they are particularly impressive when you consider that you are probably writing your blog with your readers uppermost in your mind and these benefits are merely a welcome (albeit very beneficial) side effect.

    Business blogs however are not a magic solution and nor should they be used in isolation – they are at their best when used in conjunction with other marketing activities, both online and offline. Equally, they are not trying to manipulate Search Engines – an accusation sometimes levelled at SEO companies. Simply put, well written and focused blogs give Search Engines exactly what they want to provide for their users – good, specific and up to date information on the subject matter that they are searching for.

    And providing that is of course where both the challenge and the benefits lie!

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    SEO in business blogs for rankingIt really is a total waste of effort setting up a business blog if your sole intention is to use it to enhance your Search Engine rankings. If you do, then youre not just missing out on the important benefits that blogs offer, youre also missing the point of blogs altogether. Oh, and in the process, youll also be jeopardising the success of your own, right from the word “Go”.

    “But I thought a business blog would help my Search Engine rankings!”, I hear you cry. “Absolutely”, I reply, “it will. Enormously so!”

    The thing is, thats not the point.

    Running a blog will give you the chance to do so much more, whether you are looking to use it to initiate dialogue with your readers, build trust and foster new connections with customers and prospects, carry out market research or customer service, or indeed any of 101 different business uses that blogs can be put to.

    And thats where your focus, effort and attention should be directed – your readers – not simply on helping your SEO efforts!

    However, if you do spend the time to keep the content of your blog focused on what your target audience wants then, believe me, the much lauded “Google Juice” will flow naturally because of what you write and the way that you write and structure it. However, it will do so as an automatic by-product rather than the sole aim.

    The same values hold good in all areas of social media – concentrate on the people you are talking to and what you are talking about and youll go far. Social networking sites, for example, are called that rather than Google Ranking sites for a reason. If Google is your main reason for being there then the networking activity will ultimately die, killing your presence on the site along with it.

    I might add that if you use these tools to do nothing more than sell, then youre also missing the point and once again youll find that this comes back to bite you. Using social media to employ the same “old school” marketing tactics that we, as consumers, are rejecting en masse shows a lack of understanding in my book not only of the medium but of people.

    Anyway, enough ranting about this – back to my main point. Business blogs are great in providing enhanced Search Engine opportunities but try not to focus on this to the exclusion of everything else or you risk losing everything. Focus instead on your readers and I guarantee that your SEO desires and requirements will follow.

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    SEO in business blogs for rankingIt is an absolute waste to set up a business blog with the sole intention of using it to enhance your Search Engine rankings. If you do, then you will not only be missing out on the important benefits that blogs offer but also jeopardising the success of your own, right from the word go.

    “But I thought a business blog would help my rankings!”, I hear you cry. “Absolutely”, I reply, “it will, enormously so!”

    But that’s not the point. Blogs enable you to do so much more, whether you are using them to communicate with your readers, build trust and connections with both customers and prospects alike, carry out market research or customer service, or indeed any of 101 different business uses that they can be put to. And that’s where your focus, effort and attention should be directed, not simply on helping your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) efforts!

    If you do these things correctly and keep the content of your blog focused on what your target audience wants then, believe me, the so called “Google Juice” will flow naturally because of what you write and the way you write and structure it, but as an automatic by-product rather than the sole result.

    Ive seen the same issues come to light elsewhere recently as well. I belong to a couple of online business networking organisations and on one of these, Ecademy, there has been a lot of debate recently following Googles last algorithm change. This resulted in the site not delivering page 1 results as regularly as it had previously been prone to do due to its structure and overall page rank. A number of people have commented that there has therefore been a drop in value of the site because of this and have been asking whether it remains worth the subscription.

    My response again is that the Google / Search Engine benefits have to be viewed for what they are an excellent by-product which is great to have. However, the reason for joining a site like that is to help foster relationships with other business people and provide networking opportunities. Thats why its called a Business Networking Club rather than a Google Ranking Club. Google juice is great but that cannot be the main reason for your being there or else the networking element will ultimately die, killing the site with it.

    And the same is true with blogs. Business blogs are great in providing enhanced Search Engine opportunities but try not to focus too much on those or you risk losing everything. Focus instead on your readers in your blog and I guarantee that your SEO desires and requirements will follow.

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    SEO - Title TagThere has been a recent revision to a report which first made an appearance last year, where 37 of the finest minds in the SEO arena were asked to appraise the various elements which can be used as part of a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) programme – White Hat SEO programme, of course.

    Their opinions and comments were recorded and distributed in Search Engine Ranking Factors V2 which is probably the most comprehensive report of its type in terms of listing and appraising individual factors that I have seen. In any case, particularly given the people involved, it is certainly something to take a careful look at as you embark on any type of optimisation of your blog.

    So what is the most important?

    The element which was given the greatest value overall, and hence considered the most important individual factor in SEO terms, was Keyword Use in Title Tag.

    The Title Tag is used in two principal areas:

    • when you are using a browser, it is what appears in the blue bar right at the top of your screen and tells the reader what is contained within the page;
    • Secondly, on the Search Engine Results page (SERPs), it forms the link that you click on to reach the page shown in the results.

    As a result, not only is it valuable in terms of Search Engine rankings but also in terms of the click throughs that you get. Why is that? Since it appears in the main Search Engine Results page, it can act as an attention grabbing headline for the person conducting the search.

    Creating a “good” Title Tag

    Ideally, you should be aiming to create a Title Tag that will attract the attention of both human readers and the Search Engines – this means that it is likely to be both marketing focused as well as keyword rich. Sounds good in theory, but in practice you are likely to veer more towards one “audience” than the other.

    Opinions vary, but a good rule of thumb is that you have about 8 – 10 words (circa 60 – 65 characters) that you can use effectively in the title tag, so it’s best to make use of them. As a result, you should look to try to:

    • include your keyword / keyword phrase for the page – ideally, focus primarily on these keywords and avoid too many “the” and “and” connectors

    • rather than full sentences, consider using “|” or “-” to break up the phrases (but do remember that it needs to attract your readers too!);

    • include the important terms at the start of the Title Tag, as they seem to carry more “weight” than those at the end;

    • every Title Tag should be distinct and focused – each page and each post is different and so the Title Tag it uses should reflect this.”

    In blogs, the Title Tag is usually generated automatically using the title of the post and the title of the blog. This isn’t necessarily going to best suit your purposes so you may like to consider ways of modifying this – you could alter the template itself or you may find the tools below helpful.

    Tools to help you

    Firstly, a page which I think expands well on the themes that I have mentioned here is Best Practices for Title Tags over at Seomoz and is well worth studying.

    As for tools to help with the actual implementation, if you are using WordPress, then in my opinion, the best option is the SEO Title Tag plugin by Stephan Spencer, who certainly knows what he’s doing when it comes to SEO. This gives you full rein to do what you want with a fully customised Title Tag option, as well as an improved default Title Tag as well.

    For those who have strayed down the Blogger route, then these two articles, Control your Title Tags in Blogger and Changing the Blogger Title Tag seem to cover two options (though I haven’t tried them personally) while Rank better in Google bay adding dynamic title tags to your Typepad blog seems to cover a possible solution for Typepad users.

    Conclusion

    So there you have it – the SEO elite confirm that they believe that the Title Tag is the SEO element that will do most for your Search Engine Ranking. One word of warning though (other than the fact that the Search Engine “goalposts” keep moving, so keep on your toes!) – if the content on your page doesn’t deliver, then the best Title Tag in the world will not help you. So before dedicating hours to creating great Title Tags, I’d always recommend paying just as much attention to the content it describes. :)

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    Permalinks are key to blogs – they let us find the posts that we are looking for and allow us to link to them. Every post and page has a permalink which is created automatically for it but we do have the option of improving them to really get them working for us.

    Since they are created automatically, many of us just forget about them and get on with writing our posts and interacting with our readers. However, with a little bit of effort when we set up our blog and we can make the permalinks much more useful for our readers and attractive for Search Engines.

    So what is a Permalink?
    A Permalink is simply the individual address of a page on your blog which is otherwise known as its URL. Theres nothing mysterious about it. Every page on every website has an address and its what both your readers and Search Engines use to identify it. The main permalinks that people refer to on blogs are those for the individual posts but also each category and each monthly archive has its own unique one too.

    Why are permalinks important?
    Most blogging systems have a basic and rather uninspiring permalink structure as their standard set-up which simply includes the number they have allocated to the post or category. The format is something like:

    www.betterbusinessblogging.com/?p=14

    Not very helpful to your readers and absolutely no help to Search Engines.

    However, by making a couple of small changes and including the name of the post in the permalink, you can make it much more useful. Immediately people will have a better idea of what it contains and, if you have keywords in your post title, then you are giving Search Engines a real boost as well.

    What are the options are available?
    If you are using a system like WordPress, then the options are endless. Apart from the standard or default setting above, there is also two preset possibilities using the Date and name version’

    www.betterbusinessblogging.com/2006/12/17/name-of -post/

    and the numeric version

    www.betterbusinessblogging.com/archives/14/

    By far the most useful, however, is the custom version which gives you almost total flexibility with the elements that can include in the permalink – WordPress allows you to include the year, month, category, post name, author and a number of other options. These options can be changed from the Administration area by going to Options > Permalinks and then selecting the format that you require or creating your custom format.

    What is the best permalink format?
    While I dont think you can say that there is a single best format, my personal preference is to use a combination of the category and the name of the post in the permalink such as

    www.betterbusinessblogging.com/category-name/name-of post/

    Why that combination? Personally, I like to make the best possible use of all elements of SEO and so prefer to include the category that the post belongs to rather than the date – the categories, of course, should also be descriptive and include relevant keywords.

    Including the name of the post is essential in my opinion, whatever other elements you decide to include. Not only does it provide additional information about the post, it will hopefully have at least one keyword for the search engines. Does this create more work for you in the future? Not at all. Once you have chosen the structure, WordPress still creates the permalink automatically for you by using your post’s title and inserting hyphens in between the words instead of spaces.

    Importantly, you can also modify the exact form of the words that appear as the ‘post name’ element in the permalink by changing the post slug. You can find this as one of the boxes on the right hand side of the page when you write or manage your posts.

    Word of Warning
    At the start of this post, I mentioned that a permalink is the address of your page. When a Search Engine indexes a page or a blogger links to a post, they do so using the page’s permalink thats how people can then find your post. If you decide to change your permalink format after you have been posting for a while, then you run the risk of breaking these links so do be careful.

    If you change from the default ?p=14 to a friendly, custom, permalink then you will be ok – the database should still recognise the original default setting as well as the new friendly one. However, changing from one custom permalink to another will need additional work to maintain your inbound links.

    Conclusion
    Getting the best out of your permalinks may seem a small element but it is another important building block in creating a blog which has all the elements in place to push your business forward. Easy to recognise addresses online are beneficial for your readers and Search Engines so take a moment or two to create the best one for you when you set up your business blog.

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    Seminar FAQsBusiness Blogging Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Q – Does my blog only show up in Blog Search Engines or also Google, Yahoo and MSN?

    A – A common misconception when businesses start to use a Business Blog and learn about the Blog Search Engines is that their Blog will only appear in these blog specific Search Engines and not in the mainstream ones. This is not true.

    A Blog at the end of the day is a website with special charateristics and so will certainly appear in the main Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN. In fact, they are much more likely to rank highly because they have key elements that the Search Engines find very attractive:

    • their internal stucture, which is highly organised and groups similar posts together in categories which creates highly relevant pages on individual topics which Search Engines love;

    • the very focused nature and quality of their content which is at the core of what Search Engines are looking to offer their users;

    • the fact that they are generally updated on a very frequent basis, as the more recent the information the higher its relevance is likely to be

    • the inbound links from other blogs (and websites) which is part and parcel of the ethos of the blogosphere and which constitutes a major factor in ranking sites.

    The main Search Engines will find your Blog by following links to it from other sites that are already in their index, so there is no need to submit it directly to them, and it will then be treated using the criteria that are applied to any other site. Criteria which you will rank well in if you are using a Blog to good effect.

    You can use other Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) methods in addition which will give an additional boost in your rankings, but you already have a number of advantages which will serve you well. So make sure that you write quality and targeted posts on a regular basis and ensure that you promote your blog well.

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