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Writing with Search Engines in Mind

"Well, just look it up on Google..."

How many times have you heard or said that? If you're like the majority of North Americans, you've probably said it a lot. Looking up information through a search engine—Google being the reigning champion—has become standard practice. The take home of this idea is that if you want people to get to your site/blog/whatever, then you need to make sure that not only Google knows about you (that isn't very hard), but that you're writing so people will find your content when they are looking for your topic.

How do you get to this search engine nirvana? Believe it or not, just by starting off with a blogging engine, you're already ahead of the game. Search engines love blogs because they automatically link all of your site's content together. Even better, as you link to your own work, use categories, and tag your posts, you build connections that search engines can use to better understand and index your content. As great as blog engines are at the basics of SEO, there are some really easy things you can do to dial your SEO up to an 11. Now let's get you the rest of the way there with a few tips.

For the moment you're going to take for granted that Google and the other search engines have found you. Yes, I know it doesn't happen overnight, but most blog engines automatically ping all the search engines when you post, so within a few weeks to a month you're being indexed.

One of the key parts to having people find your blog via search engines is understanding how people actually search for things: keywords .


Put yourself into the shoes of someone searching for your topic. What words would you use to find a topic? What words in the title or the excerpt will get you to click that result? Don't just think, "Oh, of course someone will search for x." If you follow that track, very often you'll be wrong. It's okay. Initially, your gut will be wrong, but there are some tools for you to try out to check how often certain words are used.

These tools include:

For example, Figure 3.9 shows what Google's tool shows for the term "blog."

Figure 3.9

Figure 3.9 The Google Adwords Keyword tool to see how often people search for "blog" and similar terms.

When you're writing posts, it's a good idea to learn what keywords people use to look for information on your topic. Because so many people use the word "blog" (and variants), using a term like weblog might not bring many people to my site. However, there are some ways to use the variety of terms people use to search for things to your advantage.

Once you have your keywords, run a few searches with them. What results do you get? What catches your eye? Follow the links to those sites and see how the content is written. I bet you'll notice how important terms are repeated often in the text, not in a strange way, just often. You should also notice how the authors use synonyms and variations of the keyword terms as well. This is because Google and the other search engines are putting more weight on the content of the page than they were in the past. It isn't a battle between who could write better code for pages; it's between who can write better content for pages.

Writing for Search Engines

Diversity is critical to your success with search engines. How many different ways do you know to express an idea? How many words do you know that mean pretty much the same thing? Can you distill an idea into a short sentence?

These are all key to writing for search engines.

  • It isn't a battle between who could write better code for pages; it's between who can write better content for pages.

The operating principle is to write keyword rich. The title of any blog post you write should have the words that describe what the post is about. If your post is about investments and the stock market, then those words should be in the title. By the same token, the content of your post should include words like investing, stocks, securities, and so on. Write normally, but write diversely. Flex that vocabulary. Use different words and phrases in the post to explain the point. This makes your copy keyword rich. Your post will be indexed for the breadth of those keywords, which means that when people search for something like investing, your post is strongly associated with not only investing, but all the other shades of meaning. Search engines will take this to mean that your site might be more relevant to the searcher.

Google and other search engines strive to learn human language and shades of meaning. They try to tie words to ideas and concepts so the more words that you use to describe a concept, the better your post will be indexed.

Categories and Tags

Blog engines, like WordPress, use categories and tags to help you organize your posts into topic areas. Categories and tags are very similar, but easy to differentiate by just thinking about your kitchen's silverware drawer.

A category is like the silverware drawer itself; the drawer holds a lot of similar and related objects. In the drawer you have those metal objects you use to eat. If you were writing a post about those objects, you would put it in the category of "Silverware Drawer" but then tag the post with "utensil, fork, stainless steel, desert fork, and Oneida."

I'm betting that you have figured out the post is about stainless steel desert forks made by Oneida. The tags help readers and search engines connect all the dots together to put your post into context with other posts on your blog and blogs all over the Internet. You can see by extension if the tags for another post were "utensil, knife, stainless steel, steak, serrated, and Oneida" you'd know what that was about. If someone wanted to see all of the posts you wrote about your vast collection of Oneida silverware, clicking on the tag name in any of the posts with that tag brings up all the posts with that tag (knives, forks, and even spoons).

So, categories are big buckets for content. When you're thinking of good names for categories, think of the major concepts you'd use to look for your topic and what you're writing about. Categories might be the keywords that are almost too general, but still enough to get you in the right general direction. You don't want to have too many categories on your blog. My rule of thumb is around a maximum of 10.

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