Getting in Google’s good graces
One of the constant topics that many webmasters and webloggers are concerned with these days is Google, how to increase your site’s standing in Google’s eyes, and therefore drive more traffic to your site. I use a number of techniques on my weblog, both in the code and how I create entries, that help Google get the most useful information out of my pages.
While I’ve mentioned some in the past, the subject recently came up in a thread on the TypePad User Group, and I shared some of my methods in that thread. At the request of both Liza and Richard, who have also been posting about this topic, I’m re-posting my post (post-haste, though not post-mortem, and definitely not postpartum) here…
Still, I’m amazed to read that you had 1,000 per day BEFORE MS made you a web celeb (boo! to them). Do you think those hits came from your blogging subject or from special tactics you engaged in to increase your site traffic.
A little bit of both, probably.
First off, it’s not so much my subject, as my lack of subject. Because I’ve never really focused on any specific topic for my blog, and just randomly babble about whatever crosses my mind, that gives Google a lot of potential keywords to pick up on.
Also, I’ve been at this for about three years now, so I’ve got a fairly large archive section, which also increases the probability of any given keyword turning up in a search.
As far as special tactics, there’s a few techniques I’ve picked up on over the years that seem to help (some of which you covered in your post).
Descriptive headlines as a page title. The title of a webpage scores very highly in Google’s ranking scheme, so I generally try to make sure that my post titles are descriptive of what I’m posting about (“Lord of the Rings Trailer” rather than “This is cool!”), and I make sure that the post title is included in the page title.
I believe that TypePad is set to include post titles in page titles for individual archives by default, but some weblog tools (including MovableType in its early stages, I believe, though I could be wrong) only include the site name for every page title, so instead of a site containing 1000+ differently named pages, you’d end up with a site containing 1000+ pages all named “My Weblog”, which doesn’t give Google nearly as much to work with.
Setting a consistent structure for the code on each page. As HTML was designed to emulate (though not visually replicate) the structure of a printed document, it includes various structural elements such as various levels of heading. As Google pays attention to these when it scans a document, it often helps to use them correctly.
In the past, rather than using the
<h2>, etc. elements for headlines, division markers, and so on, many sites would use
<font>tags to give their subdivision headings the look they wanted. Now that the
<font>tag has been deprecated and we can use CSS to style every element on a page the way we want, it’s good to return to using structurally correct markup. In addition to making a site much easier to code, it also assists Google in determining the structure, topic, and relevance of any given page.
For each individual archive page on my site, I’ve structured it as follows:
<title>: website name > post title
<h1>: website name
<h2>: website ‘tagline’
<h3>: post title
<p>: post body
<h4>: trackback source
<p>: trackback body
<h4>: comment author
<p&>: comment body
<h3>: comment posting form
This gives each page a clearly delineated, easy to read structure that tells both the reader and Google which parts of the page are the most important and the most relevant to the topic of the page.
Link descriptively. Simply, this involves using natural language for your links so that the link is descriptive to what it points to. For instance, saying “The new Lord of the Rings trailer is out!” instead of “You’ve gotta see this!” gives Google more information about what you’re linking to.
This carries a double benefit, in that not only does it give Google better information about what you’re referencing, it also lets Google know more about what you’re linking to, which helps out whoever is on the target end of your link.
Alt text on all images. This is important for a few reasons. First off, it lets Google know what each image is so that Google can include it more reliably in their image search feature. Secondly, though, and more importantly, it greatly improves the readability of your site for people with disabilities using specialized browsers to read the web.
Blind users can use a “screen reader” to read websites — this is a specialized browser which translates the text to audio, and reads the page to them. Without alt text, all that screen reader can do is give them the name of the graphic, and might end up telling them something like “Image named funnypicture.jpg”. With alt text, they’ll instead hear something like “Image named Gimli falls off his horse”.
Use the excerpt field to create useable descriptions. While keywords are no longer recognized by Google, another
<meta>tag in the
<head>section of your document still is (I think), which helps Google determine the topic of the page, and that’s the ‘description’ tag. What I’ve done is put this code into the
<head>of each individual archive:
<meta title="description" content="<$MTEntryExcerpt>" />
I then make sure to take a moment to create an excerpt for each entry as I’m making it that relates to the topic of the post, rather than just relying on TypePad’s auto-generated excerpt (which generally just grabs the first n words of each post).
Anyway, there’s a few of the things I do which seem to help my site visibility. Mostly, though, I think a lot of it just boils down to the fact that after three years of babbling, I give Google a lot to work with.