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Social Media vs. SEO: My Approach

The SEO vs. social media debate is one that has been going on for a number of years now, and it hasn’t abated.

A recent guest post here on ProBlogger titled Why Social Media is a Better Investment than SEO sparked some interesting commentary on Twitter after going live.

Social media fans spread it like crazy (with over 1000 ReTweets in less than 24 hours), and a number of SEO forums picked it up as an example of the closed-mindedness of social media proponents. There were also some good blog responses on the topic.

A number of readers asked for my own opinion: which camp do I stand in?

I’m going to annoy some people with this but the reality is that I’ve got a foot in both camps. Let me throw a few random thoughts out there in the hope that it’ll show why I’m a fan of both social media and SEO.

There’s a lot of traffic to be had on both search engines and social media.

As bloggers we’re all interested in being read. Traffic is important for most of us and, at a most basic level, it can be generated using both SEO and social media.

Alexa ranks Google #1 in terms of size, and puts Facebook at #2. Look at similar sites, and you’ll find similar rankings. It makes sense to me to put some effort into being a part of both efforts.

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What type of traffic are you after?

For me, the answer to where you should direct your focus largely comes down to what you’re trying to achieve.

Not all traffic is the same and, depending upon your goals, you might want to look at different sources of traffic.

Example 1: on my first photography site (which is no longer active) I relied much more heavily upon search engine traffic than social media traffic to achieve my goals.

  • The site aggregated reviews of cameras from around the web.
  • Readers were there to research cameras that they were purchasing and rarely commented (so there was little community).
  • The site was monetized largely with ads and affiliate programs (tied to camera purchases).
  • Readers were very transient—they didn’t come back after they made their camera purchase.

The site wasn’t overly social (although I did try at times to make it more social). Readers simply weren’t there to belong or interact—they visited with a different intent. As a result, social media traffic didn’t really convert or make sense—but Google traffic did. People use Google to research purchases a lot! They also conduct research using social media (I think this will happen increasingly) but at the time, search traffic was converting at a much, much higher rate.

As a result, it made a lot of sense to invest quite a bit of time into learning about and implementing SEO. I dabbled with some social media stuff too (it was embryonic back then) but it was never going to be a major focus of the site as it just didn’t connect with reader intent.

These days, if I was still operating a review-type site, I’d certainly be trying to capitalize on the trend towards people researching purchases on social media, but I suspect I’d also be primarily focused upon search traffic.

Example 2: on my second photography site (and my main blog today), things are remarkably different. I started it from day one with the idea of community and belonging in mind. It was always going to be more social and interactive, and attract repeat visitors.

  • People come to dPS to connect with others with a similar passion.
  • Readers like to show off their work and have it seen by others.
  • The site aims to create a community for learning.
  • The site builds trust with readers and aims to hook them into coming back time and time again.
  • The site is monetized largely with the sale of ebooks, which do best with repeat visitors/loyal readers.

As a result, dPS is much better placed to benefit from social media. Our Facebook page continues to grow fast and our interactions on Twitter have driven a lot of traffic to the site.

Having said that, I still set the site up with sound SEO principles in mind as search traffic is important to the site. In fact, Google traffic is still the #1 source of traffic on the site—although I have to say that that traffic doesn’t convert anywhere near as well when it comes to selling products to readers. The good thing about search traffic on dPS is that a certain percentage of those who arrive that way do become regular readers down the track.

Ultimately, whether you direct your focus toward SEO or social media, or both, will depend upon the goals you have and the type of traffic you’re after. In the case of dPS it is both SEO and social media, but there was more, too…

Email vs. the rest

If I had to identify the single best source of traffic on dPS, it wouldn’t be search traffic or social media traffic. It’d be email.

Search and social media have been important elements in the mix, but truth be told, our biggest days of traffic occur when we send our emails out each week. The biggest days of discussion in our forums are newsletter days. The biggest days for ebook sales, ad revenue, voting in polls, retweets on articles, Likes on Facebook, and comments on blog posts are all newsletter days.

The reality is that with dPS I spend more time on email than I do on either SEO or social media.

They all feed each other.

As I look at dPS today it’s difficult to really split the different activities that I do into neat, discrete tasks. One thing tends to feed and grow the other.

  • Search traffic grows our newsletter list.
  • The newsletter promotes our Twitter and Facebook accounts.
  • The sharing of our content on Twitter and Facebook accounts often generate links from other sites.
  • The links on other sites send traffic which grows our SEO and newsletter signups.
  • I suspect the search engines are paying more attention to what’s being shared on social media in the way they rank sites.

This list could go on—every day, I see the pay off of all of our promotional and community-building activities in making other efforts more effective.

This will only get more and more important: with Google now indexing tweets and presenting them in search results, we’re seeing social and search merging more and more. I can’t imagine that this trend will decline; increasingly we’ll probably see efforts in social media helping SEO.

Personality and style matters.

Something that struck me at an SEO conference that I attended last year was that a number of the people I met seemed a little different to the people I’d met at a Social Media conference the week before.

I don’t want that to sound offensive. To be fair, there was an overlap between people at both conferences (including me), but what I noticed was that quite a few of the SEOs I met that day were people who obviously paid a lot of attention to detail and really enjoyed the process of analyzing numbers of links, strategizing about keywords, and watching the impact that small changes in content and code have on search rankings.

A number of times that day I felt my eyes glazing over at some of the presentations that were being lapped up by others. It struck me that perhaps some of us are hardwired to be SEOs, rather than social media types.

I’m sure some people are wired for a bit of both, but perhaps one’s personality type and style lends itself more to one discipline than others? I’m not saying that SEOs are anti-social or incapable of holding a conversation, nor that social media folk have no ability to think analytically (although that would have made for an attention-grabbing headline), but perhaps there’s something there for a psychologist to do some research into!

Do what suits your situation, but don’t be closed off.

Let me sum up by saying that I think there’s plenty of room to move in thinking about this topic. Your situation, your style, and your goals will no doubt lead you to a unique mix of promotional activities.

It’s okay to focus upon one above the others, however, in my opinion, you’d be something of a fool to completely close yourself off to the possibility that there might be potential in those things that you’re not doing.

Those that claim SEO is dead are just as deluded as those who claim social media will never convert—but that doesn’t mean we all need to take exactly the same approach.

Scribe SEO Deal Closes November 5

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Has Scribe helped you attract search traffic to your blog?

Why Link Exchanges Are Like Mosquitoes

A Guest post by Akila from The Road Forks

Last week, I had a revelation when, after spending ten minutes fiddling around with a VPN in Podunkville, China, I opened my email and found four link exchange requests, including one asking to exchange links with “The Toad Forks” rather than our website, The Road Forks. As I slammed my laptop lid down, I realized that link exchanges are the mosquitoes of the blogging world.

Imagine that all of us bloggers — interesting and interested people engaged in making our blogs the Next Best Thing — sit down at a summer table with platters of thick-grilled hamburgers and corn on the cob next to an open cooler of dripping beers. The mosquitoes hover, pinching our legs and arms. We slap them away but their brothers come to replace them. They bloat with our blood, gorging and feeding on our health, and we develop unsightly rashes. That, my friends, are link exchange requests and we bloggers are helping these mosquitoes breed.

What is a link exchange request? A link exchange request is one where a site offers to link to your site in exchange for a reciprocal link. The key to this request is the requirement for a reciprocal link; in other words, if you don’t link to me, I don’t link to you.

Link exchange requests come in various forms. Some are from corporate entities seeking to promote blogs or sites by selling text links, though Google slashed PageRanks in 2007 in response to this tactic. Others are from bloggers — often, well meaning, newbie bloggers —- who send mass generic e-mails that cause me to inwardly groan, along the lines of, “Hey! Cool blog! Want to exchange links?”

Let me be clear, though: link exchanges are not e-mails from bloggers to others in the same genre inviting them to consider reading or linking to their blog because they have shared interests. If you are producing valuable content, you need to spread the word and e-mailing and networking with other bloggers is the best way to increase traffic to your site. Darren’s 11 tips to increase your chances of being linked to by another blogger boil down to two central tenets: get to know the person whose link you are asking for and produce content worthy of that link. A polite request that a person consider reading your blog is not the same thing as a request for a link in return for a link of their own.

Why do websites/bloggers want link exchanges? Link exchanges are an easy, get-rich-quick scheme to drive traffic and increase search engine results. In the short term, readers will jump to your blog, leading to more pageviews, ad revenue, and perhaps RSS subscribers.

Over the long term, links build your site’s “importance,” in the eyes of Google (and most other search engines, for that matter). A link exchange means more links for your site as well as theirs, more links leads to a higher Google PageRank, and a higher PageRank will cause a site to show up closer to the front page of Google search results, generating greater traffic for a site. Greater traffic means more ad revenue, fame, and the resulting glamour of being a hot-shot blogger.

The bad news: By participating in link exchanges, you risk injuring your reputation, the reputation of others, and angering Google. What do all successful bloggers have in common? Trust. A link might send new readers to your site but they are only going to keep reading your site if they trust that you will produce great content every week. The links on your blog are part of the content on your site; by linking to another site, you represent to your reader that the link is of good quality and will provide something valuable to the reader. If a reader clicks on a link that takes them to a site filled with ads for pills and dating programs, or to a blog that produces worse content than your own, the reader is going to question your judgment and wonder why you chose to link to that site. Nobody likes the guy who has to buy his friends. Unfortunately, by linking to one lousy site, you also devalue the other good sites on your blog. Bad for you, bad for your friends.

And, you certainly don’t want to irritate the most powerful player on the web. Google carries 71% of the search engine market and they hate link schemes. Google is in the business of providing the most accurate website hierarchy for a particular search term and falsely inflated links to a particular site lead to poor search results. In no less than three places in their Webmaster Guidelines, Google explains that participating in link schemes, including excessive link exchanges, could “negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.”

Welcome to the new Internet where content is king.

Link exchanges are part of the old Internet, a system in which PageRank ruled and social media was a fancy word for e-mail. Today, Twitter, Facebook, and StumbleUpon drive more traffic to my blog (and, I suspect, most blogs) than links from other bloggers. In the last week of July 2010, Facebook not only dominated the social media sites but was the most visited website in the world – even more than Google – accounting for over 9% of all web traffic in that week. Facebook’s Like button and Twitter’s instantaneous communications reward interesting or useful posts without using artificial means to game a blogger’s popularity.

Google is taking advantage of this revolution with Caffeine, its web indexing system launched in June 2010 that crawls blogs, social media sites, commercial sites, and user generated content at a 50% faster rate. Previously, Google used to crawl pages once every few days or even less, resulting in stale web search results. Now, when you hit publish on your blog post, it will appear in Google search results in less than 30 minutes. This means that fresh content – whether in the form of blog posts, tweets, or Facebook posts – may be the key to landing at the top of Google searches. In fact, Google has recommended for years that webmasters stop obsessing about PageRank because it is only one of 200 factors used to determine search results.

The bottom line is that if you want to increase your readership in today’s Internet, focus on networking with other bloggers, effectively using social media tools to produce fresh content, and, most importantly, producing link-worthy content, rather than populating the Internet with infestations of spam-filled links. Maybe soon, we will all be able to sit back and bask in the sunny glow of a better, more usable Internet.

Read more from Akila at The Road Forks

[Free Report] How to Create Compelling Content that Ranks Well in Search Engines

SEO Copywriting ReportAre you interested in ranking higher in the search engines for your content?

If so – you should download this completely free report (there’s no registration needed and no obligation to do anything to get it) from Scribe. It’s called How to Create Compelling Content that Ranks Well in Search Engines.

Written by Brian Clark of CopyBlogger it covers:

  • Why SEO Copywriting Still Matters
  • How Search Engines Work
  • Why You Have to Spoon Feed Search Engines
  • The 5 Essential Elements of Keyword Research
  • How to Create Cornerstone Content That Google Loves
  • Five Link Building Strategies That Work
  • Five Areas to Focus On for Effective SEO Copywriting
  • Why Writing for People Works for Search Engines
  • How to Make SEO Copywriting Simple

As usual – Brian’s work is both helpful but also easy to digest. If you’re new to or still getting your head around SEO (or even if you need some new inspiration) this is a report well worth sitting down with a coffee to read through.

Download your free report here

Taming the Small Business Search Engine Beast

In this post Mark Hayward shares some search engine optimization tips for small business blogs.

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image source: smemon87

When it comes to your small business blog, do you care about search engine optimization?

I think many small business owners would like to have a better understanding of search engine optimization (SEO) but most are just too busy trying to run their venture and don’t necessarily have the time to learn.

When I started my business a few years ago, I knew if I was going to succeed I would have to get on to the front page of most major search engines. Subsequently, I began to read everything I could related to SEO.

Because search engine optimization is an ongoing science and art, I continue to scan all I can on the topic. Recently, I was perusing WordPress SEO: The Only Guide You Need and thought that it would be great if I could ask the articles author, Glen Allsopp, a couple of questions that could help small business owners to better understand SEO.

Question 1. In layman’s terms, what is search engine optimization (SEO)?

Glen: The saying “build it and they will come” sadly does not apply to the internet. Even if you provide the best service in a certain small business niche, or have the most informative and valuable content on your blog, it doesn’t mean that people are going to be able to find your venture on the Internet. There are lots of ways to get people to your business blog and one of the best sources of traffic (of course) comes from search engines.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is about helping people to find your small business online by creating a search engine friendly website and blog. An effective SEO strategy takes time, patience, and consistent hard work. For a small business owner who is just getting started in the SEO process, they can work on their search engine rankings by improving the relevance of the content on their site and increasing the number of backlinks pointing to their pages, among other things.

Question 2. Why should small business owners care about SEO for their blog?

Glen: Many people will tell you that the best thing about SEO is that it brings brings free, targeted traffic to your small business blog. While this is true in some regards, you have to remember that it’s likely you’ll have to put a lot of time into making a quality, optimized website in order to increase your rankings. So you may not pay in terms of money (unless you buy links), but you certainly will pay in some form.

However, time and monetary investment aside, the obvious benefit of increased search engine traffic is that it’s usually very targeted and specific to your business.

If you can rank highly in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for phrases that are relevant to your small business niche, then there’s a good chance that you can make more sales, attract more clients, and get quality leads landing on your small business website.

Unlike many other sources of traffic, SEO is often something that you work hard on for a while and then you can usually put a lot less effort into it once you’ve achieved your specific goals. There are exceptions to this, of course, but for most industries, once you have achieved rankings you don’t need to do half as much work to maintain them.

Another reason small business owners should care about SEO is because not only can it help to bring more traffic to your site, but it can also protect you from any reputation management issues that you might have to deal with. If you sell products or services, the last thing that you want to have is for negative content to appear in the search results of your ranking and thus swaying potential customers away from using your company.

Question 3. If a small business owner wants to improve their search engine optimization, how do they know what words or which phrases to ‘rank’ for in their niche?

Glen: A good place to start is to have a clear view of what your business is about and the type of visitor you’re hoping to attract. Before you head over to keyword research tools, try thinking of the words and phrases you would use to find whatever it is your small business is offering. On a similar note, ask friends and family how they would search for the solutions that your business provides.

My two favorite tools for keyword research are the Google External Keywords tool and the free version of the Wordtracker Keyword tool. The Google tool is much better for search volume figures as you’re going directly to the source, but I like to use the Wordtracker tool as it gives me phrase ideas I would never have thought of.

When using the Google Keyword tool be sure to select All Countries and Territories from the drop-down option, but leave the match settings to broad or phrase while you’re browsing around. Once you’ve found a main phrase that you think will bring in targeted traffic then you can change the match to exact to get a real idea of how many people are searching for that term.

Please keep in mind, that although you may be excited by phrases which get a large number of searches, make sure you’re looking for visitors that are actually going to convert.

For example, if your small business specializes in selling lenses for digital cameras, then there’s no use in aiming to rank for the phrase “digital cameras.” First of all, it’s going to be very competitive because it’s such a broad phrase, and secondly, you aren’t going to get the real value of that audience unless you also have a lot of cameras for sale.

Conversely, I would recommend aiming to rank for less competitive phrases such as Nikon D3000 lens and then transitioning up to a phrase like Digital camera lens. This is just an example, but I hope it gets the point across.

Finally, before I start putting in the work to optimize for a phrase I’ll run it through Google Trends to see whether the term is declining in popularity, staying steady, or increasing. After all, you don’t want to put in lots of work on a term only to find that nobody is searching for it 6 months later.

Question 4. What are five things that any small business owner could do today to help improve the SEO of their blog?

Glen: Before I get into the specifics, I do want to say that SEO is not just a ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ strategy. You should aim to take a holistic approach to the process, rather than focusing solely on one thing. Building links to your small business blog won’t get you anywhere if you haven’t optimized for your phrase. Likewise, you could have “perfect” on-site SEO and not rank because you don’t have enough relevant backlinks. Now, my five tips for improving SEO today are:

  • Optimize Your Small Business Site Around a Phrase

It’s likely that your homepage or the main page of your blog is going to become one of the strongest places on your site (in terms of how many links it has) so if you aren’t using that link juice to rank for something, you’re missing a big opportunity. Unless you have a mega-name like “ProBlogger” which people search for (anyway) without even knowing the brand, it’s good to pick something that is relevant to your small business blog topic.

For example, when I owned PluginID it was obviously very easy for me to rank the homepage in search engines for the brand name. Inevitably this also become one of the strongest pages on my site, so I used the ‘link weight’ it had and optimized for the phrase ‘personal development’ which is what my site covered. I managed to rank 10th in Google within a few months, despite the competitiveness of the phrase, and brought in a new audience that I wouldn’t have otherwise reached.

  • Write the Best Content You Can

With my internet marketing blog ViperChill, I haven’t actually worked that hard to build links to the site. Yet, Yahoo tells me that I have over 16,000 backlinks and the search engine traffic to the site is increasing drastically each month. The reason I’m getting a lot of links and more search engine visitors is because I’m writing helpful content that people want to share with their audiences and talk about.

Small business owners should know that I’m not some lucky exception and that they can do exactly the same thing for their small business blog. If they focus on writing genuinely valuable content, that’s an excellent strategy to increase the inbound links to their site.

  • Set-up Google Webmaster Tools

I don’t like to give Google too much information about me or my websites (I make my living online, so don’t want to give away everything I’m working on). But if you don’t need to be as secretive as me then I highly recommend that you sign-up for Google Webmaster Tools.

Not only will it tell you if your small business site has been hacked – which is common with blogs – but it can also help you to find pages on your site that are resulting in 404 errors (that people are linking to), whether your robots.txt file is valid, and which phrases your site is ranking for. If you have pages that don’t exist which have links pointing at them, then you can redirect them to relevant pages. Similarly, if you know you’re showing in the top results for a phrase then you can increase your traffic by getting more links to that page and thus, increasing your rankings.

  • Link Out to Other Bloggers

While I don’t recommend that small business owners do this as a form of ‘link exchange’ or even using your blogroll, I do recommend that now and then you link out to other blogs and bloggers in your business niche. When drafting content for your blog you can ‘link out’ first and foremost as a way to help find excellent content for your readers. Hopefully, the owners of the sites that you linked to will come and check out your blog and link to your posts, which is going to help your rankings.

  • Use the All-in-One SEO Plugin

I’m sure there are alternatives which do similar things, but I’m a huge fan of the All-in-One SEO plugin for WordPress, which can be found here. One great thing this tool allows you to do is to change the title tag of your individual posts. I regularly make mine different from an actual post title which gives me the chance to rank for a lot more long-tail keywords because of how important heading and title tags are.

Another great feature is that you can automatically insert meta-descriptions into your posts (the snippets you see in search results) based on the first few sentences of your blog posts.

While there are a lot more SEO tasks small business owners can do, these five items should start any blog owner off in a good position.

Question 5. Do you have any favorite online tools that can show a small business blog’s SEO strengths and weaknesses?

Glen: Sure, there are a few I would recommend checking out, but I do want to say that you shouldn’t take them too seriously. Instead, small business owners should use them as a guide to help figure out where they may be going right or wrong. SEO is not something that can be fully automated and dissected by computers alone…yet. ;-)

  • Rank Checker for Firefox – will help you to see how you’re ranking for your targeted phrases in Google and other search engines.
  • Playground by Dave Naylor – is a bookmarklet that works in most popular browsers that will show you when a site was recently cached and things like keyword density, so you can see what terms search engines are going to think your page is mostly about.
  • Website Grader – by Hubspot, will notify you of things like missing alt-tags and which pages on your site are missing descriptions.

Coupled with the two keyword research tools I mentioned earlier, Google Webmaster Tools and the All-in-One SEO plugin for WordPress, most small business owners should end up with a great internet marketing toolbox.

I prefer to still do a lot of manual work to judge how competitive a niche is and use things like how many indexed pages there are of my site in Google, compared to how many are actually on the site, to determine whether there are things that need to be worked on.

Question 6. What is the easiest way for a small business owner to measure the SEO return on their time investment?

Glen: Don’t focus too much on keyword rankings. It may sound strange that I say that, based on what I covered earlier, but let me explain. I think it’s important to have phrases in mind that you want to optimize for and good on-site SEO in place, so that you can increase the long-tail traffic your website receives.

However, as an indicator to how well SEO is working for your business, rankings are not great. Instead, you should be looking at how those rankings are converting to see how effective your efforts are. Whether you want more RSS subscribers, product sales, or leads; it’s these things you should be tracking based on your search engine traffic, rather than where you rank for certain phrases.

As an example, many small business owners may be looking to increase the amount of subscribers their blog has in order to make their mark on an industry and later sell products or services. A great free tool that helps you track this is Get Clicky (though I recommend their premium version). With Get Clicky, if I go to the ‘Links’ section, and then click on ‘Outbound’, I can clearly see the sources of traffic to my RSS icon which in the situation for many people, is a conversion.

Instead of just focusing on certain phrases that are popular, I can focus on the ones which are resulting in people clicking on my RSS feed, rather than increasing the stats on my analytics account. Small business owners should always have some form of conversion tracking in place, even if it’s just for your feed, to judge how your SEO efforts are working out for you.

I would like to thank Glen (@viperchill) for the time he took answering the questions above. If you have further small business blog SEO questions, please ask them below in the comments.

Want more small business social media tips from Mark Hayward? Then subscribe to his RSS or email feed and follow him on Twitter @mark_hayward.

Optimize a Single Post On Your Blog for SEO

This is an unofficial extra task for the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook.

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Today I spent the morning working on a task that I try to do at least once a month – SEO on individual key posts in my archives.

While it’s important to know and practice the basics principles of SEO in the way you set up your blogs structure and in the writing of your posts – I find it can be very worthwhile periodically going back through key old posts to optimise them even further. I’ve used the following process for a while now and in most cases where I do it I find I’m able to increase my ranking for different posts.

I’m not the world’s best SEO but here’s the process that I use in doing this (I invite you to share yours in comments if you do this type of thing) – I hope you find it useful:

1. Identify Key Posts to Optimize for SEO

Across my active blogs I have 10,000 blog posts so I need to be a little strategic about choosing which blog posts I go back to to give a little SEO attention to.

For me the way that I do this is to dig into my Google Analytics account to work out what posts are already having some success with search traffic – but which could be improved. I generally look for posts that are ranking anywhere from #2 to #10 for their keywords (although sometimes focus upon those which are #1 to strengthen them further).

If a page is already generating some traffic from Google for a keyword but isn’t in the number 1 ranking for the word and increase in ranking should also see an increase in the traffic that the post receives. I’ve seen a variety of studies over the years that show that the #1 ranked result in Google can be getting anywhere from 35-55% of all clicks – the higher you are to the top the better.

Lets look at an example:

I’ve got a page on DPS which ranks #2 (depending where you are) for the term Portrait Photography.

It is a good page to optimise because it’s a relatively good term in the amount of traffic it drives (it’s a term that get a fair bit of searching for in Google) but also because the page is a ‘sneeze page‘ which links to quite a few pages across my photography blog and as a result those who visit that page end up visiting over 7 pages on their visit (the site average is a bit over 2 pages per visit).

The page already generates some healthy traffic (a few thousand visitors a month) so I know if I could get it ranking higher it will generate more.

2. Analyze the Competition

I don’t tend to get this deep into SEO too often but from time to time it can be worthwhile doing a little analysis of what pages that are ranking higher than you for a keyword are doing.

market-samurai-SEO.pngOne tool that I use for this (and other keyword analysis) is Market Samurai. It’s a tool I’ve only been using for a little while but it’s very handy. That link is an affiliate link but it does give you a 12 day free trial. I’ve shelled out for the full version as it has been so handy a tool for this type of analysis.

One of the modules in the Market Samurai system (there are quite a few more) is one that does analysis of what competing pages are doing for a keyword. Lets take a look at what it gives us for ‘portrait photography’ as a keyword (click to enlarge).

portrait-photography-analysis.png

You can see that the #2 ranking is for my site but it also shows a variety of information for other ranked sites in the top 10. Some of the information given is not overly relevant to me (or at least is out of my control like the first column which looks at the age of the domain) but some of the information is useful in getting a handle on how your page compares to other sites.

Knowing this might help you work out what you need to do to rank higher – or it might also give you an indication of whether you have much chance of ranking for the keyword at all (if the site you’re trying to compete against is way beyond what you can achieve it might be an indication that you want to go and work on another page).

In this example lets compare my page with the #1 ranked page:

  • DA – domain age – they have a real advantage here.
  • PR – page rank – their page is a 4 and mine is a 3. Something to work on.
  • IC – index count (the number of pages indexed on the domain) – they are obviously a lot bigger site. This doesn’t mean I can’t rank for the term but gives an indication that I’m up against a pretty established site.
  • BLP – the amount of backlinks pointing at the page. They obviously have more (we’ll do some more analysis of this below).
  • BLEG – links from .edu/.gov sites pointing at the page – they have a couple here while I don’t
  • DMZ – is the site in the DMOS directory (I don’t page a lot of attention to this but some say it can be a factor)
  • YAH – is the site in the Yahoo directory (again, not something that I pay much attention to but some say it can be the difference between getting a higher ranking and not)
  • Title – is the keyword/s in the title tags of the post (we both do this)
  • URL – is the keyword/s in the URL of the post (I have the advantage here)
  • Desc – is the keyword in the meta description tag (not something that I’ve found to impact SEO much but perhaps something to consider with the way your post appears in Google)
  • Head – is the keyword/s in a header tag on the page
  • CA – The Cache Age (the number of days since Google Cached the page)

In this case – the analysis shows me that I’m up against a pretty heavy hitter. It’s an established site with lots of links pointing both at the domain and the page itself. I’m tempted to settle for just ranking #2 for this page but for the sake of the exercise I’ll push on.

Note: Market Samurai also gives you the opportunity to dig deeper into competing sites and can give you a breakdown of the actual links pointing at a page. I won’t do the analysis here (it might be deeper than where people are at) but what I found was that in the case of my competition on this one is that the competing site had a lot of forwarded links pointing at it. I’m not sure what was going on with it but it seems that the majority of the links pointing at my competition are from forwarded domains and not actual live pages. This gives me a little hope so I’ll push on with optimising the page.

3. On Page Optimization

The above competitive analysis might give you a few hints as where to begin in optimizing your page. For example if you’ve not got your keywords in ‘title tags’ or ‘header tags’ – you’ll want to fix that. If your keyword is not in the URL, that’s another thing to consider. Those three tweaks alone could have a fairly significant change (I’ve seen changing title tags to include keywords as increasing rankings significantly).

Once you’ve done that you might want to also look at some smaller tweaks that could play a part. Using keywords in bold, using keywords in alt tags on images etc. These are probably not going to have a major impact but could help a little.

Ultimately if you want to rank for a particular keyword – you need to be using that keyword on your page in key spots (titles, headings, URL). Don’t stuff your page full of the keyword (and whatever you do keep your content useful and readable to readers) but a few tweaks might help.

4. Off Page Optimization

You might find that with some on page optmization that your post is already increasing its rankings – particularly if the keyword you’re looking at is not highly competitive. However at times it can be worth looking at ways of generating some extra links to your page as the number and type of links are important in determining how a page ranks in search engines.

I don’t tend to do much of this type of SEO as I find my site tends to get a nice number of links pretty naturally from other sites but I know those who are more into SEO will work hard on some of the following:

  • analysing where the competition is getting their links and looking for opportunities to get links there too – for example if a link is coming to your competitor from a forum discussion or blog comment you might also have an opportunity to leave a quality comment there with your own link.
  • links from other blogs you own (particularly one on a relevant topic) link to your page from it
  • internal links – this is something I do do – basically its about interlinking your posts. While internal links don’t count as much as an external link they can help a little.
  • pitching links to other blogs – if you have a relationship with other blogs in your niche try pitching a link of the page that you’re optimizing to those bloggers.
  • sharing links in social media – most social media sites like Twitter and Facebook put no-follow tags on links so they don’t count directly for SEO but I find that an occasional push of an older post on social media sites can lead to indirect links from other bloggers. I also suspect that search engines are paying more attention to what links are being shared in social media sites so getting your links into them (without spamming) could be useful if you have a network of people who will pass them onto their own networks.

Note: the generation of links can be a fairly ‘black hat’ game at times. It can also be pretty addictive and become an obsession. I personally would prefer to spend my time producing quality content than spending my days asking for links. Do be a little careful with link building – not only can it be a time suck but if you engage in tactics that Google sees as against their Terms of Service (buying links for example) you could also be jeopardizing your sites ranking in their index.

Further Reading on SEO

Do you ever go back and optimize individual posts on your blog for SEO? If so – I’d love to hear your approach to it. This is the way I do it but I’m certain that there will be many other approaches that others take.

Scribe SEO Review: Rank Higher in Search Engines Without Compromising The Quality of Your Posts

Have you ever heard the statement – “Write for People not Search Engines“?

It’s a teaching that many bloggers have heard that encourages bloggers not to compromise the quality of their blog posts in order to get search engine traffic.

The temptation that some bloggers fall into is writing the kind of content that ranks well in Google – but which becomes increasingly unreadable to real people.

What if there was another way to Rank Higher in Search Engines Without Compromising The Quality of Your Posts?

I’ve long thought (and taught) that there was a better way. Using a well optimized blog theme (like Thesis) and knowing some basic principles of SEO so that as you write your quality content you naturally use them to improve your SEO. Having the basics of SEO in mind as you write and tweaking your content as you write it is great – however it requires you to know some of those basics.

Now there IS an easier way

Brian Clark has just released Scribe – a WordPress Plugin that analyzes the content that you write on your blog at the click of a button and then reports back from within your WordPress dashboard on how you can improve your search rankings.

As Brian writes in on the about page of Scribe – it’s like having an SEO expert as an editorial assistant.

I’ve seen and tested a number of SEO type tools previously and Scribe beats them all on a number of levels. Most importantly – it takes what you’ve written (for real people) and uses THAT as the basis for what it recommends instead of starting with some keywords that you want to rank for and creating something that doesn’t really help anyone reading your content.

I’ve been playing with this plugin for a week or so now and it’s really good.

You don’t have to use all the suggestions that Scribe gives you if you feel that you don’t want to make all changes but many of the things it recommends are things that will definitely help your SEO and which SEOs would recommend (that the rest of us might not naturally think of).

The great thing about Scribe is that you can go back to any of your old posts that you’d like to see ranking higher and get it to optimize them too.

As an extra bonus I’m finding that simply using Scribe is giving me a great refresher in SEO and I’m starting to do some of what it recommends more and more as I write.

Scribe syncs beautifully with themes like Thesis, Headway and Hybrid as well as the All in One SEO plugin.

72% off for 4 Days Only

There are three options for buying Scribe but for the next 4 days you can lock yourself in at the most advanced package for the price of the starter package (a saving of 72%).

If traffic from search engines is something you want to tap into more, without compromising the usefulness of your content, Scribe is an option worth investing into. Learn more about it here.

Have you used the Scribe SEO plugin? Leave your Scribe SEO Review below in comments.

7 Considerations on Generating Traffic to Your Blog

Over the last few weeks I’ve had three conversations with readers regarding different sources of traffic.

In each case I had a number of email exchanges with each blogger (all on the same day) and ended up laughing to myself at the common theme but extremely different opinions being expressed by each of the bloggers.

In each case the bloggers had strong opinions (and experiences to back those opinions up) on what type of traffic was ‘best’ and how to get it.

  1. In one case the conversation started with a blogger telling me that I focus too much upon social media traffic and not enough on traffic from search engines. Their niche didn’t work with social traffic but with search traffic they did best.
  2. In another case the blogger told me that they’d been told to forget about search traffic in their niche and work more on building traffic from other sites and to convert it into ongoing traffic with newsletters.
  3. In the last case a blogger told me that in their opinion the best type of traffic was social media traffic and they didn’t see the point in newsletters.

I was reminded through these conversations just how many different valid approaches there are to blogging. I also came away with a few thoughts that I thought I’d jot down here on the topic of driving traffic to blogs.

traffic-blog.png

1. There are Many Valid Sources of Traffic

The above chart shows just 8 of many sources of traffic to a blog. As I write this others are already springing to mind (for example some bloggers run paid advertising to drive traffic to their blog – others get it from banner exchange programs). The reality is that there are many potential sources of traffic.

2. The ‘Best’ Source of Traffic Varies from Niche to Niche

As I thought about the 3 bloggers I was chatting to above it struck me that each had found great sources of traffic but that they were each operating in very different niches.

The first blogger who had written off social media was in a niche that people were simply not using social media for (I won’t reveal the niche as I don’t have their permission but it was a very very niche focused blog). Perhaps they could have driven a tiny bit of traffic with social media but for them Search was a much better place for them to invest their time.

3. Different Sources of Traffic Will monetize differently

Another important factor to consider is that some sources of traffic will monetize ALOT better than others. I’ve found that search traffic can work very well with AdSense for example (it depends upon the niche and intent of the reader). People arrive on your site searching for specific information, read your content, see an ad that relates to their search term and click on it.

RSS readers on the other hand don’t tend to convert for AdSense as they tend to be loyal readers and many don’t even click through to your site to read your content. RSS readers (and social media traffic) however can convert really well for affiliate promotions or selling your own products to.

4. Traffic Patterns Change over the life cycle of a blog

As a blog matures its sources of traffic often quite naturally change.

There’s no typical one size fits all pattern to this but at first the traffic might mainly come from other blogs or forums where you comment – or blogs where you guest post – or articles that you write. In time you might start to see more traffic from RSS or newsletters as a few people subscribe. Perhaps then some traffic will come from other sites who link to you (people who subscribe via RSS might have their own blogs) and from social media. After a while your search engine ranking might kick in as a result of the links from other sites and your guest posting and article writing and you might start seeing Google traffic. Once your blog is more established you might start seeing social bookmarking viral events that spike your traffic.

Again – this is not going to be the pattern for all blogs but in time traffic will naturally start to come from different places – the key is to try to leverage it for ongoing good (trying to get your blog to be sticky rather than just having one time visitors) and to work out how to convert that traffic for the goals you have.

5. Bloggers should be open to different approaches

While each of the three bloggers had discovered great lessons and good sources of traffic for their niches and the life cycles of their blogs – I was left wondering in each case whether the bloggers were being a little too closed off to different sources of traffic that perhaps could have added to the overall mix of traffic.

I see a lot of SEO type bloggers write about the worthlessness of social traffic for instance. One common comment that I get from some SEOs (definitely not all) is that social media traffic can’t be monetized. The reality could not be further from the truth. It won’t always convert but it certainly can. For example I know in each of the E-book launches that I’ve done in two niches that I’ve seen significant conversions from Twitter traffic.

On the flip side of things I hear some social media focused bloggers write off SEO and say that it works itself out and you don’t need to optimise your blog for search if you just produce good content. While there is some truth in that (good content does tend to generate natural incoming links to some extent) with a basic understanding of principles of SEO and a few minor tweaks a blog can rank much better in search engines without compromising the integrity of the content.

I guess what I’m getting at is that if you get exclusive about the type of traffic you are after you could actually be limiting the potential of your blog’s incoming traffic.

6. Too many Eggs in One Basket Can Be Dangerous

I used to be very focused upon search traffic in my early days of blogging. I worked hard to optimise my first blogs for search and got to a point where I was making a full time living from the ad revenue I was getting almost exclusively from Google. As a result I got a little lazy in some of the other areas – I didn’t work to convert readers to be loyal with newsletters or with prominent calls to subscribe to RSS, I didn’t build too many relationships with other bloggers to generate referral traffic and I was very inactive in social media (although it was much more limited back then).

As a result when Google decided to adjust their algorithm one day and my rankings dropped (and almost completely disappeared) in their results I lost almost all of my traffic – and as a result almost all of my income.

I was lucky in that Google readjusted their algorithm a couple of months later and I regained a lot of (but not all) of that traffic but in the mean time I looked for and found a ‘real job’ – and more importantly learned an important lesson about the power of having more than one source of traffic.

That experience was the beginning of me doing a few things that included working harder on capturing readers as subscribers (email and RSS), networking more with other bloggers in my niche and getting more involved in promoting my blog in other places (mainstream media, social media etc). My hope in doing all of this was to build up other sources of traffic so that if Google ever switched off my traffic again (temporarily or permanently) I’d at least have enough traffic to survive.

Google still does send me around 40-50% of my traffic (it varies a little from blog to blog) but I’m in a position now where I could survive for an extended period if it all disappeared (not that I’d like for that to happen).

7. The Importance of Personality and Being Yourself

I’m sure there are other factors that are at play that might be worth considering when looking at traffic. One of these (that I’m yet to fully think through) is personality type.

For example a lot of my my technically thinking friends seem to enjoy the challenge of SEO a little more. They love experimenting with and testing what happens when they make small tweaks to different aspects of their blogs. They’re constantly testing different setups and do quite well from it. I am not technically minded and find their attention to detail very very unusual (and so far from where that I’m at that I feel like I’m from another planet).

Other friends are perhaps a little more social by nature and as a result seem to do well on Twitter.

Others seem to do better by applying their freakish ability to write blog posts that get tonnes of links from other sites and which do brilliantly on social bookmarking sites..

Others are networkers and spend a lot of time interacting with other bloggers and site owners and tend to get links and traffic that way.

Others just seem to be brilliant at building community on their blog and as a result retain almost everyone who ever comments and build new readers from those people telling their friends.

I guess the lesson here is to be yourself and work with your strengths. Of course you don’t want to let your strengths dominate so much that you ignore or become lazy in areas that you’re not as strong in – but do follow your natural abilities and leverage them as much as you can.

Remember that there is no wrong or right way to generate traffic for a blog. If you were analyze the sources of traffic on many top blogs you’d find quite different factors at play!

What to Do When Your Search Rankings Drop

“I just lost all my Google traffic – help!”

This request hits my inbox every week or two from a distraught blogger who has logged into the blog’s statistics one morning only to discover that most of their traffic has completely disappeared due to the all powerful Google making some kind of change in their algorithm and how they rank sites which resulted in that particular blog either disappearing from search results or at least being buried many pages down in the rankings.

The feeling associated with this discovery of a loss of traffic can be sickening.

I still remember the first time it happened to me (back in 2004) as if it were yesterday – it was like someone had sucker punched me in the gut – really took the wind out of my sails.

Up until the day it happened traffic had been healthy on my blog – healthy enough to just make a full time living from. Then when the traffic from Google disappeared I was down to 30% of what I’d come to see as ‘normal’ traffic and suddenly my dreams of being a full time blogger seemed over.

What to do when your Google Traffic Disappears

OK – so the question that I’m asked each time this happens to a ProBlogger reader is – what should I do?

It’s a tough question to answer – partly because I’m not Google and don’t have any insight into your particular situation and partly because each time it happens it is different. I’m also not an SEO expert am won’t give you any technical advice – but let me give you some general advice to start with:

1. Don’t Panic

I’ve had this happen to me at least 5 times over the last 7 years of blogging and most successful bloggers I know can recall a similar number of Google fluctuations that have brought decreases (and increases) in traffic in their blogging history. It happens to us all – sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways. In chatting with one Google employee recently he told me that they are making daily (and more) changes to the way that they rank sites (mainly small tweaks) so over time we’ll all notice changes.

The key is not to make massive big changes to your site’s SEO too quickly or as a gut reaction to a change in your ranking.

For me the first time that this happened (when I lost 70% of my traffic) I was very tempted to make big changes to my site to try to fix things. I was advised by a few wise and experienced web masters to wait. I did and a few weeks later almost all of the traffic returned. Google fixed itself (phew).

If the traffic doesn’t come back after an extended period you might want to get some expert SEO advice and make some larger changes – but I personally am glad that I’d seen out the dips in traffic rather than doing anything to hurt my long term rankings.

Of course there are times when you might need to make some changes…. such as….

2. Have You Done Anything Black Hat?

Google has guidelines in place for webmasters. If you want to rank well in their search engine you need to play by their rules. Of course there’s a whole industry around ‘bending’ and ‘manipulating’ the rules and many web masters make a living by doing it – however if you are caught breaking the rules by Google you’re likely to be penalized.

If this is the case for you you have two choice:

I know of numerous bloggers who’ve asked for reconsideration and have been reinstated back into the index. It can take a little while (the last one said it took a couple of weeks for them) but in the long run it can be well worthwhile.

3. Build Other Sources of Traffic

The biggest lesson that I learned back in 2004 when I lost most of my traffic as a result of a Google algorithm change was that I needed to diversify my approach to building traffic to my blogs.

Up until that time I was almost exclusively working on driving traffic via Google. It was like a drug that I’d become dependent upon in some ways and much of my day was spent writing content for Google and attempting to ‘get links’ to that content from other sites. I was not really writing for regular readers or trying to build community on my blog – I just wanted traffic that I hoped would click my ads and affiliate programs.

This approach had worked for me – however when my Google traffic disappeared I was left with little and realized how short sighted I’d been. I began to change my focus and started working on other sources of traffic.

I still love the traffic that Google sends me but today if it all disappeared it would hurt – but it wouldn’t be the end for my business. Next week I want to followup this post with another one looking at some of the ways to become less reliant upon Google traffic and to build traffic from other sources – stay tuned for more.