Part 2: Basic Principles that Will Optimize Your Blog for the Crawlers
No matter how fantastic your blog posts are, if they aren’t visible to the spiderbots nobody will be able to find them to read them and so to make sure that they get indexed by the search engines it is vital to know what the crawlers look at when they visit your blog. At the end of April Google’s Matt Cutts posted an article on the Google Webmaster Central Blog that outlines what the search engine giant is looking for in a good website. In it Cutt’s talks about White Hat search engine optimizers being the ones that create a great website with lots of valuable information and which provides a good user experience. Google’s latest algorithm is designed to reward those websites while weeding out the webspam and pages that use link schemes to generate back links to their site specifically to improve their SERP rankings. Google’s official line on this is: “We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.”3
Choose Your Keywords Carefully
The first thing that the crawlers will look at are the keyword tags that you have attached to your page. The spiderbots can’t actually read your content and need these tags to set the topic for the web page that it is examining so it is important that you tag your blog posts with words that explain exactly what your content is about. Choosing the right keywords is an art in itself (and perhaps the subject of another blog post here) but generally they are words that are central to the niche that you are writing about and that should occur naturally in most things that are written on your topic. Most corporate websites will try and focus on a particular set of keywords to leverage them for a good position in the SERPs but bloggers commonly have quite a few keyword tags that they have used on their sites.
To make sure that you are getting the attention that you deserve from the search engines choose a core set of keyword tags and use one or more of them in all of your posts. There are two kinds of keywords: long and short tail keywords and, as their names suggest, the difference is merely that short tail keywords are one or sometimes two words while long tail keywords are short phrases. So, for instance, if your blog is aimed at anglers then your keywords might be fishing, bait, fish hooks, reels and a few long tail keywords like fly fishing poles, fishing boats, hooks and sinkers and you would try and use them most of the time when making a post. Most blogs could use about a dozen or so central keywords and another twenty or so that are associated keywords without becoming too imprecise for the spiderbots. Every post should be limited to three or four short tail keywords and a couple of long tail keywords with about half at least being core keywords that you want to compete for in the SERPs.
After examining your keywords the crawlers will then go through your copy and look for how often you have used the keywords in your copy. Too few times and the material won’t be seen as being very valuable while too often will be interpreted as keyword stuffing and hurt you even more. Google has been moving towards using more semantic search parameters in their algorithms and so the crawlers will also look for synonyms for your keywords as well as other words that it recognizes that relate to your topic. This should mean that the carefully crafted article that you sweat over will rank higher in the SERPs than the keyword stuffed webpage that was made to create back links to a Canadian Viagra sales page. To make sure that the spiderbots see your posts in the right light it is still best to ensure that you have one keyword for every 100-150 words of copy and try and scatter your links evenly through your posts. Citations at the end of a post are also great for drawing the crawlers into your site as they are often hyperlinks and include specific information.
The Trio of Hyperlinks
After the keywords and the content the next most important thing on your website for the spiderbots are the links. Web pages have three kinds of links- those that point out and those that point to the page as well as internal links and they are all interpreted differently by the search engines. In the past the number of links that pointed to your web page had the most influence on the ranking in the SERPs than those that you made to link the page with other sites but this has evolved so that it is now preferable to have a balance of both. Links that point out are referencing valuable content on the web and so they are now considered as adding value to their own website by doing so. Links that point towards a webpage reference it as valuable material and so the crawlers give it more weight. One of the recent changes that the Google Penguin Update made is to look at sites that have unnatural links which, put simply, are pages with links stuffed into them to generate SEO for other pages. This means that your blog post with a couple of hyperlinks to Wikipedia or another blog and a couple of ping backs is going to look like A1 internet copy to the spiderbots.
The third kind of link, the internal link, is important for two reasons. Firstly it keeps your readers on your website as it takes them to some other page on your site to continue reading. The second reason is similar to the first except that it takes the crawlers deeper into your site and shows them that you have a greater depth of valuable information. It is good if the anchor text (the text with the link attached to it) is one of the keywords or closely associated with it but it isn’t vital.
Images also come in for some scrutiny and generally add value to a post as well as making it easier to separate the blocks of text in longer articles. It is important to make sure that images have a title, preferably one of the keywords, and it is also good to include a caption and the Alt text that appears if the image fails to load. The crawlers use all of these things to determine if the image contributes to the content or if it is some unrelated marketing ploy. If you ‘borrow’ the image from another site it is also a good idea to attach a link to that site. It gives the spiderbots exactly the sort of information that it likes about the source of the image and also abuses copyright far less than just pinching it does.
There are other things that the algorithm uses to influence the page ranking such as how much content is above the ‘fold line’ or, in other words, how much is on one screen when the page opens. The number of PPC ads that appear on a page can also demote it but for most bloggers that isn’t a real issue as their sidebars are usually filled with widgets and share buttons.
As a rule of thumb, good SEO should result from well written organic copy. In the normal course of writing on a topic you should generally use the right amount of keywords in the right places and your posts should have the right amount of links and anchor text to make them look valuable to the search engines. While I wouldn’t take Google quite at face value and not think about SEO at all it doesn’t take a lot of extra effort to make sure that you tag your latest post and include the Alt text on the images before you publish them.
Next: Part 3: Page Rank, the SERPs and Crafting the Perfect Blog Post