Search engine optimisation is a baffling topic for many business owners and even many digital marketers. It’s an elusive enigma; you know you need it, but aren’t entirely sure what it means. Every time you see the word ‘SEO’ you’re filled with a deep sense of apprehension and the curious suspicion that the internet hates you.
But SEO is vital for any business to survive in the online space, and should be a top priority whenever you’re creating content for your business. That includes blogging.
Let me get this out of the way right out of the gate: if you’re sat there thinking, “I have Yoast SEO, my blog is sorted!” I have a harsh truth for you:
SEO (the process of optimising your content for maximum visibility on search engines like Google) is considerably trickier than that. To help you out I’ve put together the ultimate guide to SEO for blogging. And if you need even more tips, check out the FREE guide to my Top 10 DIY SEO Tips..
How To Search Engine Optimise Blog Posts
With Google’s algorithms constantly changing, SEO for blogging can be a major challenge. No sooner do you wrap your head around what the search engine gods want, they change their minds.
Just remember that SEO is an ongoing process. Not only do you have to continually dedicate yourself to optimising all your posts, you also have to make sure your methods stay current. With that in mind, I’ll be keeping you up-to-date on the latest key changes as and when they happen, and I’ve created this guide using the most current info possible.
The good news is, the more you optimise your content for search, the more naturally it will happen as you write. You’ll get to a point where it happens automatically. If you’re new to optimising your posts, I suggest you think of it as part of the editing process, and tackle it once each post is written.
Don’t let the need to optimise your posts derail your writing efforts: write the post you want to create. Look at your SEO once you have a draft.
The Most Important Element Of SEO For Blogging: Keywords
At its most basic level, all SEO does is ensure search engines know exactly what your post is about, so they are more likely to show it to people searching for information on that subject.
This is done using target keywords.
Before you start stuffing your blog posts with the same word as many times as possible, here’s another truth a lot of people don’t like acknowledging:
Google will now actually penalise you for ‘keyword stuffing’ because it sacrifices the quality of your content.
Instead you should use your keywords in certain core areas (we’ll get to that in a minute), and utilise more modern keyword tricks like long-tail keywords and latent semantic indexing (LSI). I’ll talk more about these in a second, for now you need to know how to find the perfect keywords.
There are usually a few obvious keywords relevant to your niche or topic. For example, ‘digital marketing’ is a no-brainer for me, because I’m a digital marketer.
But if you really want to get your keywords working for you, it’s important to be a bit more imaginative. Variety is the spice of life, and Google appears to favour hot cuisine.
The more you blog, the more keywords you should be using. Optimising different posts for the same keyword is really shooting yourself in the foot. All you’re doing is competing with yourself for that coveted ranking!
Instead, optimise posts for different but related keywords. It’s super-helpful to do a bucket load of keyword research.
Google have a free Keyword Planner that’s really useful for this. Similar to this is the Moz Keyword Explorer (Moz also have some premium packages that are great if you’re serious about nailing your SEO).
Spend a little while researching the best keywords for your niche. There are a few essential terms you will need to understand to do this properly:
- High Competition – keywords that will be difficult to rank highly for due to a large amount of competition.
- Low Competition – keywords that will take less effort to rank highly for due to low levels of competition.
- High Volume – keywords that have a lot of people searching for them.
- Low Volume – keywords that have few people searching for them.
The trick is to target keywords that are either high competition and low volume, or low competition and high volume.
Getting into the habit of doing this can be tough. But taking a little time to learn is well worth it – you’ll reap the rewards fairly fast!
There’s another tool on Google that’s great for keyword research: Google Trends. This offers a really easy way to see how much interest there is in a keyword over an extended period of time. Interest levels can indicate if your specific topic or keyword is worth your focus – remember you’re trying to create evergreen content most of the time, which will retain its value over a long period.
That means choosing keywords that are of interest for extended periods!
Keyword research can be difficult at first, and it’s an extensive topic. It’s also the backbone of most SEO. If you struggle at first, don’t worry – you’re not alone! Learn a little at a time and you’ll soon master it.
Use Long-Tail Keywords
When you’re researching and planning your keywords be sure to include some long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are phrases of three of four words that are super-specific to your topic. For example, the main keyword I used in this blog post was ‘SEO for blogging’. This is a lot more specific than just ‘SEO’ or even ‘SEO tips’.
I could have got even more specific and used ‘SEO tips for blogging’, or ‘SEO for marketing blogs’.
The point of a long-tail keyword is to specifically target exactly the right people, and their intent.
Optimising this post for ‘SEO’ would work, but since search engine optimisation is such a broad topic a lot of the people using that search term won’t care about optimising their blog posts. They’ll be looking for tips on perfecting the SEO on the website copy, or Tweets.
When people use highly specific search terms it’s usually because they are looking to buy that exact thing, hire someone to do a very specific task, or need an answer to a specific question.
Pick one or two keywords for each of your blog posts, and try to make both long-tail keywords. It will help keep your post super focused, while avoiding the dreaded keyword stuffing, and giving you maximum optimisation, while still allowing for variety in your writing.
(If you’re wondering, I also optimised this post for the long-tail keyword ‘optimise blog post’).
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
This is a super-scary-sounding term that’s actually really simple. Google algorithms have been getting increasingly sophisticated with each passing year. They’re now capable of not only recognising keywords, but also recognising words and phrases related to those keywords.
Latent Semantic Indexing is a mathematical technique that identifies patterns in word usage, terminology, and concepts contained within a piece of text.
Still sound complicated? Think of it this way, LSI looks for relationships between keywords and phrases in your blog posts and web content.
If you’ve used the phrase ‘SEO for blogging’ as a long-tail keyword in your post, and also used phrases like ‘SEO for your blog’ and ‘SEO for blog posts’, LSI recognises that, even though these phrases are a little different, they are related.
So you don’t have to stuff your posts with exactly the same keyword over and over, you can use similar and related keywords and concepts.
This allows you to strengthen your overall post by optimising the text as a whole, rather than just shoving the same word in as much as possible. It will keep you on-topic, improve your readability, and give you a great boost on search rankings.
Add Your Keywords To Vital Areas Of Your Posts
If you’re wondering exactly where to include keywords in your posts there are five vital areas:
- Headers And Body Text
- Post Meta Data
- Image Meta Data
Your blog title is the first place a search engine or reader look for a clue as to the topic of your post. Make sure you include your keyword as early on in the title as possible. If you can’t include it right at the start, make sure it’s in the first 65 characters. Google cuts off titles after this and anything beyond the first 65 characters won’t appear on the search engine results page (fondly known as a SERP).
Headers And Body Text
Adding your keywords to your headers is not only a really easy way to include them, it’s also very natural. There will be at least one header you’re using that lends itself to each of your keywords.
Resist the temptation to use it in every single header. Instead, use LSI in your headers where possible to ensure they are relevant, optimised, but not repetitive!
You should also include your keywords naturally within the body text of your post. Seriously, don’t stuff them in! If a sentence can include the keyword without sounding forced, great. But don’t change the way you write to accommodate them, and certainly don’t tack them on the beginning or the end just for the sake of including them.
Google won’t like it.
Your readers won’t like it.
And in hindsight you won’t like it either!
Keywords are no longer a numbers game. It’s not about using them as many times as possible. It’s about using them in the most relevant manner possible, and ensuring your content as a whole reflects the topic of your keyword throughout (this is where LSI comes in!).
It’s also important to consider the length of your post. Where serious SEO is concerned, 500-750 words just don’t cut it. They can be useful for ensuring your site has regular content, which will boost your ranking somewhat, but for truly effective SEO in blogging you need 2-3000 words per post. Without that length, you don’t have the space to effectively discuss a topic in the level of detail that search engines like to see.
The truth of it is, other bloggers ARE putting out long-form posts, and they will get priority on SERPs over you, simply because their posts are longer, and so offer richer answers to user questions.
This isn’t a case of quantity over quality. It’s simply not possible to discuss any topic in great detail in 500 words! You need quality and quantity.
If creating long-form posts is an issue from a time or resources perspective, you are honestly better releasing fewer posts, and making the posts you release c.2500 words long.
Another place search engines immediately look for hints about your post is the URL. Including your keyword in the URL of your post is perhaps the easiest part of optimising your blog posts.
Short URLs work better, so rather than letting it default to the full title of your post, cut it down to the bare essentials. If you’re using a long-tail keyword and you’ve never used it before (which, really, you shouldn’t have!), make the URL the keyword and nothing else.
It’s a good idea to update old posts so their URLs reflect the keywords you used while optimising them, but be careful. When you change a URL you need to also create a 301 redirect for it, which will send anyone clicking a link to the original URL to the new one.
If you don’t redirect, anything linking to the existing URL becomes a dead link.
Lots of dead links will anger the search engine ranking gods!
Post Meta Data
The final step in optimising your blog posts is to create great meta data. This needs to be done in two places, the post itself, and also any images within the post (we’ll look at those is a second).
Check the SEO title in your meta data isn’t too long – if it is you’ll lose the end of it when it appears on SERPs.
Once you’ve done that, set a meta description for the post. Meta descriptions are there to provide the gist of your post for both search engines and readers. It’s an at-a-glance overview of exactly what’s in the post, almost like a mini-sales pitch for the content at the other side of the click. It’s also a great place to include your keywords.
People will very often see the meta description from your post in a link preview of it. It’s the thing that compels them to click through and read your blog, or scroll on to something else. Make it as engaging as possible, flag any freebies you may have on offer, and ensure it’s completely clear what your post is about.
This isn’t the place to be enigmatic!
Search engines don’t always pull your meta description for SERPs. It used to be the case that they always displayed it, but it’s no longer a certainty. Google will now often pull text from your blog post if it feels a particular chunk does a better job of explaining what the post is about.
It’s often the first paragraph, so when you’re optimising the meta description, check your first paragraph and make sure the first sentence or two makes an equally good description!
Image Meta Data
The final element of your meta data comes on the images you use in your post. This includes the feature image, and any images used in the body of the text.
Including your keywords in the title of your images is another easy way to optimise your blog posts. Before you upload your images to your site, change the file names to something that reflects the post content. You might use the post title, or the heading for the section the image will appear in. You can also use a description of what the image is for.
Once you’ve done that, add alt text to your image that similarly reflects the topic and keywords of the post.
Google doesn’t have eyes – none of the search engines do! They can’t ‘see’ images and have no way of knowing what they’re about. If you don’t add bespoke titles and alt text to each and every image, your visual content will do nothing for your SEO.
If, on the other hand, you take a second to optimise your images, they will boost your overall efforts and help solidify your post’s search engine ranking.
Make Your Blog Mobile-Friendly
Since the advent of mobile broadband it’s always been vital to have a mobile-friendly website, but where search engines are concerned that importance is growing every year. With so many people using mobile phones and tablets to search, ensuring you have a responsive blog is absolutely essential.
This is one area of SEO that has nothing to do with keywords!
Google prioritises search results that are mobile friendly, because they are well aware that more people are searching on their mobiles than on their desktops.
If you haven’t already, make sure your site is completely responsive – if you don’t, your SEO will suffer!
Avoid Similar Tags
Tags are really useful for organising your blog posts. You can get more specific with them than categories, and it’s easy for people to navigate to all the posts you’ve written and tagged with the same topic.
That being said, using similar tags will damage your SEO.
Every tag you create has a dedicated page on your website. People visiting that page will see all the posts written on that subject. If you’ve used similar tags you will end up with multiple pages all containing similar sets of blog posts.
This looks like duplicate content to search engines and will damage your ranking.
For example, if you tag every post you write on blogging with ‘blog’, ‘blogging’, ‘blogger’, and ‘blog posts’, your site will have four different pages all containing links to the same list of posts.
Pick between fifteen and twenty-five tags that represent your core topics. Make sure they aren’t similar – one tag for each topic. Keep a master list and always use the same tags. That way, you won’t accidentally use ‘blog’ one week, and ‘blogging’ the next.
Using similar tags will not only hurt your ranking, it will split your posts on the same topic and make it harder for people to find them.
Cross Link Your Posts
If you have content published on other blogs, websites, or platforms, cross-link your posts. This will create inbound links to your content, which shows search engines your posts are both relevant and valid.
You can also cross-link posts within your blog, to help people find more content on relevant topics, and keep them on your site longer.
Track Your Progress
When it comes to SEO you need to know how you’re doing. Tracking your progress will tell you if your efforts are working, and help you see the progress you’re making over time. If you don’t already have it setup, use Google Analytics to track your search engine data.
The way blog posts are ranked is changing. Until very recently, bloggers focussed on creating individual posts that ranked well for a specific keyword. The results of this is rather disorganised, and can be difficult for readers to navigate. Your posts end up competing with each other for the same keywords because you will naturally have a lot of posts on your core topics.
Topic clusters avoid this problem. Rather than creating multiple posts optimised with the same keywords, you create a core, or ‘pillar’ post, that gives an overview of your topic, and then multiple individual posts, each dealing with a specific aspect of that topic.
The core post links to all the additional posts, and every post is optimised for different – but related – keywords.
Just Keep Swimming
It’s no good doing one post and leaving it at that. You need to optimise all your blog posts, and consistently work on improving your site’s overall ranking. That means not only optimising your blog, but all your other content too! For extra help with your SEO download my FREE guide to my Top 10 DIY SEO Tips… or have a training session with me so that I can step you through the optimisation process.