Blogging is perhaps the best way to help your website obtain great search-engine ranking for your high-value keywords, those terms that, when searched, result in your content at the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Whether you have a business blog, a special-interest blog, or a personal-diary blog, I assume you want to reach as many people as possible who would find your content interesting and relevant.
Four Areas to Concentrate your Blog SEO Efforts
I will address the 4 main areas on which you should focus your SEO efforts to ensure that the content you’ve worked so hard to create is read by as many people as possible.
- Hosting: Where your blog is hosted;
- Keywords: Knowing what your high-value keywords are;
- On-Page SEO: Optimizing your posts for maximum SEO;
- Off-Page SEO: Getting quality backlinks to your content from high-quality websites and blogs.
Hosting Your Blog: Self-hosted, WordPress.com or Blogger.com?
How many other blogs and websites link back to your content, and the quality of those sites, is probably the most important “signal” used to gauge the quality of your content. So it crucial that any linking to your content be to your primary domain mydomain.com, and NOT to myblog.wordpress.com or myblog.blogger.com.
You definitely want to host your blog on your own server under your own domain. And I recommend WordPress, hands down. It generates clean, semantic code, where the markup adheres to Web standards, utilizing
<H> tags for headers, etc. Semantic markup is very important for good SEO. (Read more about semantic HTML markup and SEO.)
WordPress is also very easy to use, with a plugin for most every feature you’d want to add, and many free and commercial design themes from which to choose.
Backlinks to your posts should go to YOUR domain, not WordPress.com or Blogger.com!
You want all that “link love” the backlinks to your blog and posts to go to your domain: www.mydomain.com/myblog/, rather than having the backlinks pointing to myblog.wordpress.com or myblog.blogger.com. You want your domain getting the backlink credit, not wordpress.com or blogger.com.
Should your blog be in a subdirectory or subdomain?
Assuming that your blog’s subject matter is closely related to your primary domain’s subject matter, I recommend setting up your blog in a subdirectory of your domain (mydomain.com/myblog) rather than a subdomain (myblog.mydomain.com). Although Google does associate a primary domain and its subdomains, a subdomain is treated as a separate website.
For example, the HyperArts Blog discusses subjects related to Web development and Facebook services, and our primary website offers these same services, so we’ve set it up in a subdirectory. The popularity of our blog has had a positive impact on the ranking of our primary domain pages.
Read my article “Blog Hosting for Best SEO: External, Subdomain, Subdirectory?” for more info on this.
Researching your Keywords for maximum SEO
This is the first order of business, and the most important information you should have, when writing posts for your blog. What terms would people likely be searching when they’re looking for the information about which you’re writing? You need to know this so that your posts convey to the search engines the specific subject you’re addressing using the terms most searched.
Fortunately, there are some tools online that can help you research the popularity of searches. There are many keyword-research tools available, free and commercial. I like these two free options: Keyword Discovery and Google’s Keyword Tool. Once you get familiar with using these tools, you might want to explore some of the more robust commercial offerings.
Google’s Keyword Tool
I think the Google Keyword Tool is a fine place to start your keyword discovery process.
You can enter in keywords only and Google’s Keyword Tool will show you the search stats for variants on the keywords you enter. If you check the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” box, then it will restrict the results to variants on only the terms you enter. I recommend not checking this box, but you can test it out.
Alternately, you can just enter a website URL (without the “http://www.”) and the tool will show you the terms that site is optimized for.
On-Page SEO: Communicating your Post’s Subject Matter Top to Bottom
The essence of good on-page SEO is conveying to the search engines the specific subject matter of each post (SEO is page-based, NOT site-based!). After you assess the important keywords for a post, you want to incorporate them in:
- the URL (directory and file name);
<title>tag and the meta “description” tag (
<meta name="description" content="Your keyword-rich description of your post subject matter" />) meta tags;
- Post title;
- Post headings;
- Post content;
- Hyperlink anchor text (text that is linked to another post).
Naming the directory where your blog lives
If your blog IS your website, rather than a content-generating arm of your main business site, then your blog will live at the top level of your domain (www.myblogSite.com). If at all possible, the domain name you use for your blog site should contain the most important keyword relevant to your content. Thus, if your blog discusses vintage vinyl records…
would help improve your search rankings than would:
The same principle applies to installing your blog in a subdirectory of your primary business site. It would be better to name the blog directory “vintage-vinyl-records”:
than a cool, but keyword-deprived:
BTW, astute readers will not that the HyperArts Blog is in a directory called “blog”! When we started the blog, the topics were too varied to give the directory a keyword-rich name, so we went generic…
Control your post URLs using Permalinks
Google and Bing definitely “parse” what your various page URLs are, what terms they contain, etc. Although Google doesn’t tip its hand as to how important to ranking this “signal” is, I think it’s a good idea to incorporate your post’s subject matter into its URL, utilizing keywords that you feel someone would search when looking for the subject your post addresses.
If you use WordPress (and, as I said above, I consider it to be the best self-hosted blogging platform), then you have the option to use Permalinks which allow you to create natural-language URLs rather than URLs to just show a sort of query search based on a post’s numerical ID. So, instead of:
you have this:
Where “principles-of-good-design” is the post’s title.
Using Permalinks you can set how your blog creates URLs. In the above example, “web-design” is the category and “principles-of-good-design” is the post title. In your WordPress admin area, go to Settings > Permalinks, where you can select your options.
Also, WordPress allows you to tweak your Permalink URL, so you can set it to whatever you want, paring out words that don’t help SEO and perhaps adding a couple that do but don’t appear in your title.
Control your title and meta tags using built-in SEO tools or plugins
Each page or post on your website or blog contains “meta data” that tells search engines what the content on that page is about. For good SEO, the two most important meta-data tags are the
<title> tag and the
<meta name="description" content="YOUR DESCRIPTION HERE" /> tag.
- title tag:
The content of this tag should be very similar in content to your post’s title. Google will display about 60 of these characters on a Search Results Page (“SERP”) and Bing will display up to 63.
<title>San Francisco Bay Area Website Design + Web Development | HyperArts</title>
If you do have more than 60 characters in your
<title>tag, make sure the most important part is at the beginning. Because we don’t know how much of the title tag Google assesses, only how much it displays, it’s best to front-load your title tag.
- Meta “description” Tag:
This is the meta tag that conveys a brief description of the page’s/post’s content. Google will display around 150 characters of this tag; Bing will display up to 174. (You can use the HyperArts Character Counter to make sure your tags stay within the limits.)
<meta name="description" content="HyperArts, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, has developed quality websites since 1997, also providing programming, Facebook, SEO/SEM services." />
Each of your blog posts have their title and description meta tag contents displayed on a Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page) like this:
The title tag content is the first, blue-linked line. The 2 lines of content below the title tag content represent the meta “description” tag content.
- Meta “keywords” Tag:
It’s doubtful that this meta tag ever counted for much in Google’s assessment of a page’s content. Because none of its content is actually displayed to the viewer (except by checking via “view source”), this tag was abused with keyword spamming, stuffing it with multiple instances of keywords.
Google has said it pays no attention to the meta “keywords” tag, and same with Bing. Yahoo! might.
Give your blog post a keyword-rich and descriptive title!
Give your post a title that is descriptive, keyword-rich and not overly long. And, as mentioned above, make sure your
<title> tag and your post title be very similar, if not identical.
Use descriptive and keyword-rich headers
For each sub-topic you address in your post, lead it with a keyword-rich and descriptive header, and make sure you put it in a header tag:
<h2>, <h3>, <h4>, etc. Besides providing great SEO for your blog posts, it helps you organize your post content into short paragraphs with a descriptive header which facilitates how people read on the Web. I recommend you read Jakob Nielsen’s writings on Web content. Great stuff!
Post content: Incorporate your high-value on-topic keywords wherever possible
Of course, you don’t want to compromise the readability of your content, but you want to make sure to incorporate into your content the terms that users will commonly search when looking for your post’s subject matter.
Make sure to keep your post focused on one topic. It’s much better to write two posts about separate but related topics rather than to combine the two topics into one post.
For both readability and SEO, it’s good practice to bold text that is keyword rich when it makes sense to do so. This helps important text stand out and telegraphs to the search engines that the phrase is important.
When linking to your other posts, incorporate relevant keywords in the “anchor” text
Google looks at the actual words that are linked when text is hyperlinked. If you’re linking to another of your posts, say one that discusses Facebook programming, you’d link to it like this:
Learn more about <a href="/facebook-programming/">Facebook programming</a>.
Not like this:
To learn more about Facebook programming, click <a href="/facebook-programming/">here</a>.
You want to include your keywords in the linked text. This reinforces the relevance of those keywords in your post and and Google and the other search engines will make a stronger association between the text and the linked page. Here’s a good article on using anchor text for SEO. (Note that I didn’t create this hyperlink to give the target page good SEO via anchor text. That’s because I don’t care if that page, with which I have no affiliation, gets good SEO or not!)
WordPress SEO Plugins: Control the Content of your Meta Data
Some WordPress themes and frameworks have control over the meta tags built into them, but if your theme doesn’t allow you to craft title and description meta tags for each post, you should add a plugin to your self-hosted blog so that you can control the content of these tags.
On the HyperArts Blog, we use the Headspace2 SEO plugin which does a great job facilitating control over meta data for our posts.
You can find more information on SEO for WordPress, and plugins for SEO, on the WordPress Codex.
Off-page SEO: Promote your Blog and Get High-Value Backlinks
Having solid on-page SEO will definitely help your posts rank well in Google searches, but to rank well in competitive searches, your blog must have a lot of quality websites and blogs that link to it. This is called “off-page” SEO and it’s probably the most important consideration regarding SEO.
Avoid Link Farms and Services that Guarantee X Backlinks per Week!
The key thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want “junk” links, links from websites that are little more than “link farms.” Google wants to see many different links to your site from a variety of sources, as well as a growth in your “link popularity” that is gradual and organic, not a suddens spike where 500 sites are suddenly linking back to your blog. (JC Penney found out the hard way about link-building schemes.)
Google’s job is to provide quality search results, so it is in their best interest to be improving their algorithm to determine the backlinks that actually represent a meaningful “vote” for your content, as opposed to backlinks from sites that will add pretty much any website to their directory with no human mediation.
Getting Quality Backlinks from Other Blogs
A big part of improving traffic to your blog is simply making people aware of you and your blog. Visit other subject-related blogs and leave comments. NOT comments that are transparently excuses for a link to your blog, but comments that add value to a blog’s conversation.
We’ve seen all the variants on our blog here and we NEVER approve these types of comments, which range from innocuous to obnoxious:
- Great post! Thanks!
- I’ve learned so much. I’m going to work on this right now.
- Thank you for this post. I’m going to use it on my
<a href="BLAH-BLAH-BLAH">Inexpensive Canadian Viagra</a>website!
You get the picture. Including a link to your own blog when commenting on other blogs is fine as long as it makes sense in the context of the comment you add.
Read my article “How to Announce and Promote Your Blog – Best Practices” for more info on this.
Blog Search Engine Optimization Resources
- Importing Your Blogger or WordPress.com Blog into WordPress
- Smart Link-Building Strategies – Think Like Google
- Using WordPress Permalinks (WordPress Codex)
- How to Announce and Promote your Blog – Best Practices
- Blog Hosting for Best SEO: External, Subdomain, Subdirectory?
- Maximizing WordPress Blog SEO + General Tips for Efficient Blogging
- SEOmoz: Link Building Management
- Best Keyword Research Tools
- Importing Your Blogger or WordPress.com Blog into WordPress
- Jakob Nielsen’s articles on writing Web content
- WordPress Codex: Search Engine Optimization for WordPress
- Ultimate Blogger’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization