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September 01, 2008

Developing Your Blog 1: Search Engines and Linking

Developing Your Blog 1: Search Engines and Linking

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For some time OCR A Level Media has been encouraging the creation of web design and making basic websites as part of its coursework portfolio in both foundation and advanced production. Other level three media courses will be offering similar production units. I have noticed that there is little emphasis on how to develop and maintain audiences and the text books don't seem to be dealing with issues such as marketing the websites / blogs and discussing the increasingly sophisticated business tools available. In many ways this understanding is far more important than learning at an extremely basic level how to use Flash or  Dreamweaver. To learn these programmes properly takes a lot of time and effort and they are not generic skills. By comparison  learning about how web business are actually operating through the use of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Web Analytics tools is very important for an A level student.  One reason for learning about media studies is to gain an underlying understanding  of how things work so that you are not fooled by things which is very easy when it comes to media related things.  You may never do these things yourself.

SEO & Web analytics combined are essential tools for reaching the target audience of the site and are absolutely fundamental to the success of any website whether or not it is trying to sell advertising/ products / services or a combination of these things. At its core media is a business which depends upon attracting audiences and is usually paid for by subscription, advertising or in the case of the BBC a licence fee which is very like a subscription in reality. Together SEO and Analytics drive company websites and even individual websites. Of course content is important but you can have the best content in the World on a site which is useless if nobody ever gets to find it. Marketing and promoting your site are essential ingredients of success. If you don't like doing it then you need to find a company / person that does.

Search & The Web

Let us assume you have got the content of your website sorted out and its great and the design looks amazing and all the links work well and it is easy to navigate, in short it is the perfect website. You have taken months to learn the programmes to create it and lots of time to write and research the content, take the photographs record the sound and the video. You put the site up via your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and because you want to be able to at least pay the service provider you decide to put adverts on your site.  Once your site is up you search for it typing in different search terms. If like most people you don't go further than page two on a Google search you will probably be disappointed. You will have to persevere and go a lot further.

This blog has what I consider to be some pretty good pages but they don't even appear in the first 20 pages of a Google search. That page is pretty much dead in the water unless I do something to try and push it up the search engine rankings. Sometimes this can take months. One page on this site has developed a successful search engine ranking after a few months. It is called A Chronology of European Cinema. According to the Firefox browser it has a Google ranking of 4 / 10.  The reason why this page is powerful is because there are an enormous number of external links and some internal links to what I consider are the best available web pages on individual films publicly available. Over time the page has attracted users. The combination of these things gradually pushes the content up in importance. The number of hours to research the page is enormous and it is still ongoing. By comparison a reasonably useful page on Keira Knightley gets nowhere on the Google page ranking indicator. The page isn't in the first ten (probably 50) on this search term which got 9.3 million hits from Google. No surprises there then! The point is that to your site / pages will have to fight their way up popular search terms. Because my entry has a tag and some links to The Duchess starring Keira Knightley and about to be released a search of the term "The Duchess Film" found my page on page 9 of a Google search - not bad but not nearly good enough! you need to think about a range of relevant tags which might attract some users to your page.

Please note during searches I have found that pages which have come out without registering in the Google rankings can come very high on the actrual search whilst other pages with higher rankings can come in a couple of pages lower. for example one search turned up a British Film Institute Screenonline entry which was justifiably in the top three of a British director search yet the page wasn't ranked by Google. There were no external links though because that it the policy of the site who want to control their content. This almost certainly reduced the search engine ranking but had no effects on the results becuase it was obviously a very popular page. Screenonline has a great institutional critical mass which no blog or small website can hope to emulate.

As you can see from the above example the first thing you need to do is to make your site and your pages attractive to search engines. Search engines like Google are the most important web tools in existence. Without search facilities the web simply couldn't function. There are tens if not hundreds of millions of websites, blogs etc. there has to be a way of accessing them. Google has been the most successful search engine to date because it managed to develop algorithms which searched the web more effectively than other search engines. Search engine technologies are continuously developing and they also try and ensure that the content of the site / page matches the search term. In the 1990s website designers used to add lots of irrelevant meta-tags to their sites. As a result you would get an Australian Scuba diving outfit as the first search hit when you were searching for a French film which happened to have diving sequences in it. Search has improved a lot since then becuase it was very frustrating for users and held back the development of the web.

SEO: Using Links to heighten the Page / Site Profile

SEO is a bit of a 'black art' with Google using around 200 different parameters as it works out its rankings, which are inherently dynamic and therefore change conitnuously. This means that a website needs to be managed. Just because it is high in the rankings month doesn't necessarily mean it will be in a few months time. One reason for this is that people might come along with better pages on the same subject which means yours might get pushed down the rankings. The web is a cpmpetitive place even though collaboration through links can be mutually beneficial!

I have just discovered this useful page which seems to accord well with the experience I've had with the 'Chronology of European Cinema' page I used as an example above when it comes to increasing the profile of a page or site. I wish I had discovered it before however I seem to have worked out quite a few of these ideas for myself. On this site I'm trying to make entries better than other websites that I have discovered whilst researching the pages. Alternatively if I have not time to write a totally individual entry I try to put in a really good set of links to other relevant sites. The next step would be to annotate these sites. In that sense this is rather like providing annotated bibliographies in the hard copy world. Keeping these up to date howver is a serious problem as sites get bigger. In the real world of business based sites and blogs where people are seeking an income keeping these link pages up to date in the dynamic world of the web requires more human resources, unless somebody has developed a programme to do it for you. Even then that is difficult because it requires personal judgement based upon knowledge. Anyway here is Blogstorm's list of things to do:

It isn’t going to be easy but if you really want to linkbait in your industry then the path is quite straightforward:

  • Find all pages on Wikipedia that relate to your niche
  • Write more detailed versions with better images
  • Email all the people who link to the Wikipedia pages and gently point them to your new page
  • Find subjects where Wikipedia doesn’t have a page
  • Create a quality page on these new subjects
  • Use your existing link equity to help the new pages rank
  • Wait for people to find and link to these pages

In 18 months this strategy will probably give you enough links to outrank Wikipedia for every term you target. (My emphasis: Blogstorm Linkbait entry

There are some things to note here. Firstly  the comment about 18 months. You are not going to develop some super website / blog overnight. The whole thing needs to be considered as a process which develops. Patience and steady ongoing development work is essential! It may be rather time consuming to track down and email Wikipedia users

The idea of using Wikipedia as some sort of benchmark is a good one because Wikipedia pages frequently have a high ranking. Despite the problems of Wikipedia it is continually developing and entires are only likely to improve. The may well be pages that aren't linked to by Wikipedia and you need to search for these as well. for example in the world of British cinema the Screenonline site has many excellent entries. I frequently link to these until I get time to write a better one. As the quality of these is usually very high each page is hard work, however the point is to continue to add value to both my site and by implication the web as a whole. This is the importance of the idea of Web 2.0, sharing and developing information and ideas. This is one reason why search engines encourage sites to make links.

The question of linking out (to other sites) from mainstream media sites is subject to research  to see if this creates more links in.  There does seem to be  some correlation between the two figures indicating that providing outgoing links  can benefit even large mainstream media companies.

What is Linkbaiting

Well I hadnt' come across this term until today however the underlying meaning is pretty straightforward. Here is a useful article from the About Weblogs site on linkbaiting (Google page rank zero at time of writing).

Tagging Blogs

The way that search engines work to update their information is by using programmes called called webots or webcrawlers which search sites and even read some of the content to check it against  the  tags  which have been used by the web publisher. Another system that helps find blogs is the Technorati search engine. you can 'ping' technorati with you tag and then it will be entered into its search engine. It is obviously useful to enter as many systems as you can to help people find your blog:

Tagging is a software tweak that's already used on photo-sharing site, for example. Here's how it works: As the site's users post their photos for everyone on to see, they tag a photo taken in, say, Iraq, with a tagline, "Iraq." A blog search engine called uses these tags to retrieve search results. If you entered "Iraq" into its search dialog box, the engine would serve you up with news stories, blogs -- and photos tagged with "Iraq" (See this article on for other examples of tagging).

Such tags could completely change the way we blog and communicate, believes Glenn Reid, who, while at Apple, created iPhoto. In a recent blog entry, Reid gives a great example of the possibilities: All reader comments on all blogs could, potentially, be linked up based on their tags, so that, instead of following individual blogs, people would be able to follow conversations on specific topics (such as Iraq) conducted on hundreds of blogs. (Business Week: The Future of Blogs )

Websites and Metatagging

Websites work slightly differently to blogs and the way to encourage them to be visible to the serch engine web crawlers is to create metatags in the HTML:

Meta tags are HTML codes that are inserted into the header on a web page, after the title tag. They take a variety of forms and serve a variety of purposes, but in the context of search engine optimization when people refer to meta tags, they are usually referring to the meta description tag and the meta keywords tag.

If you are making a website using a programme such as Dreamweaver you will need to plan your metags carefully.

Please now go to the entry on content


Webstorm SEO and Webmarketing Blog. This entry on 'Linkbait'

SEO Wisdom - How Great Content Brings Top Rankings

15 tips to increase Blog Traffic

The Three C's of Blogging

Linkbuilding versus Linkbaiting

Help Search Engines Find Your Blog by Letting Them Know Where It Is

SEO is Dad: The 30 Easiest Ways to Get Links and Exposure (I think you need to take some of these with a pinch of the proverbial salt, they can be quite time consuming. I still think excellent content is key for long-term development.

Online Media Studies Centre: Improving content with Web data and analytics

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