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BBW: SEO Basics


Hi Blogging Friends!

Welcome to another edition of Blog Biz Wednesday.

Last week, I talked a little bit about how a recipe plugin can help you get some search engine mojo for your recipe posts. Today, I’d like to back up a bit and address a few of the fundamentals of search engine optimization, the practice of making your site and its content visible and attractive to search engines like Google and Yahoo.

Why is search engine optimization — or SEO — important? Search engines crawl the web every day, gathering up information from each and every site they find (a process called indexing). There are millions of sites out there, so you can imagine the ginormous amount of information that Googlebot (Google’s web crawler and information sucker-upper) collects with each sweep of the web.

In order to sort through and process all of this information, the bots look for information from specific HTML tags on your site called meta tags. “Meta” means data about data, and meta tags are descriptions about the data that Googlebot scrapes from your site. Then, Google uses meta tags from your site to display things like your site title, your post title, etc., when a page on your site lands in Google’s search results. (Search engines also look for keywords — words and phrases used over and over again on your page that signal what your site and your post is really all about. Keywords are really important and deserving of its own BBW post.)

Now, blogging software is already pretty smart, and when you (or your trusty nerd) first set up your site, you probably found the place in the admin where your site title goes. Too, the theme you chose for your blog can make SEO better (or worse), depending on how seriously the developers of that theme took SEO when they were creating it.

But today, I want to show you how that meta tag information is used by browsers and bots, how you can manipulate it, and also briefly introduce one WordPress plugin that I find indispensable for SEO.

In WordPress, your site title and description is found under Settings > General. Here’s how my information is set up:


This information is not only important for the search engine bots, but also for the humans who visit your site, as it gives them information about your site in various parts of their browser, like so:


This is especially useful when you’re someone like me who always has a ton of tabs open (current count: 38 {ahem}). Different browsers display this information slightly differently, but in general, the site title will always be visible (along with your favicon), and many include the site description (“tagline” in WordPress) as well.

For the bots, this information populates two of the most important meta tags on your site, the <title> tag and the <meta name=”description”> tag.

The <title> tag

When Googlebot hits your site, one of the very first things it looks at and collects is the contents of your title tag. The title tag contains not only your site’s identity (in my case, “”) but also the site description you’ve filled out in the tagline box, or, if you’re on a subpage in your site, the post’s title.

The title tag is also the first source for keyword goodness, so make sure your site identity is a term that you use consistently on your blog and in all of your social media set ups. If you google “soupaddict,” for example, happily (for me, anyway), I’m the first listing:


Check your site’s identity by googling the term you use in your site title. It’s not a given you’ll be the first result, especially if your site’s name is a common term, but it should at least be on the first page (if not, you’ve got some seo work to do!). I wasn’t always the lead result because “soup addict” is a term that food lovers sometimes use about themselves when describing their affection for soup. So, I had to work a bit to get that first place ranking. 😉

That keyword goodness also comes into play with the title of your posts. It’s really tempting to title one’s posts with something cute and catchy, but honestly, for search engine ranking, it’s best to stick with the main subject of your post, no matter how bland it seems. You’ll always see my recipe posts named with the recipe title, because I really want to get keywords into that all-important title, and for you, my lovely readers, you’ll always know exactly what you’re getting before you click and dig in.

Remember my Ramen Noodle Bowl example from the Pinterest Effect post a couple of weeks ago, when that recipe was on page 3 of the search results for “ramen noodle bowl”? Today, that recipe appears in the middle of page 2. That’s keyword goodness at work, my friends. As other folks continue to link to that recipe using its post title, which purposefully includes the keyword phrase “ramen noodle bowl,” Googs gives more cred and weight to that page on my site.

The <meta name=”description”> tag

The second most important tag on your site is the meta description tag.* This is the “tagline” field from General Settings discussed above, where you say something about the nature of your site. You can be quippy and clever, but I do encourage you to get some keywords in there. If you have a food blog, mention recipes or cooking or desserts or Thai cuisine … anything that’s relevant to your blog’s niche. Googlebot gives extra weight to keywords in your meta description and will help each of your posts rank higher because of it.

(* I should qualify this statement by saying, it’s important today. Googs is always changing how it collects and assigns weight to website data in response to the ever-changing world of SEO. A third tag, meta keywords, used to be THE most important tag … until people with spammy intentions began stuffing keywords into that tag that had nothing to do with their site, causing their site to rank higher — and therefore get more traffic — than other sites that actually had useful content about the topic. Now, Googlebot all but ignores the meta keyword field.)


So, how do you control these two important pieces of data? Easy! Use an SEO plugin.

I’ve used several over the years, but right now, my favorite is the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin. The guy who wrote this plugin is an SEO genius, and he and his team constantly tweak the plugin to respond to SEO best practices du jour.

This plugin actually deserves more in-depth treatment than what I’ll give it today, but since we’re talking about meta tags, I wanted to show you how the Yoast plugin lets me micro-manage my tags by filling them with relevant keyword and site identity goodness.

Below are the settings for the homepage title tag. The odd text surrounded by “%%” are markers that automatically insert various bits of data stored elsewhere in the admin. %%sitename%% is the sitename that I showed you in the WordPress admin Settings above. %%sitedesc%% is either the tagline, or the Meta Description Template information in the Yoast plugin, if populated. My tagline and the meta description template are intentionally the same, because I want that messaging to be consistent across the site. You can reorganize these markers how you like, or remove them altogether (not recommended).


Nerd alert! If you’ve ever wondered how this information appears to Googlebot, here’s the inside scoop. This information is rendered right on your web page using HTML. You can peek at this HTML by right-clicking on a page of your site and choosing “View Page Source” (or “View Source Code” or similar wording) from the context menu. This is the HTML that Googlebot sees when it crawls your site, but it does not appear on your site to visitors. I’ve highlighted in yellow the lines containing the title and meta description tags.


Now, the awesome thing about the Yoast plugin is that you control the title and meta descriptions for your posts separately from the home page (WordPress natively does not provide that level of control, although it does a pretty good job of handling it on its own). So, your title and description tags can be customized as Googlebot drills down through your site, collecting its googly data:


Notice that, instead of my sitename, I actually want the title of the post to appear first in the title tag, followed by my sitename (%%sep%% is the marker for the separator character which, in my case, is a hyphen because Googlebot prefers hyphens over the often-used pipe “|” character).

For the meta description, instead of my general site description, I use a block of text that I write specifically for each post, full of keyword goodness. (This “excerpt” field appears on the post admin page.)

And here’s how it looks to Googlebot:


As you can see, SEO is multi-faceted and subtly complex: each part of your blog has relevance to Googlebot (and other search engine bots). Something as simple as your site or post title has far-reaching effects on how well you rank in search results. It’s these little details, and consistency in applying those details, that will help your site build ranking and cred over time.

Karen xo

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Friday 9th of May 2014

Very good stuff on SEO. I just wish there weren't so many SEO-related myths out there. Some people to this day are still keyword-stuffing their articles while others are still using nothing but black-hat techniques.

And while we're on the subject of SEO, what do you think about posting existing content in websites? On one hand, many people are afraid of any so-called "penalties" by Google. On the other hand, however, isn't article syndication similar to posting existing content anyway? I mean, websites like The Huffington Post seem to have no issues with this practice...

Rocky Mountain Woman

Wednesday 30th of April 2014

Thanks for the informative post! I just started using Yoast and it really had me a little mystified. I'm still a little mystified but much less so!

Your tech challenged virtual friend,



Wednesday 30th of April 2014

I read this post and the other one about recipe plugin, both very helpful and articulate. Thank you Karen!