I think this chapter of my “Good Blogging Guide” could be a book in it’s own right – and there are plenty of books which just cover this subject - in fact, there are plenty of companies whose sole purpose is to sell you the answer to doing this. And I know I’m not in their league! So this chapter is about making your blog search-friendly – giving you a few direct tips to make sure that what your write is likely to improve your chances of being found when a potential reader goes to their search engine of choice.
The reason I called this chapter “Page One of Google” is because in the UK, over 90% of all searches are done through Google. So being on the first page of another search engine isn’t anywhere near as useful as being on the first page of Google. Although other countries use a much wider range of search engines, it appears to be Google all the way in the UK. Which is a little worrying if you can’t get onto Google’s results page – does it mean you don’t exist on the web?
When I first started blogging, I didn’t care about showing up in the search results. I was writing for a few specific people, who knew where my blog was. But over the months, I noticed that more and more of the traffic for my personal blog was coming from Google. They weren’t looking for my blog, but ended up on it. (And it had a very unfortunate side effect when I described a town in Canada in less than glowing terms, and my reference to it came up as the first link when you searched for it. Yup – I got an email from the Chamber of Commerce that time!). Now, when I write I try to think “How can I help people to find the info I’m writing, if it’s relevant?”
This chapter is all about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) - an acronym that’s bandied about all over the place. Basically it means the same thing as this chapter title. But there is so much mystique around it, that I think it’s time for a basic “SEO in plain English” approach. And it’s entirely my point of view – four basic steps which I’ve boiled down from hundreds of different snippets of advice, and sitting through presentations where seasoned professionals have talked about how to do this stuff. But I like simple things, so I’ve boiled this all down to my four steps for SEO in plain English (hopefully!). You’ll also find that they are very specific, because that’s the kind of person I am – I like clarity.
Search Engine Optimisation for blogs
1) Keywords and Key Phrases
I approach this from the point of the reader/searcher, and ask myself “If I was trying to find the information, what would I type in a search box?”, and then I make sure that I use that phrase in the text. And I do the same for closely related phrases. Let’s take a worked example:
Imagine I am writing about my school’s learning platform implementation
Key phrases people might search on:
- Implementing a learning platform
- How to set up a learning platform
- Guide to setting up a learning platform
So that gives me some phrases that I can use – perhaps using one of them for the title, and other phrases in my writing. But of course, there are plenty of other phrases and words that people might also search on, which I want to use. Things like:
- Learning Gateway
- Online reporting for parents
- Real-time parental reporting
- Obviously this list could become quite long!
And finally, a list of verbs that could go with it:
- Setting up
But obviously, it wouldn’t be sensible to try and include all of this in your blog posting, because it would be (a) obsessive and (b) not helpful to your readers. But the process of making the list might help you to identify a couple of key words/phrases you want to use to help people find your blog post. And you must absolutely make sure that you think about this through the eyes of the reader, not yours. ‘Learning Platform’ is a really good example to use – because you can bet that parents don’t use that phrase, and in fact probably don’t even use phrases like ‘online reporting for parents’. So make sure you get the phrases or keywords that your particular audience uses.
2) Make the post title work for you
I don’t quite know why, but this simple step seems to work very well.
- Your post title should be 60-70 characters long
- You should use the key search terms at the beginning of the post
Let’s work an example through this. Let’s take a typical post title from a post on this blog in January:
- The netbook Wall of Cool at BETT
I need to decide the key search terms, and get them to the front of the post title. I think in this case ‘netbooks’ and ‘BETT’ are probably key – and I think I’d add ‘schools’ too (because if people want netbook info for schools, then I want them to find this post).
My second version is:
- Netbooks for schools at BETT on the Wall of Cool
This should help people find the post if they search on ‘netbooks for Schools’ or ‘netbooks BETT’. But it is still focused on education – I’m not trying to get it to show up all over the web on irrelevant searches for netbooks.
Next, I need to get it to the right length, of 60-70 characters. I use Windows Live Writer to write my posts (which is both free and brilliant!), so I can highlight the title, and click Tools>Word Count. Which tells me it is 48 characters long. So I just need a few more.
My third version is:
- Netbooks for schools at BETT – rated on our very own Wall of Cool
Which leaves me with a post title that has the keywords at the front, and is 65 characters long, and which is actually more informative for everybody than the original!
Maybe I should go back and change the title of the original post!
3) Use target keywords/phrases in your post
Remember Step One – identifying the right key words or phrases? Now’s the time to make sure you’re using them properly.
- Use your target keywords/phrases 3 times in your post
And for more effect, use them in your outbound links. For example, rather than writing…
You can find out more about netbooks at BETT in my earlier post
…you should write…
You can find out more about netbooks at BETT in my earlier post
4) Get links back to your site
This isn’t about the way you write your posts, but about the way that your whole blog moves up the search engines page rankings. There’s a quantity and a quality rule here.
Getting lots of links back to your site helps – other people referring to it in their blog posts or websites – as that will move your blog up the search rankings. One effective, and popular, way of doing this is to add comments to other people’s blogs (but, please, make them worthwhile comments!), and adding your blog’s URL in the post of the bit where you leave your website details.
A single link from a highly respected website is much more useful than a dozen links from less respected websites. And by ‘respected’ I’m talking about the relative importance ranking given to them by search engines. The various website rankings are a closely guarded secret, but if you get a link from the BBC website to yours, that’ll be a lot more valuable than a link from your friend’s new blog!
Does this all really work?
- I started this series of “Good Blogging Guide” posts on Monday afternoon, and by Monday evening if you searched for ‘Good Blogging Guide’ it was appearing on the first page of Google (4th item) and Bing (1st item). And by Tuesday, it was 4th and 5th on Google, and 1st and 3rd on Bing. And on some of the key phrases, like ‘Why audience is key to good blogging’, it was coming up top in Google.
- In January, I wrote a series of posts (and updated our website) about the Home Access Programme – but I knew that lots of others would also be writing about it. So step one, the keywords, got me thinking about key phrases like ‘Home Access Programme’ and ‘Home Learning Package’. At the end of the first week, it was 2nd/1st in Google for these phrases, and even now, despite there being 147,000,000 search results, it’s 5th for ‘Home Access Programme’, and 1st and 3rd for ‘Home Learning Package’
- I wrote a series of posts about Windows 7, specifically about how it will help schools. And if you search on key phrases like ‘Windows 7 for schools’ or ‘Windows 7 in education’ it will come up on page 1, and normally as the first item.
But the key point to emphasise is that I’ve tried to use these rules to help people find relevant content. If people are interested in a ‘Good Blogging Guide’, then hopefully the content is useful. Similarly for Windows 7 – the information I’ve written is written for education, so it’s relevant. I’m not going to suddenly include a reference to a famous celebrity to try and trick my way up the search rankings, because it wouldn’t help searchers, and it wouldn’t serve my readers very well!
Can I really prove it works?
Let’s experiment shall we...
Currently my blog doesn’t show up at all when you search for ‘seo in plain english’ or ‘search engine optimisation for blogs’ – which isn’t a surprise, because I haven’t pressed publish yet. So let’s see if anything has happened by the end of the week
Check for yourself here:
SEO in plain english (currently 163,000 results)
Search engine optimisation for blogs (currently 26,500,000 results)
Wednesday 2pm (1 hour after publishing) already made it to page 1, number 4 for the second search
Thursday 7am - the second search has now moved to number 1, page 1; and the second search has made it to number 3, page 3