From the archives…
This is the first part of a three part series on the session I gave at BlogHer. You can read the intro, or just get started here.
I’m going to dive into relevance first, because it’s what bloggers know best. Basically, relevance is just writing about your passion. It’s all about writing lots of great content. However, if you care about being found in search engines, there are a few things you can do to help ensure searchers can find that great content.
What is your site about?
If you want search engines and visitors to clearly know what your site is about, decide what you want your focus to be. What if you find yourself writing about several different topics? Just create a category for each one so it’s easy for users to find more of what they’re interested in and so you have a topic page for search engines rank for general topic queries.
Do some keyword research
Once you’ve picked a topic, find out how your audience thinks of that topic. How do they search for it? Are you writing about it with the same words they do? Lots of resources exist to help you with keyword research.
Keyword research will help you figure out if alternate words are more popularly searched for, as well as expanded terms for your topic. For instance, you can use Google Trends to find out what synonyms are more popular.
As well as find out if one topic is more popular than another.
Once you’ve settled on keywords, you can find out what similar or expanded keywords have the most overall search volume. The Google AdWord Keyword Planner, for instance, can help you know what people are searching for related to your chosen term.
Go after the long tail
It may be difficult to rank highly for a competitive keyword, but if you use the less-competitive synonym terms and expanded phrases in your content (known as the “long tail”), your traffic for those combined searches could far outweigh what you could get if you just concentrated on the initial term.
For instance, let’s say that 50 people a day search for the word “peas”. Your site is about peas, but you find that there are lots of great sites out there that already rank well for that. You’ve got your vegetable advisory board and your pea council and your future pea farmer’s of America. Those sites have all been around for a long time, have lots of great content, and tons of links. How can you possibly hope to rank more highly than they do for the search “peas”?
Maybe you can’t.
But don’t lose hope! Look at some of the other related terms people are searching for. Let’s say 10 people a day search for “split pea soup” and 8 people a day search for “sweet peas” and 2 people search for “peas in a pod”. You may think it’s hopeless to rank for “peas in a pod”. But then you do a little math. And you find that if you can rank for several long tail terms, you can easily get more traffic than if you concentrated on the “head” term.
Use those words
Once you’ve found the right keywords, make sure you use those words in your content. Don’t get all crazy spammy robot about it, of course. No one wants to read a sentence like “this site is all about Buffy so if you like Buffy you should come to this site and read about Buffy episodes and download Buffy wallpaper and Buffy screensavers and Buffy ecards and other things about Buffy.” Even I don’t want to read that and you won’t find a bigger Buffy fan than me.
But I sometimes find that writers are so close to their content they don’t realize they aren’t using their keywords at all. I talked about this in a guest post I did on Matt Cutts’s blog:
“You know what your site’s about, so it may seem completely obvious to you when you look at your home page. But ask someone else to take a look and don’t tell them anything about the site. What do they think your site is about?
Consider this text:
“We have hundreds of workshops and classes available. You can choose the workshop that is right for you. Spend an hour or a week in our relaxing facility.”
Will this site show up for searches for [cooking classes] or [wine tasting workshops] or even [classes in Seattle]?
It may not be as obvious to visitors (and search engine bots) what your page is about as you think.”
Try searching for your keywords on your site and make sure they come up.
Where and how to use your keywords
In addition to using your keywords in your blog content, you should carefully consider the following:
- Your domain name: The keywords in your domain name matter, not because search engines use those to decide what to rank the site for but because the site will likely get a lot of anchor text using the words in your domain name, and search engines do take anchor text in account when determining relevance.
- Your URL structure: If you can, set your blogging software to use the title of your posts in the URL rather than a set of numbers. why-my-cats-are-better-than-yours is much more useful to search engines and visitors than ?p=123. In WordPress, for instance, you can set this under Settings > Permalinks.
- Your title tag: Each page of our site should have a unique title tag. The title tag is in the
<head>section of your source code and looks like this:
<title>My Keyword-Rich Title<title>. This is what shows up in the browser title bar. Sound complicated? It doesn’t have to be. Most blogging software will generate a title for each page automatically. You just need to check to see how it generates it.
Does it generate a title for each page that matches your blog name? If so, you’ve got the same title for every page without keywords that match the page’s content. In most cases, you can set your blogging software to use the title of your post as the page title.You may even be able to customize it. For instance, it’s a little better to have your important keywords at the front of the title, so if your blogging software puts the title of the blog first and the title of the post second, swap it around.
The title tag helps search engines know what the page is about (see below) and is used as the search results display, which helps searchers know if they should click on the result.
- Your post titles: Generally, your blogging software formats your post title as a heading for the page and in the title tag, which, a search engines use to help figure out what your page is mostly about. And as you can see, putting keywords in your post’s title can also help get the keywords in your page’s URL and title tag. But using descriptive, keyword-rich blog titles are important for other reasons:
- The title helps your readers know if the post is relevant to them.
- The title helps readers who are getting your post through RSS know what it’s about at a glance.
- Often, other sites link to you using the post title. Search engines (and potential visitors!) consider the anchor text of links when determining what a page is about. By using descriptive titles, you are more likely to get descriptive anchor text in links.
- Anchor text: As I just mentioned, the anchor text to your site is a factor in how search engines figure out what your site is about. If all the links to your site are “click here”, well, search engines might think that’s what you’re about.
You can’t always control how people link to you, but using descriptive post titles helps. You can also use descriptive anchor text in internal links and it can’t hurt to email someone who’s linked to you and ask if they’d mind changing their link text.
Want to know how sites are linking to you? Check out Google’s Search Console (Under Search Traffic > Links to Your Site > How your data is linked).
- Your meta description: Each page should have a unique meta description tag. The meta description tag is in the
<head>section of the page and should contain a short description of that page.
By default, some blogging platforms use the same meta description on every page, so you should check this and set it to use something like the first paragraph of your post or a custom description you write for each post that incorporates our main keywords. With WordPress, for instance, you can install the Yoast SEO Plugin.
Not sure if all your pages use the same meta description? Do a site: search in Google by typing in site:www.yoursite.com and see if all the descriptions that come back are the same or if they uniquely describe each page.
Another way to check is to choose View > Page Source when looking at your pages in a browser and see if the meta description tag for each page is the same.
<meta name="description" content="the description is here" />
What kind of links do you have?
Links are great for lots of reasons. Readers of other sites can find out about your site, search engines can get insight as to how other sites describe yours, and search engines can get a signal of how valuable other sites find yours. If lots of authoritative, relevant sites are linking to yours, then your site is seen as fairly important to search engines.
Once your site is well-indexed, and you’ve done a good job with your keywords, if the site still isn’t ranking well, it may be that it just doesn’t yet have very many links. I talk more about links in the next part of this series.
In fact, now might be a good time to jump over to part two: discoverability.