Researching keywords for those of us who don’t research keywords

SEO has always been something I’ve, well, kind of ignored.

(If you’ve ignored it so much you don’t know what it means: Search Engine Optimisation. In other words: how to publish blog posts that Google will send lots of search traffic to!)

Deciding to think more about SEO and researching keywords

Over the years, I’ve heard that the way to rank well in searches is more and more linked to quality content and less and less linked to gaming the system, so I’ve told myself I can afford to more-or-less ignore SEO and researching keywords. In the past, it has struck me as kind of boring.

BUT of course, there are sensible times when it pays to give it a bit more attention. I saw Sharon Gourlay’s talk on SEO at the recent TBEX conference in Bangkok (Sharon blogs about this kind of stuff at Digital Nomad Wannabe) and decided that I really should have a look at it for some of my posts.

Researching keywords to get traffic to make money!

Sharon’s talk was very much focused on using good SEO for posts that were trying to drive traffic to affiliate links (links to stuff people might buy, and the blogger can get a commission from).  I have a few posts on my travel blog which (while providing great information and a good service to my community) are also focused on getting affiliate income, so I sat up and listened.

Because we are (trying to) raise our son bilingually, I have a series of posts on German books for babies, German books for toddlers, German books for preschoolers … you can see how this series can continue! These posts have a lot of affiliate links through to Amazon and over the past few months the income they generate, although small, has begun to steadily increase. Sharon’s talk made me think about how much more this could increase if I was just a bit more deliberate about getting targeted traffic to these posts.

So I’m going to experiment a little and let you watch. If it works well, then you can try it too!

Tweaking keyword use on existing posts

So, this is the first part of my SEO-fiddling! The reason I wrote these posts on German books for kids in the first place is that I had trouble finding good information online for non-native speakers like me, and had some real hit and miss experiences with buying books from the German Amazon site. I guess because they are filling a need (I’m definitely not the only non-German married to a German who wants to buy German books for their kids to read), then the posts have already been getting me a lot of search traffic for the main search terms I had in mind (which is basically the titles from above – “German books for babies” etc – as this is exactly what I searched for to find the information.)

I already knew this from looking at Google Analytics and see which search terms people used to find my site, including:

  • German baby books
  • baby books in German
  • German baby stories
  • German books for very young children
  • German toddler books

But after this SEO talk I had a look at where my posts where actually ranking in Google. The easy way to start this, of course, is just to go to Google:

German books for preschoolers Google result - keyword research
Results for “German books for preschoolers” on Google search

So even this simple search taught me a lot. My “German books for babies” post ranked number one for that term, and it also ranked in the top ten for “German books for preschoolers”. But my German books for preschoolers post (or my toddlers one, for that matter) didn’t rank at all, yet. When I cross-referenced that nugget of info against what was actually being bought at Amazon, I realised that it was all the baby books, too.

All this made me quite optimistic, because (1) if my German books for babies post could rank so highly, the others probably could too with a bit of help and time and (2) if they did, and I could get triple or more the traffic, then perhaps I could triple the income coming in too. It’s not heaps, but triple of a bit is a bit more, and it all adds up over time.

Off to work: tweaking my SEO

One thing Sharon had said which made a lot of sense was that using more than just one keyword – in fact more like twenty – would help you get more search traffic. I guess that’s especially true these days when more people are using longer (more natural) search terms.

German books for kids keywordsI soon got to work. I used LongTail Pro to generate more keywords but I think you could use Google’s Keyword Planner just as effectively. After disregarding any search terms it generated which weren’t grammatical or couldn’t be worked naturally into the text, I edited my old posts to include more of these keywords. I don’t want the posts to sound unnatural in any way, but since they are largely informational (lots of lists of books) with just short anecdotes (about my son and his books) joining it all together, I found it relatively easy to use quite a few more keyword phrases.

I also plan to follow the advice I often give my students and create a “hub” post around German books for kids (and I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier), as the obvious “first” page to land on so that parents looking for German books for their children can easily see all the information at once before getting specific.

Testing out my keyword changes

And once all this is done, I need to wait a bit. (The patience part is not my favourite bit, but I’m told this is necessary – Google won’t notice what I do instantly!)

The image below is the current ranking (in the United States, since the majority of my traffic comes from there and it’s a bigger market) for my site for various search terms. I’ll come back to this in a few months and compare it again – let’s see if these SEO tweaks have helped out!

Rank check - researching keywords

Gobbledygook? Or making sense?

What do you know about SEO?

In my blogging courses, I usually teach students to do at least a bit of reverse-engineering – thinking about what search terms readers might type into Google if what they are looking for is answered by your blog post. It’s sometimes hard to think this way, but it is definitely worth it – you want people to find your posts, right?

Got SEO questions? I absolutely do not promise I can answer them … but I can try! Leave them in the comments or email me.

Thoughts on blogging after nine years of my travel blog: why you should or shouldn’t start a blog

Last week my first blog love, my travel blog Not A Ballerina, turned nine. Yep, nine whole years have passed since I first sat down at my little desk in my flat in Germany and started a blogspot blog, not really having any clue about what it was all about, and even less clue that I’d still be doing it nine years later and that it would be starting to make an income. It was a big month for my little blog because apart from having a birthday, I also (finally!) had it moved from the Blogger platform to WordPress.

Back when I started, I hadn’t even heard of WordPress, yet know it’s the absolute platform of choice for serious bloggers, and I had been putting off this move for years. There are a bunch of things that I can do now that I couldn’t do in Blogger (although, to be fair, Blogger has become much more robust over the years I’ve been using it) and I knew that it was really time. The blog got to have a bit of a spring clean redesign at the same time and I’m super-grateful to Kelly Exeter at Swish Design for making the change so much less scary than I’d expected!

The new look of my travel blog, Not A Ballerina

Blogging has changed SO much in these last nine years. It was really just a hobby for pretty much everyone when I started, or at most a place to showcase your work or create a bit of a portfolio. Now it’s a whole profession. It’s amazing! It’s also one of the most exciting things I’ve ever had the chance to be involved in.

But of course, people still come along and ask me why they should start a blog. There are a lot of reasons to start one, but it sure isn’t for everyone. Here’s my take …

Why you SHOULD start a blog

  • You are crazily passionate about a particular topic (and it doesn’t matter if there are already heaps of blogs on your topic – in fact it’s probably a good sign)
  • You quite like writing. It’s easier if you LOVE to write, but not minding it at least is a good start.
  • You have some ideas for photos or other images you could use in a blog. These days a blog can rarely afford to be words alone. (PS: check out a site like Canva if you think you can’t make cool images.)
  • You have or can create a few spare hours a week at least. Blogging is a relatively time-consuming hobby. (On the plus side, it’s a relatively cheap hobby, so that’s something.)
  • You can sit down and write a list of at least 20 topics for individual blog posts without thinking too hard. 
  • You have a plan: if you’re hoping to turn a blog into a business, then you need to have a good think through before you start. Rather than, like me, blundering along for seven or eight years completely randomly before trying to be more strategic about it! (Better late than never, of course.)
  • And mainly: because you might really, really love blogging, get to meet lots of great people because of your blog, and have a true feeling of satisfaction and pleasure every single time you hit the Publish button.

Why you SHOULDN’T start a blog

  • You really hate writing. It is a real slog to write a blog (ha! that rhymes!) if the words part really doesn’t come easily to you at all.
  • Just because someone advises you that you need a blog to help your business. Yes, a blog will very likely help your business, but not if you just get it set up and then rarely post there. You have to really want to do it.
  • You want to write down heaps of stuff about your family and friends. This will end in disaster. Blogs are meant to be personal, yes, but that doesn’t give you a licence to divulge all the personal experiences of other people.
  • You think you can generate an income from a blog pretty much straight away and without too much hard work. You’re better off just buying lottery tickets!
  • You have no spare time at all.
  • You don’t even like using a computer very much.

Do you blog? Do you want to start one?

Bloggers: what do you think of my list? Knowing what you know now, would you still go back in time and start the same blog, or would you do things differently?
Non-bloggers: are you tempted? Do you have any questions about the blogging life?
Let me know in the comments!

Monetising my travel blog: traffic and income report May 2014

It’s been two months since I last wrote about my travel blog’s monetisation journey and I thought that made it time to check in again. You might remember that last time I listed quite a few bloggy tasks to do and I have definitely made some progress but at the same time, the monetisation progress does seem kind of slow. Probably also a consequence of having not many spare hours to spend on it, but anyway … here’s the news!

Traffic not growing

One of my not-so-favourite things this time round is that the traffic to my blog seems to have stagnated. I’ve not done anything super-spectacular to promote my blog more, but at the same time I’ve kept up with a lot of the regular stuff (such as tweeting and Facebooking archived posts). You can see the stats below and if you compare to last time you’ll see it’s not an exciting comparison!

Not A Ballerina traffic statistics – at a bit of standstill at the moment!

I’ve been joining in with a really nice link-up called Instagram Travel Thursday with a bunch of other travel bloggers and I know I’ve had some extra traffic through here (plus it’s a lot of fun) but obviously it hasn’t made much impact! However, I am working on a not-so-secret weapon this month which I’m hoping will help with this traffic situation, and it is:

Using Pinterest to build traffic

I have seen heaps of articles and heard from fellow bloggers lately that of all the social media, Pinterest is the one that actually drives a lot of traffic to your blog. This makes perfect sense because it’s a very different social media platform – one that’s based on finding information rather than finding people.

So, I enrolled myself in the Practical Pinning course to get this figured out (not a sponsored link! I can tell you I’m enjoying the course a lot so far, a week and a bit in). I must be doing something right as over the last week my follower numbers both on my business Pinterest account and my Not A Ballerina account have been rising rapidly, and I’m hoping that in the next couple of months I’ll be able to see these impacting on my blog traffic – fingers crossed!

Not A Ballerina on Pinterest at pinterest.com/amandatravels

This Pinterest section should come with a warning though: it’s crazily addictive 😉

Sponsored posts

There is a lot of discussion in the blogger world about sponsored posts (just google it and you will disappear into a rabbit warren of opinions). I don’t do them very often, and when I do, I insist that I write a normal post that would appear anyway on the blog and then include the sponsorship at the bottom. If the brand doesn’t agree to that, then I don’t do it. And I hope it goes without saying that I don’t do any from irrelevant, unrelated brands. The reason I do any at all is because thanks to the longevity of my blog and its reasonably high page brands are interested in the link and because, quite frankly, I need to pay my mortgage! I would say I do less than one a month on average.

As an aside, I had an interesting email conversation with a potential banner advertiser who told me that their requirements were 20,000 page views/month before they’d consider an ad deal. (I’m rather a long way off that at the moment!)

Income

And so, to income. I did promise to talk about this right back at the start of this series, not just traffic. My big, big must do in the next couple of months is to finish work on the e-products I want to promote though the blog because I’m very keen to diversify (and increase) the income sources. In the meantime, this period included:

Adsense: $25
Nuffnang: $113
Sponsored posts: $550
Total: $688

This is just direct income; the existence of my travel blog is also the reason I’m able to run blogging courses and have a consulting business, so in effect it earns much more for me, but this is the online, purely blog-based income.

What’s next for Not A Ballerina’s monetisation journey?

So I have just had a look at that long to do list from last time, and I’d say the three most important points are:

  1. Continue working on building up my mailing list (with giveaway – now in place – etc)
  2. Complete the Pinterest course and develop strategy to grow traffic to blog from Pinterest
  3. Complete work on e-products.
How’s your blog going? Or do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments.

Monetising my travel blog with a long list of tasks (and a stats update)

Well, it seems that there are plenty of you out there keen to see how my journey to monetise my travel blog goes, judging by the feedback I got to my first post inviting you along for the monetisation ride. I wasn’t planning to update monthly (more likely quarterly) but since I have other relevant stuff to mention I decided I would this month – and we’ll see how we go from here on in! If I have exciting enough news, I guess I will report in more often!

Why my blog traffic rose in February

Here are the stats for the second chunk of the year – following straight on from what I showed last time.

Not A Ballerina traffic statistics – all looking better since last time

Now there’s nothing majorly spectacular to report except that everything is going up. Visits, uniques and pageviews have all risen somewhere around the 40% mark. This, of course, would be super-exciting if I thought it would be a continuing trend every month, but remember that I had a blogging break in January so much of this is the result of simply blogging. (Oh yeah. Big reminder to self. Important to blog consistently!)

I have also tried to be a bit more regular with my social media promotion across all the major platforms but I am still struggling with having so few working hours now that my son’s at school (much shorter hours than daycare!) and I’ve been teaching UWA Extension courses left, right and centre.

But still, it is much better than the traffic going down, and next month when I’ll have been blogging and promoting a bit more consisently should be more telling and hopefully a bigger cause for optimism.

What I’m planning to do to improve my blog traffic in 2014

Oh goodness, what am I not planning to do? I have a rather long list. Some of it is stuff I have known about forever and only half-heartedly done. Some of it is new ideas. Some of it is quick stuff, some of it time-consuming. If my life was my blog, I’d have done it all by now but this blog gets worked on around the corners and edges of a rather full life, and that’s OK.

Anyway, there’s nothing magical or secret about some of the plans I have. In the hope that it might give you some ideas (or inspire you to tell me other things I should do), here’s my list, or at least the “so far” list as I keep adding to it. (In no particular order, I might add.)

  1. Make an editorial calendar and stick to it with minimum of 2 posts per week (this is working so far, yippee)
  2. Create a giveaway for those who sign up to my newsletter list (part way there, watch this space!)
  3. Work on an income-producing product (ebook of some kind)
  4. Create more postcards for good posts (especially for Pinterest but for promotion in general)
    Example of a Not A Ballerina postcard
  5. Update more of the old posts into the new categories (necessary after a revamp of direction/topic/theme from a year or so ago)
  6. Pin more of the archived posts to Pinterest
  7. Add “Tweet this” links into some of the best/most popular posts
  8. Schedule promotion (Twitter, Facebook, etc) for good archives
  9. List and contact more potential advertisers
  10. Follow up for more work with previous PR/sponsors/etc
  11. Do some guest posting
  12. Increase frequency of Instagram posts from blog (I’ve started this lately with Schedugr.am which allows me to schedule Instagram posts for the middle of my night, which is the time when the largest part of my travel blog’s audience – North Americans – are online, thanks to the time difference)
  13. Look at the pages (eg Country Guides) and re-do, revamp, delete, optimise
  14. Create an editorial calendar for the newsletter and ensure it is always sent on time
  15. Look at travel blogger groups on LinkedIn
  16. Update my media kit (great tips from Brand Meets Blog post)
  17. Add headlines and other SEO-related optimisations
  18. Continue to comment on the other travel blogs I feel are closest to my niche (something I do regularly at the moment but should still be on the list)
  19. Continue refining my ideal customer profiles
  20. Transfer the blog from Blogger to WordPress
Phew. That’s it for now.

What about you? Is there something on this list you want to do straight away? Or do you have any suggestions for me?

Monetising my travel blog – come along for the ride

I’ve got a big and important goal this year: to turn my nearly nine-year-old travel blog Not A Ballerina into something that doesn’t just sit there on the internet looking pretty, but actually puts a decent amount of food on the table.

I am really keen to monetise my blog properly – for lots of reasons:

  1. It is OLD in blog terms. Nearly nine years – that’s nearly retirement age in dog years, and positively ancient in blog years. All of those hours spent playing around with it over the years really should amount to something.
  2. I need to earn a bigger chunk of my income online (and preferably, passively – in other words, without me doing too much!). There are several reasons for that, but the main one this year is that my son has started kindergarten and between the school days being much shorter than daycare and the scary regularity of school holidays, I’m going to have a lot less working hours available to me for face-to-face consulting and training. I’m also looking ahead – I’d like to keep increasing the amount of travel I do (usually with my son, since I’m training him to be a star traveller!), and perhaps even spend a half a year or so back in Germany so that he can go to school there. To do that, I would definitely need to have a decent online income.
  3. I actually love my travel blog, and the messages I try to broadcast there – about why travel is important and what we can learn from it – are messages that I really want to spread. I actually believe lots of things about the world could be better if more people travelled, and did it in meaningful, open-minded ways. 
So, I’ve got lots of reasons, but do I have a strategy? Well, not yet, to be honest. But I thought you’d all like to come along for the ride and so I’m giving you the real behind-the-scenes info. First off, my travel blog has made me a decent (if irregular) income over the years. Initially, it was a basis for getting freebies (usually hotels and museum entries) when I lived in Europe. Later, before selling links was frowned upon, I did that and it certainly helped me pay the mortgage. In the last couple of years, I’ve done sponsored posts (but only (a) for companies that I deemed OK and (b) if I was able to write the post in my own normal style); I’ve experimented with some sidebar advertising; I’ve had a couple of affiliate programs running; and I’ve done a few reviews in exchange for lovely stuff that I actually needed. But in most cases, the sponsor/advertiser/link buyer came to me, rather than me going looking, so obviously, there are plenty more opportunities out there.
Now, I’ve long been a big fan of bloggers who are really transparent about how they monetise their blogs, especially because we can learn so much from them. My favourite is actually from a food blog called Pinch of Yum, where they publish a monthly post about income, traffic and blogging tips. Given that they’ve increased their monthly profit from around $5,000 a month to $17,000 a month in the past year, I figure they are onto something, plus they break it all down so you can see their diverse income streams, traffic sources, and more. My idea is to do something similar as I work on monetising Not A Ballerina – although I think I’ll report back on a quarterly basis.
So, some brief facts via Google Analytics so that we have something to compare next time round:
At first I thought – oh no, what a terrible month for my blog (my first post FOR THE YEAR! was just this week) but I’ve realised this is really a good thing: next time I report in, I should have (fingers crossed) considerably better figures than this and I’ll be able to demonstrate lots of improvements! But yes, to be honest, bear in mind that I’ve had a blogging break over the summer school holidays, so when my figures rise next time it may not be as wonderful as it sounds – it could just be a result of actually blogging! In any case, my traffic figures are really low for a PR4 (Google Page Rank of 4, if you’ve been in my classes but forgotten what PR means) and I would hope to really increase them during 2013.
In terms of income, given that I didn’t blog in January I haven’t made much money at all – I still have a unit of Google Adsense on (I don’t expect it will stay there long-term) but with little traffic it made less than $10 this month! My sidebar advertisers expired late last year and I haven’t done any sponsored posts this month. That makes for a quick and easy report!
Over the next few weeks I’m going to devise a more detailed strategy for monetising Not A Ballerina, and I’ve made some great bloggy friends to mastermind this with, both face-to-face in Perth and in other parts of the world – it’s so handy to be sharing our wisdom and exchanging ideas. So – check back in a few months and you will see the results of all these discussion and planning sessions!

The Ballerina Syndrome, or how keyword-rich titles are better than beautiful ones

There are two kinds of bloggers in this world: those who title a blog post based on what is about (“How to cook a lamb roast”, for example) and those who believe a title should be clever, arty and/or beautiful (“What to eat even if Tom Cruise invites you to dinner” – watch this old Aussie TV ad for lamb if my clever title doesn’t make sense to you).

Left to my own devices I am definitely the second type of blogger. Unfortunately, however, more successful bloggers are the first type. And this is all because of search engines.

For many (perhaps most) bloggers, the way the majority of your readers find your blog is by searching for you in a search engine. In other words, if you are looking for lamb roast tips, you may type “lamb roast”, “cooking a lamb roast” or even my exact title, “How to cook a lamb roast”, and Google or your search engine of choice will return a bunch of web pages that it believes are closely related to that topic. It doesn’t take a genius to realise which of my two original title ideas will work best here.

Lots of people find this very difficult. So do I. If you have an interest in or (worse) a love of writing, then composing a fairly bland, accurately-descriptive title just doesn’t sit well. Where is our chance to be creative, to show off our cleverness? Well, not in the title I’m afraid. Not in the age of the internet!

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the title realm. Just look at my travel blog’s name: Not A Ballerina! What on earth does that have to do with travelling? Worse, I end up with far too many visitors who have been searching for something related to ballet (search engines aren’t very good at sensing the “Not” part) – can anyone tell me why people are often searching for “hairy ballerinas”? You can read the story of how the name came about, but it doesn’t make it any better – it might be a nice story, but it doesn’t make the name choice any more appropriate. I’m just too sentimental to part with it (and lose followers by changing domains, and so on) after eight years of blogging there.

However, I strongly recommend that you do what I say, not what I do. In class I’ve dubbed this problem of wanting beautiful titles and names “Ballerina syndrome” and I don’t want you to succumb. As painful as it might be to some of you, give your blog post a title that sends a clear message about what the content of the post is about, and you’ll find that a lot more people come along to read it. There is room enough to be clever and witty inside a blog post; don’t be tempted to go the Tom Cruise route.

Although sometimes, like me, you can try to cram everything into the one title. It’s my compromise approach. But … you know, do what I say, not what I do.