While talking to a friend yesterday, I informed her of my hopes to increase readership and awareness. You see, I have three goals with my blog: a) to have a place to practice my food writing on a regular basis, b) to get my name out there and get noticed and c) to share recipes with people like Kelly and Jayce, who convinced me to get going in the first place.
One comment she made was, "I am assuming you optimized your site, how did you do it?" She was of course talking about "search engine optimization", or SEO. She wanted to know if I was going crazy with meta tags or something. I informed her that I hadn't bothered, because SEO is a farce. She asked, "so how do new people know to get to your site?" I answered, "I use this crazy little thing called 'content'."
I went on to explain that the majority of my visitors do in fact come from Google, and that because while I only technically talk about food, I cover such a wide range of food topics that my site is already littered with keywords. I use a lovely little program called AWStats to keep track of visitors, keywords, pages visited, etc. It's a free, open source program that works in pretty any much Linux or Unix flavor, as well as in Windows. Using this program, I can see that last month somebody wanting to build a sugar warming box found me by searching for "how to build a warming box". I personally searched for this before I even built the box, and didn't find any useful information. I'm glad to know that somebody else was looking for the information as well, and that I was able to provide it.
Somebody this month found me by searching for "homemade recipe for hair conditioner using aroma oil and xanthan gum for shiny hair". The page they found was my June archive, which just happened to have every word from that search, except for "conditioner". Incidentally, if whoever that was decided to hang out, you should know that my wife is in fact a licensed hairdresser, and tells me that what you're looking for doesn't sound very good for your hair. Who knew?
Something else that I've been told keeps me towards the top of the search results is the frequency in which I update. In fact, I post at least one new article almost every day. Since I use Blogger, which is owned by Google, my posts are immediately indexed. I also run a site feed, which can be used to aggregate my posts in other areas. While the Utah Open Source Planet is the only site that I've specifically added my feed to, I've found my articles aggregated on a wide variety of other sites. I know from my referrer logs that people are now finding my sites through these aggregation sites, people are emailing links from my site to each other, I even found several links coming in from a USENET news group.
In fact, on days that I post nothing (including a rare 5-day stretch a couple of weeks ago), I still average between 500 and 600 hits a day. On days that I do post, my hits jump up to 800 to 1200 hits a day. And all this without SEO.
So what is the scam with SEO? I can only think of two, maybe three types of people who benefit from you using a SEO: search engines that accept payment for higher page rankings, the SEO companies themselves, and spammers who feed on the "thousands of search engines" that the SEOs claim to submit to, which are frequently nothing more than link farms. In fact, the only search engine I've trusted for the past several years is Google, who will readily tell you that they do not accept payment for higher rankings. There are several others who will tell you the same thing, and sadly, nobody listens to them. At a previous company, we had a woman who would complain constantly about how we hosted her page, because some scamming SEO would tell her that her page wasn't optimized. Her problem was that her site was essentially useless in the first place, and in the chance that somebody ran across it, they would have little if any reason to stay.
Keeping this in mind, I try to moderate my own posts, to a certain extent. I could flood you with rice recipes, but there's more to life than that. I have personal interest in a wide variety of food topics, all of which I love to experiment with and tell stories about. I've been told by some people that they love to read my stories, which tells me that my site has some value to keep them around. Because I post frequently, they have the opportunity to come back frequently. When I post something that they're particularly interested in, they might forward it to a friend. Viral marketing at its most basic level!
So the moral is this: beware of SEO. Paying somebody $29.95/mo to make your page show up more often is a scam, and it especially won't work if you're not taking care of your site on a regular basis. Post and update often and you will be rewarded. Those of you at the Utah Open Source Planet should especially post often, because my mug just isn't pretty enough to show up as often as it does on that page; we need more posts there to keep mine at bay. While I'm honored that so many geeks have expressed that they enjoy reading my food posts, it really is a tech site, and I know most of you folks have more to say about tech than you do.