I’m building a website for Matthew Batt, an old friend of mine and author of Sugarhouse, a wonderfully funny tale that chronicles his attempts to renovate a former crackhouse. I spent a good bit of the day yesterday transferring his old existing blog from an iWeb site to WordPress. It’s slow going, mostly because I stop to read just about every post.
So it’s really good stuff. But when it comes to SEO (or search engine optimization), his blog of roughly 175 posts is virtually invisible to Google, Bing, and the rest of the search engine universe.
I’m not claiming to be an SEO expert, if there is such a thing. Lord knows I could do plenty more to help out my own websites. But I’ve encountered a number of writer and publisher websites since I started Pubmission that completely neglect some of the very simple things that can at least give you a leg up in the search-engine rankings. Now that publishers are touting the importance of the almighty author platform, there’s a lot of competition out there in the blogosphere for authors, and though some things are out of your control when it come to visibility and readership, you can really help yourself if you at least keep in mind a few SEO techniques.
And yes, I understand that you don’t have the time to learn HTML or the difference between a title tag and an alt tag. You’d rather write the darn thing and be done with it. Craft a clever title and the hell with keywords or h2 tags. Google changes their search engine rules every three months anyway, right?
But actually, it’s not so hard to do some quick things to help Google make sense of what your content is. The tips I offer below are pretty basic and meant for those of you who are new to the blogging game or would like a refresher.
1. Pick 2-3 strong keywords and run with them.
When I was first introduced to SEO eight or nine years ago, my employer’s instructions were to choose a keyword and plug it into the text of the webpage as often as possible even if it affected readability.
Don’t do that. I can still recall the anguish I felt when I had to abandon my writing instincts and destroy the content I’d already written with the needless repetition of those stupid words. It’s true that you want to intersperse your keywords throughout your text to achieve a moderate level of “keyword density,” but (thankfully) Google is now wise to the old scheme of jam-packing your text with keywords. We are writers, so remember that readability comes first, and if your blog’s SEO isn’t what it should be, so be it. I often write out my posts before I do my keyword research and then go back and edit where possible (not that that is necessarily the right way to do it).
For example, with this post, I’ve chosen the keyword phrase “blog seo” and in my first draft, the only place I used it was in my title.
One other note: If you’re unsure of how to find those popular keywords that can add a traffic boost to your blog, your first stop should always be Google’s Keyword Tool. In my next post, I’ll talk about this tool a bit more and introduce you to two WordPress plugins that I use with every post. But in short, you want to choose words with low competition and high number of monthly searches.
2. Use your best keyword in your title.
Your title is the most important part of your blog post. In this online world that floods us with information, your title not only has to catch the eye of Tweeters and Facebook junkies, it has to clue Google (yes, Bing and Yahoo, too) in on what your post is about. You do that by putting your best keyword as close as possible to the beginning of your title.
You should also keep your title limited to 70 characters if possible, because that’s all Google will show in its listings. If your title exceeds that amount, you might confuse potential visitors to your site.
You’ll notice that some blogs like this one include the name of the website itself at the end of the title. If you have room, it doesn’t hurt to do this, but it’s always best to have a descriptive title (including that keyword) at the beginning. One thing that immediately reveals a website owner’s inattention to SEO is a title like “Home” or “About,” which tells search engine crawlers nothing about their site. Be specific and use keywords.
3. Get descriptive with your meta data
Okay, I know this is starting to sound techie. But if you click “View Source” on your browser, you’ll notice that at nearly the top of every webpage you’ll see a few tags that include the words “meta name.” This tag tells the browser some information about the page, but it never appears on the page itself.
Where it does show up is on Google. Search engines pay close attention to your <title> tag and your <meta name=”description”>. It used to be that people spent a lot of time loading their <meta name=”keywords”> tag with every keyword under the sun that they thought would generate some hits to their site. Google doesn’t care about this anymore, so don’t worry about it.
But you do want to work on your meta description for your blog post. If you don’t, the first 140 characters of the post will appear in search results. This might be fine, but only if you’ve included those invaluable keywords in that first paragraph (again, as close to the beginning as possible).
Another tool I’ll talk about next time for WordPress is Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin. You can quickly set your meta data using this tool and it will tell you how well you’re doing. I use it religiously with every post. There are tons of tools like it out there, so if you don’t use WordPress, you’ll likely be able to find something similar.
4. Add alt text to every image.
But we’re writers, you cry! Why do we need to bother with images? Again, it goes back to catching the eye of those people who type with their thumbs on screens the size of credit cards. Like a strong title for a blog, an image has the power to draw people into your content, to visit and hopefully read at least most of your post. (And maybe even buy your book!)
It’s not enough, though, just to scour Flickr for a great image and paste it into your text. Google has no way of knowing what that image is if it doesn’t contain a title tag and an alt tag. Now you can get fancy if you know some basic HTML and add the code itself like this:
<img src=”http://yourblogdomain.com/img.png” title=”strong_keyword” alt=”A strong keyword-rich description of this awesome photo”/>
Most blogging software, though, such as WordPress, will help you add this information to each image without the code or hassle. The important thing is to give the image a title that says briefly what the image contains and to provide alt text (or alternative text) to describe the image.
The purpose of alt text is to load a description if the image for some reason doesn’t appear on a visitor’s browser. But Google also uses it to a) figure out what the image is and b) see if it has any relation to the actual written content of your post. That’s why you want to inject your keyword(s) into your alt text if possible.
5. Use subhead tags throughout your blog.
I’ll talk about how to structure your blog posts in a couple days, but an important (and often neglected part of a successful blog post is a subhead dispersed every 3-5 paragraphs throughout your piece.
I know. Subheads don’t allow writers like us to compete with Faulker for the longest stream of consciousness sentence in American literature. But we can’t forget what the primary goal of your blog is: to sell books. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule and these guidelines are quite elastic. If you look through this blog, our contributing writers and I certainly haven’t used subheads in every post. But subheads not only break up the read, they again provide Google with some valuable signposts within your content.
As with images, you can code the suckers yourself in HTML with tags:
<h2>A great keyword-rich subhead</h2>
But most blogging platforms will help you apply styles to your text without the opening and closing heading tags. WordPress works basically like a simple word processor that lets you select heading formats from a drop-down menu in its editor. Don’t merely boldface the text and enlarge the font. Not the same thing.
And like your post title, your headings should contain your best keywords if possible.
6. Take control of your Blog’s URLs.
A URL is the address for your blog post. Sounds kind of important, right? So if you want Google to find you, do yourself a favor and pay attention to the URL. If you’re using WordPress, there’s a button directly under the title field that lets you edit the end of your URL. Don’t let WordPress or any other blogging software do this for you.
(In WordPress, you should also make sure that you customize your “permalinks” under “Settings.” Otherwise, WordPress will just assign a Post ID to each new post—you want to use words not numbers.)
Keep your URLs short and sweet. Of course, include that top keyword and eliminate any unnecessary words like articles (a, an, the) or prepositions. Notice that the URL for this post ends with /blog-seo-writers-publishers. Verbs are usually unnecessary, too. You just need to give search engines enough clues to help them figure out what you’re posting.
7. Don’t Waste Your Links
Google might change its algorithms about as often as Lindsay Lohan appears in court, but one of the things that has remained fairly consistent is the high value they place on inbound links. An inbound link occurs when another website links to yours. According to Google, the links should be “merit-based and freely-volunteered as an editorial choice.”
How do you convince people to do this for you? One simple way is to link to them. It never hurts to link to other bloggers in your posts, not only to spread the love but to show the Google spiders that your site doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I often respond to opinions on publishing and writing posted on other blogs, and if that blogger pays attention to who’s linking to them, you might just start a conversation.
The actual text of your link should also contain keywords. So lets say that I want to link to Pubmission. Rather than place the link on the word Pubmission, I’d instead use some descriptive text such as an online submissions manager for publishers and writers.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to include some links to related posts somewhere in each post. You can see that I’ve included a few at the end of this post. That’s actually done automatically thanks to a WordPress widget called Better Related Content, but you can generate the links yourself if you want.
What this does is make great use of all the other content you’ve placed on your blog. It helps with your blog’s SEO, but it also works to increase the number of page views on your site. Visitors have come to your site because they might have an interest in the topic you’re writing about. Why not exploit that interest and point them in the direction of other related stuff? You slaved over it, so why not use it?
Tools to Help with Your Blog’s SEO
As I mentioned earlier, my next post will cover some of the online tools I use with every post to make all of this a snap. Without them, you almost have to make a checklist of all the things you have to do for SEO every time you work on your blog. That can be a pain—and take up a lot of time. After all, you should be spending most of your time making books, right?