Search Engine Optimization for Blogs

Whether it’s a corporate blog, a news-type blog, or even a personal blog, optimizing your blog for the search engines is a must. There are some simple changes that you can make to WordPress and Moveable Type that will make your blog more search engine friendly and make the search engines beg for more (more post and content, that is!).

Optimizing a blog is just like optimizing any other website. The content and pages (posts) must be unique, they must be search engine friendly, and it needs links from other websites. If it’s a new blog, then you first need to make sure the blog software you’re using is set up so that it takes advantage of all of the possible optimization features. Then, announce it to the world, work on getting some links to it, and start making posts.

WordPress Optimization
If you’re using WordPress for your blog software, it’s important to make sure that your site is search engine friendly, meaning that it can easily be spidered by the search engine spiders. Just like optimizing a website, it’s important to have good title tags and meta tags. Keep in mind that blog software usually uses the title of your post as the title tag, so include keywords in your titles as much as possible.

It’s important to set up your blog’s software so that the URLs don’t contain a lot of variables. Instead, use URLs that include the post title or post name in them. For example, if you’re using WordPress you’ll need to set the permalinks so that it uses %postname% in the URL. You can also set up a specific category for the post archives, and you might consider using a keyword that’s related to your blog instead of the default, which is typically the word “archive”.

Fintan Darragh of www.dech.co.uk has a great blog post called “Ultimate WordPress SEO Tips” (http://www.dech.co.uk/2005/11/ultimate-WordPress-seo-tips/). Mr. Darragh talks about permalink optimization and says, “The goal: stick more keywords up into the URL and remove the faff which nobody uses, to make the URL search engine and people attractive. Having keywords in your URL is an absolute must, especially when it’s as easy as WordPress makes it.” He also goes on to talk about getting rid of useless tags like the month, day, and year, as well as one important detail: whatever you do stick with the site structure you choose–otherwise you might end up with a lot of useless links to your site. Other tips that Mr. Darragh mentions are optimizing your page titles and your post titles–and installing a few plugins that are useful such as the “Related Posts Plugin” and the “Technorati Tag Generator”.

There are several other places where you can get specific tips about setting up WordPress in a search engine friendly manner, including:
* SEO at Aleeya Dot Net – http://www.aleeya.net/category/WordPress/seo/
* The Best WordPress SEO Possible – http://WordPress.org/support/topic/49168
* Search Engine Optimization for WordPress – http://codex.WordPress.org/Search_Engine_Optimization_for_WordPress
* Search Engine Optimization for Blogs – http://www.blog-maniac.com/blog-seo.htm
* DYI Search Engine Optimization – http://lorelle.WordPress.com/2006/01/15/dyi-search-engine-optimization/

One of the best tutorials out there is one called “DYI Search Engine Optimization” by Lorelle VanFossen. Specifically, Lorelle (lorelle.WordPress.com) has some great tips, including how to optimize your code, develop strong intrasite links, write with strong keyword usage, use categories and tags, and how to use ping services. Lorelle says that “the goal is to help search engine crawlers move through your website collecting information to be stored in the search engine’s database. The key to your blog’s data making it successfully into a search engine’s database is to:
1) Make sure there are no road blocks in the path of a search engine crawler.
2) Make sure the crawler can move through your blog, examining all your web pages.
3) Provide adequate keywords and key phrases which clearly help categorize your content.
4) Provide clearly labeled tags and categories recognized by tagging service crawlers and many search engines today.
5) Take advantage of pinging services.”

There are several WordPress Plugins available that will help you take advantage of internal linking (like the Related Posts Plugin) which will link to other posts in your blog that are on the same topic. Other plugins that might be helpful are plugins that automatically generate a Google Sitemap file as well as plugins that help you categorize the site such as the WordPress Subdomain Plugin (http://www.webguerrilla.com/WordPress-subdomain-plugin/).

Movable Type Optimization
If you’re using Movable Type for your blog software, then it’s also important to make sure that your site is search engine friendly and can be spidered by the search engine spiders. Just like optimizing a website, it’s important to have good title tags and meta tags. Keep in mind that blog software usually uses the title of your post as the title tag, so include keywords in your titles as much as possible.

Miles Evans (http://www.webpronews.com/expertarticles/expertarticles/wpn-62-20060310Movable TypeSEO.html) says that “Movable Type is optimized quite well out of the box, but there are a few quick tricks to easily providing the spiders with some dynamic content.” He goes on to say that you need to optimize your template. “For my main home page and category index pages I hardcode most of my meta data. Your meta tags will be at the top of the template within the tag. You can get fancy on your index pages but I cannot really see why. Optimize these two templates by hand for whatever keywords you are targeting site wide.” Mr. Evans also has another article titled, “Best Movable Type Plugins” (http://www.webpronews.com/expertarticles/expertarticles/wpn-62-20060310BestMovable TypePlugins.html) that talks about his favorite plugins that help him get great search engine rankings. His favorite Movable Type Plugins for SEO are Dashify, MTPaginate, MT Blogroll, MT InlineEditor, MT-Textile, BigPAPI, as well as Ajaxify (a set of plugins that adds several ajax/javascript widgets into the Movable Type interface), CheckLinks, FormatList v1.0, and Better File Uploader for uploading files.

Nicholas Carvan (http://www.nicholascaravan.com) has a great article about Movable Type optimization called “Optimizing your Movable Type blog for Google” (http://www.nicholascarvan.com/blog/optimizing_your_Movable Type_blog_for_google.html). In it he talks about PageRank (and how it relates to your internal linking on your blog), having keywords in your URL (which is important for all blog optimization) and blogrolling. He defines the term blogrolling very well, saying, “Blogrolling: Inbound links are gold, but in Google’s eyes, not all links are equal. In particular, Google isn’t wild about links contained within JavaScript – apparently they can index them, but that doesn’t mean they always want to.”

Once you’ve set up and configured your blog’s software, it’s important to make sure that you leave it alone–if you change your page URLs then any links that you’ve received from other bloggers may not be valid anymore. If you need to change your site’s structure (perhaps you’ve been blogging already and wish to use the tips from this article to optimize your blog), then you might want to take a look at the Objection Redirection WordPress Plugin(http://WordPress-plugins.biggnuts.com/objection-redirection-WordPress-plugin/) if you’re using WordPress. The Objection Redirection Plugin gives you a simple interface to redirect users (and search engine bots) to the proper page, especially if you’ve changed your site’s structure.

Start Blogging
The best thing you can do is to start blogging. Go ahead and post to your heart’s content and write, write, write about your topic. The more content you can provide the better–and it seems as if adding content on a regular basis really helps, as well. If you’re looking for a general “rule of thumb” when it comes to the amount of content needed on each “post”, I suggest that you include at least two to three paragraphs of information. Depending on your site’s overall web design, your post’s pages (pages other than the home page of your blog) might look “light on content” if you only have one or two paragraphs of text. In one particular blog I write daily, I chose a web design (i.e., WordPress theme) that “forces me” to write at least three paragraphs of text–if I write any less than it just doesn’t “look right”, there’s a large amount of blank, white space right there in the middle of the page. In some cases, it’s helpful to use examples, screen captures, company logos, photos, or other images to fill some of the space in posts if you believe that you’re going to end up being “light on content”.

Feel free to link out to other blog posts that are related to the topic you’re writing about. For example, before you publish a post, go on over to your favorite blog search engine and find another recent post on the same subject–and link to the post. Linking out to other bloggers will get their attention, and hopefully they’ll end up linking to you as well. If other bloggers have trackbacks turned on then their blog will link back to your post. Some trackbacks are moderated, so it might take some time before your link shows up on the other blog. And some bloggers have trackbacks turned off, so a link back to your site might take some manual intervention.

Categorize your posts as much as possible and whenever appropriate, and feel free to add categories as you blog–it will help the internal linking structure of your site, and help the search engines and users find on-topic posts. Keep in mind, though, that if your blog has an overall theme or topic, it’s helpful to try to pre-define a dozen or so categories and stick to them. Too many categories can end up leading to a mess, and if your categories are listed in the sidebar, they could end up making you write longer and longer posts, just to keep up: your sidebars could be rather lengthy, thus requiring you to write more content in each post to fill up the “white space” that will be left over on the page. Generally speaking, it’s helpful from a search engine optimization standpoint to have at least two or more posts in each category; and putting posts in more than one category could lead to duplicate content issues later down the road.

Blog Content
There are many different types of content that you can include in your blog posts. Certainly the type of blog will dictate some of the content–but there always comes a time when a blogger suffers some sort of “writer’s block”. Additionally, how often you update your blog depends on the type of blog and the subject–some corporate blogs might be updated as infrequently as once a week. Some blogs that tend to follow the news can be updated as often as several times a day or several times an hour. Generally speaking, though, if the content is funny, topical, controversial, or newsworthy, then it will get links from other web sites and from other bloggers. In the blogging world, links from other bloggers and other web sites are key to a blog’s success in the search engines.

The following is a list of the types of content that could be included on blogs:
- A blog can always talk about or mention something in the news. If it’s mentioned in the news and it’s related to the blog’s overall topic, then it could be “blogged about”.
- A good way to get links from other bloggers is to write about what other bloggers are writing about. Want a link from another popular blog? Consider reading that blog and expanding on one of their recent posts–and be sure to mention the other blogger and link to them in the post.
- A good way to receive some traffic from the search engines and from the blog search engines is to blog about something that’s very popular or something that’s “in the news” or something that’s “headline news” everywhere. Even if that “headline news” or “breaking news” isn’t related to your blog’s topic, you can always find some reason to blog about it. Consider, for example, a top news story that plagued the headlines for several weeks: A businessman carrying a contagious disease flew around the world knowing that he was carrying the disease, and it was a top story for a while because of the public health concerns. My marketing blog covered the story–and explained how this businessman’s name was a top search term on the internet for a while. It just so happened that the search results for this businessman’s name (the top search term) wasn’t very flattering, and there would continue to be an online reputation management issue in the future for him.
- Tutorials, whether big or small, can lead to great content on a blog. Consider a post on an automotive blog that tells you to buy a used car–this type of content could be popular among the site’s visitors and could lead to links from other web sites and other automotive bloggers.
- Blogs posts that include a specific number of “steps” or “reasons” can be popular. Consider a post on a weight loss blog called “10 Ways to Lose 15 Pounds before Summer” might be a timely Spring blog post.

Duplicate Content Issues
Duplicate content issues tend to be the most troublesome issue plaguing bloggers–duplicate content on blogs, in my opinion, is the typically the biggest reason why blogs don’t rank well in the search engines. And it’s not an issue related to individual blogs or how someone designs it (the blog’s web design) or which theme or template is used–the whole premise behind blogs is generally the problem.

Blogs were designed to originally be someone’s “personal journal” so to speak: they were meant to be updated on a regular basis, providing a means for others to keep up with what the blogger is doing. Blogs were designed to include ways to navigate around the blogger’s posts–by viewing posts by category (which is a good idea) and by navigating through the use of a “calendar” type of internal links (which is bad). The search engines generally like it (and reward us) when a blog or other type of site links to content that’s related to other content on the site. So, linking posts or pages by categorizing them is helpful to the search engines and helpful to the site’s visitors: we tend to like to view web pages that are on a certain subject or that are categorized properly. However, when was the last time you went to a blog and decided, “Gee, I wonder what this blogger was thinking on January 17th last year?) Or, have you ever thought, “I would like to see a list of all of the posts that this blogger made last February.” These are two reasons why blog posts shouldn’t be linked via a “calendar” type of system–no one uses it. However, the most important reason calendars shouldn’t be used on blogs is because it leads to duplicate content–which ends up causing all sorts of search engine ranking issues. Furthermore, if there are too many internal links on a website the links tend to get “discounted”, and some overall link credit that a has (Google calls it PageRank) is spread “too thin” around the site. By limiting a blog’s internal linking to only categories and other occasional links among posts, the “link credit” is passed to only the important pages on the site: the home page of the site the categories, and the individual posts.

It’s been known for a while now that search engines do not like to index and keep track of the same content over and over again: it fills up their disk space, slows down processing, and generally contributes to a bad “user experience” when we look at search results (who wants to read the same information over and over again, anyway?). By limiting a blog’s internal content to the home page, the categories, and the individual blogs you’re staying away from these potential duplicate content issues. One additional type of internal link that should be removed is the “previous” and “next” links. Typically these links appear at the bottom of the main page of the blog, and ultimately creates additional duplicate content. Ideally, a blog will free of duplicate content if the blog has only two ways that visitors and search engine spiders can get to the individual posts from the home page (in the form of a link to the last several posts) and through the site’s categories.

Plugins
Many good blog software packages, including WordPress, have what are called “plugins”. These are small programs or scripts that have been written by third party vendors or individuals that provide additional functionality to the original out-of-the-box installation of the blog software. There are many plugins that are useful, depending on what you want to do with your blog. Too many plugins, though, can end up ruining a blog’s ability to rank well in the search engines, so I would be careful when it comes to choosing plugins and which ones are really needed. Some of the plugins do not have an effect on the site’s optimization, while some will have a big effect.

The following is a list of the types of plugins that are helpful:

- Plugins that generally deal with blog spam or comment spam are helpful. Some plugins will check to see if the person making a comment on your blog is a human (this is helpful). Some plugins that verify trackbacks (automated links from other blogs) are helpful.
- Plugins that automatically translate a blog’s content into other languages can be helpful. These types of translator “plugins” could allow a site to be indexed in many different languages, opening up the potential readership base. Translating a web site into another language does not equate to duplicate content–although the content is in English and in French, the content is unique and not considered duplicate.
- Plugins that automatically create meta tags such as a meta description tag can be helpful.
- Plugins that help the blogger create Technorati tags can be helpful.
- Plugins that fix other miscellaneous duplicate content issues can be helpful. For example, there are plugins available that will make sure that only the www.domain.com version of a blog is available; otherwise, when someone or a search engine bot requests a page on domain.com they’re automatically redirected using a 301 Permanent Redirect to the equivalent page on www.domain.com. Having two “versions” of a site (one on domain.com and one on www.domain.com can lead to duplicate content issues).

The following is a list of types of plugins that are generally not helpful and will lead to optimization issues and will hurt a blog’s ability to rank well in the search engines:

- Plugins that create extra internal links to other web pages or other posts on the site in an automated fashion can contribute to duplicate content issues.
- Plugins that ultimately lead to the automatic creation of additional pages on the blog can be optimization-killers. These types of plugins can include the automatic creation of archives, calendars, additional navigation, or randomness (e.g., links to random posts).
- Plugins that automatically create additional pages on the site based on any type of searching by visitors could lead to additional duplicate content issues.

Promoting Your Blog
Whenever you make a post in your blog, your blog software will attempt to ping certain sites to let them know that you just updated your blog. There are many blog ping services out there, including Ping-O-Matic and Pingoat. Your blog software can be configured to ping sites automatically, and ping lists (lists of URLs to ping) are readily available from many bloggers who have blogged about them. A good ping list will contain at least 50 or more web sites that are notified each and every time a post is made on the blog. You can easily find up-to-date ping lists by searching for them (keyword: ping list) at your favorite search engine.

If your blog is new or you would like to get some additional links, you can submit your blog to blog directories as well as other sites that will list your blog (don’t forget to submit to DMOZ.org, Yahoo! Directory, and the Best of the Web Blog Directory). About.com has a great article about promoting a blog (http://weblogs.about.com/cs/blogpromotions/a/promoteblog.htm) and even Biz Stone has great tutorial about promoting your blog (http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=1060). Lastly, don’t forget to turn on your blog’s RSS feed. And if you’re looking to promote your RSS feed, try searching your favorite search engine for “promote rss” to find a lot of good tutorials.

Links from other blogs are very important to a blog’s search engine rankings. A good way to boost up a blog’s search engine rankings and popularity is to get links from other blogs that share the blog’s same topic. Other bloggers are always flattered when someone comments on something that they write on their blog. So, it’s very helpful to participate on a regular basis by commenting on others’ blogs. This will boost the blog’s possibility of getting a permanent link from the other blog as well as, in many cases, the possibility of getting visitors and the search engine robots to see links back to the blog.

There are many sites that compile lists of the world’s most popular blogs. By participating (commenting on) and by linking to (mentioning those bloggers’ posts) in your blog posts, you increase the chance of getting links from some of those popular blogs. Some popular blogs have a lot of visitors every day. Your comments on their blog could bring visitors to your blog and can help with the blog’s overall link popularity.

Other ways of getting additional links include paid or sponsored links or paid or sponsored reviews. There are services that allow you to pay for reviews (of your blog) and receive payment for reviewing other blogs. It’s important to be aware, though, that paid or sponsored links may be scrutinized by the search engines in the future, so buying links or reviews or receiving money from sponsors for links may be an issue an could have an effect on a blog’s ability to rank well in the search engines.

Using social bookmarking and social networking communities can be very helpful when promoting a blog. Generally, the idea is that the more people you can tell about your blog content, the more chances you have to get links to the blog or blog post–which will ultimately help the blog’s ability to rank well in the search engines. Many bloggers tend to congregate or “hang out” in certain places and on certain social bookmarking and social networking communities. Sites like MyBlogLog, Del.icio.us, and Digg can help bring attention to blog posts. Keys to success include adding friends and “networking” on those sites.

Promoting your blog is just like promoting a website–you need good spiderable content, links to your content, and you need to set up your blog software to take advantage of all the great features. There are also plugins that will help make blogging easier for all of us.