(This is the fourth of a five-part series about SEO for hyperlocal blogs/web sites. The final installment will be published next Monday.)
In the last article, we went through a list of SEO tactics that apply to a single blog post. In this article, we’ll cover a variety of SEO tactics that can boost your hyperlocal blog as a whole; these are things I recommend you do on an ongoing, regular basis to help search engines better understand the value and content of your blog and posts.
I mentioned this at the end of the previous article, but there’s more you can do to boost the internal linking on your local blog. Here are a few:
Link Recap Posts
On my SEO blog, I do link recap posts every month. Here’s an example of a recent “Flashback” post where I link back to the best articles from the previous year. Other blogs do this more often; Lifehacker, for example, does weekly roundups linking back to their most popular posts (like this one), most popular downloads, and so forth.
Link recap posts are good for two reasons:
- They provide another in-article link to your previous posts. This encourages further spidering of your blog posts and gives them a little more internal “link juice.”
- They’re good for readers who may have missed your previous content for some reason.
Anything that’s good for readers and search engines is a win-win in my book.
Showing related posts on each of your articles serves essentially the same purpose as I described above regarding Link Recap Posts. When you reach the end of any articles here on Hyperlocal Blogger, you should see 1 to 4 related posts. Those are created by a WordPress plugin called Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.
YARPP requires a little bit of setup at the start, and you should plan on tweaking the settings until it starts showing the best possible old posts. You can also customize the display, which is very cool.
Make a “Best Posts” Category
The main benefit here is actually for readers. When someone new comes to your blog, you can do them (and you) a big favor by giving them quick access to the best local content you’ve written. It’ll help them learn immediately what you’re capable of and why they should keep reading.
The SEO benefit here is, again, additional internal linking to your old posts. But much more than that, showcasing your best content increases the chance that others will link to your old posts. If you have an in-depth interview with a local official about an important neighborhood topic, the easier others can find that interview, the more likely they’ll be to link to it.
In addition to writing great content, it’s smart to do what you can to acquire more inbound links (from other sites/blogs) on an ongoing basis. In the SEO world, link building is one of the many things that you don’t just do once and stop.
It’s impossible to sum up link building in just a couple paragraphs here. So let me link to a couple resources you should read for further information:
- The Ultimate Guide to Building the Perfect Link — This is an article I wrote in early 2007, but don’t let the age bother you. There’s a lot of explanation here about the different types of links (one-way, reciprocal, etc.) and which ones are most helpful for SEO.
- SEMMY Awards: Link Building — For three years, I’ve been organizing an annual awards for SEO-related content. This link points to the archives for the Link Building category, so you’ll find all kinds of great articles in there.
- (Now) 43 Local Blog Directories — I’ve been keeping this running list of local blog directories; these are places you can submit your blog for exposure and inbound links. In fact, you may want to browse the Promotion category here on Hyperlocal Blogger.
I’ll add this little piece of advice: If and when you find a blogger or web site owner in your area who’s very generous in giving out links, try to make friends with that person. It may help you get more links. (For example, now that I’ve been doing the “Hyperlocal News Roundup” posts for several months here on HLB, some readers have struck up email conversations with me, and those relationships are now at the point where they don’t mind emailing me links to their content for possible inclusion in my roundups.)
An entire post … heck, an entire series of posts could be written about the importance of analytics to a hyperlocal blog (or any blog, for that matter). By using analytics, you’ll quickly learn how people search for local content and, when you know that, you’ll become a smarter and better writer who’s able to target content both for readers and search engines.
What analytics software to use?
There are several choices for web analytics, but Google Analytics is what I always recommend to clients and what I use on our own blogs. It’s free and it provides more than enough information for bloggers. Some bloggers like to use SiteMeter and Google Analytics together, because SiteMeter provides some extra data about specific visits.
What analytics to watch?
Here’s a very general answer: I would think that most bloggers would want to closely watch:
- How much traffic comes from search — if you’re doing SEO well, the traffic you get from search engines should rise consistently or, if it’s already high, should remain steady.
- What keywords drive traffic — I’m not exaggerating when I say that my approach to blogging has changed because of what I’ve learned about how people search and what they search for.
- How people search for local content — and more specifically, do they search using city names? Neighborhoods? Something else?
What to do with your analytics data
As I’ve suggested above, you can — you should — use your analytics data to drive some of your blog content. It should help you a) get ideas for new content, and b) give you ideas for modifying old content.
One last item for this post about ongoing SEO, and it’s a reminder of something I wrote about previously: Topic Pages. These are useful when you find yourself blogging repeatedly about a single topic, like an annual event in your town. As I described in that previous post, the problem is that your old blog posts will be the ones that rank well in search engines and people will click through to your blog, only to land on outdated info. You can make a habit of manually linking from all of those old posts to the most current one, but that’s a lot of work.
A better idea is to create a Topic Page that uses a single URL every year, or every month, or however often the topic comes up. You update that Topic Page with all the new info, and then link to it as you write new blog posts about the event. Read the blog post I mentioned for more details about this powerful SEO tactic for local blogs.
Summary & Preview
SEO doesn’t begin and end when you write a blog post; it’s an ongoing process, and this article introduces some things you can do on a regular basis to continue growing your blog’s overall authority and trust.
Next week, I’ll stretch the definition of SEO a bit to include general blog/content promotion. As many great bloggers have learned, great content doesn’t get popular on its own; you have to promote it to increase visibility, attract links, and so forth. Look for that article next week.
In the meantime, if you have questions or comments about this article or the series in general, the comments are open.
(This is a guest post from Esther Brown, who serves as the Community Manager at Outside.in, where she has the pleasure of interviewing hyperlocal bloggers for the company’s weekly ‘Bloggers We Love’ series. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @outsidein or @estheribrown.)
When Matt suggested I write a guest post about “What Great Hyperlocal Bloggers Have in Common,” I was psyched: it’s always a pleasure to introduce a new audience to the amazing hyperlocal bloggers I get to interview each week for Outside.in’s ‘Bloggers We Love,’ series.
I was also stumped: I’ve interviewed bloggers from big cities and smaller towns and everywhere in between. They blog about everything from fashion to photography to politics, and each of them has a singular personality that shines through their online presence. To me, every single one of the ‘Bloggers We Love’ is unique: what could they have in common (beyond the obvious: they’re bloggers who’d love to have more hours in the day)? I began poring over my interview archives for commonalities, and I realized that it’s not all about what they do or where they come from, but rather it’s about who they are as people and how they choose to conduct themselves. They may be unique, but each of these dynamic characters share important character traits—and, while there are surely great hyperlocal bloggers who don’t exhibit one or more of these qualities, I’ve yet to meet one.
This one’s for all the hyperlocal bloggers out there who’ve demonstrated their greatness by showing us that…
10. They’re passionate. Tremendously passionate — they care deeply about their town, their subject matter and their readership. They value their community and respect it. They channel their passion into their blog, their personal relationships and all of their other, varied interests. Take Tasha Ball, for example, who’s fervent — evangelical, even — in her love for her hometown of Tulsa, OK. You can’t fake that kind of passion.
9. They’re dedicated. The hyperlocal bloggers I’ve come to know and love log some serious hours in the name of blogging — like Steve Sherron of the Monroe Scoop, who’ll spend hours editing video footage to get it just right. They’re hustlers: whether they’re blogging, organizing, hosting and attending events, Tweeting, posting updates to Facebook, adding photos to Flickr, you name it — they blog HARD.
8. They’re generous. They make a practice out of living generously, both online and off. They share the wealth when it comes to utilizing the social capital or publicity that their blog generates (like Jill Harrison of For the Love of Brooklyn who invites readers to contribute their photography to her site). They also share of themselves and their time, and they support and promote other bloggers by commenting on their blog posts, inviting them to guest post on their own blogs and tweeting about them.
7. They’re innovative. They’re always willing to try new things and step outside of their comfort zones. They like to pioneer new ways of doing things. Take Tessa Horehled of Atlanta’s Drive a Faster Car: for her, hyperlocal blogging meant skipping college and putting her career on the fast track. Creating your own possibilities in life? That’s innovative.
6. They’re omnipresent. They know how important it is to step away from the computer and get out from behind the keyboard. They don’t hide behind the anonymity that the Internet offers — rather, they use their blog and their online presence to build community and foster connections between people and things that matter to them. They understand the importance of networking and work to forge meaningful partnerships, both online and off. Like Christy Frink and Morgan Levy of Nashvillest, they’re accessible to their community, responding actively to their readers’ comments and interacting with them at local events.
5. They’re students. Top-notch hyperlocal bloggers —- like Liz Stambaugh of What’s to Eat, Baltimore? —- know that there’s always something else to learn, and they embrace this fact by constantly seeking out knowledge from their peers and mentors. They also don’t take themselves too seriously, and they ask for help when they need it.
4. They’re do-ers. They make things happen, get stuff done, execute -— like Jay Sears of My Rye, who rallied his community to secure a 4-way stop sign for his neighborhood. No matter what you call it, the fact is that great hyperlocal bloggers are the kinds of people you want on your team.
3. They’re fearless. They aren’t afraid to make a splash or write something that might raise a few eyebrows. Take Steve Shanafelt and the team at Spartanburg Spark: they ignited controversy by coming out against allowing concealed weapons on school property in their South Carolina city. Shanafelt and his team show us that hyperlocal bloggers worth their salt are willing to take a stand about the things that matter to them.
2. They’re valuable. Dana Freeman of Find and Go Seek in Burlington, Vermont, started her blog after realizing that there was a real dearth of family-friendly information available to parents in her area. The best hyperlocal bloggers listen to their community, pay attention to what it wants and needs, and provide content that fills the void.
1. They’re resilient. The most impressive hyperlocal bloggers I’ve gotten to know have responded to the challenges that they’ve encountered with ingenuity, bravery and aplomb. Take Corey Jackson of Downtown Lynn, for instance: when a local paper turned down his advertising dollars, he turned things around by getting others to write about the snub — and his traffic went through the roof.
Are there other qualities you think a great hyperlocal blogger should possess? Or, do you have suggestions for someone Outside.in should profile for our ‘Bloggers We Love’ series? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.
(This is the third of a five-part series about SEO for hyperlocal blogs/web sites. Future editions will be published on the next two Mondays.)
In the first two articles of this series, we’ve introduced SEO and covered some of the most important SEO decisions that should be thought about before you start blogging. In this article, we’ll assume you’ve addressed those issues, your blog is setup correctly, and you’re ready to start writing. Before you actually put fingers to keyboard, though, here’s what you need to know about optimizing your blog and your blog content.
First, a disclaimer: When it comes to writing individual blog posts, I don’t really care about SEO 100% of the time. Some of the blog posts I write (on all of my blogs, not just the hyperlocal ones) don’t need SEO; some are written fully for my readers and I don’t care or expect them to ever rank well in search engine results. So, please understand that, when I talk about optimizing an individual blog post, I realize you may not need to do that on everything you publish. With that in mind, let’s get started.
Keyword research helps you understand what people search for at Google, Yahoo, and Bing, and how they search — the words they use. This is important because it helps you write the best headlines and blog posts possible.
Example: You might write a really great blog post about tourist attractions in your hometown — let’s say you live in Portland — and your headline is “Top Tourist Attractions in Portland.” And in your blog post, you use that phrase a few times more because you want your article to rank well when people search for “tourist attractions in portland” and phrases like that.
If you had done some keyword research, though, you would’ve learned that many more people search for “things to do in portland” than for “tourist attractions portland.” Have a look:
As you can see, more people are searching for “things to do” in Portland, so your post would have a chance at more search engine traffic if you had used that phrase, instead.
How to Research Keywords
There are a number of keyword research tools online: Some are free, some aren’t, and some have both paid and free options. Here’s a quick list of places you can do some keyword research:
- Keyword Discovery — as of this writing, offers a free trial as well as paid options
- Wordtracker — ditto
- WordStream — ditto
- Google AdWords Keyword Tool — free, may soon be changing to a new URL
- Google’s Search-based keyword tool — free
- Wordtracker Keyword Questions — cool tool that shows what questions people ask on search engines; great way to get content ideas; Keyword Discovery offers a similar product
- Google Insights for Search — free, lets you see keyword trends based on geography
That last one could be especially important for local bloggers since you can see data from specific cities and regions.
Important: When doing keyword research, don’t worry about the exact numbers you’ll see; focus instead on the relative popularity and trends of certain keywords.
SEO for Blog Posts/Articles
Let’s move ahead on the assumption that you know the words you’ll want to include in your blog post, and you’re ready to start writing.
Optimizing Article Headlines
The most important on-page SEO signal is the page title, also known as the “title tag.” In WordPress, and in other blog platforms I presume, the headline you use for your article also becomes part of the page title. The page title also becomes the large, clickable link when your content shows up in search engine results, like this
The headline of that article is “Planning A Hyperlocal Blog Strategy.” It also became the page title; thus, it also shows as the clickable link in Google (and Yahoo, Bing, etc.). It’s very important that you include your primary keyword(s) in the headline of your article, and also try to write your headline in such a way that it will catch a searcher’s eyes and make him/her want to click the link on Google.
How to Optimize Article Headlines
The default WordPress installation will make your page title show up with the blog name first, followed by the article headline. Like this:
Blog Title : Article Headline
That’s generally not good for SEO. You want your headline to appear first in the page title. There are several WordPress plugins that will let you change the order, such as All in One SEO Pack or SEO Title Tag (and others).
Some plugins will let you customize the page title so it says whatever you want. This can be a very handy and effective way to target multiple terms — one in your article headline and another in the page title. For example, a couple years ago on my other blog, I wrote an article that I targeted toward the phrases “reputation management” and “small business.” The article headline is Why Reputation Management Matters for Small Businesses, but I used a plugin to write a custom page title. I switched around the order of those keywords, so that the page title is “Small Business Reputation Management: Why It Matters.” And here’s how it looks in Google’s search results:
As you can see, I targeted two versions of the primary keyword — one with the visible article headline and the other with a custom page title. This is an effective way to optimize your posts to target similar keywords.
Optimizing Article URLs
The URL is another signal that search engines use to learn what a page/article is about. Google has written about the benefits of short URLs. Search engines and humans both prefer shorter URLs over really long ones with a lot of hyphens and words. WordPress makes it easy to optimize your URLs before publishing:
Just click that “Edit” button and you’ll be able to rewrite the URL however you want. My advice is to eliminate as many unnecessary words as possible and leave the primary keywords, like I did in that reputation management post I mentioned above. See how the URL (in green) consists only of the primary keywords:
You should do the same with your hyperlocal blog posts.
You can ignore the keywords meta tag completely. No search engine uses it. But you may want to spend some time on the meta description tag; it doesn’t have any impact on rankings, but it may show up as the snippet of text below your listing on a search results page. A good snippet can encourage searchers to click through and visit your blog.
But the description tag won’t always be used as the snippet — it depends on the search query and other factors. In the reputation management example above, you’ll notice that I did write a custom meta description tag, but I don’t do that with all my posts. I’m often happy to let Google pull some text from the article itself to show as the snippet.
If you use WordPress, there are a variety of plugins that will let you write custom meta description tags.
Optimizing the Post (e.g., Keyword Density)
The first rule of writing blog articles should always be to focus on writing for humans. Your copy has to be readable and understandable. At the same time, you should include keywords in the article to help search engines understand what you’re writing about. But you don’t want to overdo this. There’s no such thing as a perfect keyword density. Don’t worry about counting how many times you use a certain keyword. Instead, read your post aloud before you publish — you should be able to tell if you’ve overdone it or not. Mention your keywords but don’t overdo it.
A striking image can help your articles succeed on social networks; people regularly share content that includes a unique or interesting photo. But images can also help with SEO. Here are a couple quick tips related to using images in your blog posts:
- Use the keyword in the file name of your image, like main-keyword.jpg.
- Use the keyword in the ALT text of the image, but don’t overdo it.
- If your blog template supports captions, use the keyword in the caption of your image. If not, it helps to have the keywords appear in close proximity to your image — again, without spamming/overdoing it.
I’ve explained already that the anchor text of links are a strong SEO signal, and this includes internal links — these are links on your blog that point to other pages/articles on your blog. For example, when I link to my old article with the phrase legal resources for bloggers, it helps that article rank for the keyword phrase I used in the link — the anchor text.
Use internal links (to your old blog posts) generously, but don’t overdo it. No one likes to read an article where every third word is a link back to some old article. Do it when it makes sense for your readers, but use keywords in the anchor text of those internal links to help search engines associate the old article(s) with the correct keywords.
Summary & Preview
Chances are that you won’t care about SEO with every post/article you write. But when you do, it’s important to make sure you’re using the right keywords and that you’ve optimized your post headline and the page title. You can also optimize the post URL, images, internal links, and the other things listed above to help with SEO.
Optimizing individual blog posts is just the beginning, though. There are a variety of things you can do to further optimize your blog for long-term trust and authority. In the next article, I’ll share some ideas for ongoing blog SEO. Look for that article next week.
In the meantime, if you have comments or questions about this article or the series so far, the comments are open.
(This was the third of a five-part series about SEO for hyperlocal blogs/web sites. Future editions will be published on the next two Mondays.)
(This is the second of a five-part series about SEO for hyperlocal blogs/web sites. Future editions will be published on the next three Mondays.)
One of the common mistakes business owners make is waiting until after their web site is developed and launched to think about SEO; it needs to be taken into account during the site design and development process.
Similarly, a hyperlocal blogger should be thinking about SEO from day one. Here’s a look at several SEO considerations you should decide on long before any blog posts are written and published. If you’re already an established blogger, many of these ideas and tips can still be applied.
Your Blog Platform
WordPress is a very SEO-friendly blog platform in its own right; the availability of plugins to further optimize a WordPress blog makes it almost a no-brainer to use WordPress as your blog platform of choice. I would avoid Blogger at all costs for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it doesn’t provide nearly the same opportunity for SEO success as WordPress does. There are other options that, to be frank, I’m not as familiar with — content management systems like Drupal and Joomla, as well as hyperlocal platforms like Neighborlogs. If you choose to investigate these options, be sure to compare the SEO capabilities to WordPress when reviewing the other pros and cons of each platform.
Your Domain and Blog Name
If you haven’t chosen a domain yet, I’d strongly recommend you find a domain with the name of your city, town, neighborhood — whatever geographic area you cover. The domain name and name of your blog are both signals to search engines of what your blog is about. And keep in mind what I said in part one about anchor text: As others link to your blog, they’ll likely use your blog name and/or URL as the anchor text. If you have your city name in the domain and blog name, that will lead to a lot of good anchor text and your blog will be more likely to rank highly for phrases that have your city name.
Your Blog URL
But some might choose or need to attach a hyperlocal blog to an existing web site. This advice is for bloggers in that situation.
Best: Setup your blog in a subdirectory of the existing site, such as yourdomain.com/blog. This is best because all links to your blog will also benefit the main domain/site.
Okay: If you must, it’s okay to setup the blog on a subdomain, such as blog.yourdomain.com. This is not ideal for SEO because the main domain will benefit less from inbound links, but it’s not the end of the world.
Somewhere in between: A third option for bloggers with existing sites is to setup the blog on a completely separate domain. This is what my wife and I did in 2008 when we setup our four hyperlocal blogs. Cari already had a general real estate blog at blog.carimcgee.com (now at www.carimcgee.com/category/blog/), and we specifically wanted to target new blogs to each of the four main cities in our area: Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, and West Richland. Most people don’t setup four blogs at a time, so this was a unique situation. We chose to use separate domains, in part, for SEO reasons.
- Pros of our decision: With each blog, we’re able to target specific keywords for each individual city. We also get the benefits mentioned above about having a blog’s name and domain that use the name of the city. While search rankings always fluctuate, our blogs have generally ranked well and get a fair amount of search traffic. (As an SEO, I’ll always think we could do better!)
- Cons of our decision: It’s much more time-consuming to manage four separate blogs, much more time-consuming to worry about SEO for multiple blogs, to setup Facebook pages for each blog, etc. Think about it: Everything you do on your one blog, we have to do four times over. It can be a pain in the arse to say the least.
Important: If you have an existing and established blog, I would probably not recommend you change the domain or URL setup. Doing so is like starting from scratch, even if you correctly setup a 301 redirect from your old domain to a new one. In the SEO world, changing domains or URL structures on an existing, established site is usually just asking for a big headache.
In WordPress, you can and should customize what your URLs look like. I don’t know how other blog platforms handle this, so I’ll be speaking to the process WordPress uses. In your Admin area, go to Settings >> Permalinks. WordPress will default a new blog installation to use date-based URLs, like this:
For SEO reasons, you want to do it differently. Choose “Custom” and then input /%postname%/ in the text field. Here’s a screenshot of how it looks for this blog:
This will remove the date from your URLs and you’ll have nice, clean URLs like this:
Both users and search engines prefer short, descriptive URLs, and this is the best way to accomplish that during your blog setup. There’s more you can do with your URLs when writing individual blog posts, and I’ll cover that in the next article in this series.
Categories or Tags
In WordPress, you’ll be able to structure your blog with categories, tags, or both. Making this decision requires you to look into the future a bit and imagine what your blog will look like in six months or a year. Here are my thoughts on that decision:
Categories: This is my preferred method for hyperlocal blogs because it creates an opportunity to target strong keywords as categories. On all of our blogs, we use a similar set of categories: Business, Schools, Events, Real Estate, News, etc. So, our category pages look like this:
Notice how, in each case, we have a good keyword in the name of the page, in the anchor text of inbound links, and in the URLs, too. I chose to use Categories at the beginning because I looked ahead and envisioned us writing consistently on certain topics; those became the categories.
Tags: I use tags, not categories, on my personal blog, MattMcGee.com. I did this purely as a test. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Even when you don’t use categories, WordPress will default all your posts into the “Miscellaneous” category that it requires to function. So, you get categories even when you don’t want them.
- It’s very difficult to keep track of all the different tags you’ve used on previous blog posts. On my blog, for example, I’ve used “photo” as a tag, and “photos” as a separate tag. I don’t remember if I did that on purpose, but I do remember having to go in to my blog admin and clean it all up. Tags open up the door for a messy blog structure.
Both: I’ve never done both on a blog, but this seems like a recipe for disaster. You’ll end up with tag pages that duplicate your category pages, or vice versa. I’d highly recommend against this, but if any readers want to make a case that it works, feel free to do so in the comments.
This isn’t so much an SEO issue as it is a spam-management issue. And if you don’t manage spam on your blog, then it can become an SEO problem. I’m a big believer in allowing comments on a blog with as little moderation as possible. But a completely free and open commenting system will eventually attract all kinds of spam, and you’ll end up wasting a lot of time deleting spammy comments. My suggestion: Require commenters to have their first comment manually approved. This will keep probably 95% of all spam comments off your blog; you can zap them before anyone sees them.
This is a must. Web analytics are a great tool to help you learn SEO and improve your blog. A good analytics program will help you understand
- what blog posts were the most successful,
- what keywords and phrases bring people to your blog
- where your visitors come from
- what other web sites and blogs send you the most traffic (including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter)
- much, much more
Before you launch your blog, make sure you’ve setup some web analytics software to track what happens after you launch. Google Analytics should be plenty good enough for most local bloggers.
Google Webmaster Tools
It’s also a good idea to connect your blog to Google’s Webmaster Tools. This is a suite of products that helps you understand how Google sees your site. And with Google owning about 70% of the search market, it’s good to know how Google sees your site.
Technical SEO Considerations
There are many technical considerations where SEO is concerned, but most are outside the scope of this series and many aren’t too applicable to hyperlocal bloggers using one of the main blog platforms. But there are two things I’d like to address:
Domains: www or non-www?
When setting up your hosting account, you’ll probably be asked to choose whether you want your blog to be reachable at www.yourdomain.com, yourdomain.com (without the www), or both. The only wrong choice here is “both.” Choose either to use “www” or not use it, and then make sure the other option uses a 301 redirect to hit your domain. In other words, if you use the “www” version, there should be a 301 redirect setup on yourdomain.com to automatically send visitors to www.yourdomain.com. Chances are good that your web host takes care of this for you during account setup, but you should double-check.
XML Sitemaps are not necessary
If you look, you’ll find a lot of advice telling you that XML sitemaps are a must for SEO; that’s not true. I’ve never once created an XML sitemap for any of my blogs or web sites, and these sites are not having any trouble where SEO is concerned. A strong blog that regularly publishes quality content and attracts a lot of inbound links will have no trouble getting its content spidered and indexed — the two main benefits of an XML sitemap.
XML sitemaps are generally not a bad thing, although I’m aware of two occasions — one involving a client — where Google stopped crawling/indexing blog content and it was only after we removed the XML sitemap that things improved.
Summary & Preview
There are a number of important SEO-related decisions that should be made long before you start writing blog posts. But even if you have an existing blog, many of the above tips still apply: setup analytics if you haven’t already; use Google Webmaster Tools; keep comment spam off your blog, etc.
In the next article, we’ll dig deep into your blog’s content and how to optimize it with SEO best practices in mind. I’ll talk about keyword research and usage, writing headlines, customizing URLs, and much more. Look for that article next week.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments on this article or the series so far, the comments are open.
(This was the second of a five-part series about SEO for hyperlocal blogs/web sites. Future editions will be published on the next three Mondays.)
I just read an article and was so thrilled with how great it was that I never even noticed when it was published: three years ago. Don’t let that stop you from reading. It’s still just as relevant today, perhaps even more so given the growth and interest in the hyperlocal blog/site, community news space.
It was written by Mark Potts, founder of Backfence — a hyperlocal news community site that was probably ahead of its time and shut down before this article was written. He shares some real down-to-earth wisdom for anyone running and thinking about starting a hyperlocal site:
- Engage the community.
- It’s not journalism—it’s a conversation. (Actually, it’s whatever the community wants it to be.)
- Hyperlocal content is really mundane.
- Trust the audience.
- Focus on strong, well-defined communities.
- Leverage social networking.
- There is most certainly a robust hyperlocal advertising business.
- Keep costs down.
- Partner with a media company or some other distribution source.
- Hyperlocal works. You need patience and hard work to embed yourself in a community and become a vital cog in the life of that community. But when a community comes together, it’s striking.
- Hyperlocal is really hard. Don’t kid yourself. You don’t just open the doors and hit critical mass.
The article goes deeper into each of those points above, so go read it; you’ll be glad you did.
Mark Potts, by the way, is currently the CEO of GrowthSpur, a company that offers a variety of tools/services to help hyperlocal sites make money.
(This is the first of a five-part series about SEO for hyperlocal blogs/web sites. Future editions will be published on the next four Mondays.)
Most SEO basics are the same from one site to the next and one industry to the next. Optimizing page titles, building links, etc., are important for everyone, for example. But blogging — and hyperlocal blogging in particular — carries with it some unique challenges and opportunities.
In this series, I’ll cover both the basics of SEO in general, as well as the specifics as they apply to hyperlocal blogging. But first, for readers who find this without having read Hyperlocal Blogger before, a little background about me.
Who are you?
I’ve been doing SEO since about 1999/2000, much longer than I’ve been a local blogger. I’ve done SEO consulting for large companies like Target and The Weather Channel, as well as small businesses like a dermatologist in northern California and a mom and pop selling things online from their garage. I’m a regular speaker at SEO/marketing conferences and have been interviewed by a variety of traditional media outlets. You can learn more about me on my SEO blog, Small Business Search Marketing.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process that involves tweaking your web site (optimizing it) for maximum visibility in search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. I call it a “process” because SEO is an ongoing thing, not something you do once and forget about. And for me and many SEO professionals, it’s about more than just search engine rankings. It’s a process that targets two audiences: search engines and humans.
A search engine wants to know two main things about web pages:
- what the page is about, and
- how important/valuable the page is
SEO is about knowing how to make both of those things obvious to search engines, while simultaneously creating value for human visitors to your site. In that sense, SEO is both an art and a science.
What’s the goal?
The goal of SEO — indeed, of any kind of marketing — is to create trust. You want search engines to learn to trust your blog as an authority in your area. When they do, your blog posts will rank highly in search results and you should get more traffic to your blog. You also want human visitors to trust your blog as an authority in your area. When they do, they’ll visit more often, they’ll bookmark your blog, they’ll spread your content on their favorite social networks, they’ll link to your blog posts and recommend your blog to others who live in your area. Both search engines and humans reward trusted sites and blogs. Good SEO helps you create that trust.
Search engine algorithms are exceptionally complicated and change on a regular basis. Google says it uses more than 200 factors in determining how to rank pages, and it makes hundreds of changes to its algorithm every year. No one outside of the search engines knows the exact formula, but we know there are some very important signals that influence how your blog is seen by search engines and how it earns trust.
Signals You Control
As a blogger, you control many of the signals that search engines rely on, such as:
- the name of your blog
- the categories or tags you use
- the titles of your blog posts
- the content of your blog posts
- even the alt text you use on images can serve as a small signal for search engines
- some links to your blog, such as links you get from blog directories and other local directory sites
- internal links you create — links on your blog to other pages/articles on your blog, like the link I’ve just created on the phrase “blog directories”
Signals You Don’t Control
There are some signals that you don’t control, but still serve to tell a search engine what your blog is about and how important it is, such as:
- links to your blog from other sites/blogs, and the “anchor text” of those links
- what other sites/blogs say about your blog when writing about it and/or citing your content
- social media sharing of your content
- feed subscriptions
- click-thru data in Google & Google Blog Search
Of this list, the first two signals tend to carry much greater significance than the rest. Inbound links to your blog, in particular, are a very strong SEO signal. The quantity of inbound links is important, but the quality of inbound links matters even more. Links to your blog from highly trusted and locally relevant sites, for example, would be a very strong signal in your favor. The anchor text of links is also extremely important. In the previous paragraph, I used the anchor text “blog directories” for the link to an old blog post. That tells search engines that the page I’m linking to is about blog directories. If enough quality, trusted sites link to that article with the same anchor text, it has a chance to rank highly for the phrase “blog directories.”
The other three signals are likely to play a small role, too. Consider that Google owns the number one RSS feed syndication service, the number one feed reader, and has mountains of search and click-thru data from its users; it would be silly for them to completely ignore such obvious signs of popularity and value.
Summary & Preview
That’s a semi-brief introduction to the basic concepts of SEO. If nothing else, keep in mind that your goal as a blogger is to make it obvious (via various signals) to search engines what your posts are about and why they have value, while at the same time writing for human visitors.
In part two of this series, I’ll talk about the importance of doing SEO on your blog long before you begin writing posts and share tips for setting up your blog for the best long-term SEO success. Look for that article next week.
In the meantime, if you have questions or comments on this article, the comments are open.
(This was the first of a five-part series about SEO for hyperlocal blogs/web sites. Future editions will be published on the next four Mondays.)