(This is the second of a five-part series about blog SEO. This series was published two years ago on HyperlocalBlogger.com with an emphasis on local blogs, but has been updated and rewritten for publishing now.)
One of the common mistakes business owners make is waiting until after their web site is developed and launched to think about SEO; it needs to be taken into account during the site design and development process.
Similarly, a small business blogger should be thinking about SEO from day one. Here’s a look at several SEO considerations you should decide on long before any blog posts are written and published. If you’re already an established blogger, many of these ideas and tips can still be applied.
Your Blog Platform
WordPress is a very SEO-friendly blog platform in its own right; the availability of plugins to further optimize a self-hosted WordPress blog makes it almost a no-brainer to use WordPress as your blog platform of choice. You can download WordPress software for free from WordPress.org; your hosting company may also offer WordPress software as a “one-click install” or something similar.
WordPress also offers a separate blog service where it will host your blog at WordPress.com. I would avoid this — and other hosted platforms like Blogger/Blogspot.com — at all costs for a variety of reasons. One reason is that hosted services usually don’t provide nearly the same opportunity for SEO success as hosting WordPress on your own site does. Even more important is that you need to own your own digital assets, and if your blog is hosted on WordPress.com or Blogspot.com, you don’t own those domains.
There are other blog platform options that, to be frank, I’m not as familiar with — content management systems like Drupal, Joomla and others. If you choose to investigate these options, be sure to compare the SEO capabilities to WordPress when reviewing the other pros and cons of each platform.
New Domain Setup: www or non-www?
When setting up your hosting account, you’ll probably be asked to choose whether you want your blog to be reachable at www.yourdomain.com, yourdomain.com (without the www), or both. The only wrong choice here is “both.” Choose either to use “www” or not use it, and then make sure the other option uses a 301 redirect to hit your domain.
In other words, if you use the “www” version, there should be a 301 redirect setup on yourdomain.com to automatically send visitors to www.yourdomain.com. Chances are good that your web host takes care of this for you during account setup, but you should double-check.
Existing Site: URL Considerations
If you’re adding a blog to an existing small business website, you have three options for how to setup the blog in relation to your domain:
Best: Setup your blog in a subdirectory of the existing site, such as yourdomain.com/blog. This is best because all links to your blog will also benefit the main domain/site.
Okay: If you must, it’s okay to setup the blog on a subdomain, such as blog.yourdomain.com. This is not ideal for SEO because the main domain will benefit less from inbound links, but it’s not the end of the world.
Worst: A third option for bloggers with existing sites is to setup the blog on a completely separate domain. I refer to this as the “worst” option because having a separate blog and website means the content and links from one don’t benefit the other. You have two unique domains, unique websites … and that means twice as much work when it comes to content development, content management, SEO, and just about everything involved with having a website.
Important: If you have an existing and established blog, I would not recommend you change the domain or URL setup. Doing so is like starting from scratch, even if you correctly setup a 301 redirect from your old domain to a new one. Changing domains or URL structures on an existing, established site is usually just asking for a big headache.
In WordPress, you can and should customize what your URLs look like. I don’t know how other blog platforms handle this, so I’ll be speaking to the process WordPress uses. In your Admin area, go to Settings >> Permalinks. WordPress will default a new blog installation to use URLs like this:
For SEO reasons, you want to do it differently. Choose “Custom Structure” and then input one of these two options in the text field:
The second option is what I use here on Small Business Search Marketing. I included the POST ID but it’s not necessary. It helps to make sure your blog post URLs are never the same, but truth is that WordPress won’t let you have two articles with the same URL; if you accidentally use the same post name, it’ll add its own ID number to the end of the URL.
Here’s a screenshot of how it looks for this blog:
This will create nice, clean URLs like this:
Both users and search engines prefer short, descriptive URLs, and this is the best way to accomplish that during your blog setup. There’s more you can do with your URLs when writing individual blog posts, and I’ll cover that in the next article in this series.
Categories or Tags
In WordPress, you’ll be able to structure your blog with categories, tags, or both. Making this decision requires you to look into the future a bit and imagine what your blog will look like in six months or a year. Here are my thoughts on that decision:
Categories: This is my preferred method because it creates an opportunity to target strong, general keywords as categories. Notice on this blog that I have categories like “SEO” and “Local Search” and “Social Media,” rather than specific categories like “Google Places Advice” or “Facebook Tips.”
Tags: I use tags, not categories, on my personal blog, MattMcGee.com. I did this purely as a test. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Even when you don’t use categories, WordPress will default all your posts into the “Miscellaneous” category that it requires to function. So, you get categories even when you don’t want them.
- It’s very difficult to keep track of all the different tags you’ve used on previous blog posts. On my blog, for example, I’ve used “photo” as a tag, and “photos” as a separate tag. I don’t remember if I did that on purpose, but I do remember having to go in to my blog admin and clean it all up. Tags open up the door for a messy blog structure.
Both: I’ve never done both on a blog, but many bloggers swear by it. You could, for example, use general terms for your categories and then create more specific tags for each post. On this blog, for example, I could still have my “Social Media” category and could then have tags like “Facebook,” “Twitter” and “Google+.” Again, though, in my experience, tags can be difficult to manage. Your mileage may vary.
This isn’t so much an SEO issue as it is a spam-management issue. And if you don’t manage spam on your blog, then it can become an SEO problem. I’m a big believer in allowing comments on a blog with as little moderation as possible. But a completely free and open commenting system will eventually attract all kinds of spam, and you’ll end up wasting a lot of time deleting spammy comments.
My suggestion: Require commenters to have their first comment manually approved. This will keep probably 95% of all spam comments off your blog; you can zap them before anyone sees them.
This is a must. Web analytics are a great tool to help you learn SEO and improve your blog. A good analytics program will help you understand
- what blog posts were the most successful,
- what keywords and phrases bring people to your blog
- where your visitors come from
- what other web sites and blogs send you the most traffic (including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter)
- much, much more
Before you launch your blog, make sure you’ve setup some web analytics software to track what happens after you launch. Google Analytics should be plenty good enough for most local and/or small business bloggers.
Google Webmaster Tools
It’s also a good idea to connect your blog to Google’s Webmaster Tools. This is a suite of products that helps you understand how Google sees your site. And with Google owning about 65% to 70% of the search market in the U.S., it’s good to know how Google sees your site.
Summary & Preview
There are a number of important SEO-related decisions that should be made long before you start writing blog posts. But even if you have an existing blog, many of the above tips still apply: setup analytics if you haven’t already; use Google Webmaster Tools; keep comment spam off your blog, etc.
In the next article, we’ll dig deep into your blog’s content and how to optimize it with SEO best practices in mind. I’ll talk about keyword research and usage, writing headlines, customizing URLs, and much more.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments on this article or the series so far, the comments are open.
(This is the second of a five-part series about SEO for local/small business blogs.)
(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)