How to Build Blog Traffic - Search Engines and SEO

BlogHer Original Post

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This article is a part of a series of posts on How to Build Blog Traffic (see Intro).

One of the key ways that people find your site is through a search engine such as Google, Yahoo, or MSN. Placing highly on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) when someone is doing a search will almost guarantee lots of traffic of new visitors to your site. In fact, search engine results placement is so important for the business models of thousands of web-based companies that an entire industry of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) professionals exists to advise people on how to score better in the search returns.

The most popular search engines are Google, Yahoo, and MSN, with Google taking the lion's share of searches. The search engines' (Google especially) primary objective is to return the best results possible for people conducting searches . They use proprietary algorithms to determine which pages rise to the top of search results based on several factors. Early on Google in particular gave a lot of weight to the number of other pages that linked to a particular page. So, if your site was popular and several other sites linked to it, Google interpreted this as a good indication of quality and ranked your page highly in the search results. Although inbound links are still important, in recent years Google has been giving less weight to them because they can so easily be rigged by scammers. Google has also cracked down hard on sites using paid links and Pay-per-Post.

To understand how search engines work, you first need to see what a search engine sees when it spiders your site.

What search engine spiders see when they search your site

Open up a browser and go to your blog. Now do a "View Source" from your browser. In Firefox click on "View" in the toolbar and scroll down to "Page Source". The text that you see is exactly what the search engine spider sees. The spider searches the text between the html tags to determine what the page is about. The spider also looks at the header section of the html on the page to see what the title of the page is, and the description if there is one. If you post a video, but without any accompanying text, the search engine spider won't have much to go on when determining what the page is about. If your page is text-rich, the spider will have lots of clues. If you use a lot of Flash, the search engines will have a difficult time finding you. So to be found and indexed well in a search engine, make sure your posts have plenty of text.

How to place better in search engine results

Here are some tips for how you can tune your blog for better SERP placement safely, without incurring the ire of the search engines.

  • Keywords in title and text - Once you've written a post, determine what words people would use in a search on Google or Yahoo if they wanted to find exactly what you had written about. Make sure those words are in the title of your post and in the text of your post. Refrain from "stuffing" your text with keywords, as that behavior will get you into trouble with the search engines.
  • Link out - Having several natural (not paid) inbound links from other websites is a great way to boost your visibility in the search results. The best way to inspire others to link to you is to show that you are paying attention to them first. Find bloggers who write about the same stuff you do and start linking to them.
  • Site links and anchor text - Link generously within your own site to other pages within your site. When you link, make sure that the text in the link is a keyword you want that page associated with. For example "Click Here" means nothing, the search engines have no idea what that link is about if all it says is "click here". Instead of "Apple Pie, click here", write, "See our apple pie recipe".
  • Avoid duplicate text - Depending on how you archive your posts, you could be generating many pages of duplicate text, which could get you penalized in the search engine results. Either publish only an excerpt or headline in your category and monthly archives, or place a no follow robots tag in the meta data header section of your category and monthly archive templates so that search engines do not spider those pages. The tag looks like this: <META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW"> and it goes in the header section of the html.
  • Be careful who you link to - If you link to a known spam site or link farm, you may be penalized by the search engines.
  • Maintain your site - If your page is filled with links leading to pages long deceased (generating 404 errors) that doesn't look good to the SEs and your quality rating will go down. Keep your links fresh and working.

And the most important tip of all?

  • Focus on building a quality site! - The thing to always keep in mind is that Google and the other search engines are trying to deliver the best possible search results to their customers. If you aren't scoring as highly in the search returns as you would like for a keyword, look to see what the sites that are scoring higher are doing that you aren't. Are they using compelling images, that load quickly? Are they getting to the point and staying on topic? Is their site easy to read and easy to navigate? Have they been around longer with a more established reputation? Learn from what others are doing and work on improving the quality of your content. To consistently score high, you have to present consistently better content that others for the same keyword.

A note on Bounce Rates

One of the potential metrics that search engines have when evaluating where a page should be placed on the SERPs is the "bounce rate". For example, when someone does a search and your site comes up in the returns, if the searcher clicks on it and decides, "no, that's not what I want" and clicks the back button, that is considered a "bounce". If your page has a low bounce rate relative to other sites for that search term, what does that tell the search engine? That your site is better meeting the expectations of the searchers. Although the SEs haven't publicly admitted that they are using bounce rate as a factor in determining SERP placement, many SEO professional believe that they are tracking that metric and I would be very surprised if they weren't. In fact, from where I sit evaluating my own site and the SERP placements of many of my pages, it looks very much like the search engines are indeed using this metric. High relative bounce rate = bad, low relative bounce rate = good. Moral of the story? Create a compelling experience on your pages, so that when someone is looking for something that you have, when they find it on your site they don't immediately click the back button. Structure your site so that it is easy to easy to load, easy to read, and easy to navigate.

Links:
The Blogger's Guide to SEO from SEObook.com
Vanessa Fox recap of her talk at BlogHer Business 2007 on Search Engines - at Google Webmaster Central
3 part series on the power of Search - again from Vaness Fox, posted to her personal blog
Elise and Vanessa BlogHer presentations, including resource links for building blog traffic

Contributing Editor Elise Bauer blogs at Simply Recipes, Learning Movable Type, and several other blogs as part of elise.com.

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