(Editor's note: Mark McLaren, online consultant for McBuzz Communitions LCC and Business Blogging 101, talks with PostRanger.com blogger-in-chief Shawn Hessinger about Search Engine Optimization for your blog.)
1. So, bottom line, can a blogger with limited resources and the willingness to learn really move up significantly on Google and other search engines and make sure his/her Web site gets found in their niche?
Absolutely. I think Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, makes a good point when he says that the most important thing for a successful blog is that you write – or videolog or podcast – about something you are passionate about. That's really crucial because it will keep you fired up and it will mean that you want to engage with a community around whatever it is you are interested in. You can optimize your blog for search engines all day long, but if you are not getting out and talking to others on their sites and spreading the word about the topics and people you really care about, it's not going to be successful in the long run.
2. Is SEO really a 'dark art'? How much of an expert do you really need to be to gain visibility for your Web site and what are the key things to think about when trying to do so?
You know, it's funny, but you really can learn about 80% of what you need to know for good SEO from a book like Search Engine Optimization for Dummies by Peter Kent: title tags, inbound links to your site from other authoritative websites and blogs, headers on the page with good keywords, using keywords in your first paragraph of content and in other prominent locations on the visible page. And applying that 80% will get you the biggest return on your time. Real SEO experts spend time on more difficult techniques or – maybe – slightly shady practices that put a site at the top of page one in Google. But for a blogger or someone with a business website, you can get a whole lot of visibility with a platform like WordPress because of the built-in SEO features and the fact that search engines like fresh content.
One of the best things you can do for SEO is to create useful content and then share it with people who have the same passion for it as you do. When you connect with people online, comment on their blogs, get to know them on Twitter and other social sites / platforms, and share their stuff with others, then they are going to link to your site and talk about it with their friends and others. That's good networking and it's also good for SEO.
3. Given the choice, which do you think is more important when building traffic: working to get found by search engines like Google or building referral traffic from other bloggers and social sites? Is there a hierarchy of importance here, something you should worry about first, second?
You have to do both: optimizing your site for search, and connecting with people. Some people more naturally gravitate towards one or the other, which is cool because you can concentrate on whichever you like. If you are a more social person and not so technical, it doesn't hurt to read a bit or find some other resources that explain SEO in a way that makes it easy. On the other hand, people who are highly technical can still find a group to socialize with online or at conferences and such. If I had to pick, I'd say it's more beneficial to be social, because connections to people will outlast whatever SEO practices are hot at the moment.
4. Once you've got visitors on your Web site, how do you keep them and get them to link to you through social media and other sites? What kind of content encourages people to keep coming back and share it with their friends?
Again, do what you are passionate about. And then listen to your visitors. Be as responsive as possible. If you get a great response to a particular post or video or whatever, then do a follow-up. And be sure to respond to folks when they leave you comments. Comment on other people's sites. That will keep them interested in what you are doing.
5. What's the best approach when creating a good business blog or Web site? Are blatant sales pitches and blinking banner ads always a step in the wrong direction? What in your experience are the most important considerations when creating a site for your business?
You have always got to think about your audience, your readers or whoever you are trying to reach. Treat them with respect. There are plenty of blatant sales pitches out there, and now they are on Twitter and Facebook, as well.
One significant change in doing business on the Web is the speed and flexibility that's inherent in the newer technologies. A book like What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis captures this. Google launches beta applications and other project tests all the time to a small group of users and then they see what happens and they make adjustments. Web 2.0 tools like WordPress make this much easier to do with a business website than it was just a few years ago.
When you create content online, whether it's for business or your personal blog or whatever, you can use Web 2.0 tools like "Share This" and YouTube and sidebar widgets and so on – a very long list – to be sure that people can find it and share it easily with their network of friends and colleagues online. It's not the only way to ensure success, but it's definitely something that will help you get there.
(Mark McLaren is a former Senior Production Manager and Interactive Developer at Bradley Brown Design Group and Technical Illustrator / Graphic Designer at Black Box Corporation. He now works as an online marketing consultant specializing in withb a specialty in WordPress websites, social media marketing and SEO in Seattle, WA)