One of the many reasons for genea-blogging is to connect with others. Almost daily you’ll see stories where a research cousin is discovered and a connection is made thanks to a search query or a reference from someone who saw a blog post. While blogs – WordPress, Blogger and all the others – are very search-friendly by design, there are several things you can do to increase your visibility. And, you can take advantage of the growing number of distribution systems to expand your readership.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the process used to get more visibility from search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. Search engines are constantly “crawling” the Web looking for new content and indexing it. Each of the major search engines has its own – very secret – process for finding and ranking content and these processes are adjusted regularly. Rather than trying to “play” the search engines for ranking, here are a couple of basic steps to take to insure your content is search engine friendly:
- Use the tags section to include keywords that describe the content in each post. Surnames, locations and events are good tags for genealogy posts. Think of search terms you would use to find this post and include those terms as tags.
- Take advantage of WordPress’s categories feature to organize your site content. Those categories also serve as search keywords.
- Include links to other content both inside and outside your blog. It’s always good to include references to earlier posts related to the current article – much like I’ve done in the next bullet point. And, make sure the text used to describe your link gives the reader (and the search engine) more information than “click here”.
- Include alt tags with all your images. Use the Alternate Text field in the media pane to describe the image. This will become the alt tag for that image when it’s placed in your post. While the primary purpose for the alt tag is to provide a description of the image to screen reading software used by the blind to “surf” the Web, search engines are also blind when it comes to images and will use the alt tag’s description to give context to them. You’ll find a more comprehensive discussion on accessibility in my earlier “Is your blog accessible?” article.
- Use sub-headings within your post to define topics within the article. Use the header tags found in the Format drop-down on the toolbar to style these headings instead of just making them bold or a larger font. These header tags tell the search engine that this text is important and it will be given more authority than normal body text.
Although search engines will help others discover your blog, don’t expect them to stop by regularly to check out your latest stories. There’s just no way to make a daily visit to every blog I find interesting. Fortunately, there are a growing number of ways I can have the latest posts from all the blogs I follow delivered to my desktop, tablet or even my phone – automatically. However, this will only work if you are taking advantage of those distribution options to insure your content gets delivered.
Most blog systems support the RSS (really simple syndication) standard to present each post in a standard format that computer systems can understand and process. Most of the online news sites you visit are using this standard to collect and display news stories from around the world. WordPress automatically assumes you will be using RSS to distribute your content. You’ll find options defining your feeds in the Settings > Reading screen. You determine the maximum number of recent posts to be sent in your RSS feed and whether to send full text of the post (recommended) or just a summary. To take advantage of RSS feeds, your readers will need some kind of news reader app (Google Reader is the most popular). They will then subscribe to your feed and the reader will automatically check your site on a regular basis – usually hourly – to see if there’s any new content. If there is, it will be collected and displayed in your reader. See “Research Delivered: The Newsreader” for more information on how RSS feeds and subscriptions work.
Today there are even more distribution options available including the growing number of social networks being used to connect with friends and family online. WordPress.com makes it easy to automatically announce each new post on your profile at your favorite social site. All you need to do is go to the Settings > Sharing page and connect your blog to your account at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more under the Publicize section. As discussed in “A New Look at News Reading”, Twitter is quickly becoming a major player in news distribution so I recommend you include it as a distribution option. Once you set up your connection to Twitter, you’ll see a Publicize: Twitter option in each post’s Publish box. If you do nothing, WordPress will send a status message containing the post title and link to Twitter as soon as you publish the post. You can click the Edit link to display and edit the message if you wish.
While WordPress.com users have distribution options at their fingertips, self-hosted sites require a bit more effort. WP to Twitter is a great plugin to announce your posts in Twitter. It lets you define a default post format and you can customize the message for individual posts. Plugins for Facebook are a bit more difficult since they usually require you set up an application in Facebook first. I use the Networked Blogs service from within Facebook to post to both my profile and my Moultrie Creek page.
Improving your distribution system will improve your visibility and increase your ranking in search engines which will help your research cousins find you. Take the few minutes needed to set up these systems. After that, WordPress will do the work for you. You can’t lose!