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Don't be intimidated by doing SEO on your blog. These tips and tools will help set the foundation for a successful blog that could become a prominent lead and sales source for your business in 2017.
Blog search engine optimization, or SEO, is simply the process of creating a blog that's easy for search engines (like Google) to find and understand. There's no magic button or secret trick that's going to push you to the top of search results overnight. Optimizing your blog for SEO is a never-ending process. The way Google decides which sites deserve to rank and ultimately receive the traffic you want is constantly changing.
However, some practices should always be followed and aren't going anywhere anytime soon. That's what this guide will show you. If you do everything on this page, you can bet you're probably doing more optimization than many of your competitors.
Here's the checklist we're going to go through at a glance. Feel free to skip around if there's a specific section you're looking for help with. If not, keep reading to look at these a little more in-depth, one by one.
Before you even begin thinking about post optimization, you'll want to ensure you have a solid, fast loading site to start with. And your hosting is a big part of that. Suppose your site gets a lot of traffic or uses many scripts and plugins that eat bandwidth. In that case, a shared hosting environment is probably not going to cut it. Even if you aren't ready to leap dedicated servers, a cheap VPS could be a significant improvement. The cost difference between shared and budget VPS plans is minimal.
Speed plays a vital role in how Google ranks your site overall. How long it takes pages on your site to load is one of the many things Google looks for. But it also has a trickle-down effect.
If visitors land on your site and it doesn't load fast enough, they're just going to hit the back button. And your bounce rate is going to suffer, which is another factor Google looks at when determining where your site should rank.
Note: With a good percentage of website traffic coming from mobile devices today, a slow site will also decrease conversions and affect your revenue.
It only makes sense to know ahead of time what you're going to write about. What is it that your readers are looking for? What can you offer that will help, guide, or persuade them in some way? Some people shy away from keyword research. Maybe because it seems too tedious and complex (it isn't – really!), or they don't understand its importance.
Using keywords for your readers or customers looking for will help them find your content more accessible. It will help Google understand what your post is about and, hopefully, help it rank better for those topics, questions, and queries.
Longtail keywords are words and phrases that are more precise. They drill down on a topic in more depth, which means anyone looking for that specific thing within a topic will be a better-qualified lead and ultimately the type of visitor you want.
Let's say you're writing a guide to cooking the perfect over-easy egg. Your primary keyword is likely to cook over-easy eggs or how to cook eggs. But suppose you're only covering how to do this in a non-stick skillet on the stovetop. In that case, someone in college who's trying to do it in the microwave may find their way to your site… just to instantly hit the back button because it's not what they were looking for.
This doesn't look good to Google if you have a lot of traffic that jumps ship almost instantly after landing on your post. If it was ranking high for how to cook eggs, and this happens often, it probably won't rank high for that phrase very long.
But if you optimize that post for longtail keywords like cooking over-easy eggs in non-stick pans or cooking over-easy eggs on the stove or cook over easy eggs without flipping… then the traffic should become more targeted.
There may not be as many people searching for those exact questions, but the ones who do are the ones you're trying to reach.
(Oh, yeah, and there's also the fact that longtail keywords are easier to rank for in most cases. As a colleague would call them, they're the easier to pick, low-hanging fruit.)
And the best part? There are some straightforward ways to find longtail keywords. Sure, you can probably guess how people might search for what you're offering. But some tools will have you swimming in longtail keywords, and you can pick and choose a handful you want to use.
Longtail keyword discovery tools
Traditionally, Google's keyword tool was a go-to for finding SEO keywords. But not so much anymore. It's not very accurate, and it comes nowhere near listing all the potentially excellent keywords you can find elsewhere. Not to mention it's a different tool than it was years ago.
So let's look at a few good ones…
Answer the Public
One of my favorites and one that I used in the example above for over-easy eggs is Answer the Public. Just insert a basic keyword or question and watch it visually. It builds longtail keywords grouped in easy-to-navigate bunches.
As you can see, this section (the first section when you scroll down after entering something into the search box) lists a bunch of questions using different prepositions:
When you search for something on Google, chances are there are suggestions for similar searches at the very bottom under the search results. Other search engines do similar things, even YouTube. Soovle takes all that information and gives it to you in one place.
Once you've identified a few longtail keywords you want to use, decide precisely what your article will do and develop your headline. Your headline and section titles will help you stay focused while you're writing.
It's the first chance you can let potential visitors know what they can expect from your article. And it's the first chance you have at enticing them to click through and visit to read it.
Try to keep your title under 70 characters, as that's about where it is cut off in Google search results.
Include your main keyword near or at the front of your main headline, which should be marked as an H1 header. There should ideally only be one H1 headline.
For essential sections within your post, use H2 headlines that include the relevant longtail keyword for that section.
Titles for lesser important, smaller sections within those more important ones can use H3. They can be used for tips or important notes the reader should know about.
Now you're ready to create your post. The first 100 words (or so) are critical. It needs to capture the reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. If you lose them here, your bounce rate is not going to be very pretty.
They also need to portray what the article is about. Your main keyword should be included here to show search engines further what this page is about. But don't try to force all your keywords into this introduction.
And speaking of forcing keywords. Don't try to fit in keywords everywhere (keyword stuffing), making content that readers probably won't enjoy. You should write your post for your visitors, keeping keywords in mind to include them where it makes sense. And if you're sticking to the topic and writing for your reader, then that should pretty much happen naturally.
Including links to other pages on your site can be potent for your overall SEO. It also helps guide users and provides a seamless flow throughout your site if done well. Generally, you'll want to link to posts and pages that are not your main pages or ones included in the main site-wide navigation.
For example, using our egg-cooking theme from earlier, let's say your site is about easy, cheap meals. Your front page links to these main sections:
You wouldn't want to link to any of those pages. But if you have a post in the tips section with tips to making your new non-stick pan last longer, that would be a great page to link to somewhere within your content. Or a specific post in the appetizers section highlights creative ways to use over-easy eggs in several different appetizers.
Something else to consider is if you have pages deep within your site that you know already rank relatively well for their keyword. You can give it a boost by linking to it to move it up a little further.
Images play a significant role in your content, providing visual clues to the reader about what you're trying to say. But they also give you another chance to tell search engines what your content is about too, as well as another chance for people to discover your post.
Search engines like Google will look at your images' names, titles, descriptions, and alt text. Allowing you to help them understand the details of your post. Ideally, you want to include your keywords here, but naturally. The alt text should describe what the image shows for people who can't view them or don't have images enabled on whatever they're reading your post from.
Images optimized for SEO also have a good chance of showing up in image searches, which gives you another opportunity to bring more readers to your site.
If you don't have someone to design original graphics for your post, there are plenty of places to get free stock images for your blog. Pixabay is my favorite, but it's far from the only one, and you may want something specific that another site focuses on. Maybe you're looking for strictly food-related photos. In that case, something like FoodiesFeed might be better. Carly Stec at HubSpot has a helpful list of 20 different free stock photo sites where you can find high-quality photos.
If you're going to use stock photos, add something to them to make them more unique. You could add text or get creative and combine several images to create an original graphic—the more authentic, the better.
And you don't have to be a Photoshop whiz to do it either. There are free programs like Gimp that can do a lot of what Photoshop does. You can also use one of many online photo editing tools. Here are just a few you might want to try:
Free stock photos get used all over the internet. The odds are that they already rank somewhere else for different keywords.
Images are a great way to spice up your post and make it more pleasing to view. But too many can also start to slow down your site. So it's important to use them, but it's also important to optimize them. A fantastic tool for doing this is Compressor. But if you need to do bulk images, the TinyPNG is probably better.
Just upload your image and watch it work its magic. Images can be significantly compressed, giving them a much smaller file size and helping them load quicker.
Most blogging platforms, if not all, give you the ability to add tags to your post. They're not meta keywords, as some people think they are (unless you've used something like the Yoast plugin that lets you assign them to be used as such). Tags are meant to help users find posts that relate to something specific.
You should add tags that relate to specific ideas and topics in your post. But don't go overboard. Some people who think of tags as keywords will add an insane amount of tags thinking that it will help them rank. That's not the case. Just a handful of tags should be plenty. And don't use multiple tags that mean the same thing.
In the example post, you wouldn't want to include over easy, over-easy, and over-easy. They're the same thing, and Google is smart enough to know that. If you do that, it just looks like you're stuffing them in for SEO reasons, and Google won't like that.
Something else to avoid is using both single and plural of the same thing. You wouldn't want to include both non-stick skillet and non-stick skillets. Again, they're saying the same thing.
And tags are different than categories. Categories are the larger picture. Tags are the details. So you wouldn't tag the post with main dishes if you have a category for main dishes. Then you end up with a tags page and a category page for main dishes, both competing against each other.
Your meta description is usually what Google will display in the search results along with your title. This isn't the case 100% of the time, though, as sometimes Google will grab the portion of your text it thinks should be shown. But most of the time, it will be your meta description.
Your meta description should always include your main keyword. Suppose it does, and Google agrees that your personally written meta description is an excellent choice to show in the search results. In that case, the keyword will be bolded if it's what the user searched for.
It should also be short, concise, and entice the user to click.
By default, WordPress will assign your posts some pretty ugly URLs that aren't SEO-friendly at all. And they aren't the kind of URLs your readers are likely to want to visit.
Let's say you're searching for the best iron skillet. In the search results, you have the choice of clicking on the following two links… which one would you click?
Probably the first, right? Well, your posts aren't going to look at URLs like the first one unless you set them up that way. In WordPress, you do this with permalinks found in the settings section.
Here you can choose how you want your URLs to appear with one of the pre-existing settings or set your custom structure for them.
Last but not least, make it easy for readers to share your post across social media. There was a time when SEO professionals believed that "social signals" directly impacted how well your site ranks. And while there is a link between social sharing and rankings, it's probably not that cut and dry.
The thing is, the more your post is shared, liked, and followed, the more mentions around the internet you get, the more visitors you get, and the time spent on your site increase. It also helps build your brand's authority. All these things are favorable in Google's eyes and may help that post rank. Social Media Week has an excellent explanation of this cause and effect here.
So make it easy for people to share. There are tons of sharing plugins out there to choose from, both free and paid. One that you might not have heard of, though, is Better Click to Tweet.
This handy little plugin lets you create a snippet of text that users can share on Twitter with just a click. You can customize it to say whatever you'd like, make the tweet point to a different URL, and lots of other little things.
While this may seem like a lot to do, once you get into a habit of doing all the above, it will become second nature, and you won't' even have to think about it. There are tools like Yoast that can help, but keeping your blog search engine friendly will never be adequately done on 100% autopilot.
Is there a staple, must-do for SEO blog posts you do that aren't listed here? If so, please leave it in the comments, and as always, if you've found this helpful, please share!
Written by Hostwinds Team / April 25, 2017