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.


Author: © Joan Miller - Luxegen Genealogy.

The Luxegen Genealogy and Family History blog presents the family history stories of Joan Miller.