Getting your blog posts to rank on Google is harder than ever before.
There’s more competition and Google’s algorithms get trickier every update.
But let me start with a few definitions:
- PWN: A deliberate misspelling of the word “own“. Commonly used in gaming circles as a verb to describe beating or succeeding at something. For example, the Blog Tyrant pwned that zombie.
- Today’s Google: We’re talking everything after the Panda update.
- Panda update: Read below. You’re so needy.
In this post I’m going to show you a few SEO secrets that every blogger that started a blog needs to know to survive and succeed on modern-day Google search results.
The absolute necessity of the top spot on Google
One of the things that a lot of bloggers don’t realize is that the first place on Google means a lot more than anywhere else.
Image: Search Engine Watch
Take a look at the graph above and you will see that the top spot gets almost 40% of clicks while second place is around 12%. And this is, in my opinion, a very conservative estimate.
To get that coveted top spot you need to do a lot of things right. You just don’t get there by accident anymore.
Years ago when I first sold a blog for $20,000 it was so much easier than it is now – write a few posts, do a few blog carnivals… what the heck is Twitter?
Now we actually have to pay attention and understand what Google is looking for with their changing algorithms.
Google’s changing algorithms
Every few months good old Google makes a change to how it indexes results in its search engine. Sometimes these are minor tweaks and sometimes they are major overhauls.
A modern Google search result
A few years ago Google results were just a list links to relevant articles. Nowadays any given Google search will show you:
- Moving Twitter results of current events
- Previews of the website you’re about to visit
- Location-based results
- Personalized results
Its a totally different place.
But what has all this got to do with the changing algorithms?
Well, each time they revamp the way Google users see and use the search engine they change the way articles and blog posts and videos are indexed. The whole goal of Google is to return relevant and up-to-date results while combating spam and removing those who “game” the system.
So what was that Panda update about?
The Panda update was the most recent update that totally changed the way Google works. I’ve heard it was labelled “Panda” because now all websites are endangered but in actual fact its named after a Google engineer called Navneet Panda who re-wrote the way Google do some important things.
There are lots of stories of people who have had their entire financial world turned upside down by this update. A friend of mine had a fitness site that went from 2,000+ visitors a day to 200 a day overnight after this update.
The whole point of this update is to remove poor-quality sites from the top of Google’s search results.
Remember, you used to be able to build small niche sites with a little bit of content and a few great back links and rank at the top. That is going to be less and less likely although I still know a few guys having a lot of success like this.
This update is designed to reduce rankings for low quality sites — sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high quality sites — sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
The problem here is that a lot of “mom and dad” operations were killed in favor of big, rich sites like Expert Village that have thousands of people working for them.
The second problem is that often these sites aren’t the best source of quality information.
A lot of good quality bloggers were hit by this update. Another good reason to not rely on Google.
6 SEO secrets every blogger needs to PWN today’s Google
The idea here is to give you a few little tips that can help you boost your SEO potential as well as protect it from a Panda-type hit.
This is a huge topic and there are entire expert firms devoted to helping other big firms navigate this new science. With that in mind, you should consider this post a very small starting point for you own research.
1. Social is the new backlinks
If you’ve been around the SEO game for a while you’ll know that it was all about backlinks. Google saw these as an excellent way to determine a site’s authority: the more people linking to your site the more trustworthy you were likely to be.
And when it was discovered that you could manipulate your rankings with backlinks it all went mental.
People were buying them, stealing them, selling them, sneaking them into free WordPress themes (a good reason to check this out) and a few honest souls (like me!) were earning them legitimately through killer content and useful comments.
But now it seems like a new major indicator of trust is social media and in particular Twitter and Facebook.
Think about it.
If a new blog post gets zero Tweets and zero Shares there is a chance it is of low value. A post that gets 10,000 Tweets, on the other hand, is likely to be very useful for readers.
The social media shares are almost like a focus group for Google rankings.
If it gets shared, it will get indexed.
So what can you do?
- Build your social profiles
Make sure you continue to build your Facebook and Twitter profiles alongside your blog.
- Coach your readers
Its a good idea to occasionally mention to your readers that it would really help you out if they Tweeted or Shared your stuff. Hint hint.
- Tweet other bloggers’ stuff
Make sure you are tweeting other articles that you like from bloggers in your niche. They will return the favor. A tweet from Brian Clark can work miracles.
Start thinking about social media as a way to help your SEO, not just your referral traffic. This is important.
A WARNING: The obvious question then becomes, won’t people just “game” the social media scene? Yep. They already are. And Google is already filtering them out. If your tweets and shares aren’t legitimate you can expect a penalty real soon.
2. (Some) Backlinks still matter
The next thing that I have to mention is that backlinks still matter. A lot.
As I mentioned, I know a few guys who are doing really well from small sites with a really strong backlink profile. It just proves that Google still really believes that a link from a trustworthy blog is one of the best ways to judge the quality of a site.
So what’s the post panda lesson?
Don’t buy backlinks or build them from poor quality blogs. We’ve known for a long time that buying backlinks is against Google’s rules and a stupid idea but the real news now is that poor quality backlinks just aren’t going to be worth as much.
Here’s the thing. If you can figure out a way to “game” Google with backlinks you can bet that Google is on to the method. If you are trying to build a long term, sustainable income you want to avoid any method that could come undone with a future update.
Make sure your get your backlinks from quality blogs and websites. The absolute best way to do this is to create tools, resources and content that people link to. Boring I know.
3. Bounce Rate now a big indicator
Your Bounce Rate is a statistic that shows how many people leave your blog without visiting any other pages.
For example, if I had one visitor and they arrived on a page and then closed the window without looking at any other pages I would have a Bounce Rate of 100%.
You want to get that rate down as low as possible.
So what is low? Well it depends on a lot of things.
If you have a lot of traffic coming from Google search you will usually have a high Bounce Rate because the people who arrive are really only looking for one thing. Referrals from related sites typically have much lower BR.
Recent week’s BR. Problogger referrals lower than Twitter and Facebook.
If you can get a blog’s bounce rate down below 60% you are doing well. Anything below 50% is excellent.
This has always been an important factor for Google but a lot of people now think it is even more crucial. If people aren’t staying on your site long its likely it isn’t very valuable.
So how do you lower your Bounce Rate?
- Get a good design
Design is a really important factor. You want to be able to win people’s trust. I’m launching some pretty sexy themes soon or you can check out Studio Press if you want something that Google is in love with.
- Have related posts
Make sure you use the Related Posts plugin to add some “further reading” to the bottom of your posts or sidebar.
- Recommend posts
Have a Popular Posts section at the top of your blog (people love to click it) or make sure you recommend posts to people in other articles.
- Go back and tweak old articles
Every once in a while you should go back and tweak old articles to give people and idea about a related topic. Have a look what I did in the opening paragraph here.
- Tweak above the fold
Above the fold is all the stuff you see before you scroll. It should be as efficient as possible.
It is really important to be relevant. Make sure people who arrive at your post are getting exactly what they are looking for. That is, after all, what Google is trying to achieve.
4. Duplicate content is being redefined
Something I learned recently is that duplicate content does not just refer to copying other people’s work. It also refers to sections within your site that have the same content.
For example, some blogs, like this one, have tags and categories where people can go through and find old posts. They might also be able to do this with a Pagination style system like I’ve got at the bottom.
Well, as it turns out, all of those different navigation paths represent duplicate content. That is, if you show full posts on each one.
Try to use the MORE tag to limit posts to excerpts, use post titles only on category pages or re-structure how your site’s navigation works. I’m 100% sure about it yet but I think Google might want us to start using either tags or categories and not both.
One little secret I’ve noticed is that my tag results are now getting indexed in Google faster than even some posts.
5. Returning readers indicate safety
Just like the lesson on Bounce Rate, we are now seeing that the metric of Returning Readers is becoming more important than ever.
Again, this is all about Google seeing some indication of your site being a safe and useful place for them to send their clients.
This is a no brainer. If you want to get people to come back to your site you need to:
- Produce amazing content
I’d really start to tone down on the small “update” posts and just release big beautiful articles with lots of useful information.
- Focus on email subscribers
Keep growing that email list. Not only does this safe-guard your blog against a Google penalty, it also gives you a way to contact readers and get them back to your blog whenever you want.
- Try a series
One way to get people back is to produce a series of posts on the same topic. Darren Rowse did one that went for a whole month. The retention must have been amazing.
- Interact with people everywhere
I’m often surprised at how little some smaller/beginner bloggers interact with their readers. They don’t reply to comments, Tweets or Facebook messages. My policy is to try and reply to all of them and it has worked really well for me over the years. Make friends with your readers and they will come back.
The trend you might be noticing by now is that if you do all of these SEO secrets there is a good chance you will be building a really amazing blog. That is the crux of the issue.
5. Build a multi-platform, multimedia brand
Something that I have been saying for a long time now is that you really need to start paying attention to two things; mobile and cross-media content.
When Google bought Youtube they signaled to a lot of people that they were going to move away from just articles in their search results. And they did.
They have also done a lot to make sure they are appearing on smart phones (think Android).
The point here is that Google knows that the future of the internet is tablets and phones. People are going to be moving away from personal computer and towards a more mobile environment. You have to make sure your blog moves with this trend.
So what do you need to do to ensure you continue to PWN Google?
- Make an App
Pat made an iPhone App for his blog. Good idea.
- Make videos
You just GOT to start making videos. They are going to be as big as written content one day very soon. Did I mention I’m on Youtube?
A podcast is a really cool way to talk to your audience as well as show the robots that you are serious about your content. Here’s how to make a podcast.
Start thinking of your blog as a brand. Its more than just ordered posts on a website. You are offering a service and you need to maintain and grow that brand across a variety of different platforms and mediums if you want to stay strong on Google.
6. The future of SEO is about user psychology
This might sound a little bit ridiculous to some but the future of SEO is going to be less about building backlinks and more about understanding how users interact with a website.
I’ve hinted at this already when talking about having a clean design, low bounce rate, lots of users who share your content, etc. You really need to start learning how people behave when they visit a website. What are they looking for? What makes them stay longer? What makes them share content?
So, Panda kind of means something new and different for SEO. As SEOs, for a long time you’ve been doing the same kind of classic things. You’ve been building good content, making it accessible to search engines, doing good keyword research, putting those keywords in there, and then trying to get some links to it. But you have not, as SEOs, we never really had to think as much or as broadly about, “What is the experience of this website? Is it creating a brand that people are going to love and share and reward and trust?” Now we kind of have to think about that.
Don’t build a blog, build a whole website with valuable content. And understand how people behave.
- Communities matter to humans
Human beings need to feel part of a community. Its literally built into our DNA. Study ways to make your blog feel like a group.
- Make sure people trust you
If you want people to subscribe to your list you need them to trust you. So what signals are your sending to your readers?
- Understand color and images
Understand the role that color and imagery plays in the subtle decisions that people make. For example, in our culture red symbolizes stop, spam and danger.
- Offer exclusivity
Exclusive content is one way to make people come back and be loyal. Humans love to feel like they are part of something special.
- Solve financial and emotional problems
When you write a blog post you are not just solving a practical problem. You are solving a financial or emotional one. Make sure your content is changing people’s lives, not just their days.
I really recommend that all my readers start to get interested in psychology and the psychology that is involved in marketing. It is something we spent a lot of time on at college but not a lot of bloggers seem to emphasize it all that much.
Do you have an SEO story?
So how have you gone in a post-panda world? Do you spend a lot of time working on SEO or is it something totally above your head? I’d really love to hear about all your questions or stories regarding SEO practices and tips so please leave me a comment and let me know, especially if you noticed something that made a big difference to your rankings.