Saturday, October 19, 2019

SEO for Surnames

Search Engine Optimization – SEO for Genealogy

Genealogy bloggers don’t write for the search engines.  Most of us write because we are passionate about genealogy.  We want to make cousin connections or we wish to share our research or expertise.  Writing for the search engines is usually the last thing on our minds.

But we do want to be found on the net. Writing in a vacuum isn’t much fun, nor does it make cousin connections.

Recent changes to the google algorithm had me reviewing my strategies for search engine optimization (SEO). I’ve studied this topic and have used SEO to my advantage on several of my non-genealogy websites.

What is Search Engine Optimization?SEO for Genealogy

According to Wikipedia -

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results. Other forms of search engine marketing (SEM) target paid listings. In general, the earlier (or higher on the page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image search, local search, video search and industry-specific vertical search engines. This gives a website web presence.

SEO is huge business. Large companies employ SEO teams because the pay offs are great. Free traffic generated by SEO is preferable to paying thousands of dollars for advertising.

SEO takes time and effort to do it well and I admit I don’t do it as completely as I should on a blog post.  But when I do, SEO for genealogy has proven effective especially for certain surname and location combinations.

One example is a surname post of mine featuring “Wilson Peterhead Scotland”. Google that term and you will likely find it is on page 1 at the top position.  (the position may vary a bit). I get connections from that post on a regular basis.

Being on the first page of Google is much more desirable than being buried on page 9….or page 99.

Taking a few extra minutes up front to work on SEO for genealogy can definitely help the odds that your blog post will be found.

There are 3 steps to effective SEO.

  • Keyword research
  • Writing content for SEO
  • Backlinking

Let’s look at the steps in greater detail.

Keyword Research for Genealogy

Keyword Research

Keyword research is probably the most important part of SEO for genealogy. How many people are looking for your search term? What particular words or keyword phrases are searched for more?

If you are blogging specific genealogy terms with low search volume it is quite possible you can rank highly in the search engines without to much effort.

It helps to be specific.

Enter the term “genealogy” into Google’s Keyword Tool and you will discover that over 1.8 million people search that term globally on a monthly basis.  There is NO chance your blog post is going to rank on page number 1 of google if you optimize for the search term “genealogy”. There is simply to much competition. The word “genealogy” is considered to be a broad search term.

On the other hand, if you search on “Wilson Peterhead Scotland” in the google keyword tool you get NO search volume. You may be wondering what good is that if no one is searching for this term.

It all depends on how people enter the search term into the search engines. Chances are they won’t use quotation marks around the term, or they will use a slightly different combination of words in the phrase – “Wilson in Peterhead” for example. In that case your blog post has a good chance of being found and noticed.

Remember, it just takes ONE cousin connection to give you another lead.

Results may not be immediate, but some day, some time there is a good chance someone will find your post.

Another example – People from Peterhead Scotland have been referred to as “Blue Tooners”. I did a blog post entitled “My Grandmother was a Blue Tooner” and optimized for the keyword phrase “Blue Tooner”.

That blog post is on the first page of Google in the top position for the search term “blue tooner”.

Does it bring connections?


A few HOURS after I posted the Blue Tooner article a person living in Peterhead Scotland contacted me, said she worked at the Family History Library and offered to take pictures of Wilson gravestones!*

Without a search engine optimized post, I don’t think she would have found me. SEO for genealogy comes through again!

Writing Content for Genealogy

Writing content

In order to write for the search engines you need to include the keyword phrase in your post multiple times and in a certain way. This includes having the phrase appear in the title, H1 tag (header) and page description.

It is highly recommended the keyword phrase appear in the first 50 words of your text because of the way the search engines index content.

It is also recommended that the keyword phrase appear in 1 to 4% of the total text. Using those guidelines, a blog post of 400 words would have mention of the keyword phrase between 4 and 16 times.

I feel 4% is a bit much for SEO for genealogy and usually keep it to around 1%. Google and the other search engines are pretty smart – they discount articles that appear to use an over abundance of keywords. This is known as ‘keyword stuffing’.

I tend to write my article first without thinking about SEO to much then go back and optimize for the keyword phrase.

If you blog with WordPress I recommend using one of the following plugins for SEO:

  • All in one SEO  or
  • Platinum SEO Pack

These plugins allow a person to add a custom title (optimized for the search engines)  which will appear on the top of your webpage but might be different from the actual title of your post. They also allow for entry of a description that can include your keyword phrase.  For example this blog post has the title – “SEO for Surnames” although the webpage title is “SEO for Genealogy”.

For the times when I really want to get the SEO right I use a free tool called Traffic Travis.

Traffic Travis tells me how effective my SEO for genealogy efforts are, assigns a score and gives suggestions to improve. I aim for a score of A+ (ever the over achiever) but anything over B+ is good.

After getting feedback from Traffic Travis a few times you will quickly learn the tricks to get the highest SEO score thus eliminating the need to keep checking using the traffic tool.

Another tip is to write unique, original content.   Google penalizes websites that have duplicate content.  That’s why I don’t post a lot of press releases and I don’t do a lot of “memes” posts on my blog.

For example, my “Tombstone Tuesday” might be titled with a name, date and place but it rarely has “Tombstone Tuesday” in the title. The key is to vary it up and to think of unique ways of presenting your information.  The search engines are geared to pick up the different and the unusual and will present these results to their viewers first.

Tagging images properly with alt tags is also good SEO.  Alternative text tags (alt tags) appear in place of images when the browser preferences are set for text only.  Search engines index the text on the images which will help lead people back to your blog posts.

Backlinking for Genealogy


The more backlinks you have to a post the more popular it will be in the search engines. Google thinks it is valuable content if others link to your webpage.

Internet marketers use anchor text (the keyword phrase) linked back to their article. They will comment on blogs and forums, enter their keyword phrase as their “name”.    I don’t do that because I think it looks rather tacky.

I do use my name and a link to the article I want ranked. I sometimes include “Luxegen” along with my name as I have google alerts set to pick up any mention of my blog.  (Google alerts for my name “Joan Miller” are less successful – can you imagine how many “Joan Miller’s” there are in the world???  Lots!).

SEO for genealogy might sound complicated but it really isn’t once you’ve tried it a few times.  The Traffic Travis tool does help.   Perhaps I will cover Traffic Travis in another post if folks are interested.

I suggest you give SEO for genealogy a try the next time you are putting together a blog post.  It could find you new cousin connections.



Traffic Travis – Free search engine optimization (SEO) tool

*Note – having someone find you in mere hours is not the norm. Usually it can take weeks or months. SEO, while effective, can be slow. In this case I had also tweeted my keyword phrase linking back to the blog post. Google indexes tweets in the search engines almost immediately thus getting my keyword phrase (and backlink) active quickly.  This was SEO for genealogy with social media combined…but that’s another topic for another day.



22 Responses to “SEO for Surnames”
  1. Nancy says:

    This was a really helpful post, especially for a non-tech person like me. Thanks so much!
    Nancy´s last [type] ..He Grew up a Motherless Child

  2. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve tried to understand the way SEO works, but I wasn’t really sure what I was suppose to be including. Please do a follow up article about Traffic Travis. In the mean time I’m going to click on your link for it.

  3. Very helpful! I must be doing some of this right as every time I do a Google search on people I’m interested in my own blog pops up all over the page, LOL! I’m sure I could do a lot better though. Thanks for the wonderfully informative post!

  4. Hi Nancy,
    I’m glad you found my post helpful. Thank you for visiting.


  5. Hi Carol,
    I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Traffic Travis is very helpful for new timers to SEO. Go to the page analysis, enter your keyword phrase and the webpage link in the section under the tab “pages and keywords”. Click on the tab “Report Summary” to get the feedback for your page. I’ll do a longer article on this at some point.

    If you have problems in the meantime, please leave a comment below.


  6. Hi Lisa,
    You are very welcome. All the best with your ancestor hunting!


  7. Missy says:

    This is one of the most useful blog posts I’ve ever read – THANK YOU! I’m going to start putting some of these tips into practice right away.

  8. Hi Missy,
    Thank you for your kind comments. I like doing techie posts like this but am never sure my blog readers appreciate it since it isn’t really genealogy. I appreciate your positive feedback.

    Thanks for visiting.


  9. Apple says:

    I have avoided twitter because I really saw it as just another distraction. I was unaware that backlinks I created there would get indexed by google. Thanks for the tip.
    Apple´s last [type] ..A New Chapter

  10. Kevin says:

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more that just a little SEO effort goes a long way and isn’t that hard to pick up. You’ve done a fantastic job of walking through it. Thanks.
    Kevin´s last [type] ..Geotagging with Google Maps

  11. Nancy says:

    I just went to the site you gave for Traffic Travis. It looks like I have to download the program. Well, actually, it won’t go to this but sends me to this . Am I doing something wrong or do I indeed have to download the program?

    Nancy´s last [type] ..He Grew up a Motherless Child

  12. Hi Nancy,
    Traffic Travis is a downloadable program that you install on your computer. It is free but they might ask for an email address to download. It has been awhile since I got this program but I do believe there is a short tutorial in the email series they send. You can always opt out of the emails after you learn how to use the program. If you have any more questions don’t hesitate to ask.

    Note – this program does a lot more than SEO. For our SEO for genealogy purposes look at the Page Analysis Tab.


  13. Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for the kind comment and for visiting.


  14. WOW Joan! Thank you for sharing these helpful tips in a very clear and concise way. I have wondered about how to best utilize SEO, but most of the articles I’ve read make it sound very mysterious and difficult. Thanks for bringing it into reach.

    Also, I wonder if the blogging platform affects SEO? I moved from Blogger to SquareSpace when Blogger didn’t have as many features as it does today. I’m considering moving back b/c I can’t print a blog book from SS without going through WordPress or Blogger anyway. Any thoughts?
    Denise Levenick´s last [type] ..New SCGS Webinars Available

  15. Hi Denise,
    You are very welcome. Glad you found the article helpful.

    Regarding your question about the blogging platform, I believe it does make a difference. WordPress is supposed to be one of the best for SEO as the coding is optimized for it. I don’t have experience with SquareSpace.

    Blogger, because it is owned by Google tends to get indexed in the search engines very quickly. I have a couple of inactive Blogger blogs but haven’t played with them much as I like the flexibility of wordpress. WordPress isn’t as easy to set up and maintain as a blogger blog though.

    Which company/system were you going to use for a blog book? I’m interested in doing that too.


  16. Scarlet says:

    These are fabulous SEO for all articles. Great job at trying to take a huge subject and make it easy for people to understand!
    Scarlet´s last [type] ..50 Gift Certificate Cymax Stores Giveaway

  17. Thank you for an extremely useful post. And Traffic Travis does sound interesting.
    Michelle Goodrum´s last [type] ..Ancestor Approved Again

  18. Hi Scarlet,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you liked the post.


  19. Hi Michelle,
    You are very welcome. I’m glad you found the post to be useful. Thanks for stopping by.


  20. Hi, Joan, thank you for such an informative e-mail. I am not technically minded, but you set the topic out very clearly and it is something I am going to look out further. As you indicated, bloggers do not write in a vacuum, and I do very much appreciate contact, comments etc. to show my blog is being read.
    Susan Donaldson´s last [type] ..A Dance Floor Meeting – Fearless Females- March 5th

  21. Many thanks, Joan for such a useful article. I followed your tips, amending many of my titles to feature the family name (Danson) and also made sure it appeared in the first 50 words. The result is now my blog comes up on pages 1-2 in a Google search for the surname.
    Susan Donaldson´s last [type] ..Nifty at Netball but Hopeless at Hockey- 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy – Sports


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