Aug 27 2010

SEO for Beer Bloggers

So search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the many internet marketing things I do for a living, but I don’t let it get into my beer world. I have a blog (you’re reading it right now!) that I am really terrible at updating with any sort of frequency, but I’m not looking to make money or a name for myself with it. It is just for shits and giggles, and for friends and fellow homebrewers who might take an interest in a batch that I’ve recently done.  I’m not mixing business and pleasure.

Having said that, I know there are people out there who want to be found in the search results pages (SERPs), and I’d be doing my fellow beer geeks a disservice if I didn’t share a little knowledge about playing the Google game. And yes, for the rest of this post I will only mention Google. It is still, and will be  for a long time, the 800 million pound gorilla that you need to concern yourself with, and Bing and Yahoo always comply and follow their lead.

And is there a difference between SEO for bloggers and SEO for Beer Bloggers? No, but I like beer bloggers. They are good people. So this is for them.

From a very, very high level, I’ll hit on two easy topics. If there is interest, I can do a few more of these.

1) Using the “Right” Keywords and Making Content “You” Care About

2) <title> tags and Meta Descriptions

Using the “Right” Keywords and Making Content “You” Care About

Businesses spend lots of time figuring out the right keywords for their pages, but they always forget the most important part: use the words that people actually type. Pretty freaking simple, huh? The thing is, you need to look at that during the editing part of blog writing.

If you are writing a post just to pop up in search engine results pages, you will probably not succeed. The topic has to be something that you find interesting. It could be a great question that a friend has asked you that your readers might be curious about, as well. If you find it interesting, then other people will, too, and they will be searching for it.

Write the post and then go back through and look for the big idea and keywords to surface. Think to yourself, “What would I type in a search engine to find this post?” When you have that search phrase, look through the article to see if you have used that phrase and those words.  If you haven’t, then you have a problem that you need to edit yourself though. If you, the author, can’t type a fairly general query and find your own article in the SERPs, there’s reason to think that your readers will either.

Write about a topic that interests you. Something you will have a legitimate amount of energy behind.  Then figure out how to tweak it for search.

<title> tags and Meta Descriptions

The <title> tag is how you are labeling your pages for your readers and for Google. The title tag appears in the blue field above your web browser tool bars. It is also the bold, clickable link for the page in SERPs.

Think of this as making a blatant suggestion to Google as to what the page is about and what keywords you would like the page to rank for. The field is only 65 characters long (including spaces), so make sure all of your words will fit. Also, Google gives more weight to the words in that field from left to right. So put the important words to the far left. In my example above, Rate Beer would be better off putting “Rate Beer” on the far left.

But you don’t need the name of your site in every title tag on your site. Put the name of your blog in the homepage title tag, because that is the place you want users to land when they look for you by name, but you are wasting it on other pages. So, if you have written an article about “The Best Beers from Stone”, DO NOT make your title tag “Your Blog – The Best Beers from Stone.” If you have the space, “The Best Beers from Stone – Your Blog” is just fine.

The title tag should be what the post is about and full the appropriate keywords.  Don’t write a title tag like I would the title of a magazine article.  If I opened up a magazine and there was an article titled, “The Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen”, I would read that. But, on the web, no one types the query “what is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen” into Google. That title tag is doing nothing to help the post rank in SERPs so it can be found by readers in search engines.

The title tag is a very significant factor for your blog post to do well in SERPs, but it should be readable and not a spammy bunch of keywords crammed together.

If you want to convince someone to click on your result, the right field to use is the meta description.  The meta description field will not affect your rankings in anyway, but the words in that 165 character field (including spaces) is the reason why a reader might chose your site over another.

Think of this field as pure marketing. This is where you tell them that they are a click away from the coolest thing they’ve ever seen. A well written meta description adds to the “clickability” of your page.  In the example above, Rate Beer has a compelling meta description. Sell your post to the searchers out there.

How do you change your title tags and meta descriptions? It depends on your platform.  It is simple to do as you are creating a post with WordPress and an SEO plug-in. (I use WordPress and All in One SEO Pack) Unfortunately, you’ll have to poke around and find out how to get to your own.

Is this helpful? I can do a few more of these if there is interest. Just let me know and give me some feedback.

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Aug 26 2010

Belgian Pale Ale Homebrew

This one is a Belgian Pale Ale.  These are light session beers that are perfect for the absurd summer weather we’ve been having here in Virginia.  I think when most people think of Belgian beers, their first thought is of big, heavy and complex dubbels, tripels, Belgian strong ales and quads. Those are great styles, but they are a little challenging when you just want to turn off and chill out.

The Belgian pale ale is something easy and refreshing that you would enjoy drinking while sitting outside at a café in Brussels. I’ve done just that and it is amazing.

I went a little experimental with this one in that I used the limited edition Wyeast Leuven yeast. (Rumor has it that this is the yeast used by Corsendonk.) It is a little outside the norm, but it seemed like an interesting choice.

I liked how this brewed turned out overall. It is orange with some straw highlights. There are some malt notes, but the clearer taste characters show up as pear and some peppery spice.

If I would change anything about this brew, I’d ferment it a little warmer. I keep this one cooler than a normal ale (~66°F) to keep it balanced, but I’d like to see what letting this one go hot and wild would do. Belgian strains thrive on conditions that stall most yeast strains. Doing so would have made this one a little less…subtle.

I named it “They’re Filming Midgets!” To fully understand that line, your homework would be to check out the infinitely quotable In Bruges movie.

If you are interested, the recipe is below. Why was half of my base malt Canadian pilsner? No good reason, really.  I had won 5 lbs of it from the Devil’s Backbone in a homebrew competition and thought I’d throw that it in there in place of some of the Belgian Pils.

They’re Filming Midgets! – (Belgian Pale Ale)

Starting Gravity: 1.054 (7/5/10)

Final Gravity:  1.014 (8/2/10) Days    

5.3% alcohol (by volume)

Apparent Attenuation: 73.2%    

Real Attenuation: 60.0%

Mash (65 minutes ~153°)

5 lb Canadian Pils

5 lb Belgian Pils

0.75 lb Caramunich

0.50 lb Belgian Biscuit

Boil (90 min)

1.3 oz/39 grams East Kent Goldings (5.9% AA) Pellet Hops (60 min)                

0.3 oz/10 grams East Kent Goldings (5.9% AA) Pellet Hops (0 min)                

Primary (66º F)  

Wyeast 3538 Leuven Pale Ale (Starter Made 7/3/10)

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Aug 22 2010

Smoked Baltic Porter – Iron Brewer Competition Beer

I’m in the third round of the Iron Brewer competition, which was started by Peter from Simply Beer.  The concept is really interesting and, much like the Iron Chef show, there are mysterious ingredients that you need to use in the batch.  

In Round 3, the required ingredients are:

1)       Centennial Hops

2)      Vanilla Beans

3)      Smoked Malt

In all honesty, smoked beers are the only styles that I haven’t gotten my head around just yet. But I decided to homebrew all of the BJCP styles a few years ago and I needed to get to these challenging beers eventually. This friendly competition is the perfect reason to get my feet wet. 

So, in looking at the possible beers I could make, I immediately thought of a smoked porter or brown ale. But that honestly made too much sense. I know a few of the other brewers in this round and they make very good beer. The pressure was on so, I decided I needed to do something bigger and more foolish. In other words, I needed to go big or go down trying.

In looking at the hot trends, Great Divide and Surly brewing both make a smoked Baltic porter. That proposes a few problems. I didn’t have any frame of reference for concocting a recipe, I had never tried either beer, and Baltic porters are actually lagers which take longer to make and age than the timeline of the Iron Brewer round allows. For all those legitimate reasons NOT to make it, I decided I had to make a smoked Baltic porter.

Looking at the broad breakdown of the Surly Smoke, I used that beer (which, again, I’ve never tried) as the springboard for my Iron Brewer entry. It veered away from the traditional Baltic porter ingredients in favor of American 2-Row malt and some amount of flaked oats.  I decided to use those grains but, also, to pull in a more traditional base malt like Munich and the required smoked Bamberg malt. I could have gone small on the Bamberg, but I wanted the smoke to be apparent and not hidden behind the other ingredients.

After that, using the centennial hops for bitterness and the vanilla bean at the end of the boil were simple decisions. And, although I could have made the smart move and gone with a San Fran lager yeast for a faster steam-like fermentation, a chose the Saflager 23 since I had little time to build up a huge liquid yeast starter.

So the final grains where American 2-Row, flaked oats, smoked malt, chocolate malt and Munich malt.

The mash was uneventful and lasted 70 minutes at 150 degrees.

Mmmmm. Rolling boil.

It was pitched into a 6 gallon carboy and shot with pure oxygen before pitching the yeast.

The recipe is listed below, but I’m not sure what final tweaks I will put on this batch. Depending on the taste of the beer, post-fermentation, I may add some oak, which would complement the vanilla. I might siphon off a gallon and dry hop that with bacon, as well. 

Recipe: Smoked Baltic Porter
Style: Other Smoked Beer

Recipe Specifics
—————-
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 17.50
Anticipated OG: 1.075 (Plato: 18.15)
Anticipated SRM: 37.4
Anticipated IBU: 52.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 69 %
Wort Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain/Extract/Sugar
—————
9.00 lbs. Pale Malt (2-row)
2.00 lbs. Munich Malt
5.00 lbs. Smoked (Bamberg)
0.50 lbs. Flaked Oats
1.00 lbs. Black Patent Malt

Mash
—————-
One Step Mash Held at 150 F for 65 minutes
Batch Sparge

Boil
—————-
60 Min Boil
15 Min One Whirlfloc Tablet
10 Min 1/2 tsp Wyeast Brewer’s Choice Nutrient Blend
10 Min One Vanilla Bean (Sliced in half, scraped)

Hops
—————-
1.75 oz. Centennial Pellet 8.00% 60min.
0.50 oz. Willamette Pellet 5.00% 15 min.

Fermentation
—————-
2 Packages of Saflager S-23
60 Sec of pure oxygen
Starting fermentation at 53 F
Diacytel rest when 80% fermented
Lagering as long as I can

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Aug 11 2010

Homebrewed Citra Pale Ale

Citra is a hot, new hop that is used by Sierra Nevada to make their Torpedo IPA, and I finally got around to brewing with it a few months ago.  It is big in alpha acids (weighing in between 10% and 12%) and, although it is a citrus hop, Citra leans less towards the grapefruit and more towards the mango and pineapple side of the spectrum.

I decided to put it into an American pale ale, and to do some hop bursting at the end of the boil with Citra, as well as dry hopping a big dose of it to get a clearer view of its character. Although, as usual, I mixed in another hop to create a little complexity.  And I tried to kick up the malt by using Maris Otter, rather than the standard American 2-row malt that is common to the APA style.

The fermentation and bottling went uneventfully, and I was happy with how this batch turned out. The hop flavor and aroma from the Citra was firm and refreshing. Mangos, apricots (from the Amarillo, I suspect) and a background note of pineapple.

The only things I would look at if I were to revisit this recipe are the malt and the style. The malt didn’t come through as much as I usually like, so cutting back the late and dry hops would help. I might add a little more Munich malt, as well. Also, this one walked the line between an APA and an IPA. The previous reduction of late hops might bring it back into style….if you care about style. And I don’t.

All and all, a very solid beer.  Full of character and very refreshing.

The Recipe:

Citra Pale Ale

10-A  American Ale, American Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics

—————-

Batch Size (Gal):         5.50    Wort Size (Gal):    5.50

Total Grain (Lbs):       13.00

Anticipated OG:          1.058    Plato:             14.23

Anticipated SRM:           8.0

Anticipated IBU:          58.2

Brewhouse Efficiency:       65 %

Wort Boil Time:             60    Minutes

Grain/Extract/Sugar

   %     Amount     Name                          Origin        Potential SRM

—————————————————————————–

 80.8    10.50 lbs. Pale Malt(2-row)      Great Britain  1.038      3

  7.7     1.00 lbs. Victory Malt                 America        1.034     25

  5.8     0.75 lbs. Munich Malt                Germany        1.037      8

  5.8     0.75 lbs. Wheat Malt                   America        1.038      2

Potential represented as SG per pound per gallon.

Hops

   Amount     Name                         Form    Alpha  IBU  Boil Time

—————————————————————————–

  0.60 oz.    Magnum                    Pellets   14.40  33.8  60 min.

  1.00 oz.    Citra                            Pellets   11.10   8.7  10 min.

  0.50 oz.    Amarillo Gold            Pellets    8.00  15.7  10 min.

  1.00 oz.    Citra                            Pellets   11.10   0.0  0 min.

  2.00 oz.    Citra                            Pellets   11.10   0.0  Dry Hop

Yeast

Safale US-05

Mash Schedule

Mash Type: Single Step

Held 75 Minutes at 152°

Final Specs:

————-

Starting Gravity: 1.058

Final Gravity:  1.010

6.4% alcohol ABV

Apparent Attenuation:  82%

Real Attenuation: 67.2%

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