Six tips for great SEO: #Twespians bloggers’ seminar (part 2 of 4)

Continuing my series of short notes from last night’s Twespians bloggers’ seminar, following on from part 1 posted last night.  As I said in my previous post, the second session overlapped with the first in a lot of ways, but it’s all worth considering for bloggers, whether you’re writing about theatre or not. As before, the notes are generally from the speaker, with my own additions in italics.

Six tips for great SEO (@shadowdaddy)

SEO is about building readership, allowing new readers to find your content more easily by making your site show up higher in search engine results. It helps you avoid blogging into a vacuum.

The keys to SEO are:

  • Quality content
  • Inbound links
  • A good site structure (which common blog platforms help with)
  • Building a buzz – blogs are inherently social in nature, and about creating a conversation

Quality content is vital. There’s a reason why it’s top of the list above – all the semantic HTML in the world won’t help you if your content is rubbish. You’ll attract occasional visitors, but the only way they’ll stick around is if they enjoy reading your blog.

  • Traffic for blogs is cyclical, especially if you’re talking about current issues or reviewing shows. You will need to keep creating content to build an audience
  • Reviews of touring shows can retain interest longer term than shorter ones

Any incentive for bloggers to talk about regional and touring theatre is okay in my book. You’ll also find that long running West End shows can also generate traffic, but you’ll be competing against many, many other content sources.

  • Conversion for commercial websites = revenue. Conversion for bloggers = more readers & comments + status in a wider context. Both can lead to money w/ advertising, etc. in the long run

Tip 1: Get the tech right

  • This includes the right HTML metadata, from page title and descriptions, to well structured URLs and good links
  • Most blogging platforms go a long way to doing the heavy lifting for you
  • The words that are clickable in your links count for a lot. Making “Read my review of [title of show]” works far better than “click here”
  • When displaying page titles in search results, Google truncates them after 67 characters. So keep them short and to the point (and, if possible, put your site name at the end of your title rathe than the beginning)
  • Link back from your new blog posts to relevant old ones. Helps search engines traverse your blog and indicates that your older content is still relevant. Link out to other people as much as you can, too — they’ll be able to tell, and hopefully link back. And it builds out your network
  • Be careful with tagging your posts. Can be very useful, but make sure that clickable tag links lead to archives of your content rather than aggregated content from other users of your hosted platform (e.g., WordPress.com)
  • Some hosting platforms ‘fix’ problems that you need to be aware of if you’re self-hosting – e.g., if example.com, www.example.com and www.example.com/index.html display the same content under three URLs, search engines won’t know which to consider the real one

Tip 2: Get in early

  • The most contentious area when it comes to blogging about theatre getting your review up early (especially before the main print publications) can get you high traffic levels, but there are ethical issues re. press nights, etc.
  • People will disagree about whether the print critics should have gone en masse to review Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark even though its press night had been pushed back again
  • One possibility which can provide a better traffic/ethical balance:
    1. Write a preview post with some information (e.g., casting news, etc)
    2. Once you’ve seen the show, write a quick review ASAP
    3. Update with a full, considered review
    4. Make sure that your older posts get updated with a link to your most up-to-date review

Tip 3: Create controversy

  • Strong opinions get people talking (e.g., the West End Whingers)

This isn’t really SEO, although if people start linking to your coverage then those inbound links will help you. Writing deliberately provocative posts purely as ‘link bait’ can damage your personal brand, so be careful

Tip 4: Create longer-life topics based on reader research

  • Think outside just reviewing
  • Google’s AdWords keyword adviser and Search Insights tools can help show you what sort of phrases people are using to search for content in your field. These should inspire you to think about areas where you can provide useful information

Tip 5: Promote it

  • Think about auto-posting to Facebook, Twitter, Posterous, Tumblr, etc.
  • Provide tools to help your readers promote your content to their friends, e.g., Tweet Button, Facebook Like button.
  • FB’s Like button has just changed to give you greater control over how your posts appear on people’s walls. Greg Finn’s optimisation tips at SearchEngineLand can be useful here (expect to see blog Facebook button plugins updated to make this easier for non-techies)

Tip 6: Analyse your readers’ habits

  • Hosted platforms offer some analytics, and/or you can use Google Analytics
  • Can show you what keywords people are using to find you, what pages are providing the interest, etc.
  • Google’s webmaster tools will also help – can show you how your site places in the searches people are using

All of this is important, but it should be your guide, not keep you on a leash. Write about what interests you, and worry less about your readers want to read — but keep an eye on which terminology you use that can make your content easier to find

Coming in Part 3, Laura Tosney’s common sense ‘code of honour’ for theatre bloggers, and in Part 4, blogging for profit…

My top 5 WordPress plugins

Earlier today, Tim Ireland (@bloggerheads) asked over Twitter:

Hello, hive-mind. What are your top 5 must-have WordPress plugins?

I’ve tried out several plugins since moving this blog to WordPress, so coming up with possible suggestions wasn’t difficult. Keeping it to five was, as was deciding on an order for them. I’m not sure the order I eventually went with was the correct one, though, so here are my top 5 plugins, presented in alphabetical order.

NB: Not all the plugins mentioned below are, at time of writing, attested by their authors to work with WordPress 3.0, the most recent version. As with any software, use is at your own risk: all I can say is that they work with my WordPress install.

Custom Post Limits

I first blogged about this plugin almost exactly a year ago, but it deserves another outing. The plugin allows you to fine tune any page where WordPress would normally show multiple blog posts, be it the main index page, monthly archives, lists of posts tagged with a certain phrase, etc.

With the default WordPress installation, all such pages must show the same number of posts, which isn’t always helpful. I’m no longer using the template that initially made me start using this plugin, but it remains in use because it offers setting that should, quite frankly, be a standard WordPress feature.

Google XML Sitemaps

One of the best ways of ensuring that search engines including (but not limited to) Google can find all of your pages, and not just the ones linked from your home page, is the use of an XML Sitemap. This is a file that effectively lists all the unique URLs that exist on your blog, and can also give hints as to which ones you consider the most important, and which ones the search engine spider can poll for changes less frequently.

While most modern WordPress themes are designed well enough to include some best practice methods of search engine optimization (SEO), having an automatically-updated sitemap can really help ensure your posts get the best chance of being indexed accurately.

Redirection

As its name implies, the Redirection plugin can help you implement page redirects. This can be especially useful if you’ve previously run your blog with different software that used different URL building schemes, for example.

If anybody follows a link from a third party website to an out-of-date URL on your blog, normally they would see an error page (in the parlance of the HTTP specification used by web browsers, the status code of the error is number 404). This plugin allows you to intercept that error before it’s shown to the user, and instead ask their browser to redirect to the new, more appropriate location.

As a result, your readers are happier, search engines (which include the number of successful links coming into your site as part of their ranking algorithms) are happier. It’s a win-win.

The user interface of this plugin isn’t the greatest, to be honest, but once it’s set up correctly you will rarely need to access it too often. It’s worth keeping an eye on the logs it creates to check that you haven’t missed any pages, though.

Theme Test Drive

Everybody wants a little bit of individuality for their blog. Finding the right visual theme can sometimes be the most daunting part of setting up a WordPress blog. While WordPress 3 makes it easy to switch between radically different themes, the last thing you want to do is to have your audience on the web watch you try out theme after theme until you find the one that fits.

Theme Test Drive allows you to apply your new theme so that only you can see it. Regular visitors to your set will continue to see the old theme until you’re ready to switch.

It’s the WordPress equivalent of having a fitting room to try on new clothes, rather than having to strip down and parade about in your undies in front of the other shoppers. Which is just as unpleasant for them as it is for you. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP)

Back in August 2009, I recommended a plugin that allowed you to automatically build a list of related blog posts. This one’s better. The algorithm takes more of the blog’s content into account, it allows for extra customisation and caching if you need it, and can include the related links in your blog’s RSS feed if you want it to.

If you’re logged in as an administrator and view your blog posts while this plugin is switched on, each of the recommended links also displays a relevance score. In theory, this can help you identify if you need to use a cut-off value to eliminate links to posts which aren’t quite as relevant as you’d like. In practice, I’ve found that YARPP is reliable enough not to need any tweaking at all.