Mitch Canter on SEO
Last month I attended TBEX Europe, the European Travel Blog Exchange conference which took place in Athens, Greece. One of the sessions I attended was about SEO for Bloggers, presented by Mitch Canter. This post includes my notes from the session along with some of my own thoughts and observations.
What is SEO?
If you’re new to blogging you might not be familiar with the term SEO; it’s an acronym for Search Engine Optimisation and relates to processes that make your content more discoverable by search engines such as Google.
The Death of SEO?
Earlier this year Copyblogger published a post suggesting SEO is Dead and instead talks about Optimising Content for Discovery and Conversion (OC/DC) which focuses upon both search and social, playing a different but equal part. So SEO isn’t really dead, instead we need to recognise that optimisation is about more than making your content discoverable by search engines.
Focused searching VS browsing
Mitch provided an example of a focused search (e.g. I want a hotel in Athens) VS browsing (e.g. looking at your friends social content, seeing where they have been on holiday, looking at their photos and reviews) and advised that people are finding your content via social or Google, based upon a recommendation you have given or someone else has given. They are separate ways of searching but equal and definitely go hand in hand.
The 4 pillars of SEO
Mitch presented 4 important pillars of SEO (or Content Discovery Optimisation – CDO) which are required to make a website or blog successful:
Before starting a blog or new site, you should research who you are trying to reach – in other words, your audience. You should also “know thy self” at Mitch suggested – who are you and who are you trying to reach? You can achieve this by considering the following questions:
- What words or phrases do people use to describe the “focus area” of your blog or website?
- Who makes up the largest, most relevant audience you could write content for?
- If people could search for your content and find you and like your content, they could be a lifelong fan. What would that content be? You need to support that content with other relevant content.
- What searches that are relevant to your content do you wish you ranked #1 in Google for?
Focus on your keyword categories and related sub-categories. Research helps you define what people are looking for so you can organise your content so that people can find you.
Top tip: create a Google AdSense account in order to use the keyword search tool. Enter a phrase in the search tool and related phrases will appear. This is a great way to do keyword research and find out exactly what people are looking for.
- Have your own domain name; it provides legitimacy and blogs on hosted blog sites such as Blogspot or WordPress.com will hinder SEO because you are ultimately sharing SEO with the rest of those hosted blogs on those sites.
- Use WordPress – it powers approximately 22% of the web.
- Fast load times; ensure your blog (or website) loads quickly. This has an impact upon search results because it impacts the user experience and therefore Google penalises sites if the load time is more than 2-3 seconds. So apart from thinking about optimising content to improve page load times, you should also consider your web hosting carefully too because better hosting can result in faster speeds = better search results.
- Ensure everything on your site works; there should be no broken parts – or links.
- Using a keyword in your domain name can be useful.
- Permalinks (permanent links); use keywords in your permalinks and ensure your permalinks describe your content. If you use WordPress for example, the default structure of permalinks is not very SEO-friendly and you should change the default to reflect the post name – and then ensure the post name includes the necessary keyword(s).
- Use a caching plugin on your site because this is also a good way of cleaning it up and keeping your site running at optimum speed. Mitch recommended W3 Total Cache.
- Use an SEO plugin e.g. for WordPress users, WordPress SEO and Yoast are both reliable and easy-to-use options. SEO plug-ins provide you with feedback on your blog posts as you produce them, to help you optimise your content.
Top tip: sign up to Google Webmaster Tools immediately (if you haven’t already done so), a free service from Google. Submit your site to Google to help Google index your site and increase site visibility. Google Webmaster Tools provide you with free detailed reports about your site’s visibility and also if your site ever gets hacked or receives a virus, this is where you need to go to restore your status with Google.
- Make sure your content solves a problem.
- Content is always evolving. Outdated content can have a negative impact on SEO/CDO so it is always useful to revisit old blog posts and update them. Updating old content can also upgrade the keyword that Google might use to find your content and that will also allow them to index old content. As the volume of blog posts grow on your site, it can also be useful to link relevant ones together. Google likes interlinking within your own site.
- Keywords VS context; keywords are important, within the context of the article. Google is no longer just a keyword search engine, it is now a contextual search engine. This means keywords need to be used appropriately and in context and you should never “pad” keywords into a blog post; use them in the right places.
- You are writing content for two audiences; Google bots and people. Always be mindful of this when you write your content.
- Use varied content; different media appeal to different audiences, so think about the diversity of your audience. You should also think about web accessibility. Mitch noted that this is a whole other area to explore which is separate from SEO but does have an impact on SEO and I couldn’t agree more. A lot of websites (and blogs) do not follow web accessibility standards but it is important to recognise that accessibility does not just benefit those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia or disabilities such as a visual impairment, everyone benefits from accessible content.
- Using video: don’t use a particular medium for the sake of it; use it appropriately e.g. it can be difficult to tell a good story in a few words but a very short 15 second video could do the job really well. Don’t just tell, show as well. If you create a YouTube video (for example) to embed in your blog post, don’t forget to link the video to the blog post too, in the description.
Top tip: some examples of places to use your keywords; in the title (this is crucial), headings and sub-headings, in the body of the post (appropriately approximately 2-4% of the body should include the keyword), in alternative text (alt text) for images (use the keyword combined with a short description of the image, so that a visually impaired person using a screenreader will be provided with a description of the image) and also in the meta-description of the post. Google uses the meta-description to display in the search results; if you do not write your own meta-description for each post, Google will display the opening of your blog post.
- Social media is incredibly important; publish great content that other people will want to share.
- Ways to promote content: for images, use Pinterest; for video, Vimeo is great for high quality videos with artistic integrity whereas YouTube is better for the social aspect. There was a question about Instagram, which is a great site for building your brand and creating a community and a following but Instagram posts rarely lead to users visiting your blog because Instagram do not allow external links on photos that you post. Instagram is still a great site for travel bloggers though, just don’t expect it alone to increase your site traffic. Think of it as a supplementary network.
- Guest blogging: write posts on other blogs and link to posts from your own blog, that you’ve written in the past.
- Sponsored content: currently sponsored content does not impact negatively on SEO, Mitch advised that as far as Google is concerned, “content is content”.
Top tip: do not delete old blog posts if they receive traffic; instead update them and cross-link between your other related blog posts (as mentioned above).
You can access Mitch’s original slides SEO For Bloggers on Slideshare and below.
“The future is not set”
Like most things, the future of SEO is not set. Google is always developing and changing the rules regarding how content and sites are ranked, so it is important to stay updated and be prepared to adapt your SEO strategy, which should include re-visiting your existing content.