Search Engine Optimization and tracking on WordPress

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Optimizing your webpages so you get ranked at the top of Google searches is a key way to get traffic to your site. (Google)

A key part of online journalism is making sure potential readers can find your stories easily using Google and other search engines.

It’s called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, and it’s a very simple skill that can pay huge dividends for the success of your website and stories.

Searching for your own websites in Google is a great way to learn how search works. (Google)

Searching for your own websites in Google is a great way to learn how search works. (Google)

Studies have shown that readers are most likely to click on the first search result that offers them the information they are looking for, regardless of the news organization. Very few websites listed on the second page of search results ever get hits.

As experiment, try finding your WordPress blog using a Google search. If your blog is set up well it should be one of the first results. (If you not, you need to do do some SEO. See below.)

Next, try finding the last story you posted on your blog using a Google search, but without using your name. That’s more difficult.

The key to making it easy for searchers to find your blog either intentionally or accidentally is to understand how Google ranks pages when you do a search.

Google and other search engines like Bing, use programs called spiders that crawl through the internet searching for new pages and links. Once they find a page, the content it is analyzed using a secret algorithm based on a number of factors.

When someone does a search, Google then compares the keywords in its search with millions and billions of pages it has saved on its servers database using a complex algorithm to generate the results.

How to SEO your blog

The exact formula used to rank pages by Google is actually secret, but the general guidelines are well known.

The most important rule is to always use the keywords that someone might be searching in the following parts of the story:

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SEO starts with putting keywords at the front of headlines, in the lead, in the photo captions and URLs. (Vancouver Sun)

  • The headline.
  • The lead.
  • The image captions.
  • The URL.

Other factors like the length of the story, how recently it was updated, and popularity of the overall website are also important.

But the key to winning search is the correct use of keywords.

Google is the main search engine used by most of the world, so it is the one we are most concerned with, but other search engines uses a similar process, so this method will work just as well for them too.

So, to get the best search results, when you write your headline, first stop and ask yourself, what words would you would use if you were searching for this story in Google. Those keyword should go at the front of your headline.

Keywords  should also be included in your lead, and again in the first few paragraphs of you story.

And be warned, Google punishes websites that trick readers into clicking by pretending to have information or content that is not actually there.

One way they do this is by lowering the page rank of a website that people quickly bounce off a website because it did not have the content they wanted.

Tracking hits

Now that you are publishing stories on your blog, promoting them on social media and optimizing them for search, you’ll want to know how successful your are.

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WordPress tracking information is at the top of the dashboard. (WordPress.com)

That means finding out how many people are actually visiting your webpage and how many stories are they reading.

It also means understanding who they are, how did they find your page, and thinking about what you can do better or more of to get more readers clicking on your blog.

Fortunately WordPress does a lot of this work for you with the built-in tracking software.

You can find your stats by looking at the top line of your dash board. You’ll see a bunch of dots or bars in a line just to the right of the name of your blog.

Click on the link and you’ll be taken to your stats page, which contains information about visitors to your page, including:

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WordPress stats tell you how many visitors you have by day, week, month or year. (WordPress.com)

  • Page views – the number of times pages are opened.
  • Unique visitors – actually the number of devices that looked at your page.
  • Views by country – grow your international reputation!
  • Referrers – which websites visitors linked from, including Twitter and Google.
  • Search engine terms – what keywords people used when they linked to you.
  • Top pages and post – what people are reading on your blog.
  • Clicks –  the number of time users click on hyperlinks you put on your blog.

The default for each stat is set for one day, so click on the summaries to see your stats for recent weeks, months or years (some day…).

Check how many hits your blog generated this week, then set a goal for yourself to see how many more your next story can generate by using SEO and social media by the end of next week.

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About Mike Laanela

Mike Laanela is journalist, photographer and instructor based in Vancouver, B.C.
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