July 22, 2005

Optimizing Your Blog for Search Engines

Updated. Originally posted January 4, 2004.

If you are interested in driving more traffic to your blog, the first thing you should do is create useful, compelling content. The next thing you should do is make sure that content is easily found in search results from search engines like Google, Yahoo, and MSN.

Movable Type does a few things automatically that are very helpful to getting ranked higher in search engines. For example, Google likes pages that are well structured, with header and title tags, and with lots of text. The default templates in MT ensure that the pages of your blog are well structured with H1, H2, and H3 header tags, and even title tags that include the name of the entry in them.

Here are some additional steps you can take:


DO's

1. Pick easy-to-reference titles for your entries. If your entry is about armadillo sleeping patterns, use "Armadillo Sleeping Patterns" as a title for your entry, not "Desert Dozing". Search engines work off of "keywords". Think about what words people would use to search for your entry and then use those words in the title. This advice goes against the conventional wisdom of having "catchy" headlines for your blog entries. Catchy or obscure titles are fine if you have an established readership like some of the more popular bloggers out there. But if you want to attract people who may not know you exist in the first place, and you have content that would be useful to them, keep the entry titles simple and straightforward. Put keywords in your titles.

Make sure your the title tag in the header of your individual entry archive template includes the name of the entry.


2. Use keywords in the text of your entries. Again, think about what words people would use to search for your entry and make sure those words appear at least once or twice in the text of the entry.


3. Link to other bloggers who share your interests. They just might link back to you. Google PageRank, which is what determines who shows up first in Google's search results, depends on inbound links to your site, and to each page in the site. (See this useful explanation of PageRank.) Exercise caution in asking a fellow blogger to exchange links with you however; many don't do link exchanges as a matter of principle.


4. In the same vein as linking to other bloggers, provide external links to resources of similar or complementary content. Almost everyone knows that the way to score higher in Google rankings is to have other sites linking to you. What isn't as well known is that Google also considers the external links you have placed on your site. A good content site would have links to other sites of similar content, right?


5. Put a sidebar with links to your archives on all of your templates. The more pages that link to an individual page, the better. So if your blog pages all have links to your monthly or category archives, and those archives have links to the individual pages, this raises the page rank for those individual pages. It will also make it easier for your site visitors to find your archived articles. (See Adding a Sidebar.)


6. Link to related entries. If you have other entries on your blog that are related to a specific entry, link to them from that entry.


7. Have the URL for your entries include the full title of your entry. Note that this has become less important over time for page rank. Much more important are links in from other sites and what shows up between the title tags in the header section of your html. But in case you still want to go to the trouble, here is how you can create full entry title URLs:

The default entry URL in MT 3.x includes your entry title, but abbreviated to 15 characters. To change it to include the full entry title, in the weblog config window, click on "Archiving". In the Archive File Template window for Individual Entry Archive enter the following:

<$MTEntryTitle dirify="1"$>.html

Like this...
Archive File Template Window

After you rebuild your URLs will look something like this: http://www.yoursite.com/archives/armadillo_sleeping_patterns.html

Or, if you have year and month directories set up in your names, the code to enter would look like this:

<$MTEntryDate format="%Y/%m"$><$MTEntryTitle dirify="1"$>.html

Alternatively, you could use the following:

<$MTEntryTitle dirify="1" trim_to="20"$>.html
which will spell out only the first 20 letters, and connect the words with an underscore.

See File Names and URLs for more tips on file names, including how to include category names in the URL.

If your site's extension preference is PHP, use the php extension instead of the html extension when you enter the code in the Archive File Template window.

You can find a reference for this method here in the Movable Type manual


8. Keep your printer-friendly pages from being picked up by search engines. You want search engines to find your fully formated pages with external links, etc., not your print pages or pop-up pages with lists of trackback references. You also don't want search engines to penalize you for duplicate content. To keep a page from getting indexed in a search engine, place the following meta-tag in the header section of the HTML for your printer page index and your TrackBack Listing template:

<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW">

For more information about how this works see http://www.robotstxt.org/wc/exclusion.html#meta.
Note: Once I had this tag in the headers of my individual archive pages by mistake, and sure enough over the course of a month my hits from search engines declined 80 percent.


DON'Ts

1. Do not try to scam Google or other search engines. Do not sign up with link farms, or schemes to drive traffic to your site. You might find yourself getting kicked out of the index all together.

2. Do not link to a site that you don't trust. Inbound links won't hurt your page rank, but if you link to a known spammer or scammer, that will hurt your page rank. In fact, before you link to an external site, check the site and make sure that it is well maintained and legit, and also not over-run by spam itself.


Links:
Google PageRank Explained
Great Site Ranking in Google - tips gleaned from Google's patent application.
MT Manual reference on archive URLs.
Optimizing your Movable Type blog for Google
Google Page Rank Calculator - for those of us who don't use IE on Windows.
Search Engine Optimization article on SEO.


Has this tutorial been helpful? Please consider linking to Learning Movable Type at http://learningmovabletype.com/ . Thanks!

Posted by Elise Bauer on July 22, 2005 to Marketing and Money
Comments(7) | Email to a friend | Printer-friendly version


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Comments

Why would the extension of a movable-type site be .php?

So that you can do things like use php includes and other things that php allows you to do but html does not

First I'd like to say that you have an outstanding and useful blog here. Thank you for the content.

I have a question about tip #2. The one about having titles in your url's. I just implemented this on my blog but was very nervous how it would handle my titles. I have a bad habit of putting "..." at the end of my titles.

I was scared it would end up generating something that would "tank" my blog (http://myurl.com/mt/archive/1234words_words....html) It didn't and I was very happy, but can you answer how or why it didn't?

Thanks...

Erik

Hi Erik - I suspect it might have something to do with the dirify command. The manual says,

When set to 1, ``dirifies'' the tag value. This means that the value of the tag is made suitable for usage in a file or directory name: the value is converted to lower case, HTML tags and entities are stripped, strange characters are stripped (where strange is defined as not included in the following set: alphanumeric characters, underscore (_), and whitespace), and whitespace is then converted to underscores (_).

Picking up your theme on URLs, you may want to use rewrite rules to make your urls more SE friendly:

e.g http://www.elise.com/mt/archives/000238optimizing_your_blog_for_search_engines.php

TO

http://www.elise.com/optimizing_your_blog_for_search_engines.php

You know, talking to some engineers at yahoo last week, they both admitted that the URL makes practically no difference any more. The title is what matters.

If I changed my URLs at this point, I would have hundreds of inbound links that would lead to redirects, which search engines definitely don't like. This is something to consider when you change your URL format. I have a friend who lost most of his page rank when he changed his URLs.

Reducing the directory path supposedly will help SEs find your pages, but in the case of LMT, they all get spidered pretty quickly, so it wouldn't make a difference.

An addition to #1 would be to make the entry title on the index page link to the entry's individial page. To do this find

<$MTEntryTitle$>

in the main index template and replace it with

<a href="<$MTEntryPermalinkarchive_type="Individual"$>"><$MTEntryTitle$></a>


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