Optimize Your Blog for Search

Some folks compare organic search marketing to public relations, where you are trying to get free attention for your business. They further link paid search to traditional advertising. If the comparisons make sense to you, then maybe we can torture the analogy by comparing blogs to press releases. Your company can write a blog post or a press release to try to attract attention, and they are both free.

But that’s where the similarities end. Press releases are usually sanitized to the point of lacking any personal point of view. They are literally the voice of a faceless company, while blog posts must have an intensely personal approach to be interesting. Also, press releases don’t directly reach their audience. They are filtered through mainstream media, while blogs are read directly by subscribers and even commented upon in public.

So, blogs seem very nice, but what do they have to do with search marketing? Plenty. Let’s see how.

Get Indexed Faster

If you read blogs, you are probably familiar with the concept of a Web feed, with the most common ones being RSS and Atom. Web feeds automatically send all new blog posts to your subscribers, who use a blog reader, such as Bloglines or Pluck. For the purposes of search marketing, it doesn’t really matter which kind of Web feed you use, and your blogging software probably generates each type of feed anyway. What is important is what Web feeds can do for you.

Google, Yahoo and all of the mainstream search engines have started indexing Web feeds, and because blog information is so time-sensitive, they index them quickly. To make sure that your feeds show up right away, simply ping the search engines every time you post. You can instruct your blogging software to ping each one, or you can send one ping to a free service such as Ping-o-Matic, which can ping dozens of search engines for you. As soon as the search engine receives the ping, it dispatches its search spider to scoop up the new page.

But what about your regular Web pages? Well, Web feeds can distribute more than just blog posts. Why not create a Web feed from your product catalog? Get your programmers to produce a Web feed that sends the latest catalog changes to subscribers, pinging the search engines for that feed. Now you’ll see your product catalog changes reflected in the search engines as quickly as your blog posts. If you’re accustomed to waiting a month for search index updates, you’ll be thrilled to see changes show up in a day or two when you use Web feeds.

Get More Traffic

You probably know that the highest-ranked results garner the most traffic, and that search engines rank their results in part based on the number and quality of links to your pages. Blogs are a great way to get links, especially from other bloggers, helping your posts to draw traffic.

But blogs also have a special kind of link, called a trackback, which you can actually give to yourself. Trackbacks allow you to comment on someone else’s blog post with a post of your own. So rather than leaving a comment for a blog on the other blogger’s site, you can use a trackback to write your comment as a blog post on your site, causing the other site to automatically link from its blog post to your comment. Where else can you actually give yourself a link?

And blogs are useful for more than just links. They provide information that doesn’t fit elsewhere on your site. Let’s say you are an affiliate for satellite TV service. You have lots of information on your site about installation costs and all those great channels, but blogs allow you to do more. You can write about unusual channels that aren’t available on cable. Or discuss how satellite TV fits into a home theater system. By doing so, you will capture searchers who have not decided to buy satellite TV yet – they are merely video aficionados not sure what they want. You can draw them to your blog and possibly get them interested in satellite TV when they otherwise would have stuck with cable.

Blogs are not for directly making sales, for the most part. Blogs provide background information, customer references and deep information that attract potential customers. Strive to inform with your blog and allow customers to sell themselves. Instead of a sales-y come-on, do a soft sell and have confidence that it will be enough.

But remember that providing all this content in your blog is not enough. You need to make sure that you are optimizing your content with the right keywords in your titles and your body copy – even in the name and description of the blog itself if that makes sense. That ensures you get search traffic for your great blog posts.

Get Wider Visibility

So far, we’ve looked at how blogs help your search marketing with the mainstream search engines, such as Yahoo and Google, but you should know that new blog search engines, such as Technorati, are increasingly attracting searchers who’ll find you only through your blog. Visit these new search engines to see if there are ways for you to improve your blog’s search results. Technorati, for example, allows you to claim your blog, so that your own blog description can be shown to make your posts more attractive.

But search engines have come under fire for allowing new kinds of search spam, called splogs. Splogs are fake blogs created by splicing together purloined content with boatloads of links (to the splogger’s real websites) to artificially increase search rankings. To combat splogs, some blog search engines are using new criteria to rank search results. Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves) offers a blog search facility linked with Bloglines, its blog reader program, which ranks results in part based on the number of a blog’s subscribers rather than merely how many links are made to them. This usage data is much harder to fake than links are, so searchers may see better results on these specialized search engines (making them even more popular).

Now is the time for you to launch your blog, or take your existing blog to the next level. With the right content, you’ll reach your target customers in new ways, while improving your organic search marketing at the same time.

MIKE MORAN is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience. Mike is also the co-author of the book Search Engine Marketing, Inc. and can be reached through his website MikeMoran.com.