This post on growing Organic Search Traffic to a Blog is by Ciaran McKeever who is the author of Chance Favors.
Image by James @ NZ
Although I’m not very tech savvy, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post I have a very good working knowledge of SEO (search engine optimization).
I’ve successfully applied much of what I know to my budding financial planning blog and if I can do it so can you.
In this post, I’m going to share every secret (which aren’t so secret if you know what to look for) that I use to garner organic search traffic from Google and Yahoo (not MSN for some reason).
Originally, I wondered whether I should write this post because, if the concepts are applied properly, many of you can probably outrank me on keyword phrases I target, and my rankings might slip.
But I decided that’s a poor man’s way to think, and much like the approach I take on my blog, I’d like to help some of my personal finance blogging friends take their organic herding skills to the next level. The more good content there is at the top of the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages), the better it is for our visitors and for all of us.
Some of you may already be doing some of this, some not. I think most bloggers should be able to take something from a few of the points; if not, then you’re doing a lot better than I am.
Also, please keep in mind, by no means am I an SEO pro, just someone who is self taught, enjoys figuring things out and has a passion for jumping into things head first. Without further ado…
10 SEO tips that I know can have a profound impact on your search traffic:
1. Adopt the proper mindset
You often read from SEO pros that it’s not good to try and write for the search engines. They argue that the pieces will be overly optimized, sound artificial and visitors won’t read it. Now this is true to some extent, but there’s plenty of room to find a happy medium.
I think, especially in the beginning, when your blog is less than 6 months old, it’s very important to find your voice, but why not do it with some SEO attached. If you don’t know anyone in the blogging world who can send you traffic or boost your profile, then it’s up to you to make it happen for yourself.
For this reason, I think you have to target search engine traffic, and as your site gets more and more popular, you can wien yourself off of that. What do I mean by that?
Well in my case, I write many fact based pieces, looking to target a web surfer searching for a specific keyword phrase (not necessarily as interesting as something you might find at Get Rich Slowly, but I don’t have that luxury just yet).
This way I’ll get traffic to my site and start building a solid reader base. Keep in mind this post may not appeal as much to a reader that stumbles upon my site, but is far likelier to interest the search engine targeted visitor.
Always set goals
For the first three months of the New Year my goal is 4 posts a week. Until my daily traffic is consistently over 750 unique daily visitors, I plan to write 2 creative, human interest, pieces and two posts that are more fact based and keyword driven (but still interesting I hope).
Like most things, you need balance when writing a fledgling blog. I recommend a mix of writing articles with a bend towards search engine visitors and articles that are not. I am also introducing a new series of posts called “My Two Cents” that I hope will add some life to my blog, so look out for that.
Averaging 300+ visitors a day, my short term goal is 750
2. Prepare the targeted keywords in advance
This is sort of another way of saying: have a general idea of what you’re going to write about before you sit down to write.
For instance, if I decide to write a post about ‘2008 Roth IRA eligibility‘, well, I know what I’m going to write about and you can see from the phrase I know what my targeted keywords are, as well.
Sometimes I’ll just write the post and when I’m done I’ll find the necessary keyword phrases after re-reading the post.
Rarely, you can stuff a few of the keywords into the post, afterwards, if you think the text needs a little more keyword density, but I generally would advise against that. By doing so, your articles WILL start to sound artificial and then, neither search engine visitors nor direct traffic visitors, will be interested.
3. Target 3 and 4 word phrases
This is especially important in the early days of your blog. Many people make the mistake of targeting highly competitive 1 and 2 word phrases that they can’t compete on. Those type of phrases are for the more established, older, branded sites and generally don’t have the user stickiness of a longer (niche like) phrase anyway.
People searching for longer phrases are far more likely to be the kind of visitor you want. If they take the time to type in ‘2008 Roth IRA Rules‘ chances are they’re more captivated then someone searching for ‘2008 Roth.’ Your goal, at least in the first year or two, should be to become a big fish in a little pond.
My goal is to reach the first page of the SERP’s for these longer phrases. I’m shooting for 5 to 10 new visitors from each of these posts. Many times it doesn’t work, and sometimes you’ll find a gem of a phrase that can bring you 3x-4x the amount of daily traffic you anticipated.
Over the course of a month I’m looking to slowly build my organic traffic base. For me, right now, my goal is 150-200 new unique a month.
I can tell you, since September, my organic traffic has slowly been climbing. And then I got a very nice boost in early January from many of my 2008 Roth posts, which I had been targeting. As you can tell from the images I included (above) you can see:
- I rank #1 on Google for 2008 Roth IRA Contribution Eligibility.
- I rank #1 on Yahoo for 2008 Roth IRA Rules.
4. Know where to find the right key phrases
I’m going to give you 3 resources (I use) to do your keyword research. All three of these services are free:
- Wordtracker- this is what I currently use. It’s very simple to use and gives you a lot of great ideas on ‘your phrase’ and other relevant phrases you may not have thought of originally. Wordtracker is very popular and highly regarded in the SEO world. It gives you the most accurate results. If anything Wordtracker has been accused of erring on the conservative side with the results they return. As a rule of thumb, at this point in my blog’s development, I look to target phrases that return between 15-200 daily searches on Wordtracker, much like the phrases highlighted in the image below.
- Overture Keyword Suggestion Tool- I used to use this religiously many years ago. I would think it’s not used anymore by serious SEO’s because the search result numbers are inflated. It’s still useful as a way to get good ideas for future posts because it provides long lists of juicy keyword strings.
- SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool - I haven’t used this tool yet but have checked it out. He imports the Wordtracker results and puts them side by side with his own traffic estimates. All of his stuff is excellent so I will assume this is a quality tool, but decide for yourself. (see video)
5. Choose the right 3 and 4 word phrases to target
This is probably the most important of the steps so far. You have to pre-screen the keyword phrases so you have a good idea what kind of traffic you can expect to receive.
You’ll figure out pretty quickly if they are relevant phrases to target, how much traffic they are already receiving, and whether or not you can realistically compete in the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages) on that phrase. You also need to find the phrases that are the best natural fit for the post you are going to write or have already written.
In the above image, I’ve circled 4 and 5 word phrases that I have actually targeted in different posts. As you can maybe tell, it should be easier to compete on the phrase ‘roth vs traditional ira’ than the phrase ‘roth ira contribution limits’ because there are far fewer people searching for it across the internet, which usually means fewer sites are optimizing towards it.
Wordtracker gives me a very realistic estimate of how many people (across the major search engines) have searched for that phrase in any given day. For example, Wordtracker predicts that approximately 174 people a day will search for ‘roth ira contribution limits‘ (as seen in the image above).
6. Optimize page titles and permalinks
Everything I’ve written so far deals with things you need to do before you actually sit down to write the post. At this point lets assume I’ve written the post on ‘2008 Roth IRA Rules’. Now I have to do a fair bit of on page optimization.
Optimizing page titles and permalinks is a pretty simple step, but surprisingly this is where the great majority of blogs (and most websites) drop the ball. The search engines place a tremendous amount of importance on what they see in your title tags, and to a lesser degree, the URL of your permalink page.
Think of the search engine spider just like you would anyone else coming to visit the site. You want the spider to know what your page is about, fairly quickly, so he (or she) knows how to categorize it. If you don’t tell it what the page is about, it’s not going to know where to catalog you in the SERP’s and will leave confused or indifferent.
The way to tell Slurp (Yahoo’s spider) or Googlebot (Google’s spider) what your page is all about is by leaving them clues in your source code. And that is done mainly in the title tag and URL permalink.
The title tag:
URL permalink post slug:
The way you optimize the post permalink is by changing the post slug. WordPress automatically defaults to using the title of your post as the permalink, you can override that by changing the post slug to whatever you want (as seen above).
For good measure I optimize my keyword tags:
ALT (image) Tags:
and page description:
Now everything is tailored towards my key phrases, so there’s no confusion about how I want Google to interpret my page. Would you rather your site resemble a wonderfully tailored suit or some unknown fabric slapped together, that hangs off your shoulder blades?
Using the right ‘SEO Editor’ plug in
When I first started writing my blog, I used the ‘All In One SEO Editor’ plugin for WordPress, but had problems optimizing the meta keyword tag to my liking. The All In One Editor automatically takes the individual post tags and uses them as your meta keywords.
This is a problem if you want to have free reign (which you need) over differentiating between the words you use as meta keywords and the blog post tags. With the ‘All In One SEO’ plugin you’re forced to have your pages’ actual tags commingled with your targeted keyword phrases. That’s no good.
I switched to the plugin ‘SEO Meta Editor Advanced’ and it works like a charm. I recommend it. The only problem is I can’t use some punctuation, like apostrophes.
(btw, I checked the source code for many a personal finance blog, in preparation for this piece, and almost everyone I came across uses the ‘All In One Editor’. I understand newer versions of ‘All In One SEO’ are available, but I believe the problem still persists).
Before and After SEO
If you view my source code for 8 things you need to know about a Roth IRA for 2008, this is what the header looks like:
As you can tell I’ve done a fair bit of optimizing (but not too much, which is key!) alerting the search engine to what this page is all about. Notice I keep the title and keywords tag very lean, focusing only on what I want the search engines to know.
The description I use is brief, enticing (I hope;) and reiterates many of my keywords. In essence, this is how I’m asking the search engine to describe my listing. And if you scroll back up to the Yahoo image I included, you will see Slurp obliged, because that’s how it now appears in the SERP’s.
Many blogs make the mistake of serving up endless lists of words, in all these fields, that confuse the robots more than anything, dilute your message, and end up hurting you in the search rankings.
A willing participant
With the permission of Ana from DebtFree Revolution, I’m going to show you a similar snippet of source code she used for a recent article titled Thrift Savings Plan for Idiots and Dummies.
Ana’s source code is devoid of a meta description and keywords. Her title tag is showing strange characters and unnecessarily listing the name of the blog, which only serves to dilute the power of the other words in the title tag.
You may say to me, ‘hold on one cotton picking second… I want my blog’s name in there for branding purposes!’ I say it’s a waste of time at this point in your growth cycle. What would you prefer:
- more search engine visitors reading good content? or
- less search engine visitors seeing your brand name?
When your readership swells to the size of Get Rich Slowly, or dare I say the magisterial A Simple Dollar, then you can begin to worry about your brand.
OK went off on a bit of a zigzag there, back to our example…
So Ana at DebtFree Revolution needs some help revamping the way she approaches SEO for her post pages. Here’s what I would do to the targeted page, if I was her:
- Switch plugins: to ‘SEO Meta Editor Advanced’ if having problems optimizing the tags properly
- Change the title tag to read: Federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) – Military thrift savings plan
- Add the following meta keywords tag: federal thrift savings plan, military thrift savings plan, thrift savings plan contributions
- Add the following Meta Description: What you need to know about the Federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for military personnel…
- Post Title: actually like it a lot, might add the word ‘Federal’ at the beginning
- Change the post slug to read: Military Thrift Savings Plan Contributions
- and finally, I would recommend (in this case) looking to add the targeted keyword phrases 2 or 3 times throughout the copy. There are plenty of natural opportunities for that on this page.
Now that’s just to give you an idea. I spent about 10 minutes at her page and that’s what I came up with. Obviously, she knows her blog a lot better than I do and can change things more to her liking (i.e. flip flop the title tag phrases).
7. Optimize the internal links within your site
In most every article I post I look for opportunities to add hyperlinks that point back to previous articles that I’ve written.
Sometimes those links will be made up of regular words that flow in the sentence, but often when I see known keywords in a sentence (i.e Roth conversion) I use them to create a hyperlink, much like I’ve been doing throughout this post:) These links have the keywords that match up with keywords in the title tag of the page its pointing to.
The reason to do this is to create balance between the many pages of your site. To use an analogy, it’s kind of like pumping blood to every part of your body to ensure everything is working right.
The better your circulation, the better your body performs. It’s important to have strong internal linking because search engines notice and appreciate it. The more balanced your internal linking is, the healthier your site is in the eyes of the search engines.
TIP: When linking to popular sites that don’t need your links (e.g. Google, MySpace) or internal pages that you don’t want to rank high (e.g. Disclaimer page) add rel=”nofollow” to the links. That way you save your link juice.
8. Add No Index meta tags
Now this is moving toward the outer fringe of my technical capabilities but I understand the concept here.
One of the biggest ‘NoNo’s’ with search engines is having duplicate content on your site. There is a lot of debate surrounding the degree to which you can be penalized, but it’s universally accepted that having the same content on different pages is bad.
In my case, I had many copies of the same page on my site. So, to avoid the possibility of duplicate content penalties, I use No Index tags for the category, archive and tag pages. Here’s the piece of text you need to insert in the head section of your header.php file:
To learn more about this go to Ryan Caldwell’s blog.
9. Remove unnecessary links
Each one of my permalink posts has a title (obviously). In my case, each permalink post title had a hyperlink in it. That’s unnecessary, since you’re already on the page; I’ve read that it can affect your rankings negatively. So I removed it by going to Presentation > Theme Editor > Single Post and editing the following line of code:
10. Building up a ridiculously sized tag cloud can be a good thing
As far as I’m concerned you need to use everything in your arsenal to get noticed. In addition to everything else I do, for each individual post I create tags to feed my ever growing tag cloud, which I take pride in.
(Remember I have ‘No Index’ code setup for the Tag cloud pages so the search engines don’t index them, but visitors are invited to play around in my cloud as much as they like).
My tag cloud is just another way for readers to get to their final destination. I actually have quite a few readers clicking thru on tags and going to other pages. I focus on building certain areas of my tag cloud, (which stand out) so visitors are more likely to click thru those areas.
Eventually (6 months from now), by glancing at my tag cloud you will have a very good idea what my blog is all about;) And at the same time, its just another signal you’re sending to the search spiders, letting them know what pages are most important to you.
Most of the personal finance blogs I come across are severely lacking good SEO (as opposed to bad, black hat SEO) and with a few simple adjustments would be competing for far more eyeballs.
It only takes about an extra 15 minutes per post once you learn the routine, and after a while it becomes like old hat. I hardly think about it anymore.
To be fair, if you examine my site you will see that there are some violations of my own rules. A few of these points I was unaware of myself early on. Just recently I started to optimize the post slug to focus more on my targeted keywords and as I come across old posts I often take a moment to mend the fences.
Final piece of advice
Please take everything I’ve written with a grain of salt, and understand, I don’t advocate writing ONLY for rankings. You should always write what comes naturally to you, but at the same time, be very cognizant of how to remain in the good graces of the Google and Yahoo gods.
Trust me, they want you to properly optimize your pages as much as you do. That way they can categorize them properly, resulting in higher quality, relevant search results for their visitors. A search engine purist might muse… the Holy Grail.
Final final piece of advice
Continue to write from the heart and know that not every post is optimizable, nor should it be optimized. Like many things in life, moderation is the key; apply your own judgment and tastes to your blog.
In the end, these are just arrows in your quiver, whether you decide to use them and to what extent is up to you.
I’ll see ya on the front page of the SERP’s hopefully not too far ahead of me:)
About the Author:
Ciaran McKeever is the author of Chance Favors a blog that hopes to educate, encourage and empower those in their 30’s and 40’s to achieve financial independence.