Recently I've had the exciting opportunity to work with a number of new clients and most of them fairly new to creating websites. They needed assistance either setting up their new blog or tweaking it to look more professional or make it look unique. When working with new clients, the topic of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) almost always seems to come up, and thus I generally end up providing some SEO basics for blogs for them.
Rather than explain the same concepts multiple times, I thought I would write up a comprehensive guide that would walk both my clients and you through SEO Basics for blogs. SEO sounds really complex and mystical, but it's not. Honestly, it's pretty straight forward. Every blogger needs to practice basic SEO techniques, and this guide will help you do just that.
SEO Basics For Websites
One of the most common mistakes new bloggers seem to make is not understanding SEO and the important role it plays in the growth of a blog. Search engines can drive a large amount of traffic to your blog or website and search engine visitors have a high click through rate on ads and affiliates.
While SEO can be somewhat complicated, especially if you are trying to rank in a top 10 position on Google SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), the basic principles of SEO are really pretty straight forward. Following these basic principles can, over time, get your blog and articles ranking high with only a small amount of effort.
With that said, here are some SEO basics for blogs that you should very clearly understand and practice before you press the publish button on your next article.
You must understand keywords
The most basic fundamental aspect of optimizing your blog and articles for SEO is understanding keywords. Keywords are the words that users of Google type into the Google search field in order to find something they are looking for. Multiple keywords together are called a "keyword phrase".
For every page on your website, you'll want to determine what the "target" keyword or target keyword phrase is. These will be the primary keywords, that when keyed into the Google search engine, your article will show up for.
In addition to the target keywords, you'll want to use other keywords in your articles as well. These other keywords are often referred to as "long-tail" and secondary keywords.
These are often keywords with lower search volume. But remember, ranking for lots of small search volume keywords can add up to lots of traffic over time.
Keyword Search Tool
The best way to find keywords is to use a keyword research tool. We use SEMRush. SEMRush is far more than a keyword tool, and its keyword search and data is incredibly thorough, and rated as one of the most accurate in the industry.
A good keyword search tool, will not only allow you see to volumes of the keywords you are reaching, but will provide data on other related keywords as well. This feature is incredibly valuable in coming up with your secondary and longer tail keywords.
Here is a screenshot from SEMRush, for some of the keyword data it provides for the phrase "How to build a website"
Don't confuse your main site SEO with your page/article SEO
Many new and experienced bloggers get a little confused here. Your website's main landing page should be set-up to focus on a particular keyword phrase. The main website page will be configured to focus on that main keyword phrase.
Your articles and pages are where you should spend the large majority of your SEO time. These will generally have different target keywords than you main site, and optimizing articles for those target keywords is the real focus of this article.
Install WordPress SEO from Yoast
If you're running WordPress, as your site's main backend, you'll want to install WordPress SEO by Yoast.
This plugin configures a number of SEO basics automatically for you and allows you to put in all of the necessary items to fully optimize both your blog and your articles for SEO.
WordPress SEO makes adding the appropriate SEO information to your blog and articles easy. The plugin also helps you optimize your articles visual indicators.
Probably the single most critical SEO item for your blog article is the post title. The post title is a key indicator to search engines on what your article is about.
First and foremost, your post title should tell potential readers exactly what your blog article is about (for example, article: SEO for websites).
Your post title should include your keyword, and as close to the front of the title as possible.
The post title you use also sets the content of the title tag for your post. The title tag is what search engines use to determine the article title. Many SEO plugins, including WordPress SEO append your site name onto the end of your post title in the title tag. This allows viewers of search engine result pages to quickly see what site the content is from.
WordPress permalinks define the URL for your post.
Many blogger's don't realize that they can edit their post permalinks. Your permalinks should be as short as possible and always contain the target keyword phrase. Use dashes to separate the keywords, avoid any special characters and don't use spaces. I even avoid numbers and generally spell them out.
This is where the WordPress SEO plugin really shines and will really help you out. Your keyword phrase should be used throughout your content where it makes sense. But be careful, don't overdue do it!
Your target keyword percentage sound be 1-2%. Google is getting really particular about keyword stuffing, and while many SEO experts recommend 5%, I believe less is more.
Keep your keyword density to 1-2% and use lots of variations on your keywords. SEMRush is an excellent tool for getting keyword variations and long-tail keyword ideas.
Additionally, in your content make use of sub-headings to not only make your articles more readable, but to increase SEO. Using keywords, and keyword variations in sub-headings helps your SEO, as Google can give more credit to subheading text than regular paragraph text.
Many experts will also tell you to bold some of your keywords, while that may have worked a years ago, it doesn't make any difference now. Google has become much smarter.
One of the key advantages the WordPress SEO plugin provides is with helping you to optimize your content for search engines. Assuming you've done your keyword research and know the target keyword phrase for your article, do the following:
- Enter your keyword phrase into the WordPress SEO. Yoast's plugin will even suggest keywords for you, but unfortunately it doesn't show search volumes, so the feature isn't really helpful.
- After entering the keyword phrase, Save your post. WordPress SEO will update the color indicator and show you, in the plugin area, recommended changes you can make to further optimize. Again, the plugin uses visual indicators of how you're doing.
Interlinking your content and linking out to related content on other websites that are well respected can also add SEO value.
Interlinking provides value to your readers and thus Google will give your article additional credibility. Again, like keyword use, don't overdue it and when interlinking to common interlinked articles, make every effort to vary your anchor text, otherwise your link strategy could backfire on you.
Personally, we avoid interlinking our various websites altogether. Every so often we might throw in a link if it makes sense, but we always "no follow" the link. Why?
Google has come down pretty hard lately on link placement, and it wouldn't be hard for them to recognize that all of our sites are owned by me. Just a risk we choose to avoid - your milage may vary.
The use of images in your content not only enhances the article and provides visual interest, but images can also enhance your SEO if used properly.
Using your target keyword phrase and secondary keywords in the image file name, image title and image alt fields are great ways to get extra keyword focus to your article.
An additional benefit is that image searches will also find your images and link to your content.
The meta description section is one of the most frequently forgotten SEO gems.
The meta description not only provides you with an opportunity to use your keyword phrase, and gain an SEO benefit, but the meta description also serves as the "elevator pitch" for you post to encourage search engines users to click through.
When search engine users see a SERP (Search Engine Result Page), they have 10+ options to choose from. When deciding which one to click, they generally look at 3 things:
- The Post Title - Does it catch the searchers attention and draw them in?
- The description of the post below the title - the meta description
- The post date - Is the content recent?
The meta description is your chance to tell the search engine user what your article provides and what value it ads. Always put a meta description for your content.
If you don't, Google will determine one. Often times the one pulled from your content is not optimal.
Pay attention to the maximum length guidelines the WordPress SEO plugin provides, and make sure you use your keyword phrase in the meta description. I recommend only using it once.
Webmaster tools (Now called Search Console)
One way to jumpstart your site and let Google know it's out there and about all of that great content you have is to register your blog with Google Search Console.
This not only has the benefit of letting Google know you're out there, but also gives you some valuable insight to how Google sees your website. With Search Console you can see crawl errors, back links, the type of searches being done that get people to your blog and more. Additionally, if Google has a problem with your blog, they will let you know via Search Console.
Link Building for years has been the number one activity any website owner or SEO expert could do to get a website to rank higher in Google's search results.
Incoming links from credible sites to your blog can make huge differences in where your articles are ranking in Google's result pages.
The problem is that people figured this out, and quickly. People starting doing all types of things to get links, including even purchasing links on high page rank sites. That doesn't work anymore, or at least not for long. These days, Google will nail you hard for running paid links.
Google and their web spam team are very aware of all the link building efforts going on by people, both "white hat" and "black hat". As a result, I raise a huge yellow caution flag at intentional link building.
You absolutely can and should build links, but you must be very careful how you do it. Build links too fast, it hurts you. Build links from credible sites that Google doesn't like, it hurts you. Even guest posting, the ultimate in win/win for link building, exposure, and helping other bloggers out is getting a close review from Google.
As a result, and frankly because of not having a very crisp understanding of what Google considers "okay" and "not okay", we have really backed down hard on link building, almost to the point of just letting links build naturally. Being dinged by Google just isn't worth it to us.
Google and their users LOVE fresh and frequent content.
Fresh content is content that is "hot off the presses", meaning it's been published recently.
So what does that mean? Publish content often.
The more you publish articles the higher your website and its articles will rank.
The most important SEO tip of all
I saved the best for last, the single most important SEO tip I can give you. This one tip that trumps them all ... Are you ready?
Write great content.
Seriously, it's just that simple. Here's why ...
Sure, keywords, title tags, meta descriptions and all of that help, but without great content you still won't rank.
I've seen great content on page #1 of Google that wasn't search engine optimized at all, but was ranking in a top spot! Google is smart, and getting smarter by the minute.
They are quickly approaching the point where they don't need all of these tags and optimization items in order to rank your content. Google can read your post, and understand your content.
Couple that with feedback and input from Social Media and you have a very strong input set to pretty accurately rank an article without all of the SEO stuff.
Now, does that mean SEO is dead? Certainly not, and it will be around for sometime yet. But change is on the horizon, and we see it occurring each time Google roles out an engine change.
Your best bet for ranking well is to write content that:
- Meets a need
- Provides value
- and is enjoyable to read
Doing these things will cause that content to go viral on social media, be linked to by lots of high quality websites and blogs (thus building back links) and because of its popularity, will rank well on Google.
Always write for people, not search engines. Write for people, tweak for search engines.
If you write great content and do all of the SEO Basics I've outlined above, you'll be well ahead of the majority of other websites on the internet.
While we certainly can't guarantee you'll rank in the #1 sweet spot for that keyword phrase you want, we can guarantee you'll rank higher than most of the other people trying to rank.
Now, with all of this said, SEO optimization can be a bit tedious, and takes a great deal of time and effort to do correctly. For many business owners, they just don't have the time.
We can help!
Empty Cabin Media offers SEO optimization services - We can offer consulting, or just do it all for you.