While scrolling through my RSS feed, I often notice that bloggers who write about books or writing tend to miss opportunities to take advantage of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. I’m guessing that’s because a lot of us don’t understand it, probably because we’re focused on writing.
While I don’t believe in writing for SEO, I do believe in tweaking what I’ve written to make it more SEO-friendly. And while I’m no expert, I think a lot about SEO in my new job because I write for the Web.
What does SEO mean? Search Engine Optimization sounds all fancy, but it’s really quite simple: Helping readers find your blog through search engines. Think about your habits as a Google user. What do you type in when you’re looking for a certain website? Now, think about how other users might find your blog. If they couldn’t remember your name or the name of your blog, what would they type in to describe it? When you turn that on its head, and think about how, as a blogger, you can help those people find your blog in a Google search, you’ve got SEO.
We tend to think of SEO as all or nothing. Either we understand it or we don’t; either we consciously use it or we don’t. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, some experts know how to optimize so well that blogs practically float to the top of Google’s results. But even taking a few simple steps can significantly boost your blog’s visibility.
Here are a few easy ways to improve your SEO:
1. Use keywords in your post titles. This is the one that most makes me cringe. Why? Because several writers who produce what I consider the best blogs for our community consistently make the mistake of using a title that doesn’t say what the post is about. I do this sometimes too, for variety. Plus, it’s more fun to write a creative title. But SEO-friendly headlines will serve you far better in terms of getting readers. That means including the keyword that best describes your post in the title of that post.
Ever notice that newspapers use different headlines in the paper than on the Web? That’s because in the paper, headline writers can be pithy, funny and clever — but those qualities don’t work for SEO. What works for SEO is having your post’s most important word in the headline. Does that make your Web headline less exciting? Likely. But will readers be able to find it through search? Yup. And in an Internet-driven world, that’s what matters.
When you’re writing your headline, it also makes sense to think about adding an additional keyword you may not have included initially, especially if you’re looking to target a certain audience. For example, I could’ve titled this post 6 SEO Tips. But it would be smarter to title it 6 SEO Tips for Writers or 6 SEO Tips for Bloggers. We often shy away from specificity, worrying that we’re narrowing our potential audience, but sometimes being specific actually increases your audience — and this is one of those times. Think about it: Would you be more likely to ask Google for “SEO tips” or “SEO tips for writers?” (And should I have given this post that title instead?)
A bonus tip: Including “How to” in your headline works wonders. It makes total sense; we’re always asking Google how to do this or that. Examples: How to write a press release for your book and How to land an awesome job after your career break.
2. Use keywords for the title of your blog, too. A friend asked me why, when she Googled her name, her blog wasn’t appearing at the top of the page. This was a result of a combination of factors, but the biggest one was that her name isn’t in the title or tagline of her blog. How is Google supposed to know it’s your blog if you don’t say so? It’s not just for branding purposes that you should include your name in the title or tagline of your blog. It’s also to help anyone who’s searching for you find it.
3. Be smart about your anchor tags. When you link to another website, avoid making the link say click here. We all do this sometimes (myself included), but it’s lazy. Google likes descriptive words for anchor tags, like Peggy’s Pet Place and Alpha Consumer. For more examples, check out my Writers’ Roundups, and notice the words I turn into links.
4. Use Google Insights. You don’t have to guess which keywords are popular; Google happily gives that secret away. Google Insights is a tool that lets you see which search terms within your niche are most popular. For example, in my day job, I offer advice for job seekers. So I used Google Insights to see which term more people Google: job search or job hunt. Job search far outranks job hunt. So guess which term I use for blog post titles?
Another example: I like to write about career breaks, but far more people search for “quit your job.” I learned that just now, while writing this post. So from here on out, I’ll try to use “quit your job” rather than “career break.”
5. Name your images. Remember that friend who wanted her blog to rank higher when someone typed her name into Google? I also suggested that we rename some of the photos on her blog. She’d included several head shots — a great idea to help readers feel like they know her personally — but those photos all had names like “herfirstname.jpg” or “myhaircut.jpg,” whatever she’d named them on her desktop. We renamed those images to include her full name, so the images, which linked to her blog, were more likely to pop up when someone Googled her name.
6. Write awesome content. The best thing you can do for your blog is to write awesome content. If you write well for your audience, you’ll naturally include keywords that are important to them. And creating awesome content has another SEO-friendly side effect: Other bloggers will link to you. Each time another website links to yours, Google gets the hint that you’re pretty great, which bumps up your blog in search results. This is why, as your blog becomes more popular, other bloggers will write to you asking for a “link exchange.” They’ll link to your blog if you’ll link to theirs. Don’t do it. Instead, link to blogs you think are valuable and write good content, and sooner or later Google will be on your side.
None of this is rocket science. It’s not going to make your blog the most SEO-friendly site out there. (You’ll need Rachael Butts for that.) But the cool thing about SEO — at least for those of us who focus on writing — is that the big changes, like the ones we’ve talked about here, tend to have a more significant effect than the little ones. Which means that thinking about this stuff is totally worth your while.