January 23, 2010

Blogging Tip #17: How Atheist Bloggers Can Benefit From SEO

search-engine-marketing.jpgSearch engine optimization (SEO) refers to an extremely popular array of methods for increasing the visibility of one's blog and generating additional traffic from search engines. This post is not going to be a comprehensive SEO how-to guide because my knowledge in this area is still quite primitive. However, I would like to explain one method I have found helpful that influences what you see posted here from time to time. In my opinion, it is particularly useful for niche bloggers (e.g., those of us focusing on atheism).

Wagging the Long Tail

If you take the time to analyze your search engine traffic (if you are not collecting traffic data on your blog, you better go review tip #1), you'll notice a couple things. First, many of the top search times people are using to find your blog are exactly what you'd expect. Second, you'll see many other search terms that may surprise you. These surprises are what we want to focus on.

Before we get to that, let me give you an example. In examining my Google Analytics data for the last month, I note the following:
  • Approximately 92% of my search traffic comes from Google.

  • The top keyword that brings people to my blog is, not surprisingly, "atheist revolution." However, it is important to note that very few first-time visitors are getting to my blog with this phrase. After all, why would they think to enter that phrase if they'd never been here before?

  • What I really care about are the search terms that are bringing the first-time visitors. Some of the big ones that didn't surprise me were "atheist," "atheism," "atheist blog," "Christian terrorism," etc. You get the idea.

  • The surprises included search terms like "Tim Tebow," "atheist republicans," "I hate Christians," and many more.
What if I were to pay more attention to some of these surprising search terms and make an effort to write more posts using them? This would make sure that people searching on these terms continued to see my blog in their search results. This is often referred to as "the long tail" of search. The idea is quite simple: the cumulative effect of these less common search terms brings considerable search engine traffic over the long term.

A Strategy for Atheist Bloggers

How can atheist bloggers benefit from this? As a niche blogger, most of your content focuses on atheism. This is as it should be because you want to keep your readers happy. But occasional off-topic posts can be very helpful in attracting first-time visitors from search engines.

Suppose you decide to write a post that has nothing to do with atheism called, "How To Get Free Shipping on Every Best Buy Order." Maybe the post links readers to several reliable places where they can find discount codes for Best Buy. Now, imagine that I am about to submit an online order at Best Buy and before doing so, I head to Google and type "Best Buy shipping" or "Best Buy discount" or something similar. Guess what one of the search results is going to be?

For more on how to effectively utilize this method on your blog, be sure to review tip #7 on using HitTail.

The other benefit of this type of post is that it may attract first-time visitors who never would have found your blog otherwise. If we are interested in spreading the atheist meme, correcting misconceptions about atheists, and planting the seed of doubt, this is something we should all take seriously.

But I Don't Want to Alienate My Readers

I write this section from the perspective of a regular reader of many atheist blogs. I want to know more about the bloggers I read and their other interests, hobbies, etc. than merely the fact that they are atheists. I find that many of the off-topic posts written by my favorite atheist bloggers are some of what I consider their best work. I don't think I am alone in feeling this way.

Having said that, you do not want to overuse this long tail method because you risk losing regular readers. Many bloggers make sure than no more than 20% of their posts are off topic. This is sometimes referred to as "the 80/20 rule," and I think it is a reasonable recommendation.

At Atheist Revolution, you will see that at least 80% of my posts deal with atheism and closely related topics. However, you will also see some posts (fewer than 20%) that are strategically written to capitalize on the long tail and/or appeal to readers who might not otherwise visit an atheist blog.

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