25 Tips To Optimize Your Blog For Readers & Search Engines

Everyone and their dog (yes, there are a few dogs out there with their own blogs) have started up a blog these days, but many people just aren’t taking the steps needed to optimize their blogs for both readers and search engines. While blogs can be business related (another blog about mesothelioma anyone?) they can also be personal where you talk about the great ham sandwich you had for lunch today or the crappy service you had at that trendy restaurant last night.

But whether your blog is business or personal, you should ensure that you are optimizing your blog for both your readers (after all, you want to keep those readers coming back) and the search engines. Unfortunately, optimization is an important step that far too many blogs seem to be skipping over, even those that have a broad appeal to surfers and have the potential to be monetizable.

However, optimizing a blog is a bit different than your standard website search engine optimization (SEO), particularly because most blogs run off standard blog platforms, or worse, run as a hosted blog on someone else’s domain name. And there are design issues that can be unique to blogs which can impact your rankings.

Let’s face it, when you commission a styling’ new blog template, most blog designers focus on making your blog look the way you want it to. But unfortunately for bloggers, not very many of those great blog designers are also SEOs by trade, meaning that the blog design you use could actually be hurting your search engine rankings. While you may have a great design that looks wonderful to readers, new readers might not find you if your blog isn’t ranking well organically in the search engines.

Also, when you optimize your blog for the user experience, you make it easy for users to return and engage in your blog without dealing with any of the hassles that can cause them to abandon other sites or blog entries. Repeat visitors are the cream of your blog, so by following these tips you have given them the tools they need to return as well as the user experience that makes them want to come back.

Fortunately, if you are on the case to make your blog rank well while not hindering your visitor’s experience on your site, there are definitely things you can check – and fix – to prevent any indexing issues from occurring, and ensuring your blog a happy and healthy existence in the search engines.

So here is advice on how you can optimize that blog of yours for both users and search engines without alienating one or the other.

1) Dump The Default Template – Looks Count!
I cringe when I see a blog using the “out of the box” WordPress or MovableType template. Hire a designer to create a unique look for your blog, or at the very least, take advantage of some of the free templates available and customize it a bit with a unique logo or a slight color upgrade.

2) Just Say No To Bad Color Schemes
While a hot pink with lime green color scheme might be your favorite, consider what your readers will be expecting. That color scheme might work perfectly on a teenage gossip site, but would look extremely out of place as the corporate blog for a men’s suit company. Likewise, gamers would think nothing of a black background on an Xbox 360 blog, but it would look horrendous on a parenting or pregnancy site. So while you should experiment with colors to find a good mix for your blog, keep in mind user experience and their expectations.

3) RSS Me!
Make sure you have RSS available. Many hosted blogging solutions don’t have RSS automatically available, so you will need to add it. And when you do add it, ensure you have those RSS links in an obvious spot. Don’t tuck them away at the very bottom of your index page after your most recent 20 entries, or hide them on a separate “About Us” page. Place all those handy subscribe links in your sidebar, which is exactly where people will look for them. If you use Feedburner currently, have a look at their new MyBrand option which allows you to host your own feeds for a seamless user experience.

4) Offer RSS & Feed Subscription Buttons
Yes, when people want to subscribe to a blog, they will often look for that orange RSS logo as well as the logos of the standard aggregators such as Bloglines. So it is worth the time to add the most popular ones to your blog so visitors can easily do their one-click subscriptions to your feed without it require much effort on their part. If you make it hard to subscribe, most just won’t bother. FeedButton offers a service that allows you to offer multiple RSS aggregator and feed reader buttons with a single expanding rollover button.

5) Offer Posts Via Email
Some people just don’t get RSS. So cater to them by offering them an option to get your blog posts by email instead. The most popular service to do this automatically is FeedBlitz, although there are also many other tools available to do this.

6) Decide On Full Or Partial Feeds
Do you offer full feeds or partial feeds? This is a personal preference, and is often dependent on what market space you are blogging in. One option is to offer two feeds, one being an ad-supported full feed, with an RSS ad included, and the other being an ad-free snippet copy of the feed, where readers won’t see ads but will have to actually view your blog in order to read your full entry. But this will often come down to personal preference, and the preferences of your readers.

7) Write Compelling Snippets/Descriptions
If you do use snippets for your RSS feed, be sure to make them compelling or leave readers with a cliffhanger to encourage them to click and read the full entry. This will get you many more readers to your entries than just using the default option of including the first X number of words in the blog post as the snippet. Use your excerpts to generate interest and clicks.

8) Pay Attention to How You Write.
One of my favorite bloggers has the unfortunate habit of writing detailed long entries… without a single paragraph break and with the double whammy of also writing with a font size smaller than usual. If I look up for a moment, it is hard to find my place again in her 1000 word entries. As a result, I don’t read it as often as I would like to, simply because reading it is such a painful experience.

9) Spelling Counts
Spelling is also worth mentioning. Add one of the many spell checkers to your internet browser and run a quick spell check before you publish your entry. Every word doesn’t have to be perfect, and I am certainly guilty myself of letting on occasional typo slip through unnoticed. But I also get annoyed when I am reading typo after typo after typo in an entry. And yes, if it happens enough, I will unsubscribe out of sheer frustration.

10) Fontography Counts
Make the font easy to read. Some bloggers think it is cool to have their handwriting turned into a customized font, or use a trendy font that would be better suited to a scrapbook layout. But not everyone has those wild and weird fonts installed, which means that those people will see a standard font such as Times New Roman, and it can really kill the look of your blog. So instead design the text of your blog entries to use a standard font in a standard size.

11) Don’t Forget Navigation
Is this blog part of a larger site, such as a corporate blog on a site for a major company? Don’t just link to the main page of the blog. Syndicate your recent headlines in the sidebar to encourage visitors on the main site to check out the blog too.

12) How Fast is Your Host?
Another one of my favorite blogs has such a slow response time when I click from the snippet in my RSS to the full blog entry that I only actually end up waiting around for it to load about 10% of the time. Don’t lose readers because your hosting company thinks 30 seconds is a perfectly reasonable amount of time to load up a page.

13) Avoid Widget Overload!
Yes, there are definitely some cool widgets you can add to your blog, such as MyBlogLog or a Flickr photo box tied to your photo gallery. But be aware that having a large number of javascripts can slow down your site. So don’t sacrifice timely loading time for nice-but-not-all-that-necessary widgets.

14) Have Descriptive Titles
Some blog software actually makes your entry titles seem pretty repetitious in the search engine result pages, and can result in a lower click through than you might have had otherwise with highly optimized titles. If your title’s say something like “Jason’s Tech Industry Rants & Ramblings Blog >> New Xbox 360 title announced for April release” you should change it to “New Xbox 360 title announced for April release”. Unless you are well known as an authority blog in that market, the blog name is simply wasting crucial space at the beginning of the title tag and causing the rest of the entry title to end up getting truncated in the search results. And make sure your titles actually enhance the entry and don’t leave the reader wondering what on earth the blog entry could be about. Ensuring you have great titles when you have a small readership and are depending on search engines to send you readers is one of the first steps you should take to optimize your blog.

15) Look at your Cascading Style Sheets.
Most blogs use a tremendous amount of CSS to create that custom look. And while most of the “out of the box” designs that come standard with the installed template include all CSS in an external file, there definitely are some blog designers who will put their CSS on the individual template pages rather than placing it all in an external CSS file. And when you don’t place CSS in an external file, it can clutter up your pages and result in the most important part of the page – the entry text – being much further down in the HTML code when it has to go after the masses of CSS coding lines.

16) Post Often
The more frequently you post, the more likely Googlebot and other bots will stop by on a more regular basis. If you only post once in a blue moon, expect that it might take a while for Google to stop by and see that you actually have updated again. Google loves updated fresh sites, so it make sense to feed the bot what it wants.

17) Spread the Link Love
If you are blogging about a story, link up the original story as well as other’s commentary on the same topic. When you do so, you will often make those bloggers aware of your blog’s existence (if they weren’t already) when people click from your blog to theirs. And it also increases the odds that they will either link to you on that story or on something you blog about in the future.

18) Be Aware of Your Anchor Text
When you link to someone’s blog entry, or even a previous blog entry on your own site, make sure you link well. This means instead of linking to someone’s blog entry with the anchor text “click here”, you link to them using anchor text related to the blog entry, such as “Jason’s scoop on the new Widget Xbox 360 game”.

19) Create Unique Stories
Bloggers love to link to other bloggers. When you write original blog entries, rather than just rehashing something someone else has already said, you increase the odds that someone will find yours interesting enough to link to and talk about. And a reader of that blogger’s blog might read the entry and decide to write something about what you said as well, meaning yet another link as well. And if you are fortunate, it will go viral, meaning suddenly it seems like every blogger in your market space is talking about what you wrote. Rinse and repeat as often as possible for maximum exposure and link juice.

20) Use a Related Posts Plugin
Not only does this make sense to keep readers around for other articles on your site that are related to your current post, but it also allows you to deeplink from a current page on your blog to older entries. Often, older entries get buried several pages deep on an archive page, and this allows you to showcase entries written months or years previously and give those “oldies but goodies” an extra little kick in the search engines. There are several related post plugins available depending on which blog platform you use.

21) Ping Other Sites
When you add a new blog entry, you might want to ping site such as Technorati and FeedBurner to let them know you have a brand new blog entry on your site. You can also now ping Google’s Blog Search as well for faster indexing in their blog search engine at blogsearch.google.com. Automatic pinging is an option in the control panel of most blog platforms including WordPress and MovableType. And Ping-o-Matic offers a service that allows you to quickly pick and chose what to ping.

22) Buy Your Own Domain Name
Don’t always think your free blog hosting company will be around forever. What will you do if you build up a loyal readership then one day you discover yourblogname.examplebloghost.com no longer works because examplebloghost.com has gone out of business? You want to make sure the search engines have a URL they will always find your blog at, rather than have to worry about them re-indexing your previously well-ranked blog on am entirely new domain… that is if you are lucky enough to get your blog posts from your free hosting company. Both Google’s Blogger & WordPress allow you to use their hosted blog service while displaying it on your own domain instead of their own branded one.

NOTE: See also our related story, Stay Master Of Your Feed Domain.

23) Manage Your Trackback & Comment Spam
You don’t want Google or Yahoo to find masses of spammy links on your site to all manner of less-than-quality sites submitted to your blog by a blog spammer. Use one of the many tools on the market for your blog platform to manage both comment and trackback spam.

24) Use a Good URL Structure
Don’t use “permalinks” such as www.yourblogsite.com/?p=123 . Instead, use www.yourblogsite.com/2007/01/01/blog_entry_title_here. Most blogging platforms allow you to change from the standard numbered permalinks to this style of search engine friendly ones. And just in case the blog platform you use has funky dynamic URLs for each entry, you will want to ensure that the bots can crawl them easily or use a mod rewrite to create a good structure such as in the example.

25) Use Great Categories
When you write a post, place it in 1 to 3 different categories related to the post. For example, and article on the television show Grey’s Anatomy could go under “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ABC”. Avoid the temptation to add it to ten different categories though, such as including “drama,” “hospital,” “interns” and “Seattle” because that is just overkill. But if you wrote something great on Grey’s Anatomy, you have made it easy for your reader to find all your posts on Grey’s Anatomy because they simply have to click on the category link at the top or bottom of the entry.

While some bloggers insist that search engine rankings will come naturally to those who wait, who really wants to wait for Google? A blogger can run into several unique challenges when it comes to optimizing for search engines, and it makes sense to get the jump on it now than simply hoping that if you write it, the bots will come. It is far easier to ensure you have a well optimized blog now than trying to figure out what the issue is 6 months down the road when only your blog’s index page is found in Google!

Does anyone else have tips they would have put in their own top 25 list of blog optimization tips? I had some that didn’t make the cut for the top list, but am interested to hear what others feel are the most important tips.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | SEO: Blogs & Feeds | SEO: General

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  • http://www.toprankblog.com Lee Odden

    Great post Jen. Here’s my own list of 25 blog marketing tips from last June.

    One addition I would suggest is to make it easy for readers of the blog to share posts via social bookmark links. del.icio.us, digg, netscape and reddit are good for most blogs.

  • http://adverlicio.us adverlicious

    Great post. I would also suggest 2 other tactics:

    1. Registering your blog on Technorati and ensuring it gets pinged with new posts. It’s the leading search engine for blogs and can drive a substantial amount of traffic. It also serves as a scoreboard of sorts by tracking how many blogs have “voted” for you with a link.

    2. Managing your blogroll strategically. You’ll need to link to major blogs to be credible, but it’s acceptable to broker link-for-link trades with smaller ones (assuming they’re relevant and useful to your readers). Use Technorati to find the “small fish” and drop them an email.

    Good luck!

    - adverlicio.us | online advertising archive

  • http://www.homebizpal.com Gaya

    Great post!

    I use WordPress and in most of the WP themes,
    post titles are set to h4. You can easily change it to h1 by modifying theloop.php file.

  • http://www.receptional.com/newsroom Receptional

    Very helpful Jen.

    Here’s a thought for B2B. Just because you are using blogging software and techniques, doesn’t mean you have to call it a “blog”. In B2B it helps to think of it as a newsroom, pressroom or anything else businesslike and make the user feel s/he is looking at something suitably “professional”. If you are doing that though.

    Dixon.

  • http://www.jobsearchmarketing.com Matt Martone

    Wow. Great post. Thanks for this.

    Matt Martone, JobSearchMarketing.com

  • http://www.photoshopsupport.com/photoshop-blog/index.html Jennifer Apple

    I love this list, but there is one thing that you mention that you don’t seem to be implementing.

    24) Use a Good URL Structure
    Don’t use “permalinks

  • kolya3

    You can also create a mobile widget for the sidebar of your blog. Users enter their phone number and start receiving text message alerts on their phone with a short synopsis every time you update your blog. It keeps your readers coming back – great tool. You can make these widgets for free here: open.4info.net

    -Nick

  • http://www.staygolinks.com/ Barry Welford

    Well of course another tip is to comment on other blog posts where you think they’ve brought out some useful insights. Thanks for doing this. :)

  • http://www.searchenginecollege.com/blog.htm Kalena

    I’ve been waiting for an article like this to come out as I’ve been waaaay too lazy to research and write one myself. Of course, now you’ve added another 20 tasks for my To Do list. But seriously, great stuff Jen!

  • http://internetstrategy.us/blog/ Internet Strategy Blog

    Helpful post, thanks. I second Barry Welford’s tip about participating in comments sections. Douglas Karr recently discovered that 26.13% of visitors to his blog came from sites where he had commented: http://www.douglaskarr.com/2007/01/10/the-long-tail-of-commenting-never-blog-alone. Keep your comments interesting and positive, and folks will click.

  • Mephisto

    Another tip:

    Participate in the comments on your own blog. Eg when you ask your readers to leave good tips (and have them create content for you) like in this post, but don’t seem to care about the users themselves (like ignoring a question as the one from Jennifer Apple). Especially when noted that your own practice is different from what you claim people should do in your post. How trustworthy is the article then? Do you really care about helping people?

  • http://timeforchange.typepad.com rick huey

    I am just starting out(3 months ago) and have purchased a domain name and had it forwarded to my blog. I should have started the other way around, but didn’t. My question is, is this harmful for the success of the blog going forward? I notice that no traffic data can be pulled from new domain name. Any suggestions?

  • http://allmycauses.blogspot.com Kristen

    Awesome post. And I agree with Dixon: ‘blog’ can be a scary word in many areas of the business world, so I’ve suggested ‘newsroom’ or ‘corporate information center’

    You also make a good point about design. With the right design scheme, a blog doesn’t have to look like a blogger page.

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    > I love this list, but there is one thing that you mention that you don’t seem to be implementing. 24) Use a Good URL Structure

    Ah, well Jen and I might disagree on the value of having terms in a name. I think it definitely is worth doing if you can, but it’s not crucial.

    We don’t use them here because Movable Type doesn’t export them well. Instead, we use a day/time combination that I know allows me to move entries into any blogging system or into a new setup without having to do a lot of redirections.

    For more on this, see this on my personal blog, Movable Type & Rebuild Safe URLs

  • http://www.seopittfall.com pittfall

    Danny,
    Well put!

    Don’t forget – creating a buzz about/around you blog is still a very important aspect of blogging and a website, you can do this by sharing with your friends. Don’t be ashamed to market yourself to others.

  • http://philtered.com cd

    Great article and good comments above. One additional thing – re: #25: “Use great categories”. Do you think people actually browse through categories? I believe that users scan the homepage, read feeds in their reader software, or search. But rarely do they browse the sections on a blog.

  • http://www.affiliateprofitcenter.com DavidO

    Great Post!

    Interesting, this is the third post I’ve read today that’s advocating linking out (#17). I’m glad to see that, for so long linking was dictated by pagerank, webmasters were petrified to link to any site that had a lower pr then their own. Good to see that people are realizing that a good site is a good site regardless of what the google toolbar thinks.

  • http://www.affiliatewatcher.com Don

    Great tips! Seems like every once in a while I need to be reminded of tips like this.

    One of the most important tips, at least IMHO, is having descriptive Titles. It really turns me off to see the same boring titles on everyone’s blog. Since most of us skip over the text, you need something to make a surfer stop and say “Whoa, that sounds interesting!”

    Don

  • http://www.search-optimization-school.com jtpratt

    These are great tips. Articles like this always create lengthy “to-do” lists for me, but they are always worth it in the long run. If you just implement a tip of two each day, you can dramatically change your SERP listsings in no time.

    Great article, I’m passing the information on to my readers at Search Optimization School. I wrote about your blog optimization article here

  • http://usadutch.com/blips blips

    Another tip is not to force users to sign up at thousand services on the web. Use captcha if you really have no other way to prevent spam.

  • http://www.2Dolphins.com Rob O.

    I’ve read that adding TITLE attribute tags to your hyperlinks can improve your search engine likability.

    Without a doubt, this little extra bit of info about your links can be boost your accessibility – especially handy if you know that your routine visitors are older, less-adventuresome, or visually-impaired computer users.

  • http://www.huckabuck.com vglass

    Great post. I would also be interested in some of the tools bloggers are using to track the popularity of their blogs. Anyone have any specific tools that they can recommend?

  • http://www.autenticoecuatoriano.com Santhros ibn Shinu

    What an article you have written! It compiles (in an effective way) the most valuable techniques for high ranking the page.

    I have a question, though I’m sure that it’s a bit out of context. If you can help me, I’ll be foreve grateful. How long does it take for Google to show to calculate the PR of a new site? The fact is that I have 2 blogs, the first one was opened as a blogspot.com blog (personal journal) in June, 2006 and it’s currently ranked PR3. The latter, It was opened in February, 2007 and though it has more posts and more inbound links, it stills shows PR0. Do you know of a way to “ping” Google as to calculate the PR of my new site?

    Thanks in advance for your kind help.

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  • http://www.hikmetoglunakliyat.com evden eve nakliyat

    You can also create a mobile widget for the sidebar of your blog. Users enter their phone number and start receiving text message alerts on their phone with a short synopsis every time you update your blog

  • http://www.ekintas.com evden eve nakliyat

    These are great tips. Articles like this always create lengthy “to-do” lists for me, but they are always worth it in the long run

  • http://www.ekintasnakliyat.com evden eve nakliyat

    Here’s a thought for B2B. Just because you are using blogging software and techniques, doesn’t mean you have to call it a “blog”. In B2B it helps to think of it as a newsroom, pressroom or anything else businesslike and make the user feel s/he is looking at something suitably “professional”. If you are doing that though.

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    In B2B it helps to think of it as a newsroom, pressroom or anything else businesslike

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