Concurrent with SXSWi in Austin, Texas this weekend was the TECHmunch event for food bloggers run by Babette Pepaj of Bakespace. Babette rounded up a stellar cast of characters to present on a variety of topics including numerous food journalists from the likes of CNN and the LA Times plus PR pros like Erik Deutch, Sarah Evans and Eric Schwartzman. Of course, no event during the week of SXSW would be complete without appearances from well known digerati like Brian Solis and Robert Scoble.
My task was to talk about SEO with a dash of Social Media and Content for blogs. Knowing just a few things about blogging, I shared the following info with abundant food metaphors to about 150 food bloggers and journalists.
Audience – Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Many bloggers start out writing about their passion and decide topics based on what’s top of mind or as a reaction to others from the community they’re involved with. That is as it should be. But if a blogger expects traffic from search and social channels to be competitive, then it’s important to empathize with the information needs of the people you’re trying to connect with.
Bloggers that say one should never consider keywords or SEO and just write good content are on to something: It’s called pure ego. They are blogging only for themselves and that’s fine. But those bloggers seeking to grow an audience and monetize increasing traffic will see the value in creating content that serves personal interests AND the information discovery, consumption and sharing behaviors of readers.
If you’re planning a dinner at your house and you decide to have your favorite beef pot roast but invite several vegetarians, those guests are unlikely to return. That’s what ego-centric blogging is.
Alternatively, if you make an effort to understand the needs of your intended audience in terms of what they’re interested in, the keywords they use to search and the topics they’re discussing on other blogs and social media sites, you can craft a “menu” of content, aka editorial plan that shows that you have something interesting and important to say as well as empathy for readers’ needs. Listen and give people what they want, even better than the competition, and those “guests” are likely not only to return again, but to say great things to others about you.
Keywords – What Do They Like to Eat?
There’s a lot of competition in the blog space and online content in general. Consumer discovery via search is still the dominant way to find information online. Bloggers can gain essential insight into the words that best represent interest in topics they plan to write about by using keyword research tools to create a keyword glossary. A list of keywords can serve as a guide or reference to word use in content on and off the blog to better represent the interests of the readers you’re trying to reach.
Back to the dinner metaphor: If you say you’re going to have “flesh melon” for an appetizer and your guests only know it as Honeydew melon, they may not be interested. Knowing the keywords readers use to search for information can guide copywriting so that it better informs and also improves search visibility for phrases that are more in demand. Being easy to find via search for more popular and relevant phrases will increase blog traffic and user experience.
Content SEO – Which Ingredients?
Applying the insights gained from keyword research for improved user experience and search visibility comes through incorporating keywords into content planning, categories, copy, links and tags. The most important places for keyword use are the title tag, body copy and links.
The bloggers that have the biggest issue with SEO will often say keyword use compromises their writing style and creativity. WordPress blogs can use the Headspace or AllinOneSEO plugins to enable a literal and keyword-rich title tag for search engines and another more creative title that might be a pun, ironic, inferred meaning or sarcasm, which people understand in context, but search engines usually do not.
Great SEO copywriting is transparent to the reader and should actually improve user experience. It’s as simple as using words in links to give the reader an idea of what to expect when they click vs. just “click here”. Or avoiding the overuse of pronouns and instead using descriptive words (that also happen to be relevant keywords).
Optimizing content is more than text – it means any digital asset that can be published online: audio, video, images and other document types like PDFs and MS Office docs.
As for our dinner metaphor, this means using words we know our guests are interested in, with the communications used to invite them, in our conversations about the dinner and how we present the food during the dinner.
SEO copywriting is like making a promise to the reader. Keywords in copy and links help your blog content show well in search results. Visibility on keyword phrases sets an expectation for the searcher that when they click the link, they’ll find the information and experience you’re promoting. If not, they’ll just go somewhere else.
Links & Social – How Will We Invite Our Guests and Help Them Spread the Word?
Great content is dead unless someone shares it. Blogs include RSS feeds so there is some automatic promotion of content but in a competitive category, it’s important to create, optimize and promote content that attracts readers and inbound links from other relevant websites. People that publish online can link to your content, but only if they know about it a like it. Search engines can see those links, whether they’re present in blog posts or Tweets. Search engines use links as a way to discover new content and as a signal in the search result sorting or ranking process.
Essentially, the more relevant links to your content, the better your content will do in search results. There are many other factors, hundreds, but behaviorally, the thing to focus on is making it easy for both search engines and people to discover and share your content. Assuming you are keeping the promise made through keywords in the form of high quality and relevant content, readers are more than happy to share and link to it. Just make it easy and compelling from them to do so.
That might mean creating content that is unique and cleverly packages to attract social promotion and links. It might mean recognizing collections of influential people and/or blogs in a clever way to attract links. Including social sharing buttons in blog posts also helps extend awareness of your content to new readers and those inclined to link to things they find interesting.
Most dinner parties do not have the objective of attracting as many other people as possible, but if you wanted to reach more of a certain kind of guest, you could make sure the promise of the dinner and the experience are congruent and exceed expectations. You could also do things like give guests recipes of the dishes served to extend the experience or take photos during the party and print them so guests can have them as a momento. A thank you card after the dinner also reinforces the experience and combined, the thoughtfulness, relevance and ease of sharing will inspire word of mouth.
Tools – Which Cookware and Dinnerware to Use?
There are a variety of social media SEO tools available for free or low cost to bloggers. Most of the keyword research a blogger may need to do can be accomplished with tools like Google’s Keyword Tool, Google Trends, SEMRush and of course paid tools like Wordtracker.
Social search tools like socialmention.com are handy for social keyword checking and PostRank is useful for measuring on and off-blog social engagement. Alexa Site Audit and Blekko toolbar (not available for Chrome??) offer intersting SEO related information about websites that can help identify duplicate content issues and the need to focus on certain keywords. Google Analytics is an excellent web analytics tool for blogs to measure performance.
For our dinner party, do we need to use professional grade cookware and our best china? It depends on the outcomes you’re after. Most tools are only as effective as the talent of the people using them. There are abundant choices but it comes down to your ability to use those tools to help automate redundancies or create better quality outcomes more efficiently.
Do you have blog content, optimization or link building tips to share? If you’ve experimented with different ways to attract links, what worked? What didn’t?