Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why doesn't Google like us?

Overall I am happy with the progress made by the LEAP blog, but one area that could be improved is search engine traffic. Here is a graph from Google Analytics regarding the traffic sources for the LEAP blog:

This covers a one month period (from October 17th to November 17th). As you can see, we get most of our traffic from referring sites, which is great. It means we have lots of allies in the world of drug policy who want to tell their friends, colleagues, family members and customers about our blog.

What concerns me is the tiny amount of traffic generated by search engines such as Google, Yahoo, etc. It is under 3%. It makes me wonder if I've set the blog up incorrectly and somehow we're now getting penalized in the search rankings. As you can see in the graph below, we are only getting around five to ten visits from search engines per day:

Are there any web gurus out there with ideas on how to change this?


  1. I am not a "web guru", so don't give too much weight to my thoughts here. But from what I understand, Google search results are based very heavily on link activity. As more individual pages link to a single source for, say, drug policy, that single source gains importance in Google search results. That probably means that your traffic profile -- which leans heavily on links from other sites -- should help the site's Google search ranking as time moves forward.

    I think you're doing a good job though. I've already seen this blog cited for stories at Reason, as well as other places. These are high-traffic sites with a redership very in-tune with your mission, which can only be a good thing.

  2. I have a few thoughts:

    1) It's really hard to control what other people search for.

    2) Do a test, type in some terms or ideas you think people in your target audience are hoping to learn about and see if this blog shows on the first page. If not, see what pages do rank highest and read them to get some ideas of why.

    3) In general, blogs tend to be commentary and links to source documents. Search engines will generally point people at the source documents vs. the scads of commentary, unless they determine that the commentary is from the principals (my assumption on the latter part of statement), or the commentary meets some criteria that ranks it higher. This is the "horse's mouth" concept. :-)

    4) The main time I come across blogs in search results is when I am searching for highly specific information that someone took the time to write up, for example: MyISAM tables compared to InnoDB tables. Blogs addressing that rank higher than the MySQL documentation where those things are documented. Why? Documentation is often lacking in concise pros/cons and real-world applications the bloggers live in.

    5) Touching on #3, if most of the articles on the site are copies of articles found other places, search engines will most likely rank those "borrowing" others' articles much lower than the sites it appears first published, or own authorship, of the article.

    6) My best advice (not an accusation) is to write original content. Short targeted essays, preferably using some common jargon, and definitely using phrases which are fairly common (even if you are using them in order to debunk them). Blogs, in general, are mostly commentary about ephemeral events, here today, gone and mostly forgotten tomorrow. Even when writing about an event in time, try to write a timeless piece that address the underlying concepts so that if someone reads it years after it happens, s/he can still learn something.

    7) When posting links to videos, or embedding videos, take the time to type up your favorite quotes and lines from the video. This will differentiate you from the thousands of other web pages that embed the video.

    8) Last but not least, when writing, use the vernacular, the language that most people use. See in the previous sentence how I even wrote it "twice?" Some people will think to themselves, "moron, I know that 'vernacular' means the language most folks use!" But the fact is, a) search engines now have the fancy word and the simple explanation so whether the college+ grad is searching or the high school student, both can use their preferred lingo and find the page, b) many people don't plod over each word stuck on a speed limit, they scan faster over bits they know, and slow down over parts they don't know or want help trying to follow the logic.

    So to me, this translates into the real world application of, for example, when writing about meth, you could use it's many names, technical and slang, in the article as appropriate, or make it a sidebar.

    This also means you should focus on answering questions that most people are likely to have and write them exactly as people say them.
    Are all drugs bad? Why are all drugs bad? I Hate Druggies, etc… even if you don't agree with the premise of what they are asking/saying, because this will be pointed out in the essay.

    <h3>Final Thoughts</h3>
    Consider using header tags: a) this makes it easier for people who read to scan the page and jump to the parts they're interested in b) it shows search engines you've put effort and thought into what you've written; you've organized it, and care about its presentation.

    It's not too late to go back to various videos you've embeded and type up your favorite lines from them, or lines people will likely be searching for, this is one of the beauties of online publishing. Search engines will scan pages more than once, and adjust the page's rank if new/better info is on it.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Another thought.

    Use lots of questions. Why should I use lots of questions? :-) Because many people use search engines to find answers to their questions. :-)

    I admit that it can make me feel like an idiot to type up simple questions then reply to them in the next sentence, but I am not trying to rank Drew at the top of search engines, I am trying to get my ideas in other people's heads. It's not about me looking smart, it's about me getting my ideas out there and easily found.

    So take for instance the latest DEA essay. No offense to whoever wrote it, but it's ripe for a few questions at the opening or peppered throughout it. Why does the DEA not update its website? Why does the DEA hate pot? Why does the DEA ignore science? Why does the DEA have a religion of hate against marijuana? Does the DEA respect/ignore the AMA? etc…

    I'm not saying use those questions, and I'd even add that you don't need to actually answer them directly, just asking them (like a header over a paragraph) can raise an eyebrow and indicate the answer is yet to be found, or can be found on a link you provide.

    But I can see in my own logs that people often ask questions of search engines.

  4. When I first discovered your blog, I would mix up the URL with some other drug policy/cop blogs that I follow & would google either "law enforcement against prohibition" or "cops say legalize" & "blogspot" and your site would usually be on the 2nd or 3rd page of results.

    On the bright-side, it's forced me to bookmark & memorize your page URL. :)

  5. There are two things you can do to improve your Google rankings. The first one is very easy:

    1) You should change the title that appears in the browser window (at the top). Right now you only have "Law Enforcement Against Prohibition." That's great but will only work if people are searching for you. If so, they already know you exist. Those are your "direct traffic" people. You can include descriptions such as "drug law reform" and "police against the drug war" or something like that. That will make a big difference.

    2) Get your own domain. Blogspot is nice but you will probably build up higher rankings in the long run if you register a domain like "leapblog.org" or something like that. Of course, you'll have to ask everybody to update their links and in the short run this will hurt your rankings. This may not be worth it, but something to consider.

    Keep up the good work. The police and the people should be working together, not fighting each other. LEAP is a ray of hope in this terrible war.

  6. A big thank for all of the detailed feedback. I will mull this over and make some changes. I know in the long term we are looking at moving this blog back over to the LEAP web site, provided it will still be easy to post and comment on blog entries.

  7. great advice above.

    I would add that search ranking essentially follows links to the blog - it will build in time as the blog gets established and more people link to it (especially links from high ranking sites). BTW This includes links in posts on other blogs, news sites and forums - so post comments with the blogurl as your id link.

    the best way to get linked of course is to produce great original content on key issues that people want to link to. You basically get out what you put in. If your posts go viral through social bookmarking sites in particular (reddit / digg etc) that really helps attract links - so use these judiciously when you produce original content with wider interest. I had a post make the front page of reddit and it pulled in 50k hits in a single day, and was linked from across the world.

  8. There are lots of little tricks to getting and keeping your site in the first ten results of search engines. Let me just mention a few things though:

    First; a blogspot absolutely can get just as high of a rank as an independent domain name. Although it's currently above me, my blogspot frequently tops (my competition) the city of Charlottesville's website.

    Secondly; words and phrases are KEY. Post titles, relevant subject matter, frequent updates with germane content, all CRUCIAL.

    Your post title "Why doesn't Google like us?" shows up in the browser window and on the page, and is part of the URL -- all things search engines catch, all opportunities you blew. Think "Google anti drug policy reform?" instead.

    You also wasted the entry itself. Aside from writing "allies in the world of drug policy," nothing else you wrote really has anything to do with your agenda.

    Consider writing things like "It's bad enough Congress censors legalization discussion but now I'm wondering if somehow Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is getting censored in the search rankings, too." Might not be exactly the way you'd convey it, but hopefully you get the idea.

    Last but not least; You can't go wrong reposting applicable articles from other sites. Hot news story about a marijuana bust? Publish it! There's no reason to let people go elsewhere to read it when you can bring them here for it.


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