12 Witnesses

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Better Blogging: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

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This article is aimed at those who are already blogging from novice to blogging regular.

Be sure to check out previous posts in this series: Better Blogging: The Beginning, and Better Blogging: Tweaking Firefox.

How do you get found? Search Engines and references. Though links help you, even in Search Engines they give you greater credibility as others link to you, most of the people who link to you are part of a general group of people who are already aware of your presence on the web. Beyond that, you can’t control who links to you.

I’ve been using these tips over the last week and my Search Engine references have shot through the roof. My post on tweaking Firefox was #70 on Google’s main site (not blogsearch) for the term “Tweaking Firefox” within 7 hours of it going up. It was not yet cached by Google. That may not sound that impressive to you, but considering the number of articles on the web about Firefox, it is really pretty good.

A day later, it was #21 on Google’s main site. 48 Hours, and it is #20. BTW, I am not counting sublinks that are indented under parent links.

So let me tell you what I did up front to get it there, and then let me tell you what can happen to improve it even more.

Layering Keywords: slug, tags, categories, names and excerpts

Search Engines look for keywords. The more they appear on a certain page, the higher they get ranked, so putting keywords in the page is essential, but you don’t want simply repeat a word incessantly, because it makes reading your article irritating. If higher readership is your goal, this is unwise.

There is the trick of labeling pictures or links with terms that are searched often (e.g. “NOT Miley Cyrus” if you were trying to get American Tweens to hit your site), which will get you an early boon of hits, but they are going to leave when they arrive to find you don’t have what they were promised, so other than hitting your site for a 3 second stay, you’ve gained nothing. This is not to mention that you will lose credibility with them and likely it will create a backlash effect.

Also, Google will punish you for doing this when they discover it. Obviously, it’s counterproductive.

There are five legitimate ways to insert keywords into your content that catch search engines, but not the ire of the reader or those that run the search engine.

The first way of doing this is the post slug. The post slug is the set of keywords in your article’s web address. The post slug for the Tweaking Firefox post is seen in the picture of the address bar:

Post Slug Screen Capture

The slug part is “better-blogging-tweaking-firefox” as you might have guessed. What you may not know is that you can rewrite the post slug to anything you want, using keywords you think matter and not just as a repeat of the post’s title. You can do that in your WordPress write post page in the place that looks like this:

Post Slug 2 Screen Capture

In the line that reads “Permalink,” click the “Edit” link and you can change the post slug to whatever you want it to be.

You have to have your permalinks set for this style, rather than “basic” permalinks that just calls your post a number. This is what they call a “pretty” permalink. Awww. Isn’t it sweeeet?

WordPress now takes tags. If you want your post to be picked up, tag it, tag your pictures, tag anything and everything you can tag. Alot of people never tag (I used to be one of them) and this is very effective in keeping yourself from being found on the internet, and if not being found is your goal, then you should not tag. You should also probably not put your thoughts (or pictures, videos and other information) on the internet, but keep your thoughts in a nice leatherbound journal beside your bed.

Here’s the tag set I used for Tweaking Firefox.

Tags

Categories were the first way to separate posts from each other and one way to send the message to the search engine that your post has something specific in it. In WordPress, you can post to multiple categories:

Categories

Excerpts are new in the write post page of WordPress 2.5 and at the bottom of the page you can find a box in which you can put an excerpt of your post that would provide a synopsis of the post. You should put an introductory paragraph that is full of keywords:

Excerpt

The best keyword layering option that you have, though, is naming things. You need to name your pictures and you need to name your links. You also need to write out your links. Do this: go back to Tweaking Firefox and find the number of times I wrote the word Firefox. Then start hovering your mouse over the links and read the name that pops up. When you get done, feel free to write the count you get in the comments. I don’t know the number, but I know it is so many, that I don’t want to spend the time counting them. I think this is the most likely reason that my post shot so high so quickly – and it hasn’t been linked to by any sites, either. You should feel free to do so. I’d appreciate it.

[UPDATE!!! - Apparently Google didn't like that I had it layered that much and has de-linked the post. I have know idea what the tipping point is for them, as all the layers were legitimate, but apparently, quantity, though legitimate, can be overdone. Everyone take a lesson.]

SEO Plugin

WordPress has several plugins available to optimize for Search Engines. I use All in One SEO Pack and it looks like this:

SEO Pack

This plugin re-layers all of this information and feeds it directly to the Search Engines.

Also, you should install Google Sitemaps as a plugin. It creates a sitemap for Google’s “bot” as it crawls your site and it makes it easier to understand the structure of your site and give results that reflect it.

Content: Quality, Diversification

Obviously, good quality content is a must. You need to write well and it needs to be helpful to people. This will create traffic and links, and that will cause the Search Engines to sit up and take notice.

Also, you need to diversify your content. If you make your content specific, then only a small range of people will be looking for what you are writing about. I love what John P. has in his sub-title of One Man’s Blog: Specialization is for insects.

Media Hosting: Your Server, Compression, WP Super Cache

Finally, let me tell you about hosting the media you use on your own server. When you host images or movies on your own server rather than on Flickr or Youtube, when they are found by the search engine, you get the credit and the link. When you host them elsewhere, flickr or Youtube gets credit.

But, did you know that Search Engines evaluate your server’s ability to handle the load? If you have a cheap server, heavy traffic, high load media or any combination of those things, it will cause you to drop in the rankings.

First thing is get a good server and plenty of bandwidth. If you have a cheap package, you are hurting yourself. Look into a server that is fast and will give you all the load you are shooting for.

Next, reduce the load to the best of your ability. Two things that you can do to reduce the load on your server is to compress your pictures and to install the WP Super Cache plugin on your blog. The plugin saves images of your pages for ready pick up and speeds you up considerably.

The other thing you can do is compress your pictures with a freeware program called Faststone. This program is quick and really good. It is also a shell program that will launch a program of your choosing to edit the photograph in a different way, if you want. Well that’s a rabbit we need not chase here.

Anyway, when you save a picture, you can open it in Faststone, click on it, then drop the File menu. Click “save as” and at the bottom right is a button called options. Click it and find a window like this:

Faststone

Notice the original file size and the new file size. Also, realize that the compressed size on the right has been compressed twice – once for the original compression for this screen grab and then I compressed the screen grab to host it here.

Adjust the file size to what you can live with and save it in place of the original or as a duplicate.

This keeps the picture the same size, but keeps it from being a big load, which search engines like. It also gives you a lot of graphics quick so your page loads fast for regular viewing.

Let me give out a few links for this. Mostly, this information came from John Pozadzides’ presentation at Wordcamp this year.

Also, though I have yet to review it, there is another video specifically for SEO by Chris Smith. If I get a chance soon, I may provide a follow up post for this from this video.

Right now, though, I am tired of the late nights, so it may be next week.

For my regular readers, I will try to introduce non-tech things through the middle of the week as well. I may drop a few posts a day for a while to keep certain church members from complaining about the boring tech stuff.

Still, it is my highest hit posting in a loooooong time. And a lot of it from Search Engines.

Better Blogging: The Beginning

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can you hear thisI’ve recently found a ton of information from the pro-bloggers, those that design a lot of the blogging software, about how to blog better. I am sifting through that load of information and then will pass on to those who may read what I learn. Of course, I’ll be linking to the originators of these ideas, so you can go straight to the source, if you want.

I talked with a fellow pastor last week and he was on his way on a Mission Trip. I asked if he would be blogging the trip the way I did Vietnam. He said that he wasn’t set up for it, but really thought it was an effective tool for communicating. I promised to help him set up when he got back from his trip.

My friend was right. Blogging is a powerful form of communication and also is highly effective to those who read. The questions are, “Who is reading?” “Can we reach those that don’t know us?” If we can do it well, then we stand a better chance of getting the message out.

With that in mind, no matter who you are, I am embarking on another tech series to help you blog better and more efficiently. Hopefully, it will save you time and you can reach others. I can say that my feed subscriptions have doubled this week since I’ve been doing a few things differently. I haven’t even really gotten started.

This series will have a little something for everyone. If you are a lurker (someone who just reads and doesn’t even comment) there will even be stuff for you. Nevertheless, I will be aiming mostly toward those who already blog.

In this series, I plan to address:

  • where to blog (service and software)
  • content choice
  • how to blog for better search engine results
  • all kinds of software to help you do cool stuff – for free
  • what to do WHEN your rss feed gets scraped and used by a splog (spam blog)
  • how to get it done quickly and efficiently
  • more…

While I am gearing up for this, I want to offer you a chance to ask questions now that might form an answer post. Now’s your chance. Just ask away in the comment section.

If you haven’t switched to Firefox yet, give it a whirl now. A lot of what I will be writing about will have to do with it. For those who don’t understand what and why, I’ll explain:

Firefox is a browser, like Internet Explorer from Microsoft. The primary difference is that Firefox is what is called “Open Source,” which means that people other than those who own and run Firefox are free to develop “add-ons” and “scripts” that can be installed in the browser to customize it to your liking. It works for Apple or PC, so whatever your native operating system, you can use this browser.

The up side of open source is that you have MANY people working to make things better for you. The down side is that some people will write intentionally malicious software to mess others up and you might be a victim. However, this is usually avoided easily. Choose add-ons from Firefox’s site and Scripts that have been downloaded significantly by others (if others use it and it is malware – malicious software – then they will report it and it will be taken down). I’ve never had a problem with anything I’ve used in over two years of using Firefox.

The main reason I switched is that almost all the pros use it. I figured they knew something worth knowing. Astoundingly, I was right. They did.

After I switched, I found that Firefox is the standard in “compliance” – which is to say, it is the best browser for interpreting the computer language in which web sites are written. In Firefox, everything seems to appear as it was intended.

For instance, my site, when viewed in Internet Explorer, has the “footer” at the top of the site between the sidebar and the content columns. In Firefox, it is at the bottom of the page, where it was designed to be. If you use Internet Explorer all the time, try Firefox for a week. You will be absolutely amazed at how different the websites you visit look. Some change drastically. Next in the series, I will give you a huge list of all kinds of tweaks you can do for Firefox to customize it.

Some of these updates will help you blog better and some will help you read better, so whatever you do in the blogosphere, there will something for you there.

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