Blogging to Look Good for Google

The Washington Post published an article in mid-November about Ted Leonsis. That’s not unusual, given his status as a wealthy businessman and perhaps something of a celebrity. What was unusual was that he didn’t like what he saw when he Googled his name – and he decided to do something about it.

One would think that Leonsis would be pleased to see himself in Google, but for someone of his status, that’s all but expected. He’s the vice chairman of AOL, majority owner of both the Washington Capitals hockey team and the Mystics women’s basketball team, with a minority stake in the NBA Wizards. When he typed his name into Google last year, he saw an assortment of news stories – and that simply wasn’t good enough.

News items may make for great publicity, but they leave you with relatively little control. Reporters usually don’t lie deliberately, but if you depend only on them for your publicity, you might find they leave out certain details you want to see included – or include certain details you’d just as soon see left out. Leonsis faced the same problem that any business faces, namely, how to get people to see the information about him that he wanted them to see – and get it high enough in the SERPs. “On search, you want to be on that first page,” Leonsis explained. “You don’t exist from Page 3 on.”

So what was the first step? Leonsis started a blog, which he titled “Ted’s Take.” Starting a blog is almost mundane these days, even for those who don’t particularly care where they score in the SERPs. I know plenty of people who use it as a means of keeping their friends up-to-date with what’s going on in their lives, and read other blogs for similar reasons. It can be a very good move for businesses that do care about where they are in the SERPs, because most blogs have great SEO potential built right in: clear navigation, pages linking back to other pages, and so on. The key, though, isn’t starting the blog so much as what you do with it after you start it.

Leonsis wanted to find out what Google’s algorithm considers important. He knew that if he cracked that, he could get the information where he wanted it. There are many factors that go into where Google positions particular sites in its SERPs, but Leonsis found that three were especially important:

  • Website popularity. Web pages score higher in the SERPs due in part to being more popular than other pages.
  • Linkage. If a web page receives a lot of one-way links pointing to it from other web sites, it will score higher in the SERPs. Blogs naturally link to other blogs, and freely give out one-way links.
  • Freshness of content. The more entries you make, and the more recent they are, the more likely it is that your site will score high in the SERPS.

So how did Leonsis go about applying these points to make his blog popular? He took advantage of the fact that people are most interested in other people, especially celebrities. So he posted short pieces about his day – the day of a wealthy businessman who regularly rubs shoulders with well-known people. One entry talked about meeting Lionel Ritchie and receiving an impromptu performance, for example.

Needless to say, these stories acted as linkbait. Leonsis wrote about celebrities that web surfers wanted to read about, and bloggers soon started linking to his stories. Leonsis began returning the favor, linking to blogs that were on topic for his interests: local sports. He even linked to Mark Cuban’s blog. You may recognize him as the man who said anyone who would buy YouTube is an idiot, but he is also part owner of another sports team. Many of these blogs, in turn, linked back to his. To really help build traffic, he linked his site to the web site for the Capitals.

Popularity and linkage form only two legs of the tripod though. The third is freshness, and Leonsis played into that by posting several times a day. To help others find him, he added tags to his blog posts. Now all that was left for him to do was wait.

What Leonsis experienced next should be familiar to anyone who has done SEO on any kind of web site. Nothing happened for a while; he saw no particular change in the results that showed up in Google. In fact, it took months to climb the SERPs, making gradual, continuous progress all the way. Leonsis’ blog now boasts an audience of 800 on a bad day, 15,000 on a good one.

It took about a year for Leonsis to get the results he was looking for – again, that should be familiar to anyone who has done SEO. Most of the reputable SEOs that I’ve seen writing articles about the job, and what results are possible, say that it takes a year to get really significant results. In a sense, the Washington Post has done a service to SEOs everywhere; now whenever you get an impatient client wondering why his web site isn’t at the top of the SERPs yet even though you’ve been working on it a whole month, you can point to this article and hopefully open his eyes a little!

At the time of the Washington Post article, Googling Ted Leonsis brought up his AOL biography as the top link, followed by a link to “Ted’s Take," then his biography on the website for the Washington Capitals and a Wikipedia article about him. The fifth link finally went to a news source: a live online interview the Washington Post conducted with him. A check in late December shows a little change; the Wikipedia article is a little higher, the AOL biography is nowhere to be found, and the news stories start at the fourth link. But "Ted’s Take" is still prominent, as is the Washington Capitals link.

Leonsis can and does take pride in a job well done, but he has bigger plans. He wants to add video and photos to his blog so he’ll have a little more control over what images come up when someone looks for a picture of him on Google Images. He isn’t satisfied with the “weird ones” taken by the Washington Post that turn up currently. “I’ve got some nice photos,” he reflected. “I’ve got to get those into the algorithm.”

You don’t need to be a celebrity or a well-known businessman to generate this kind of buzz. It helps, of course, but it’s not absolutely necessary; you just need to work harder on the basics. You already know how important it is to write about popular topics, get lots of links, and post frequently. Let’s refine those points a little.

If you want to copy Ted Leonsis in writing a blog that’s appropriate to your business, you need to think about its focus. Who are you trying to attract? What are they likely to be searching for? You can’t escape it; you need to be thinking about the keywords you will use for your blog. But you need to do it intelligently. You can try a general high traffic keyword, but how much chance do you have of ranking – and gaining visitors – for that term? Better to choose a moderately popular term, which will give you a better chance of ranking, attract more traffic with less effort, and probably be more targeted (and therefore more likely to convert) on top of all that.

Once you have decided what keyword or key phrase to use, where should it go? You don’t want to be tarred with the spam brush, so you shouldn’t make an extreme effort to have the term show up in your blog; talk about topics relating to your blog’s focus, and the keywords should fall naturally. Other places you can put your keywords include your post titles, your category names, the URLs of your pages, and any Technorati tags that appear after each of your posts.

That brings me to another way for you to raise the profile of your blog: submit it to a blog directory. You can get some excellent one-way links this way.

Finally, I’d like to talk about timing and frequency. You’ve already seen that frequent updates are a good thing; Leonsis updated his blog several times a day. If you’re not writing constantly about current events or things that are happening in your life, this doesn’t have to be as arduous as it sounds. There is blogging software available that will let you write a lot of blog entries in advance and then post them at preset times. So you can do an entire week or even month’s worth of blogging at one sitting and not have to think about again until next time.

So much for frequency; how about timing? Well, it helps to know when and how frequently the search engine spiders visit your site. Spiders are regular creatures; you may find that the spiders come once a week or once a month. If you have a brand new post ready for them the day they come to visit, they’ll know to keep visiting you around that time. Now, as to the other kind of visitors to your site, you might find you get better results if you tweak your blogging software slightly. Instead of having it ping servers every time you update, or at set intervals regardless of when you update, you might do better to have it ping just once during the day – sometime in the morning is usually best.

Leonsis was able to turn his results in Google totally around so that it showed what he wanted it to. He did nothing especially exotic; it took patience and hard work, but it paid off for him. You can do it too.

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