StepForth’s Blogs 101 is a resource to provide our clients and readers with a clear concept of what a blog is, why a blog might be a positive addition to their website or marketing campaign, and how to implement, optimize and promote a blog. In Part 1 of this series I will discuss the basics of a blog and some of the necessary steps to take before starting one.
What is a Blog?
Why try to reword what already is eloquently written? Here is the definition for “blog” from Columbia Encyclopedia: “blog, short for web log, an online, regularly updated journal or newsletter that is readily accessible to the general public by virtue of being posted on a website. Blogs typically report and comment on topics of interest to the author, and are usually written and posted using software specifically designed to facilitate blogging; they include hyperlinks to other website and, often, photos, video clips, and the like. The most recent entry by the blogger is posted at the beginning of the blog, with earlier entries following in reverse chronological order; comments and other responses to the blog by readers are often posted after each entry.”
In the case of StepForth we have a blog devoted to search engine news that we started back in 2002. We created the blog to learn more about the technology and as an alternative method to disseminate our articles; before that we had only used our newsletter. Throughout our learning curve we were struck by how simple it was to set up and manage a blog. We then discovered the various nuances of blog promotion while we kept up with the latest social book marking features; I will be delving into these topics later in a separate part of this tutorial.
What is So Great About Blogs?
The ‘great’ is entirely in the eye of the beholder but here are some distinct advantages that come to mind:
- Blogs are a great medium for your customers and prospects to get to know you and your services better.
- When you post information to a blog the blog software automates the process of updating your website with the new information and archiving old content; simplifying the chore of keeping your website fresh and relevant.
- Blogs can automatically announce (ping) to the world whenever new content is added. Again, this automated process simplifies the all-important (and normally time consuming) promotion process.
- Through the use of syndication methods your blog postings (writings) can be monitored easily by fans of your services/writing.
- Blogs provide a wonderful platform for readers to interact with you by leaving comments.
- Due to the highly social and interactive nature of blogs it is possible that links will begin to appear to your posts from other websites. This can increase your website’s link popularity and will only happen if you write engaging and source-worthy content.
What Blog Software is Available?
Blog software, both free and commercial, is so plentiful I couldn’t possibly cover all of them. That said, here is a fairly comprehensive list and a blog software comparison chart which provides further detail.
Here are the top 4 better known solutions:
- Blogger by Google (Free): StepForth has always used Blogger and we have been impressed with some of the options in this free solution. Unfortunately, Blogger is far from perfect and lacks much of the customization potential available in other solutions. We plan on changing to a new system in the future even though it will not be a simple task to change.
There are two types of Blogger; one is the hosted solution (using Google’s servers) called Blog*Spot and the other is a personally hosted solution where updates and archives are automatically posted within your own website. The Blog*Spot solution is not recommended because, like TypePad (#4 below), all of the content and links will not be as influential because they are not hosted on your own website. There will be some benefit because your blog is likely to link to your main website profusely; however, it is best to integrate the Blogger blog within your own website.
- WordPress (Free): WordPress is a very impressive blogging solution that can be easily installed and offers myriad advanced options including simple-to-install plug-ins to extend the capabilities of the program (here is a large list). I have personally installed and used WordPress for a while now on personal websites and I highly recommend it.
One concern about using WordPress is integrating your current website design with it as its templates are solely CSS driven. If your website is not CSS-driven you will be in for a bit of unexpected work. Converting your web design to CSS is definitely a smart move but at that point you are effectively redesigning your website; which makes the addition of a blog much more work than it needs to be.
- Movable Type (Paid): Movable Type is perhaps the most popular blogging tool available because it offers a great deal of flexibility and complexity. Unfortunately these additional elements result in a tool that is not meant for the faint of heart. However, if you want an advanced blogging solution that is sure to stand the test of time then this is the tool for you. Pricing for personal licenses is free but commercial licenses start at $149.95 per year.
- Typepad (Paid): TypePad and Movable Type are made by the same company. The learning curve for TypePad is significantly lower while providing many of the advantages of Movable Type.
In this article, Elise Bauer at LearningMovableType.com actually recommends (between the two softwares) TypePad over MovableType for new users because it requires little or no HTML and CSS knowledge. The downside is that it is a hosted service so it is not an effective option from a search engine marketing standpoint because the content is not hosted on your own existing server but on another. As a result, the content does not directly offer weight and relevance to your own website unless you switch your domain to host it with TypePad - except from the standpoint of backlinks.
What You Should Consider Before Creating Your Blog
Having your Webmaster install a blog solution is generally not a difficult task although you will have to put on your thinking cap and plan out the best method to integrate a blog within your website’s existing structure. Here are some of the more important considerations that relate to usability and search engine rankings:
- Carefully name your blog: Your blog is both an extension of your company’s brand and its marketing goals. Consider this when researching the name of the blog.
Start your research by noting the names of your competitor’s blogs; you may find a pattern of keywords emerging. Also review the various search frequencies for blog related keywords in your industry. Using a tool such as Keyword Discovery or Wordtracker you can get some perspective on the popularity of various phrases. For example, when I researched the name of my blog, I decided on the “StepForth SEO Blog” because “SEO blog” was the most searched term in the SEO-related search queries (I typed “SEO” in Keyword Discovery and searched until any phrase with “blog” appeared).
I also checked other keyword variations such as “search engine” using the word “blog” and noted the searches were significantly less than “SEO blog”. You can conduct the very same research which will allow you to brand your blog in a manner that provides maximum exposure. After all, anyone who links to your blog is likely going to use your title and those linked keywords are a great boon to related rankings.
- Decide on a simple path: Your blog should be located at a space in your website that is simple to remember and navigate to. For example www.yourcompany.com/blog/ is often adopted because it is the easiest to remember.
- Add the blog into your site’s navigation: Are you planning on your blog being a large draw to your website? If so, you should consider where you are going to integrate links to your blog within the main navigation of your website. In most cases I see website owners placing a link to their blog in a space that appears more of an afterthought than a prime location for viewers to access it. Remember that your blog is meant to create a readership over time and providing easy access to the blog is a crucial step.
Tip: Make sure to evaluate the placement of the navigation links over time using your website statistics. It may very well be that your statistics show your blog has become the main driver of traffic to your website. If this is the case then experiment with your navigation by making the link to your blog even more prominent on your home page and see how it affects sales; this may yield higher readership, better ROI and longer time spent by visitors on the site. If you do not have a stats program we highly recommend the award winning ClickTracks traffic analysis program – it is simple to use and we have had excellent success with it.
IMPORTANT: I recommend starting your blog with a positive attitude; expect it to become a permanent addition to your online marketing strategy. This will require you to plan spending the time to make your blog work for you. After all, successful blogs require extraordinary commitment because the only way to draw regular readers is to provide quality content on a regular basis. If you are not sure you can handle this extra time then reconsider creating one for the moment or hire someone who can.
Avoiding Duplicate Content Issues on Blogs
When a new posting is created in your blog the system will automatically create two types of archives. One will be an archive by date (by month or week) and the other will be a categorical archive. Categories or ‘labels’ as they are called on Blogger allow visitors to find your postings under certain topics you specify. For example, when I categorize this article in our SEO blog I will likely use the following pre-existing labels; “Social Marketing”, “SEO Tips”, and “Ross Dunn” because they are all related to the article.
These automated archival options provide excellent options for users to find information; however, they also give the search engines far too many versions of the same article. Just consider how many versions will be available in the scenario noted above:
- On the blog home page where the article is originally posted
(albeit for a short time – if your blog is updated regularly)
- The “Social Marketing” category will include a copy
- The “SEO Tips” category will include a copy
- The “Ross Dunn” category will include a copy
- The date-driven archive will include a copy, and
- The blog feed which will duplicate either a full copy or a snippet of the original article depending on settings (which we will get into later)
In this case you can see there is a potential for 6 identical copies of a single article within this blog. This is not good since search engines are not fond of duplicate content; it adds unnecessary bulk to their databases, drains valuable processing time and it can appear like SPAM.
So how can you minimize duplicate content issues on a blog? Use your Robots.txt file to block sections of your blog from search engine spiders so the same content is not indexed repeatedly through different arenas.
Begin by cutting back the greatest offender: either the date archives or the labels/categories. Two viable options are presented below:
Option 1: My recommendation would be to block spiders from categories since they are the most duplicate-ridden sections of your blog. After all, if you apply three categories to a single posting you will end up with at least three versions of the same article within your blog. If, however, you choose to block categories and only enable date-driven archives then you only have a single version of your article located in the blog over the long term which is far more desirable.
Once the categories have been blocked you will have only 3 duplicates of your article when the complete article is initially posted and ultimately, only one, once the article leaves the blog home page and feed.
Option 2: Neil Patel brought to my attention this alternative method of both operating a blog and minimizing duplicate content.
- All articles should appear in full format within an article section of your website, separate from your blog.
- When you release the new article create a teaser in the form of a snippet and post it in your blog with a link to the full article for continued reading.
- Use your site’s robots.txt to block spiders from the date archives, feed and any other duplicate versions of pages with the exception of labels/categories.
- When you categorize a blog posting do it sparingly (concisely) to minimize duplicates. Since the snippet is only a portion of the core article there is little chance it will affect the main article negatively.
I like Neil’s concept because the main article remains relatively untouched by any potential negative impact since the blog (that has minor duplication) is used only as an introductory device. Meanwhile the full version of the article stands on its own in a portion of the website that serves as a library of sorts (which could be) controlled by a content management system (offering inherently more long-term scalability).
Why Be Concerned About Duplicate Content on a Blog?
The more duplicates you have of a particular document the more you devalue it in the ‘eyes’ of Google and other search engines. When content becomes particularly devalued Google tosses such content into a secondary database called the Supplemental Index where content it considers of lesser-quality is stored. Once in the Supplemental Index the content rarely sees the light of day.
The simple fact is that duplicate content is rarely punished heavily, it is just ignored. Adam Lasnik from Google wrote an excellent article discussing the perils of duplicate content which I highly recommend if you want more information on this sometimes confusing subject.
Next in StepForth’s Blogs 101 Series:
- How to Optimize a Blog
- What is Syndication, and
- Exploring Social Marketing Options for Your Blog.