Leverage the Long Tail of Search on Your Blog

This guest post is by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting.

Not getting all the search traffic you would like to get to your blog? One way to improve your results is to tap into long tail search terms to use in your posts. This is not always that easy to do, so today I will explore some ideas of ways to tap into that data.

One reason why this is such an attractive thing to do is that the long tail actually has more traffic in it than the major “head” terms which are the first thing we all think of for a particular topic. The popular theory is that the long tail represents about 70% of all search traffic. These are the search terms that we don’t normally think of. Here is the four-step process I usually use to explain it to people:

  1. Take your executive staff (or your writing/editorial team) into a conference room. Tell them to list search queries people might enter in at Google or Bing which might indicate that they are interested in your product, service, or content.
  2. In the first five minutes, they will write the most popular terms (these are “head” terms and represent about 10% of all search volume). These terms will generally be one word or two word phrases. An example phrase in the e-commerce world might be “digital cameras.”
  3. In the next ten minutes they will record the next group (“chunky middle” terms that represent 20% of search queries). These terms are a bit longer, two to three words. An example here would be “canon digital cameras.”
  4. After that they will get tired and start checking their emails, texts, go to the next meeting, or whatever. What did they leave behind? The long tail! This is the remaining 70% of search queries. These are longer phrases, using three or more keywords. Examples include: “canon powershot sx230,” “buy digital camera seattle,” or “I want to buy a digital camera now.”

Since this long tail has so much volume in it, let’s figure out how to tap into it.

Develop the right mindset

First and foremost, let’s define the way we should be thinking about the problem. We are discussing how to leverage the long tail within your blog. Blog posts are natural gold mines for long tail search, simply because they contain lots of unique original text that is presumably related to the topic of the post.

The search engines are naturally going to process all of that text to figure out what user search queries your post may be relevant to. They do an excellent job of matching you up with a variety of potential searches already. Our task is to make their job easier and help them match your post up with more relevant queries.

In addition, you probably don’t want to spend several hours doing keyword research for each post. This post is going to focus on the strategy for accessing the long tail, but how to do it with about 15 minutes of keyword research.

Makeup of the long tail

How can I quickly get a sense as to what will be in the long tail for my topic? It turns out that this is pretty easy to figure out. For example, if you are writing a blog post about the deficit in the USA, and you do some keyword research using the Google Adwords keyword tool, you will find that the phrase “balanced budget” has more search volume on it than “deficit reduction.” Let’s look at the numbers for “balanced budget:”

Next, here is the output from the Adwords Keyword Tool for “deficit reduction:”

Notice the correlation. “Balanced budget” has 1,600 total searches, and the largest variant of “deficit reduction” has 880 searches. In addition, all the variants of “balanced budget” had 7,256 searches and all the variants of “deficit reduction” had 3,341 searches.

This is our first important conclusion: the most long tail terms are associated with the biggest head term. So the first step in leveraging the long tail of search is picking the right head term. You should use this head term in the title of your web page in which the post appears, as well as the post title itself.

An important note on using the Adwords Keyword Tool

I really like this tool because it does give us a crude window into the real data from Google. However, to get the right data from it, you need to configure it properly. To see how to do that, reference my screen shot below:

First, notice that I checked the box up top marked “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms”. For purposes of this analysis, I don’t want to have terms which are not closely related in my list.

Also, over on the left, notice that I have picked the “Exact” match type, and unchecked the other boxes. The tool will default to “Broad” match when you first run it, and you can’t even configure this option until you run the tool the first time. So to do the query on “balanced” budget I had to run the tool once, it gave me broad match results, then I was able to scroll down and set the results to exact match.

The reason for doing this is that the broad match setting means that the total query volumes shown for each keyword will include all the derivatives. I tested this and the phrase “deficit reduction” showed a volume of 12,100 instead of 880. The result is that the broad match setting tends to obscure the real data, from my perspective as an SEO.

Implement major synonyms and similar terms

We have already given a good example of this. If we have titled our article using “balanced budget,” we should also find a way to include “deficit reduction” in the title, or if that is not possible, include a discussion of that in the post in a prominent way. That’s a good start, and that was one I was able to think of off the top of my head. How can I find more?

Go back to the keyword tool and uncheck the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” box, and repeat your search. Here is what you get for “balanced budget:”

Note the two items I circled. Two strong additional terms have emerged. Can I work a reference to a budget surplus or fiscal responsibility into my article? Once again, as we showed with the head terms, strong synonyms will feed a solid long tail.

Understand the chunky middle

The rationale here is the same: a solid chunky middle will feed a fat tail. Looking back at our “deficit reduction” screen shot we can some examples of chunky middle terms:

These are three great phrases that you might want to include in the article.

Leverage the long tail

The best way to leverage the long tail of search in your post writing can be summarized as follows:

  1. Pick the right head term.
  2. Find major synonyms and closely related terms.
  3. Selectively leverage the chunky middle.

But, the most important thing is not to lose sight of the main task, which is to create great engaging content. Don’t let keyword research be the “tail that wags the dog.” Do some selective keyword research as outlined above, write a great article, and you will surely leverage the long tail effectively, and not had to spend three extra hours doing it.

Also, if you use contract writers, make sure you keep them focused on writing high quality content as well. One of the dangers with providing keyword instructions to a writer before they begin writing an article is that it can bend their mind, and they start writing low quality articles no human wants to read. If you are using writers that can’t maintain that focus then consider replacing them. Another alternative is to not give them the keyword info and have that added in during editing the article after the first draft is written.

Are you leveraging the long tail of search on your blog?

Eric Enge is the President of Stone Temple Consulting, a 20 person SEO and PPC consulting firm with offices in Boston and Northern California. Eric is a crusty old veteran with 30 years working experience in technology and the Internet. STC provides Strategic SEO and PPC services to companies ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies.

Blogosphere Trends + Readability Scoring

Do you know your blog’s readability score? If not, there are several ways to find out. But before you go calculating, let’s talk about why you should even care.

For starters, the average American adult reads at a level between eighth and ninth grade, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey. Other nations’ results vary but many are in the same neighborhood. So if you’re writing on a twelfth-grade level, you are not reaching some segments of the population (which is why many government-regulated documents must have readability scores that indicate they can be read and understood by most people).

That’s not necessarily a bad thing and, depending on your target readership, might even be a good thing, but there are some advantages to simplifying: increased sharing, a bigger audience, and possibly better SEO.

Blogger and “social media scientist” Dan Zarrella’s research found that posts written for lower grade levels were shared more often on Facebook—with those written on a second-grade level being shared about 40% more often than those written on a twelfth-grade level. (Look, I’m not saying this isn’t a little depressing, I’m just stating facts. We all know that one of the Internet’s most popular sites is called “I Can Has Cheezburger?”)

Way back in 1954, a fascinating (seriously) book called Know Your Reader: The Scientific Approach to Readability cited multiple studies and experiments in which changing the reading level of published material increased readership by as much as 50%.

The fact is, the more readable your text, the more people you can reach.

Ever since Google implemented its reading level feature late last year, there have been rumors that your site’s categorization (basic, intermediate, or advanced) may be impacting your search engine rankings. I’m not an expert on SEO but what I can tell you for sure is that, at the very least, Google users now have the option of limiting their search results to a specific reading level and filtering out the rest.

Those are the arguments for keeping your reading level basic, but ultimately, you ought to be writing for your readers, not for some formula. Take your readers’ ages, backgrounds, and interests into account. At the last magazine I worked for, there was a woman on staff who personified our publication’s demographic, so when I finished a story, I’d ask myself, “What would Betsy think?” You can do the same by imagining your ideal or average reader while you write, and using readability scores occasionally to see if you’re hitting the mark.

When you decide you do want to see where your blog is sitting, there are a few tools you can use.

  • To use Google’s reading level feature, do an advanced search for (that’s the word “site”, then a colon with no spaces, then your blog’s URL without the “http://www.” part), and be sure you have selected “Annotate results with reading levels” under the “Need more tools?” heading. A couple of words of caution about Google’s tool: It doesn’t give you a grade level, just categorizes your site by basic, intermediate, or advanced., for example, is 44% basic, 55% intermediate, 0% advanced. Also, be aware that it may take the text of your comments into account when evaluating your site.
  • If you use Microsoft Word to write posts, you can check readability easily. Go to “Preferences,” then “Spelling and Grammar,” and you’ll see a checkbox under “Grammar” that says “Show readability statistics.” I use this often. The advantage over Google is the handiness of it and the ability to evaluate a single post. Plus, it gives you the average number of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, characters per word, and percentage of passive sentences.
  • The first readability formulas were written back in the 1920s. Now, according to Wikipedia, there are literally hundreds, each taking different factors into account and, thus giving you different scores. My favorite, at least by name, is McLaughlin’s SMOG formula, where SMOG stands for Simple Measure of Gobbledygook. (If you really want to geek out and learn about the most popular ones, Wikipedia’s Readability page is a great start.) That’s why I like sites that provide multiple scores at once. AddedBytes has a great readability calculator as does Both allow you to analyze specific text rather than a whole site.

To get a sense of what different grade levels look like and the results you’ll get, let’s take a quick look at the scores of posts about the month’s most-blogged-about topics, according to Regator: (they are, in order, Osama bin Laden, Royal Wedding, Birth Certificate, Easter, Donald Trump, PlayStation Network, Lady Gaga, Tornadoes, Libya, and Japan).

The Daily Beast’s “Osama Bin Laden’s Death Exposes the Price of Torture
Google site info:
19% basic, 80% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease (according to Microsoft Word): 47.3 (scale of 1-100, where 100 is easiest)
Grade level
(the AddedBytes calculator, which averages five types of scoring, was used): 11.36

PopEater’s “Celebrities Tweet Like Crazy About the Royal Wedding
Google site info: 88% basic, 11% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
62.2 Grade level: 6.92

Fast Company
’s “How To Make Skeptics Believe Obama’s Birth Certificate Is Authentic
Google site info:
19% basic, 79% intermediate, 1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
30.8 Grade level: 14.62

Makes and Takes
’s “A Wee Enchanted Garden and Easter Bunny Napkin Holders
No data
Flesch Reading Ease:
74.8 Grade level: 7.1

The Gothamist
’s “Is Trump’s “Campaign” Over Before It Even Officially Began?
Google site info:
59% basic, 40% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
56.0 Grade level: 10.46

L.A. Times Technology Blog
’s “Sony’s websites may be next target for hackers, report says
Google site info:
15% basic, 84% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
45.8 Grade level: 11.32

Perez Hilton
’s “GaGa’s Monster Ball Breaks Record For Debut Headlining Artist!
Google site info:
94% basic, 4% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
62.9 Grade level: 6.38

Intel’s “Death Toll From Tornado Outbreak Reaches 300
Google site info:
17% basic, 82% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
56.6 Grade level: 9.92

’s “Saudi oil production and the Libyan conflict
Google site info:
1% basic, 78% intermediate, 19% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
55.9 Grade level: 9.68

’s “NASA technology looks inside Japan’s nuclear reactor
Google site info:
<1% basic, 29% intermediate, 70% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
24.5 Grade level: 12.06

Now that you get a sense of what these scores can tell you, will you be testing your blog? Let us know in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, a site that curates the best of the blogosphere, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Reach her on Twitter @kimber_regator and get free widgets for your blog from Regator.

How to Select Good SEO Keywords

This guest post is by Jeremy Myers of

The problem with good keywords is that they are usually not words at all. Good SEO keywords are usually phrases, that is, two or more words strung together in a saying or idea. When you enter keywords into your meta keywords section, don’t use words, use phrases.

Why? I’ll give you two reasons.

1. There are too many single keywords

While you can use single-word keywords, you will be vying for position with the millions of other websites that also use the same keyword.

Let’s say, for example, you are writing a post about how to prepare a manuscript for ebook publishing. While you could use the keyword “ebook,” you will be up against the millions of other blog posts about ebooks, even if they are about ebook readers, ebook sales, or ebook marketing.

By lengthening your keyword into a keyword phrase, such as “ebook publishing,” or maybe even “prepare manuscript for ebook publishing,” you significantly narrow the field of competitive websites, which allows your page to rise higher in Google Search results for that phrase.

Reason 2. Nobody searches for single keywords

When was the last time you searched for something on Google using only one word? That’s right: never.

If you are searching for ebook publishing tips, you don’t search for “ebook” or for “publishing.” Both are too broad. Instead, you search for the complete phrase, “ebook publishing tips.” If that is how you search for relevant sites, then that is also how you should write and prepare your own pages and posts so others can find your sites.

Boost relevance using Google Insights for Search

One helpful site I use to search for relevant keyword phrases to use in my blog posts is Google Insights for Search.

At the top of the page, you enter the single keyword or keyword phrase that you’d like to write a post about. You can choose options including a geographical area of the world you want to focus on, or which timeframe you are interested in, and then hit Search.

Google Insights

Here is a brief video from Google about what Google Insights can do.

Let’s look a little deeper into how you can use Google Insights for Search to write blog posts around a central keyword or phrase. Let us say, for example, you wanted to write a post on the “top blogs.” If you entered “top blogs” as a search term, and did not change anything else, you would discover that since 2004, the interest in searches related to “top blogs” has been steadily increasing.

This is good news! You have hit on a rising trend which might make a good blog post or, better yet, blog series.

Interest over time

But Google Insights also provides you with a list of related keywords and key phrases that people have been searching for on Google, as well as keyword trends:

Top searches

The phrase you originally searched for, “top blogs,” does not appear to be the best choice of keywords. Better and more popular phrases appear on the left, with breakout trends on the right. As indicated, the word “breakout” means that over the timespan chosen, this keyword has trended by 5000% or more.

Choose a few of the phrases or words that are most popular or are trending upward, and write your post focusing on those terms. As the picture below shows, you might be better off focusing on terms like “top blog,” “the top blogs,” “best blogs 2010,” or “best design blogs.”

However—and this is crucial—this search, while helpful, does not show recent trending. Remember, it is using the default search criteria, which go all the way back to 2004. You want more recent trends to understand current searches. So one thing you could do is adjust the timeframe filter, maybe to just the last 12 months, as shown in the picture below:

Reseraching "best blogs"

By adjusting the timeframe filter, you can get a bitter picture of what people are searching for more recently. As the following image shows, not much has changed except the top search phrase on the right. People want to know what the best blogs of 2011 were. Maybe you could write a blog post on that instead of the more generic idea of “best blogs.”

Refining the keyphrase

Let me give one final example.

Let’s say you are launching a blog about men’s health. Naturally, you want lots of visitors as soon as possible. So what sorts of posts would be best to start with? Let Google Insights for Search tell you. You would begin by leaving the keyword search field blank, and then change the filters to reflect a recent timeframe and the “Men’s Health” category.

Google Insights on "Men's health"

By doing this, you discover the most popular and upward trending search phrases on Google.

Google Insights search results

Men's Health top search results

It would appear that if you were launching a blog post on men’s health, you would be wise to do a series on vasectomies, androgen insensitivity, circumcision, and uncircumcision.

Hmm, I wonder why those search terms are popular? I’ll let you research that on your own … but not on your work computer—your boss may not understand!

Using Google Insights for Search to help select better keyword phrases will not automatically rocket your website to the top of Google Search results, but such a practice will help you write more targeted and focused articles, which over time will provide you with more readers.

Have you used Google Insights for Search yet? Share your experience in the comments below.

Jeremy Myers writes at You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

What is Google +1 … and What Does it Mean for Your Blog?

This guest post is by Jacob of

On March 30th, Google announced the release of its latest addition to the search engine, a small button called the +1. As with any Google announcement, there are always going to be implications—both great and not so great—for the average and professional blogger. Understanding the potential effect of Google’s new +1 feature can better help you prepare for the next six to twelve months of your blog.

What is Google’s +1?

In essence, Google’s +1 is a way for people to vote up the results in Google without making it appear like a Digg setup.

In other words, if someone likes the result that they found on Google, they hit the +1 button, then go on with their lives. When someone makes the same search that person made, they’ll see that there’s a +1 attached to the particular search result, and that, at least in Google’s eyes, will encourage them to click on that result.

Should you decide to allow your name to appear, people within your network will see that you, specifically, liked this result. But this last aspect is voluntary.

Why is Google’s +1 important?

For some time now, Google has been talking about how social media and social networking is going to directly tie in with search engine optimization. It used to be that we just built a bunch of links to rank for keywords. But, what I’ve noticed as a SEO is that other aspects are becoming increasingly important, including how a site deals with social media.

We can tie this increased reliance on social media to Google’s quest to provide the absolute best results possible. Here’s an example.

Darren Rowse runs this site about how to make money blogging. He’s got 173,000 readers via RSS, 128,000 Twitter followers, and nearly 23,000 people who like his Facebook group. In other words, he has a ton of readers.

Now, you’re Google and you’re trying to figure out who to position as the top results for the keyword “Professional Blogger.” Sure, someone might have a ton of backlinks, all containing that anchor text, to back up the claim that they deserve the number one result.

But how does Google know that those backlinks are genuine and not, say, purchased? It doesn’t.

The only way for them to truly know if that website is considered an “authority” is to see what people believe. And what better way to do that than track how Darren is doing in the social media and networking world?

The implications of Google’s +1 for bloggers

I look at this update as a powerful move for bloggers. Because we are taught that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket, we’ve all been focusing on social media, search engine optimization, and other aspects to bring traffic to our blogs.

Now that social media is, in part, connecting to search engine optimization, the amount of work that we do now doubles for both social media growth and search engine growth. But, there is still more to it than that.

Google will be releasing a button similar to the Facebook Like button. And if you click the +1 button, you’ll have automatically given your vote to that search result. You are saying to Google, “Yes, I like this.” And the search engine will remember that.

What this means, as a blogger, is that you need to produce the highest level of quality that you can. If others are getting that +1 and you’re not, are you going to be missing out on potential search rank? I’d say that you are.

If Google believes that it is important enough to create a new button and include it on their SERPs, they are definitely going to take it into consideration when trying to decide which site to put as number one. And, if it’s a difference of +1s that determine who should be first, I’d wager everything that the person with more +1 votes will get the number one ranking.

Since 34% of people click the first result first, and the second to fourth results get less than 34% of the clicks, total, it’s very important to get that number one rank.

How to get ready

Since it was just announced on the 30th, this is obviously a component that will take some time to roll out. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be getting ready for its complete implementation. Here are a few steps to getting prepared.

  1. First, ensure that you are publishing content that is high quality. No longer can you get away writing garbage content, or ripping content from other sites. Google’s Panda Update slammed people with this kind of content and no one will give you a +1 for it.
  2. Second, play around with it yourself when you start seeing it pop up. If you head over to Google’s experimental page, you can join the experiment and be put into the program to start working with it.
  3. Third, don’t start abusing it. One of the things that I think will play a major role in the success of +1 is who’s voting with it. If it’s the same few people, Google might not give those votes as much credit as other pages that get votes from random people. So, don’t start searching for every article you wrote to give it a +1.

Google’s +1 is not a social network, per se. However, it is a voting system that will give Google a better idea of what content people like and don’t like. And, when they release the button for inclusion on your web pages, you’ll have the chance to encourage your readers to +1 your site.

With Google’s love for social media growing, this is definitely an important step in your blog’s growth. How do you see +1 affecting your blog?

Jacob is a 22 year old SEO who works in Manhattan. When not managing SEO for a company, he works on his own network including He discusses topics such as link building and blog monetization. He is giving away a free ebook on how to get people to your website as well as how to keep them there. Be sure to follow him on Facbook.

Google’s Panda Update—the Lessons I Learned

This guest post is by Kevin Sanders, of

Things were going well over at my fitness blog. I was not an A-lister, but traffic was steadily increasing.

I was starting to get ranked for several lower competition keywords. Organic traffic was improving. Then suddenly my search engine traffic dropped dramatically.

I was apparently one of the casualties of Google’s so-called Panda update. I’m guessing it’s because about 10% of my website’s content was re-posted. I wasn’t just mindlessly copying and pasting a bunch of content for the sake of content. I only posted stuff I considered valuable to my readers—and I only ever post articles with permission of the original author. Regardless, it seems this was enough to have my blog slapped with the “content farm” label.

I’ve bowed to the Google gods and removed the “duplicate content.” Maybe I’ll recover my SERP rank, maybe not. Based on what I’m reading, no one has successfully recovered from the Panda meltdown once his or her site has been affected—I think it will take some time for Google to re-crawl sites reassess sites.

But I’ve learned some important lessons from this. Some lessons are new, while others just reinforce what I’ve already learned.

Lesson #1: Never become over-dependent on one source of traffic

The algorithm change has affected my site, but it hasn’t destroyed it. That’s because I use several methods for driving traffic to my site. Staying active on forums, for example, has been one of my favorite strategies I’ve spent a little more time on forums in lately in light of the Google issue.

Lesson #2: Blog as if no one is reading

Blog as if everyone is reading. Here’s what I mean: I love lifting weights, and fitness in general. I enjoy blogging about it, regardless of how many (or few) read my posts. This passion has kept me going in spite of the setback. But I always want to make sure I’m producing high-quality, useful posts—just as if thousands would be reading.

Lesson #3: Look to other bloggers for help

I’m not an SEO guru—not by a long shot! But there are several bloggers out there who are experts in this particular discipline. These blogs have been especially valuable in learning what adjustments I need to make to my site, and why. But this tip is not limited to search engine algorithms—you can apply it to almost any issue you have in blogging. Always be open to learn from your fellow bloggers.

Lesson #4: Try to keep an eye on search engine news and anything else that may affect your blog

I didn’t realize there was an update until after my traffic was affected. I later learned Google had already warned us about the coming changes—I just wasn’t paying attention. I’m not sure I could have changed the outcome, but I would have responded sooner if I had known.

Again, this is a tip that applies to other aspects of blogging—keep an eye on anything that has the potential to affect your blog. I’m not suggesting you be reactionary in your approach to blogging. But a general awareness of things can help you make informed decisions.

I’m still learning about websites/blogs you can use to follow search engine trends. I’ll give you a few suggestions, and maybe you can recommend others in the comments:

  • is a blog I’ve mentioned before. I like the simplified approach to explaining SEO, and this blog has a few articles about Panda.
  • SEO Roundtable is a very helpful blog I ran across while trying to make sense of all this Panda update stuff. This blogger actually keeps an eye on forums and gives you a feel for what bloggers and webmasters are talking about.
  • The Google Webmaster Help YouTube Channel is another one to keep your eye on. You’ll be able to hear direct answers from Google representative Matt Cutts here.

Hang in there if you’ve also been affected by the changes at Google. Learn from the challenges and you’ll become a better blogger in the end. If you have a Panda experience to share, or some tips to add, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Kevin is a missionary, author and fitness enthusiast. You can check out his fitness tips at You can read his devotional thoughts and personal reflections at

The Unsexy Truth about Finding Traffic for Your Blog

Last week I tweeted that I’d not checked my Google Reader account in a month. Well, it turns out that I’m not the only one.

Within minutes, I started getting tweets back from others saying that they rarely check their RSS feeds any more. Instead, people were finding content from other sources including:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • email subscriptions
  • apps (some drew in RSS feeds, but others were recommendation engines)

The decline of RSS?

It struck me just how much things have changed over the last two or three years.

It wasn’t long ago that bloggers were promoting their RSS feeds above all other methods of subscribing to their blogs. Email was dead and RSS was going to be the number one way that people would connect with you.

RSS does continue to drive traffic (at least, my Feedburner stats seem to indicate that) but as I look at my own statistics to see where people are arriving on my sites from, the percentage of those coming from RSS/Feedburner seems to be on the decline. The decline is only slight, but in comparison to the steady increases I saw a few years back, it’s been declining (as a percentage of overall traffic) for me, at least.

Fluctuations in social media traffic

What I do notice is that some sources of traffic fluctuate quite a bit from year to year.

For example, different social media sites have been rather inconsistent. Some months, Twitter can be good, but other months it can be down. Facebook, StumbleUpon, Digg, and other social media sites have provided great influxes of traffic at times; other months, they’re very low.

Some of the traffic levels will depend on the types of content we’re writing, but in other cases, it’s more to do with the rise or decline of the sites themselves (for example, Digg seems to have suffered a lot lately).

Overall, I’ve seen traffic levels from Twitter and Facebook rise, but this has varied from month to month, and despite quite a bit of effort in building my network, the percentage of my overall traffic coming from social media has been relatively small (less than 10%).

Steady growth in…

So RSS seems to be in decline (for me) and social media traffic has been fluctuating … but overall traffic has been continuing to grow.

So what is performing? Is there some new, sexy form of traffic that I’ve been focusing on?

I’m afraid not. If anything, the traffic sources that I’m seeing steadily grow have been a little, well, retro. There are two of them:

  1. Email. I keep seeing people talk about how they’re giving up on email, and that it’s a technology that’s dying, but I’m just not seeing that. Perhaps those at the cutting edge are giving it up, but “normal” people certainly aren’t. It’s increasing the traffic to my sites through newsletters, and continues to bring conversions when it comes to sales.
  2. Search Engines. Also regularly reported is that search engines are under threat from social media as more and more people use social media sites to search and find content to read. I’ve no doubt that there’s some truth to that, but search engines are by no means dead. Again, “normal” people still head to Google to find content. I’ve not put a lot of time into SEO or particularly targeted search traffic, but one of the side-effects of adding daily content to a blog is that you naturally build up the pages being indexed by search engines, so search traffic will naturally grow.


By no means am I suggesting that social media isn’t worth your time and effort, or that you should kill your RSS feeds and solely focus your attention on email or SEO. These observations are my own, from my four blogs, and they may not be typical.

I think the key take-aways for me are these:

  • Do some analysis of your own traffic and where it’s coming from. Doing this analysis myself today has challenged me to think about how much time and energy I do put into social media, and whether it’s really paying off as much as if I’d made other choices for my focus!
  • Don’t throw all your efforts into just the new, “sexy” forms of marketing (like social media). They have incredible potential, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
  • Keep in mind that the average internet user doesn’t always know and use new technology like the social-media savvy bloggers that you and I are. It’ll vary from niche to niche, but good old email and search engines might be good places to focus your efforts!

I’d love to hear some analysis of your own sites’ traffic sources. Have you seen any shifts in the sources of your traffic? Do they correlate with where you put your time and energy when it comes to marketing?

Do You Republish Other People’s Content? You’ll Want to Read This

Earlier this week Google’s “head of web spam”—Matt Cutts—posted on his blog that they’re implementing a change in their algorithm that impacts those that publish content from elsewhere on the Web.

The changes are all about ranking the original sources of content higher than those who scrape/republish/copy it. This has always been Google’s intent but increasingly some have been seeing scraped content ranking higher than original sources.

In Matt’s words:

“The net effect is that searchers are more likely to see the sites that wrote the original content rather than a site that scraped or copied the original site’s content.”

This has a couple of implications for bloggers of different types.

For those who produce blogs with original content, it hopefully means not being out-ranked by other sites reproducing your content (with or without permission). As someone who finds his own content appearing on other sites many times a day (many times without credit of the source), for me this is a welcome change.

For those who do use scraping (or syndication) strategies, this news might stimulate a rethink in that approach. I know there are times and places for syndication (particularly if you do so with permission), but this serves as a reminder that in most cases if you’re looking to build a prominent and successful blog, you need to produce something that’s not only relevant and useful, but is also unique.

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?