I guess you could say that I’ve been blogging on and off for around 8 years, maybe not today’s classic reverse-chronological blogging but through various methods over the years I’ve shared my thoughts with the Internet at large. In that time I’ve kept an eye on my page rankings and have figured out enough to help ensure that my content gets seen as often as possible by the right sorts of audience. I should say up-front that I don’t always follow my own advice since I tend to flit between projects and often don’t have as much spare time as I wish I had but I keep trying different things until I learn a thing or two.
So, since the web is all about giving and sharing (with a sprinkling of lolcats) I felt that now would be a good time to post a few tips to help other bloggers make sure their voice gets heard. I should stress that these tips are not designed for commercial ventures nor to produce stupid volumes of traffic, I love the Internet and I’d never condone the so called black-hat SEO usually employed to peddle crap and generate more ad clicks. Anyway, on to the tippage…
Tip #1: Produce Good Content
This may sound stupid but the one of the most important factors used by search engines to choose which pages appear above others is how popular the page is based on links from other sites. People aren’t going to link to your content if it isn’t any good and besides, if you’re not producing decent content you’re probably not doing what you set out to in the first place (unless you were aiming to be rubbish). It might sound daunting at first but all you have to do is produce content that might be useful to people, either because they’re well researched opinion pieces, reviews, tutorials, etc. Just share your knowledge and experience and someone out there will find it useful and if you don’t feel that you know enough – do some research and share what you learn.
Tip #2: Produce Plenty of Content
It’s worth bearing in mind that search engines chiefly index the text on web pages which is all well and good if you’re a writer but if you’re mainly posting photos and videos it’s worth making sure you include a certain amount of test along with the post, ideally a synopsis of the video or a description of what you feel the photograph shows, how you went about taking it, etc. If you want to start your blog off with a big bang you should write a good 5-10 posts before you ‘launch’ as well as having populated your profile or about pages, having a reasonable amount of text on day one will really help you get on the major indexes (Google, Yahoo, Bing) as early as possible.
Tip #3: Promote Yourself and Get Involved With the Community
You don’t need to go off at the deep end and remember that what you’re trying to do is make your content known to the target audience, the aim is not to mass-market yourself but to make sure you get found. If you’re blogging in a particular niche then get yourself involved in the community, join forums, comment on blogs, etc. and you’ll get your name (and your blog) known, as well as finding out a little more about your audience and what they might want to see. I don’t mean that you should join a forum and spam it with all of your posts – remember you’re goal shouldn’t be to self promote but just to get involved. It’s also well worth using social networking sites wherever it makes sense, make sure you’ve got a presence on Facebook and Twitter as a bare minimum and consider other sites such as Myspace and Bebo if they cover your target demographic.
Another method of promoting yourself is to use paid advertising, it’s a good way to get an initial influx of readers to your site – this might seem a bit daft if you’re building a personal blog but you can quite often get free trials with various online ad agencies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Stumbleupon (also see my Stumbleupon Ads review).
Tip #4: Tune Your Links
I said earlier that the most important factor search engines use to rank pages is the number of inbound links, this is mostly true but I’d add the proviso that they need to be good quality links. In this case ‘quality’ is affected by a couple of major factors, the PageRank of the source (links from more popular sites help more than links from less well known ones) and the relevance of the link text (the text of the link should relate closely to the content on your site). This is particularly useful whenever you’re crafting links back to your site in forum posts or comments on other blogs, for example – if you are writing about exploring abandoned mental hospitals it is much better to link using relevant text (e.g. Abandoned Asylums) than it is to just post the URL (e.g. http://www.sickbritain.co.uk/2009/08/top-10-abandoned-asylums-in-the-uk/) since the text gives the search engines a way to understand what it is you’re trying to say.
It’s also easy to forget but search engines also evaluate your outbound links, the Internet is a network and you should always make sure that you’re linking out to other great sites (for example, see Brent Ozar’s WordPress SEO post). You might think that posting lots of outbound links would cause your readers to jump ship and look elsewhere but actually the opposite is true, the Internet is full of both good and bad content and people need help to filter that so if they find a site they like and trust that helps them find other good content they’ll keep coming back to see what else you’ve found.
Tip #5: Find Your Niche
If you’re just starting up your blog you may not have settled on a particular area of speciality, it’s absolutely fine to have a general “this is what I’m up to now”, or “here’s something I found interesting” type blogs (in fact you’re reading one now) but if you want to build traffic and obtain regular readers it’s probably better to stick to one topic. This makes most sense if you’ve got one clear hobby (e.g. running, or urban exploration) but if you’re anything like me your hobbies might be a bit random (photography, travel, video games, Apple products). If you struggle to find a personal niche you could always take a more professional angle and blog about your area of work, whether that be as a blacksmith, a nurse, a teacher or a more techie discipline such as IT Security, Business Intelligence or programming. I’ve already mentioned that it’s links that are important, picking a niche will not only help build your readership it will also help make sure that your inbound links are relevant since all of your content is clustered around one subject area.
Tip #6: Monitor Your Progress
It’s all well and good to follow all of these tips, but how will you know what’s working? If you’re using a hosting company there’s a high likelihood that they will provide some sort of stats package to go with the hosting, you can get great information from sites like these but they’re often a bit fiddly and sometimes too detailed and you can’t see the wood for the trees. The best solution I’ve found (not least because it’s free) is Google Analytics, I’ll write about this separately at some point but there are plugins for most common blogging engines and CMSs that collect information on which pages are being visited and allow you to see not only the number of hits you’re getting but also where traffic comes from (referrals, keyword searches, direct visits, RSS feeds, etc.). If you use Analytics and have an iPhone you have to check out one of my favourite applications Google Analytics app for the iPhone, it’s been on my front-page for over a year and I use it almost daily.
Tip #7: Be a Good Citizen (a.k.a. don’t be a jerk)
Simply put – you just won’t become successful as a blogger if you act like a jerk. Don’t get me wrong, if you are a jerk and that’s your thing and that’s part of your blogging style then I guess you might as well go for it but what I really mean is that you should be respectful of your readers and your peers. One of the worst possible things to do as a blogger is to rip-off other people’s content, it’s fine to reference and quote other people’s posts but don’t copy & paste wholesale and especially don’t try and pass the idea off as your own: plagiarism is not cool – give credit where credit is due. My other major piece of advice is not to take self promotion too seriously just focus on good quality content – don’t spam forum and comment threads with links to your site, don’t write posts just because you think you’ll generate more traffic, don’t write crappy little posts just to get your post count up, etc.