Make Blogging and RSS Pay Off by Driving Traffic and Sales Through Optimized Blogs and Feeds
In the intensive session I led during the ACCM in Boston on May 21, the overriding theme was that search engines judge a site’s worth on its inbound links. Translation: No links = no rankings.
Blogs, meanwhile, are great at attracting links from the blogosphere, because bloggers are rather cliquish and mostly tend to link to each other. So you’ll earn links as a blog that you wouldn’t normally earn otherwise.
Nonetheless, intentionally work to boost your link popularity; don’t just expect links to your blog to come on their own. One of the best ways to do this is by building relationships with bloggers by posting thoughtful comments on their blogs, by networking with them at real-world conferences like the Blog Business Summit and BlogHer, and by blogging about them. They’ll be more likely then to follow your blog and give you “hat tips” when they piggy-back on something interesting you’ve found online, and hopefully even include you on their “blogroll” (a link list of favorite blogs they read).
Internal Hierarchical Linking Structure
You pass all that hard-earned link popularity (PageRank) down through your blog’s archives through the blog’s internal hierarchical linking structure. Internal linking is one of your secret weapons, so make the most of it. Create a Top 10 list of your best posts and link to those posts from your blog’s home page. All your posts should include “Next Post” and “Previous Post” links, as well as a linked list of related posts. When writing blog posts, get in the habit of referring to any relevant old posts sitting in your archives.
Don’t use “click here” or “permalink” or “read more” in the anchor text of your internal links, because the search engines associate that underlined anchor text with the page to which you are linking. The engines will start to think all your pages are about such bizarre things as “click” or “here.” Given that, you’ll want to include important keywords in your internal links. The post’s title makes for a great anchor text, so make sure your post titles are clickable links.
Use the Neat-o tool to review the anchor text on your inbound links. Then ask your blogger friends who link to you with throwaway phrases like “click here” to change their wording.
A very powerful, somewhat advanced tactic is to provide visitors and spiders with a “tag cloud” full of keyword-rich text links that point to “tag pages” hosted on your blog. These are created automatically using a tagging plug-in like Ultimate Tag Warrior.
Importance of Title Tags
Title tags are the most important piece of text on a Web page. They’re given the most weight by search engines. So take the time to craft keyword-rich title tags for each post, category page, and of course, home page. If you must include your blog name in the title tag (not recommended), put it at the end of the title rather than at the beginning. Override the automatically generated title tags that are based on the post titles and replace them with custom-written title tags, using a blog plug-in.
URLs are very important to your blog’s rankings, too. Use “URL rewriting,” which is supported on most blog platforms, to create keyword-rich URLs that have no “stop characters” (question marks, ampersands or equals signs). Separate keywords with hyphens, not underscores, as Google doesn’t treat underscores as word separators.
Set up permanent (301 style) redirects from pages at yourblog.com to corresponding pages at www.yourblog.com, or you’ll end up with a duplicate site in the search engines. If you ever decide to switch blog platforms, maintain the old URLs through permanent redirects to preserve those valuable inbound links that point deep into your archives.
Heading tags (like H1, H2 etc.) get extra weight as opposed to regular body copy by the engines, so mark up post titles with H1 tags. Don’t mark up dates with heading tags (a fairly common mistake). On category pages, wrap the category name within an H1 tag. And on your tag pages, wrap the tag name within an H1.
“Sticky” posts, which are posts that always appear at the top of the page regardless of the date, offer a clever way to add keyword-rich intro copy to a category page or tag page. The Adhesive plug-in will provide this “sticky” functionality to any WordPress-powered blog.
Optimize your RSS feeds too. Go with full-text feeds, not summary feeds. Provide at least 20 items in the feed, not just the default 10. Offer a range of feeds (not just one) by category, latest comments, comments by post and by tag. Have a keyword-rich title for each item, because that oftentimes will become anchor text.
For the same reason, put your most important keyword in the site’s title. Write a compelling site description because that gets displayed in various important places, such as in the “Related Blogs” results in Google Blog Search. Resist the temptation of appending a tracking code like source=rss to the URL, because it reduces the linked item’s link popularity potential. Include podcasts in your RSS feed as enclosures, as that can gain you additional visibility in podcast directories and search engines.
Stephan Spencer is president and founder of Netconcepts, a Web design and consulting firm specializing in search engine, optimal Web sites and applications. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .