What is SEO and why does it matter to bloggers? How can we use it to improve our blog’s visibility? These are questions that I think many of us who are in the blogging game struggle with understanding. It seems that there is so much information (often contradictory information) out there about SEO and it can be so hard to wade through it all. So when I had the chance to attend a session on SEO with Dan Morris at the recent SoFabCon, I jumped at the chance!
According to Dan, the most important thing to know is what is SEO and he defined it as: the process of proving relevance. When looking at the different aspects of SEO, I found that if I just kept coming back to this statement, it was a lot easier to understand. SEO (search engine optimization) is what tells Google how relevant your blog post is. The more you prove relevance to Google about a certain topic, the higher you move up (the closer to the top you get in a search list) This, of course, is important to us if we want our blog posts to be found and read.
So, the question then becomes, how do we prove relevance to Google? If we are writing a blog post about the best way to groom a dog, we want to show Google that our post contains good, valuable information that is truly relevant to that topic. Since our post will be indexed by Google and not by an actual pair of human eyes reading the post and saying, hey yeah that’s some good stuff about grooming dogs, we have to use indicators that Google can recognize. Dan pointed out that when someone searches for a topic using Google, it doesn’t come back with websites; it comes back with pages. Each page is looked at on its own- Google analyzes each one for 5 things (Dan refers to these as the 5 pillars of SEO) and whichever one proves the most relevance with those 5 things gets to be at the top of the results for that particular search.
These 5 pillars are: Titles, Links, Content, Time, and Social Interaction.
So, Dan suggests starting with the title of our blog post. Now sure, you might be able to come up with some clever, catchy title like your grade school teacher may have told you to do in order to add interest to your story but I’m pretty sure your creative writing assignments weren’t having to pass the Google test. I wrote one once about Peeps – you know, the marshmallowy Easter candy – that I titled Peep Show. I thought I was being really cute. Ultimately, I probably made it more difficult for the search engines to see what my post was truly about and index it accordingly. So, back to creating a title for my blog post on dog grooming. Something that simply states what it’s about in clear terms that reflect the topic make it easiest for Google. How to Groom Your Dog. Dog Grooming 101. Dog Grooming. Thinking in terms of what words YOU would use if you were searching on Google to find an article on grooming your dog can be helpful.
Next, Dan talked about the meta description – which, in a sense, is a way of elaborating on the title. Not only does Google like relevance, but it likes the personal touch too. By adding a description that goes a bit further into detail about the subject of your blog post, you are letting potential readers (and Google) know more of what it’s about. This adds to what Dan referred to as the cocoon of relevance Google likes to see around your blog post. I think of it as building layers of relevance in every possible way I can.
For a post to have relevance, it needs to have information we can trust. How do we show that our information can be trusted to Google? Links can help us with this. So let’s suppose that the PetSmart or American Kennel Society website links up to my blog post. They obviously are going to demonstrate relevance and authority on topics related to dogs to Google, so this, in turn, adds to the authority and relevance of my post. Dan also suggested linking to other posts internally – perhaps you have other posts on your blog about dogs that you could link to, thus creating more authority and expertise on the topic. When linking to them, my anchor text is really important. Anchor text = the clickable text in your post. Anchor text describes where you’re going on the web. Google loves indicators of human activity – so anchor text like “click here” is good. It’s good to think of the value of anchor text when you are guest posting for someone and linking back to your own blog from that post (perhaps in the “about me” or bio section). If you have friends who are linking to your article, you can also ask them to write their anchor text in such a way as to include some of your keywords. Obviously, we can’t always choose the way a site is linking back to us, but if given the option, this is ideal.
Dan said that Google will also look for supporting keywords within your post. If your post is about grooming dogs, finding supporting words that are related to dogs and to grooming, like puppies, German Shepherds, brush may add to the relevance of your post. Dan doesn’t suggest using the Google Adwords tool for finding keywords because this is designed for advertisers to use in finding optimum places to advertise. It basically tells you if a certain keyword is commercial or not. He did suggest some keyword tools but said that there is no way to get a free keyword tool – it is something you’ll need to invest in. His suggestions: For Brainstormtools.com click here, and for Marketsamurai (which has a free trial version) click here. He also recommended using Google Webmaster Tools. According to Google: “Webmaster Tools provides information and data about the sites you have added to your account. You can use this data to improve how search engines crawl and index your site’s content.”
Label your images in such a way as to show relevance to Google, thereby adding to that cocoon of relevance Dan referred to. Don’t leave them labelled as “image 079” or something similar. Give them a label that contains keywords relevant to your topic. He also suggested that you link your pictures to something relevant or make them “unlinkable”, rather than have them linked to themselves.
Another way of proving relevance to Google is through time – in other words, by keeping your site updated on a regular basis. Google likes to see timely information – after all, we know how often in our fast paced world, information can become out of date and lose its relevance as new events occur and our thinking and body of knowledge advances. It only stands to reason that the most valuable source is going to be one that’s current and up to date.
Finally, there is the 5th pillar: social interaction. Google values human interaction – it wants to know that human activity is involved and that the post is not just the work of spammers. Comments on your blog post can not only add to your body of content but they also show Google that humans are participating on your page and interacting with it. Social media icons that show Facebook likes and shares, Twitter tweets, Pinterest pins and so on also add to this. Google sees this as affirmation from real live humans that your article is important, valued, and of course, relevant.
Whew – that was a lot of information and to be honest, I’m still digesting it all. AND, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding SEO but it gave me (and I hope you) a starting point that I can build on. If you are a member of the Social Fabric community, you can find much more detailed information (an entire series of courses on SEO presented by Dan) in SoFabU on the Social Fabric website. Not a member? You can still connect with Dan over on his website.