How to SEO a Blog
You’ve probably heard many times about all the free visitors you can get from search engines. Well SEO, or search engine optimization, is the science — and art — of getting a site to rank well in order to get as many of those visitors as possible. The great thing for you as a blogger is that you don’t have to been an SEO expert to see quite a bit of search engine traffic to your site because most blogs are tailor-made for ranking well in search engines.
Just take a look at the top ten search engine ranking factors and notice how many are naturally inherent in blogs. I count seven to nine, depending on how strict you want to be. Since blogs are almost always text-heavy, very community-driven and interlinked heavily, it’s hard to find your blog not ranking for lots of things if it becomes popular.
However, there are a few easy things that you do need to do to ensure that you’re set up for search engine success. The basic principle behind all of them is that SEO, first and foremost, is about so much more than your homepage. Especially with blogs, you’ll find that most of your search engine visitors come in on anything but your homepage. So almost all the basic SEO for a blog has to do with your individual pages.
Change Two Settings
First things first, there are two basic settings that it would be helpful to tweak in your blog setup.
Move Your Post Title to the Front of Your <title> Tag
Keywords in the <title> tag are the number one search engine ranking factor. Because of that, you want the title of your post to be the first thing in your <title> because it gets your best keywords as close to the front as possible.
Many blogs have <title>s that look something like this:
My Blog Name » My Post Category » My Post Title
You’re better off in most cases, though, having it look like this:
My Post Title » My Blog Name
Notice that I took out the Post Category, too. That’s because for most of us, for a variety of reasons, the category doesn’t actually add any value to the <title>. By leaving it out, you take out words that would otherwise be watering down the keywords in the title of your post.
(You’ll need to change your blog’s template or theme directly to make this change, and that varies from platform to platform. Just let me know if you need any help. On some, like Blogger, you actually won’t be able to change this at all.)
Use Meaningful URLs
The importance of keywords in the URL is hotly disputed, but with blogs there’s no reason not to have them. In fact, blogging platforms like Blogger do that by default. Take a look at this URL for example and notice how the title of the post is mirrored in the URL:
If you use WordPress, you’ll need to go into Options > Permalinks and specify that you want to use better URLs. You can use the “Date and name based” option, but I hate to have the day of the month in my URL. So I always select “Custom” and use some variation on this format:
Whether you want the date in the URL depends largely on how time-sensitive your writing is. On this site, for instance, I don’t think it matters as much so I don’t use it. Other places I do. The only real keys are to get the “postname” variable in there and use as few elements as possible.
Warning: I probably wouldn’t do this on a blog that’s more than a few months old since you’ll be changing the URLs for all your posts, not just your new ones. Search engines will have to re-index those URLs, and you’ll lose all the link value that you had built up. You have to weigh the pros and cons, though. It might be worth taking a step or two back now to take several steps forward down the road. (If you’re unsure whether to do it or not, just ask me and I’ll be happy to take a look.)
Links to your site are the #2 and #3 most important ranking factors, so it’s important to get out and meet your neighbors and do many of the other free and easy things that increase traffic because all those things lead to people linking to your blog. When people link to you, it not only brings you traffic directly (from people clicking the links) but also indirectly (from boosting your search engine rankings). That combination is hard to beat.
I’ve filed these next steps under Blog Differently, but you may already be doing at least one of them.
Link, Link, Link
In “(Link) Love Makes the World Go Round“, I talked about all the ways you can spread the link love. What I didn’t tell you, though, were all the benefits of free (link) love. One of those is better search engine rankings.
The more you link out to other good sites, the more search engines begin to see you as a valuable resource. It will take quite some time to be seen as an “authority site,” and most of us probably won’t actually achieve that mythical status, but the more you link out to good sites, the more your authority grows.
Don’t restrict your links to only “good” sites, though. You don’t want to be a link nazi. Avoid linking to “bad neighborhoods,” but never withhold a link just because you think the site wasn’t “good.” If there was an opportunity for you to link to it, chances are it had done something to earn that link. Remember that at some point, your site wasn’t very “good” either.
And just as importantly, be sure to link to your own site. Anytime you reference something that you’ve written, be sure to link to it. Linking well within your own site is the #4 top ranking factor, and it’s usually the one that you have the most control over — a great combination.
Pick Good Titles
As I noted before, keywords in the <title> tag are the number one search engine ranking factor. Because of that, you may want to choose titles with search engines in mind. Think about what people might search for that your post matches and then try to use those keywords in the title of your post. I say “may want to” because by all means, SEO shouldn’t drive everything you do. If you have the option between two equally good titles, though, pick the one that has better keywords in it. (See “Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan, or The Power of Titles” for more on titles.)
Don’t Overdo It
These five basic steps will put you in great position to start getting more and more free visitors from search engines. If you do nothing but these five things, you’ll wind up being very surprised at just how many people find you through search engines (and you’ll be really surprised at what they searched for to get there, as noted in the “Tattooed Women” post mentioned above).
Above all else, though, be careful about getting too focused on SEO. Search engine traffic is great, but for the vast majority of blogs, you want to focus on other ways to generate traffic. If you get too focused on SEO, you lose your focus on your readers and aren’t they the whole reason we’re blogging in the first place? Gimmicks like John Chow’s would totally turn readers off on most blogs, though it fits perfectly with his.
In the coming months, I’ll be covering more and more advanced strategies to improving your search engine rankings because, while I have a lot of experience with blogging, I have even more with SEO. I’ve been doing SEO for seven years now, and I’ve grown lots of sites many times over with just good, basic SEO — including one site to $1M in sales in just a year. The results of those efforts actually support me 100% now, freeing me up to do fun things like this. Blogs and SEO go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so there will be thousands of things we can talk about.
In order to make things as clean and simple as possible, there are so many things that I didn’t include in this post. So if you have questions or comments, please leave them below. It will help me see if something wasn’t very clear — which is likely — and help everyone else along the way!