Blog SEO is about the foundation you need to gain good rankings in the search engines. Follow these instructions to easily make your site SEO friendly
SEO, or search engine optimization, consists of two parts; on-page and off-page SEO.
- The on-page search engine ranking factors are the things on your blog and on your pages.
- The off-page factors are the things outside your domain, e.g. links back to your site.
Because the on-page SEO is fully in your own hands, that is where you should focus first. The on-page SEO helps the off-page SEO as well, but we'll come back to that on later parts of this Blog SEO -series.
You'll learn the most important things for this one-time BLOG SEO on this post. The second part of on-page SEO is the continuous optimization, writing SEO friendly blog posts. The next post on the series, will cover that.
The on-page SEO on your blog is two-fold as well. The first part is the blog setup (domain name, blog configuration and plugins) and blog theme or template. In short, the things you only need to do and set once. When the setup is done, the blogging software and the theme takes care of most on-page factors of the blog.
BLOG SEO: Domain Name
First part of blog setup, and an important on-page factor for a blog, or any website, is the domain name and registering one. The domain name should contain relevant keyword phrase or keywords for your blog. For focused niche site, trying to rank for spesific keyword phrase, you pretty much must have the keyword phrase in the domain.
For a more longer term blogging, and your main blog, whatever it is, will over time rank for many different phrases and the importance of the domain name, SEO-wise, will go down. So if you already have a blog, and the domain name is not particularly good for SEO, don't worry, a non-keyworded domain can do well too, just take a look at Mashable.com for example, or one Zemalf.com :)
Anyway, here are the guidelines for choosing a blog name (that's good for SEO).
- keyword(s) in your domain name
- if possible, have a keyword rich domain name
- try to get short domain name
- a short and catchy domain name can be better than a keyword rich one
- the domain name can be long for niche sites
- niche sites must have the keyword phrase in the domain name
- for very focused niche blogs, the main keyword phrase is what will drive the traffic, and most of the blog will be optimized for that keyword phrase and closely related terms
- naming your blog
- name of your blog actually goes into blog settings and it's displayed by the theme or template, but the domain name is often the blog name as well
- your blog name and domain name are your brands, so think how you want to be seen online
If you're setting up a free blog, your blogs name will be sub-domain and you should use good keywords in it, even that the sub-domains don't have nearly the weight of the root domain, it still matters.
BLOG SEO: Installing the Blog
If you are setting up a self-hosted blog, you have to install the blogging software. This post won't go into detail on the actual install, but for SEO, there's one thing you need to know: Unless you have a site up already and you're adding a blog, never set up your blog in separate directory, e.g. example.com/blog/. If you're not sure, just install everything to the root, you'll save yourself lot of trouble in the future.
If you do decide to install the blogging software in separate directory, but want the blog to be at the root, configure the blog root to be at domain root. For example, you can install WordPress in its own directory, like example.com/wordpress/ but your front page is actually at example.com. You could in theory install the blog to a "keyworded" directory, but that is not necessary with the best blogging software, like WordPress, as the directory can be "faked" with the permalink structure if needed.
BLOG SEO: Settings
When you have the domain and you have installed your blog, it's time to configure it. You only need to do these once and the blogging software, theme or plugins take care of the rest and you can focus on the content. Some parts of the following are WordPress-spesific, but similar principles apply to other blogging software as well.
- Make sure the search engines can index your site
- If you want, you can wait until you're ready to "launch" your site,
- but for a new blog, just enable it right away
- in WordPress, it's in the Settings >> Privacy
- add your blog name to the settings
- of the domain name as well
- add the description of your blog to the settings
- this is also your blogs tagline
- not always displayed on the blog (although it should be)
- put main keyword phrase in the description, especially if your blog name is not keyword rich.
- use the best permalink structure for SEO
- not /?p=123 pages, but SEO-friendly links instead,
- e.g. /important-keywords/ or /***/keyword-phrase
- I recommend /%post_id%/%postname%/ for WordPress permalinks.
- not /?p=123 pages, but SEO-friendly links instead,
- install and activate a SEO friendly theme
- proper headline tags for different pages
- title tags customized for different types of posts and pages
Free blogs allow you to change the theme, so choose a SEO friendly theme from choices you have. Or tweak the theme a bit if that's possible with the service and ensure the title tags and headline tags are set properly (for example, the default templates in Blogger.com are absolutely horrible for SEO by default).
Note that most free blogs don't allow you to modify the permalink structure, so you can skip that (WordPress.com does allow editing). And overall, your choices are limited by the provider. With self-hosted blog, you'll have all the control (not to speak it will be your domain getting ranked, not theirs).
BLOG SEO: WordPress Plugins
Even if you have high quality theme, I recommend you use plugins to assist with SEO, and this is the one I recommend and use on all my blogs, just because they work so well and make things convenient.
All in One SEO Pack
- sets front page description as you like
- takes care of title tags for all the pages
- automatically generate meta keywords and descriptions
- allows editing these for every post too
In addition to All in One SEO Pack, for more advanced blog SEO:
- ensures you're not blocking search engines totally with the privacy setting
- helps to focus the attention of the search engines where they you want them to focus,
- e.g. on individual pages instead of front page, on front page instead of the subpages, etc.
- Robots Meta helps setting up nofollow and noindex definitions for different pages, for example:
- Index and try to rank with category-pages, but not tag-pages, or vice versa
- Nofollow all outgoing links on the front page
- Automatically nofollow links to the comment inside your blog
- set the meta tag verifications for Google Webmaster Tools, and
- manage your .htaccess rules and robots.txt from the Dashboard
If you need instructions, check my essential WordPress plugins -post.
UPDATE: There's a new plugin called WordPress SEO, which can take over any of the popular SEO plugins, like All in One SEO Pack, HeadSpace2 and PlatinumSEO, AND it also includes all the functionality of other SEO-boosting "Yoast plugins" like Robots Meta, RSS Footer and breadcrumbs. It is currently in beta, and I'm testing it to ensure it works well. So far, it's looking good, so keep an eye out for that one when it comes out of the beta-testing.
BLOG SEO: Theme and Templates
To identify whether your blog and theme is SEO friendly take a look at the HTML code of your
- Front page
- Individual post
- Individual page
- Archives, e.g. category-page
And look for the title tag, the H1 tag and the other headline tags.
On the homepage, pay attention to whether the blog name or description has the H1-tag. The H1-tag should be on blog name or description, depending which has the more relevant keywords. On individual posts, pages and archive-pages, the H1-tags should be on the post/page/archive -headline. Blog name and description can be in DIV-tag for example.
Your blog is not SEO friendly if
- the title tag on an individual page is something like: "Blog name: Post title"
- The post title should be at the beginning of the title tag
- It should be "Post title - Blog name", "Post title | Blog name" or similar
- the H1 headline tag is on your blog name or description in all those pages
- H1 headline tag should be on the post-/page-title on individual pages, and
- on the blog name or description only on the front page
- there is more than one H1 tag on one post or page
- Make sure there is only one H1 tag. Under the one H1 headline, you'll have a hierarchy of H2 and H3 tags as subheadlines, and possibly H4-H6, but usually H2-H3 is enough.
The theme is good for SEO, if the title tags are set properly and on front page, H1 is the blog name or description and individual post headlines are H2. In the best themes for Blog SEO, the sidebar headlines are not higher than H4-tagged, if that (as you rarely have the keywords you want to optimize for in the sidebar titles).
The higher the element is in the HTML code, more important it is for SEO. For example, things in the footer don't matter as much as the top of the page (in HTML, as that's what search engine reads). Also the sidebar is often below the actual content in the HTML, even that it's displayed on the side.
Any clutter above the H1 tag hurts SEO. Text above the main headline tag will dilute the effect of the headline tag and the beginning of the post. However, search engines learn to ignore the menus and other repetitive elements, but don't avoid adding lot of text in elements over the headline and post.
The loading time will become more and more important for search engine optimization, so keep that in mind as well, so use caching and set the essential .htaccess rules. Your blog should not be cluttered with "cool features" that slow it down and you shouldn't ruin it by filling your sidebar with all kinds of widgets and bright lights. On WordPress, only use the must-have plugins.
BLOG SEO: The HTML Tags
To understand the above and what makes blog theme SEO friendly, here's further explanation about the title tag and the different headline tags. For more information about the HTML tags, take a look at HTML for bloggers.
- title tag
- the most important on-page factor for SEO
- title tag is what you see on the top of the browser window
- the theme or template (or a plugin) should modify the title tag based on the page
- front page example: "blog name | tagline" or "tagline | blog name"
- single posts and pages: "post title | blog name"
- not "blog name: title"
- In WordPress, All in One SEO Pack or similar plugin takes care of the title tag by using the headline as title tag, and you'll also have the option to use a different title tag than the headline.
- Some themes are readily optimized, some are not.
- e.g. if your the title tag for a blog post is "blog name: post headline" your theme is not optimized.
- H1 headline tag
- second most important on-page factor
- only one H1 per page
- Homepage: H1 headline tag should be on the blog name OR description/tagline
- the other element can be in div-tag, using css or "blog-description"
- the headline and description are formatted via css-classes to ensure they look the same, whether displayed with H1-tag or div-tag
- Single posts and pages: H1-tag is on the post headline for single posts and pages
- blog name and tagline can both be in div-tags
- Archive pages: H1 headline should be on the the category-, tag- and similar headline.
- again, blog name and tagline in div-tags
- H2-H6 headline tags
- little significance, but help both your readers and search engines via proper structure
- post headlines on the front page should be in H2
- not H1, which is reserved for the blog name or tagline
- theme should have elements that don't matter much with H4-H6 headline tags, or no headline tags at all
- e.g. sidebar headlines could be H5, or no headline tag at all
Updates / Version History
- 2010-01-13: Post Published
- 2010-11-03: Added note about the new WordPress SEO -plugin, currently in beta-test.
All this might sound a bit complicated, but in the end it really isn't, as you only need to set these once, and if you have a good, SEO-friendly theme, you don't have to do much. All you have to do is check if the theme is good for SEO or not, as now you know how, and if it isn't find a new one, tweak it yourself or ask a developer to make change it.
Apart from the theme, you now know that the domain name and permalink affect SEO, you know that the permalink structure should be have keywords in it, not (just) numbers, if you can go and change it. You now to add the relevant keywords in the blogs name if possible, and also in the description (tagline).
The most important on-page factors are covered by the blogging software itself and properly designed theme. In fact, a normal user doesn't even have to understand SEO, as the blog and the theme do most of the job automatically. This is one of the reasons search engines love blogs.
Now that you know quite a bit about how to make your blog SEO friendly, you need to be familiar with keyword research to make the most of it, so you might be interested in reading how to find good keywords for your blog.
This was the first part of the series. On the next part, I'll cover the second part of the on-page SEO, writing SEO friendly blog posts. You'll then learn more about the headlines, links, anchor texts and how to write in a way that search engines will rank your posts high.
p.s. If you have any questions about SEO, feel free to ask them on the comments below, or just tell me what you thought about this post.