How blogging helped Sarah overcome a debilitating disease

For years, Sarah suffered from a painful disease of muscles, called fibromyalgia. That made her so sick and helpless that her life revolved round her couch and she needed help for even small personal chores.

Then she took to blogging!

And blogging made her what she is today. She and her husband Mike started a travel blog, List 'Till Dawn, and while she did the writing part, Mike helped with phtography. Now it is a formidable blog on travel. They not only post travelogues and advice for travelers but also do reviews and delve in lifestyle matters. The blog has a section on tips to bloggers and the bloggers run a course on blogging too!

Travel blog by Sarah

On how blogging came to her life and helped shape it, Sarah says this on her blog:
While working at the Big Four, I got really sick from the stress of overworking and got fibromyalgia. I quit accounting, moved to Amsterdam, and became a travel blogger since I’ve been consistently traveling since 2005 and have been to over 20 countries... I’ve always loved traveling, but blogging about it added a whole new passion to my life. Now I love talking about traveling, blogging, and the peace and happiness I’ve finally found in life.

Profiling the blogger of 2020

The following is an excerpt from The Manual of Blogging:


A large number of studies and surveys have been conducted to profile bloggers and to find their blogging habits. Since the blogosphere is too wide and scattered, no study can fully capture information about all bloggers. Yet there are some indicators that help us sketch the profile of today’s bloggers.

Today’s ‘blogger’ could be one who maintains an independent blog, one with a blog on a major blogging platform, a newspaper columnist whose columns are also posted by the newspaper on the web, a Facebook user who also writes occasional big posts on his timeline/ page, a person who posts his photos on Instagram or videos on YouTube – in fact, anybody who expresses himself in a long-form text or through a visual medium on the web. One could call himself a blogger even if he publishes short-form content on a regular basis...

The new blogger takes blogging seriously.

...Since one can open a blog free on one of the many blogging and other social platforms, a very large majority of bloggers tend to open one or more blogs, maintain them for some time in the hope of getting instant gains ( traffic/ recognition/ money) and when that does not happen, lose interest. It has been reported that the average age of majority of blogs opened in the recent past is less than six months!

Most bloggers who maintain their blogs professionally seem to have graduated from personal blogging.

Bloggers in the age group 25-45 years are reported to be most active. The activity goes down as the age goes up; however, active bloggers as old as 75 years or more can also be seen, though very few...

People of yesteryears who picked up blogging as the first social media activity seem to have reduced blogging as they have become more active on social networking and messaging sites.

Students constitute a special section of blogging community because of use of blogs by progressive schools.

The common blogger seems to love ready-made technological tools for sprucing up the blog and other actions, but he hates to learn the technology. So, unless the blog is being made for professional and earning purposes, or the blogger has some qualification in web technologies, it is likely to be ignored in terms of technological optimization.

Almost all bloggers do blogging part-time and do not earn much, but a few bloggers do earn their bread through blogging...

The traditional blogger still usually works on his blog on a big screen (desktop/ laptop), but (i) for visiting others’ blogs, (ii) sharing photos and quick posts, and (iii) commenting on others’ posts, he is most probably using his smart phone.

Today’s blogger generally does not comment on other standard-format blogs except when he engages with acquaintances, a blogging community or professional blogging network. In other cases, if he likes a blog post, he might rather share it on his social network or through a messaging app.

The average blogger expects a meaningful discussion on the thoughts and information on his posts but when it comes to treating other bloggers’ posts, he is likely to behave in the same casual way as other social media users do.

In a study quoted elsewhere on this book, D... found that list articles are the most popular types of content that bloggers produce. How-to guides are the second most popular type of posts. Other types, in decreasing importance, are case studies, opinion pieces, infographics, research, product reviews, news, interviews and roundup posts...

How to choose the best web host for your blog/ website?

[If you are new to blogging or are a new website owner and are still learning the basics, I will advise you to visit this article on web hosting and domain name basics before you move on.]

There are a number of web hosts available in 2020, and most of them have a number of plans suiting different requirements.This article explains the main categories of web hosting plans offered by most web hosts and which plan should a blogger/ website own should select.

What is free web hosting and how can I host a website or blog free of cost?

Free hosting of blogs is available from major blogging platforms such as Wordpress, Blogger, LiveJournal, Tumblr and Medium, as well as on Quora, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Blogger is the most versatile of them, and gives you free hosting even when you buy the domain name from another service provider. (That means, if you have a blog and you map it to a domain name, Blogger won't charge you for that!) Blogger allows advertisements on your blog while Wordpress does not allow that in free version. (You can always upgrade it and get more facilities.) Blogs on other free platforms allow you to just post your stuff; no ads, no monetization, no or limited customization.

The beauty of the biggest of these free blogging platforms (Wordpress, Blogger) is that not only they host your blog, they also have a powerful yet simple content management system that allows you to format your posts, put photos, and customize the blog in many ways. They also give your blog a very robust security.

Free website hosting: Blogs also are websites, but other types of websites cannot be hosted on free blogging platforms. There are many free web hosting providers for non-blog websites, and they have many limitations of bandwidth, total space, up-time etc and may run their own advertisements on your site.

What is paid web hosting? What are self hosted blogs?

Except when you open your blog/ website on a free platform, you need to host it on some server on the www. (More on hosting basics in the linked post.). Blogs hosted this way are called self hosted blogs. The agency that hosts the website or blog is called web host or web hosting firm.

All major web hosts offer a number of plans. These come with different sets of resources, security, back-up, server management, customer service, etc and they cost accordingly. Paid plans can be fitted in these major categories:

Shared web hosting

This is the most common hosting plan, and can have many sub-plans and add-ons. In this type, a web server is shared by many clients (bloggers and website owners) and therefore the cost to individual client is a fraction of the total cost of maintaining that server.

You should go for this type of plan if you are a new blogger or a small business blogger with not much traffic on the blog/ website. 

Re-seller web hosting

In this type of web hosting, a big hosting company sells its space to techies or small companies and they are allowed to sell the space to small users. Often, the re-sellers add their own personalized services on top of those given by the big host.

Because the re-sellers make bits out of big plans and sell them to small website/ blog owners, re-seller plans can be very cheap - even cheaper than shared web hosting. However, since the re-sellers are not resourceful people, they cannot give good customer support or quickly deal with emergencies. Scaling the plan upwards may also be difficult. So, my advice would be to avoid re-seller hosting and not fall for low cost.

Virtual private server (VPS) hosting

This web hosting utilizes 'virtualization' to create virtual machines which are then given exclusively to clients. Since the server belongs to the website owner and dedicated resources such as space and bandwidth are allocated to him, he does not run the risk of the blog opening slow or becoming unavailable because of other clients' activities.

web hosting servers
Web hosts have huge servers and strong internet network.

A medium-level website owner or blogger does not need to go beyond this type of hosting. One can even have ecommerce activity and thousands of visitors a day in a VPS hosting plan.
The hosting types ones given below are more for general knowledge of web hosting.

Colocated (=collocated) web hosting

In this type of web hosting, the website owner purchases a server and locates it in the network of a web host. This needs specialized technical knowledge of running web servers and networks. Big companies and governments usually have this type of web hosting arrangement.

Managed server hosting

When the website owner needs lots of web space and resources but does not have a full-fledged technical team to do every aspect of web server management, he can ask the web hosting company to provide resources and also full technical support. In this case, the website owner pays for exclusive support in addition to the collocated / VPS hosting charges.

Dedicated hosting

This is very expensive type of web hosting and of course is highly reliable and gets the best resources. This suits big companies with huge websites/ portals and enormous amount of traffic. The servers as well as web services belong to the hosting company (unlike collocation) but the client uses them exclusively. For such high-end server management, though the hosting company gives support, the client must also have a dedicated team for taking care of web server management, which is a highly technical job.

Cloud hosting

This is nothing but the hosting company having servers across a very large area (even across the globe), which share resources among themselves and thus remove the risk of service deficiencies that come from one or a few servers physically located together. Your website on cloud servers will have its mirror images on many servers so that in case of any issue in one, the other ones take over. These are also very useful when one needs less or more resources 'on demand' or needs to provide for sudden escalation of demand.

These days like other cloud-based web services, cloud hosting has become popular and is getting cheaper. So, most web hosts are offering shared/ dedicated plans on cloud, at competitive rates.

Hybrid hosting solutions

Since the top rung of services can have a mix of leasing, management, placing the servers and services on the cloud, we can call them as hybrid solutions. Top companies have the muscle and different levels of in-house resources to negotiate terms with web hosting companies, and the resultant plans can range from just leasing data-center hardware to complete web hosting solutions.

Wordpress web hosting

Some web hosting companies have special plans for hosting websites created using Wordpress CMS. They are like other plans, but they have latest Wordpress software installed in them and taken some other technical actions for Wordpress websites/ blogs.

The takeaway from this discussion is,
  • Do not go for free hosting if you want to run your blog/ website for professional or business purposes.
  • If you are a small blogger/ small or medium business, buy a low-level plan, e.g. cloud based shared plan. Go for a slightly higher-end plan among shared plans if your business is growing  fast.
  • See before buying a plan that the host has good reputation, will hand-hold you during setting up process and will do trouble-shooting. Read reviews in forums and blogs. Ensure that the plan will be scaled up when you need more space and bandwidth later (all cloud-based hosting plans will have that built in). If you want to create your blog/ website using Wordpress, check whether the web host has special plans for such websites.

Tips for success in blogging in 2020?

In this article you will not only learn about starting a blog from scratch but also mastering the blogging craft. I have created this post with YOU in mind, especially if:
  • YOU are very new to blogging and don't know anything about this online activity.
  • YOU have a blog with good amount of information but you are poor in technological aspects.
  • YOU want to open a self-hosted blog - not on a free blogging platform.
  • YOU already maintain a blog but it is  not doing well, so you are looking for successful blog ideas.
  • YOU have a personal blog for a long time but you now want to make money out of blogging.

First thing first: Blogging is not hard but it is also not fast!

Please note that for success in blogging, you do not require much knowledge of technology.
Also, don't go blindly for the confusing stuff some people advise (SEO, on page and off page optimization, AMP, schema, markup, etc): they usually show off jargon to scare you so that you buy their services.

However, you need to love your subject and have expertise on that.

You must also be ready to give time to blogging on a regular basis. Success in blogging demands time and energy - and patience: ask any successful blogger if you have doubts.

Arrangement of this long article

This article is long because it is meant to guide you step by step and to explain why some blogging ideas work and some do not. In fact, this is like a big ebook on blogging with many chapters.
You can jump to these chapters and come back where you left, by clicking on links at the bottom of each chapter.

Go to Chapter 1 if you want to open a blog but have little knowledge about blogging.
Go to Chapter 2 if you have expertise on the subject you love, but you are poor in web technology.
Go to Chapter 3 if you want to open a self-hosted blog.
Go to Chapter 4 if you have a personal blog but now you want to do blogging for money.
Go to Chapter 5 if you are looking for tips to make your blog successful, as it is presently not doing well.

key to success in blogging


I want to start blogging but don't know much about it.

Before moving any further, let me assure you that you do not need any technical skills or someone's assistance for opening a blog.

I would suggest that you open a blog on Blogger. This is a free blogging platform. Blogger is also very simple to learn and so I recommend this platform for opening a new blog. In this article, I have given steps on how to open a blog and improve its looks within just a few minutes. But read that article carefully and do not be in a hurry - that will help you understand the basics of blogging.

Once you know how to create a simple blog, experiment with it. On Blogger itself, you can open more blogs to see which design or style works the best for you.

There is another good platform, Wordpress, for such experimentation with starting a blog. Once you are comfortable with blogging on Blogger platform, open an account on Wordpress and make a blog there. The options are similar to Blogger but may work slightly differently. Experiment on Wordpress also with 2-3 blogs. If you like this one better than Blogger, go for it.

There are other popular platforms, e.g. Tumblr and Medium. If you just want to give information or advice on the subject of your choice but are not interested in giving your blog a special look or making money out of it, I would suggest Medium. It is simple and without fuss - a great place for writers and readers.

Once you have made up your mind, stick to the platform and stick to only one blog.

Once you are comfortable with basics of blogging, visit other chapters of this article and the links given here and there. These will take you to the next steps: how to make the blog visible on search engines, how to bring traffic to the blog, how to make money from blogging, etc.

Jump back: how to start a blog.


I have a blog with lots of information but I don't know web technology.

Don't worry at all! As a blogger, you should become master of the subject, not of technology.

When you open a blog just for keeping information in it, you need not bother about technology. If you feel like applying a new background color, adding some widgets sand doing search optimization (SEO) yourself and your blog is on a free blogging platform (Blogger or Wordpress), let me assure you that these platforms have enough screen-based options for these little tasks. You can learn some tasks easily by clicking on the menu items in the blog dashboard. If you get confused, I have posted articles on starting and maintaining blogs here and you can make use of them  (Click on 'blogging' in the right sidebar).

If you're thinking of starting a blog for a more serious purpose (e.g. earning from it or for professional works), you must look at the blog as a business or self-employment. For such professional blogging, knowing technology helps in doing additional tasks. If that is your goal, I will advise you to open the blog on Wordpress CMS rather than free Blogger, Wordpress or Medium platforms. (If you are very new to blogging, start with what I have recommended in Chapter I above and then come back.)

In all cases (free or self-hosted blog), you will need to learn some techniques (not the coding/ technology behind them) for introducing important feature on the blog. These are no more difficult than sending a location map or taking a photo on your mobile phone. If you do not know them, you feel helpless at times, isn't it? Now that you have started blogging, it will help you greatly if you quickly learn such techniques within the blogging platform or website-builder that you use.

You will need to learn additional techniques for web hosting, registering domain name, web security etc in case you decide to open an independent blog (more on it in the next Chapter).

Then there are some blogging actions that need a some knowledge of HTML, but not too much. On some Wordpress themes/ plugins, even these are menu-based and do not require any knowledge of a web language. Some examples of such blog-features are:

  • Headline tags: these help in highlighting keywords.
  • Alt attributes on images: the ALT text makes images visible to search engines, otherwise search engines find it difficult to know the subject of images.
  • Rich cards: these help the blog comes high on search results when people search for local products/ services.

A somewhat higher knowledge of HTML and CSS (a language that is used for adding styles on web pages) is needed if you want to play with base code of the website. If you want to learn a bit of HTML and CSS, there are great tutorials on the web. I found this one very easy to understand.

Options if you are a technology-averse blogger

If you want to keep your blog modern in terms of technology and features but fear/ hate technology, you need not learn technology at all! Yes, you can succeed as a blogger without knowing even a bit of technology. These are the options before you:

* If you've created your blog blog jsut for hobby, don't bother about tech.

* If you want to maintain your blog professionally.

  • Either learn technology bit by bit. You can decide to learn HTML and CSS if your blog is on Blogger. If your blog is on Wordpress, a bit knowledge of PHP helps in sprucing up blogs there. There are many tutorials on the web on these web languages.
  • Or learn technology like a pro. You can join a course on web technology, either online or in a technology institution. Basic web technology is not difficult and even a matriculate can learn enough of it with some practice. 
  • Or hire a specialist. If you want someone to design a blog, you will need the services of a web developer. He will also set up the blog and help with domain name registration and web hosting. For search engine optimization, you might think of hiring an SEO expert - but that is optional, as this article on SEO would show you.  
Jump to the beginning: blogging basics.


I want to open a self-hosted blog, not one on a free blogging platform.

When the blogger creates a blog, buys a name for the blog and places it as an independent property on the web (not on a free blogging platform), it is called 'self-hosted' blog.

Advantages of self-hosted blogs compared to blogs on free blogging platforms

Free blogging platforms put a number of limitations on the blog. While Blogger is generous, The free plan of Wordpress has many more limitations. Tumbler is even more restrictive, and Medium does not allow any design change. On Blogger, you cannot have unlimited bandwidth or storage space, and you cannot do ecommerce through it though you can put advertisements. On others, you cannot even put advertisements.

On a self-hosted blog, you pay for all resources and therefore you are the boss: you can do whatever you like with the blog in terms of design, content, putting advertisements etc. The limits placed by free blogging platforms do not apply to you.

If you want to create a professional blog and want to earn money from blogging, do not go for a free blog except for experimenting. If you already maintain a free blog, migrate it to a self-hosted blog.

Steps in hosting a blog/ website

You may want to start the blog directly as a self-hosted blog or you might have already created a blog on a free blogging platform and now want to make it self-hosted. Let us handle both the situations separately.

A. Creating a new self-hosted blog

For a new blog (or any other website) to work on the web, you need to (i) get a name (domain name) for the blog so that it can be identified, (ii) place the blog on some computer connected with internet all the time (called 'host'ing of blog/ website) and (iii) create the blog, beautify it and add content to it. There are hundreds of technological actions that are done in the background but you need not bother about them.

For getting a name and hosting the blog, you need the services of a blog hosting service. Blog hosts usually give a complimentary domain name or you can separately buy the domain name from a different domain name registrar.

Bluehost, Godaddy and HostGator are some of the biggest web hosts. GoDaddy is one of the biggest domain name registrars. They have many hosting plans ranging from a few bucks  to many thousand dollars a year depending upon the resources they provide. You can buy a small plan initially and scale it up if your business grows and you need more resources.

You must give the blog a befitting name. The name should be small, memorable, relevant to the subject of the blog. If you want to brand yourself through the blog, you can give it a name that reflects your identity. The name is to be given to the web hosting during the hosting process.

Generally these actions do not need a technical help. If you get stuck during hosting process, the host will help you on chat/ phone/ email. But if you are technology-averse, you can take services of a techie.

Remember that hosting as well as keeping the domain name has to be perpetual and you need to pay fee to the service provider year after year.

Once the blog is hosted and has a name, the real job is in designing the blog well. For creating/ designing the blog, I strongly recommend Wordpress, though there are many website builders or blog making suites available. All the web hosts named above have separate sections for 'Wordpress hosting' customised for Wordpress. Wordpress has all the tools for designing a feature-rich blog/ website. There are many free resources (themes, plugins), and hundreds of experts are available on the Wordpress forums all the time to help you with an issue or guide you on some feature.

B. Shifting from a free blog to a self-hosted blog

If you already have a blog on Blogger/ Wordpress, you can easily shift that blog to a self-hosted Wordpress blog. You need to go to 'settings' menu of the existing blog, export the blog contents as an XML file and then import this file to the new blog.

Keep in mind that the content of the old blog consists of many content pages, media, styles, etc. The text content is generally transferred without much problem, but its formatting and styling, image placement, comments and other elements get disturbed. So, you must check each post/ page individually before publishing them on the new blog.

Back to the beginning of chapter 1, on blogging first time.


I have a personal blog for a long time but I now want to make money from blogging.

The first thing you should do is to decide the subject of your blog. Personal blogs usually are either limited by content (e.g. a poetry blog, a personal literary blog) or cover all things under the earth (e.g. in the same blog, one can write about his hobbies, experiences, and social and political thoughts). Blogs for money earning have to be focused on a subject.

Not all subjects are well-paying. For some years, blogs on finance, travel, food, beauty & fashion, and lifestyle are reported to be generating good income for bloggers.

But you should not decide on the subject based only on their earning potential. You must be passionate about the subject and have expertise on it - otherwise you will get exhausted soon.

As said in the above chapter, one of the thing you must do - when you want to earn money from blogging - is to make the blog a self-hosted blog.

I recommend Wordpress as the website designing tool. Among web hosting services, I have seen many comparisons in which Bluehost was found the best among web hosts. I suggest that you make your decisions after comparing different web hosting plans offered by web hosting companies in your country.

Write quality stuff. Stuff that is well-researched. Information that people are looking for. Advice that can help people. This all needs a lot of research into the subject of the blog. You must also keep improving your expertise as you go along. You must update yourself about new developments in that field.

Do all the necessary promotion and search optimization. However good the blog, you cannot make money if people do not visit your blog. Moreover, you need people who are interested in your subject, not all types of people. You must, therefore, identify the type of visitors you want: students? people wanting to paint their house? people suffering from diabetes? those interested in cheap travel? Find ways to meet people interested in the subject or at least interact with them online. Promote yourself on social media. Be present on web spaces frequented by your visitors. Send link on email or chat apps to interested people. And so on.

Search engine optimization or SEO is a must for blogs created for making money, because despite social media bringing a lot of traffic, search remains a major source of relevant traffic for blogs. You can visit this article if you want to see a list of SEO actions that should be taken/ avoided.

Finally, out of the many ways to monetize the blog, choose the best - those working for your type of blog. Some of these could be:
  • PPC advertisements (e.g. AdSense)
  • Affiliate advertisements (e.g. through ClickBank, CJ)
  • Direct advertisements (= when you get ads directly from a business)
  • Reviews (e.g. reviews of restaurants/ hotels, baby products, music, books) 
  • Paid posts (=when you write posts at a price or after being taken on a guided tour)
  • Using the blog as the base for getting offers (e.g. speaking classes)
  • Selling services and products through the blog (e.g. online courses, ebooks, merchandise)
Successful bloggers in different fields have shared that just blogging does not pay enough, and the blogger needs to tap more than one earning stream (for example, PPC ads and paid posts). It is also seen that all monetization methods do not suit all subjects and all regions. So, the blogger needs to look at the demand (local, in a  broad area or global) for products/ services linked with the blog's subject. For example, a fashion blog may earn very well when it is in English and focuses on New York, but may not earn at all when it is in a local language focuses on a small town in India.

If you are not earning well from the blog even after years of blogging, you might be doing it all the wrong way. Check whether your blog suffers from one or more issues given in the next chapter.


What is the key to success in blogging; why is my blog not doing well though I work hard?

You will already know that success in blogging depends on dozens of factors. When a blog does not succeed, that usually happens because the blogger has ignored one or the other area - or many areas. When a blog does not work well despite the blogger's best efforts, there could be something more deep.

I will suggest that you look at your blog closely and see if one or more of the following issues are pulling it down. Note that your diagnosis may not be perfect; you should diagnose the reason, take corrective action, measure the change... and if the blog still does not work well, you will have to again look at the list. The process must go on till you have found the right answers to your problems.

A. Content issues:
  • Low-quality articles, with poor language or grammatical mistakes. 
  • Very small articles. 
  • Articles not well-researched. 
  • Articles without useful advice or information.
  • Wrong information. Content copy-pasted from other websites.
  • Articles good but no good heading and sub-headings, Bad formatting. Long paragraphs. 
B. Design issues:
  • A poor design that is not appealing.
  • Too small or unreadable text.
  • Too childish design.
  • Poor navigation.
C. Traffic/ engagement related issues:
  • No search engine optimization (SEO) or faulty SEO or undesirable SEO.
  • Not on social networks or not using social media entities properly. 
  • Not engaging with commenters on the blog and other social media accounts.
  • Not promoting the blog at all among people interested in the blog's subject. 
  • Too much self-promotion that irritates and puts off visitors.
D. Improper monetization:
  • Not using different ways of money-making and depending solely on just advertisements.
  • Too many or too few advertisements.
  • Advertisements not placed in proper places.
  • Improper advertisements, unrelated advertisements.
  • Taken wrong action and so the blog has been penalized. Such actions include clicking on ads on one's own blog, asking visitors to click on ads, putting advertisements in a way that fools visitors.
E. Other issues:
  • Blog being on a free platform. That can result in low level of search optimization, low reputation and consequent low traffic/ no money. 
  • Low frequency of updation.
  • No internal links with other resources on the blog.

Jump to chapter I: Start blogging.

If you want to help other new bloggers by clearing their doubts and giving them ideas on being successful in blogging, think of tweeting this post:  

Use semantic search tips for best SEO results

What is Semantic Search?

This expression ‘semantic’ is often heard when people discuss latest SEO practices. It is said that modern search engines are capable of semantic search. If you are new to blogging/ web technology, SEO is search engine optimization or actions that help web pages in being shown high on search results.

To de-jargonize 'semantic', let's see the simple dictionary meaning of this word. This word means ‘relating to meanings of words and phrases’. So, big search engines like Google and Bing do not look at a word or phrase blindly but try to find the true meaning of the word/ phrase used in search query. That's it: semantic search = search based on understanding the meaning of search terms.

Though semantic web was conceived around 2003, it was not until 2013 that the concept was used effectively by search engines. In that year, Google came with its Hummingbird algorithm update and changed the way search was carried out by the search biggies. Till then, search engines depended heavily on keywords that searchers typed on their browsers, and matched these keywords with web pages in their databases. SEO guys stuffed keywords in web pages and easily got them on top of search results. SEO fraudsters even stuffed unrelated keywords within useless content and made it shine in search results. So, the techniques of semantic search have improved search results and made them less prone to manipulation.

For serving the best results, search engines now try to give the searcher the most relevant results, not depending on exact matching of keywords. To succeed in this, search engines must find:
  • The real intention behind the search query and
  • Web pages where the best content regarding the query is located. 
Search engines are increasingly using machine learning to guess the search intention better. Machine learning is when the software 'learns' based on examples and earlier data and keeps improving its own capabilities. The search software are constantly getting better also in processing the way humans speak. So, it is logical to expect that search engines use these new technologies in finding the real meaning of queries as well as the real content in web pages.

semantic search on blogs
Search engines must understand query, find best answers.

What is the real meaning or semantics of a search query?

So as to find the real intent behind a search query, search engines use many signals, including
  • Recent history of searches made from that browser.
  • Probable meaning of the search phrase going by the main keyword and qualifying or additional expressions.
  • Whether variations or synonyms of the words in the query occur in the same article/ website.
  • What others have been searching for, using the same or similar search queries.
  • Location of the searcher. 
  • Formatting (e.g. captitalization, use of 'the' before a word).
  • Etc. etc. 
To visualize how a modern search engine works to find the intent of the searcher, let us take a simple example:

If I write ‘net’ on the Google search box and press 'enter', Google will try to find what type of ‘net’ I am looking for.

I actually typed ‘net’ on Google and found that it threw results relating to NET [the National Eligibility Test (NET) in which many people in my region right now are interested and must have searched for]; then came websites of some prominent bands offering net banking; then the Wikipedia page on Net; then .Net, Netflix, etc.

If I type 'How can I crack net?', it gives results only relating to NET.

Did you notice that it did not give any result on different types of nets such as fishnet or mosquito net. Then I typed ‘net catch’ and, as expected, got all results on fishing nets. Google's machines know that when someone types 'catch' and 'net' together in the search box, he is wanting to know about nets used for catching fish etc. but when he types 'crack', he is looking for ways to pass the NET exam.

If I keep going to the fish net websites, in a few days my top search results for 'net' are likely to relate to fish net sites. And yet, because globally and in my location, people would search for NET or internet related websites, it is also likely that websites on fishing net might show up only later.

Search queries have also become complex. Earlier, we used to type specific search terms - because it did not help writing a long sentence to search something. But now people get more specific with search because they know that search engines give more targeted results when we explain the search. In addition, more people now use virtual assistants instead of typing out things. Due to this, the use of voice search is rising - and voice search is all about making queries the way we speak to a friend. See these examples:
  • Earlier: we typed tomato or tomato puree preparation or tomato soup puree (results came according to what you typed: in the first case, about tomato as a plant or crop; second one on recipes; third one comparing the two).
  • Now: we type how to make tomato soup ( will give recipes in search results) or tomato puree (will likely give recipes and also local shop selling tomato puree) or where to get tomato puree (most results will be about shops selling tomato puree) or tomato soup or puree (mixed articles, some with comparison between the two), or tomato (the results will depend upon whether you earlier searched for soup or plants, whether you have been making food orders from that browser, whether you have been searching for botanical names, etc).
  • Voice search: You will ask, Tell me where should I buy tomato puree? (very specific query as if asking a person, and very specific search results: will have a list of shops with location, open timings, even different packs and prices). 
  • If you say or type, Why the soup is not thick when I use tomato puree from McC, the modern search engine will have guessed your intent and will try to show web pages in which there is advice about using puree correctly to get thick soup, and not tomato plant etc.

How does Google decide what to show in response to a search? 

When you type a search query, the search engines does not sprint from your browser to the entire w.w.w. to locate the thing you are looking for. Rather, it has a huge index of web pages in which each web page is tagged with one or more phrases that searchers are likely to use.

So, when I searched for 'net' on Google, it thought that I was perhaps looking for NET test or net banking or .NET or NetFlix, and then served to me the best possible results from its indexes for NET, net banking, etc., especially those suiting to my location. But when I searched for 'crack net', it knew that I wanted to see web pages that advise about passing the NET test. If I used 'cracking NET', that would be one more signal that I was looking for NET and not a net of other types.

Google's index has many thousand web pages even for a highly specific query. For 'net' with the meaning of NET test, its index has 155 million web entities. So, out of these many web pages, Google must then intelligently choose the best ten results for the first search page, then the next ten results and so on.

How Google chooses top web page for search results

As I shared above, search for 'NET examination' or 'cracking net' on Google ten years back would have shown those web pages on top which had these words placed in the title, description and allwhere in the body. But Google today has a complex 'algorithm' or formula that judges each web page for:
  • signals of relevance (e.g. whether the web page discusses NET test in totality, with guidance on how to apply for test, old question papers, tips to solve the examination, etc?) 
  • signals of authority (e.g. whether the web page is well written, whether top websites in testing field link to that page, whether candidates speak highly of that web page, etc?)
These two can still be tweaked or manipulated but not to the extent that happened ten years back. That gives us valuable insight on what type of Search Engine Optimization or SEO is effective now on blogs/ websites.

In the right type of SEO, such actions are taken that improve the visibility of web pages but do not fool search engines into erroneously believing that a web page is of high relevance and authority when it is not. Experts, including Google's own staff and its documentation on the web, suggest that the best SEO is the sum total of actions that are NOT directed towards search engines but are meant to help people in getting the right information or advice or help they seek through search. In addition, there are a number of technical tweaks that goad search engines in ranking a web page higher than others even if they have similar information/ advice/ help.

One last word on indexing here. Google has not perfected search semantics yet, so it shows millions of results in response to a search query. However, the only top ones are important because the searcher hardly goes beyond the first few results. Therefore, Google takes extra care in choosing the top results, and only web pages with very good content and from established websites/ blogs are usually shown as the top results.

How do I rank my blog high on search engines?

Once we know that (i) people are increasingly making more specific queries, (ii) Google and other search engines use tools of semantic search to find real intent behind a search, (iii) search engines also use semantics to index web pages for relevant keywords and (iv) search engines rank high the content that helps the searcher find the information/ advice/ help he needs, we know what type of easy SEO actions we need to take on our blogs/ websites. Even if it is difficult to compete with the top Google results, it is not impossible either, if we write great content and apply right amount and quality of SEO. Let me convert this knowlege into practical action points:
  • Write content that suits one of these intents: buying, information, advice, help in solving a problem.
  • Write valuable content, not copy-pasted one. Develop authority on your subject.
  • Do not stuff the title, description and the body of blog posts with specific keyword. Rather, sprinkle all types of expressions around the topic - as it happens when we explain something to our friend/ colleague/ child.
  • Use different expressions, phrases and synonyms of the main keyword for which you want the blog to be optimized.
  • Don't optimize the blog just for very broad keywords such as 'Indian food' or 'Chinese customs', and also for very narrow ones. Think of a range of broad, narrow and medium sized expressions that people would use in natural language while talking about that subject.
  • Try to give answers to questions that people ask about your subject.
  • Explain concepts.
  • Write detailed articles, at least once in a while, on main topics relating to your subject.
  • Do a bit of extra SEO: place the keyword (for which you want to rank high on Google) in title and search description, but do not use the same expression more than once in these two places. Especially in description, wtite natural sentences; if you feel like, use an additional similar expression. Use heading tags in text, alt tags on images. Connect with reputed blogs/ websites/ social media entities so that they talk about you and link your blog on their websites. You can visit this article for a list of ethical SEO techniques.
  • Link your blog with web entities that relate to your subject: that will make Google understand what your blog actually relate to. If you review toys, your blog has links to toy manufacturers and you also have knowlege articles on toys, Google will index your web pages and mark them relevant to toys. If you sell toys and people make positive comments on social media about your shop and toys, your blog will come up high in local searches even if you have less content on the blog as compared to others' websites.
  • If you are into selling a product or service, you might need the help of an SEO expert because some additional tweaking is needed, which becomes a bit technical. Choose the SEO firm or expert carefully - if they claim to put you on the top of Google search pages and maintain your position on top, they are bluffing - that is what Google also cautions against. 
If you are new to search engine optimization, you might like to visit this article answering many questions on SEO that come in the mind of bloggers.
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