Having plenty of good quality inbound links to your blog will improve your ranking in the search engines. Google started life as a student project to rank the importance of websites based on the number of incoming links; link popularity is still at the heart of Google's ranking process.
But for many people link building seems like a daunting task. How do you get other people to link to you? It's actually not as difficult as it first seems—once you get into it, you'll see there are plenty of strategies to use. The point is to stick at it and treat link building as an integral part of your blogging routine.
You can check how many inbound links Google has found for your blog by using the link: command. Enter link:http://www.packtpub.com into the Google search box to see all the inbound links for the Packt website. You can do the same for your blog.
There is a more 'organic' technique that we'll discuss here.
It's often referred to by SEO pros as link baiting. It's basically creating content that other bloggers and webmasters just can't resist linking to. Obviously, you should always be trying to create interesting and exciting content, but every now and then it pays to come up with a killer post that is intended purely to attract links. There are several methods to achieve this. Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking:
- Write something controversial that other people will just have to disagree with. Be careful not to upset anyone and don't be offensive, but come up with something that goes against the grain and makes your opinion on an issue stand out.
- Disagree with a renowned expert. A post title like Seth Godin Is Plain Wrong About XYZ, backed up with a reasoned argument, could attract plenty of attention and encourage back links to the post.
- Provide a really useful resource. This could be something like a 'Top 10' list or a how-to guide.
- Run a contest, competition, or some other event that is likely to attract attention.
- Give away a useful 'freebie'. For example, a PDF e-book, a piece of software (that you own the rights to), or a free sample of one of your products.
These are the kind of posts that are likely to attract attention and links back to your blog. Try brainstorming a few ideas along these lines and you'll be surprised how many you come up with.
As well as link baiting you can also simply ask other people to link to you. This is a fairly straightforward approach, but you need to be careful not to come across as a spammer. It may be worth restricting this to people you know or people who regularly leave comments on your blog. Some people may be annoyed about receiving an email out of the blue requesting a back link, so exercise some discretion here. Definitely don't send out a broadcast email to lots of addresses requesting links.
Don't be tempted to buy inbound links. There are many unscrupulous dealers on the Web who will sell you quantities of inbound links. Google and the other search engines regard this practice as 'cheating' and severely frown upon anyone involved. If you buy links, you will be banned from the search engines.
A robots.txt file is read by search engine robots when they crawl on your blog. You can use it to tell them which pages should be indexed. There are a couple of reasons why using a robots.txt file is good for SEO. First, Google and other search engines recommend you use one and it's generally a good idea to do what they say. Second, it can help you to cut down on duplicated content.
Search engines do not like duplicated content (that is the same content appearing at two different URLs within a website) because they suspect it might be spam. One minor drawback with WordPress is that it can create a lot of duplicate content. For example, http://blog.chilliguru.com/category/recipes points to exactly the same content as http://blog.chilliguru.com/recipes. Also, the same content is repeated on different pages. For example, most of the posts listed at http://blog.chilliguru.com/category/recipes are also listed on http://blog.chilliguru.com/tag/receipe. We can tell the search engines to ignore any duplicate content by giving instructions in the robots.txt file. Here is the robots.txt file for ChilliGuru:
The first line is a big signpost to your Google Sitemap. User-agent: * means that the file is intended for all robots to read. It is possible to target the different search engine robots with specific instructions, for example, User-agent: Googlebot would just apply to the Google robot; however, you don't need to do this with your blog.
The lines that begin with Disallow: tell the robots not to visit those files and folders. This is how you tell them to ignore certain parts of your site. For example, we don't need any of the content in the wp- directories to be indexed because it's mainly just PHP code. The one exception is /wp-content/uploads/. We haven't included this one in the robots.txt file, because we do want the search engines to crawl its contents. There may be images in there that should be indexed. Disallow: /category/ should cure the duplicate content problem we outlined above.
You can use a simple text editor (for example, Notepad or Crimson Editor) to create your robots.txt file (you can go to http://blog.chilliguru.com/robots.txt and use that file as a starting point). Then it's simply a matter of using your FTP client to upload it to the root directory of your blog.
Using Excerpts on the Home Page
Another way to cut down on duplicated content is to display just excerpts of the posts on your home page instead of showing them in full. Obviously, each post is displayed in full on its own single post page, so having them in full on the home page may be regarded as duplicate content by the search engines. In fact, it's not just the home page, as the posts slip down to pages 2, 3, 4, and so on; they are still displayed in full.
Using excerpts is not only a great SEO strategy; it is also becoming popular amongst bloggers in its own right. Some people prefer it as it makes the home page more concise and there is less vertical scrolling required to get an overview of all the posts. It makes it easier for readers to scan the posts and pick the ones they are really interested in. Also, forcing readers to click through to the single post page means they see the comments in full for each post and so may be more inclined to make a contribution to the discussion.
It should still be OK to display the most recent post in full as it can take up to a week for a new post to be indexed by the search engines. By then, the post will have moved down the list and become excerpted, thus removing the risk of duplicate content.
I'm noticing home page excerpts more and more. I just did a very quick (and unscientific) survey of the current top-10 blogs on technorati.com and seven of them used excerpts on their home page (these are big names like Gizmodo, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and so on).
However, there will always be some traditionalists who prefer to see the full posts on the home page. You need to balance the SEO and usability benefits against the possibility of alienating some of your readers. Personally, I think the benefits of using excerpts outweigh any drawbacks, so we'll go ahead and set them up on ChilliGuru.
You could go through and edit each post adding a <!--more--> tag where appropriate. However, there is a plugin we can use that will do this automatically. It's called Excerpt Editor by Andrew Ozz. Go to http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/excerpt-editor/, download, install, and activate it in the usual way on your local development server.
Select the plugin (it's under the Manage tab). First, select Auto-Generate from the menu and enter the following settings:
Click Save Auto-Generate Options.
Now select Replace Posts from the menu and enter the following settings:
Click Save the Replace Posts options and view your home page. You will see that the latest post is shown in full but all the others have been excerpted and now have a Continue reading link. The same thing has been applied on all the Archive pages (Category, Author, Day, Month, and Year).
The default settings in the plugin mean that the first 70 words are used in the excerpts. On the Auto-Generate page of the plugin, you can change the number of words to be included in the excerpts. Or, if you don't like having the post cut-off in the middle of a sentence, you can use the Editor to select each post and then manually set the content you want to appear in the excerpt.
Having set the Auto-Generate options, every new post you publish will be excerpted accordingly. Simply deactivate the plugin if you ever want to revert to full posts.
Search Engine Submissions
We've now highlighted some of the most important SEO strategies. Once you've spent some time implementing these on your blog, it's time to submit it to the search engines.
The Big Four
If your blog has been around for some time, then most likely it has already been crawled and indexed by the big four search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask). You can check if they already have it indexed by searching for your home page URL in each of the big four. If you get results in return, they already have it and there is no need to submit it.
If there are no results returned for your URL, it means the search engines have not found it yet. In which case, you can submit it to Google, Yahoo, and MSN (Ask does not have a facility for submitting your URL). If your blog is new, make sure there is a fair amount of content to be indexed—I suggest you wait until you have at least ten posts before submitting. At the time of writing, the submission pages for Google, Yahoo, and MSN are as follows (the URLs for these pages have changed in the past, so you may have to search for them):
For Google and MSN it's simply a case of entering your home page URL. At Yahoo you can also add the URL for your main RSS feed. Yahoo also offers a range of paid-for submission services that guarantee quicker indexing, which you might like to consider.
Although Ask does not have a page where you can submit your URL, you can ping Ask with details of your XML sitemap URL. Simply enter the following URL in your browser address bar, replacing the ChilliGuru XML sitemap URL with your own:http://submissions.ask.com/ping?sitemap=http%3A//blog.chilliguru.com/sitemap.xml
DMOZ, or the Open Directory Project, is the most important directory on the Web. Its content is licensed in a similar fashion to open-source software, so it is widely syndicated. In fact, almost all of the major search engines use its directory in some way or another. Therefore, it's vitally important to submit your blog to DMOZ. Go to http://www.dmoz.org/add.html for full details about submitting.
Minor Search Engines and Directories
Along with the big four search engines and DMOZ, there are thousands of other minor search engines and directories out there. Some of these are general, whilst others operate within a specific niche. For an idea of the sheer quantity take a look at the list at http://www.searchengineguide.com/searchengines.html.
Not all of these are worth bothering with as they don't attract very much traffic. However, it's worth doing some research into the ones that serve your particular niche. By looking around a bit, you will identify those that appear to be well used and popular. Ways of spotting decent directories are to look at the number of websites they have listed and check out their ranking at Alexa.com. If they have plenty of websites listed and a decent Alexa ranking, they are probably worth submitting your URL to. Remember, the more good-quality inbound links you can get, the better your ranking will be on Google and the other majors.
If you intend to submit to the smaller search engines and directories, it will be more productive if you log what you're doing. Set aside some time each month to research and submit to the minor search engines. Use a spreadsheet to log which ones you are submitting to and follow up by seeing how much traffic (if any) you are receiving from them.
SEO Software and Tools
There are many tools and applications that claim to help you optimize your site and/or submit it to the search engines. These vary greatly in their usefulness and value for money. If you decide you need some automated help with your SEO (and there's no denying, some of these tools can save hours) I recommend you research the market carefully before you part with any of your marketing budget. SEO products and services are big business and there are plenty of charlatans out there who have jumped on the bandwagon just to make a quick buck. Having said that, there are some excellent tools from reputable vendors, some of the good ones are mentioned here.
This is one I strongly suggest you take a look at. Web CEO is probably the most complete tool of its kind, and it comes highly recommended by many online marketers and SEO pros. It can help you with several aspects of SEO, including:
- Keyword research
- Optimizing your content
- Submitting to the minor search engines and directories
- Building inbound links
Although it's a paid-for product, there is a free version with plenty of useful features. I suggest you download it, if only to submit your blog to the dozens of minor search engines it supports. The free version allows you to automatically submit your URL to over 100 search engines. It's also very useful for doing keyword research (similar to the Google tool we discussed earlier in this article).
Google Webmaster Tools
This collection of tools is indispensable for SEO. It provides you with the information you need to fine-tune your blog to make it more Google-friendly. It gives you some insight into how Google views and ranks your pages, which is a great way of learning about SEO in more detail. Google Webmaster Tools are completely free to use.
It's easy to get started. You just need to sign up for a Google account (if you don't already have one). Then go to http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/, login, and submit your blog's URL. Before you can access any detailed information about your blog, you need to verify that you are the site owner. One of the verification methods is to add a Meta Tag to your home page.
We can use our All in One SEO plugin to do this. In your WordPress admin area, go to the plugin page, and copy and paste the Meta Tag that Google gives you into the Additional Home Headers box, then click Update Options:
Now go back to Google Webmaster Tools and click the Verify button. You should see a success message:
Google Webmaster Tools is very intuitive with good help files and documentation, so I won't go into detailed instructions here. Use the menu to see what tools are on offer and read the recommendations Google gives you. For example, under Statistics you can see the top search queries in which your blog appears—this is very useful for your keyword research. You can also use the Links option to see which websites are linking to you.
If your blog is new, some of the data may not be available yet. Keep checking over the coming days and weeks—the data will appear as Google re-indexes your blog. You can see in the Overview the last time Googlebot visited your home page.
The first recommendation for ChilliGuru is to add a sitemap. Since we've already created a Google Sitemap, it's simply a matter of telling Google the URL:
Firefox SEO Extensions
There are several extensions for the Firefox browser that have been developed to help with SEO. My favorite is SEOQuake. Its main benefit is to help you evaluate your SEO efforts and track your blog's progress in the major search engines. At a glance you can see a variety of useful SEO parameters like Google Page Rank, Alexa Ranking, Yahoo and Google links data, Del.icio.us and Digg links, and more. Keeping track of this kind of data is really useful to determine how successful your SEO work has been.
The following is a screenshot from the Google results page showing SEOQuake data for http://www.packtpub.com:
SEO should always be seen as an ongoing process. If you've just applied the strategies from this article to your blog, don't expect to see big improvements in your search engine rankings overnight. The search engine bots crawl the Web relatively infrequently (usually about once a month) so it will take time for your SEO work to have a visible impact. It will also take time to build links and tweak your keyword list, so it's just right. SEO is not a one-off activity; it's something you should do on a regular basis. Adopt an organized approach and keep records of the SEO work you do and carefully monitor your progress through the rankings. If you put in the effort, you will see results over time.
In this article, we have examined some of the most important SEO strategies and how to apply them. We also looked at submitting your blog to the search engines and introduced some tools and software to make life easier. If you've followed these guidelines, your blog should already be on its way up the search engine rankings.
To sum it up, we have covered principles of SEO, how search engines find stuff, how to choose your keywords, the procedure to install Dean's Permalink migration plugin, sitemaps, search engine submissions, and learn about SEO software and tools.