What’s the hardest part of having an active blog? Getting traffic, right? Like it or not, most people still turn to Google when they search for information online. That means you need to kill it with SEO if you want to snag some of the traffic off of the Google Interstate. You’re competing with all the websites that can afford those ads you see on Google searches or have a massive SEO budget. It’s not fair, but it’s something that you have to deal with as an independent blogger. There’s no getting away with spamming everybody else’s blog with backlinks unless you can add something meaningful to the discussion anymore, either. Recent Google updates are forcing people who previously rocked their SEO to rethink their strategy or risk being sent to the jailhouse. Fortunately for the rest of us who are not interested in wasting our time with Black Hat tactics, there’s some ways to not only avoid the jailhouse, but also compete with the big websites with big SEO budgets.
How The Google Panda Update Changed Things
- Keywords are still important. Avoid keyword stuffing, include one of your major key phrases in your title so Google and your target readers have an idea of what the article is about, and write for a human audience and you’ll probably be fine. In fact, it’s no big deal if you want to make your content seem more organic by putting an unimportant word or two into a common search phrase (i.e. “grow your fitness business” works as well as “grow fitness business” if fitness professionals are your target audience). When you do backlinks (more on that later), though, it helps to keep keywords intact as much as possible.
- Social media is more important. Sure, you want to get Facebook shares from real people who like your blog so you can increase traffic outside of the search engines. Now Google is starting to notice the importance of social media. That means you want to make sharing your blog articles on Facebook and Twitter easy for people who want to share an especially interesting blog entry (and I have a useful plugin for that on this list of ten WordPress plugins you need).
- How “sticky” is your website? How long do visitors linger when they find your blog? Do they leave it open for half an hour and read two or three of your articles? That means you want a layout that’s easy to navigate and you should make sure you have a way to capture their attention with the content you have “above the fold”. The bounce rate, defined by the speed with which people click away from your website, affects your Google ranking in a big way.
- Are people bookmarking your blog? While bookmarks or favorites (depending on the browser they use) do not directly affect your Google rankings, this indicates the number of people who want to come back to your blog frequently to see what’s new. The number of return visitors is becoming a top indicator for Google rankings.
- Make sure your website is optimized for mobile devices. Google is going to know how your website looks on a Nexus and ding you if the layout looks all messed up. This means installing the WP Mobile Direct plugin and testing it on that Android device you have laying around.
- Do the exclusive content. If you have a fashion blog, you might dust off your inner desire to be a fashion model and show off some styles that work for you. You don’t even have to be a runway model to do it. People might actually appreciate seeing someone who sort of looks like them showing off fashions that can work for their body types even if they are “plus sized”. That’s the kind of exclusive stuff that makes people want to keep coming back for more.
- Don’t plagiarize. It’s stupid, it’s obvious, it’s something that got banged into your head in high school English class. Google still dings plagiarism. I really don’t care if you hit Fiverr to have exclusive pictures drawn for you, create your own doodles or use that embarrassing selfie with your friends as long as you make it very obvious to Google that you’re using unique content.
- Include Youtube videos. While this doesn’t directly affect SEO, proper use of interesting, relevant, engaging videos can make your blog more “sticky” and get across certain concepts in a way that pictures and plain text can’t always do. The rule with Youtube videos is that if you can get an embed code, it’s okay to include it in your blog. It’s even cooler if you can create your own. (I’ve done a few, too.) Some people are visual learners and everybody thinks that long stretches of text just gets dull after a while. So break that text up with Youtube videos to demonstrate important concepts like, say, how to peel an onion without turning it into a tearjerker or how to use a power saw without slicing off your fingers.
- Update frequently. A couple of times a week is usually good enough if you have a busy life and so does your target audience. That keeps your content fresh enough that your blog doesn’t have an abandoned feel to it. If you have WordPress, it’s automatically set up to ping major search engines when you publish a new post or make some edits to an old one so they know you’ve made an update. That basically lets Google know that your content isn’t stale and outdated.
- Make your website friendly for Google’s web crawlers. Imagine a bunch of little spiders crawling around on the Web, looking for relevant content to bring back home, and you’ll have an idea of how search engine web crawlers work. These crawlers like websites that are easy to navigate. Links are a good place to put keywords that are relevant to their destinations. Keep the ALT descriptions for images short, descriptive and include another keyword (“A fitness trainer demonstrating proper squat stance” is a good ALT tag if a major keyword has to do with squats). If you published a few articles since the last time the crawlers came through, no worries. They go through the Web pretty regularly.
Tip 10.5: Monetize Your Blog
Now that you have your blog in a decent position, or at least aren’t getting sent to the jailhouse, you want to make sure all your hard work pays off. Literally. There’s been rumors going around that Google has an informal search engine “reward” for bloggers who use Google Adsense, but I’ve also heard enough stories about Adsense accounts getting yanked from blogs with content that Google disapproves of that I recommend diversifying. I do it with some affiliate advertising, banner ads, and even sell article writing services. You might want to try your own thing. Here’s how.
That’s a lot to keep up with but, if you run a blog, you want to keep up with this for the same reason that you want to keep up with the latest news related to your preferred niche. People are going to find your website. The question is whether they’re going to click away in less than ten seconds because your blog didn’t give them the information they were looking for. That means having a website that looks neat no matter what device they’re using, is frequently updated, and subtly encourages your audience to stick around longer because that’s how your blog is going to rank well using Google’s new algorithms.