Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Help People Find Your Blog Content with Categories and Tags

Although they work similarly, the categories and tags found on blogs have different functions. Categories, as the name implies, are a filing system. Think of categories as paper file folders in a drawer. When I pay bills, for example, I staple the check stub to the invoice and put the invoice in one folder: Telephone, Taxes, Insurance, AmEx, etc.Photo Credit: Dan Diemer

This makes it easy to find the invoice later.

Tags, on the other hand, are like the expense accounts listed on each check. If you go to Staples and use your AmEx card to buy some paper and a new chair, and you have the copy center print business cards, your check to AmEx might list the following expenses: Office Supplies, Office Equipment, and Advertising: Letterhead.

Categories are part of your blog's navigation

Because blogs lack the standard navigation found on websites (for example, Services, Products, About Us, etc.), categories help site visitors find the content on your blog.

When creating categories, it pays to carefully consider which categories to use in terms of:

  • Your audience – Clearly defined categories help users find content quickly. Instead of having to troll through dozens of posts, users can click a category and see all of the posts in it.
  • Your topics – With a blog, it's pretty easy to get off topic, which can lead to lots of untargeted traffic (been there, done that). Having categories that relate to your industry, service, or product offerings helps keep you on message.
  • Your keywords – Categories are anchor text, which means they get indexed by the search engines. It pays to choose them carefully.
To keep things simple, you'll want to limit the number of categories to about 10. The longer your list of categories, the harder it is to file -- and find -- posts. Again, think about your paper filing system: The more file folders you have in a drawer, the easier it is to misfile and lose things.

Plus, a long list of categories is overwhelming to your readers.

Depending on your WordPress theme, you should be able to add a meta description to each of your categories.

Tags complement categories

Like categories, tags are anchor text hyperlinks. Unlike categories, tags don't appear in your blog sidebar (unless you include a tag cloud, a visual representation of the words used in your tags). Instead, tags appear in the footer of your blog posts.

Think of tags as subcategories. For one of my clients, for example, I created the broad category "Oral Health." I then created a tag, "Oral Cancer." Anytime I wrote a post about oral cancer, I used this tag. Website visitors could then click the tag and see only those posts tagged "Oral Cancer" -- as opposed to seeing the entire Oral Health category.

Used effectively, categories and tags can help your content get indexed and found in the search engines and drive lots of targeted traffic your way.

The Problem -- Tag Spam

As Jill has pointed out in articles and interviews, people use tags to spam the search engines. It's very easy to add half a dozen or more tags to your posts -- even if your company doesn't offer a product or service related to the tag.

As a test, I tagged my recent blog post about creating mobile-friendly websites with the tag "wp touch plugin." Google is displaying that post at position #11, which is pretty good considering that I don't actually have the plug-in available for download, nor am I a WordPress designer or developer giving a review of it.

The problem, from a marketing perspective, is that this tag won't deliver the type of site visitor I want -- therefore, it's useless. And yet, "high rankings" and traffic are how we judge the merits of our SEO and/or content marketing efforts.

For many SEOers and marketers, this type of search engine result is perfectly acceptable. It's exposure, right? And if someone clicks on it and goes to your site, then they learn about your company.

I disagree.

If you're getting high rankings and increased traffic due to spam tagging blog posts, but this traffic doesn't convert, you're not doing your job. Your job is to get your clients more leads and sales through traffic that converts. Therefore, keep your tagging to a minimum and use tags that relate to the post and to the services you, or your clients, offer.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't use categories and tags with an eye toward SEO. You'd be dumb not to. However, keep your blog visitors in mind when creating categories and tags because, as Jill is forever saying, "What's good for people is good for search engines."


A B2B web marketing expert, Dianna Huff helps B2B companies grow through SEO, Dianna Huffmarketing writing, and social media. A frequent speaker, Dianna has been quoted in numerous blogs, books, and articles. Her client list includes large and small companies across the U.S. Follow her on Twitter @diannahuff. To receive her e-course on creating great B2B marketing content, subscribe to her newsletter, The MarCom Strategist.


Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings a Boston SEO Consulting Agency, has been providing SEO services since 1995. Jill is also the host of the  High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

10 Ways I've Used Twitter This Month

Guest Article by Jill Whalen

A few weeks ago I learned that I was chosen as one of the "Top 25 Online Marketers to Follow on Twitter" by David Vogelpohl over at Marketing Pilgrim. (I'd like to thank my family, my 2nd grade teacher...)

While it was cool to be chosen, more interesting to me was how David characterized my Twitter account: "...an engaging Twitter feed where she makes the most of interacting with other Twitter users...With enough quips to make her feed personal and interesting, she maintains a mostly serious and professional Twitter persona."

That does seem to sum up my Twitter existence, although I had to laugh at the serious and professional description, since I sometimes tweet some crazy stuff! On the other hand, I agree that the mix of personal and professional is a large part of the appeal of my Twitter account. In fact I think it's key to nearly any good Twitter account. For more on that, Lisa Barone (also on the top 25 list) just wrote a great article: "The Myth of 'Professional' Twitter Accounts," with which I agree 100% (see my comments over there).

I thought it would be interesting to look at and dissect both the professional and perhaps not so professional ways that I have used Twitter this month to see what exactly makes up a top-25 account. With that, I give you:

10 Ways I've Used Twitter This Month:

  1. Expressing Extreme Emotions:
This is one of my most common uses of Twitter, and it really just amounts to venting. I find that if something pops into my head that I really love or hate, it makes me feel good to mention it on Twitter.

So far this month I have expressed love for
Pandora adding comedy channels, my iPad, a spammy site I reported being nuked, and clients who no longer need me because they're doing so well.
Panera Tweet
And I've expressed dislike for SEO getting blamed for malware, irrelevant blog and forum comments, Panera messing up my order (twice in a row), and email spam via my website's contact form.
  • Creating Content:
This is an obvious one to anyone who reads the HRA newsletter regularly since I've been doing my "Twitter Question of the Week" (for a few years now). Asking my Twitter followers questions relating to the main newsletter topic is a great way to provide additional newsletter content, while also making them part of the newsletter.
  • Crowdsourcing to Help Clients:
Having more than 10,000 Twitter followers is a great way to get quick help when you need it. This month I was doing a review of a restaurant guide website and was able to ask my followers a few questions regarding restaurant sites in general. Their responses helped me, and ultimately my client. I had another client whose new website developer decided to blow them off, so they were in dire need of a new one. I took it to Twitter and found that a few of my Twitter friends whom I already knew and trusted online might be a perfect fit, so I passed along their info to the client.

  • Promotion of Myself and Others:
Other than this newsletter, I know of no better way to quickly get hundreds of eyeballs on any new article I write. It seems almost magical when you tweet a link to a new article and and within minutes see all the visitors, and often comments.

I don't just tweet my own articles, however. When I read other great articles, I
tweet them as well. This provides my followers with more interesting information than just I can give them, and also endears me to those whom I am promoting. I honestly don't do it to get anything in return -- it's just good networking and a win-win all around.
  • Catching Up With Family and Friends:
I have a fairly tech-savvy family -- my oldest daughter @coriewhalen, my cousins @acarvin and @ericcarvin, and my sister @bncarvin are all fairly prolific on Twitter. You may even have heard of my cousin Andy -- he has made national news lately with his tweeting of the unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Aside from getting the international news from my family, I can also keep tabs on the fact that Corie was thinking of getting a new dog or let my cousins know I was having dinner with their mom and dad! Also, many of the friends I've met through events and conferences are on Twitter, and it's a great way to keep up with what they're doing. In fact, I'm having lunch with one such friend this week that stemmed from a Twitter chat.
  • Answering Questions:
Sometimes people just randomly ask me SEO or other questions on Twitter that I'm usually happy to answer if I can.
  • General Chatting:
When I first started using Twitter, I thought of it as a newfangled chatroom. I still use it for that purpose today because it's comforting to have other people "around" during the day as I'm working. I'll often see someone tweet something interesting that I reply to, and we can have a nice little conversation.
  • News and Information Gathering: This is where who you follow on Twitter is important (as opposed to who follows you). I follow those who will not only entertain me, but who will post interesting and newsworthy links, especially those related to the search marketing industry. I get a good portion of my news from Twitter.

    And now that I have my iPad, I use the Flipboard app each morning to see a magazine-like view of all the articles posted by my followers. This catches me up on anything interesting going on and also provides me with potential stories to submit to Sphinn to fulfill my editorial duties there.
  • Ranting and Raving About Boston Sports: If you're a Boston sports fan, you'll understand this one. The gist is that all of our teams can be the best and the worst all in one night. It helps to cheer or scream with with others on Twitter!
  • Fun and Silliness: In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words: Me wearing a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo.
  • Whether you've never understood how to use Twitter or are an old Twitter pro, I hope the ways I've used it inspire you to find new ways of expressing yourself online. I should also note that the mix of humor, authenticity and professionalism shouldn't be limited to just Twitter. I am certain that it's that same combination that has made the High Rankings Advisor Newsletter so popular for nearly 10 years. The bottom line is that people prefer to do business with those whom they feel connected with. Twitter and other online communities provide us all with unique ways to make those connections – we just have to be willing to put a little bit of ourselves out there! Jill Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings a Boston SEO Consulting Agency, has been providing SEO services since 1995. Jill is also the host of the  High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

3 SEO Traps to Avoid During Your Redesign

Guest Article by Jill Whalen

I receive a lot of SEO questions from business owners who want to spruce up their aging websites, but are dead afraid of losing their existing search engine traffic. And for good reason. Going live with a redesigned website without considering the SEO implications is like being ensnared in a nasty trap that you cannot escape from. It's hard to make money while stuck in a trap!

With that in mind, here are a 3 SEO traps to avoid before, during and after you develop your website:

SEO Trap #1: Your Content Management System

If you are switching to a different content management system (CMS) it often means that the URLs from your current site will have to change to something that fits with the new system. It's likely that the new URL naming convention will not match your old one.

The Escape: If this is the case with your new back end, then 301-permanent redirect all of the old URLs to their new counterparts if you can. If this is a practical impossibility, then review your analytics to find the landing page URLs within your website that receive direct search engine visitors, and redirect those. Also redirect any URLs that have links pointing to them from other sites. While it's best practice to redirect all URLs, those that don't receive any direct search engine traffic and don't have any external links are less important.

SEO Trap #2: Your Site Architecture

Your new website is likely to be sporting a brand new navigational scheme as well as an overall change of its site architecture (how each page links to each other). This is a key element in determining whether pages from your website will show up in the search results. For instance, if you take a page from your website that is currently featured in the main navigation (meaning that every page of the site links to it) and you feature it less prominently within your new website, don't be surprised if it doesn't show up in the search results for its targeted keyword phrases as it used to.

The Escape: You can tell the search engines which pages are the most important ones on your site by how you link to them. Be sure that the pages you are optimizing are linked from your main navigation so that they will receive the internal link popularity they deserve. They'll stand a much better chance at bringing you targeted visitors than those that are deeply buried.

SEO Trap #3: Your Content

If you hadn't previously optimized the content of your old site, I highly suggest doing so with your new site. This means that you research the keywords that people use at the search engines to find products or services like yours, and then use them strategically within each page of the website. Doing so will likely increase the targeted visitors to your site fairly quickly after going live.

On the other hand, if your existing site was fairly well optimized and already bringing targeted visitors, you'll need to be careful about the content that you change. While you shouldn't be afraid to make your content better, it may not be a good idea to completely rewrite old content that was working for you. You'd be surprised how many marketers decide to change their website messaging without even realizing that it was previously optimized to bring in targeted visitors.

Still, your website redesign is a good time to work on increasing your website conversions. All the targeted visitors in the world are of no use to you if they don't take any of the actions you'd like them to take. Rewriting some of your content to convert more visitors into buyers is a good thing as long as it doesn't decrease the number of those visitors. Again – this is where you'll need to review your analytics reports to determine which pages were your best performers.

The Escape: If you find that your existing page content was bringing in search engine traffic and conversions, think 10 times before changing it! If you're certain that your new content is much better and more in tune with your company's message, then try testing it against the old copy through a tool such as Google’s Website Optimizer. You may be right, but you'll never know for sure unless you test it.

The Booby Trap!

Don't forget that title tags are an important part of your content as well. Sadly, one of the most common mistakes during a redesign is to inadvertently lose all the previous title tags.

The Escape: Don't go live with your new site without proper (unique, relevant and keyword-rich) title tags in place on every page. You will absolutely take a huge traffic hit if you do. Make sure that your new CMS allows you to customize the title tags of every page as needed. If it doesn't, then find a new CMS that does. I can't stress this enough because title tags are so important to SEO. It's fine to dynamically generate them based on specific rules, but some pages may need their titles to be customized for best results.

These 3 traps are just a few of many you may face as you redesign your website. Don't be one of the many who wait to go live with their site and THEN call an SEO consultant for help. Bake your SEO into the new site from the start to avoid any loss of search engine visitors, while ideally increasing them. There's no reason why your visitor count should take a hit with a new design--but only if you are prepared to avoid the traps!


Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings a Boston SEO Consulting Agency, has been providing SEO services since 1995. Jill is also the host of the  High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.

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