I wish you all a great blogging year for 2007. I pray God will speak words of life and peace and health through you and I pray those who need to hear those words will FIND them.
I am receiving a lot of emails over this new year regarding blogging. The 2 most common questions I am asked are regarding
(1) which blogging platform and
(2) Google ranking and what influences it.
Here some thoughts for 2007 directed at those of us committed to the high calling of blogging. 15 of them to be exact.
1. Keep Your Old Blog
Start another blog if you must but don't kill your old one. There must be a million people out there planning to migrate from Blogger to a better platform. Wordpress is probably the best. I use Typepad for this blog and have no complaints. There are others out there also. But I think you should probably keep your current blog and start another to cover a different area of your life or interests. Nothing wrong with having a few blogs. And if you have built up some links and ranking authority through having some history, it would be a shame to lose it all when you start over. I know this because I deserted my original blogspot blog in favor of Typepad and lost everything. I wouldn't make the same mistake today.
2. Buy a Blog Editor
If you buy a blog editor, you could put up with your lame and pedestrian platform for much longer. Maybe forever. I use Ecto and I love it. I can write and manage my blog posts offline and I dont have to mess with the interfaces. And yes, I could easily blog straight from my browser (Flock is cool for this) or other programs but I just like my Ecto and am not changing. Not yet.
3. Your Long Domain Name is OK.
No one remembers URLs anyway. Having a "wordpress" or "inknoise" or "vox" or "blogspot" is perfectly ok and is not a sign of immaturity or cheapness. Aslo, domain mapping is great if you do it when you start your blog. Otherwise it is not worth losing your existing links and authority. If you are tempted to map your existing blog to your particular domain name, then read my drama before you do anything stupid.
Now the other thing . .
GOOGLE RANKING or "search engine optimization" to use the correct term and to acknowledge the many non-google search engines [God bless them all and deliver us from the monolithic power that Google is coming to exert in this new Cyber-Babylon of ours]
Don't believe anyone who tells you the world is flat. There are new kinds of hierarchies that must be understood. The dynamic aggregation of our blogs in the search engines determines much of our daily traffic [one third of mine] and even more in the long tail of our blog posts.
Before I say anything, a quick story. Two months ago I spent a morning at a Benedictine monastery called Burford Priory. We had lunch with the brothers and sisters in total silence while we listened to a lecture read by one of the brothers. This apparently is their tradition. The lecture [they probably call it something more spiritual but i cant remember] was from another Benedictine monastery and it dealt with the taking of monastic vows by the next generation. It discussed the new forms of internet community (bebo and myspace were mentioned) but my ears really pricked up when it mentioned search engines and ranking. Apparently the particular Benedictine monastery had managed to tweak their web site enough to get a high ranking for key searches made by those enquiring after taking vows. They did not say exactly WHAT they did to their site to get such favor from Google, just the fact they they did [bad monk . . no mead!] but the fact that they had figured it out and were using it to their advantage was interesting. And if monks are tinkering with their sites to boost their search engine authority, you can bet that there are thousands and thousands of pastors, theologians [and theoBlogians], missionaries and denominational executives who are also praying heartfelt prayers for the success of their posts and experimenting with ways to get their sites found.
Actually, I can guess what these Benedictines probably did and could suggest a few more tweaks to pump up their ranking. If, indeed, they were interested in such worldly pursuits. I hope that all spiritual people, not just monks, would see blogging as a godly, prophetic ministry and not as mere journalism or ego-boosting. For a quick primer, see what i taught on The Spirituality of Blogging. And recognize that if God is showing you favor, it is probably not to help you make a name for yourself in a new Babylon, but rather because He trusts you to speak out for Him and His purposes. OK . . sorry for preaching .. now to the SEO stuff . .
Behold, I show you a mystery . . ahem . ..
Now in all honesty, no one really knows for sure what goes into the criteria for selection and aggregation. Some say there are up to 200 factors relating to your site, and your page and your actual post. And these factors change regularly which makes it hard for people to know exactly what the eye of Google sees when it goes to and fro, throughout the whole earth, seeking out those blogs to support and recommend. On top of that, there are actual people who hand-code some of the results and there is no fooling them. Well, not for long, anyway.
And I am guessing that you have discovered a few things also and like Achan's gold, you are keeping those secrets well hidden. Fair enough. But here is the stuff I have figured out, after noticing that dozens of my posts are ranked Number One, and watching them ascend and descend on Google's ladder. Of course I might be wrong on some of them and much of this advice may only be good for 2007. But here goes.
4. Getting Found is better than Getting Noticed
Ranking matters, because the world is not flat. Your blog might win all kinds of awards and make Top100 for this and that. Whoop-dy-do! Most of these are based on daily hits or permanent links or the opinion of a well known blogger who gets traffic from your site, which is all very nice and a great way to pat ourselves on the back as we watch our heads swell. But in all actuality, it doesn't count for much. What really counts is having the right people find the stuff you publish, whether it is your theological manifesto or a photo of how your cat looks like Charlie Chaplin. Which mine does. It might be 5 people or 5 thousand. It might be the Queen or it might be your grandmother. If the right people find what you have posted for them on your blog then you are successful. Thats why your strategy must focus on post findability and authority instead of hype and self-pimping and why you shouldn't get discouraged by the dwindling amount of daily visitors.
5. Great Posts are Better than a Great Site
Your individual blog posts may get found even though your blog site sucks. This is good news if you are a new blogger or if your blog site ranks poorly. This is why I suggested awarding the best blog POSTS in 2006 as well as the best blog sites. If you want to make a splash in 2007, then make your individual blog posts perform on the search engines. Write them with searches in mind. Use key words in the title of your blog post and use these words in the post. Link widely to people who agree and disagree with you. Open up for comments because those comments are more links. Do what you need to get those posts found.
6. Build on your Successes.
Find out what your highest ranking posts are by reading what people type into the search engine to get to your site. Typepad makes this info available in the stats area of the control panel. If you find a few posts of yours that make the Top 5 ranking, then go back and give them an upgrade. Make sure all the links work, and add a few more. The search engines are impressed when you make edits on your old post. It tells them your post is still alive and being updated. What i often do is add the word "Update" to the new section and "Original" to the old.
7. Be Clear Which Post is King.
When it comes to search engine ranking, you are often competing with yourself. Sometimes one single killer post on your site is better than ten small posts. A multitude of posts actually confuses the search engines which are looking for one decent post to put forward. And there is another problem: you may have a post in a series that ranks Number One but it is the wrong post, or worse, it is one of the lamest posts out of your selection. If this is the case, you need to educate Google and get it pointing to where it should. Internal linking will help this process. If you are doing a series, give thought to which post will be king. If Google still cant figure it out, start with the highest ranking post and flesh it out to make it king. Its a bit cumbersome to do it this way but it works. Its kinda like when the prophet Samuel selected little David and not his big brothers. Sometimes you just have to go with the one who has already been chosen.
Also, If the search engines find a number of well performing posts, they will sometimes give you two placings on the chart, one post immediately under the other. I call this a "double whammy". It rocks when this happens. I would rather have a double whammy of Number 2 and Number 3 instead of a single Number 1. People dont always pick the top ranking post. They will often glance at the top 5 or 6 before making a decision. And if you are placed twice while everyone else only has one, then you have a good chance of getting picked. So when you find one, keep it happy.
Still reading? Great. Congratulations on your perseverance. Here we go . .
8. Blast From the Past.
We faith bloggers are called to be a new kind of scribe, teachers of God's law who pull out treasures from our storehouse both old and new. There are times when i pull an old high-ranking post out of retirement and bring it into the present by adjusting the date. It already has the links, and the ranking, and the search engines are familiar with it so it kicks butt. I keep it honest by saying when it was first published. I am not sure if Google still treats it as an old post and awards it kudos for history or if it sees the modified date and thinks it is new. Tell me if you know.
9. Two Step.
I believe the title of your blog post is one of the key factors in search engine ranking. If you dont believe me, take a look at what blog posts rank higher than yours and look for the key words in their title. Here is a little trick that I have discovered and haven't really told anyone. Until now . . that is. I often name my blog posts twice. I call it the "Two Step". My first naming gives it the permanent URL in which i try to include the key words someone will use in a search. Typepad only allows me 15 characters including spaces so I will count them out carefully before publishing my post and getting my fixed URL. When that is done, I bring the post back to edit mode and give it a catchier title or something I find more fun and appealing.
BTW - I have requested Typepad to allow more characters and they are looking into it.
10. Smarten Up Your Inbound Links.
If you give out your URL, try writing out the full address of the post you want that person to read. If you comment often on other people's blogs, which of course you should do, you might want to consider leaving a smart URL that leads to your related post, rather than another generic URL to the main page of your site. The link you leave will give your post more kudos.
12. Post it and Then Pad it.
Its often age before beauty in the rankings and history counts. When a story breaks, and you have something to say, then write something short and publish it straight away. It may take Google a day or two to find your post and by that time, you would have edited it a few times, added the necessary links and perhaps have one or two inbound links that will boost your post by the time the eye of Google arrives. The search engines look for history and who was there earliest. Might as well be you if you have something to say. Jumping in soon can often pay dividends.
13. A Scholarly Post Should Look Scholarly.
Not every post needs to be scholarly but sometimes you want to say something that is. The search engines will look at its form and shape. Its a bit like dressing up in a suit and tie for a special occasion. Dress up your blog post with bullet points, correct spelling, proper paragraphs, quotes from experts and links to other scholarly articles.
14. Avoid the Appearance of Spam.
Spam is the enemy. Spam is evil. You have to watch the company you keep. Google does not want to be embarrassed by introducing spammers to its page of recommended sites, nor the associates of spammers and not even sites that look like spam sites. Anything you do to distance yourself from spam will help you in the search engine ranking. So do not walk with spammers or sit down with spammers or lie down with spammers. Dont link to spam sites. Don't mention them by name. Don't allow spam-comments or spam-trackbacks to stay on your site, lest Google thinks your blog is related to them. If the spamosphere continues to threaten the blogosphere in the near future, then having a paid blogging service (like Typepad) rather than a free one will pay off because spam-blogs usually choose the free platforms and the cheap domain names (.info).
15. Don't Love To Be First.
Coming first in the Google race can be an idol and it can also be inappropriate if someone else should be there. Sometimes its good NOT to be number one. There is a place for getting your post found and perhaps your post deserves that waterfront location on the search engine results BUT there is also a place for allowing others to be first or in control of their own story. I hope that you will find yourself on top of the hill during 2007 to say the things God has put on your heart. But I also hope you have the wisdom and constraint to bow out of the rankings and push others up above yourself. You don't always have to be first. Don't be like Diotrephes, who loved to be first (3 John 1:19) but rather mimic John the Baptist who decided to decrease so that Christ might increase.
Or in the words of George Whitefield, "May the name of Whitefield perish, but Christ be glorified."
Have a great 2007. Enjoy yourself. Take pleasure in your blogging and remember to take a blog-fast sometime this year to break your blog-addiction. God bless you.
PAY ME BACK? Here's how. When you try out some of these things and get a number one ranking, come back here to this post and leave a link. That way we can go and take a look, and cheer you on.
Tips from Bloggers Who Know What They're Talking About:
Darren at ProBlogger