What is SEO and why do I need it?
Search Engine Optimization is the process of building, improving, and promoting a web site in order to increase the site’s visibility on search engines’ natural (unpaid) listings. Higher visibility means higher rankings, increasing the amount of traffic to your site.
Even today, in our increasingly diversified Internet environment, the majority of web traffic is driven by major commercial search engines – Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Sites not built and maintained with SEO in mind will miss out on valuable traffic and will be at a severe competitive disadvantage.
We built Bloomfire to connect people who have knowledge with those that need it, regardless of who those people are or where they are located. Whether you are using Bloomfire as a corporate blog, a portal, or a customer support community driving relevant traffic to your site is the first step to a thriving public Bloomfire.
Back in the early 2000s SEO was a sort of like the Wild West. There were so many loopholes in rules that unscrupulous SEO practitioners could promise (and often deliver) front-page search rankings overnight. Link farms were booming, hidden text was everywhere, and pages were so stuffed with keywords that the content was unreadable.
Users were annoyed because the top results for their search were so full of manipulated pages that they couldn’t actually find the information they needed and search engine companies responded by getting very good at identifying and filtering results that use unscrupulous tactics or just plain bad content.
Gone are the days of gaming the system, and instead lasting results are achieved by working with the tools provided to create great, user-friendly content that is easily accessible to the search engine’s crawlers.
This guide will take you through the basics of on and off page SEO elements, best practices, as well as specific benefits of the Bloomfire platform, as well as how we are continuing to look for new ways to help customers optimize for SEO.
Basic SEO Elements and How Bloomfire Covers Them
Below you will find a brief explanation of key elements that when done correctly, act as signals that tell search engines what your page is about and the quality of the content. These factors are used in the complex ranking algorithms of the various search engines to determine search ranking.
Keep in mind there is no “magic bullet” and anyone offering to get you to rank on the 1st page for $xx is either a scammer or they are abusing a loophole that hasn’t been closed…yet but rest assured, that loophole will be closed and when it is all the money and time you have spent on your site will all be for waste.
Here is where Bloomfire has you covered; these are items that we have built into the platform so that you don’t have to think about them.
The page title shows up in two important places in a published web page. First this is the large, underlined text that appears in a search engine when users search for a term where your web page is a good match.
The second place you will see your page title is at the top of your web browser window or in the tab.
In a public Bloomfire you decide on your page title; we formulate page titles by using the title of your post then adding the name of your Bloomfire. For example, we recently published a blog post, and this is how the listing for appears in Google search results.
Best Practice: Put your most important keywords at the beginning of the title. This will ensure that the important keyword will not be truncated. Search engines also place more importance on the beginning of the title.
Meta Elements are pieces of code that provide search engines with structured data about a web page. Bloomfire gathers data from your post and prepares it into a special format for search engines to read. We append this information to the <head> section of your page. Here’s an example:
The good news is you don’t ever have to do this step, simply fill out your post and we do all the hard work for you.
When you contribute a post, you will notice that there is a description field. Not only is this a great opportunity for you to tell someone already in your Bloomfire what the post is about, but this is also how we generate the meta description for your page. Much like the page title, this shows up in the search results, and it can be helpful to think of it as an ad for your page. You want to make it clear to any potential visitors what your page is about.
Below is an example of a post by AlienVault, a Bloomfire customer. You can see how the post title and post description come together to make a search listing that clearly describes the content on the page.
Best Practice: Meta descriptions do not actually play a part in the search engine ranking algorithm, so use this as an opportunity to speak directly to potential visitors.
Meta keywords used to be a big signal to search engines. Now, search engines scan the page and use machine learning to infer its meaning. Whenever you append tags or categories these show up in the Bloomfire source code as meta keywords.
Just like someone might use different fonts and sizes in a document in order to quickly identify the important sections, webmasters use headings to signify to search engines the topics covered in the page. Placing H1 in the source code denotes the largest and most important heading; subsequent headings for less and less important parts of the page are denoted by H2, H3, H4, etc.
Best Practice: Make sure to include your keywords in your H1, this is the only header that really matters to search engines.
In SEO, we refer to keywords as the main sets of words or phrases that you would like your page to rank for on search engines. Assuming each post is about one, clear topic it is very easy to achieve a natural keyword density that has enough iterations of the phrase that the search engines know what topic the post is about but not so many that it feels forced to a visitor. Here is a great resource from moz.com that illustrates a perfectly optimized page.
Best Practice: Before you write any content, have a laser-focused idea of what the page will be about. Choose 3-5 tightly related terms or phrases and optimize the page for those. The worst thing you can do is to try and fit too many ideas and topics into a single page.
Short, clear URLs are a very strong indication to search engines of what a page is about. Ideally you want as few folders (backslashes) in your URLs as possible and you want to include your keyword in the URL string. Bloomfire automatically creates URLs for you in a way that is easy for search engines to follow. For contributed posts, we use the title of your post in the URL as a way to clearly indicate to users and search engines what content they are going to find on the page once they click in.
Best Practice: Keep in mind that the URL will appear in the search engine result listing so use it as an opportunity to convince people to click on your listing.
Internal Cross Linking
When writing content that relates to other content you have written in the past, be sure to include a link to that existing page. When you create a web of cross referenced content, it allows search engines to create a “map” of which pages relate to other pages on your site, which help all the pages to rank better.
Best Practice: Use descriptive anchor text when linking to other content. Anchor text refers to the actual words that are hyperlinked. Which of the sentences below do YOU think provides a stronger signal to search engines of what the page is about?
Sentence 1: Click here for more information about anchor text best practices.
Sentence 2: Find more information about anchor text best practices here.
 Sentence 2 is better – but you knew that already!
Once you have all your on-page elements checked off and properly optimized for keywords, the real legwork starts.
You can almost think of search engine rankings as a proxy for how much authority the search engines think you have on any given subject. You will rank well for topics that search engines think you are highly authoritative. But how is Google supposed to determine the difference between a well-regarded expert and one that is a pretender? The answer is backlinks. When one site links to a page on another site, they are in effect giving a vote of confidence to that page’s content.
Best Practice: If a public Bloomfire community chooses to use the default URL of “yourcommunityname.bloomfire.com” they are giving up some of the benefit of attracting backlinks. The authority that is passed via a link from one site to another, not only impacts the page that received the link, but also the entire domain benefits from this link. This means that if your community is hosted on Bloomfire.com, as the default would be, any link you receive will benefit your community but some of this authority will also pass to Bloomfire.com. In order to keep the full benefit of backlinks, it is best to white label your community as a subdomain of your main domain or a standalone domain.
Example of a community on Bloomfire’s domain: yourcommunity.bloomfire.com
Example of a white labeled sub-domain community: yourcommunity.yourwebsite.com
Example of a white labeled standalone community: yourcommunity.com
When you are trying to build your authority, you can’t simply get links from just anywhere. Getting links from sites that search engines believe to be an authority on your content is much more valuable than simply getting a lot of links from sites that are not respected.
Best Practice: Start link-building outreach by looking at who ranks for the keywords you are interested in by doing a simple Google search. These are entities that the search engines have already decided are experts in that area so a link from them is very valuable.
Best Practice: Link-building outreach can be very time consuming and difficult — stay the course and it will pay off in the end. If you have a PR team, loop them in and learn from their expertise!
Anchor Text refers to the actual words that are hyperlinked to your site. Search Engines value keyword rich anchor text more than they value generic link text like “Click Here.” As always, be very careful not to keyword stuff your anchor text and create hundreds of links with the exact same text. If you are doing natural link building and outreach, you won’t have the opportunity to specify the anchor text that links to your page, so the anchor text will not be repetitive.
Search engines have incorporated our increasingly social world into their ranking algorithms. Having your content shared on social networks is yet another vote of confidence for your page.
Best Practice: Not all social networks are created equal. For instance Google+ is going to carry more weight for Google rankings than Twitter, simply because Google owns Google+ and wants more people to use it.
Best Practice: Share content on multiple social networks, but if your particular audience gravitates more towards one network and you have limited time to spend on social, then spend more time there.
What We’re Working On
We are currently not able to automatically append H1 tags in Bloomfire. Our built-in text editor has a headline button that appends H3 formatting and tags. However, you can manually add an H1 title and tag to your post by following the simple steps below.
Step 1: in the text editor write what you want to be your H1
Step 2: Click the headline button in the top left of the editor. This turns the headline into an H3
Step 3: Click on the HTML button in the top right of the editor
Step 4: Edit where it says h3 in the beginning and the end tags to h1, and delete everything inside the opening tag, leaving just the h1.
This is what it will look like when you are done
Best Practice: Adding the H1 tag via the HTML button removes the style formatting of the text, but you can manually change the size, font, color, or anything else you want by manipulating the HTML code.
For instance, if I want my h1 to be size 24 font I can simply add style attributes. Here is a tutorial on how to use inline html style attributes to change the way your h1 looks.
In recent months you may have noticed the search engine result page looks pretty different than it did in the recent past. Today there are all sorts of interesting things going on with images, videos, and much more.
One of the most exciting new Google integrations is called authorship markup. When properly integrated, it allows for inclusion of a Google+ profile picture of the author of a blog, article, or post in the search result page.
Bloomfire already integrates with LinkedIn to pull users profile data and expertise into the platform and we are investigating ways to integrate with Google+ that would allow users pictures to automatically appear in the search results for their posts.
So that’s it! SEO isn’t some difficult, mysterious, and mystical thing. It’s mostly just creating great, useful content that people want to share.
If you are interested in learning more about SEO below are some really valuable guides that go into depth about the topics I’ve covered plus more!
Huge Beginners Guide from MOZ that covers most basic SEO topics
Search Engine Land’s Guide to SEO (We love their Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors)