Web Feeds, Blogs & Search Engines

Blogs are increasingly popular, and can have a dramatic effect on search engine positioning. How can you best take advantage of this new search marketing channel?

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, August 2-5, 2004, San Jose, CA.

This session explored how search engines are dealing with blogs and Web feed (RSS/Atom) content, and how providing such syndicated content can drive new search-related traffic.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members offers additional tips and strategies for using blogs as part of a search marketing campaign.Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Blogs and RSS feeds

One of the most exciting aspects of blogging systems is that they have made it possible for many people to easily publish content to the Web without knowing HTML or web design.

“With blogs and RSS feeds, content is updated in real time,” said Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo “And people who want to get the updated information can get them. It is changing the way that people get their information from search engines; it is aggregating information. Since feeds are machine readable, there is no guessing game with constructing pages. The machine-readable nature makes this very precise and easy to work with. The technical challenge involved in getting into the RSS feed wasn’t anywhere near the challenge that HTML was, and still is in many respects.”

Not surprisingly, it is the abundance of this seemingly “trivial” information that makes blogs so compelling. Blogs have become increasingly popular to audiences because they offer a variety of new information sources on a multitude of very specific topics. “There are 4.1 million different blogs. That number is expected to grow to 10.3 million by the end of this year,” said Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit. The majority of blog readers are 25-50 years old, and they visit blogs because they provide news that isn’t readily available elsewhere.

In many other mediums, overly apparent writer’s biases are seen as a negative, but they tend to a drawing point with blogs. The great diversity of the blogging community is its biggest strength.

“Consumers are interested in tons of data, but they don’t want to constantly have to go back to each one and see if they’ve been updated,” said Mark Fletcher, CEO of Bloglines. “The focus is to make it as easy to use and as fully integrated as possible.”

Many blogs also feature a talk back feature that allows visitors to add their own comments to the blog posts. Being able to lend their own opinions to the general discussion tends to increase the visitor’s feeling of community and loyalty to the blog site.

Simple Syndication of blogs has shifted the choice of visible content over to site visitors. By using RSS feeds, blogs give visitors the ability to use blog aggregators such as Topix.net, Bloglines, Yahoo’s blog aggregator or a desktop tool such as FeedDemon to view regular updates of their favorite blogs.

“From the search point of view, you can go to Yahoo and type your search term and find the results there,” said Zawodny. “The site represented by those results has an RSS feed which you can subscribe to and read on an ongoing basis. So you’re getting a real-time preview of what the information will look like on MyYahoo. It’s a very easy process and you don’t have to look for it again. You simply subscribe to MyYahoo and you can read the stories.”

By removing the need to visit a specific web site regularly, blogs have increased their traffic. Most importantly, unlike email newsletters, the power to subscribe and unsubscribe lies solely with the visitor, rather than a service that may–or may not–unsubscribe you from an email subscription when you request it.

Many online services including Blogger, Bloglines, TypePad, Radio Userland and LiveJournal allow people to create their own content from easily understood content management systems. For the more technically minded who want the blog directly integrated into their site, a multitude of other options exist including coding the blog system from scratch.

Blogs and search engine marketers

The inherent search engine friendly nature of blogs is what gets the attention of search engine marketers. Since blogs are so easy to publish, they tend to contain lots of fresh, keyword rich text. Since many blogs are rendered as static HTML pages in very standards compliant designs, all of this information is readily available to the search engine spiders.

Why should search engine marketers care about blogs? “Because they have a different relationship between the user and the content,” said Watlington. “If you think about pages sitting in an index, you are waiting for the search engine to come and query your data. On the other hand, because of the feed’s relationship, the user is right there getting the data almost as fast as you create it.”

“It is an active relationship (blog) vs. a passive relationship,” she continued. “Blogs provide faster access (to data) to an informed and interested audience.”

Related articles:

RSS: Your Gateway to News & Blog Content

Loving Each Other More: Search Engines and Blogs

Mike Rende is the Director of Information Systems at Grantastic Designs, a full-service search engine marketing, web and graphic design firm.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members offers additional tips and strategies for using blogs as part of a search marketing campaign.Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Search Marketing and Blogs discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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