Promote Your Blog: A Genealogist’s Potluck Guide

Postcard picnic Royal brand fish delicacies

Chromolithograph print, “Royal Brand” fish delicacies, advertising card, Boston Public Library, Collection of images on Flickr.

My favorite genealogy resource is my blog, Cow Hampshire. It is not just a place where I write and share genealogy and history stories about New Hampshire. My blog is a place where I gather new information from guests who comment.  My blog is also the medium where I can acknowledge other bloggers, and share resources with them–from genealogy research sites to collections of copyright-free graphics and primary documents.

A genealogy blog is much like a picnic–you bring the basket full of goodies, spread the blanket, and people arrive anxious to feast on your knowledge, right? This premise isn’t true at all, but there are simple things you can do to attract and engage more readers. It only takes ten changes or additions to what you probably do now, to better promote your blog, and attract your audience, like ants. In this case, you want the uninvited guests along with the invited.

Saved Again By Those Waistbands. Advertising Card

Saved again by those waist bands. They can’t give. Mayflower. Stark’s ‘unique’ waist band. 1870-1900 advertising card, Boston Public Library, Print Department, on Flickr.

I avoid marketing terms and internet geek-speak in the following guidelines. You don’t need to be a business major to save your blog from oblivion.

The following guidelines address the needs of Genealogy Bloggers who do not sell anything and want to increase their readership. The for-profit blogger or website would, however, also benefit from following these same suggestions. I do not promote any specific product or service, and if I mention any here, it is because I use them myself and find them of value.

Most of your blog visitors arrive on your blog after they type in a question or keyword into a search engine prompt, and have a results list to choose from. Now it makes complete sense, that improving your blog’s search engine performance is the most important action you can take. Where your blog listing shows up on that first Google “results” page often decides whether someone reads your story or reads someone else’s instead.

Not everyone reading your blog is going to be a researcher. They won’t spend a great deal of time looking at every search engine result. So you want your blog to show up in the top 7, and even better in the first 3. Follow these guidelines and you will be on your way to the top.


A page from Harry Houdini's Scrapbook

This shows a page from Harry Houdini’s Scrapbook, compiled by his good friend Quincy Kilby (1854-1931). Harry Houdini was an American Illusionist and stunt performer (1874-1926). From the Boston Public Library, Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, on Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.

1. LINKS AND BACKLINKS. There are no stunts, no smoke, no mirrors that work better than links. The number of links (URLS) TO your blog gives you big points, and a higher standing from search engines. These links can be from websites or  other blogs. A rapidly growing resource has been those using social media to read and SHARE blogs, such as FaceBook and Twitter. Family History groups are thriving on both sites as a result.

2. QUALITY with UNIQUE CONTENT. It is perfectly fine to be inspired by someone’s post and write your own.  It is not fine to copy the article or re-post it in its entirety even with credit (one exception is if you have written permission). Google prefers fresh, brand new information that people like to read. Posting 1 article per week is good, 2 is great and 3 or more is amazing. More is better. Consider quality over quantity–unique and relevant material always. If you don’t have enough time to write your own content, consider adding a guest blogger. If you are concerned about your writing skills, Grammarly can be very helpful.

Girls; Women; Baked products; Yeast

Chromo-lithograph: If you want to make perfect bread use no other than Magic Yeast, 1895. Boston Public Library Print Department, Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.

3. MAGIC NUMBER IS 250. Posts that are 250 words or more will rank better in the search engines and appear higher. Try to include 2-3 mentions of the keywords you are targeting for that story, but not too many more times. The search engine bots are smart and will spot a word spam cheater and your ‘rank’ will drop, not rise in the search results. So before you write your story, type the major words/keywords you want to convey, and use them in the body of your story.

4. PUSH MY SOCIAL MEDIA BUTTON. Social media ‘buttons’ allow your visitors to share your blog content with interested friends and family. Facebook and Twitter buttons are a must on your blog. Besides those two, I include the button options for Email, Print, Pocket and Flipboard (the latter being my latest social media test area). To this listing of buttons, add your favorite social media. [Editor’s Note: I like Pocket because it an app used by smartphone users to save stories to read later].  You have just made your blog more interactive.

Vmil advertisement

Print: Be with him at every mail call. V-mail is private, reliable, patriotic. Lejaren A. Hiller, photographer, United States Army Recruiting Publicity Bureau, 1945. Boston Public Library, Print Department, on Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.

5. GAIN EMAIL DEVOTEES. Most readers are not going to visit your blog every day. They lead busy lives and have other things to do. Give your followers an email option, so they will be notified when you next post a story. Make it easy to sign up, and also to remove them from that list.

6. KEYWORD & TITLE POWER. “Captain John Smith’s Monument on Star Island,” is a better title than “Old Sailor Buried off Coast.” Consider what words people might use to search for your story, and incorporate those words in your title, category and keyword options. Google likes when you do this. Make sure that your photographs or graphics have ALT information, embedded information or captions to identify them.

7. COMMENTS PLEASE. Make sure that visitors to your blog have an EASY way to leave a comment. If they have to join something to comment, they probably won’t. If your blog post itself asks a question or seeks help with a problem, it will increase the likelihood of someone adding a comment. When you COMMENT on other people’s blogs with a link back to your own blog URL to encourage cross-commenting.  DO moderate your posts.  Adult words that show up on your site will cause problems (see #8).

8. IT IS ABOUT THE NAME, WHAT?  If your blog already has a well-established title, then by all means, keep it. If not, then seriously consider using a title specific to your blog goals and audience. The WORDS in your blog’s name, along with your blog description and story title will all factor into how high on the Google results page your blog listing will end up. There are two types of words to avoid at all costs in your story titles: stop words and filter words. Stop words are “adult” words, while filter words are “a, about, an, and, are, as, at, be, by, from, how, I, in, is, it, of, on, or, that, the, this, to, was, we, who, what, when, where, which, will, with, and www. Google may block your post because of the first option (adult words), and will just pass over the filter words when indexing.

Lithograph Glens Island Picnic

Lithograph advertising card: Starin’s Glen Island, Long Island Sound. A day summer resort, Five Points, NY, Donaldson Brothers; 1870-1900;Boston Public Library, Print Department. Some Rights Reserved.

9. BE RESPONSIVE. A “responsive” blog is one that it can be easily viewed, read, and interacted with on a smartphone or tablet. 68% of Americans Have smartphones; 45% have tablet computers [Pew research]. Blogger has a built in option to show you how your blog will look on a smartphone. There are many responsive WordPress templates, and plug-ins for some old templates if you don’t want to change. To see if your blog is responsive, and how it looks on a variety of monitors, tablets, and smartphones, type in your blog URL at Screenfly and choose the smartphone or tablet of your choice.

10. KEEP BLOGGING. Don’t give up if you don’t get the results you want immediately. You have lots of competition, and often persistence wins. Good content over time will push you higher in the search engine rankings, place you better in the search results, will engage your readers in conversation, and create loyal fans who will return, bringing friends with them.

[Editor’s additional note: I have been researching genealogy for over 35 years.  I have been a genealogy blogger for 10 years.  With all this experience, I am still learning, and I hope you are too.  If you feel that I have missed an essential point, or you have an idea for better blogging, I would be honored if you would share it in the comments.  Please also join my email listing, from the bottom right-hand column of this blog.]

P.S. This blog post was written as a story as part of The August 2016 Genealogy Blog Potluck Picnic! It is also a great example of #1 in my guidelines, about links and backlinks.

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25 Responses to Promote Your Blog: A Genealogist’s Potluck Guide

  1. Great post Janice! I added Email and Pocket buttons to the Share this button line-up. Question: What about the “Press This” button? Is this something you would recommend?

    • Janice Brown says:

      The ‘Press This’ button is based on a marketing premise that making your blog interactive, and giving people some way to connect with you, is a priority (it’s a good premise). But before you place one, Ihave to ask you what your “Press This” button would do that your other buttons already don’t.

  2. Very valid points! I have been blogging for 7 years and I have owned my genealogy domain for 5 years… Although, I am fairly rubbish at search engine stuff!

    There is a great plug-in for WordPress (self hosted) called Yoast SEO which gives you a ‘score’ for your post based on your desired key words and content.

    Oh and I will have to pop over to the Picnic in a minute.

  3. Amy says:

    Great post, Janice. The one I blew was the title. I picked Brotmanblog long before I even thought about anyone other than my Brotman cousins reading it. But now I am “stuck” with it. I think most people find my blog by typing in the name of a person they are researching. I never think about using keywords within the post (just in tags and categories), but I think they naturally appear. And I’ve often wondered: when I do a Google search for someone I am researching, I always get many hits back to my own blog. Is that because it’s my blog or would anyone typing that search request get the same results?

    Thanks for these tips!

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, I would say that the title of the blog becomes more important if you want to make money from it. My own blog has only half the name of New Hampshire which is my primary focus, because my blog started off as just a personal mish-mash of photographs, poems and personal interests. I would not change the title now for anything because people recognize it. Same for your blog name. As for search results, you should be getting the same results that other people get. Thank you very much for being a faithful reader and for asking great questions.

      • I am sorry, but I have to disagree that you get the same results as other people in searches. Google has all kinds of fancy algorithms that try to give you things similar to what you have viewed before. You can check it by sitting side by side with someone else and both type in the same search term.

        They also have a little button at the top that lets you choose universal or local results. Default is local, so you type carwash you’ll get hometown carwashes.

        This is an excellent article! I’ve also been blogging for 10 years, although not all in genealogy, and you know your stuff.

        • Janice Brown says:

          I agree with you partially. I agree that Google is using various methods to provide you with material related to your last search. However depending on your browser settings, which browser you are using, whether you are using an anonymous browser, whether you clear your cache regularly and if you are not in the United States, are the biggest factors in getting different results. If you can show me a clear cut example of where a search for a specific set of keywords (for a result that shows up in the top 3 for you) turned up two completely different set of results, I would be delighted to see those findings. I love your feedback and I’d really like to see an example of this. Which browser do you use by the way, just curious.

        • Janice Brown says:

          Vera, here is a great story about what the Google Personalization does and doesn’t do, and how you can change it.

        • I have tried searching for my families, far from home on computers that would have no reason to recognize me and I still get many of my own blog hits. In fact, a staff person at the Family History Library was helping me with Slovak research and asked what village I was searching. She “showed” me how to search for it using Google and excitedly told me that someone else was also searching the same place. When I looked, the hits were all tied into my blog posts about Udol, the little village.

  4. Janice, Thanks for your tips. I just downloaded Grammarly to use with my word processing program.

  5. Marilyn says:

    Great post! I am an ex-blogger, just about things in general, however I LOVE researching my roots, and that is how I came across your blog! Both sides of my family were from New England. Mostly Maine (Waldron, Gerrish, Call) and NH (Bolles, Parker, Blake, etc.) Having the maiden name Bowles/Bolles I find my DNA goes back to the later 1600’s to Wells, Maine and early Sugar Hill, NH. As for mom’s side Portsmouth and Kittery were home base. She was a cousins to the Mayors of Portsmouth Mary Dondero and Eileen Foley, through her Irish roots, of which you wrote a great post. Just want to say I enjoy your posts, keep on blogging!!

    • Janice Brown says:

      Marilyn, thank you for your kind words. I read every comment to my blog, and when people offer me great story suggestions I try to follow through, though is may take a bit of time to collect and write a good story. I recognize most of your family names so I know they have appeared somewhere on my blog. And yes, I wrote about Mary Dondero mostly. She was an amazing woman. I knew of her daughter, Eileen, of course, but it was even more exciting to realize that she surely inherited some great genes from her mom.

  6. I loved this post – and your name intrigued me to go and read. Thanks for blogging such interesting tidbits and I’m storing them in my genealogy picnic basket.

  7. crgalvin says:

    Hi there – great tips. Perhaps you could add check the settings for how a blog appears on mobile devices. On iPad in both Chrome and Safari, (all software up to date) your blog appears in a long skinny column, very difficult to read even when I chose View full site.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Approving your comment even though I did mention this briefly. With such a high percentage of people using mobile devices, it is always good to reinforce that you need to make your blog responsive. Cow Hampshire was not built using a responsive template, but I have added some tweaks to it that make it close enough for me. I read it from my cell phone and tablet so it hopefully is working for most others the same way. Thanks for the comment and suggestions. Maybe some day I will get brave enough to change my entire template, but not today!

      • crgalvin says:

        As I mentioned later, I think it was a glitch on my end. Once I logged off Facebook it showed up properly on the ipad, does not appear to be your problem, but mine.

  8. Marian Wood says:

    Your top 10 list is a great addition to the Gen Blog Potluck Picnic. My blogiversary #8 is coming up this week, and I’m still learning–thanks to kind folks like you, who are willing to “dish” about their experience. Thanks!

  9. Excellent post to add to this picnic. I had read it earlier when it appeared in my feedly, as I follow your blog.

  10. Great tips for current and future bloggers! Thank you for sharing and for participating in the August Genealogy Blog Party! 🙂

  11. Pingback: This week’s crème de la crème — August 27, 2016 | Genealogy à la carte

  12. akellmurr72 says:

    Great ideas here for bloggers. I enjoyed reading. If I could go back in time when I was naming my blog, I probably would have chosen a shorter name. Oh well. Hindsight is always 20/20.

    • Janice Brown says:

      As I mentioned earlier, my own blog name is a bit vague however after 10 years people recognize it. If you have the ability to add a subtitle, such as, Blog Name, then subtitle, a genealogy blog about …… you should do that!

  13. Wanda says:

    Your point #3, that posts should be at least 250 words and emphasize key words (something I definitely need to practice), is interesting. I can just barely express a thought in 250 words! I’m wondering, though, whether you recommend an upper limit word count.

    P.S. Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier today.

  14. Susan Donaldson (Scotsue) says:

    Very useful points, that are always worth reiterating. Like Amy, I have had reservations on my choice of title “Family History Fun” . I wanted to get FH into the name from the point of search engines – a bit crazy I know now, given the huge amount of FH sites. The “Fun” term was meant to reflect my enthusiasm plus the pleasure I get from FH – and I rather favour alliteration. But of course much of family history is anything but “fun”, what with losses through war, childbirth, epidemics etc. I am now stuck with the title and, having said all that, my posts do seem to come up on the first page of many searches. Thank you.

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