Printable Promotions has only had a blog on its site for a month or so. But it's already made an impact on the company's search engine rankings. 'I did a Google search on ‘reusable folding grocery bag,'' says Stacie Long, the company's operations manager. 'The YouTube video of our product that we posted on our blog came up third or fourth.'
For many small business leaders, blogging can engender feelings of envy and frustration -- envy over legendary blogs that draw thousands of daily page views and frustration from the sneaking suspicion that no one out there is reading their own postings. Search engine optimization (SEO) can change that.
'Blogging is a great way to drive users to a site,' says Kelly Cutler, CEO of Internet marketing firm Marcel Media. 'It can also help with stickiness, which is an important goal these days. It's too easy for users to bounce away from your site before they've done something valuable like sign up for your newsletter or fill out a form.'
How can you improve your blog's ranking on search engines? SEO is a complex science, but here are some principles that will help:
Make it crawler-friendly
Search engines dispatch software called crawlers (or sometimes 'spiders') to roam the World Wide Web in search of sites that might be of interest to searchers. One important SEO strategy is to have your blog be easy for the crawlers to find.
'Make sure the software is set up so that posts don't get buried ten levels deep in your site,' advises Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings, an SEO service. 'They should be easy to reach so search engines can crawl them.' Whalen also advises using SEO-friendly blog software. 'WordPress is probably one of the best for that,' she says.
It's also smart idea to include links in your posts, both to your own website's product pages or other information, and to outside websites as well. Why? It's links to your site, not from your site, that drive search engine rankings -- but, Whalen notes, one often begets the other. 'It's a good way to get linking back and forth,' she says. 'Other site owners usually check who's linking to them, so they get to know who you are.' When linking to outside sites, make sure the links open in a new window or tab so that users don't automatically leave your site whenever they click on a link.
To keyword or not to keyword
Since all searches start with keywords, it seems obvious that including the pertinent keyword as many times as you can in a blog entry should help bring traffic. Not so fast, experts say. 'Don't force keywords into content where they wouldn't normally be,' Cutler cautions. 'That creates a bad user experience, which means people won't use your blog, and then Google won't index your blog.' In fact, Marcel Media usually refrains from even telling client bloggers what the top keywords are for their sites. 'Blogs are usually better done without that kind of research in mind,' Cutler says.
Instead, she tries to identify blog topics where preferred terms come up naturally. 'One of our clients is a hospital and we've identified specific areas they want to focus on. We've invited doctors who specialize in those areas to participate in blogging. We're not trying to build content around keywords, but because those doctors work in those areas, we know the keywords will be used.'
If you do decide to do keyword research, Whalen recommends Keyword Discovery or Wordtracker to find what keywords your customers are searching. She also notes that Google's AdWords offers information on keyword searches that is free to use, even if you're not an AdWords customer.
But, she advises, don't just go for the top terms. 'Very competitive phrases probably have many sites optimizing for them,' she says. 'So you want a phrase that's less competitive, but still has some people searching it.' If that phrase is specific to your business's unique value proposition, optimizing on it can be a very powerful tool.
Content is king
'A mistake I've seen a lot is that companies think Web 2.0 is like regular advertising space,' Long says. 'They treat it like a billboard.'
Instead, make sure you're providing content that will entertain, amuse, or inform your readers. One way to build traffic is to comment or react to the news of the day as it affects your particular business. 'If you're a bookseller, you might blog about the current lawsuit by J.K. Rowling to block publication of a Harry Potter Lexicon,' Cutler says. If you use this strategy, she adds, 'Keep it short, to the point, and keep it opinionated. Don't just republish news.'
Understanding the connection between blogging and search rankings can inspire busy executives to take the time to blog, Cutler notes. 'What I like about blogging is that it stays in the spirit of the Internet, but lets you accomplish SEO goals in the background,' she says. 'Content and linking are two of the most powerful Internet marketing tools --and blogging lets you use both in a non-advertising way.'