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Even Blogs Need Keyword Research

by Amanda G. Watlington, Ph.D., A.P.R.

There is a saying, one of those tired old saws like "a stitch in time saves nine," that when you are a carpenter, everything calls for a hammer. Having spent years immersed in keywords, I cannot look at a web site and not see a need for keyword research.

Over the past eighteen months I've been busy working with blogs, first just for keeping a personal diary of my own dreary thoughts and more recently integrating them into marketing strategies. While these are not the typical web site, I've come to the conclusion that bloggers too should do keyword research to improve their blog's search engine visibility and usability. Read on for why and how to apply keyword research to blogs.

Why Improve Blog Search Visibility?

Sure, many search engine marketers complain that blogs are crowding out quality search results (the pages they have optimized), and that one can hardly conduct a search without getting blog content in the results. My advice is quit complaining and consider why search results have so much blog content. The reason is simple: the technology underlying blogs and blogging is search friendly, and blog content is both fresh and rich in topical relevance. Aren't these attributes just what search engines have told search marketers they want - fresh, relevant content? Blogs are like candy to spiders - not necessarily good for them but snatched up as eagerly as Halloween trick-or-treats by kids.

The search spider's behavior should encourage bloggers to enhance their blog's search visibility by creating keyword-rich content. By keyword-rich content, I am certainly not advocating the generation of pages of keyword-rich spam masquerading as blog content. We should all know better than to load our copy with mind-numbing sentences like: "Buy alpaca sweaters at stores selling alpaca sweaters made from the finest alpaca sweater wool." This type of keyword stuffing creates ugly, distasteful spam. What I advocate is purposefully creating blog content that a search engine can readily index and display on keywords of your selection. Bloggers can power up their blogs by doing keyword research before they develop their blog and then using the research results during content creation.

Most keyword research is forensic science. Keywords are matched after the fact to the existing content of the web site. Many search marketers will recommend the development of additional content to fill keyword gaps. Blogging turns the typical keyword research process on its nose. Since content is constantly being developed by the blogger, there is a seemingly endless stream of opportunities for creating keyword-rich content. A blog is in fact a continuously evolving web site, the search marketers dream.

Effective keyword research for blogs requires clearly defining the blog's audience in advance of content creation. Before starting to develop the blog, you should have done some thinking about the audience: Who do you expect to read your blog? What do you expect them to get from it? What are your audience's "hot-button" keywords? Since most blogs are highly topical, they intrinsically have tightly controlled vocabularies.

As you decide on your audience, you are by default doing your preliminary keyword research. The keyword list developed during the audience-definition phase can become a working guide for content development. Then the keywords, since they reflect the topic and audience interests, do not have to be forced or stuffed into the content. Effective blog writing is in essence the development of timely, topical content guided by a pre-selected, controlled vocabulary. Oh, by the way, in the writing process don't lose that natural, unstilted voice that is the hallmark of good blogs. Sounds a bit like juggling doesn't it. In future articles, I'll give guidelines for how to keep your blog natural sounding, yet keyword rich. I'll be sure to give examples illustrating how you can include the keywords without losing the free, natural voice of the blog.

This approach may sound like too much trouble. But consider this: if you are going to go to the effort of creating and maintaining a blog (and they are a lot of work), then why not make sure that the blog is found on the search engines via the keywords most searched by your intended audience. Now, this opens another can of worms - audience identification. I'll deal with this too in another article. At this time, I'm simply advocating a disciplined versus random approach to blog content development.

What Do Keywords Have to Do with Blog Usability?

Blogs have been described by information architects as "fossilized web sites," since their usability harkens back to the so-called old days of the Web. The linear, chronological architecture of a blog does have its drawbacks. These, however, can be overcome by careful selection of technology and (oh yes!) the keywords used in the linking structure. Most blog archives have informative titles like: June 2004, July 2004, August 2004 . . . This would be great if the user was looking for a calendar of months, but virtually meaningless for finding content.

Not all blog technology locks the user into this structure. Before setting up a blog, consider whether the blog software you are planning to use will allow you to define categories for your content. For a breakdown of current blogging software and their features, I highly recommend http://www.asymptomatic.net/
blogbreakdown.htm. By the way, this top-shelf analysis may actually fall into the too-much-information category, but decide this for yourself.

The ability to create categories and, wonder-of-wonders, subcategories opens a world of possibilities for improving both the search engine sensitivity and the usability of the blog content. You can use the categories and subcategories to reflect key audience interests and of course the content itself. The categories are text links, from my keyword-centric point of view, "keyword opportunity zones."

Categories and subcategories allow you to guide the reader through a maze of content previously obvious only to the clairvoyant. The easier it is for the user to peruse your blog, the better the reader's experience. Readers will return or elect to receive your blog on their feeds, if they consider it worthwhile. Without the access to the content provided by the categories your blog will only be as valuable to first-time visitor as the most recent set of posts.

Writing a blog requires that the blogger has something to share with an audience on a regular basis. Using keywords in the content will ensure that search engines find the blog. Using keywords in the category architecture of the blog extends the value of the blog beyond a single post and improves the usability. It also gives the blog post life beyond the date. By applying the results of keyword research to their blog content and architecture, bloggers better the odds that what they have written will be read. And that's what blogs are all about.

About author Amanda G. Watlington - Before setting up Searching for Profit, Amanda was director of research for a major search engine optimization firm. She brings to clients over twenty years of experience as a communications, sales and business strategy consultant, and ten years as a Web marketer. Amanda has developed for clients award-winning print, web, training and presentation media. More on Amanda Watlington.

© Mike Grehan & Net Writer Publishing 2004

Editor: Mike Grehan. Search engine marketing consultant, speaker and author. http://www.search-engine-book.co.uk

Associate Editor: Christine Churchill. KeyRelevance.com

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