I’ll freely admit: I’m kind of a nerd, but I’m a special breed. I’m a word nerd. Consider the evidence: I like Scrabble; in fifth grade, I kept a running list of palindromes; I probably decided to minor in Spanish in college because I liked the sound of words like cacahuetes (peanuts) and marmota (hamster); I’ll even admit to being amused by puns.
I’m not, on the other hand, a tech nerd, although I try. I have a (newly ordered) subscription to Wired. I know XHTML and CSS. (Thanks, UITS tech classes.) Compared to the casual WordPress user, I think I’m pretty savvy (yet still pretty intimidated by the forum moderators). However, I don’t know much about search engine optimization (SEO), which is one of the most important concepts for bloggers to understand. Organic SEO consists of a range of practices that naturally improve page rank on search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. In other words, this kind of SEO improves page rank by working with search engines’ algorithms and without resorting to paid-placements.
Why is high page rank paramount? Well, websites with high page rankings are listed more prominently within search results. Because of the way most people browse this material, a high page rank essentially generates more traffic to a website. Lots more. Indeed, heat maps suggest that most people viewing results from say, a Google search, will look more frequently and for longer periods of time at the information listed near the top-right of the page–that is, exactly where websites with unpaid listings are aggregated. Add to this the fact that search itself is a common way people find websites; comScore reports more than 10 billion Google searches occurred during February, 2011. (Luckily, Indiana’s state government now understands the power of search, as they’ve removed their web address from license plates issued to state residents.)
This weekend, I learned all of this about SEO and more when I attended a conference at Indiana University with a good friend and colleague. We sat in on a talk given by Jeremy Dearringer, Chief Research Officer and co-founder of Slingshot SEO. His presentation about search engine optimization was definitely an eye-opener, and I walked away with a good overview of the evolution of search as well as a few strategies for improving page rank using social media.
I also left the talk with some doubts about SEO optimization, and interestingly, when my colleague and I made a quick dash to her house during the conference’s lunch break, we wound up having a debate with her husband about the ethical traps of SEO. But, that discussion will have to wait for another time and another place; Blog Lab posts are, by design, more pragmatic than philosophical or theoretical.
Quick, easy-to-understand strategies for improving your blog’s page rank are after the jump.
Before we get to how bloggers can improve page rank, we need to understand how search and page rank are connected: what factors influence–and have influenced–page rank?
A (Quick) History of Search
- In the mid-1990s, search was a different kind of animal. Search largely was based on key words hits from the web document. Savvy website builders could manipulate page rank by (literally) hiding key words in the web document. (Matching font color to the page color background, for instance,camouflaged long strings of key words that could be read by search crawlers but not by actual human readers/users).
- From 1998 onwards, search engines like Google created algorithms to prevent people from gaming the system. The goal? To make search results more pertinent and less artificial. Google’s PageRank algorithm emphasized, among other things, the number of a website’s inbound links–i.e., “links from pages on external sites linking back to your site” .
- Gooogle and the like continue to update their search algorithms, often in response to how those algorithms have been manipulated previously. Now, the diversity of internal link sources influences search. Additional ranking factors include key word match domains and topic modeling (latent Dirichlet allocation). In terms of the former, if you searched “really cute kitten pictures,” a website with the domain name reallycutekittens.com would be listed more prominently in the search results. Topic modeling is a statistical process that recognizes relationships between words. For instance, if a website focuses on ultralight backpacking yet mentions car camping frequently, topic modeling will help to ensure that the site will turn up in search results for ultralight backpacking.
Based on Jeremy’s talk and his answers to my questions afterward, inbound links are extremely influential to page rank. How can one get quality inbound links without resorting to trickery? (Yes, quality counts.) For bloggers, especially, the first step is to network with other bloggers: read their material, comment on it meaningfully, and link to others’ posts in your own. Keep it up and do it right, and others will reciprocate. (It’s kind of like the golden rule, I suppose.)
In my opinion, earning inbound links in this way is time consuming–not just on a day-to-day basis, but also in the long-term. Developing a circle of blogging friends isn’t something that can happen overnight, after all. So what’s a blogger to do in the interim? Social bookmarking and social media sites can augment page rank by helping your site to acquire inbound links. Moreover, social media itself has a direct impact on page rank. Facebook “likes,” facebook shares, etc., all influence page rank.
What can bloggers learn from this information? Make “share” buttons (i.e., plug-ins) available on your blog so that readers can pass on your content to others. Scroll to the end of this post to see an example of these features (and, um, use them, too.) Also, make your blog accessible to readers who are using mobile devices. If your site isn’t configured to play nice with smartphones, iPads, etc., readers using such platforms may have difficulties accessing your content or sharing it using social media plug-ins.
Also, develop your own social medial presence--don’t just passively rely on others to create buzz about your material on their social networks. Tweet your own blog posts, and as Jeremy recommended, include a keyword in the tweet. (I think this tip particularly applies to unprotected tweets, as this material is indexed on search engines). I’d also suggest that bloggers set up a facebook “page” for their sites and then advertise this page on the blog itself; I’m in the process of doing that now.
Are you a graphic-design savvy blogger? Slingshot SEO probably would recommend that you create an “infographic” for your blog. They have found that infographics configured for sharing on social bookmarking and networking sites generate a huge amount of traffic. More importantly, infographics can draw the right kind of audience to a website or blog. Case in point: consider how Slingshot SEO helped HCC Medical Insurance, a company which also offers travel insurance, to improve their page rank. HCC Medical Insurance’s infographic on the top ten exotic vacation destinations likely would turn up in searches about vacations, exotic vacations, adventure vacations, etc. Accordingly, individuals who may be in need of their services (i.e., travel/medical insurance) but weren’t searching for these amenities directly would be directed to their site.
Finally, social media aside, I also confirmed from Jeremy that blog tags and categories do influence page rank, but not nearly as much as inbound links.
So, what are the findings of this blog lab about improving page rank? Do all that you can to generate inbound links, and don’t neglect social media.
Four take away tips:
- Network with other bloggers by commenting on and linking to their posts. You’ve got to give inbound links to get them.
- Enable readers to easily share your content on their social networks.
- Develop your own social media presence to further augment these initiatives.
- Find ways to create appealing, accessible content, and think outside of the text box (re: infographic).
Your page rank will thank you.