Last year I responded to a tweet from blogger and SEO guru Daniel Ruyter, creator of Memoirs of a Single Dad.
Daniel was offering free SEO advice to the first five bloggers who contacted him. I tweeted him back right away and several days later he e-mailed me an in-depth SEO analysis of my blog, complete with Excel spreadsheets.
He spent an hour on the phone with me, patiently and gingerly explaining why my Google Page Rank sucked. He talked about mysterious things like PRO links and back links and social bookmarking, and how I needed to futz with my on-page SEO keywords in six categories.
By the end of the conversation, I came away knowing there were things I should do, but still not knowing exactly what. This was no fault of Daniel’s, but solely due to the fact that I am an entrenched luddite who is never sure that I have properly backed up the files on my external hard drive.
What I managed to distill from his eloquent analysis was this: choose keywords that will make blog posts appear at the top of a Google search. Keywords like “divorced mom,” “divorced writer.” It would really help, he said, if I used these keywords in my post titles.
Did I heed his advice? No. I was a snob, fond of literary titles like “Tender Green Shoots of Hope,” titles which sounded slightly poetic but gave the reader only a fuzzy sense of what the post was about. “Tender Green Shoots of Hope,” for instance, was a post about the friendship between two girls, but could just as easily have been a post about curing cancer with organic vegetables.
So my traffic stayed the same: an average of 200 page hits on any given day.
Then, in January of this year, I noticed a phrase that kept appearing on my site stats page: “dooce divorce.” I couldn’t figure out why these terms were leading to my site — until I remembered a post I had written about Mommy Bloggers in which I had referenced that almighty Mommy Blogger Dooce and used “dooce” and “divorce” as keyword tags.
When I googled “dooce divorce” I was surprised to spot my blog link high up on the page, along with links to other blogs speculating that there was trouble in Dooceland.
And everyday, for about two weeks, I noticed more and more “dooce divorce” terms in my search engine referral stats. But as far as I knew, Dooce and her husband, who goes by the blogger handle Blurb, were still together.
Until January 17th, when Dooce and Blurb announced on their respective web sites that they were, indeed, embarking on a trial separation.
On that day I noticed that my traffic increased slightly, due to the “dooce divorce” search referrals.
So I retrieved Daniel’s SEO analysis from my meticulously organized blogger space…
…and re-read the section on putting keywords in the title, keywords that were clear indicators of what the post was about and would increase traffic to my site.
I wrote a post called Dooce Divorce. The post was about how this search engine referral had led to my site for several weeks before the rumor proved true. It was also about some other stuff, like the mostly supportive comments on Dooce and Blurb’s sites, and the ramifications of blogging non-anonymously about one’s divorce-in-progress. I wrote the piece quickly, as I wanted to be all Erin Burnett about it and get out in front of the copious commentaries on the break-up that were sure to rattle the blogosphere. On January 19th, two days after the news broke — and indeed, set the internet ablaze — I posted Dooce Divorce.
And my traffic went through the roof.
It increased over ten-fold.
It was higher than the days I had pieces running in Babble, Salon and Mamapedia.
Other sites re-posted my post or referenced it in their stories about the impact of Dooce’s separation on her mental health, her children, and her blogging empire.
Which then increased my traffic even more.
One month later, my traffic is on average four times higher than before I wrote Dooce Divorce. All kinds of Dooce-related search engine referrals — why did dooce and blurb separate? is dooce bipolar? did blurb have an affair? — lead to my site everyday.
Now a keyword-in-the-title convert, I wrote a post soon after Demi Moore’s unfortunate breakdown. I speculated on how her divorce, and her imminent 50th birthday, might have contributed to her spinning out of control. I used the keywords “Demi Moore” and “50” in the title.
The next day, I googled those keywords, just to see if my blog would appear at the top of a Google search. And I noticed, much to my surprise and tickled-pinkness, that Huffington Post had picked up the piece that I had also posted on my Open Salon blog, and ran it in their divorce section.
Several HuffPo bloggers tweeted about the Demi Moore piece and a couple days later I was invited by the editor of the Huffington Post Divorce section to blog for them.
I almost keeled over from the thrill. One of my professional bloggy dreams was to write for that section. And as anyone who has attempted to query Huffington Post Divorce can tell you, locating submissions guidelines is like searching for the lost city of Atlantis. It is nearly impossible to get published in HuffPost Divorce unless you know someone, or are invited.
My first piece on Huffington Post ran on February 11th. Using Daniel’s keyword strategy, I titled it Why I’m Glad I Gave My Ex Custody of Our Son. I suspected “custody” was a lightning-rod word, and it sure proved to be: the piece garnered over 1600 comments and was featured on the AOL home page.
If I hadn’t finally utilized Daniel’s simplest tip — using descriptive keywords in titles — my traffic would be a fraction of what it is today. My Demi Moore piece might have gotten lost in the bloggy morass. And I might not have been invited to blog for HuffPost Divorce.
So, thank you, Memoirs of a Single Dad, for helping me create the kind of traffic all bloggers hope to be stuck in.
and thank you for sharing!
Daniel Ruyter says
Hi Pauline – You’re so welcome! I’m glad my tips eventually proved to be useful to you. Sometimes it’s the ‘little things’ in blogging that make the big differences! Since providing your SEO analysis, I actually co-founded an online marketing services company – Alpha Tree Marketing. One of our core offerings is SEO. I hope to demystify search engine optimization for the masses in the future!
Awesome! I may be seeking more info in the future!
Fabulous! So glad more people will have the opportunity to read your blog.!
That’s actually exactly how I found you (I can’t really explain the rabbit hole that was my curiosity about Dooce, but there you have it). I’m glad it did – I’m thoroughly enjoying your work.
Jan Wilberg says
Thanks for posting this. I’m the worst offender here — always giving my posts the most obscure titles in the world and then wondering where all the readers are. This really helps. Have more tips? Send ‘em this way. Thanks!
Yep. All good lessons. Sometimes we heed them, sometimes we (intentionally) don’t. And it’s all the more rewarding when the content itself is truly worthy (as yours is), and an interesting discussion ensues!
It also helps to post on other sites…like Open Salon.
Angela, that’s great to know! Thanks for reading.
Jan Wilberg says
OK – will do. I just went through my list of old posts and enhanced the titles with actual subject matter words. Thanks Pauline!
Jan Wilberg says
You know, I should’ve figured this titling thing out because last year I wrote a post called “Denis Martinez’ Balls” and it gets hits everyday. lol
That is pretty cool. I have never dedicated much time to any of this sort of thing because I didn’t think we could do much with a free WordPress blog. But using the terms in-post and in-title makes a LOT of sense. I should definitely read up on it. I have to say, this is the first time I actually read a blogger who talks in a matter of fact way of their experience pre and post SEO. Usually people keep that stuff behind the scenes, hush-hush like. So thanks for dragging it out into the light.
You’re welcome, MSM!
Gabi Coatsworth says
This is fascinating, Pauline. I’m delIghted it worked for you – you deserve it. I’ll try this myself and see how it goes. My writing blOg doesn’t have as many lightning rod topics, but I see that the more specific the title and tags, the more traffic I get.
Lori Day says
Pauline, this is awesome. I’m married to an SEO consultant, so I actually understand this article! It took me a long time to accept his advice too…I hated “going for keywords.” But it made a big difference on my site. I have my own blog but don’t use it much because my writing currently is more for other established sites, but using SEO got my website a Page rank of 4, which, while not phenomenal, was pretty darn good only 6 months into a new business. And don’t forget–all those back links from places like Huffington don’t hurt. You’re on your way!
Angela’s response is exactly how I came to find your site too. Would never have found it otherwise, but will keep coming back!
So happy to get this feedback! And thanks for coming back!
Gina Osher says
Great post but even greater news that your traffic is up! I”m so glad more people are reading your work because it’s terrific!. And now I can say “I knew her when”. LOL.
I totally know what you mean about the obscure titles because I used to do that as well. But somewhere along the way I realized that the posts that had the most hits were ones like “8 Books To Teach Your Child Emotional Intelligence” or “Discipline Is Not The Same As Punishment”. Not only do key words improve your page rank, but they also make people want to click on the posts when they see it on Facebook, Twitter etc. If it’s too obscure they just may pass it by…no one has time & very few want to work hard to get information!
I need SEO help…it’s on my list of things to do this year. Thanks for the reminder of why it’s so important!
You always have good keyword-y titles, Gina!
Elizabeth Aquino says
Interesting stuff! Over the last few years, my hits have nearly quadrupled, but I’m not sure why as I’m one of those people who has a title drawn from a poem! And the blog post that receives the most hits is titled “Big Guns.”
Heather Novak says
As a one year old blogger I say THANK YOU! The info in laymen’s terms helps immensely. Baby crying, must go.