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Unless you write strictly for yourself, it’s essential that the people interested in reading your content can find your blog.
For bloggers, SEO might not be the most glamorous topic. To many, the term conjures images of keyword-stuffed content written not for readers, but for search engines. To others, SEO is a somewhat boring but necessary part of promoting your work as a blogger.
Search engine optimization has changed a lot over the past decade, and the SEO you might be familiar with from years past - constant keyword repetition, clunky “optimized” titles and more - is no longer the gold standard for bloggers.
Instead, SEO in 2016 is far more about creating relevant, valuable content and reinforcing it by following a few simple optimization principles.
From naming and tagging your images to structuring your blog effectively, it really only takes a few small changes to transform your blog from unoptimized to built with high search engine rankings in mind.
These small, simple changes can have a huge effect on your traffic. In fact, a few hours of SEO work on a high-traffic blog can contribute tens or hundreds of thousands of visitors from organic search every year.
Whether you blog about a specific niche or just write about your everyday life, the tactics we’ve outlined below will help you optimize your content for organic search and generate more traffic, more revenue and more exposure from each article you publish.
1. Start with a search-friendly blogging platform
One of the most important decisions you’ll make as a blogger is your choice of CMS, or content management system. A CMS is the publishing platform you’ll use to create your blog, add new content and structure your content into a complete website.
Not all CMSes are made equal - some are easier to use than others, while some are far better optimized for search engines than others.
For most bloggers, WordPress offers the best combination of user friendliness, search engine optimized design and ubiquity. WordPress is so popular as a blogging platform that it powers an estimated 26% of all websites.
Other options include Blogger and Typepad, both of which allow self-hosted blogs. 99% of the time, you’ll get the best results - both in terms of ease of use and search engine optimization - from WordPress.
2. Optimize your permalink structure
Before you start creating content, it’s important to structure your website with search engines in mind.
By default, WordPress uses an “ugly” permalink format, with a specific Post ID for each page or blog post you publish. For example, if your blog was hosted on example.com, the URL for each blog post would look something like this:
Not only is this URL structure hard for users to remember - it’s also difficult for search engines to understand. Search engines like Google use the URL of a page to determine its subject. The more closely a page’s URL lines up with its target keywords, the better it’s likely to rank.
After you’ve installed WordPress, and even after you’ve published content, you can modify your blog’s permalink structure to use the title of each post as it’s URL instead of its publishing code.
To do this, click “Settings” in your WordPress dashboard, and select “Permalinks”:
This way, the keywords in each post title will be used in its URL, instead of a numerical code. A post called “The Best Hotels in Rome” will have a URL structure of “/the-best-hotels-in-rome” in place of its numerical post ID.
This helps Google’s algorithm to better understand the key theme and target keyword of each post you publish, improving search visibility and helping you rank in organic search.
If you’ve just started a WordPress blog, changing your website’s permalink structure should be one of the first steps you take as a blogger. It’s a quick task that has major benefits for organic search traffic over the long term.
3. Understand the role of titles and meta tags
Using WordPress, you can give each post you publish its own title and meta description. These fields determine the content Google and other search engines display in their results pages for each search keyword.
For example, a search for “healthy protein shake recipes” brings up the following result. We’ve marked the title and meta description to show how these fields, which you can modify, affect the appearance of the page in organic search:
Page titles are ranking factors, which means Google uses the keywords you include in your title in order to sort and rank your content. Try to use your primary keyword as close the beginning of your title as possible to make it clear that it’s the key focus of your content.
Here’s a great example of a keyword (in this case, “business plan”) used right at the beginning of a page title, courtesy of Entrepreneur.com:
The meta description is the description of your content that appears below the title. Google does not use the meta description as a ranking factor, but it’s still important to write a detailed, useful meta description to encourage users to click on your search result.
Keep your meta description under 160 characters so it’s displayed in full, and focus on summing up the main topic of your post. In the Entrepreneur.com example above, the meta description is a quick description of what the post includes - step-by-step guides for making a business plan.
4. Forget keyword stuffing and focus on relevant keyword use
In the early days of SEO, Google’s algorithm viewed the frequency at which a keyword showed up in content as an indicator of a page’s relevance.
As a result, savvy search engine marketers stuffed keyword after keyword into their content in an effort to be relevant for each and every search term, turning what could have been helpful content into barely readable search engine food in the process.
Today, Google’s algorithm is smart enough to detect (and punish) keyword stuffing. Instead of simply looking at the frequency with which a keyword appears in content, it looks at a variety of factors, from latent semantic indexing to the overall quality of a piece of written content.
From a blogger’s perspective, this means that you don’t need to focus on overusing your target keywords in your content. Instead, use them naturally, and place your top keywords in the H1, H2, H3 and H4 headings that you use to break an article into specific sections.
The word to keep in mind here is “relevance.” Use keywords naturally and you’ll win over your readers, all while satisfying Google’s search engine algorithm. Abuse keywords and you could find your post - or your entire website - hit with an over-optimization penalty.
5. Install an XML sitemap
Here’s another quick, simple SEO win. An XML sitemap is a roadmap of your blog that shows Google’s spider exactly where to find each page. Install a plugin like Google XML Sitemaps to increase your post indexing rate and make it easier for Google to quickly find your content.
6. Optimize your images
Images play a surprisingly large role in SEO. Not only does Google view content with images as more engaging than text-only content - it also uses the filenames and alt tags you give to your images to gain a deeper understanding of each post’s content.
Optimizing images for SEO is simple. Start by giving every image you use in your blog content a relevant filename. For example, if you’re posting an image of a pizza, name it “pizza.jpg” instead of the standard “IMAGE-1849920.jpg” filename it might receive from your camera.
Alt text is the text that will display if your image won’t load properly. Google uses alt text to learn more about an image’s subject matter. If you’re optimizing for a specific keyword, try to use it in your alt text while describing your image.
If you use WordPress, you can modify all of these image SEO factors from the Media Library in your WordPress dashboard:
Since optimizing your images only takes a minute, it’s something you should do for every post you publish. Give each image a relevant title, filename and alt text and you’ll eventually notice new visitors coming to your blog from Google Image Search.
7. Competitive industry? Say it in more words, not fewer
There’s an interesting relationship between content length and rankings - longer blog posts and articles, all else equal, seem to outrank shorter blog posts and articles for most search terms.
There are several potential reasons for this:
- Google’s search algorithm gives more weight to a page after its reaches a certain length, improving its chances of ranking.
- Longer content is more likely to be shared and linked to, improving its PageRank and giving it a stronger presence in search.
- Long articles include a greater number and larger variety of keywords, helping them achieve better organic search visibility.
Whatever the cause, longer content tends to rank better in organic search than short content. If you’re writing a post aimed at a competitive keyword, review any competing pages before you’re ready to publish to make sure your post sits above the average in terms of scale.
8. Write first, then optimize later
When you write with SEO in mind, it’s easy to let keywords slip into your content without notice, resulting in a piece that’s packed with useful information but reads a little too unnaturally.
Instead of writing with keywords in mind, it’s far better to write around a topic and optimize after you finish. Once you’ve completed a post, look for common keyword themes and optimize using the content you already have, instead of simply writing for SEO purposes.
It’s easy to fall into an SEO mindset as a blogger. Focus on creating the best possible content, then optimizing, and you’ll write with readers and natural social activity in mind first and search engines in mind after.