You know your blog is happening when businesses start contacting you with observations that you’re outranking them in search, and with offers of work. But even an optimist like me didn’t envisage such success using Tumblr. When I signed up to Tumblr in 2011 I experimented for a very short time, scratched my head, thought to myself: “Nah, this is rubbish”, and immediately went back to WordPress and Blogger.
My Tumblr account then sat largely redundant until summer 2013, but in that interim I’d explored the site’s often-pilloried SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) potential and found that actually, when used in a certain way, Tumblr can compete on the search engines with both Blogger and WordPress. Forward from 2013 I used Tumblr fairly intensively, and found that if you’re a good writer, and prepared to do some hard work, a Tumblr blog will even outrank well established websites. Reps for the businesses you’re outranking are sending you ever-so-polite messages, but you know behind it all that they’re tearing their hair out thinking: “Jeez! It’s a flamin’ Tumblr blog! How the Hell is this happening??!!!”
THE POWER OF TUMBLR
Tumblr is much more capable and powerful than most people think. It’s true that when used in the way most people use it, the site will barely register with Google, and the blogger will be locked into the typical Tumblr treadmill of serving the timeline – essentially making no long-term progress outside the walls of the site. Tumblr is designed to encourage that.
Typically, users throw insubstantial content onto Tumblr (very frequently other people’s), with little or no body text. But if you do that on ANY blogging platform you’re going to fail in the long term. The problem is the blogging style – not the capability of the website. And compounding that problem further, most Tumblr users take the easiest route to everything. Tumblr provides a very, very easy way of doing things, but if you take the path of convenience blogging, you won’t be making friends with Google any time soon.
Before I go any further, I’d recommend that you read Am I Posting Into a Black Hole? It’s a pretty short post, but it encapsulates the problem with sites like Tumblr, when you try to use them as designed.
THE SECRET TO SUCCEEDING WITH TUMBLR
The secret to succeeding with Tumblr is in detaching from the internal rat race. In other words, Stop wasting your time Following blogs you don’t care about, stop Liking hundreds of posts for attention, stop Reblogging, stop re-posting other people’s work, stop adding piles of tags which can create large amounts duplicate content and confuse Google… Most of all, stop posting for the sake of staying on the radar, and only add a new contribution when you have something important to say.
You can then use Tumblr’s REAL power to engage with Google, and Tumblr does offer a lot which some other blogging platforms don’t. For instance, you can customise your theme, upgrade its SEO potential, and even add advertising, completely free of charge. For that, you’ll need to learn CSS and HTML, because there are no inherent ‘widgets’, and help specific to Tumblr is often extremely difficult to find. But the scope is there, and it doesn’t cost a penny. You can also add third party analytics code to track your visits in incredible detail, and Tumblr has a surprisingly intuitive back end. It will even automatically redirect your posts with a proper 301 when you change their URL tails. In other words, if someone links to you, and then you change a post’s URL, the old link will continue to work. Pick that one out of the net, WordPress!
But making a success of things is really down to you, and here are my tips on how to achieve a lasting profile on the wider Web…
TWELVE TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Write your own material. Seriously, don’t ‘borrow’ anything from anyone else, because once Google has it, it doesn’t want it again.
- Write to the very best of your ability, both grammatically and creatively, and check your work thoroughly for spelling and other errors before posting.
- TAKE YOUR TIME, to conceptualise and (if necessary) research good, desirable content which people are genuinely going to want. It’s better to spend a week on one post that ends up on Page 1 of Google, than spend the same time making 50 posts that each end up on or around Page 45. No Google user is going to visit posts that are on Page 45, however many of them there are.
Post about specific things people care about and are likely to search for by name, but not things which are already covered by big, powerful resources like news sites. If you’re posting about stuff the news sites have already got hold of, you’re almost certainly wasting your time, because they WILL have Page 1 of Google sown up, and all their copycat sites and offshoots will have Pages 2 and 3. The same goes for anything relating to mainstream celebrities.
Try localising and looking at the smaller picture, and look at what’s already on Google. If the top results for your proposed topic are from sites that don’t look very professional, are very outdated, or are badly written, or don’t offer much in the way of substantial text content, you could potentially outrank them. Especially if they’re all saying exactly the same thing and you have something different and more relevant to say.
Stay off broad topics too, because that’s the territory of Wikipedia and similar resources, and you’re not going to beat them at their own game.
- Use the Text Post format as your primary vehicle. Even if you’re a photographer. The other formats are heavily compromised in SEO terms. They’re fine lightly interspersed on a blog that’s mainly composed of Text Posts, but if you create a blog primarily comprising Photo Posts or whatever, you’ll be handicapping your search potential. If you must use Photo Posts, include a Heading, but recognise that even then you’ll struggle to befriend Google. If you are a photographer and want to use Text Posts, see my piece on uprating the image resolution.
- Title your posts with the exact term you expect people to search for on the search engines. It won’t look very imaginative, but it’s your best shot at getting visits. In Google’s eyes, the title is the most important piece of text in the post. But check the search engines first to see how many other posts already have your intended title. If there are already a number of posts with that title or very similar, think again. Remember, Google doesn’t want duplication – it wants stuff it doesn’t already have.
- Use the Keep Reading / Read More jump break very early in your posts. It’s the three dots at the far right of the + menu when you start an empty line in a post. What it does is: a) forces internal Tumblr users to visit your actual blog when they want to read your full posts, and b) keeps the bulk of your text off the Home, Archive and Tag pages. This means Google will not find multiple versions of the same text on your blog, and should always prioritise the post itself rather than a fluid page.
- Try your very best to link to your Tumblr from other sites. This really does make a big difference to the importance Google places on your blog, and can literally take it from invisible on the search engines, to the top few pages. Also, link from post to post internally. In other words, link from one post to another when you mention the relevant topic. This will boost your page visits internally, make life easy for your visitors, and should help convince Google that your site means business too.
- If you don’t already have one, open a free Google Account and add your Tumblr to the Webmaster Tools utility. You can then submit each post to Webmaster Tools as you publish it, for indexing by Google. Google is notoriously slow to investigate Tumblr blogs, and can go for weeks or even months without paying a visit if left to its own devices. Most content on Tumblr is secondhand and/or useless to Google, so if you want the Big G to take notice of your Tumblr, you’ll probably have to keep ‘tapping it on the shoulder’.
- Set up Google Analytics on your Tumblr (you also need a Google account for this one, but again it’s free), so you can study proper, detailed, page visit stats. This will not only motivate you by telling you how many people are interested in your work – it will also help you understand how visitors behave. Once you understand how your visitors are behaving, it’s much, much easier to create new content which will get plenty of visits.
Pay huge attention to how visitors will navigate your blog. If no one can understand how to get from page to page, find your other posts or get onto the Home page, you’re going to be getting one hit when you could have notched up ten. Some Tumblr themes are awful and are not really designed for navigation. Pick one based on how easy it is for your visitors to get around the site – not based on how pretty it looks. And if you can learn CSS / HTML, set up your own navigation system with enticing image thumbnails visitors will want to click. Get it right and that can increase your page hits sixfold, overnight.
Another great addition to your site navigation is a Google Custom Search box. It uses Google’s own search algorithms so it’s very powerful and efficient, but you can instruct it only to find results from your own site, and not the rest of the Web. Again, more convenience for your visitors, and more page visits for you.
- When putting images into your text posts, consider forcing them to display at higher resolution. This should help them rank better in Google Images, since like for like, priority will be given to physically bigger pics. But make sure your theme can handle larger sized images. I can’t overstress the importance of selecting a good theme.