Being that I’m a blogger as well as a software developer, I’m going to deviate a little from the normal Cocoa specific programming fare and focus a bit on leveraging basic SEO on your blog. These are some of the lessons I’ve learned and I think they might be helpful to others.
People do some pretty shady things to try to improve their page rank. There are companies who claim to be able to improve page rank. In fact it’s an entire market full of snake oil sales people. I’m sure there are some legitimate “consultants” out there, but they’re tough to find. In the end, the techniques for “optimizing” your page so that search engines find your content more readily are the same for the legit folks, like bloggers such as those of us who write for CIMGF, as they are for the folks who are trying to game the system. The difference is that gaming the system is exactly what true SEO helps eliminate. Google will blacklist your site if they detect you are trying to game them and getting off of that list will prove very difficult. It is not worth it to game the system. In the end when leveraging basic SEO, the old adage remains, “Content is King”. That single principle is the one and only differentiator. Write great content for your users and everything else will fall into place.
Here is how I summarize the basic techniques of effective SEO.
– Write content that is meaningful, helpful, or useful to your audience that actually enlightens them
– Read that first point again. If you don’t get that one right, the following ones don’t matter.
– Seriously! CONTENT IS KING!! (sorry for yelling).
– Provide the “on page” attributes, like making search terms part of your post (e.g. in headers and paragraphs, etc.–more on this later)
– Use social media to let your tweeps know about your new content. If they like it, they will retweet it. Tweets get picked up by Google indexing.
– Use news aggregators to let other people know about your content
– Make sure your site map gets updated when you publish your new content to the world
– If your content is good, other bloggers will link back to you. Linking back to you communicates to google that you are an expert site. The more people that link to you, Google will consider you more likely to know what you’re talking about and your page rank will rise.
So if you’re asking yourself, “so how can I use SEO to improve sales?”, please stop asking that question. You are thinking about it all wrong. If you want to make money, spend money–namely on advertising and stop trying to game the system. You’re actually part of the problem and the search engines will penalize you for that. Now, that being said, SEO can provide a revenue stream, but in order to get, you first have to give and the revenue you do get may be difficult to attribute directly to your SEO efforts. What I mean when I say that you have to give is that you need to provide actual legitimate and helpful content to the community–whatever community that may be.
For us here at CIMGF, legitimate content exists in the form of blog posts that we believe will help our readers become better developers or that will teach them how to do something that will improve their effectiveness. Often, when I perform some web search to see how to do something, there will be a hit on the first page that links back here to CIMGF. Now, of course, my response is often, “oh, I guess I’ve done this before.” In fact, one of the early reasons I started blogging was as a way to keep a journal of the things I was learning. Apparently, these “journal entries” are helpful to other people as well–so people link back to our blog posts and Google therefore considers us an expert site, which is critical for obtaining higher page rank.
Is SEO Real?
If someone says, “I’m an SEO”, run for the hills. I just want to ask, is that like a CEO? Presumably it means “Search Engine Optimize(r)”, I guess. Is it some sort of real position or job title? Or did you make that up in the hopes you could fool someone into using your… ahem… service? These people are just wanting to take your money and promising something in return that they can’t actually provide. SEO is not a bad word or a bad thing, but because there are these Internet hipsters out there who make promises they can’t keep, it’s gotten a bad reputation. As I said earlier, it’s all about your content. You want to drive traffic to your site not because you have something to sell, but because you have something beneficial and helpful to say. If you pursue SEO, which admittedly is a dumb name that won’t evolve, you have to think of it the way a search engine company thinks of it. Here’s what I mean.
If the hits Google returned for every search query led you to just the top bidder (and no I’m not referring to the paid links you see–I mean the real hits), how long would you continue using their search engine? If you looked up Peyton Manning on Google, for example, you are likely wanting information about his career stats or the latest news about the star Broncos quarterback. If the first page of hits Google returned were simply places where you could buy jerseys with his number on it, you’d be pretty irritated. That’s why content is king. Google needs their users to be able to find the most relevant links. Relevant means simply that it’s meaningful to you. If they show you what they want you to see, rather than what you actually want to see, you will go somewhere else quickly–end of discussion. In the end that is detrimental to their bottom line. They would be foolish not to build a system that helps realize the adage.
SEO is real, but it only helps site rank for real and actual content in your specific domain.
Niches Are Easy, Broad Topics Are Not
So what do I mean by “specific domain”? Well, it’s pretty easy to get your blog post to be at the top of the search if you are pursuing a niche community–like, for example, Cocoa developers. I can reach my target audience with my message pretty easily because people in our community are looking for content that is relevant to them and I can produce content that is relevant to them because of my own expertise. If I were to start trying these SEO techniques for say something like the real estate industry, you wouldn’t see results so quickly. If the adage applies, you would have to start cranking out content that was super interesting and helpful to a very broad target audience on a super frequent basis and you’d have to have a keen insight on determining search terms that your users are likely to use to find you. You also have to remember that you shouldn’t release your content all at once in an explosive manner. Google can detect this and may flag your site if you’re not careful. Your content needs to emerge organically. It needs to find its way in a natural fashion where real people wrote real content on a regular basis. Otherwise, your efforts may be for naught. Reaching a broader audience is not by any means impossible. In fact, the person I learned SEO from is a master at this and has employed techniques that have overtaken the top spot for many many topics on Google. Reaching a broader audience, however, is very challenging and requires vigilance and consistency. Oh, and it requires great content. Did I mention that yet?
Choices That Benefit Community
When you build your site pages, you make choices according to your priorities. Site rank can potentially mean revenue, but that depends completely on how you leverage your traffic. And you have to make choices that don’t negatively affect the attributes that brought people to your site in the first place. If you start throwing ads at your users in an attempt turn your traffic into cash, it’s possible that it may work, but why risk it? When CIMGF started, we made the conscious decision not to place ads on the site because we felt like it cheapened the content and our message. Almost five years later, we still stand behind that decision. Now, that being said, we have affiliate linked to the books written by the authors who have penned a post here at CIMGF including yours truly, however, we think that this still benefits the community and ties in with our message which is that we want to help other developers like ourselves because we believe in our community. The books we’ve written, we wouldn’t have written if it weren’t something we considered beneficial. Unless you’re a NYT best seller, you don’t make much money writing books. And linking to our books is merely a way to help authenticate us with our readers–giving them confidence that we have something to offer.
The SEO 80/20 Rule
I’ve heard some people quote this incorrectly and claim that the SEO 80/20 rule means that 20% of the optimization will give you 80% of your hits. That, while very positive and optimistic, is just incorrect. The SEO 80/20 rule means that approximately 20% of your hits will occur due to “on page” attributes that you’ve given it (appropriate headers/titles keywords and structure) while the remaining 80% come from off page attributes such as people linking to you and the quality and placement of those links on their sites. The 80% portion is almost completely out of your hands while the 20% is completely in your hands. What I mean is you need to specify the proper page attributes to make sure you take advantage of the full 20% that you can actually control.
To help with this, I recently started using a plugin for WordPress on CIMGF called “WordPress SEO by Yoast“. It’s fascinating the things it suggests for you and you can choose to implement them all or you can ignore them or work on everything in between, but it very quickly gives you some insight into what items are helpful and/or important to ensuring your page has all of the basic “on page” requirements that you have control over. The rest of your site rank is going to come from people linking to you and they will only do that if you are providing excellent content.
While I was composing this post, here is what “WordPress SEO by Yoast” displayed.
And here is the analysis.
Even if you don’t understand all of the details of the analysis, it will give you some helpful insight at a glance that you would otherwise have to discover by reading books on the topic of SEO–though I’m not against that. There are some good books out there. There are some articles on the web that talk about WordPress SEO by Yoast specifically and provide more details on the setup and configuration options. You should check those out as well.
In the immortal words of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, “be excellent to each other”. Fight the urge to try to use SEO as a way to make money. It just won’t work that way. Focus on creating excellent content that your readers will love and benefit from. The revenue may flow, but ironically that is probably directly related to how altruistic your blogging intentions are. The more altruistic, the more revenue potential. But if you start seeking revenue, your attempts at altruism are dashed and revenue generation will fail. How’s that for a paradox? Until next time.
One more thing. I was doing a web search and came across a company that provides SEO services. I couldn’t help but laugh and you’ll see why when you take a look at the screenshot below. I would be completely shocked if this company provided any legitimate service just going on their site design alone. Even their name makes it seem like they’re trying to game the system. Who puts a 1 at the beginning of their business name for other than strategic (read, subversive) purposes? Nobody. Anyhow, have a look and a laugh.