*Welcome bloggy friends! I’m very excited to introduce you to a new series about SEO, and also to a great friend of mine. Jeff is a SEO expert (really not kidding- this guy knows his stuff!), and I’m lucky enough to be able to pass on some of his knowledge though our new SEO Boot Camp for Bloggers. So sit back, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and let’s wrangle that SEO monster.*
Building a Solid SEO Foundation
Welcome to boot camp bloggers! I’m not going to lie to you; boot camp can be Hell. But with great sacrifice comes great reward. I remember graduation day from Marine Corps boot camp like it was yesterday. All the hard work, the sweat and the pain was worth it just to cross the parade grounds and show people the transition I had made.
After spending the next few weeks in my SEO Boot Camp you may feel a similar sense of pride.
Anyone can build a blog and toss content up so hopefully people will read it. Having a well-optimized blog that can rank well in the search engines, however, is a testament to hard work and sacrifice.
Fortunately for you, I promise not to yell and scream at you over the next few lessons (that would be a bit weird). I am going to ask you to do some grunt work though, and it’s not going to be easy. Search engine optimization is a process. It takes time. It takes effort.
SEO takes commitment.
Are you ready? Let’s get started.
What is SEO?
First, let’s answer the question: What is search engine optimization (SEO)?
According to Wikipedia, SEO is the process of improving the visibility of a website or web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results.
That’s a nice, pretty definition but it doesn’t really tell us what SEO is. This is because search engine optimization cannot be summed up in a single sentence. There are a number of things you can and should do both on-page and off-page to help ensure your blog is search engine friendly and will rank well for your targeted key phrases.
Actually, the fact that there is so much involved in SEO is one of the main reasons bloggers and other site owners find it so intimidating. You can be smart when optimizing your site, however, and this will make the process of SEO much less daunting. So where do we begin? Just like the military does with boot camp, we are going to start by building a solid SEO foundation.
The Foundation of Search Engine Optimization
Before you can write great content, you have to make sure that your website will let the search engines crawl and find your website and the content on it. Following are 8 things you should do before doing ANYTHING ELSE.
“Oh no,” you say. “I already have an existing blog.” Fear not; all of the following SEO steps can be implemented at any time.
- Commit to your domain and get it registered. Before setting up your blog you will want to settle on a domain name and register it. There are a lot of ways to get free domains, and many people are drawn to the easy set-up of a blogname.wordpess.com domain. The problem with free domains is that the hosting company could change your name or shut the domain down at any time (two issues you will not have to worry about if you own the domain name. And for a number of reasons (I could write an entire blog on the benefits) it is easier to rank a website on your own domain in most instances. And while we are talking about it, take the plunge and register your domain for two or three years at least (there are SEO benefits to this as well). The last thing you want to do is change your domain name once you have built rankings.
- Pay for hosting and get a unique IP address. Do a search for “website hosting” and you will find a ton of companies offering affordable hosting packages (usually for less than twelve bucks per month). And unless you are the Bloggess, you will likely never generate the traffic that will require more than the twelve dollar plan (if you do, congratulations, but twelve dollars and under plans can handle quite a bit of traffic. Also, since you are paying the ten bucks for hosting, fork out the additional one to two bucks and pay for a unique IP address (your hosting company will know what this means and how to do it (if they don’t get a new one)).
- Use WordPress. There are plenty of blog platforms, but WordPress is simply the best. They make it easy to add your own design, add pages and posts and offer a ton of free plugins, including several designed specifically for SEO (use SEO Ultimate, you will thank me later).
- Add Google Analytics. Google analytics is a robust and easy to use analytics program that will allow you to track your websites traffic. You can figure out how people are finding your blog, where they are coming from and how they interact with your blog once they get there. Wondering if a blog post you wrote was a success? Google analytics can tell you how long a person was on your post and if they took any action you may have wanted them to. Best of all, Google’s analytics program is FREE! There are a number of analytics programs out there, but seriously, this is all you will need…and you DO need it.
- Create an About page and a Contact page. Whether your blog is informational, inspirational or strictly for entertainment people want to know that it is written by a real human being. And so do the search engines. The problem is, many blogs are created simply to game the search engines and build rankings. Nobody likes this; neither humans or robots. Creating an About page with actual information about yourself will let readers and the search engines know that your content is created by an actual human being and will also rank well for your name once you become a rich and famous blogger. A contact page with actual contact information (an email is fine; you really don’t want people calling you in the middle of the night to tell you that you used “your” instead of “you’re”) is also important and will let search engines know you are the real deal and will help readers get in touch with you (they often have GREAT blog ideas).
- Use unique Title and Description Meta tags. From an SEO standpoint, there may not be anything more important than the Meta Title of your web page. If you don’t know what a Meta Title is, look all the way up to the top left of the screen where it says “SEO Boot Camp for Bloggers”. The Title tag is located in the <head> section of your page code and tells the search engines what your page is about. It is also the thing that draws the attention of searchers when they do a Google search (they are the big blue line of text at the top of every result). Under the Title in the search results is the Meta Description. While this tag doesn’t hold the weight it used to for SEO, it is still highly important as it can entice searchers to click the link and turn them into visitors. **With SEO Ultimate it is very easy to create unique Titles and Descriptions for pages and posts in your blog.**
- Set up your Social Network. As a blogger you want to get your content noticed (if you don’t I recommend saving your money on monthly hosting and buy a journal). It is important to remember, however, that SEO takes time. If you want to push your posts out to the world, set up a social network and use it to the best of your abilities. Create a Twitter account and a Facebook Fan Page for your blog and start interacting with like-minded people. Remember, though, these are SOCIAL networks. Don’t think for a minute you can just push links to your blog out four times a day and call it good. You need to interact with your followers. Make nice with them. Read their blogs, tweets and posts and respond. They will appreciate your kindness and return the favor. **Added bonus: social signals are becoming more and more correlated with high search rankings.**
- Use word of mouth to start. Remember the days before the Internet? Actually, many of you probably don’t, but humor me here. Back in the olden days when people wanted to get their stuff noticed they would utilize their social circle to get the word of mouth going. Their mother would tell their cousin who would tell their neighbors and on and on and on. Want to know a Super-Secret Pro Tip? This totally still works! Even before search engines, people used word of mouth to get people to see their websites, usually through links (see where I am going here?). Use your current circle and act like the search engines don’t exist. How would you best get people to your site? Do you have a cousin, friend or cousin’s friend with a blog that complements yours? See if you can get a link from them to you. **Also, use ACTUAL word of mouth. Talk to anyone and everyone you come in contact with about your blog and how simply awesome it is. You’ll be amazed at how well this works.**
Well, recruits…er…bloggers; that is it for this week. I know it seems like a lot, but no one ever said anything worthwhile was easy. I’m going to leave you to it. Be passionate and be innovative and come back next week when I’ll cover keyword research and content development (yeah, there is a lot more to that than you think there is).
Jeff Loquist is a search engine marketer with more than seven years’ experience creating search-friendly content and optimizing websites for the search engines. He runs Zen Search Marketing, a Baton Rouge SEO Consulting, PPC management and content development company. Outside of search, Jeff enjoys making soap (yeah, you heard right…soap) and writing poetry and short fiction. Mostly, Jeff enjoys a good Scotch, a fine cigar and great conversation; pretty much in that order.
Catch up with Jeff on twitter!