One does not have to be obsessive about web rankings to be interested in the reach of one’s blog posts, particularly in an industry which constantly evolves – or, as recently, takes the occasional big jump. Can one be heard beyond one’s regular readers, in an area of business in which everyone has something to shout about?
Idle curiosity made me do a search yesterday morning on Google.com for judge peck da silva moore. I was pleased to see that an article of mine – published less than 24 hours previously and in competition with many US articles – appeared on the first page of search results. A search for peck predictive coding, again in Google.com, had my article at the top.
A post by Millnet’s Charles Holloway (or, strictly, the home page of Millnet’s blog) also appeared on the first page of the first of those searches. Amongst the things Charles and I have in common (being English solicitors with an interest in US eDiscovery is a prerequisite for what I am talking about) is our use of WordPress as our blogging platform. I chose WordPress originally (this was in 2006) because tests showed that it had better SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) than Google’s own blogging platform.
It is not necessarily the location of the servers which is counting here – my blog is hosted on the WordPress servers in the US whilst Millnet’s, I suspect, is in the UK – nor, one assumes, is Google applying qualitative criteria and marking us up for our prose style and proper use of punctuation. Google is concerned with more prosaic things like the actual words used, and the inbound and outbound links, as well as with the regularity of updates.
One must be clear, of course, that one will get different results from Google, depending on a number of factors, including your own search history and the place from which you search. It is necessary, for example, to switch off the Google.com search “feature” which personalises your search results before you will get any meaningful comparisons.
I cannot test for myself whether the results are any different if made at the same time within the US, so I asked Rob Robinson of Orange Legal Technologies – the undisputed king of eDiscovery information distribution – to make the same searches in the US. Relative to a search made in the UK, one of my test articles dropped from position 5 to position 6 and the other from position 1 to position 2. I can’t complain at that for US exposure.
A parallel set of questions arises in relation to Google Plus, where my articles are not gaining the same standing in Google searches. There will be various reasons for this, not least the fact that the weighty articles (in both senses of that expression) go on the blog and therefore necessarily fare better in a “contest” in which volume and frequency, both of posting and of relevant keywords, are deciding factors. There is a double or quits element here, as I have said before: a Google Plus post is quicker and easier to do, which therefore allows me to cover more subjects; publishing a blog entry triggers email alerts, and it would try the patience of the recipients if I used the blog for every small post; the more G+ entries I have the more notice Google’s search engine will take. Against all that, the blog already has mass behind it and an audience, and that counts.
Listing a block of Google Plus posts on the blog, with links to the individual posts has SEO benefits and cuts down the number of email alerts. Making a Google Plus entry which links back to the blog similarly aids SEO. The two-way link integrates the two different sources. I also tweet a link to every post, and others are kind enough to re-tweet many of them, which inevitably drives up the traffic and I get links from various weekly lists of articles. I can be reasonably sure that nearly all that traffic is from people with a genuine interest in the subject. It will take time for it to become clear where the balance lies; it has been suggested that Google has invested too much of both cash and credibility in G+ for it to fail. At least there is no shortage of material to write about.
Why does any of this matter, particularly from one who sneers at the social media mavens with their obsession with bare follower-counts? My expressed role is to traffic in information and commentary between courts, lawyers, clients and providers. That involves collecting information, adding value to it in some form, and making sure that it reaches the widest possible audience of people whose decision-making is important in the industry, and across as many jurisdictions as possible.
I can measure the number of page views I get – it averages 260 in a day so far this year, up from an average of 189 last year, and the links from Google Plus may be to thank for that rise. The direct and obvious purpose – of attracting people to my sites to read what I write – conceals what is perhaps a more valuable secondary purpose; that is that every link which I put in my blog posts (and I spend a lot of time doing that) supports the SEO of those to whom I link. An actual click is not necessary for this to count – the mere fact that a link exists from a source which is deemed authoritative in Google terms, and whether that comes from a logo or from the body of text, contributes to the weight which Google gives to a destination site.
There is a coded message here – I cannot write about things I do not know about, and cannot link to interesting pages if I do not know that they are there. More importantly, whilst one can add value to some extent by supplying commentary around a press release or an announcement, the true value comes from a more personal connection and from the information which results. That can be real, old-fashioned human contact with a voice, not just email or Twitter.