The Second Life Bloggers Quick and Easy Guide to SEO
You’ve worked damn hard on your blog posts. You’ve spent hours and hours setting up the pictures, editing them in Photoshop, writing them, completing your credits, and then sharing them on social media. Wouldn’t it be nice for people searching for what you write about to also find your stuff?
Sure it would, but I know you don’t want to make a career of this, so I’m going to give the bare-bones on this SEO stuff. And, I’m going to give it to you in levels – so that you can decide what you do, and what you don’t.
“What is this ‘SEO’ you speak of?”
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimisation, which is the process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine’s unpaid results. “Oh, come on Becky! I only blog for fun, why do I need to know this?”
Well, you don’t. But if you’d like to increase quality traffic through search to your Second Life blog, then knowing the basics of SEO will help. Sharing is caring, guys. Why hide your wonderful content from the world?
The good news about SEO is that it is really not that difficult, and neither should it be. Google wants to help people find your site. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t go through the enormous trouble of trying to index it.
With that said, let’s make it easy for them shall we? If you wanted visitors to find your home, for example, you might want to make sure the shrubs didn’t obscure the address numbers, you might turn the lights on in your front yard when you’re expecting your guests, you might sweep the driveway, you might even hang a sign out front of your house with your family’s name on it. Well, in a weird and simple way, that’s a bit like SEO.
Before we get into SEO specifically, let discuss how search works. If you don’t already know of him, please allow me to introduce you to Mr. Matt Cutts – who works at Google. Matt’s current official title is Head of Google’s Webspam Team, which means he’s in charge of stopping people from ranking higher in Google than they deserve to rank.
Over the years, Matt has become a bit of a spokesperson for Google, especially when it comes to answering questions for the millions of people and businesses that want to rank higher on Google. Think of Matt as Google’s cuddlier version of Torley Linden, without all the neon green and purple.
So Matt, how does search work?
Thanks Matt! Bonus points for adding a cheetah’s top running speed in the comments 😉
Ok, so now we know how search works. Remember when Matt said that Google asks about 200 questions to decide which page to show in its results for any given search query? Well, people working in SEO have made – and continue to make – whole careers out of trying to figure out what those questions are, and trying to answer them.
Apart from the basics in Matt’s video (and a few other snippets they’ve has shared along the way), Google isn’t public about how its search algorithm actually works, because then it would be too easy to game. And Matt wouldn’t like that.
So what are left to do?
We’re left to do the basics with what we know – meaning – writing for humans and optimising our blogs and posts in ways that are honest and help users find what they are looking for.
So with that said, here’s my first checklist:
Who are you and what are you writing about?
Remember when I suggested you find a niche for your blog? Well, if you’ve done that, this step will be a lot easier. If you haven’t, then maybe this little exercise will help you do it.
The first thing you want to do is to brainstorm some keywords and key phrases. For this I suggest you use you use the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. No, I’m not suggesting you make ads; but we are going to use Google’s free tools to do some basic keyword research. Follow the steps in the link above. Once you’ve provided Google with some basic details about your “business” (aka your blog), then you’ll see a table appear under keywords.
Isn’t that nifty? Google just tells you what they think your site is about based on a free analysis of your content, and it also gives you the number of monthly searches these terms get in the geographic regions I specified (UK and USA). It’s all a bit generic, so you might need to brainstorm a bit more.
When you’re considering keyword phrases to target, ask yourself:
- “Who am I?”
- “What do I do that is special?”
- “What do I write about”
- “What do I want to write about”
- “What’s my angle on this thing?”
- “What’s my niche?
- “What would someone type into Google if they were searching about what I write about?”
You might want to consider keyword phrases like “sl fashion” or “second life fashion”, etc., to your list. But again, you’ll want to be more specific if you are going to compete for the 880 monthly searches for only that keyword phrase (see below).
The Keyword Planner can sometimes be a bit inaccessible unless you already have a working knowledge of Google Adwords. So, I used my Adwords account to create the list below for you.
I chose the keyword phrases from the blog category list I made for my work with Blogging Second Life. The average monthly searchers are the number of times the exact keyword phrase was searched for in Google (there were likely many more broader searches). Where there is no number means that Google doesn’t have enough data on that keyword phrase to show the number of searches. The competition score relates to the number of advertisers that showed on each keyword relative to all keywords across Google. The suggested bid is what Google suggests you pay if you want to receive a click from the phrase in their Adwords system:
What can you do with this list? There’s a lot more, but that goes beyond the scope of this blog post.
If you’re interested, then there are lots of posts and articles that share information on how to do more, starting with this post written by an internet marketer on how to do keyword research. Many specialists recommend sophisticated SEO tools to research, develop and update your keyword lists. Suffice to say, the Google Adwords Keyword Planner is a very useful and free tool you can use to get you started – and probably enough.
One other thing I would caution you about: This is not as simple as only targeting the most searched keyword phrases and hoping for the best. The most searched keywords are very competitive because they are so popular. To compete effectively with popular phrases, you are both going to have to be a super-specialist in that area and create a lot of content about it.
This is why you want to choose some popular phrases, middle of the road phrases, and hyper-specific phrases. This is also why choosing a niche is so important.
If you want engagement (likes, comments, and subscribers), then target narrow and specific keyword phrases. If you want traffic (views and visitors), then target broad and generic keyword phrases. Don’t expect much engagement if you go for traffic, unless there is very little competition in the space.
Level 1: SEO your Second Life Blog
Now that you have your preliminary keyword phrase list, there are a few things you can do with your blog to make it search engine friendly – right out of the gate. When I say blog, by the way, I mean your website (as opposed to an specific blog post; that’s Level 2).
First, you might be wondering if WordPress or Blogger is better for SEO. The good news is that neither is better. It’s your content and markup that matters. There is no evidence to suggest that one’s choice of platform makes any difference to the Google search bots.
Matt, would you back me up here?
A note about platforms: I’m going to mainly talk about WordPress. It’s nothing against those of you who use Blogger (or even TypePad). I write mainly about WordPress because I know it and use it. Further, In this post, I will specifically talk about WordPress.com (the free version most SL bloggers use), as opposed to WordPress.org (the self-hosted version). I’ll be writing a post comparing the different platforms in the future, so watch this space. Much of what I say here will be true for any blogging platform – I’ll just show examples of how to do it on WordPress.com.
Ok, so here is the first SEO checklist for your blog:
1. Optimise your Site Title and Tagline.
WordPress allows you to title your site (site title) and give a brief description (tagline) about what it’s about. Go to your dashboard, navigate to Settings > General. This is what that setting looks like:
What you write here is actually very important as it shows up like this in the code:
Canary Beck | Second Life Blog about online psychology and virtual ethnography
That little snippet above shows up on line 6 of the HTML code on the most important page (the front page) on my website. My site title (“Canary Beck”)will appear in the title tag of every post I write. So yes, Google spiders will take note. I’ve chosen to put my most important keywords there. Note too that they are not the most popular keyword phrases, but they do include some of them.
Most importantly, these key phrases are relevant to what I write about. Again, if you want engagement (as I assume most of us do) go narrow, go specific. Also, remember what Matt said about keyword placement, proximity, density, and synonyms? Your keyword phrases don’t just need to be near the top of near each other, they also have to reliably appear in your content in various semantic forms if the robots are to index you for this content (we’ll get to that in the next checklist).
*On Blogger this setting is under Settings > Title and Settings > Description.
2. Check your Site Visibility settings
Most of the time, WordPress will allow search engines to index your site as a default. But maybe you fiddled with privacy settings at one point or another. I’d be remiss if I didn’t have you check this one detail, because if WordPress is attempting to block your site from indexing, then everything we do from here on in is fruitless. Navigate to Settings > Reading, and make sure your option looks like this:
3. Don’t obscure your name in your Users settings
Some people (not many) will search for your name on Google. The problem is, you don’t often refer to yourself in the third person when writing (as I write this I remember that I did do exactly that in the first paragraph of this post, but let’s just ignore that for the time being). In your dashboard, navigate to Users and check to see that your Name is the same as your avatar name (or the name you are most well-known by). If you want to be creative, use your display name (it’s not that search sensitive because comments tend to be no-follow links) for that. I use Becky.
4. Choose a theme that displays at least 350 words on your front page.
WordPress gives you a lot of free and premium themes to play with.Many are just gorgeous, but not all are ideal for search.
Since so many Second Life bloggers love to share big and juicy images, this can be a bit of a minefield for some. One of the issues is the lack of text on many photo-oriented themes. While design aesthetic is another subject entirely, if you have a quick look at most of the more highly trafficked SL blogs, you’ll notice they include at least 350 words of text on their front pages. A theme like Twenty Fifteen:
Will probably be easier to index out of the box than a theme like this:
- Google spiders read text, not images. And navigation and post titles just won’t cut it. Pages with 250 to 350 words will outperform those with less. If you show full posts – then that’s great. Even if you show excerpts only, then 10 posts with 25-35 words in each excerpt will do the trick.
- Themes that include ‘about’ text on their front pages give you room to write some relevant keyword phrase content.
- The more images on your page, the slower your Page Speed and Google does include this in its ranking factors. You can really gain speed improvements by optimising your images before upload, but how many of us do that really? I’ll write a whole post about image management down the road, so I’ll get into it then.
5. Get your own domain name
Subdomains, like yourname.wordpress.com and yourname.blogspot.com are treated like unique domain names by Google, but they’ll not be as extensible and legitimate as having your own domain name.
Having your own domain name isn’t major issue if you will always intend to keep your site on a sub-domain on a freely hosted platform like WordPress or Google. If you have even an inkling that you might one day want your own domain name (for ease of use, for vanity, for branding, for untold riches, etc.), then you’ll want to settle on a domain that both meets best practice and that you like and get it as soon as possible.
I got my custom domain with my WordPress Premium Plan but I would have bought my own domain anyway. Why did I buy canarybeck.com for my WordPress.com site?
- It’s worth the relatively cheap fee to register a domain name ($5 to $10/year)
- I will soon be moving to a self-hosted platform (WordPress.org) so I will need my own domain in the future anyway
- My plans include using my name as a head keyword phrase, so it makes sense to call my site by my name
- I’ve vain (but honest!)
Why now? First, people are going to link to your site – giving it search equity (trust). Google takes note of this, and considers it with your domain history with giving you PageRank. All things being equal, a site with the exact same content that will have a greater rank if it has links coming into it and a long history. So if you think you’re ever going to do it, do it now.
Here is an interesting comparison made with SEOMoz Open Site Explorer that measures two sites run my friend Huckleberry Hax. I am using this as an example, because he very recently migrated his site to WordPress from Blogger.
So what is Huck to do? His old site is getting all the love. Well, as I advised him, he needs to create redirects from his old site to his new site as soon as possible if he wants to not confuse Google with duplicate content (which it typically uses as a reason to down rank the second instance of the content to prevent copied content from ranking), give his referred visitors somewhere up to date to go, and build equity in his new domain.
If he had his own domain though, none of this would have been a problem (assuming the post and page slugs remained the same – which is easy to do).
It’s not too late. But the more content and history you have with a domain name that is not actually yours, the more of a challenge everything will be in the future should you ever want to move your hosting arrangement.
Simple stuff, I know. But it’s amazing how simple things can trip us up sometimes. If you want to be a bit of a search wizard, add your free blog to Google Webmaster Tools to get deeper insight into the queries that led people to find your site. I don’t consult it often for my blog, but it can sometimes answer questions that other tools cannot.
Level 1 SEO Review
As a review, follow these steps to get make your blog SEO friendly:
- Put together a keyword phrase list
- Optimise your Site Title and Tagline
- Check your Site Visibility settings
- Don’t obscure your name in your Users settings
- Choose an SEO friendly theme
- Get your own domain name
- Bonus: For extra SEO-geekiness points, register your site on Google Webmaster tools
Level 2: SEO your Second Life Blog Posts
Ok, you’re doing great. I know it can all seem a bit of heavy going when it’s all new, but this next part is just as important so you’ll want to pay attention. On that note, you’ve bookmarked this post for later reference right? You’d better do that while you remember. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Welcome back! So let’s get you acquainted with the 2nd checklist: SEOing your blog posts.
1. Write naturally and about one topic at a time
Before you start writing, choose a primary keyword phrase – or topic from your list that you want to write your post about.
Having one idea in mind makes your post easier to write, easier to optimise, and easier to link to. It also makes it easier to write more often – which is very important for both your subscribers and for search.
For this post, I wanted to write ‘an easy guide to SEO’. In the fashion category, you might consider the following topics:
- My favourite Second Life dresses for summer
- Mixing SL elegant handbags with casual looks
- Why I’m too sexy for SL vintage lingerie
- This week’s best Second Life fashion deals
- ’90s fashions are back in SL mens apparel
- Summer style predictions in Second Life fashion
On that note, don’t worry about writing content that people are searching for. That is not what this is about. Instead, write about what you know and what interests you. Write it for human ears. Write it well; yes, Google cares about spelling and grammar. Write at least 350 words per post (more on this later).
The more closely your post is related to the keyword phrase on which you’ve focused, the more likely the post will be ranked by Google for that keyword phrase. The goal is to write a full post of content centered around one keyword phrase.
2. Write regularly (between 1 to 5 times per week)
Whether you write once a day, twice a week, or once a week, producing regular content is essential. Why? Search engines favour fresh (written) content and will ignore websites and blogs that haven’t published for a while (e.g. weeks).
They assume new content is more up to date and more likely to help users find what they seek through search engines. Search engine traffic is important for your blog because it exposes you to new visitors. Equally important, writing regularly trains your readers to expect to see something from you on a regular basis – engendering loyalty and reliability.
3. Write at between 250 and 350 words per post
One of the main reasons search engines ignore your posts is because you aren’t writing enough content per post. How much is enough? Most search engine optimisers say 250 to 350 words per post is enough. There is also credible evidence that suggests that super-long posts (around 5000 words) like this one tend to be linked to highly – and therefore ranked highly.
For all you fashion and photography bloggers out there: A post featuring an image, a title, and credits will rarely amount to that much in the eyes of search engine spiders, so they will tend to not index them highly. If you want to be found, you can’t afford to lose on search traffic.
4. Write descriptive post titles
When writing the title for the content, follow these basic guidelines:
- The title length should not exceed 72 characters. This will make sure the full title is visible in a search result, increasing the likelihood of a click-through.
- The title should include at least 4 words.
- Include the keyword phrase in the title. This will increase the relevancy of your content for that keyword phrase. In addition, the title usually becomes the headline for the result on the SERP (Search Engine Result Page), and including the keyword will increase the likelihood of a click-through. This is good, because there is evidence to suggest that relative click-through on a SERP also helps improve your rankings.
- Include a Primary Keyword toward the beginning of your Title to increase the relevancy of the keyword within the search engines’ indexes.
As an example, the title of this post is “The Second Life Blogger’s Quick and Easy Guide to SEO” which is 10 words and 53 characters. It has two keyword phrases “Second Life Blogger” and “Easy Guide to SEO”.
This is how the title of this post appears in the code:
5. Write descriptive, short and easy to read post slugs
Typically, your post slugs (the component of the post’s URL that follows your domain name and the date of your posts) are automatically generated by WordPress when it uses your Post Title to construct it. Hence the slug of this post would be:
That’s good. If I titled my post with a one word title (like so many bloggers do), it might look like this:
That’s not so good. Still, my slug could be simpler:
That’s more likely to be searched, so I’ll go with that. You can change it here:
*I’m not sure if Blogger lets you edit post slugs (I couldn’t find the setting) UPDATE: Blogger will allow you to adjust your slugs in an option referred to as ‘Permalinks’
6. Give special consideration to your first paragraph or write a post excerpt
The description will generally be the “snippet” copy for the search result. In WordPress, your excerpt also show up in Reader listings and in emails to subscribers. It will also act as thedescription for the post − only seen on the SERP. When writing the description for the content, follow these basic guidelines:
- The description length should not exceed 165 characters. This will make sure the full description is visible in a search result.
- Include the keyword phrase in the description. This will increase the relevancy of your content for that keyword phrase.
- Include a Primary Keyword toward the beginning of your Description to increase the relevancy of the keyword within the search engines’ indexes.
This description of this post is “How to SEO your Second Life blog. Search Engine Optimisation affects your traffic. This post will help you get more traffic to your SL blog.”. It’s 25 words and 140 characters. It also has several keywords: “SEO”, “Second Life blog”, “Search Engine Optimisation” and “SL Blog”. This description won’t be read by Google robots per se, but they will certainly be seen by people who find this post in search engine results. These terms will also be bolded in the SERP if they are searched for, increasing the likelihood of click-through. Therefore, it serves me to be as descriptive as possible.
As an example, this is how the title of this post appears in the code:
I can’t show you an image of a SERP result for this post yet (not until Google indexes it), so in the meantime, I’ll show you one from my last post on this blog:
In the above case, I didn’t use an excerpt, and for that reason the description isn’t as compelling as it could be. Now that this post is indexed, I’ll add that SERP citation below to show a comparison.
As you can see, my excerpt fits perfectly within Google’s result on the Search Engine Result Page.
7. Use narrow and specific keywords and their synonyms in your content
Most SEOs recommend a keyword density of 5.5%. I wouldn’t worry too much about that unless you’re really working it.
They also suggest you
- bold the first occurrence of your primary keyword phrase
- use the keyword in bullets if you can
- use them in headings (H1, H2, and H3)
- include a hyperlink for every 120 words of body content
- include a hyperlink at the beginning of the body to show prominence
- link to content that is relevant to relevant to the keyword, preferably to another page in your website (not the home)
This might all seem a bit much for some. Do what you can. The above is best practice – the devil is in the details.
8. Alt tag and file title your images
Google image search is a useful way to get more visits to your blog. But wait! Didn’t I say Google robots doesn’t read images? It doesn’t, but they do read alt tags and filenames. If you’re writing a post that includes images (and all of your posts should include at least one image to increase click-through on email and Reader), then take the extra few seconds to write a descriptive file name and alt tag.
*Blogger lets you do this when you right-click the image and choose image properties
9.Tag and categorise your posts judiciously
WordPress says that Google doesn’t rely on tags and categories to index your site, but I’ve noticed that certain searches (for my name for example) do bring up tag pages on other people’s posts do show up in SERPs, like this:
For this reason, I tag all my guest posts with my name, and am always happy to see other bloggers use my name as a tag. On my own blog, I use tags to organise specifically and use categories to organise broadly (e.g. navigation).
One thing to keep in mind is not to overstuff your post with tags and categories. In fact, using too many categories and tags – more than fifteen in total – will cause WordPress to block your post from Reader Topic pages. Instead of overstuffing, choose specific tags that are most relevant to what the post is about. For example, “blond SL hair” is better than “hair”.
*Blogger calls these “Labels”.
10. Link out
Linking out to other people’s blogs isn’t just friendly, it’s also smart. Don’t think of it as losing a visitor, think of it as being a resource. When do I choose to link out? I link out to
- share more information or a resource that might be helpful to my reader
- credit someone else’s work, contribution, or idea
- share someone else’s supporting, opposing or alternate view
What happens when I link out?
- I pass on link equity
- My post becomes a resource to because it’s so resourceful
- People see me as a sharer, and sharers get shared (by getting linked back)
- Google (allegedly) gives me equity points! This one is a bit dubious, but if it results in getting back links, then I’m very confident that is helpful.
Level 2 Blog Post SEO Review
As a review, follow these steps to get make your blog posts SEO friendly:
- Write naturally and about one topic at a time
- Write regularly between 1 to 5 times per week
- Write at between 250 and 350 words per post
- Write descriptive post titles
- Write descriptive, short and easy to read post slugs
- Give special consideration to your first paragraph or write a post excerpt
- Use narrow and specific keywords and their synonyms in your content
- Alt tag and file title your images
- Tag and categorise your posts judiciously
- Link out
A few things to avoid
- Feeds – they duplicate your content which draws away your search juice – nasty, nasty feeds. I don’t use any unless they only excerpt my post and link back.
- Starting new sites and importing your content without redirecting, hiding or deleting the previous website with all your old content. Google will think you are plagiarising yourself, and will ‘penalise’ you accordingly.
- Stuffing your post or site with irrelevant keyword phrases. Yes, packing your post with sex-related keywords only makes you get ignored faster.
- Spending too much time SEOing your post or site when you should be writing. In some ways, SEO can make us lose sight of what this is all about. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important, but it isn’t as important as awesomesauce content.
And there you have it! Wow. You stuck with me till the end. How impressive! So what next? Well, the good news is that what I’ve written above is pretty much the nuts and bolts of what you need to know to SEO your blog and your blog posts. I know it seems like a lot but I wanted to put it all on one page so it’d be easier to refer to. If you feel it’s all a bit overwhelming, then take it one step at a time.
I don’t tick off every box for every post I write, and I don’t expect you will either. There are many things I could do better. In a way, writing this post has been a good reminder for me too. Hmm, maybe I should save these lists and put them somewhere I can easily find them when I write blog posts.
If you want to take it slow; this week, consider which keyword phrases you are targeting. Next week, check your blog settings. The following week, consider adding a few of my suggestions to your posts. Then use a few more. And then a little more still.
Before you know it, this stuff will be second nature to you. Good luck, and if you have any questions, just hit me up in the comments. In my next post on the subject of getting more quality traffic to your Second Life blog, I’ll share my best tips on how to write compelling content.