What is SEO and why do I need it?

Looking around at numerous other blogs I frequent, it becomes painfully clear just how little many people understand about SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.  In this situation, ignorance is not bliss as these blogs are potentially sacrificing a large number of readers who can’t find the content contained within.

What is SEO?

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization is the process by which the author of a web page (or blog in our case) organizes and formats their content to make it more accessible to search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing.  This sounds relatively simple, right?  Well, let’s start off by making it clear that there is no such thing as a blog with perfect SEO simply because there is no 100% definition of exactly what “perfect SEO” really entails.  However, there are a few simple things that can go a long way to making sure that your blog is at least getting indexed by search engines.

Some may ask why it’s so important to have search engines indexing our carefully crafted webpages.  The answer is pretty simple really.  If the search engines can find our content and index it, that means that people who are searching Google, or other search engines, can find our content.  This is what is referred to as organic traffic as it’s traffic that the blog has generated without any assistance from you (aside from writing the initial article or post).

Why do we care about Organic Traffic?

Many will argue that organic traffic is one of the most important types of traffic as it means you are reaching readers based on them specifically searching for your content — which means that they are more likely to stick around and read some more.  What’s more, you are reaching new readers which should help to grow readership.  After all, readership is the key to a successful blog!

So officially, how important is this organic traffic?  There are tons of different statistics out there, but I’m going to just ignore them for a minute and tell you my opinion.  While I have a significant number of repeat visitors, a very large portion (over 70% as of this writing) arrive at my blog from a search engine.  Of the people finding my site on search engines, more than half visit a second page on my blog.  Collectively, they spend well over a minute on my site.  While these numbers are good, the ultimate goal is to raise them.  It’s also important to note that the vast majority (over 95%) of search engine traffic is from Google.  Therefore, it seems that focusing on Google’s ranking is the key to success here.

Getting started with SEO?

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet when it comes to optimizing a blog for search engines.  There are, however, a few steps that need to be taken prior to changing anything on you blog.  The first is to setup some tools to help you better understand how your site is currently viewed by the search engines.  In order to do this, I highly recommend setting up a Google account and signing up for both their Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics.

The easiest way to setup Google Analytics on a WordPress blog is with the most excellent Google Analytics for WordPress plugin by Joost de Valk.  This plugin, and the associated setup page makes it very painless to get started tracking your visitors.  There are also a host of great features such as outbound link tracking and keyword tracking that Joost describes very nicely.

While just as easy to setup, Google Webmaster tools is even more useful for SEO purposes.  It gives the user a list of keywords that appear on your site in order of relevance (meaning how prominence they are) as well as your search engine ranks for popular searches.  This information is invaluable when trying to see how your site is currently portrayed on the web!

Google Webmaster Tools - Search Phrases
Search Queries as shown in Google Analytics

While my current search queries aren’t really all that impressive, you can see how powerful this tool really is.  It shows me the query that my site ranks on, and what position my site will appear in the results list.  Ideally, you’ll want all number 1 in the “Position” column.  While this may give a great representation of what queries will pull up your site, what about keywords?

Keywords as shown by Google Webmaster Tools
Top Keywords displayed by Google Webmaster Tools

This is just as powerful, but in a slightly different manner.  From here, you can see the top ranking keywords on my blog.  You can also see the significance of each one.  So, looking at these keywords, you can see that currently, the most significant keyword on my site is “smugmug” which makes a lot of sense since I have written rather in depth about Smugmug vs. Zenfolio here, here, and here to name a few.

After setting up both of these Google tools, do be aware that it may take as long as a month before you start receiving meaningful data.

Where do I go from here?

To start with, it’s a good idea to let these tools start collecting data.  The next thing to do is to perform a few searches on Google to see exactly what pages from your site appear when searched for relevant topics.  If you’re curious to know what pages of your site have been indexed, the best way to do this in Google is to search for ‘site:yoursite.com’ without the quotes.

Google search box for digitalnotions.net pages
Searching for all Digitalnotions.net pages in Google

To see the results of the above search, click here.

Over the next few months, I’m going to post more information about optimizing a WordPress blog for search engines.  If you ave any tips or questions, feel free to let me know and I’ll do my best to write about them!