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July 21, 2017 12 min read

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Ever thought about launching your own blog? Ever wondered what it takes, not only to start up that blog, but also to successfully build it over time to make money online or generate a passive income? Clearly, you’re not alone. Millions of people try their hand at blogging, but so few actually ever generate a substantial income from their efforts.

However, if you’re starting a blog for the purposes of making money, and you’re not actually passionate about writing in the first place, then you’re largely wasting your time. The art of blogging isn’t simply scientific or formulaic. Without a deep-seated passion for your craft, you’ll face a tide of frustration and upset.

Why? While it’s relatively straightforward to begin a blog, it’s a monumental undertaking to generate any semblance of traffic and profit from your arduous efforts. You need laser-focus and persistence to build an audience or reach mass saturation with your prose. It takes time and it takes long and drawn out evenings burning the proverbial midnight oil.

Take it from me. As a blogger who’s built a substantial platform with hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors, I can bask in the warm glow of success. However, I can’t sit around for too long enjoying the freedom and passive income that my blog has created. Without constantly adding insatiable content, any blog can die off.

So, what does it take to start a successful blog and actually make money online? I suppose that depends on what you consider successful and what you consider making money. If, like millions of other potential bloggers out there, you’re looking to rake it in, you’ll have a long road ahead.

But if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort, and you can stay persistent over the years (and yes, I said years), then you can most certainly generate a substantial income online. In fact, your blog is quite possibly one of the best hubs of passive income generation, and if done the right way, it can attract the right clients and customers no matter what industry or niche you might be in.

Related: 4 Ways to Stock Your Content War Chest

Okay, if I haven’t dissuaded you just yet, and you’re serious about launching the next Mashable or TechCrunch or whatever other blog you might think is wildly successful in your eyes, then here’s what you need to do in a step-by-step fashion. The more you prepare and plan, the more likely you’ll be to succeed in the long term.

1. Pick a Topic 

Get clear on what you’ll write about. Define a topic or niche, and design all your content around those things. This will help you to not only laser-focus your writing, but also to build digital products and services that compliment your content.

This allows you to attract customers in, enticing them with your highly-informative posts, then tempting them with a lead magnet before dropping them into your sales funnel (more on that shortly). 

2. Select a Platform

While WordPress is the most popular platform for blogging by far, there are others out there that can be leveraged such as a micro-blogging platform like Tumblr, Blogger.com and even Medium. However, if you’re serious about your blogging efforts, you’ll likely want to go with a self-hosted WordPress installation on a custom domain.

While you could setup a blog at WordPress.com with a subdomain such as myblog.wordpress.com, you’ll get more traction with a self-hosted solution, and then be able to use subdomains on popular platforms for your content-marketing efforts.

Related: Medium Is the Solution If You Want to Blog Without Any Overhead

3. Pick a Domain Name

Custom domain names are important if you’re serious about making money from the blog you start. Rather than relying on a third-party-hosted subdomain, find a short but relevant keyword-rich (if possible) domain name that’s descriptive of your intended topic, industry or niche. Use BlueHost, HostGator, 1&1 Hosting or any other number of domain name providers to source your domain.

If you’re at all concerned about things like SEO, when selecting your domain name, you should adhere to the following suggestions:

  • Use a known top-level domain (TLD) such as .com or .net
  • Keep the domain short, no more than 15 characters or so
  • Try not to purchase a domain name with hyphens, since they’re more often associated with spammers
  • Avoid using self-hosted subdomains to rank or categorize posts

Related: 21 Ways to Market Your Business Online

4. Find a Good Web Hosting Company

There are loads of good hosting companies out there. If you’re starting a WordPress, self-hosted blog, there are a near-endless amount of options. The important thing is to do your due diligence and pick the right one that’s suitable to your budget and to ensure that the service-level and up-time guarantee is there.

At the beginning, you’ll likely want to start out with either a Managed WordPress solution or a Virtual Private Server (VPS), and scale from there. Eventually, you’ll probably need a dedicated-hosting solution with a CDN (below) once you break through a few thousand visitors per day.

5. Caching and Content-Delivery Networks (CDNs)

Use a system like W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache and turn on browser caching to ensure that you speed up the delivery of your webpages. In the beginning, this might not seem as important. But as you grow and your traffic increases to thousands of visitors per day, this will be critical. Use Google’s Page Speed Insights to test things before and after the installation.

It’s also important that you setup a CDN, which will speed up the global delivery of your content. For example, your page might load relatively quickly in the United States, but what happens when someone in Australia tries to load your content? CDNs replicate data across multiple repositories around the world, and make content delivery ultra-fast.

This is important for the user’s experience because most people who are foced to wait even a few seconds for a page to load, often abandon the website and go to the next one in the search results. W3 Total Cache integrates with Amazon’s AWS and MaxCDN, two very good options when it comes to CDNs.

6. Enable Permalinks

In WordPress, you should enable permalinks before getting things off the ground, which will give you nice canonical URLs that are SEO-friendly. Permalinks are located within the settings > permalinks section of your WordPress admin and select the post name option.

Related: 10 Smart Ways to Earn or Build Backlinks to Your Website

7. Install the AMP plugin

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an initiative by Google to speed up mobile accessibility to a large degree of their content. The AMP specification, which you can read more about here, helps to thin down a webpage to its basic structural components with scaled-back JS and minified CSS code, makes for lightning-fast page speeds.

8. Install Google Analytics

Install Google Analytics so that you can keep track of your efforts while building out your blog. This is a great way to keep track of your results while using the URL campaign builder when dropping links in social media and other places so that you can effectively determine where your traffic is coming from.

9. Setup Google’s Webmaster Tools

Anyone who’s serious about building a blog and making money, needs to leverage Google’s webmaster tools to see what keywords they’re ranking for and any messages that would impact their ability to rank. This will also allow you to submit an XML sitemap and track keyword impressions along with click-through rates. This is one of the most useful tools for growing your site or blog through constant analysis of your efforts.

Related: Why Your Startup Content-Marketing Strategy Isn’t Working

10. Learn SEO the Right Way

Although you shouldn’t start a blog with the intention of optimizing it to oblivion, you most certainly should understand the fundamental principles of search engine optimization so that you pay attention to the key aspects that will impact your ability to rank on search engines like Google. Begin with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and digest and implement that information. Learning SEO is a long and drawn out journey. You should always be increasing your knowledge and expanding your skill set.

11. Regulary Build Useful Content

If you’re serious about succeeding with your blog, you need to build useful anchor content. It needs to be engaging, keyword centric, insightful, unique and well written. Don’t write your content for search engines. Rather, write your content for humans while also paying homage to search engines and what they want. Simply put, it’s a skill that develops over time with practice. It’s also important to regularly publish your content on a weekly basis.

12. Sign Up to an Email Marketing Platform

The best avenue for making money from your blog is through email marketing, plain and simple. Hands down, this offers one of the quickest and surest strategies for earning an income through your blog. But before you get there, you need to sign up to an email marketing platform like Aweber, ConvertKit, MailChimp, Constant Contact, InfusionSoft or any other number of platforms that exist out there.

Related: 4 Golden Rules to Boost Blog-Post Engagement

13. Build a Lead Magnet

If you’re serious about marketing anything online, rather than opting for running ads on your blog (which won’t make you real money unless you have at least hundreds of thousands of visitors per day) or engaging in affiliate marketing, you should build a topical lead magnet that will sell a digital product or offer that you create in the back-end. The lead magnet will entice people to sign up to your list and provide you with their email address.

14. Build a Digital Product and Position Your Offers

Email marketing and lead magnets are all designed to help you build out an automated sales machine. However, you need a digital product, service or other kind of offer in the back-end to do that. You can create multiple offers or products, that can lead people up a value chain towards your high-ticket sales.

15. Create a Sales Funnel

Take the time to build your automated sales funnel. There is so much involved with sales funnels, but the basic premise is that your visitors will show up to your site by discovering your content, drop into your sales funnel through an offer via your lead magnet or some other tripwire, and they’ll then be led through a journey with drip-fed messages at some periodic schedule that will allow you to sell your products and services on autopilot.

Related: How This Entrepreneur Created a Premier Women’s Lifestyle Website

16. Get Social

Building a blog isn’t easy by any measure. To help you along the road towards success, you have to get social. Not only by linking up with other like-minded bloggers interested in online marketing, but also by sharing and engaging with others on social networks like Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms.

17. Market Your Content

The single most important strategy you’ll find for building up a blog and boosting your visibility on search engines like Google, and my all-time go-to strategy for rocketing up the search rankings on Google’s SERPs, is content marketing. Marketing your content is an intricate process that involves long, seemingly-never-ending hours of building more useful off-site content that links to your primary anchor content, but it’s well worth it.

You can use this single strategy to rank number one on Google’s searches for nearly any keyword if it’s done the right way. There’s most certainly an art to this as well as a technical outline and to doing it the right way. Don’t try to spam or overstuff keywords in an effort to market your content by any means.

Content marketing can be done with articles on sites like Medium.com or Scribd.com, it can be done by answering questions on Reddit or Quora, and it can be done with videos on YouTube or Vimeo, along with a variety of other means. The point is that all of the content has to be useful, period. Don’t try to do the least amount of work for the greatest return. You need to do the exact opposite if you want to succeed.

Related: 5 Tips for Starting Your Own Online Publishing Company

18. Monetize Your Content

Let’s face it, starting and running a blog can get costly. Don’t expect to get rich overnight. However, you can take certain measures to monetize some of your content along the way. Be sure that you remain topical with your content and that your lead magnets help to drop people into a sales funnel that will eventually sell your high-ticket items.

However, aside from that, you can always opt to generate small amounts of cash flow by doing other things such as creating articles that will lead people to courses or audiobooks that you’ve developed, or building out video tutorials that will ultimately sell some big package or system that will help to teach people whatever it is that you’re really good it.

There are numerous ways to monetize your content and make money from your blog, but don’t try to take shortcuts along the way. Don’t look for the fast-buck if you’re serious about your long-term results. Take action and stay persistent if you want to succeed and achieve your goals.

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Starting a blog and wondering what are the best blog sites?

It can be a tricky choice since it’s a big decision and there are a lot of unique options out there.

In this post, we’ve made it easy for you to pick what works best for you with a list of the best blogging platforms for beginners in 2020.

So here are the top blogging platforms we’ll be comparing in this article. If you’re interested in a particular one, click the link in this list of blog websites to skip ahead in the post:

  1. WordPress.org
  2. Constant Contact Builder
  3. Gator Website Builder
  4. WordPress.com
  5. Squarespace
  6. Blogger
  7. Weebly
  8. Tumblr
  9. LiveJournal
  10. Medium
  11. Ghost

How to Choose the Best Blogging Platform

Before diving into our list of the best blog sites, it’s important to make sure you know what you’re looking for in a blogging platform.

Ask yourself these 3 questions about blogging platforms:

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  • Is it easy to set up? If you’re new to blogging or even just thinking about starting a blog, you may not be very technical yet (or may not ever be), so you want to look for a blogging platform that’s super user-friendly
  • Does it have the option for me to make money with my website? Even if it’s not something you want to do right now, you’ll want a platform that lets you make money off your site in case you want to do that in the future
  • Is it flexible so it can grow with my site? As your blog grows, you’ll want to change the look of your site and add new features to support your growing audience

So now that you have a better idea about exactly how to choose the best blogging platform, let’s take a look at our picks for the best blogging platforms for beginners for 2020.

Which Is the Best Blogging Platform for Beginners?

Here are the best blogging platforms for beginners:

1. WordPress.org

WordPress content management system

This is truly and universally the best free blogging platform.

Above all, the very best choice (and the most popular) for all bloggers is WordPress.org. It’s incredibly customizable and flexible, which explains why it powers over 30% of all the websites on the internet. It’s the best of the free blog sites, as well as paid ones.

Many blogging newbies confuse WordPress.org with WordPress.com. Check out our post on WordPress.org vs WordPress.com for a great comparison on WordPress blogging.

This is the best choice if you want full control over the future of your blog. WordPress.org is a self-hosted WordPress option, meaning you’ll need a WordPress hosting provider. Bluehost is by far the best WordPress hosting to get started with WordPress.org.

Pros:

  • Full and complete control over your blog — Using this robust Content Management System lets you create any kind of site from a blog to an eCommerce store
  • Easily customize the look of your website — You can use themes like Divi, Astra, or OceanWP to make your WordPress site look exactly the way you want it
  • Amazing options for functionality — Your WordPress website can be enhanced in a ton of different ways by using plugins

Cons:

  • Not always beginner-friendly — Can have a slight learning curve for non-technical people who don’t use helpful sites like WPBeginner.com
  • Doesn’t handle security — You’ll need to manage your own backups and security (like with a security plugin like Sucuri)

Cost:

Free. You’ll need to pay to have a domain name for around $14.99 per year + hosting around $7.99 per month.

Click here to get started setting up WordPress.org with Bluehost today!

2. Constant Contact Website Builder

constant contact builder best blogging platform

If you’re ready to a create a blog, Constant Contact’s Website Builder is another fantastic choice to pick as your blogging platform since it’s so easy to use.

Pros:

  • Freebies — A free domain and SSL certificate comes with all of their paid plans
  • Extensive free plan — Their great free plan comes with lots of features so you can start building your site and testing things out before you buy it
  • Great user interface — A great and simple drag and drop builder for easy site creation

Cons:

  • Lacks some tools — Not as feature-rich as other platforms like WordPress.org
  • Compatibility issues — 3rd-party extensions aren’t allowed
  • Domain name not free — You’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan to get your own domain name

Cost:

Free. Paid plans start at $10 per month.

Click here to get started with Constant Contact Website Builder today.

3. Gator Website Builder by HostGator

host gator non wordpress site

Gator Website Builder by HostGator is another one of the best choices for blog platforms, and it’s at the top of our list because it’s insanely simple and easy to use.

Pros:

  • Simple setup — Even non-technical people can set up a site in minutes
  • Awesome user interface — Use a drag and drop builder to customize the way your blog and site looks
  • eCommerce compatibility — Add an online store and sell things from your blog easily
  • Freebies — Paid plans include a free domain and SSL certificate
  • Security — Backups, security, and performance are all handled for you

Cons:

  • Limited extensions — Not as many apps and extensions can be used
  • eCommerce cost — You’ll need to pay for a more costly plan to add a store to your blog

Cost:

Gator Website Builder pricing starts at $3.46 per month.

Click here to get started with Gator Website Builder today.

4. WordPress.com

WordPressCom

WordPress.com is easy to setup and offers basic blog services for free, but gives you very limited control over what you can do with your website. It’s one of the free platforms on our list that’s often confused with the much more flexible WordPress.org.

Pros:

  • Easy — No setup required so you can start in minutes
  • Free — You can use it at no cost if you don’t mind have a website name that looks like: example.wordpress.com
  • Security — Backups and security are handled for you

Cons:

  • Can’t make money on ads — Your free site will have their ads on it and you can’t make money with them with networks like Google Ads
  • Lack of ownership — You don’t own your blog and your account can be suspended if they choose to do so if you violate their terms
  • Limited options — You won’t be able to use custom themes and plugins on your website

Cost:

Free. But if you’d like to remove their ads and branding, plus get your own domain, it’s $4 per month (billed annually).

5. Squarespace

squarespace blogging service

Squarespace is a blogging platform that helps you build beautiful websites but excludes the use of any 3rd-party apps or extensions.

Pros:

  • Ease of use — Simple and easy to use for people who aren’t very technical
  • Gorgeous templates — Offers some stunning and professionally designed templates so your website looks fantastic without much work
  • eCommerce ready — Ability to add a store to your site

Cons:

  • Limited apps — No 3rd-party apps or extensions are allowed
  • Limited marketing — Not many marketing tools are offered

Cost:

Squarespace plans billed annually start at:

$12 per month for personal sites.

$18 per month for business sites.

$26 per month for eCommerce sites.

6. Blogger

start a blog with blogger

Blogger is one of the oldest blog platforms around and requires a Google account to get started, but may have some major deal-breakers for some looking to grow their site.

Pros:

  • Simple to start — Easily set up and create a blog without paying for anything
  • Backed by Google — The technology giant owns the platform so it’s secure and reliable

Cons:

  • Dated — The platform doesn’t receive updates often
  • Design — The options for customization and design are extremely limited
  • Limited features — You can’t really grow your blog with the limited basic blogging tools that are provided

Cost:

Free.

7. Weebly

create a website with weebly

Weebly is a well-known blogging platform that easily lets you build a site with a drag and drop builder, but may lack the extensive features some bloggers are looking for.

Pros:

  • Freebies — Plans come with a free SSL certificate
  • Weebly Promote — Helps you grow your email list

Cons:

  • Export issues — It’s incredibly hard to export your website to another platform if you choose to do so
  • Limited integrations — Not many choices for 3rd-party services
  • Lacks features — Limited built-in features to customize your website’s functions

Cost:

Free. But to use Weebly with a custom domain you’ll need to pay $4 per month + $8 per month to remove their branded ads.

8. Tumblr

tumblr and popular blogging platforms

Tumblr is one of the most popular of all the microblogging platforms, and it’s also one of the easiest-to-use (but extremely limited) blogging sites in the world.

Pros:

  • Ease of use — Super simple to start and manage your blog with
  • Customization — Extensive ability to adjust your blog
  • Social media integration — Easily connect a social network to your blog

Cons:

  • Limited features — Very few options to add functions to your blog
  • Theme control — You can’t adjust the formatting of your site, similar to WordPress.com
  • Export issues — It’s incredibly hard to export your website to another platform if you choose to do so

Cost:

Free.

9. LiveJournal

livejournal basic blog

LiveJournal used to be one of the best free blogging platforms, but has definitely become more of a site for people who are only blogging as a hobby and isn’t a good fit for businesses or people trying to make money with a website.

Pros:

  • More options than just blogging — On top of writing blog posts, you can use social media tools, send and receive private messages, and join communities
  • Multi-language — Available in a ton of languages so you can make your website multilingual

Cons:

  • Ads — Free sites have to show LiveJournal’s advertisements
  • Limited templates — No professional templates are available
  • Hobbyist level blogs — LiveJournal is not suitable for business or professional blogs

Cost:

Free.

11. Medium

medium

Medium is an online publishing platform that lets you import your content from anywhere on the web, but if you’re looking for the best blogging platform to make money, you’ll want to go with another one since you can’t monetize your blog.

Pros:

  • Ease of use — There’s barely any setup required
  • Reporting — Offers a powerful reporting tool so you can learn more about your readers and how they’re engaging with your posts
  • Focus on writing — It’s a content-first type of platform, so you can write and they handle the design

Cons:

  • No monetization — You can’t make money off of the Medium platform
  • Content control — You have limited control over your content
  • Limited features — Very few options to customize your site

Cost:

Free.

12. Ghost

list of blog sites ghost platform

Ghost is a minimalist and open-source blogging platform that’s easy to use but lacks the ability to use many 3rd-party plugins.

Pros:

  • Simple to use — A clean and modern interface keeps things easy for users
  • No setup — If you opt for the hosted version, setup is instant
  • Built-in SEO — The platform comes with SEO tools

Cons:

  • Limited customization — You can’t use most paid and free themes or plugins
  • Branded domain — Unless you buy a custom domain from a 3rd-party domain registrar, your blog will be a Ghost subdomain ending with ghost.io

Cost: 

Self-hosting requires a custom domain around $14.99 per year + web hosting for around $7.99 per month.

The hosted version starts at $29 per month for 2 users and up to 100,000 page views.

Final Thoughts on The Best Blogging Platform

So which site is best for blogging?

Out of all the most popular blogging platforms, we strongly recommend using WordPress.org so you get complete control and flexibility over your blog and its future. Constant Contact Website Builder and Gator Website Builder by HostGator are also great choices for beginners looking for something easy to use.

And that’s it! Hopefully, this list helped you decide which of the best blogging platforms is the right one for you and your blog.

Since you’re at the beginning of your blogging journey, make sure to take a look at our article called how much does a website really cost so there are no surprises for what you’re in for!

Don’t forget to please follow us on Twitter and Facebook to get updates from our blog.

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ˈblȯgHow to pronounce blog (audio), ˈbläg

1 computers : a website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer also : the contents of such a site

2 : a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors a technology blog

blog

verb

blogged; blogging

1 intransitive : to write or have a blog He released experimental versions, blogged about his game-design decisions as he made them and uploaded … videos to YouTube.— Harry McCracken

2 transitive : to write or write about (something) on a blog Appropriately, he blogged his own retirement on Monday.— Tom Verducci

Other Words from blog More Example Sentences Learn More about blogRecent Examples on the Web: Noun Theblogpost said Google will tighten requirements that purchases within apps downloaded from Google’s store must use the company’s billing system. —Washington Post, “SEC charges former Amazon finance manager, family members with insider trading,” 28 Sep. 2020Google also reflected on the company’s past in ablogpost. —Dalvin Brown, USA TODAY, “Google.com celebrates its 22nd birthday with an animated Zoom-style party logo,” 28 Sep. 2020Theblogpost also clarified that Google will tighten requirements that purchases within apps downloaded from Google’s store must use the company’s billing system. —Mark Bergen, Bloomberg.com, “Google to Make It Easier to Use More App Stores on Android,” 28 Sep. 2020Scott noted in the company’sblogpost that GPT-3 would still be accessible via OpenAI’s application programming interface platform (API). —Jazmin Goodwin, CNN, “Elon Musk criticizes OpenAI exclusively licensing GPT-3 to Microsoft,” 27 Sep. 2020The Fresno State University job candidate was also exposed in ablogpost, which claimed the individual was Italian, not Black. —Justin Phillips, SFChronicle.com, “Black folks can’t risk canceling allies in their righteous anger,” 24 Sep. 2020The company defended its Echo Dot Kids Edition in ablogpost last year after several senators called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the speakers violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. —NBC News, “Amazon’s new products include flying security camera for your home, virtual assistant for kids,” 24 Sep. 2020Mequon Mayor John Wirth condemned Kirst’s actions in ablogpost Sept.4, and addressed other controversial issues that have stemmed from protests, politics and coronavirus. —Eddie Morales, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “A Mequon man has pleaded not guilty to removing a Biden sign from his neighbors’ yard and yelling anti-Semitic slurs at them,” 24 Sep. 2020In ablogpost for Cal Matters, Cooper blamed the state’s shift from fossil fuels like natural gas to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power for the rolling blackouts that affected thousands this summer. —Megan Henney, Fox News, “Dan Crenshaw praises California Dem who says ‘lofty green energy goals’ hurt working families,” 24 Sep. 2020Recent Examples on the Web: Verb After launching the Studio McGeeblogfrom their spare bedroom in 2014, Shea and Syd have become known across the country for their bright, modern designs. —Jessica Bennett, Better Homes & Gardens, “Netflix is Launching a New Home Makeover Show Featuring Studio McGee,” 24 Sep. 2020One unofficial emergency servicesblogin the county reported that the water carried a man on an air mattress away. —James Whitlow, baltimoresun.com, “Cecil County continues cleanup after flooding, damage from Tropical Storm Isaias,” 6 Aug. 2020The two have had to maintain physical distance since April, explains an HCA Houston Healthcareblogentry from July 27. —Melanie Feuk, Houston Chronicle, “Houston artist Stacy Gresell donates painting to HCA North Cypress through partnership with Bayou City Art Festival,” 31 July 2020Palantir’s website said in April, linking to a British National Health Serviceblogpost about various data efforts. —Jacob Silverman, The New Republic, “The End of the Backlash to Big Tech,” 28 May 2020Gardening help: Craft book author Amanda Formaro shows on her Crafts by Amandabloghow to paint rocks to use as plant markers for herbs, vegetables and flowers. —oregonlive, “Make a pretty, homemade gift for Mother’s Day with crayons and other stuff kids already have,” 30 Apr. 2020The Microsoftblogpost called for a federal consumer privacy law, but efforts to pass one seemed to be stalled in Congress as lawmakers focus on the effect of COVID-19 on the economy. —Grant Gross, Washington Examiner, “Microsoft pushes pandemic privacy guidelines,” 30 Apr. 2020Additionally, therapists offer coping tips for children and families on their Therapist’s Cornerblogat www.cafb.org. —Roy Kent, Houston Chronicle, “Child Advocates of Fort Bend reports increase in need for its services in March 2020,” 27 Apr. 2020Revisiting a Bayou City Historyblogpost, a Houston Chronicle editorial at the time attempted to assure the community with a sense of calm. —Alison Medley, Houston Chronicle, “Here’s how Houston handled the horrific Spanish flu pandemic 100 years ago,” 13 Mar. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word ‘blog.’ Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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We did a deep dive and reviewed the best free blogging platforms the web has to offer. Learn which one is right for you (and why).

So, you’d like to take blogging for a test drive, eh?

See if you like it or not before ponying up the bucks for a complete self-hosted WordPress setup?

You’ve probably heard you can start a blog for free, and indeed you can. The big question is:

What’s the best blogging platform right now?

And the answer is… it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

In this post, we’ll go over all the different free blogging platforms and give you the pros and cons of each, but first, let’s stop to ponder a more fundamental question:

Table of Contents

Do You Even Need a Free Blogging Platform?

The truth:

Blogging can be expensive.

Download Our Blogging Platforms Primer(it’s a free, handy PDF guide)

If you’re a seasoned blogger who’s been around the block a time or two, who’s already figured out which ideas work and which don’t, it’s easy to chalk up these costs as the price of doing business. Spend money, make money. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

But what if you’re a beginner learning how to start a blog for the first time? What if you’re someone who hasn’t yet figured what works and what doesn’t?

I’ll let you in on a secret…

You can experiment just as well on a free blog site as you can on a self-hosted WordPress blog setup with all the bells and whistles.

Actually, you can experiment better on a free blogging platform since the learning curve isn’t as steep.

Do you really want to experience the inevitable growing pains of blogging while forking over large piles of cash each month?

Free blogging platforms allow you to confirm your new blog topic has potential, spy on the competitors in your niche, and test your ideas without spending any of your hard-earned dough.

So which one is best?

Well, that’s the thing:

No Blog Platform Is Right for Everyone

Different bloggers have different needs, and different blog platforms are good for different things. Ultimately, “best” will depend on you and your situation.

That said, each of the platforms we’ll discuss do have common traits (besides being free). Let’s briefly look at them before we dive in:

  • There’s zero maintenance hassle. The burden of maintenance doesn’t fall on you when you use a free blogging platform. No worries about software updates, CSS or HTML tweaks, data backups, or gremlins hacking your server — they’re all handled by someone else.
  • They’re easy to use. To varying degrees, each platform is user friendly to beginners. With limited tech savviness, you could get started today.
  • Customization is limited. If you’re a micromanager who likes things to be customizable, take a deep breath: you will not have full control or unlimited options when you use a free blogging platform.

That last one can be both a blessing and a curse.

Once you get serious about blogging, the limited customization options of free platforms will likely hold you back. When you’re just starting though, the limitations will help you focus on what’s important: the aforementioned testing of your ideas.

Alright, enough prologue.

Ready to find out which platform is best for you? Let’s go.

Editor’s Note: There are loads of options out there (Wix.com, Tumblr, Weebly, Joomla, Blogspot, Typepad, Ghost, and Squarespace are other popular blogging platforms), but we’re focusing on our favorite five.

1. Medium: Best Platform for Simplicity

First up is Medium.

Founded by Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, Medium launched in August 2012 to much fanfare, and it’s grown into a behemoth. According to the New York Times, as of May 2017, Medium was up to 60 million unique visitors each month.

That’s considerably less than WordPress, but Google Trends indicates the tide could be turning:

Worldwide searches for WordPress

Worldwide searches for WordPress

The red line in the graphic above represents the number of worldwide search engine searches for “wordpress” during the past five years. The blue line represents the number of searches for “medium.”

Granted, some of those “Medium” searches could be for the TV show of the same name that starred Patricia Arquette from 2005 through 2011.

Nonetheless, its growth is impressive.

How Do You Get Started?

Medium offers multiple ways to register.

Don’t want to remember yet another password for yet another account? No problem. Sign up using one of your social media accounts.

Go to Medium.com and click the “Get Started” button:

Join Medium

Join Medium

Choose Google or Facebook. You’ll then be asked to log into your (Google or Facebook) account. Once you authorize Medium to access your account, it will redirect you back to Medium.

That’s it.

To get to your Medium account in the future, all you have to do is click “Sign In” on the homepage and choose the “Sign in with Google” or “Sign in with Facebook” option.

Or if you already have a Twitter account, it’s even easier. Choose the “Sign In” link instead of the “Get Started” button, and you’ll see the following:

Welcome Back to Medium

Welcome Back to Medium

Click the “Sign in with Twitter” button (even though you haven’t yet signed up).

If you haven’t already logged into Twitter, you’ll be asked to log in and then authorize Medium to access your Twitter account.

Click “Ok,” and you’ll be off to the races.

What Do You Get For $0?

A simple, beautiful WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) blogging platform that embraces minimalism.

After you join, click your avatar (the floating head) in the top-right corner of the page and then, select “New story.”

New Story on Medium

New Story on Medium

You’ll land on a clean, easy-to-use, drag-and-drop editor.

Where to insert the title for your post is clearly defined. So, too, is where to begin typing your first sentence.

Title on Medium

Title on Medium

Every change you make gets automatically saved in the background. And as you type, you begin to see exactly how your finished post will appear to your readers.

Medium's WYSIWYG editor

Medium's WYSIWYG editor

That’s the beauty of a WYSIWYG editor.

There’s no guessing, no wondering, and no trial and error. If your post looks good in the editor, it’s going to look good when your post goes live after you click the “Ready to publish?” button.

And speaking of what happens after publishing, there’s something else Medium offers you for the whopping price of zero dollars and zero cents:

The chance to be featured in front of their 60+ million readers.

Write something that wows people and, if it receives enough love from readers (they click a “clap” button to show their approval), it could get featured as one of Medium’s top stories on their app and website…

Medium's Daily Digest

Medium's Daily Digest

Or in their “Daily Digest” email…

Medium's Daily Digest

Medium's Daily Digest

Such a spotlight would mean lots of new eyeballs on your content.

Who Should Use Medium?

Anyone. Everyone.

Seriously, though it isn’t perfect, you’ll be hard pressed to find a blogging topic or niche that Medium can’t service.

This is especially true if your niche will be self-improvement or entrepreneurship. Medium puts your content, your message, front and center to your readers.

Why Use Medium?

Why Use Medium?

As Evan Williams once put it: “Medium is not about who you are or whom you know, but about what you have to say.”

Best-selling authors. Entrepreneurs. Writers who stepped away for a season, but are making a comeback. Ministers who have a good sense of humor. Yours truly.

All have things to say, and all have found homes on Medium.

Who Should NOT Use Medium?

Microbloggers (you’d be better off using Instagram — more on that later).

Those who don’t plan on using their blog for writing (photographers, podcasters, etc.).

Anyone who likes to color outside the lines.

Medium is all about the written word. Sure, graphics embedded into Medium posts look great, but in the end, it all comes back to the words.

Medium is best for those who love words. It excels at typography. It uses an abundance of white space so that its text has a perfect canvas. And it embraces a minimalistic design so that nothing distracts your readers from your precious — yes, I’m going to repeat it — words.

Look at this example screenshot from a post written by Jeff Goins:

Why You Should NOT Use Medium?

Why You Should NOT Use Medium?

Black text on a white background. A simple, easy-to-read font. It’s a perfect arrangement for Jeff’s strong, unique voice.

Medium offers no glitz, glam, or sparkles. And, unlike WordPress.com (which provides a few basic design themes and customization options), Medium is one size fits all.

What you see is what you get.

If you like what you see, great. If you don’t, there’s not a lot you can do about it.

Final Word on Medium

What are the Pros?

  • Built-in audience of over 60 million readers!
  • Good for all blog types
  • Excellent typography — your blog will look professional
  • More business friendly than WordPress.com
  • Monetization is possible with the Medium Partner Program

What are the Cons?

  • Little, if any, customization — your blog will look like every other Medium blog
  • Though Medium offers stats, you won’t be able to link to your Google account and use Google Analytics

Conclusion: If the written word is your preferred medium, you’ll do very well with Medium. It’s an easy-to-use platform that puts your strong words front and center, and it’s the platform we most often recommend to beginner bloggers.

But is it the right choice for everyone?

Let’s look at the other options…

2. WordPress.com: Best Sandbox Platform

Wordpress.com - Best Sandbox Platform

Wordpress.com - Best Sandbox Platform

Source: Lorelle on WordPress

Launched in 2005, WordPress.com is a turnkey content management system (CMS) built on the open-source WordPress.org software.

In any given month, over 409 million people will view more than 21 billion pages on WordPress.com’s network of blogs. Back in September 2018, more than 70 million posts were published and over 52 million blog comments were written.

WordPress.com is quite popular.

WordPress.com is quite popular.

In short, WordPress is quite popular.

How Do You Get Started?

Signing up for a free account takes only a few minutes.

Go to WordPress.com and click the “Get Started” button to get to Step 1:

Getting Started with WordPress.com

Getting Started with WordPress.com

You’ll need to enter your email address, a username, and a strong password.

Next, enter a few details about your blog for Step 2:

Getting Started with WordPress.com

Getting Started with WordPress.com

For Step 3, enter an address for your site:

WordPress.com - Give your site an address

WordPress.com - Give your site an address

Once you’ve typed something, you’ll get a list of options. Be sure to select the “Free” one.

Finally, in Step 4 you pick a plan. Again, choose the “Free” option.

What Do You Get For $0?

WordPress.com’s “free for life” plan gives you numerous features, including:

  • A free WordPress.com subdomain
  • “Jetpack” essential features
  • Community support
  • Dozens of free themes

WordPress.com - Choose your flavor

WordPress.com - Choose your flavor

Let’s look at those features in more detail:

Free Subdomain

A couple of definitions are probably in order…

First, what’s a domain? See the address bar at the top of your browser? What comes after the “https://” is the domain.

In the case of this site, the custom domain name is smartblogger.com. For my site, it’s beabetterblogger.com.

And in the case of WordPress, the domain name is wordpress.com.

So what’s a subdomain? If the domain is the parent, the subdomain is the child. Anything between the “https://” and the domain is a subdomain.

Some examples:

  • alumni.harvard.edu
  • braves.mlb.com
  • finance.yahoo.com

That’s what WordPress is offering with its free subdomain.

So, if I wanted to start “Kevin’s Awesome Blog” on WordPress.com, my subdomain might be something like kevinsawesomeblog. Readers would type kevinsawesomeblog.wordpress.com in their browser to view my site.

It’s not a good look if you’re a business (more on that later), but for a sandbox blog where you’re testing your ideas, it’ll do the trick.

Jetpack Essential Features

WordPress.com doesn’t allow third-party plugins (unless you upgrade to their “business” plan). So, if your buddy tells you about this “amazing” WordPress plugin “you’ve got to try,” you’re out of luck until you upgrade to a self-hosted WordPress site.

However, WordPress.com’s free plan does come with many built-in plugins that offer everything from spam protection to contact forms.

For a complete list of the built-in functionality that WordPress.com offers, check out their plugins page.

Community Support

Possibly WordPress.com’s best feature (beyond the price) is its extensive support system and knowledgebase.

You can find virtually anything you need to know about using their free platform in WordPress.com’s Support section. To call their collection of how-to articles merely “extensive” would be an understatement.

WordPress.com - Select your theme

WordPress.com - Select your theme

And if you have a specific question you need an answer for, they have you covered there too.

Visit the WordPress.com forum, search to see if anyone has had your same question, and browse the answers. Can’t find the solution you need? Post the question yourself.

Free Themes

Whereas Medium prevents you from customizing the look of your blog, WordPress.com gives you options.

With “dozens” (93 at the time of this writing) of free themes from which to choose, WordPress.com offers design flexibility that isn’t available with Medium and the other free platforms.

WordPress.com - Select your theme

WordPress.com - Select your theme

And, last but not least, WordPress.com offers the WordPress block editor, which allows users to build custom posts and pages.

What we’re saying is…

You get a lot for “free.”

Who Should Use WordPress.com?

WordPress.com is a solid platform for almost every type of blogger.

Do you want to be a self-help blogger? Good news — WordPress.com will meet your needs.

Want to blog on food, pets, or politics? You’re in luck.

Just want to write about life? That’s WordPress.com’s jam, my friend.

Why you should use WordPress.com

Why you should use WordPress.com

Source: The Next Adventure

But WordPress.com is good for more than just blogging. You can also use it for projects and e-commerce stores, which isn’t something the other free platforms can claim.

That gives it an edge over the other options. If you want to blog and do something else with your site, WordPress.com offers flexibility the others do not.

However, it’s not a good fit for everyone…

Who Should NOT Use WordPress.com?

If you want to blog for a business, you should skip WordPress.com and look into Medium or LinkedIn (which we’ll discuss in a moment).

Why?

Because it makes you look like a cheapskate.

Free is wonderful, but using WordPress.com when you’re a business is the equivalent of handing out business cards with the printer’s logo on the back of them.

Doesn’t exactly scream “I’m a professional,” does it?

Also:

If you’re hoping to join a blogging community where your posts have a chance to be discovered by new audiences, you should look elsewhere.

Medium shines a spotlight on the best their members have to offer. If you write something great, it has a chance to be featured and seen by millions.

WordPress.com? Not so much.

Here’s a screenshot of the most-recent “Editors’ Picks” on the official WordPress.com blog:

Why you should NOT use WordPress.com

Why you should NOT use WordPress.com

There might as well be tumbleweeds blowing across the screen.

Final Word on WordPress.com

What are the Pros?

  • Suitable for a variety of blog types
  • Solid support articles and forum
  • More design options than other free platforms
  • Shorter learning curve if you choose to transition to self-hosted WordPress later
  • Website builder that’s good for more than just blogs
  • Premium plans are available, for those interested

What are the Cons?

  • Not ideal for businesses
  • You can’t install premium or free WordPress themes and plugins (or other blogging tools) from third parties
  • Lack of community makes it difficult to build an audience from scratch
  • WordPress advertising and banners may appear next to your content

Conclusion: If you’re a non-business blogger who wants an easy to use platform that gives you some control over customization, WordPress.com is a solid option — especially if you plan to transition to self-hosted WordPress someday.

LinkedIn - Best Platform for Professionals

LinkedIn - Best Platform for Professionals

Source: Darren Rowse

Next up is LinkedIn.

Primarily used for professional networking, LinkedIn also offers a publishing platform. This allows any of its 560 million users (as of September 2018) to write posts that could (potentially) be read by any of the 260 million members who are active in a given month.

(Again, potentially.)

How Do You Get Started?

Go to LinkedIn.com, and you’ll see this window encouraging you to join:

Getting started with LinkedIn

Getting started with LinkedIn

Enter your name, your email, and a strong password. Then click the “Join now” button.

You’ll then be asked to answer a few simple questions:

  • Your country and zip code
  • Whether or not you’re a student (if no, you’ll enter your job title and the name of your employer; if yes, you’ll enter the name of your school and other relevant info)
  • Your reason for joining LinkedIn

It sounds like a lot, but it’s fairly harmless.

Still, if you feel the urge to throw your computer into the dumpster, we won’t blame you.

LinkedIn hurdles

LinkedIn hurdles

What Do You Get For $0?

A free-to-use publishing platform that’s focused on professionals and business contacts.

If you’re already a LinkedIn member, publishing your content will be easier than WordPress.com, Medium, or any other blogging platform.

Why?

Because it’s built right into your LinkedIn profile. Click the “Write an article” button and start writing.

LinkedIn - Profile

LinkedIn - Profile

Who Should Use LinkedIn?

Anyone who wants to reach professionals and businesses.

After all, that’s what LinkedIn is all about, right? Nurturing business relationships.

Why you should use LinkedIn

Why you should use LinkedIn

Source: Syed Balkhi

Blogging on LinkedIn helps to cultivate those relationships.

When you write an article, LinkedIn will notify your existing connections. If your article is great (and why wouldn’t it be?), they’ll take notice. Write more and more great articles, and they’ll start to see you as an authority.

And, like with Medium, great content on LinkedIn has a chance to get noticed by those outside your list of connections.

If one of LinkedIn’s editors sees your masterpiece and decides to feature it on one of LinkedIn’s numerous channels, your work gets exposed to a giant audience of interested, like-minded professionals.

Tip: Want to increase the chances a LinkedIn editor will see your article? Share it on Twitter and include “tip @LinkedInEditors” in your tweet.

Sharing LinkedIn posts on Twitter

Sharing LinkedIn posts on Twitter

Who Should NOT Use LinkedIn?

This one is pretty straightforward…

If you aren’t a working professional, or you’re not looking to reach working professionals, you’ll be better off choosing one of the other free platforms.

Final Word on LinkedIn

What are the Pros?

  • Good for professionals and businesses
  • Clean, simple design
  • Ease of use — publishing platform is built right into your LinkedIn profile
  • Built-in audience of like-minded professionals

What are the Cons?

  • Only good for professionals and businesses
  • Very few customization options
  • You can’t schedule posts for future publishing

Conclusion: If you’re looking to write posts that will reach professionals and businesses, LinkedIn is the best free blogging platform available.

4. Instagram: Best Platform for Visuals

Instagram - Best platform for visuals

Instagram - Best platform for visuals

A photo and video-sharing platform that’s owned by Facebook, Instagram is one of the largest social media sites in the world.

As of June 2018, Instagram has 1 billion users worldwide. The previous September, they had 800 million users — a growth of 200 million in only nine months.

Even if you subtract everyone who follows a Kardashian or has posted a photo of themselves impersonating a duck, Instagram offers an audience of well over 75 people.

(Kidding. Mostly.)

How Do You Get Started?

On a personal computer, go to Instagram.com, and you’ll see the following:

Getting started with Instagram

Getting started with Instagram

Enter your phone number or email address, your name, your desired username, and a strong password. Then click the “Sign up” button.

Or, skip all that and click the “Log in with Facebook” button (assuming you have a Facebook account). If you aren’t already logged in, it will ask you to log into your Facebook account.

You could also do the above using the Instagram app on your mobile device.

What Do You Get For $0?

You get an extremely popular social media platform that’s perfect for microblogging.

What’s microblogging, you ask? Here’s how it works:

You get a great image. Maybe it’s a photo you took on your camera, or perhaps it’s a Creative Commons image that perfectly fits your current shade of melancholy.

You upload the image to Instagram.

And for the caption? You write a short blog post.

Here are a couple examples:

What do you get with Instagram?

What do you get with Instagram?

In the above screenshot, Sarah Von Bargen cleverly plugs a course she offers in the midst of a tiny, bite-sized post (accompanied by a photo of assorted beverages).

And in the below screenshot, my friend Jaime Buckley (in true Jaime Buckley style), uses Instagram to publish an eye-catching graphic alongside 107 inspirational words on parenting.

That’s microblogging — and it can be done very, very well using Instagram.

Note: If you’re on Instagram and looking for tips to grow your following, check out this guide from Blogging Wizard.

Who Should Use Instagram?

Anyone who focuses on highly-visual topics.

Models…

Photographers…

Yoga instructors…

Professional chefs…

Make-up artists, hair stylists, clothing stores…

The list goes on and on.

If you’re someone who can combine great visuals with short posts that pack a punch, you can have great success using Instagram as a microblogging platform.

Who Should NOT Use Instagram?

If your idea of appealing to your audience’s sensory details involves pulling out the iPhone 3G you’ve had since 2008 and snapping a photo, Instagram may not be the platform for you.

If you tend to draft novels when you write, Instagram’s 2,200 character limit when writing captions could prove problematic.

Also, if your target audience tends to shy away from mobile devices for any reason, Instagram might not be the best platform to test your ideas. Instagram started life as a mobile app. Mobile is where it shines, and it’s where most of its users call home.

(So, if you’re planning to start a Wilford Brimley fan club, it’s probably best to skip Instagram.)

Final Word on Instagram

What are the Pros?

  • Great for visual topics
  • Ideal platform for microblogging (short posts)
  • Great if your target audience primarily uses mobile devices

What are the Cons?

  • Limited to 2,200 characters
  • Limited to one hyperlink (in your bio)
  • If your target audience isn’t on mobile, it’s less than ideal

Conclusion: Instagram offers a great microblogging platform geared toward visual topics. However, it is not kind to fans of the great Wilford Brimley.

5. Guest Blogging: Best Platform for Building Your Authority

Sometimes, the best platform for your work is someone else’s popular blog.

Why? Because it can mean instant credibility.

Once your post publishes on a site like Smart Blogger, Forbes, Lifehacker, or Business Insider; people look at you differently.

Yesterday, you were just you — a talented, attractive writer living in obscurity. But then, after having your work published on a well-known website, you’re now seen as a subject matter expert in your field.

What happened? Guest blogging happened.

How Do You Get Started?

There are two approaches to finding sites where you can contribute guest posts.

The first is easy…

Check to see if the blogs you already like to read (that are relevant to your niche, of course) accept guest post submissions.

Browse their “About” or “Start” pages. Try their “Contact” page. Sometimes, they’ll make it easy and have a “Contribute” or “Write for Us” link in their navigation menu or footer.

Guest Blogging - Best platform for building authority

Guest Blogging - Best platform for building authority

The second approach involves utilizing Google’s and Twitter’s search capability.

Here’s how it works:

Use Google to find the best places to guest blog.

Use Google to find the best places to guest blog.

As you can in the screenshot above, you can query a topic (in this example: “blogging”) along with a search phrase (“write for us”).

Google returned a list of results that contained both of those search terms/phrases.

Click on the results that look promising, browse the sites, and see if they’re a good fit. Not all sites will be worth your time. Skip the ones that aren’t. Bookmark the matches.

Then try some other, similar queries:

  • “Blogging” + “guest post”
  • “Blogging” + “contribute”
  • “Blog tips” + “write for us”

And so on.

Replace “blogging” and “blogging tips” with whatever topics you would like to write about.

Searching for guest blogging opportunities on Twitter follows a similar routine:

Search guest blogging opportunities on Twitter.

Search guest blogging opportunities on Twitter.

Type “guest post”, “guest blog post”, “guest article”, etc. in the search box. Twitter will give you a list of tweets where people used those exact phrases.

Every time someone proudly tweets that a guest post they’ve written has been published on someone’s site, as Meera Kothand does in the above screenshot, it’s saved by Twitter for posterity. And it allows you to go on an archaeological hunt to find it.

Scroll through the results.

Based on the title of the guest post and the site that published it, you will have a good idea whether or not it’s a match for you. Keep scrolling until you find some possibilities. Click the link in the tweet, browse the site, and bookmark it for later if you think it’s a contender.

What Do You Get For $0?

You get the chance to put your words in front of already-existing, relevant audiences.

Jon wasn’t an unknown when he wrote How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise and Get Paid to Change the World as a guest post for Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger in 2011, but he was an unknown to me until I discovered the post a few years later.

Why guest blog?

Why guest blog?

Then everything changed.

It didn’t matter that Jon was already well known by most thanks to his former role at Copyblogger; for me, his ProBlogger post was a gateway drug.

Jon went from being an unknown — a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, smothered in secret sauce — to an authority on blogging I had to read.

That’s the power of guest blogging. Every time you put your words in front of newly targeted audiences; you have the chance to gain fans for life.

Who Should Guest Blog?

Anyone who wants to build their credibility and boost their authority.

How can guest blogging do that, you ask? Let’s use me as an example.

Before I wrote my first guest post for Smart Blogger, I only had a handful of freelance writing jobs under my belt.

After reading a post about quitting your job and moving to paradise written by some guy named Jon, launching my own blog sounded like a great idea.

So that’s what I did. I was on unemployment at the time, working from home, and I had a lot of free time on my hands.

And I was doing a great job in such a short period.

The only problem?

I had little credibility. The only people who viewed me as an authority on blogging or writing were my wife and maybe one of our cats.

Then I received an email…

Gain credibility through guest blogging.

Gain credibility through guest blogging.

Jon’s editor, the talented Glen Long, invited me to write a guest post for Smart Blogger (formerly known as Boost Blog Traffic).

That guest post…

Gain opportunities from guest blogging.

Gain opportunities from guest blogging.

Led to a second opportunity

Gain opportunities from guest blogging.

Gain opportunities from guest blogging.

Which led to a third

Gain opportunities from guest blogging.

Gain opportunities from guest blogging.

Which led to the post you’re reading right now.

It led to opportunities like writing for Syed Balkhi over at OptinMonster.

It led to being asked to provide quotes for dozens of blog posts and articles.

It led to flattering, tongue-placed-firmly-in-cheek emails like this one from James Chartrand:

Guest Blogging legitimizes you as a blogger.

Guest Blogging legitimizes you as a blogger.

And while it may not have led to tons of traffic for my website or large crowds chanting my name in the streets, guest blogging did something that would have taken me considerable time to do on my own:

It legitimized me.

Hey, and speaking of website traffic…

Who Should NOT Guest Blog?

Anyone who wants to build up their own blog.

The reason? It isn’t very efficient.

Brace yourself…

You would better off publishing your masterpiece on your website, even if it isn’t yet popular, rather than on someone else’s — even if their website is very popular.

Please don’t misunderstand: Guest blogging is a great way to gain credibility; however, it isn’t a great way to get traffic to your blog. Not anymore.

Guest blogging may have been a nice traffic source in the past, but those days are long gone.

In his eye-opening article on the topic, Tim Soulo determined guest blogging was a poor return on investment if your goal was to generate traffic to your website.

According to Tim’s survey of over 500 bloggers (which included yours truly):

  • Guest posts from those in the marketing niche earned their authors an average of only 56 website clicks
  • 85% of the authors received fewer than 100 referrals to their sites

That doesn’t mean you should never guest blog. It just means you need to be clear about your reasons for doing so.

Guest blog for credibility, for boosting your authority, and for building your brand.

Don’t guest blog if you’re hoping for traffic. More often than not, you’ll be disappointed.

Oh, and there’s one more group who shouldn’t guest blog:

Those who want to take shortcuts.

There’s both good and bad when you’re putting your words in front of a large audience. If your post teaches them something new, inspires them, or gives them something juicy to chew on; they’ll remember you for it.

And if it sucks? Yeah, they’ll remember you for that too.

Guest blogging is a great way to build your authority, but it’s also a great way to destroy it.

If you’re not willing to put in the time and do the work, guest blogging isn’t for you.

Final Word on Guest Blogging

What are the Pros?

  • Write for interested, targeted audiences
  • Fastest way to build your authority and reputation

What are the Cons?

  • Fastest way to destroy your authority and reputation
  • Not an efficient method for getting traffic to your own website
  • Getting published on quality sites is hard work
  • Time-consuming — may be hard to fit into busy schedules

Conclusion: Guest blogging is a great way to build your authority and get your content in front of new readers. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. However, it’s unlikely to generate tangible traffic to your blog.

Making the Switch to Self-Hosted WordPress

Technically, there’s one more free option out there…

The WordPress.org software — the same software used by WordPress.com — is free too. It’s free for any and all to use.

However, just like there’s no such thing as a free puppy (once you factor in food, veterinarian bills, and replacing all your shoes after they’ve become chew toys), WordPress.org’s software isn’t actually free once you add up the other expenses.

See, to use the software, you need a blog hosting provider (aka web hosting service like SiteGround, WP Engine, or Bluehost). You need to register a domain name (some hosting providers give you a free domain, but we recommend keeping your domain registrar and web host separate). You have to install WordPress on your own web host. That costs money. You’ll also need your own domain name. That costs money too.

Is this something you will want to do eventually? Absolutely. Just not right now. Not when you’re getting started.

So how will you know when you’re ready?

Jon recommends making the switch once you reach a 20% outreach success rate.

What does that mean? Let’s break it down:

Step #1: Register for a Free Blog Site

Sign up for a free blogging site like Medium or WordPress.com (or whatever free platform best fits your needs).

Step #2: Follow Jon’s New Method for Starting a Blog

If you haven’t read How to Start a Blog, do so immediately.

(Well, not immediately. Finish reading this post; leave us a comment; and share it with all your friends, loved ones, and acquaintances. Then, by all means, immediately after saying hi on Twitter, go and read Jon’s excellent tutorial.)

In the post, Jon shows you how to conduct a miniature outreach campaign where you email 10-20 influential bloggers and ask them to share your blog posts.

Once you’ve hit a 20% success rate, you’re ready to make the transition.

Step #3: Switch to Self-Hosted WordPress

Jon’s post also offers guidance for making the switch. When you’re ready to choose a web host, be sure to read WordPress Hosting: A Brutally Honest Guide That’ll Save You Money. If you’re on a tight budget and “cost” is your chief concern, check out 11 Free WordPress Hosting Services That Don’t Suck.

It’ll help you pick the best host and paid plan for your needs and budget.

What’s the Best Blogging Platform for You?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?

You now know why testing your ideas on a free blogging platform when you’re just starting is a good idea. You now know the pros and cons of Medium, WordPress.com, LinkedIn, Instagram, and guest blogging. And, you now know how to get started with each of them.

So which one is it going to be?

If you want my honest opinion, the answer is simple…

The best free blogging platform is whichever one will get you to stop dipping your toes into the water and start diving in head first.

The next blogging masterpiece isn’t going to write itself.

Are you ready?

Then let’s do this thing.

Source

[This is part of the Blogging Foundations Starter Kit Series.]

Do you remember the first time you heard the word “blog”? What was your original thought? How did you respond?

Well, as familiar as you might be to what a “blog” is, there are people who hear it for the first time every single day and have no idea what it really is. They are having that first encounter like you did right now!

Neat, right? In any case, I thought it would be profitable to start from square one and revisit some blogging basics that many take for granted.

So, let’s start from the very beginning and answer that very basic question:

What is a “blog”?

You can find about 2.6 million answers (and counting) to that specific question via Google but I wanted to present the answer in a few different ways so that you, as the new guy or gal, cangetit, or if you know someone who wants to know then you can pass them this post.

Let’s start simply, shall we?

Simple Definitions:

Blog?

Here are a few very simple definitions that can get you started. If you find these to be good enough for you then you’re done reading this post!

  • A blog originally came from the word “weblog” or a “web log”.
  • You can think of it as an online journal or diary, although blogs are used for much more now, like online journalism.
  • A blogger is someone who blogs, or writes content for a blog.
  • Blogging is the act of writing a post for a blog.

Got it? That was easy, and that’s all you might need to know to get started.

Intermediate Definitions:

Blogger?

Want a little more “meat” on your blogging-knowledge bones? Try these definitions on for size:

  • A blog is a type of website which has posts (or entries) appearing in reverse chronological order.
  • Blog posts typically appear with the most recent blog post (or entry, post) first, just like a diary or journal.
  • A blog is typically updated frequently and regularly, although there are some who are considered “slow bloggers”.
  • Blogs typically have an area for people to comment or respond to the blog post.
  • Blogs may also have other areas of content and links to other websites.
  • Blogs can have individual authors or be a collection of authors.
  • Blogs have a history or an archive of previous blog posts.

Not too bad, right? We’re beginning to describe some of the features of a typically blog.

Advanced Definitions:

Blogging?

 

If you’d like to complete your education of what a blog is then you can read some of the following “advanced” definitions:

  • A blog is a collection of content that is organized repetitively. This content can take the form of basic words (copy) as well as rich media (audio, video, and embeddable objects).
  • A blog typically focuses on a particular subject matter for clarity, focus, and
  • A blog can be built by hand, manually through writing the post, uploading to a website via FTP, and then publishing.
  • A blog can also be managed by software, sometimes called a CMS (Content Management System), where a lot of the features are automatically created and populated.
  • A blog typically can be read in a number of different formats including the homepage, single post page, categories, tags, and also via RSS and other such syndication technologies.
  • Readers and visitors can subscribe to the blog so that they can consume the content in a variety of different means, tools, devices, and applications.
  • A blog today could take the form of microblogging (like Twitter, Posterous, Tumblr), vblogging (video blogging), and more which can focus on a particular type of content or technology.

Whew. Done yet?

Super Geek Definitions:

Bloggerific?

 

Finally, if you’re just bored, have too much time, or are exceptionally curious, here are a few super geeky definitions that I came up with:

  • A blog can be whatever you want it to be; it’s not about the what but the why.
  • A blog is a collection of strategically-placed 1’s and 0’s typically called software.
  • Everything is a blog and nothing is a blog, at the same time.
  • Blogging is what you do, what you do not do, and what you wish you had done when you did it.

Finally, one person in particular puts it this way when asked to define a blog:

I don’t care.

There is no need to define ‘blog.’ I doubt there ever was such a call to define ‘newspaper’ or ‘television’ or ‘radio’ or ‘book’ — or, for that matter, ‘telephone’ or ‘instant messenger.’

A blog is merely a tool that lets you do anything from change the world to share your shopping list. People will use it however they wish. And it is way too soon in the invention of uses for this tool to limit it with a set definition.

That’s why I resist even calling it a medium; it is a means of sharing information and also of interacting: It’s more about conversation than content … so far. I think it is equally tiresome and useless to argue about whether blogs are journalism, for journalism is not limited by the tool or medium or person used in the act.

Blogs are whatever they want to be. Blogs are whatever we make them. Defining ‘blog’ is a fool’s errand.

Ah, got it!

And if that wasn’t enough for you, check out this video, from Common Craft:

[tentblogger-vimeo 15314924]

And even another great one here too!

[tentblogger-youtube WwcW5AKcfl4]

I hope this extensive overview was helpful!

Do you know why you should blog? Check out this post on “20 Reasons Why You Should Blog.”

[This is part of the Blogging Foundations Starter Kit Series.]

Source

There are four major groups covered by Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Factors:

  • On-page SEO: Content, Architecture, HTML
  • Off-page SEO: Trust, Links, User
  • Toxins
  • Emerging verticals

The elements within each group or subgroup are factors you need to consider if you want to increase your site’s organic visibility and rankings. In the top-right corner of each element, there’s a value to help you understand the weight or importance of that particular element — the higher the number, the more weight it carries.

The on-page and off-page SEO groups each have several subgroups, and each chapter of this SEO guide is dedicated to helping you navigate that particular facet of SEO.

SEO factors work in combination

SEO factors do not exist in a vacuum. Well-optimized HTML titles won’t compensate for thin content. Blazing fast site speed won’t help if search engines can’t easily crawl your pages. Simply put, having several positive factors can increase your odds of success, but negative factors can worsen those odds.

On-page SEO factors

On-page search ranking factors are almost entirely within the publisher’s control. This is also where it’s critical to balance serving the needs of your audience with making your pages search engine friendly. 

The title of the page or article, the depth of research, keywords used and so on should all be used with your specific audience’s needs in mind. HTML headings, anchor text and more should provide clues for both search engines and your audience about the relevancy of your content. Your site architecture should help search engine crawlers navigate your site and help users find what they’re looking for.

Off-page SEO factors

The search engines don’t just evaluate what’s on the page and visible to users. Off-page ranking factors are typically out of the creator or publisher’s direct influence. Search engines evaluate reputation, the quality of a site’s backlinks, the user’s geographic location and many other factors to deliver the most relevant results. 

Although these factors aren’t as easy to control on a per-page basis, they must be taken into account when optimizing your site for search.

Toxins

When done well, SEO benefits the search engines just as much as it benefits sites. SEO helps search engines provide users with better search results. However, using SEO techniques that aim to manipulate ranking signals to gain an unfair advantage over the competition can backfire. 

We group spam and so-called “black hat” techniques into “toxins.” Using them can result in your pages receiving a ranking penalty or even getting banned from the search results entirely.  

Emerging verticals

Voice, local, image and video search have their own special chapter in this guide because they represent different ways for users to find your content. Each of these emerging verticals has its own distinguishing features, nuances and opportunities for brands and publishers. However, they also correspond to one or more of the base elements in our Periodic Table and do not require a completely new way of viewing SEO.

SEO Guide chapters: Home1: Factors2: Content3: Architecture4: HTML5: Trust6: Links7: User8: Toxins9: Emerging

Source

WordStream has come to be known mostly as a PPC destination. But we also know a thing or two about SEO, and people ask us all the time for a primer on SEO basics. So we’re delivering: This article will be an introduction and overview of search engine optimization (SEO), a mandatory marketing tactic if you want your website to be found through search engines like Google.

SEO Basics Guide

In this guide to SEO for beginners, you’ll learn:

  1. What is SEO & Why is it Important?
  2. Keyword Research & Keyword Targeting Best Practices
  3. On-Page Optimization Best Practices
  4. Information Architecture Best Practices
  5. How to Execute Content Marketing & Link Building
  6. Common Technical SEO Issues & Best Practices
  7. How to Track & Measure SEO Results
  8. Additional SEO Considerations (Such as Mobile, International & Local SEO Best Practices)

By the time you reach the end of this SEO basics guide, you’ll have a strong understanding of what search engine optimization is, why it’s valuable and important, and how to get great results in an ever-changing SEO environment.

Note: If you’re looking for SEO tips specific to COVID-19, check out our post 13 SEO Strategies for SMBs During COVID-19

1. What is SEO & Why is it Important?

You’ve likely heard of SEO, and if you haven’t already, you could obtain a quick Wikipedia definition of the term, but understanding that SEO is “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results” doesn’t really help you answer important questions for your business and your website, such as:

  • How do you, for your site or your company’s site, “optimize” for search engines?
  • How do you know how much time to spend on SEO?
  • How can you differentiate “good” SEO advice from “bad” or harmful SEO advice?

What’s likely interesting to you as a business owner or employee is how you can actually leverage SEO to help drive more relevant traffic, leads, sales, and ultimately revenue and profit for your business. That’s what we’ll focus on in this guide.

Why Should You Care About SEO?

Lots and lots of people search for things. That traffic can be extremely powerful for a business not only because there is a lot of traffic, but because there is a lot of very specific, high-intent traffic.

If you sell blue widgets, would you rather buy a billboard so anyone with a car in your area sees your ad (whether they will ever have any interest in blue widgets or not), or show up every time anyone in the world types “buy blue widgets” into a search engine? Probably the latter, because those people have commercial intent, meaning they are standing up and saying that they want to buy something you offer.

seo primer

People are searching for any manner of things directly related to your business. Beyond that, your prospects are also searching for all kinds of things that are only loosely related to your business. These represent even more opportunities to connect with those folks and help answer their questions, solve their problems, and become a trusted resource for them.

Are you more likely to get your widgets from a trusted resource who offered great information each of the last four times you turned to Google for help with a problem, or someone you’ve never heard of?

What Actually Works for Driving Traffic from Search Engines?

First it’s important to note that Google is responsible for most of the search engine traffic in the world (though there is always some flux in the actual numbers). This may vary from niche to niche, but it’s likely that Google is the dominant player in the search results that your business or website would want to show up in, and the best practices outlined in this guide will help position your site and its content to rank in other search engines, as well.

learn seo basics

Regardless of what search engine you use, search results are constantly changing. Google particularly has updated lots of things surrounding how they rank websites by way of lots of different animal names recently, and a lot of the easiest and cheapest ways to get your pages to rank in search results have become extremely risky in recent years.

So what works? How does Google determine which pages to return in response to what people search for? How do you get all of this valuable traffic to your site?

Google’s algorithm is extremely complex, and I’ll share some links for anyone looking to dive deeper into how Google ranks sites at the end of this section, but at an extremely high level:

  • Google is looking for pages that contain high-quality, relevant information about the searcher’s query.
  • They determine relevance by “crawling” (or reading) your website’s content and evaluating (algorithmically) whether that content is relevant to what the searcher is looking for, mostly based on the keywords it contains.
  • They determine “quality” by a number of means, but prominent among those is still the number and quality of other websites that link to your page and your site as a whole. To put it extremely simply: If the only sites that link to your blue widget site are blogs that no one else on the Web has linked to, and my blue widget site gets links from trusted places that are linked to frequently, like CNN.com, my site will be more trusted (and assumed to be higher quality) than yours.

Increasingly, additional elements are being weighed by Google’s algorithm to determine where your site will rank, such as:

  • How people engage with your site (Do they find the information they need and stay on your site, or bounce back to the search page and click on another link? Or do they just ignore your listing in search results altogether and never click-through?)
  • Your site’s loading speed and “mobile friendliness”
  • How much unique content you have (versus very “thin” low-value content or duplicate content)

There are hundreds of ranking factors Google’s algorithm considers in response to searches, and they are constantly updating and refining their process.

google ranking factors seo

The good news is, you don’t have to be a search engine scholar to rank for valuable terms in search results. We’ll walk through proven, repeatable best practices for optimizing websites for search that can help you drive targeted traffic through search without having to reverse-engineer the core competency of one of the world’s most valuable companies.

If you’re interested in learning more about how search engines work, there are a ton of great resources available, including:

Now, back to SEO basics! Let’s get into the actual SEO tactics and strategies that will help you get more traffic from search engines.

2. Keyword Research & Keyword Targeting Best Practices

The first step in search engine optimization is really to determine what it is you’re actually optimizing for. This means identifying the terms people are searching for (also known as “keywords”) that you want your website to rank for in search engines like Google.

Sounds simple enough, right? I want my widget company to show up when people look for “widgets,” and maybe when they type in things like “buy widgets.” Onto step three!

search volume for seo keywords

Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. There are a few key factors to take into account when determining the keywords you want to target on your site:

  • Search Volume – The first factor to consider is how many people (if any) are actually searching for a given keyword. The more people there are searching for a keyword, the bigger the audience you stand to reach. Conversely, if no one is searching for a keyword, there is no audience available to find your content through search.
  • Relevance – If a term is frequently searched for that’s great: but what if it’s not completely relevant to your prospects? Relevance seems straight-forward at first: if you’re selling enterprise email marketing automation software you don’t want to show up for searches that don’t have anything to do with your business, like “pet supplies.” But what about terms like “email marketing software”? This might intuitively seem like a great description of what you do, but if you’re selling to Fortune 100 companies, most of the traffic for this very competitive term will be searchers who don’t have any interest in buying your software (and the folks you do want to reach might never buy your expensive, complex solution based on a simple Google search). Conversely, you might think a tangential keyword like “best enterprise PPC marketing solutions” is totally irrelevant to your business since you don’t sell PPC marketing software. But if your prospect is a CMO or marketing director, getting in front of them with a helpful resource on evaluating pay-per-click tools could be a great “first touch” and an excellent way to start a relationship with a prospective buyer.
  • Competition – As with any business opportunity, in SEO you want to consider the potential costs and likelihood of success. For SEO, this means understanding the relative competition (and likelihood to rank) for specific terms.

First you need to understand who your prospective customers are and what they’re likely to search for. If you don’t already understand who your prospects are, thinking about that is a good place to start, for your business in general but also for SEO.

From there you want to understand:

  • What types of things are they interested in?
  • What problems do they have?
  • What type of language do they use to describe the things that they do, the tools that they use, etc.?
  • Who else are they buying things from (this means your competitors, but also could mean tangential, related tools – for the email marketing company, think other enterprise marketing tools)?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have an initial “seed list” of possible keywords and domains to help you get additional keyword ideas and to put some search volume and competition metrics around.

Take the list of core ways that your prospects and customers describe what you do, and start to input those into keyword tools like Google’s own keyword tool or tools like Uber Suggest or WordStream’s keyword tool:

wordstream seo keyword tool

You can find a more comprehensive list of keyword tools below, but the main idea is that in this initial step, you’ll want to run a number of searches with a variety of different keyword tools. You can also use competitive keyword tools like SEM Rush to see what terms your competitors are ranking for. These tools look at thousands of different search results, and will show you each search term they’ve seen your competitor ranking in Google for lately. Here’s what SEM Rush shows for marketing automation provider Marketo:

SEMRush Keyword Data

Again: this doesn’t just have to be something you look at for competitors. You could look at related tools that are selling to the same market for content ideas, and even look at the major niche publishers who talk about your topic (and that your prospects are reading) and see what kinds of keywords those sites are driving traffic for.

Additionally, if you have an existing site, you’re likely getting some traffic from search engines already. If that’s the case, you can use some of your own keyword data to help you understand which terms are driving traffic (and which you might be able to rank a bit better for).

Unfortunately, Google has stopped delivering a lot of the information about what people are searching for to analytics providers, but you can use SEM Rush (or similar tools, such as SpyFu) on your own site to get a sense of the terms you’re ranking for and their estimated search volume. Google also makes a bit more of this data available in their free Webmaster Tools interface (if you haven’t set up an account, this is a very valuable SEO tool both for unearthing search query data and for diagnosing various technical SEO issues – more on Webmaster Tools set up here).

Once Webmaster Tools is set up, you can navigate to this link when logged in and see the search queries that are driving traffic to your site:

webmaster tools seo data

These could be good terms to focus additional content promotion and internal linking around (more on each of those topics later), and could also be great “seed keywords” to help you get more great ideas about what to target.

Once you’ve taken the time to understand how your prospects talk and what they search for, have looked at the keywords driving traffic to your competitors and related sites, and have looked at the terms driving traffic to your own site, you need to work to understand which terms you can conceivably rank for and where the best opportunities actually lie.

Determining the relative competition of a keyword can be a fairly complex task. At a very high level, you need to understand:

  • How trusted and authoritative (in other words: how many links does the whole site get, and how high quality, trusted, and relevant are those linking sites?) other entire sites that will be competing to rank for the same term are
  • How well aligned they are with the keyword itself (do they offer a great answer to that searcher’s question)
  • How popular and authoritative each individual page in that search result is (in other words: how many links does the page itself have, and how high quality, trusted, and relevant are those linking sites?)

You can dive deeper into the process of determining how competitive keywords are in Backlinko’s in-depth guide or by using WordStream founder Larry Kim’s competitive index formula (tip number 3).

There are also a variety of different tools (most of them paid) that offer keyword difficulty scores:

And while it’s more advanced in nature, Nick Eubanks’ post about understanding rank potential offers a great in-depth look at not only understanding but creating an actionable formula for determining keyword competition and your own site’s actual likelihood of ranking for a term.

If you’re looking to dive even deeper into the topic of keyword research and keyword targeting, there are several great resources on the topic:

3. On-Page Optimization

Once you have your keyword list, the next step is actually implementing your targeted keywords into your site’s content. Each page on your site should be targeting a core term, and a “basket” of related terms. In his overview of the perfectly optimized page Rand Fishkin offers a nice visual of what a well (or perfectly) optimized page looks like:

perfectly seo optimized page

Let’s look at a few critical, basic on-page elements you’ll want to understand as you think about how to drive search engine traffic to your website:

Title Tags

While Google is working to better understand the actual meaning of a page and de-emphasizing (and even punishing) aggressive and manipulative use of keywords, including the term (and related terms) that you want to rank for in your pages is still valuable. And the single most impactful place you can put your keyword is your page’s title tag.

The title tag is not your page’s primary headline. The headline you see on the page is typically an H1 (or possibly an H2) HTML element. The title tag is what you can see at the very top of your browser, and is populated by your page’s source code in a meta tag:

title tags for seo

The length of a title tag that Google will show will vary (it’s based on pixels, not character counts) but in general 55-60 characters is a good rule of thumb here. If possible you want to work in your core keyword, and if you can do it in a natural and compelling way, add some related modifiers around that term as well. Keep in mind though: the title tag will frequently be what a searcher sees in search results for your page. It’s the “headline” in organic search results, so you also want to take how clickable your title tag is into account.

Meta Descriptions

While the title tag is effectively your search listing’s headline, the meta description (another meta HTML element that can be updated in your site’s code, but isn’t seen on your actual page) is effectively your site’s additional ad copy. Google takes some liberties with what they display in search results, so your meta description may not always show, but if you have a compelling description of your page that would make folks searching likely to click, you can greatly increase traffic. (Remember: showing up in search results is just the first step! You still need to get searchers to come to your site, and then actually take the action you want.)

Here’s an example of a real world meta description showing in search results:

seo basics meta descriptions

Body Content

The actual content of your page itself is, of course, very important. Different types of pages will have different “jobs” – your cornerstone content asset that you want lots of folks to link to needs to be very different than your support content that you want to make sure your users find and get an answer from quickly. That said, Google has been increasingly favoring certain types of content, and as you build out any of the pages on your site, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Thick & Unique Content – There is no magic number in terms of word count, and if you have a few pages of content on your site with a handful to a couple hundred words you won’t be falling out of Google’s good graces, but in general recent Panda updates in particular favor longer, unique content. If you have a large number (think thousands) of extremely short (50-200 words of content) pages or lots of duplicated content where nothing changes but the page’s title tag and say a line of text, that could get you in trouble. Look at the entirety of your site: are a large percentage of your pages thin, duplicated and low value? If so, try to identify a way to “thicken” those pages, or check your analytics to see how much traffic they’re getting, and simply exclude them (using a noindex meta tag) from search results to keep from having it appear to Google that you’re trying to flood their index with lots of low value pages in an attempt to have them rank.
  • Engagement – Google is increasingly weighting engagement and user experience metrics more heavily. You can impact this by making sure your content answers the questions searchers are asking so that they’re likely to stay on your page and engage with your content. Make sure your pages load quickly and don’t have design elements (such as overly aggressive ads above the content) that would be likely to turn searchers off and send them away.
  • “Sharability” – Not every single piece of content on your site will be linked to and shared hundreds of times. But in the same way you want to be careful of not rolling out large quantities of pages that have thin content, you want to consider who would be likely to share and link to new pages you’re creating on your site before you roll them out. Having large quantities of pages that aren’t likely to be shared or linked to doesn’t position those pages to rank well in search results, and doesn’t help to create a good picture of your site as a whole for search engines, either.

Alt Attributes

How you mark up your images can impact not only the way that search engines perceive your page, but also how much search traffic from image search your site generates. An alt attribute is an HTML element that allows you to provide alternative information for an image if a user can’t view it. Your images may break over time (files get deleted, users have difficulty connecting to your site, etc.) so having a useful description of the image can be helpful from an overall usability perspective. This also gives you another opportunity – outside of your content – to help search engines understand what your page is about.

You don’t want to “keyword stuff” and cram your core keyword and every possible variation of it into your alt attribute. In fact, if it doesn’t fit naturally into the description, don’t include your target keyword here at all. Just be sure not to skip the alt attribute, and try to give a thorough, accurate description of the image (imagine you’re describing it to someone who can’t see it – that’s what it’s there for!).

By writing naturally about your topic, you’re avoiding “over-optimization” filters (in other words: it doesn’t make it look like you’re trying to trick Google into ranking your page for your target keyword) and you give yourself a better chance to rank for valuable modified “long tail” variations of your core topic.

URL Structure

Your site’s URL structure can be important both from a tracking perspective (you can more easily segment data in reports using a segmented, logical URL structure), and a shareability standpoint (shorter, descriptive URLs are easier to copy and paste and tend to get mistakenly cut off less frequently). Again: don’t work to cram in as many keywords as possible; create a short, descriptive URL.

Moreover: if you don’t have to, don’t change your URLs. Even if your URLs aren’t “pretty,” if you don’t feel as though they’re negatively impacting users and your business in general, don’t change them to be more keyword focused for “better SEO.” If you do have to change your URL structure, make sure to use the proper (301 permanent) type of redirect. This is a common mistake businesses make when they redesign their websites.

Additional URL resources:

Schema & Markup

Finally, once you have all of the standard on-page elements taken care of, you can consider going a step further and better helping Google (and other search engines, which also recognize schema) to understand your page.

Schema markup does not make your page show up higher in search results (it’s not a ranking factor, currently). It does give your listing some additional “real estate” in the search results, the way ad extensions do for your Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords) ads.

In some search results, if no one else is using schema, you can get a nice advantage in click-through rate by virtue of the fact that your site is showing things like ratings while others don’t. In other search results, where everyone is using schema, having reviews may be “table stakes” and you might be hurting your Google CTR by omitting them:

schema for seo

There are a variety of different types of markup you can include on your site – most probably won’t apply to your business, but it’s likely that at least one form of markup will apply to at least some of your site’s pages. 

You can learn more about schema & markup with any of these resources:

Also check out our walkthrough on off-page SEO (the factors on other sites that can affect your own site’s rankings).

4. Information Architecture & Internal Linking

Information architecture refers to how you organize the pages on your website. The way that you organize your website and interlink between your pages can impact how various content on your site ranks in response to searches.

The reason for this is that search engines largely perceive links as “votes of confidence” and a means to help understand both what a page is about, and how important it is (and how trusted it should be).

Search engines also look at the actual text you use to link to pages, called anchor text – using descriptive text to link to a page on your site helps Google understand what that page is about (but in a post-Penguin world especially, be sure not to be overly aggressive in cramming your keywords into linking text).

In the same way that a link from CNN is an indication that your site could be important, if you are linking to a specific page aggressively from various areas on your site, that’s an indication to search engines that that specific page is very important to your site. Additionally: the pages on your site that have the most external votes (links from other, trusted sites) have the most power to help the other pages on your site rank in search results.

This relates back to a concept called “PageRank.” PageRank is no longer used in the same way it was when initially implemented, but if you’re looking to understand the topic more deeply here are some good resources:

Let’s walk through a quick example to help you understand the concept of how link equity (or the number and quality of links pointed to a page) impacts site architecture and how you link internally. Let’s imagine we have a snow removal site:

  1. We publish an amazing study on the impact of snow on construction in the winter in cold weather climates. It gets linked to from all over the web.
  2. The study is published on our main snow removal site. All of the other pages are simple sales-oriented pages explaining various aspects of our company’s snow removal offerings. No external site has linked to any of these pages.
  3. The study itself may be well-positioned to rank well in search results for various phrases. The sales-oriented pages much less so. By linking from our study to our most important sales-oriented pages, however, we can pass some of the trust and authority of our guide onto those pages. They won’t be as well positioned to rank in search results as our study, but they’ll be much better positioned than when they had no authoritative documents (on our site or on other sites) pointing to them. An important additional note here: in this example our most-linked to page is our fictitious study. In many cases, your most linked to page will be your home page (the page that people link to when they talk about you, when you get press, etc.) so being sure to link strategically to the most important pages on your site from your home page is very important.

Information architecture can be an extremely complex topic – particularly for larger sites – and there are a number of great additional resources below with more specific answers listed at the end of this section, but at a high level the most important things to keep in mind are:

  • You want to understand your most linked-to pages (use tools like Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, or Moz and look at “top pages” reports to determine these).
  • Keep your most important search pages (the pages you are using to target your most valuable keywords) “high up” in your information architecture: this means linking to them often in navigation elements and linking to them whenever possible from your most linked-to pages (e.g., make sure your home page and your site’s version of our hit snow study are linking to the most valuable pages on your site from a search perspective – your “money pages”).
  • In general you want to have a “flat information architecture” for your site – meaning that you keep any pages that you want to have rank in search engines as few clicks as possible from your home page and most linked-to pages. See this older video for a more in-depth explanation of how to flatten your site’s structure

Below are a number of additional resources around information architecture (many of these are older resources, but the SEO principles outlined in them still largely hold true):

5. Content Marketing & Link Building

Since Google’s algorithm is still largely based on links, having a number of high-quality links to your site is obviously incredibly important in driving search traffic: you can do all the work you want on on-page and technical SEO, if you don’t have links to your site, you won’t show up in search results listings.

There are a number of ways to get links to your site, but as Google and other search engines become more and more sophisticated, many of them have become extremely risky (even if they may still work in the short-term). If you are new to SEO and are looking to leverage the channel, these riskier and more aggressive means of trying to get links likely aren’t a good fit for your business, as you won’t know how to properly navigate the pitfalls and evaluate the risks. Furthermore, trying to create links specifically to manipulate Google rankings doesn’t create any other value for your business in the event that the search engine algorithms shift and your rankings disappear.

A more sustainable approach to developing links is to focus on more general, sustainable marketing approaches such as creating and promoting useful content that also includes specific terms you’d want to rank for and engaging in traditional PR for your business.

The process of creating and promoting content that will get you links and social shares is a labor-intensive one. Once again you’ll find more detailed step-by-step guides to various aspects of content marketing below, and there are a lot of different ways to effectively create content, help it to get discovered, and rank well in search results. Most approaches, however, will require you to walk through some variation of the following three core steps:

1. Identify & Understand Your Linking & Sharing Audience

The first thing you need to do in working to get traction for your content, is understand who is likely to link to and share your content. There are several tools to help you identify influencers within your niche who might share your content, but probably the most powerful is BuzzSumo:

buzzsumo for seo

Similar tools include FollowerWonk, Little Bird and Ahrefs. More detailed tutorials on using these tools to better understand your niche are included below.

The idea in leveraging these tools is to first identify the thought leaders and potential linkers in your space, and then understand what they share and link to. Find out what their problems are, what types of content they typically share, and start to think about how you can create something they would find valuable and want to share with their audience (who would also find it valuable).

Influencer marketing influencers versus advocates infographic

As you work through this process, start to think about what you can do for these influencers. How could you help them with their own projects? What can you do (unsolicited) that would help them achieve their own goals or what could you create or offer that would be of value to the audience they are creating content for and trying to help? Do you have access to unique data or knowledge that would help them do their jobs better? If you can consistently be of use to smart content creators in your niche, you’ll start to build powerful relationships that will pay dividends as you’re creating content.

Before you create a major piece of content, you should have already thought about how that content will get shared: who will share it, and why would they?

2. Determining What Content You Can Create & How You Can Promote It

Next you have to try to understand what your own capabilities are, and what kind of content you can create that will be likely to be shared and promoted by others.

A number of different types of content assets will be shareable:

Focus on creating different content assets that will be of real value, have a plan for promoting those assets, and don’t be shy about letting people who you’ve featured or whose audience would benefit from your resource know that it exists.

3. Map Your Assets to Specific Keywords

Finally, don’t forget about your keywords! This doesn’t mean that every time you create a great resource you need to cram in a keyword that doesn’t fit: it means that you can use keyword research as a means for discovering pain points (if people are turning to search engines to look for things, they want content that provides a great answer to their question!), and that as you create new assets you want to look for the different ways you can incorporate the language your prospects and customers are using into your assets: particularly those that will actually get linked to and shared (as you will increasingly need to get some sort of distribution for pages where you want them to rank for valuable keywords).

Additional Resources:

6. Common Technical SEO Issues & Best Practices

While basics of SEO like the most efficient ways to build links to drive search engine rankings have changed in recent years (and content marketing has become increasingly important) what many people would think of as more “traditional SEO” is still incredibly valuable in generating traffic from search engines. As we’ve already discussed, keyword research is still valuable, and technical SEO issues that keep Google and other search engines from understanding and ranking sites’ content are still prevalent.

Technical SEO for larger, more complicated sites is really its own discipline, but there are some common mistakes and issues that most sites face that even smaller to mid-sized businesses can benefit from being aware of:

Page Speed

Search engines are placing an increasing emphasis on having fast-loading sites – the good news is this is not only beneficial for search engines, but also for your users and your site’s conversion rates. Google has actually created a useful tool here to give you some specific suggestions on what to change on your site to address page speed issues.

page speed effect on seo

Mobile Friendliness

If your site is driving (or could be driving) significant search engine traffic from mobile searches, how “mobile friendly” your site is will impact your rankings on mobile devices, which is a fast-growing segment. In some niches, mobile traffic already outweighs desktop traffic.

Google recently announced an algorithm update focused on this specifically. You can find out more about how to see what kind of mobile search engine traffic is coming to your site along with some specific recommendations for things to update in my recent post, and here again Google offers a very helpful free tool to get recommendations on how to make your site more mobile-friendly.

mobile seo basics

Header Response

Header response codes are an important technical SEO issue. If you’re not particularly technical, this can be a complex topic (and again more thorough resources are listed below) but you want to make sure that working pages are returning the correct code to search engines (200), and that pages that are not found are also returning a code to represent that they are no longer present (a 404). Getting these codes wrong can indicate to Google and other search engines that a “Page Not Found” page is in fact a functioning page, which makes it look like a thin or duplicated page, or even worse: you can indicate to Google that all of your site’s content is actually 404s (so that none of your pages are indexed and eligible to rank). You can use a server header checker to see the status codes that your pages are returning when search engines crawl them.

seo basics header check

Redirects

Improperly implementing redirects on your site can have a serious impact on search results. Whenever you can avoid it, you want to keep from moving your site’s content from one URL to another; in other words: if your content is on example.com/page, and that page is getting search engine traffic, you want to avoid moving all of the content to example.com/different-url/newpage.html, unless there is an extremely strong business reason that would outweigh a possible short-term or even long-term loss in search engine traffic. If you do need to move content, you want to make sure that you implement permanent (or 301) redirects for content that is moving permanently, as temporary (or 302) redirects (which are frequently used by developers) indicate to Google that the move may not be permanent, and that they shouldn’t move all of the link equity and ranking power to the new URL. (Further, changing your URL structure could create broken links, hurting your referral traffic streams and making it difficult for visitors to navigate your site.)

Duplicate Content

Thin and duplicated content is another area of emphasis with Google’s recent Panda updates. By duplicating content (putting the same or near-identical content on multiple pages), you’re diluting link equity between two pages instead of concentrating it on one page, giving you less of a chance of ranking for competitive phrases with sites that are consolidating their link equity into a single document. Having large quantities of duplicated content makes your site look like it is cluttered with lower-quality (and possibly manipulative) content in the eyes of search engines.

There are a number of things that can cause duplicate or thin content. These problems can be difficult to diagnose, but you can look at Webmaster Tools under Search Appearance > HTML Improvements to get a quick diagnosis.

duplicate content issues seo

And check out Google’s own breakdown on duplicate content. Many paid SEO tools also offer a means for discovering duplicate content, such as Moz analytics and Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

XML Sitemap

XML sitemaps can help Google and Bing understand your site and find all of its content. Just be sure not to include pages that aren’t useful, and know that submitting a page to a search engine in a sitemap doesn’t insure that the page will actually rank for anything. There are a number of free tools to generate XML sitemaps.

Robots.txt, Meta NoIndex, & Meta NoFollow

Finally, you can indicate to search engines how you want them to handle certain content on your site (for instance if you’d like them not to crawl a specific section of your site) in a robots.txt file. This file likely already exists for your site at yoursite.com/robots.txt. You want to make sure this file isn’t currently blocking anything you’d want a search engine to find from being added to their index, and you also can use the robots file to keep things like staging servers or swaths of thin or duplicate content that are valuable for internal use or customers from being indexed by search engines. You can use the meta noindex and meta nofollow tags for similar purposes, though each functions differently from one another.

Additional Resources:

Technical SEO can be tough to do on your own, so if you’re thinking professional help is a worthwhile investment, check out this post on How to Find the Right SEO Services for Your Small Business

7. How to Track & Measure SEO Results

So once you start writing your awesome SEO content and putting all of these steps into motion, how do you actually track whether and how well it’s working?

On its face this question has a fairly straightforward answer, with some key metrics to focus on, but with each metric there are some key factors to consider as you measure your site’s SEO performance.

Keyword Rankings

Looking at where your site ranks for a list of keywords certainly isn’t a final destination – you can’t pay your staff in rankings, things like personalization in search results have made them variable across different locations, and therefore hard to track, and of course all they indicate is where you show up in search results. Some would even go so far as to declare them dead. But getting a rough idea of where your site ranks for core terms can be a useful leading indicator of your site’s health. This doesn’t mean you should get overly obsessed with rankings for any one term. Remember: your ultimate goal is to drive more relevant traffic that drives more business – if you sell blue widgets, is it more important that you rank for “blue widgets” or that you outline and execute an SEO strategy that helps you sell more blue widgets in the most cost-efficient way possible? Use rankings as a general health check, not a course-charting KPI.

A number of tools can help you check your rankings. Most offer fairly similar functionality but features like local or mobile rankings are sometimes unique in some of the tools. If you’re a small business or just getting started with SEO, I’d recommend picking a free and easy-to-use tool and just keeping an eye on a handful of the core terms you want to track to help you gauge progress.

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic is a much better leading indicator of the health of your SEO efforts. By looking at the organic traffic to your site, you can get a gauge for the actual volume of visitors coming to your site, and where they’re going.

You can measure your organic traffic easily with most analytics tools – since it’s free and the most-used, we’ll look at how to get this information in Google Analytics.

For a quick check, you can simply look at your site’s main reporting page and click on “All Sessions” to filter for organic traffic (traffic from search engines that excludes paid search traffic):

tracking organic seo traffic

You can also drill down to look at the specific pages driving traffic and goals by creating a custom report and designating users and goal completions as your metrics, and landing pages as your dimension:

basic seo reporting

Note: Make sure once you view this report that you’re selecting the organic traffic segment again, or you’ll be looking at all of your traffic by page rather than just unpaid traffic driven by search engines.

This can be powerful for sites just getting started with SEO, because frequently most of your site’s traffic will be driven by what’s known as “branded queries,” or searches that contain your company’s brand name (for instance a branded search for WordStream might be “WordStream PPC” versus a non-branded search term, which might be “pay-per-click software”). You clearly want to have people searching for your brand, and of course you want them to find you when they do, but unless your site has been penalized by Google, you will almost certainly rank for your brand and have that branded traffic come to your site’s home page. What most of your ongoing SEO efforts should be centered around is driving incremental traffic to the site (people who might not have found and engaged with you otherwise).

As I mentioned in the keyword section of the guide, unfortunately Google has made it difficult to get data around the actual keywords people are searching for, but by looking at page-level traffic (outside of your site’s home page) you can start to glean insight into your overall SEO progress. Looking at rank data and using the tactics mentioned in the keyword section of this guide will also help you to get more insight into the actual terms that are driving traffic (and whether your SEO growth is being driven by optimization efforts rather than off-line marketing).

Organic Leads & Sales

Obviously the primary way to measure your search engine optimization results should be actual leads, sales, revenue and profit. Like with any business activity you need to answer: how does the activity help to move your bottom line?

The simplest path here is to set up goals or e-commerce tracking in a tool like Google Analytics. You can use the above report to look at organic traffic and goals (or different e-commerce metrics) by landing page, which means that you are specifically looking at who converts among the people who are landing on your site from an organic search (versus people who may have come to your site from PPC or another channel within the window that your analytics tracking can track, then searched for you, then converted).

This seems pretty straightforward, and generally for most businesses is a good initial way to measure the success of your SEO efforts, but again there are a few caveats and things to keep in mind with this data:

  • Web-based analytics is always imperfect. If you’re transitioning from billboards or newspaper ads to online marketing, you’ll likely be impressed by the volume and precision of the data available, but there can frequently be a variety of different tracking issues that can make the data you’re seeing anywhere from slightly to wildly off – always have a degree of skepticism about data that doesn’t seem to add up, and do what you can to have some checks in place to make sure that your analytics information is synced to your actual revenue and spend data.
  • Your system might create gaps in tracking. If you have a back-end system that you can’t quite tie to analytics for some reason, you might have some gaps between what you can track as goals and actual sales.
  • Attribution and life-time value metrics can be tricky. This is more of a business and web metrics problem than something specific to SEO, but figuring out how you attribute sales to different channels and factoring in life-time value to your site’s traffic can be tricky. Make sure you’re applying the same types of tough questions and attempting to measure SEO the same way you would with any other marketing endeavor.
  • You can learn more about multi-channel attribution in Avinash Kaushik’s in-depth guide
  • KISS Metrics offers a nice overview of cohort analysis and multi-touch attribution
  • Omniture is a popular paid web analytics platform that can have a steep learning curve – these two resources offer some good tips to creating useful SEO reports

Additional Resources

8. Additional SEO Considerations

For many businesses, getting the technical aspects of SEO right, understanding the keywords you want to target, and having a strategy for getting your site’s pages linked to and shared is really all you need to know about SEO. There are, however, some specific cases and business types that need to be concerned with specific types of search. A few types of search environments that require unique approaches include:

  • International SEO – There are a number of benefits and trade-offs to different approaches to ranking sites in different countries and in different languages. Aleyda Solis has an outstanding guide to international SEO best practices if you’re trying to reach customers in a variety of international markets, and Google also offers some recommendations and best practices in their own guide.
  • Local SEO – For small businesses and franchisees, getting local rankings for different variations of {your location} + {your service} (e.g. “Boston pizza shops”) is really the most valuable organic search traffic available. While getting links and shares, doing keyword research, and ensuring your site doesn’t have technical issues helps with localized rankings, there is a separate set of ranking factors local businesses should be aware of. Matthew Barby has an excellent guide on the topic.
  • App Store Search Engines – If you have an app – either as the core product offering for your company, or as a means for enabling mobile users to be able to interact with your business – having your app show up in searches on various app stores can be extremely valuable. Justin Briggs and Stephanie Beadell have written multiple outstanding posts on the topic.

So What Now?

So if you’ve gotten this far, you should know a lot of information about how search engines rank websites and about how you can position your own site and business to generate more search traffic from search engines like Google. What should you do next?

Prioritize. No site does a perfect job of executing against every single aspect of search engine optimization. Think about the things you do well, have budget and resources for, and that will give your business the best return for your investment – this will be at least slightly different for every business and site.

If you’re great at creating and promoting content, determine which keywords to go after and focus your efforts there.

If you have a large and complex site, focus on getting the technical SEO right (or hire someone who can).

If you’re a small business that would benefit from ranking for very specific geo-focused terms but not much else, shore up your local SEO efforts (and then maybe focus on other marketing efforts once you start to see diminishing returns from your efforts there).

Always remember that the ultimate objective with any search engine optimization efforts is to get more exposure and traffic for your business or your site’s content.  Look for ways that search engine traffic can help your business and site: don’t just chase after the latest SEO buzzwords or jump every time Google makes a recommendation that might improve your search rankings while hurting your overall business.

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Off Page SEO

Off page SEO refers to techniques you can use to improve the position of a web site in the search engine results page (SERPs). Many people associate off-page SEO with link building but it is not only that.

In general, off Page SEO has to do with promotion methods – beyond website design –for the purpose of ranking a website higher in the search results.

Let’s take it from the beginning…

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization is the term used to describe a set of processes that aim in optimizing a website for search engines.

SEO is important not only for getting high-quality visitors from search, but it’s also a way to improve the user-friendliness of your website and increase its credibility.

Search engines are using complex algorithms to determine which pages to include in their index and the order they show these pages in the search results.

SEO is the way to ‘speak’ to search engines in a language they can understand and give them more information about your website.

SEO CourseSEO Course

SEO has two major components, On Page and Off Page SEO.

On Page SEO

On Page SEO refers to settings you can apply on your website so that it is optimized for search engines.

The most important On-Page SEO tips are:

  • Having optimized titles and descriptions
  • Proper URL Structures
  • User-friendly navigation (breadcrumbs, user sitemaps)
  • Optimized internal links
  • Text Formatting (use of bold, italics, etc)
  • Properly optimized H1 tag and other headings
  • Image optimization (image size, proper image names, use of ALT text)
  • User-friendly 404 pages
  • Fast loading pages
  • Mobile-Friendly pages
  • High-quality fresh content (This is always the most important SEO factor!)
  • External links (no broken links or links to ‘bad’ sites)

You can find out more details about all the above tips in the SEO Tips for beginners article.

Off Page SEO

Off Page SEOOff Page SEO

Unlike on-page SEO, Off-page SEO refers to activities you can perform outside the boundaries of your website. The most important are:

  • Link Building
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Brand Mentions

We will examine these in detail below, but first, let me explain the importance and benefits of off-page SEO.

Why is Off-Page SEO important?

Search engines have been trying for decades to find a way to return the best results to the searcher.

To achieve this, they take into account the on-site SEO factors (described above), some other quality factors and off-page SEO.

Off page SEO gives them a very good indication on how the World (other websites and users) perceive the particular website.

A web site that is high quality and useful is more likely to have references (backlinks) from other websites.

It is more likely to have brand mentions on social media (Facebook likes, tweets, Pins, etc.) and it is more likely to be bookmarked and shared among communities of like-minded users.

What are the benefits of ‘off-site SEO’ to website owners?

A successful off-site SEO strategy will generate the following benefits to website owners:

Increase in rankings – The website will rank higher in the SERPs and this also means more traffic.

Increase in PageRank – Page rank is a number between 0 and 10 which indicates the importance of a website in the eyes of Google.

It is the system invented by Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google founders) and one of the reasons that Google was so successful in showing the most relevant results to the searcher.

Page rank today is only one out of the 250 ranking factors that Google is using to rank websites.

Greater exposure – Higher rankings also mean greater exposure because when a website ranks in the top positions: it gets more links, more visits, and more social media mentions. It’s like a never-ending sequence of events where one thing leads to another and then to another etc.

Establish Trustworthiness – In addition to the above, Google has recently introduced the concept of Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (E-A-T), which plays an important role in rankings and is directly related to off-site SEO.

In simple terms, Google wants to rank websites that demonstrate expertise and authority on a subject and one of the ways to ensure that the websites picked up by the algorithms can be trusted, is through the number the type of incoming links.

For example, if you want to be perceived as an expert on a subject, it’s not enough for you to say it but other related websites should agree and this is expressed through links pointing to your website.

For more information read: Difference between on-site and off-site SEO

Link Building

Link building is the most popular and effective off-Page SEO technique.  Basically, by building links to your website, you are trying to gather as many ‘votes’ as you can, so that you can bypass your competitors and rank higher.

For example, if someone likes this article and references it from his/her website or blog, then this is like telling search engines that this page has good information.

Over the years webmasters have been trying to build links to their websites to get higher rankings and they ‘invented’ a number of ways to increase link count. The most popular ways were:

Blog Directories – something like yellow pages but each entry had a link pointing to a website.

Forum Signatures – Many people were commenting on forums for the sole purpose of getting a link back to their website (they included the links in their signature).

Comment link – The same concept as forum signatures where you would comment on some other website or blog in order to get a link back. Even worse, instead of using your real name you could use keywords so instead of writing ‘comment by Alex Chris’,  you wrote ‘comment by SEO Rules’.

Article Directories – By publishing your articles in article directories you could get a link (or 2) back to your website.

Some article directories accepted only unique content while other directories accepted anything from spin articles to already published articles.

Shared Content Directories – Websites like ‘hub pages’ allowed you to publish content and in return, you could add a couple of links pointing to your websites.

Link exchange schemes – Instead of trying to publish content you could get in touch with other webmasters and exchange links. In other words, I could link your website from mine and you could do the same.

In some cases you could even do more complicated exchanges by doing a 3-way link: I link to your website from my website but you link to my website from a different website.

Notice that I used the past tense to describe all the above methods because not only they do not work today, you should not even try them.

If you try to ‘trick’ search engines building artificial links, you are more likely to get a penalty rather than an increase in rankings (especially when it comes to Google).

The birth of black hat SEO

Link building was an easy way to manipulate the search engine algorithms and many spammers tried to take advantage of this by building link networks which gradually lead to the creation of what is generally known as black hat SEO.

Google has become very intelligent in recognizing black hat techniques and with the release of several algorithmic updates, they managed to control the problem and protect their search results from spammers.

The most important are:

  • Panda – Initially released in February 2011, targeting low-quality websites and content farms
  • Penguin – Introduced in 2012, targeting link farms, low-quality links, and over-optimized anchor text

To “follow” or “nofollow”

In addition to the above and in order to give webmasters a way to link to a website without passing any ‘link juice’ (for example in the case of ads), search engines introduced what is known as the “nofollow link

This is a special tag you can add to a link that tells search engines not to count the particular link as a ‘vote of trust’ to the referenced website. For example:Some Site

This was done so that you can link to other websites from yours without taking the risk of being caught for selling or exchanging links.

As a rule of thumb, you should add the nofollow tag on all your external links (within your pages) that go to websites you cannot trust 100%, to ALL your comment links, to ALL your blogroll links, and to ALL banner ad links.

What is a good link?

So, if the above links are not useful, what is a good link?

First, you should understand that link building it’s not only a matter of quantity but it is a matter of quality as well.

In other words, it no longer matters how many links are pointing to your website but it is more important from where these links are coming.

For example, a link from a normal blog does not have the same ‘value’ as a link from the New York Times or a link from Matt Cutts blog (former head of Google Quality team) is not the same as a link from my blog.

Good links are coming from related and trusted websites and they have relevant anchor text.

The obvious question is, how do you get these links?

If you ask Google they will tell you that any links pointing to your website has to be natural links. Natural links are exactly what their name implies. A website owner or blogger likes another website or blog and naturally adds a link to his/her blog.

Does this happen in reality or is it another myth?

It certainly does but you have to try really hard to get to this point. Take for example this blog.  It has many incoming links because other webmasters find the content interesting and I also link to other sites in my articles because I find their content interesting.

This is what natural link building is all about. A link has more value from the reader’s’ point of view rather than the search engine’s point of view.

The best way to attract links is to publish link-worthy content that other people would like to link to.

If natural links are what I have just described above, in which category do all other links belong?

They belong in the category of artificial links and by adopting such techniques you increase the risk of getting a manual or algorithmic penalty by Google.

Is guest blogging a valid way to build links?

Guest posting can be a valid way to get links back to your website provided that you don’t do it just for links and that you don’t overdo it. You can read these 2 articles to get a complete picture as to when to accept guest posts on your blog and when to guest post on other blogs.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is part of ‘off-site SEO’ and if you think about it, it’s also a form of link building. It should be noted that almost all of the links you get from social media sites are “nofollow”, but this does not mean that they do not have any value.

Social Media mentions are gaining ground as ranking factors and proper configuration of social media profiles can also boost SEO.

Brand Mentions

Google loves brands and prefers to rank branded websites on top of the results. The reason is the same as explained above about Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. Brands are more reliable and likely to to be trusted by users and this translates to better user experience and happier Google users.

The difference between brand mentions, link building, and social media marketing is that brand mentions do not necessarily have a link pointing to your website. It can be mentions of your brand in forums, articles, reviews or social media networks.

Google crawlers can ‘pick up’ these signals and evaluate them accordingly to create a more accurate picture of how your brand is perceived by other people.

As part of your off-page SEO strategy, you should pursue any positive mentions of your website, products or authors and make sure that you respond to negative or misleading comments.

Conclusion

Off-page SEO is as important as on-site SEO. If you want your SEO campaigns to be successful you have to do both.

When thinking about link building don’t take the easy way, but try to get links from hard-to-get places. The more difficult is to get a link, the more value it has.

In the past, you could easily get thousands of links and rank higher but nowadays you have to do more than that.  My advice is to forget about link building all together and put all your efforts into making a great website, promote it correctly and everything else will follow.

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