Part II: Organic Search Engine Optimization
for blogs and websites
This is the second in a three part series of basic steps for bloggers who want to gain greater organic search exposure. No technical skill required. (Part I Here)
This post covers
This is one of the times when I have to say: “Do what I say, not what I do.” If someone had told me when I first started blogging that Categories are the #1 way to keep people on your blog for a longer time period—a search robot measurement—my Categories would look different today. As it is, my blog Categories are overgrown and in desperate need of pruning…kind of like my out of control tropical garden during the rainy season—which it is right now.
In my opinion, Categories are THE strategic activity that bloggers need to pay attention to for the sake of their readers, and their content. Nothing is worse than an orphan post in a lonely Category—neglected, overlooked, and disrespected—except maybe a menu of Categories that exceeds the human attention span (I’ve seen them) or that inaccurately categorizes posts.
Defined: Categories in WordPress websites are another way to help search engines to identify content theme(s), and perhaps more importantly, organize your content for readers.
Readers looking for similar content might click on a Category listed below the post title, next to the byline, or explore new Categories displayed in a sidebar widget. Having a good stash of content under each Category will increase the time that a visitor STAYS ON YOUR SITE—data that search robots collect and are said to factor into the “relevancy” and “popularity” algorithms of a blog/web site. (See also Autolinks in Part III)
How to strategically manage Categories
One way to think about categories is to think of them as file folders. They are the top-level folder, the Redweld in legal speak—the main folder that is the name or number of the matter that you are handling and which holds sub-folders that contain types of documents pertinent to the matter. So, for example, within a Redweld there will be subfolders containing correspondence, time keeping, bills, research, and etc.
While it may be tempting to create lots of Categories (seriously, how many matters can YOU handle at one time), or even ignore them (believe it or not some bloggers do) the best approach is to think through the subject matter you will be blogging about and create a few big buckets. Best done in advance of launching your blog, if you have the luxury—if you’re just starting out.
People will disagree with me, but I think you should have between five and ten Categories. You can load them up with sub-Categories, on the fly, as needed, but the bottom line is that an unfocused blog is more difficult for search engines to index and to pull readers deeper into your content archives.
Steps to take.
Choose your Category names very carefully. Make them broad enough that they can be used time and time again on the blog.
Practical Pointer: Before you choose or add a Category, do a public search on that string of words or word to see what comes up. If it fits, use it.
Categories should be obvious and they should match the tone of your blog content, meaning that if your content is snarky, straightforward, formal, casual, creative, etc., your Categories should be styled likewise—always keeping in mind the words that people use to find your content. Caution: Don’t get too creative or it will not index well. if you have an established blog, check the site stats for strings people have searched to arrive at your most popular content. Consider creating a Category that uses one or more of those terms. If you already have it, use it more often.
Other things to do with Categories.
If you add a Category widget to your sidebar or footer, and you most definitely should, you can title the widget anything you’d like. Instead of Categories you might name it Topics, Issues, or Interests. Depending on the tone of your blog you could even call it something unique like “My Rants” or “More Opinion.” The title of your widget does not impact search results. I call mine “Discover Topics.”
Assuming everything I’ve said to this point is correct, Categories help search engines. Therefore you might include them in your permalink structure (See also Part I for more on Permalinks) and you should if your Categories tell a strong niche story. I’m not saying that search robots dig for categories—we’re never quite sure what the engines are really looking at because most search engines keep that proprietary—but it may help to include Categories in your permalinks if you have well defined categories. You can do that in Settings/Permalinks.
Categories are also a type of auto-linking (more on that later in Part III) so do not ignore Categories. At the very least, respect your Categories and they will reward you.
You can rename existing Categories and it won’t disturb the associated posts. If you use Categories in your permalink structure that will however impact in-bound links.
Tags are different than Categories and they do not have sub-folders. They are Tags. From an SEO standpoint they function like meta data keywords and may be used by robots that crawl your site to index your content.
Think of tags as search terms (keywords), not folders. Tags might include proper names, companies, formal places, or topics, i.e, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, Steve Jobs, MIAMI HEAT, and etc. Anything specific to that post that you can add as a Tag will help both readers and search engines to organize the content of your post, page or archives in a more granular manner.
If your WordPress Theme gives you the option to add custom meta data keywords to the post, you can and should mirror the post Tags. Thesis Theme is an example of a theme that allows you to add custom metadata to each post.
You can have hundreds of Tags and you don’t need to reuse them, but you can and it might help robots and readers.
Although not as important to search optimization as it once was—and some will argue it is not at all important—using Heading tags may assist search robots and will most definitely assist your readers as they scan to consume the gist of your content. If you make it easy for readers it will make them happy readers who return again and again to your content. Having lots of traffic gives your site or post popular and relevant status, a data point that search engines use.
People consume so much information every day on the web and most admit to being skimmers. Headings help skimmers get to the information they want quickly. So, take a few extra steps and add Heading Tags to your content. ‘Nuf said.
How they work.
Headings are found in the WYSIWYG editor—that tool bar in your admin screen that sits above your content box and below your title. Open the Kitchen Sink—the last button on the right side—and your Formatting menu will be on the far left side of the second row of buttons.
The actual formatting of the Heading Styles will be unique to the CSS (Custom Style Sheet) of your theme—theme referring to the layout design of the WordPress skin you’ve chosen, not the content theme of a post.
Highlight the text you want to Format, and then select Heading 1, Heading 2, or Heading 3, and so forth.
Adding a Heading creates a tag in the HTML code. What the robots see is H1, H2, H3. These HTML “tags” prompt robots to the fact that it is priority content. (Go ahead and toggle to HTML mode in your editor to see the tags in action!)
Similar to adding BOLD or ITALIC to text you want to emphasize to call your readers’ attention, for search robots Heading Tags assign a priority to bits of text in the post, for example, Heading 1 top priority, Heading 2, important, Heading 3, less important, and so forth.
While it may seem like a small matter, breaking your post into parts is an effective way of organizing content for readers—see also the inverted triangle method that we discussed in Part I—and prioritizing it for search robots. So use Headings.
So, that’s it for Part II. Part III of Easy Search Optimization for WordPress Blogs covers:
- Relevant Posts
- Image Tags
- Ping Services or Trackbacks
- Google Site Maps
Please drop a note in the comments if you have questions or insights to add to this post! Thanks!