Optimizing Blogs for the Search Engines

  |  November 20, 2006   |  Comments

How can blog pages be both search engine-friendly and search-friendly?

I have to admit I've been avoiding the blog optimization topic for a long time. I'm not particularly fond of blogs for SEO (define) purposes. In my opinion, most SEO firms use blog optimization as a buzz phrase and solution for every Web site. I find it odd to see competitors list blog optimization in their proposals without looking at the big picture. As an SEO expert, I probably have the minority opinion.

However, I understand why SEO professionals like blogs. The blog software currently available is preformatted, making it easy for anyone with limited design skills to create a decent-looking blog. Of course, no one can avoid the SEO hype about RSS and link development opportunities.

In spite of my somewhat negative opinion of blog sites, one thing is true: I know how to optimize this type of site. But you'll find my approach is very different from others'.

Take a Step Back

I have a different perspective about blogs than most SEM (define)/SEO firms because of my background in user-centered design (UCD) and SEO. One of the many items I research (as part of both my SEO responsibilities and graduate school work) is the evolution of Web page design templates. With the appearance of blogs, suddenly the Web had a page type with its own unique characteristics.

My main question was, "How can blog pages be both search engine-friendly and search-friendly?"

On the other hand, RSS-junkie optimizers jumped on the blog bandwagon because they believed they could get near-instant link popularity from blogs without writing content. Never mind the content might not be keyword focused (very few people know how to write well using keyword phrases). Never mind most blog sites' information architecture is abysmal. Never mind archiving should be a part of any long-term link development plan for any type of site, particularly news or news-type sites.

RSS-junkie optimizers weren't looking at the big picture. Link development is only one building block of a search engine-friendly Web site.

Blog Link Development: Fact or Fiction?

Link development strategies tend to fall into one of two categories among SEO professionals: the solid foundation strategy and the cat-and-mouse strategy.

Link development as a solid foundation doesn't seem to be popular among SEO professionals. Part of the reason for this is a desire for a quick fix. Let me use an analogy for long-term link development.

In a previous life, I wanted a Ph.D. in Japanese literature and religion. During my studies, I kept encountering this book about religion in Japanese history, written by Joseph Kitagawa. Almost every journal article and book I used in my bibliography cited this author and book. This particular book is clearly a scholarly standard in this field.

Link development on the Web is supposed to be the same process. Experts consistently cite other reputable experts, making good content rise to the top. This citation, or link development, process isn't a fast process, but it is cumulative and long term. Link-development traffic spikes usually occur when content is featured in the news and media.

Enter the Web attitude of "I want it yesterday." No SEO client wants to be told that most high-quality link development takes time. With RSS, optimizers can get hundreds or thousands of links to a site in a shorter time. Great strategy, right?

Not necessarily. With RSS links, the links don't typically lead to the same URLs every day. People don't write about the same topic every day; therefore, the links' context and relevancy often changes every day. In other words, link development through RSS is more of a cat-and-mouse type of strategy, which isn't effective for long-term results.

Blog Optimization Tips

Below are some general guidelines for optimizing blog sites:

  • Keyword research. With blog sites, it almost seems as if the keyword research process is nonexistent. Before you categorize and headline blog content, use the keyword research tools offered at Yahoo, Google, and MSN Live to get a clearer idea of the terminology your site visitors might use. I understand that a Web log is just that -- a Web log. However, if you are using a blog for business reasons or want others to read your blog, you should make it easy for site visitors to find information. Using keywords is a part of this process.

  • Information architecture. Categorizing content via year/date provides very little contextual relevancy. On a blog or news site, this type of navigation label is an important characteristic that identifies the page type as a blog or news page. Nonetheless, make sure your blog's information architecture provides other contextually relevant means of navigating the site.

  • Link development. As I mentioned previously, with blog sites, the linkage properties will change very, very quickly. People who find a particular blog entry useful will want to link to that specific content. Review your Web analytics software and determine the blog entries people find most useful. Make sure the URL is archived and easy to link to. These entries are perfect for long-term link development.

Conclusion

Am I saying that blogs and RSS are a bad SEO strategy? Of course not. When done well, blog optimization generates great ROI (define). Before beginning any blog optimization campaign, however, be aware of the sales hype surrounding it. Link development is not as simple as some SEO professionals claim it is. Information architecture and archiving are very important. And remember, very few people understand how to effectively write in targeted keyword phrases.

Meet Shari at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago, December 4-7, at the Hilton Chicago.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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