By night I'm a blogger but by day my official title is Head of SEO, Social and PR for Luxury Fashion at The Hut Group, after chatting to quite a few bloggers on twitter last night about SEO and how it can help to improve traffic to your blog, I thought it was high time I put a bit of a guide together.
This is a beginner's guide to SEO, it is in no way comprehensive, but it is enough to get you started and to get you noticed by Google and other search engines to help you improve the traffic to your blog.
I've also asked a few of my colleagues about what it's like on the brand side of things so scroll down to the bottom of this post if you're interesting in hearing what brands are looking for from bloggers.
What is SEO?
Let's start at the beginning, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and is basically the art of making your blog or website as visible as possible on search engines. Simple right? Well, not quite. There are so many different things you can do to increase your blog's visibility and I'll be covering a few of them in this guide to help you boost your traffic.
How does a search engine work?
Let's stick with Google for this guide (though other search engines are available Google refers about 90% of all search engine traffic). Google is constantly crawling the internet, taking in information, indexing and storing it ready to serve up to you when you search for something. When you do search for something, it goes through all of the data it has stored up and find the most relevant pages for you.
Search engines determine which sites are the most relevant for you in hundreds of different ways, but here are a few that are relevant for improving SEO on your blog.
- Relevance - If your post includes the exact words someone has searched for, it is more likely to appear
- Popularity - the likelihood is that the more popular the site, the more authority and therefore trust that site has
Once the search engine has decided which sites are relevant and popular, and algorithm then comes into play to determine which will be first in the rankings. The sites that win will appear at the top of your search results then decrease in value from there.
So, what can you do to SEO optimise your blog?
Now that we know what SEO is and how a search engine works, let's move onto what you can do to increase traffic to your blog through search engines. There's so many things you can do to help to optimise your blog, but these are key ones that you can do easily and can fit into your blogging routine. In fact, you probably already do a lot of them!
Always have your readers in mind
It is important to write content for your readers, not for search engines. Engaging content that people read from start to finish and then want to tell all their friends about it is just what you should be aiming for (plus search engines love it!).
If you are writing a blog post and you want to see it ranking on Google, you need to consider how people will be searching for it. People tend to ask search engines questions, find out about something or want to research into something.
For example if you were writing a post about hair oil, you would need to consider people typing in 'how do I use hair oil?' or 'the best hair oils' for example. You need to determine what you want your post to answer and roll with it.
Little Changes Make a Big Difference
If you can get into a routine where you naturally tick all of these things off when writing a blog post, you'll start to see results.
Search engines are hunting for relevant content on your blog so make sure everything is named clearly, from having a clear post title to naming your images with relevant names. For example, if you're posting a review of Moroccanoil, use the words 'review' and 'Moroccanoil' in the title and in the image name, it will be far more relevant to search engines than naming your post with a song lyric and having your image saved as 'image 1'. It's so easy to get into the habit and could make a big difference!
Add tags or labels to your post, this will not only help readers find related posts, it will also help search engines categorise your blog posts. If you're using meta tags (more on these later if you're not sure what they are), Google doesn't see them as useful but smaller search engines (like Bing) might do so it's worth including them. Don't get too tag happy though, just stick to the most relevant ones to that post.
A meta title is the blue url that appears in the search results and the meta description is the short bit of text underneath, you can change these to make them more relevant, perfect! In blogger, you can change these on the right hand side where it says 'search description', in wordpress, there is a handy SEO box underneath your post so you can fill it in easily.
Meta descriptions are best when they are around 140-150 characters (140 is best for mobile search, 150 is better for desktop), this is the amount that appears in the search results and should include key information about your post or blog. Meta titles descriptions will help search engines to determine the content of your blog or post as well as encourage readers to click on your search result rather than anyone elses.
As well as adding meta descriptions to your blog posts, it's important to have it on your blog's home page too, make sure to include what your blog is about, where you're based and any other key information.
Site Layout and Design are vital
The clearer and more user friendly your blog is, the better for both your readers and search engines. It needs to be easy to navigate around and clear to see what your blog is about. For example, if you're a Manchester based beauty blogger, add that into your meta description and you'll start appearing in more searches from PRs who might be looking for bloggers to invite to their events, just saying.
Text links are more valuable than banner links so use text links on your navigation and sidebar, you can use html to make them look as good as the banners, so don't worry! This will clearly show search engines and your readers exactly where they need to click to get certain information, eg. if you have a link for 'outfit posts', call it 'outfit posts'. Simple.
Avoid fancy rich media like Flash and Java as these hide the text content that the crawlers (or spiders, ew!) are looking for.
Keywords are the key (geddit?) to improving your traffic from search engines, they are the words that will link the search query to your post or blog. Brands use keywords to drive more traffic to brands and pages to drive sales, but us bloggers can use them for posts that can be useful for readers, for example product reviews, outfit posts, street style, restaurant reviews etc. You just need to know what people are looking for!
Google Trends is a really interesting tool to find out what people are searching for, you can type in any word or words and find out how popular it is in search engines, what similar words are popular and where in the world they're popular. Warning, you might get a bit obsessed with this!
A lot of brands use Google Adwords to pinpoint keywords, it's a handy tool that shows you how much certain words or phrases are being searched, as well as how much this increases throughout the year. This is really useful for specific terms and seeing when topics tend to get popular, for example, you can see when people start searching 'Christmas gift guides' or 'summer dresses'. Useful huh?
Sharing is Caring
Though all of these things will help to boost your blog's visibility in Google (and your traffic fingers crossed) it's important to market your blog in other ways too.
Social channels are perfect for this, most of us blogger spend a lot of time on twitter, Facebook and Instagram so use these to your advantage. For example, the more Facebook shares your post gets, the more valuable Google will see it.
Increasing the amount of quality sites linking to your blog will also help boost your authority, it shows search engines that your blog is worth linking to and has valuable content, lovely. So why not try guest blogging for a brand or a fellow blogger?
But be wary of link swapping and adding your link to dodgy looking sites, this could make Google think that your blog is spam (irrelevant and annoying in other words) so keep everything above board. Organic links are even better, from people who just love your blog and want to share it with everyone, so the better the content on your blog, the more links you'll get! Just imagine how many people have some of the big blogs on their sidebar just because they love them, thousands.
Respect your authority
Every website has a domain authority and a page authority, SEO execs at brands will be looking at these factors to see if your blog is valuable to work with. Authority is ranked from 1 to 100 so the higher the better and everything in this post should help you to grow yours, to put it into perspective, twitter and Facebook have an authority of 100.
If you don't have your own url (if your blog ends with blogspot or wordpress), this will be the domain authority. If you own your domain, it's up to you to build it up, don't worry if you've only just moved over to your own url and have a low domain authority, it will take time to build it up! Page authority is what brands will be looking at for blogs so make sure to build yours up as much as possible.
You can check your domain authority and page authority using a tool like this one, just pop in your url and take a look! Be wary, if you are spamming other blogs, Google can punish you do you don't appear in search results, so make sure you're doing things properly.
Working with Brands
When you're working with brands, it's important to know the difference between PR and SEO, they are both working towards the same goal of more sales, but they want different things from us. PR peeps are looking for eyeballs on their product or brand, they're looking for exposure. Whereas SEO peeps are looking for high quality, organic links through to their site with keyword anchor text to help improve their rankings.
When you're linking through to brand's sites, you need to know whether or not to use a follow or a nofollow link. A nofollow link tells search engines not to follow the links as they're not valuable, whereas follow links go straight through. SEO peeps are looking for follow links as this will improve their organic authority, PR peeps won't mind either way.
But there are some things you need to do by law, if you have been paid for a post you need to make sure you have included a nofollow link and declare that it's a sponsored post as otherwise it is basically buying links which is a no no. If you have been sent a product for review, you are fine to do either a follow or nofollow, it's up to you.
What brands are looking for...
I asked a couple of my colleagues to share what they look for when they are working with bloggers so you can see it from their perspective, it's always good to see it from both sides!
"One thing that really puts me off working with bloggers is when they use Skimlinks – I often hear from bloggers that they’re not really that beneficial either!
Also, I'm much likely to contact bloggers who have their own domains rather than blogspot/wordpress etc. domains. It’s also good to see blogs that are updated regularly. I’m reluctant to get in touch with bloggers who haven’t posted for a few weeks when I come across their blog.
"The best piece of advice I could give would be to do your homework if you want to work with brands. Research the brand, read their content and understand their philosophy. You aren’t here to take the money and run, you’re here to connect, communicate and build up your reputation as a blogger. This method will make approaching them just that little bit more personal, which is ultimately what you want for long-term collaborations" - Tom Hodgson, from Dharmajunk
I really hope this has helped you, let me know if it has or if there's anything included that you'd like to know more about in the comments below or on twitter, I'm always happy to help.
I've also written a blogger's guide to Affiliate Marketing and a beginner's guide to Google Analytics, take a look if you want to learn more about either of them!