Blogger: Beyond the Basics — Save 50%
Customize and promote your blog with original templates, analytics, advertising, and SEO
In this article by Lee Jordon, we are focusing on Google analytics and search engine optimization techniques that work best for blogs. They are as follows:
- Analyzing Navigation
- Optimizing your Landing Page
- Optimizing On-site
- Optimizing Off-site
If you've ever wondered how people find your website or how to generate more traffic, then this article tells you more about your visitors. Knowing where they come from, what posts they like, how long they stay, and other site metrics are all valuable information to have as a blogger. You would expect to pay for such a deep look into the underbelly of your blog, but Google wants to give it to you for free. Why for free? The better your site does, the more likely you are to pay for AdWords or use other Google tools. The Google Analytics online statistics application is a delicious carrot to encourage content rich sites and better ad revenue for everyone involved. You also want people to find your blog when they perform a search about your topic. The painful truth is that search engines have to find your blog first before it will show up in their results. There are thousands of new blogs being created everyday. If you want people to be able to find your blog in the increasingly crowded blogosphere, optimizing your blog for search engines will improve the odds.
Improving Your Blog with Google Analytics
Analytics gives you an overwhelming amount of data to use for measuring the success of your sites, and ads. Once you've had time to analyze that data, you will want to take action to improve the performance of your blog, and ads. We'll now look at how Analytics can help you make decisions about the design, and content of your site.
The Navigation section of the Content Overview report reveals how your visitors actually navigate your blog. Visitors move around a site in ways we can't predict. Seeing how they actually navigate a site and where they entered the site are powerful tools we can use to diagnose where we need to improve our blog.
Exploring the Navigation Summary
The Navigation Summary shows you the path people take through your site, including how they get there and where they go. We can see from the following graphical representation that our visitors entered the site through the main page of the blog most of the time. After reaching that page, over half the time, they went to other pages within the site.
We can see the path, the visitors take to enter our blog using the Entrance Paths report. It will show us from where they entered our site, which pages they looked at, and the last page they viewed before exiting. Visitors don't always enter by the main page of a site, especially if they find the site using search engines or trackbacks.
The following screenshot displays a typical entrance path. The visitor comes to the site home page, and then goes to the full page of one of the posts. It looks like our visitors are highly attracted to the recipe posts. Georgia may want to feature more posts about recipes that tie in with her available inventory.
Optimizing your Landing Page
The Landing Page reports tell you where your visitors are coming from, and if they have used keywords to find you. You have a choice between viewing the source visitors used to get to your blog, or the keywords. Knowing the sources will give you guidance on the areas you should focus your marketing or advertising efforts on.
Examining Entrance Sources
You can quickly see how visitors are finding your site, whether through a direct link, or a search engine, locally from Blogger, or from social networking applications such as Twitter.com. In the Entrance Sources graph shown in the following screenshot, we can see that the largest among the number of people are coming to the blog using a direct link. Blogger is also responsible for a large share of our visitors, which is over 37%. There is even a visitor drawn to the blog from Twitter.com, where Georgia has an account.
Discovering Entrance Keywords
When visitors arrive at your site using keywords, the words they use will show up on the report. If they are using words in a pattern that do not match your site content, you may see a high bounce rate. You can use this report to redesign your landing page to better represent the purpose of your site by the words, and phrases that you use.
Interpreting Click Patterns
When visitors visit your site they show their attraction to links, and interactive content by clicking on them. Click Patterns are the representation of all those mouse clicks over a set time period. Using the Site Overlay reporting feature, you can visually see the mouse clicks represented in a graphical pattern. Much like collared pins stuck on a wall chart they will quickly reveal to you, which areas of your site visitors clicked on the most, and which links they avoided.
Understanding Site Overlay
Site Overlay shows the number of clicks for your site by laying them transparently in a graphical format on top of your site. Details with the number of clicks, and goal tracking information pop up in a little box when you hover over a click graphic with your mouse.
At the top of the screen are options that control the display of the Site Overlay. Clicking the Hide Overlay link will hide the overlay from view. The Displaying drop-down list lets you choose how to view mouse Clicks on the page, or goals. The date range is the last item displayed.
The graphical bars shown on top of the page content indicate where visitors clicked, and how many of them did so. You can quickly see what areas of the page interest your visitors the most.
Based on the page clicks you see, you will have an idea of the content, and advertising that is most interesting to your visitors. Yes, Site Overlay will show the content areas of the page the visitors clicked on, and the advertisement areas. It will also help you see which links are tied to goals, and whether they are enticing your visitors to click.
Optimizing Your Blog for Search Engines
We are going to take our earlier checklists and use them as guides on where to make changes to our blog. When the changes are complete, the blog will be more attractive to search engines and visitors. We will start with changes we can make "On-site", and then progress to ways we can improve search engine results with "Off-site" improvements.
The most crucial improvements we identified earlier were around the blog settings, template, and content. We will start with the easiest fixes, then dive into the template to correct validation issues. Let's begin with the settings in our Blogger blog.
Seeding the Blog Title and Description with Keywords
When you created your blog, did you take a moment to think about what words potential visitors were likely to type in when searching for your blog? Using keywords in the title and description of your blog gives potential visitors a preview and explanation of the topics they can expect to encounter in your blog. This information is what will also display in search results when potential visitors perform a search.
Updating the Blog Title and Description
It's never too late to seed your blog title and description with keywords. We will edit the blog title and description to optimize them for search engines.
- Login to your blog and navigate to Settings | Basic. We are going to replace the current title text with a phrase that more closely fits the blog. Type Organic Fruit for All into the Title field.
- Now, we are going to change the description of the blog. Type Organic Fruit Recipes, seasonal tips, and guides to healthy living into the description field.
- Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click the Save Settings button.
Y ou can enter up to 500 characters of descriptive text.
What Just Happened?
When we changed the title and description of our blog in the Basic Settings section, Blogger saved the changes and updated the template information as well. Now, when search engines crawl our blog, they will see richer descriptions of our blog in the blog title and blog description. The next optimization task is to verify that search engines can index our blog.
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Allowing Search Engines to Find Your Blog
Blogger prevents search engines from crawling your blog, by default. Why? Blogger assumes that most people are creating blogs as online journals and may not want search engine exposure. You can easily change the settings in your blog to allow search engines to fi nd your blog.
Activating Blog search and Ping Access
Activating blogsearch and ping access will cause each blog post to be available for search engines and will notify blog services when the blog is updated. This will increase the chances of a potential reader fi nding the blog.
- Login to Blogger and click on the Settings link next to your blog. The screen will reload with the Basic section already selected under the Settings tab as shown in the following screenshot:
- Scroll down the page until the option Add your blog to our listings appears. Select Yes from the drop-down list.
- Continue scrolling to the next item on the page. Let search engines find your blog is the next option displayed. Select Yes from the drop-down list. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and click the Save Settings button.
What Just Happened?
When you selected Yes for the Add your blog to our listings option, you increased the chances of your blog being discovered by other Blogger users, making them more likely to create inbound links to your blog. The second setting allowed search engine robots to crawl your blog. Your blog will now be indexable by search engines, including Google Blog Search. We will get technical in the Off-site optimization section and view the actual robots.txt fi le to better understand the areas of our blog where the robots crawl.
Fertilizing Content with Keywords
Choose one focus keyword for each content post. You should be able to use it naturally about five times during the post. For example, the keyword "eco-friendly" for an article on natural cleaning supplies. You can see a list of all labels used for posts and can edit active posts by clicking on the Edit Posts sub menu option under the Posting tab.
Try not to use the same keywords for every post. Make the keyword phrases as unique as possible. Do this by being as specific as you can. The phrase Fresh organic fruit basket could be a better keyword phrase than fruit basket. Rich keyword phrases will interest search engine robots and readers.
The title for each post should be as unique as possible. Remember, it will become the title of the individual page of the post. Think of it as a magazine headline, brief and focused on your post topic. To change the title of a post, click the Edit link.
Optimizing Image and Video Posts for Current Searches
Whenever you add a video or image to a blog post, try to add a descriptive message with it. Use an RSS feed or an alternative content service such as www.feedburner.com to package your content into different formats for visitors and other interested parties to enjoy. At the same time, you will be creating additional information about your content. Useful! Let's add a new post to practice optimizing image posts for search engines.
Getting Descriptive with Image Posts
You can increase the accessibility of your blog and improve your chances of a post containing images showing up in search results by adding alternate text to the tag of an image.
- Login to Blogger and click the New Post link under your blog. Start by creating a new post as you normally would. Enter a descriptive title for the post. In this example, we are typing Star Fruit adds Exotic Thrill to Winter Romance as the title.
- Next, we need to create content for the post. I recommend typing content before adding images to posts. It makes positioning the images easier. The full content for the post is available online at http://fruitforall.blogspot.com and also in the code download section of this book's companion website, http://bloggerbeefedup.blogspot.com.
- Now, it's time to add the image. Before you click the upload button, check the name you gave the image. The name should be descriptive and formatted to be search engine friendly. The star fruit image for the post is named exotic-star-fruit.jpg for optimal indexing by search engines.
- Upload the image using the Blogger post image icon. Select the size of the image to display and its location in relation to the text content. We are setting the image size to small and the layout to center. Click the UPLOAD IMAGE button to add the image to the post.
- We are almost ready to publish our post. Before we do, let's take a look at the HTML code of the post and add alt text to the image. Select the Edit Html tab on the post editor. Don't be confused by the long strings of Blogger identification attributes in the image tag. We notice right away that the alt attribute is an empty string: alt="". We're going to fill it with useful keywords and make it more accessible to visitors using screen readers at the same time.
- Type the following phrase between the quotes of the alt tag: Juicy yellow organic Star Fruit on a romantic pink satin background. The alt tag should now look like this: alt="Juicy yellow organic Star Fruit on a romantic pink satin background."
- Click the Compose tab and enter the following keywords into the Labels field: Star Fruit, organic fruit, romance, valentine, exotic fruit, and exotic fruit recipe. Now, click the PUBLISH POST button.
Google robots prefer dashes "-" for parts of a title or file name, where a natural space would go.
What Just Happened?
When we created an image post with descriptive image names and rich keywords in the alt attribute, we increased the chances of the post being properly indexed by search engines. We also made the post more accessible to visitors using screen readers.
Submitting Rich Media Content for Indexing
You can submit media feeds to the Yahoo! media content stream (http://search.yahoo.com/mrss/submit/) or place videos on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com). You can also opt-in to Google's Enhanced Image Search on the Google Webmaster Tools site in the Tools section (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/imageoptin?). Photographers and original image creators will want to take advantage of labeling their work with metadata using tools such as Adobe Photoshop.
Improving Template Validation
Blogger has placed a low priority on changing the template and the surrounding code to be fully compliant with the XHTML 1 doctypes. Using third-party templates that are created with iframe tags and the Blog Archive page element can cause numerous validation errors. If validation is important to you, weaning yourself from widgets is necessary. We can easily improve matters by changing the Doctype of the template from XHTML 1.0 Strict to XHTML 1.0 Transitional.
Editing the Template Doctype
Changing the doctype of our Blogger template will enable it to be correctly analyzed by the W3C validation tool and will improve its processing by web browsers.
- Login to Blogger and click the Layout link next to your blog. Navigate to the Edit HTML section under the Layout tab. Download a full copy of your template to back it up before any changes are made.
- Select the Doctype tag in the Edit Template text area box. Copy and paste the following document type declaration to replace it:
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
What Just Happened?
When we edited the template to change the Doctype, we instructed browsers and other user-agents such as robots to examine and process our blog using the guidelines established for the Doctype. A Doctype acts as a roadmap for browsers and other user-agents when they visit a site. XHTML 1.0 Strict would require removing the FeedBurner fl are tags in the template and turning comments off. We could use a third-party comments system such as Haloscan (http://www.haloscan.com/) instead.
Optimizing with Off-Site Techniques
Some "Off-site" improvements as quality inbound links take time to build, while others can be done right away. Google webmaster tools has a full array of features to help you optimize your blog. These features include sitemaps, robots.txt testing, and viewing your site the way a search engine does.
Adding a sitemap to Google's webmaster tools will make it easier for search engine robots to crawl your site. We will do this as soon as we have added the blog to Google webmaster tools and verified it.
Adding a Blog to Google Webmaster Tools
Google webmaster tools has a Dashboard where you can manage multiple websites. Once you've added a site, you can upload a sitemap, run diagnostics, and even add a Webmaster tools gadget to your iGoogle home page. Before you can add a sitemap, you will need to verify your blog address. Then, we will add a general sitemap that will work for Blogger users who have redirected their blog feed using FeedBurner.
Verifying Your Blogger Blog Using a Meta tag
Adding a Meta tag to your template from Google Webmaster tools will indicate you have admin access and rights to the blog.
- Login to the Google webmaster tools site (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/). Type the URL of your blog to add it to the tools, if you haven't already. Click the verify link.
- Now, select Add a meta tag from the Choose verification method drop-down list. Google will generate a special Meta tag. Select all the text and then copy it.
- Open your blog in a new window. Navigate to Template tab | Edit Html. Paste the Meta tag just below the tag of your template. It should look similar to the code snippet below:
<meta name="verify-v1" content="WfPbTvz7
+zlMyzH3zJXHf1ZwX3O1g2pgxo Ptgq9T4E8=" />
<b:include data='blog' name='all-head-content'/>
What Just Happened?
When you added the Meta tag to the head section of your blog template, Google webmaster tools was able to track the blog template and verify whether you had admin access to the blog. The addition of the Meta tag was proof to Google webmaster tools that you were the owner or an administrator of the blog, and therefore had the authority to add that URL to Google webmaster tools. Now that the blog URL is verified, we are ready to add a sitemap.
Adding a Sitemap using Google Webmaster Tools
Blogger users can add sitemaps of their blogs to Google Webmaster tools. Adding a sitemap makes it easier for search engines to index your blog.
You can add multiple sitemaps to help Google spiders index your blog for multiple content formats, including mobile phones.
You do not have to do any coding or understand sitemap formats to upload a sitemap of your blog to Google webmaster tools. We will leverage the existing atom or RSS feed of our blog to provide a sitemap.
Adding a Sitemap
Adding a sitemap to webmaster tools will increase the chances of all your blog posts being indexed by Google's web spiders.
- Login to the Google webmaster tools site. Enter your blogspot URL, for example http://fruitforall.blogspot.com, and click the Add Site button, if the blog has not yet been added. If this is the first site you have added, you will need to verify the site instead. Click the Add link under the Sitemap column to add a sitemap to your blog.
- Select Add General Web Sitemap from the Add Sitemap type drop-down list.
- Enter atom.xml?redirect=false&start-index=1&max-results=100 into the URL box. Click the Add General Web Sitemap button.
- A success message will appear. The new sitemap information will be listed in a table, including the number of pages on the site that have been indexed, and the last time it was crawled. It may take a little while for the sitemap to be processed.
What Just Happened?
When we added a sitemap for the blog using the General sitemap format, we were able to add parameters to the URL of the blog. Usually, only the last twenty-five feeds are listed in a feed-based sitemap. Specifying the maximum post results gave the Google spiders additional content to examine. We can currently set the maximum posts to 500. This number may change in the future. If your main concern is having Google index your freshest content, you can create a sitemap for a feed using rss.xml?orderby=updated.
To create a sitemap for a Blogger blog that does not have the feed redirect feature activated, type atom.xml in the Sitemap URL field.
Taking advantage of your blog feeds is currently the only way to add a sitemap.
We have added a sitemap to help search engines find and crawl our blog. How it is being indexed can be analyzed using Crawl stats under the Statistics menu at Google webmaster tools.
We can see the PageRank of the blog in more detail on the Crawl stats page, as shown in the preceding screenshot. The possible PageRank ranges from not yet assigned to High. It is possible for individual pages to have higher rankings, depending on popularity. In the future, we will see darker blue bars in the Distribution column for multiple PageRank levels.
You can learn more about how Google indexes your blog by visiting the help topic: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/topic.py?topic=8843&hl=en.
Unfortunately, there currently isn't a way to edit the robots.txt file for your blog directly within Blogger. Using the Analyze Robots.txt tool on Google webmaster tools gives us a view of our blog's robots.txt file and statistics surrounding how search engines are crawling our blog.
Communicating with Search Engine Spiders
Search engine spiders may seem mysterious, but they are your friends. You can view the commands within a robots.txt file to see how your site is setup to be crawled. Google webmaster tools make it easy for you to view your Blogger robots.txt file.
You cannot currently edit your Blogger robots.txt file.
Knowing what is in the robots.txt file of your blog will give you a better understanding of how search engines are interacting with it.
- Navigate to the Google webmaster tools site (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/) and click on the Tools menu item. Select Analyze Robots.txt from the Tools sub menu.
- On the Analyze Robots.txt screen, you will first see a status table. It displays the URL the robots.txt file is set to, the time the file was last downloaded by a search engine crawler, and the status of the file in the table. Scroll down to view the text within the robots.txt file. It should currently look similar to the one shown in the following screenshot:
- Editing the file cannot be done directly. When you submit your blog to search engines or sign up and post AdWords on your blog, a change will automatically be made to the file. Search engine robots are commonly referred to as user-agents. Note that all user-agents are disallowed from following any search subfolder on the blog.
What Just Happened?
When we reviewed the robots.txt file for the blog, we saw that it was set to allow Google's special AdWords user-agent Mediapartners-Google to index all pages on the blog, but to prevent all search engine robots from indexing any files within the search folder. The location of the sitemap was also listed for all search engines as a result of adding the sitemap using the sitemap creation wizard.
The robots.txt file does not prevent people or other programs from finding pages or files on your site. It is not a security measure.
It is easy to make a small error and unintentionally block all robots from your site. Robots.txt uses a set of rules and syntax meant to be read by programs, not people.
Understanding User-Agent Behavior in Robots.txt
Knowing how user-agents interact with robots.txt will help you analyze what is happening in your robots.txt file. A combination of wildcards (*), file paths, and keywords instruct robots where to go when they attempt to crawl your site. Specific robots can be told to go away or avoid specified areas of your site. The first keyword, "User-agent", names the User-agent(s) to whom the instruction set is addressed. This is immediately followed by the command portion of the instruction set, either an "Allow" or "Disallow" statement detailing which portion of the site is restricted.
Allow all robots to crawl on the site.
The "*" is a wildcard, meaning "all". Its use invites all robots to your site.
Allow a specific User-agent full site access.
The AdWords robot can crawl all areas of our blog.
Block all robots from crawling a folder of your site.
Any file or folder coming after this statement will not be crawled by search engines.
You can find a list of common user-agents on the Web Robots Database located at http://www.robotstxt.org/db.html.
Leaving the space after the Disallow statement blank tells robots that they can index the entire site.
We can now track the performance of our blog, and advertising efforts, using Google Analytics. Improving our search engine ranking will also increase exposure to our blog. Like it or not, search engines are your biggest marketing tool. Play nice with the search engines, and your blog is more likely to prosper.
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About the Author :
Lee Jordan is a web developer with a large collection of web technology acronyms on her resume that sound like the names of laundry detergents and cause glazed expressions in school children. She designs and maintains internal and external enterprise-level websites and web-based applications as part of a project team for a privately held technical services company. Her work includes proposing, writing, and editing web content and user guides people actually read. She began her career in 1997 as a web designer after graduating from Florida State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, where she swears that she missed at least one home football game while in the computer lab. Lee later convinced Seminole Community College to give her a Web Programming degree in 2003, even though her final project was a Java-based application that actually contained a usable help file. Web development topics or whatever she can think of at the time are posted on her blog at http://leejordan.net.
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