Blog Quality Management

When discussing HitTail, we are sometimes asked, why isn’t it spam. Quite the contrary, HitTail is blog quality management, for many reasons laid out in prior posts about how Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s teachings of TQM (total quality management) and the Japanese notion of Kaizen play in. You can’t improve a website in a vacuum. You need input from your users. You need to know what they want. But actual suggestion boxes can be disingenuous, and analyzing the MAJORITY trends of your keyword analytics can only tell you how you’re ALREADY satisfying your users.

The data you need to know is hidden in your long tail keywords, and sifting through that mile-long list of keywords can be a big time-waster.

And THAT’S why HitTail is not spam. It’s merely an expert companion, a lot like an accountant, whose responsibility it is to sift through all that paper-work, so you don’t have to. HitTail acts as a councilor, inspecting your web log data, quickly discounting everything that does not qualify, and inspecting those keywords that do qualify with a fine tooth comb, ensuring that if you are to write about the topic, that the posts would be likely to generate enough traffic for you to be worth it.

And in the end, HitTail DOESN’T DO YOUR WRITING for you. It only makes a suggestion. Whether or not you take that suggestion and act on it is your decision. But when you do, you add a tiny bit more mass to that snowball that you’re trying to get rolling down the hill. The snowball principle states that while getting a snowball with very little mass rolling may be difficult, it is eventually worth it, because you will pass the threshold where you have enough mass to keep the movement self-sustaining, and actually, self-fueling.

Reaching this self-fueling state means that you have enough content to keep suggestions rolling in, and when acted upon, you continue to add mass to your site, which in turn, stimulates more writing topic suggestions to be issued. When this happens, the snowball effect is fully achieved, and it’s really just a matter of continuing to produce quality content associated with the new writing suggestions.

The new writing must be quality content that answers the questions posed by your website visitors. Don’t just produce search engine fodder. Rather, make thoughtful and deliberate posts as if you are actually engaged in an active discussion with your site visitors (which you are), and are a practitioner of blog quality management.

Publicizing Blogs

In a recent post, which was a debate between business writer Seth Godin and Solomon Rothman of WebProNews, I noted that depending on how your TypePad blog is set up, you don’t have to do many things to ensure your site works well for search engines. I just started a TypePad blog today, and don’t think I will customize the template AT ALL as an experiment.

But I said that no blog is secret these days. I see that when you set up a TypePad blog, you have a choice of publicizing it or not. I chose to publicize it. But I FURTHER had to go into the Weblogs/Publicity tab and put a check next to Weblogs and blo.gs. This will ensure that every time that I post, it pings the blogosphere. Together with TypePad’s built-in optimization, this should be enough. I think I’ll even resist the temptation to use Pingoat or Ping-o-matic in order to control the variables when I figure where to attribute success.

Seth Godin on SEO – Slam and Counter-Slam

Just this past Sunday, prolific writer and advocate of viral marketing, Seth Godin, published this opinion on SEO:

Hey. It’s not so hard. If you make great stuff, people will find you. If
you are transparent and accurate and doing what’s good for the surfer, people
will find you. If you regularly demonstrate knowledge of content that’s worth
seeking out, people (being selfish) will come, and people (being generous) will
tell other people. It turns out that it’s easier and faster to do that than to
spend all your time on the shortcuts.

And today, Solomon Rothman slammed him on WebProNews with a series of real-world examples, stating why Seth was wrong. But I say that they’re both absolutely correct, and that Seth is merely a year or so AHEAD of Solomon…

…and that’s why HitTail recommends getting started with BLOGGING SOFTWARE. And in Seth’s case, he uses TypePad from SixApart, so he doesn’t need to worry about SEO. What he says is absolutely true. TypePad does enough things correctly enough that you don’t even need to customize. If you just start a TypePad blog and follow Seth’s advice, it’s going to work for you. Of course, you need to choose your headlines well in order to “get in the path” of existing searchers. But asside from that, all the mechanics are taken care of by themselves, and none of those expensive SEO fixes are necessary.

Look carefully at Seth’s blog. Solomon’s claim about every page having the same title tag is wrong. Every page contains the same text as is in the headline, which is the same text as is in the URL. Additionally, TypePad constructs the magical internal link-structure that frees you from link building. Combined with the teachings of another business-book guru, Chris Anderson and The Long Tail, you have a winning combo, where you don’t even have to think about SEO, and it still works.

I don’t have to give real-world examples. Just search on anything, and look at the number of TypePad, MovableType, WordPress, SquareSpace and Blogger sites that come up. These site DO ping invisibly in the background at the moment you press Submit or Post. When you set up your blog, you have the option of making it automatically ping services such as Technorati, Weblogs or blo.gs. The details of who gets pinged from what blogging software varies a bit. But if you’re using one of the major platforms, you’re not doing anyting in secret, and the modern-day equivalent of a search engine submit is going to occur automatically. Remember those days? They’re back.

So Seth, when you read that slam, just send them over here. We’ll explain it to them. Sure, there are small template tweaks that can improve even TypePad’s default templates. But you’ve done almost everything that’s important for SEO merely by virtue of selecting the right publishing platform.

There is actually a major new entry into the world of marketing that is based on the facts precisely as you explained them, Seth.

How do I get more traffic to my blog?

The answer has never been clearer. With evidence mounting on the Internet that HitTailing works, simply install the HitTail code and start taking our writing topic suggestions here and there. Sure, keep blogging about what’s most important, but consider whether a HitTail suggestion couldn’t be worked into the headline. That’s all it takes. Keep it up with regularity, and your blog and blog traffic will grow. This very blog was started less than a year ago, and already it has a Google PageRank of 5. Sure, that’s partially due to the success of the HitTail product itself. But how do you think it achieved that success? Taking our own advice on how to get more traffic to a blog was a major contributing factor.

Default Search Vs. Blog Search Engines

HitTailing is about doing increasingly well in natural search over time, and mostly about influencing the all-important default Google search. The default search of Google, Yahoo and MSN are used more than the specialized tools, such as Local, Picture and News search. But there is a specialized form of search that’s worth looking at to improve HitTailing. And that’s the blog search tools.

Monitoring blog search sites is a way to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s being discussed online faster than searches in the Google default search will reveal. This helps you manage your HitTailing process because it works as sort of an early warning system that your posts are being picked up and on their way to having some influence. The fact that they show you how many blogs link to yours gives you a rough idea of how much influence. And finally, it gives you an opportunity in near real-time to see what other people have to say about you (or your product, website, etc.) and respond to them.

And this is what people mean when they talk about engaging in the online dialogue. Blog search-and-response happens in near real-time, with controversies flaring up and playing themselves out in days rather than weeks. It’s as if Google picked up and included new material in real-time, and you could just sit and watch Google results change as the state of the Internet changed.

This is what people mean when they talk about monitoring the blogosphere. The granddaddy of blogosphere monitors is Technorati. How in the world do they know what’s being posted FASTER than Google’s crawl can pick up? It’s because of blog pings, which are basically just automatic notifications to centralized ping servers whenever posts are made. In other words, when you blog, your blogging software proactively notifies these services. It’s much like the search engine submit tools of ages past, and has seen similar abuse–but that’s the subject for a separate post.

Today, you have to use Technorati, plus a few others to make sure you’re seeing everything that’s being posted about your website or topics of interest. So, why isn’t one blog monitoring tool enough to monitor the blogosphere? Unfortunately, the ping servers are not as centralized and universal as we would like. Not all ping servers are notified of all posts. Technorati tends to be notified most, because its one of the original blog search tools. And there are a few other big, centralized ping servers that are generally notified by default by all the big blogging tools, such as Verisign’s Weblogs.com (not to be confused with AOL’s Weblogs, Inc.), and Yahoo’s blo.gs. And these centralized tools, especially when they have API’s, is what allows new players onto the scene without having to cut deals with every blog software company to ad a new ping server to the list.

And many blog search tools are attempting to knock Technorati off its throne. But Technorati has the first mover advantage, and one of the few things that stand a chance of giving Technorati a run for its money is when be Google eventually incorporates real-time blog search into their default search. But for now, Google’s not even making blog search one of the primary tabs, such as News and Images. Technorati is going to have to slip up, or the alternative tools are going to have to somehow be radically better to displace Techorati.

But this all leads us to the question of why bothering to do all the extra work of immersing yourself in the blogosphere? If HitTailing is a natural search play, and default search is used thousands of times more than specialized search, is it really worth getting into the blogosphere rat race? And won’t the concept of specifically searching blogs go away as main search engines approach ever closer to returning fresh web results in real time?

The answer is that so long as specialized blog search tools are doing a better job of showing active discussion than the default search tools, they’re worth paying some attention to as your blog achieves critical momentum. It’s part of getting the snowball rolling and acheiving the snowball effect in the first place. As you put this difficult work into posting and building critical mass, the default search tools of Google, Yahoo and others are inadequate to offer insight as to how well you’re doing. Technorati and the others help you gauge how well your blog is achieving critical momentum. For example, I often search on the term HitTail in Technorati. This tells me both whether my own posts are being picked up, and who else is talking about HitTail. It’s not exactly part of the natural search core message of HitTailing, but it broadens my perspective, and allows me to venture into some of the other aspects of optimization not addressed by HitTail.

What other areas of optimization, you ask? Basically, link building. The old school of link building had people asking for, trading or buying links from other sites. And that can still be effective if you find the ideal partner. But generally, the new school of link building advocates having a product or message so compelling that people naturally link to you in the most valuable non-reciprocated fashion. It helps if you build in a viral mechanism that encourages linking. Think about how authoritative you look if hundreds of people link to you, and you don’t have to link back. This is the strongest posture available on the Internet. If you’re HitTailing AND have people organically linking to you at a steady rate, you are in a strong position indeed.

This process of getting the [snow]ball rolling is actually so important, that we’re considering incorporating the process into HitTailing itself. And to that end, you will be well served to get familiar with the blog search tools. Some of them have RSS feeds, alert lists and trending. Get familiar with them. Find your favorites. And find ones that offer sufficiently different results so that you’re comfortable that you’re spotting all the online mentions of your product, service, website or blog.

Blogging, SEO & 1 Template Adjustment

OK, so we tend to recommend Blogger, WordPress or Movable Type for the HitTailing process and getting your feet wet with natural search. Why? What’s so special about these, and why are we so into Blogger, in particular?

OK first off, we recommend these three blogging services because they do just the right things for search engine optimization according to today’s rules. As Google acknowledges, over 100 factors go into ranking pages. As anyone in the SEO field knows, you really only need to know about 20 to do a bang-up good job. And as anyone living in the long tail of SEO knows, making your title text appear in only a few locations will get you top position in all the engines.

Yep, that’s it. If all content management systems did this, the field of SEO would be a very different place. And that’s about all you need to know about the mechanics of SEO to be a HitTailer.

Most content management systems just can’t compete with blogging software, and to add insult to injury, blog software has a pinging system that has effectively taken the place of “submits” from ages past. So, while websites wait for crawlers to come around and notice content, blogs broadcast new content bringing in a different breed of crawler which indirectly improves default search performance. Blog post tagging and social bookmarking systems have taken the place of meta tags. And because blog software so dramatically reduces “publishing friction”, bloggers can push out a week’s worth of new content in the time it takes most companies to make one small addition to their main marketing pages.

So, why Blogger in particular, and why the omission of TypePad as a recommended HitTailing platform? Blogger lets you easily FTP your files into the subdirectory of an existing website, effectively turning your entire blog into a subdirectory of an existing site–even on your main corporate webserver! The significance of this is it allows you to piggyback your blog onto an already built-up site. Linking to such a subdirectory from your homepage will instantly give the blog clout it would take months to build up. And conversely, any clout your blog starts building extends its halo effect to the rest of your main website. There is no clear line between where your blog ends and website begins. It gets you into the right mindset for broader non-blog HitTailing.

Movable Type and WordPress are both capable of a similar scenario described above, because they run on your own servers. They’re not hosted apps, and you can therefore plant the blog into a subdirectory of your existing site. You directly control all the servers involved, and no files need to be transmitted anywhere. But due to isolating program code, WordPress and Movable Type blogs often end up on a separate subdomain, even in-house, making them separate websites and loosing much of the instant boost. None-the-less, if you want a powerful blogging platform for HitTailing and are advanced at this stuff, these platforms are for you.

What about the popular TypePad blogging platform? TypePad is much like a hosted version of Movable Type, both from Six Apart. But because TypePad always hosts the blog, you can not make it part of an existing site (contradict me, please). Instead, you register a domain name and set the DNS to resolve to the hosted location on the TypePad servers. While you get your own custom domain, you cannot intermix it with an existing site as if it were in a subdirectory. This is not always a bad thing–especially if you’re trying to build up the clout of a brand new site, and all you do is blog. We use this approach with a number of Connors clients. It takes more work to get started, but gives you a third-party site to control. It is an alternative SEO strategy, and not the quickest way to get HitTailing results. But we like TypePad and will be taking some specific efforts to simplify its use in HitTailing. TypePad uses easy plug-in widgets to add features. It’s not a template system like Blogger, so inserting the code is a bit more challenging right now.

In Blogger, while it’s a little scary for new users, it’s quite easy. You go directly into the template, find the close-body tag and insert the HitTail code immediately before that. HitTail data should start flowing in right away.

We plan on making HitTailing as easy as it can be in all popular blogging platforms. We further look forward to recommending additional blog platforms. But don’t bother recommending it if it uses parameters and IDs in the URL. Such web addresses are simply not search optimized. Yes, it can still come up in search. But for HitTailing to work well, the same words you put in the title should be used to construct the URL (with no question marks or equals signs inserted into the web address). You’re ignoring all the other factors that go into competitive optimizing, such as keyword densities and choice of HTML elements. So, you need the basics working for you as much as possible.

And a final note on Blogger. There is one template adjustment you should make. Most default blogger templates use the time-of-post as the anchor text in the permalink. It needs to be replaced with the title tag. While that sounds complicated, it just means find this…

posted by <$BlogItemAuthorNickname$> at <$BlogItemDateTime$>

…and replace it with something like this…

Link to: <$BlogItemTitle$> (permalink)

See, you’re getting the correct anchor text in the link leading to the permalink page. And that’s about as techie as we want to get with HitTail. We’ll eventually work suggestions like this into our FAQ pages and other resources.

Corporate Blogging Strategy

It sometimes seems that one of the most deliberated over points in business is whether and how to blog. Isn’t blogging really self-indulgent nonsense for a company, which is more likely to get the blogging employees in trouble than it is to improve business? If goes through official channels, doesn’t it lose its sincerity, become sanitized, and slow down the rate at which blog posts occur, and therefore its effectiveness?

Yes to all of the above! A successful corporate blogging strategy has to do with solving all of the above issues. Sometimes, you go the sanitized and editorial route if you have the resources, and can still make an excellent user experience and keep up the posting rate. Not all companies have this luxury. If the company chooses to pick a company evangelist, and give him or her to blog away with unfiltered sincerity, the company must be wise in choosing the person, and comfortable with any liabilities it may incur. But the gritty feel could bay back in spades from a public relations standpoint. Conversely, shallow attempts at manipulation through blogging are often called out as such and end up with angry customers blogging their mind on THEIR OWN blog site. This happened with Juicy Fruit, but I cannot help but think it STILL ended up selling more Juicy Fruit.

Joining the online discussion is always risky. Merely by virtue of being out there, you might tap into long latent sentiments that people were just dying to have a forum for. You can turn off comments, but then you might drive them to post where you cannot control. And if they’re search optimized on some relevant word… sheesh! But more and more, companies are finding they must take that risk, because by not engaging your customer base, someone else will. And the best way to join the discussion is in a blog YOU CONTROL.

That’s right. Often times, a corporate blogging strategy is thought of as traveling around to all these far-flung discussions and posting comments there–often time posing as someone NOT from the company. It’s dishonest, not worth the risk, and frankly not as effective as running your own blog and hosting it directly on your corporate website. Why?

You want your blog to be influential. You want your blog to be the center of the discussion. You want to be building up the overall effectiveness of your own site, and not someone else’s. You want control over published content related to your company, and not for someone else to have it. You want to be building up a permanent company asset. And you want a vehicle that can be used to defend your brand as forcefully and nimbly as even the most disgruntled blogger.

That’s right. The same “long tail” effect that makes it so easy for you to capture a mass of small hits on obscure but important little terms, makes it so easy for a disgruntled customer to have an disproportionately loud voice. In the past, one angry customer could be relied on to tell five others. Today, one angry customer has the ability to tell many thousands… basically, anyone who happens to search on that precise same topic.

But it can work exactly in reverse, and a product can get the reputation for being the best and only choice in some niche space. Recently, I needed to podcast (technically, PowerPoint/Camtasia/Flash-cast), so I wanted to buy a decent microphone. A bit of searching right now will turn up one, and only one choice: the Samson C01U professional condenser USB mic. Go ahead, do the test. Search on podcasting microphone. Sure, Derrick Story, an O’Reilly writer published the first article. But the point is that this is a perfect example of a long tail keyword. A market exists. It’s globally dispersed. The product is non-mainstream, and will HAVE to be shipped (unless you live walking distance from B&H; A/V like me).

But I’m here to tell you that “the ultimate podcasting mic” is only the beginning of the infinite variations that will attract customers and drive sales. How may “ultimate podcasting microphones” are metaphorically in your business? I would guess lots. I would also guess that your marketing department has no idea what they are, and that brainstorming and tools like WordTracker are the only readily flowing source of possibilities.

What if the long tail keyword suggestions just came flowing in? What if they had a special advantage in that you knew they would work if used? What if you knew some tiny amount of traffic had already been produced on those terms when you didn’t even try? What if it provided a steady enough flow of ideas that you could keep a person in marketing blogging away full-time, and in a year or two you would be free from your CrackWords addiction, while your competitors were not? What if doing so had the side effect of defending your brand by keeping disgruntled posters from ever getting a toe-hold in search?

I would say that was the foundation of a pretty effective corporate blogging strategy.

Using Blogger for SEO

This is not going to be an exhaustive comparison of the different blogging software packages out there. Instead, it’s going to be an explanation of why just using Blogger is the recommended choice for someone getting started with the HitTail process. It’s true that WordPress and Movable Type are probably better for SEO if you are technical and control your own servers. But if you’re a member of a marketing department, have an IT department to work with, or use off-site hosting and don’t have access to the IT folks, or are just pressed for time, then Blogger is the path of least resistance, and search-optimized well enough to let the HitTail process be effective.

The key differences between Blogger and other systems is that Blogger will FTP the resulting files into any location you wish, and the blog therefore can reside in a subdirectory of your main site. This is important, because the snowball effect of site growth is best performed on just one domain. If your content is good, people will be linking to you organically–one of the biggest accomplishments of a successful HitTail campaign!

What Blogger is missing for SEO is previous/next arrows that put the titles in the anchor-text of the arrows. This is one of the single most influential things you can do to for SEO when stringing together a sequence of pages is your preferred user experience. With blogging, it’s perfect, because you’re just reading a journal with a chronological reading order. Blogger forgoes this device, and instead opts for “previous 10” posts. This is OK for SEO, because the per-page dilution is offset by the fact that every page does it, therefore rendering Blogger as just as influential in search as Movable Type or WordPress.

A few alterations need to be done to the Blogger template, and I’ll just skim over them here until I have time to elaborate. First-off, the link leading to the “permalink” page of the post needs the words from the title in the link. Most default templates put the time-of-posting in the link–an inadequate clue for search engines as to what the page is about. So, the permalink needs to be changed to something like “Permalink: title”. The next thing, and it’s a user-interface issue more than an SEO issue, is that the “Previous 10” links forces you to go back in time as you surf, with now way to return to the most recent post. Therefore, you need to find in the template where the previous 10 posts are being inserted, and put above it a link back to your most recent post. That way, no matter how people surf around, they can always “go back to the top” without being trapped.

Blogging vs. CMS – which is best for SEO?

So, HitTail works well with blogging tools or adding pages to your site through a good content management system (CMS). Why do we skim over the mechanics of search engine optimization (SEO), and jump right into the writing issues? Because blogging software does so much so perfectly for SEO, we don’t feel it’s necessary. Instead, we just recommend you use one of the highly search-optimized blogging systems, such as Blogger, Movable Type or WordPress. They all meet the baseline criteria for creating search-friendly sites that are likely to maintain their influence.

There are so many directions to go with this post. Do we therefore recommend using blogging software as CMS for the main website? Can existing CMS systems be retro-fitted to live on equal footing with blogging software? Can blogging and CMS sites exist together, intermixed so that you blog for SEO, but keep the main site in its current form? Can we recommend CMS systems that are every bit as good as blogging software?

The long and short of it is that a site needs to grow. And that growth needs to occur in a search-friendly and visible fashion. And the topics chosen for growth need to be spot-on, for competitive reasons. Technically, the main difference between blogging software and a nearly perfect CMS system is the pinging. Blogging software makes everything you add into news, to be picked up by Technorati, Feedster, and the multitude of other blog search tools appearing on scene. In fact, some “News” searches are beginning to incorporate some blog posts. And blog search tools start serving your content in minutes, compared to the days or weeks required by the “default” search results. So, blogging software has this advantage. Why is it an advantage?

Despite how well optimized a site is, you still rely on people linking to you, emailing your URLs to around, and good old fashioned word-of-mouth. Therefore, the initial pushing out of your news is important. In the PR world that I (now) come from, this takes place with press releases, and pitching by PR professionals to journalists. In the PURE world of SEO, the pitching is extremely soft, and takes place in the hope that your content is eventually picked up by people searching on exactly the right keywords. But blogging strikes a nice medium. Your blog posts go out as news. Anyone monitoring news in your space will be alerted to your post. Social bookmarking and tagging systems like del.ico.us help expedite this process. One PR professional, Steve Rubel, who is also a publisher asks that you pitch him by tagging your web pages with the name of his site (micropersuasion) in del.icio.us.

So, for people getting started with the HitTail process, you have to ask yourself if you are happy with how well optimized your CMS system is (or whatever website management system you use), or whether you want the extra bump that the use of blogging software will give you. And if you choose blogging software, how can you get started with the minimum of muss and fuss? There’s enough to say about that, that I’ll make it the subject of my next post.

Blogging and SEO

Getting your content out in a blogging system is much more effective for SEO than by any other content management system, because there is a vast network of new web-crawlers out there competing on many levels to pick up and carry your content. Yahoo, Google and Technorati are competing to pick up all blog posts first.

News aggregation sites specializing in verticals are competing to pick up content on particular subjects. You can see this in technical topics like Java and Ajax right now, but the trend will trickle into every industry, as it is the lazy way to create those “authority sites” that are so important for SEO. In the past, spammers were doing “search scraping” to accomplish much the same thing, but mostly to have pages on which to hide AdSense.

Today, RSS feeds are being combined to make much more professional and sensible sites. But the same dynamic applies. They are attempting to intermediate communication. Not long ago, the concept of disintermediation was a buzzword, due to manufacturers’ sudden ability, thanks of course to the Internet, to sell directly without going through distributors or retail outlets. Today, content is a product, often being given out for free by bloggers who put entire articles into news feeds, and it is an invitation to intermediate. Just as with spamming, there is little to no cost or risk, and there is a great deal of up-side.

The answer is simply to set your blogging software to only include a portion of your post in the RSS feed. Whenever you post, all the blog crawlers will pick up the new content. The only full copy of the search-optimized content will exist on your site. And the news aggregation sites will get your small paragraph, which is fine because it will become a highly desirable non-reciprocal link.