Optimizing Your Blog Posts for Search Engines

blog post optimization

Getting your feet wet...

After hearing about SEO, you're probably ready to start applying it to see how it might work for you. The good news is that this is what this chapter is all about.

By now, you certainly know the point of SEO, and you may have heard how it can 'magically transform' your business. While SEO has the potential to transform an online business, it's not magic. There are many strategies, some simple to employ and others more advanced that can be used to get measurable results fast.

Blogging gurus and SEO experts spend a lot of energy promoting the idea of a blog as an SEO strategy. There's an excellent reason for this. It works. Adding a blog to your business website is like adding a neon sign high above your shop window. A well-maintained, optimized blog (we'll get to this) attracts search engines and potential customers.

As we saw in the opening chapter, Google itself recommends blogging as a way to invite customers to engage with your business. If you're like most entrepreneurs and small business owners, then you want more people to visit your website, and you want them to learn to trust you and your brand. A blog is a perfect tool for accomplishing those things and much more.

Here we go.

Basic SEO Strategies

Headlines and Titles

While search engines do 'read' your pages, they pay extra attention to your headlines, so you should too.

With blog post headline or title, your job is to entice the reader. At the same time, attempt to include one or more keywords or keyphrases. Depending on the keywords relevant to your business, this could be tricky, but it's always worth the effort.

Your keyword or keyphrase might be a secondary keyword that is particularly relevant to the current blog post, or it might be a primary or top-level keyword or phrase used to categorize or focus your business activities as a whole.

Using your keywords or keyphrases in titles tells search engines about the content of your post, about what type of business you are and helps them to learn the theme(s) of your website. When these three elements are working together, search engines should respond accordingly, and you may well receive a boost in rankings as a result.

Meta Descriptions

The meta description is the short blurb about a page that appears in search engine results. No matter what search page your post appears on, you're competing with every other site listed alongside you. It makes sense to use every tool at your disposal to help you stand out.

Your stunning title will wow your potential visitors and swayed by the fact that your site came up at the top of the first page, right? For days when this is not the case, and there may be many, it doesn't hurt to have a stellar description or blurb to give search users a summary of what they will find if they click on your link.

Your meta description should be short so that your message is communicated in its entirety and the reader can take it in quickly. It's especially useful for blog posts on specific subjects, as opposed to broad subjects that may attract users performing varied searches, in which case it might be better to leave this field blank. This allows Google and other search engines to formulate their own blurb text to explain your post and this is done by honing in on keywords on your page and using the text nearby. While this might sound hit and miss compared to taking control of optimization, giving Google the reigns allows it to choose the most appropriate keyword for the current search. The natural context in which the keyword appears is often a good indicator of what the post is about.

Keyword Usage

Use keywords consciously but sparingly. Search engines are evolving to better detect when web content is useful and uses natural language to provide real value, as opposed to repeating targeted keywords to gain traffic. Even more than this, Google hires people to visit websites and add a human element to their ranking system. You may well find one or more of these people judging your site or your latest blog post in terms of EAT (Expertise, Authority, and Trust).

Pepper-spraying your content with your primary keywords (or worse, keyword) is a red flag to Google. Those you do reach with your content, are also likely to see it for what it is. Have you ever been wooed by a blog post that repeated the same word hundred times in a thousand words?

Using keywords for SEO means finding a balance. You want people to be able to find your content via search engines, but once they get to your page, you want your text to sound natural and authentic.

One tip for doing this is to focus primary keywords in headlines and sub-headings, and use secondary keywords - your variations on your theme - in the main body of your text. Yes, sprinkle keywords throughout, but only if it sounds natural and logical to do so. Read your writing out loud and if you stumble over your keyword, think about editing.

Also, use location keywords if your business is location-based, like a coffee shop or a local cleaning service. Think about the different ways people might search for your area and include at least the most popular variations in your text.

Images

Google's spiders or bots cannot appreciate the aesthetic beauty of your images (yet), but they can read the ALT-tag, the bit of text that allows you to describe the picture for visitors and yes, for search engines.

While describing your picture, slide in a keyword. You should be able to do this naturally. Why? Because if you've read the chapter on images, you'll know that blog images ought to be relevant to the blog post's message and if your image is furthering your message, it should be relatively easy to align it with one of your keywords or keyphrases.

Doing this is good for people who have text-only browsers and for search engines figuring out how to index your pages. Be clear about the purpose your images serve and your increased organization, making the most of another opportunity for SEO, may well be rewarded with higher rankings.

Supplementary Content

We're talking about links here. It's supplementary content because it can be used to add to the blog post reader's experience.

The links might direct readers elsewhere on your site or they may take them off your site entirely. When you link to your own content, you are not only providing your user with easy access to more content or offers, but you're describing the structure of your site for search engines. Keep it up. When you link externally to high-traffic, well-respected websites, you could say that some of their success rubs off on your shoulders. Search engines and your readers will understand that you know where to find trustworthy, relevant and valuable information. Since you are linking to trusted information, it can be a boost to the perceived trustworthiness of your own website.

Choose the words that you use in your links carefully, because search engines pay particular attention to these when assessing your site. Since search engines are looking at them, try to see that the highlighted words are meaningful and relevant to your business. As with keywords, however, don't overdo it. Fill your pages with links and you'll look like you're cynically applying a formula for success. Whether internal or external, your links need to direct your readers to relevant, valuable content.

Keep It Fresh

How do search engines know that your site is current? They check in on you and index your new content.

Having your site current is one way of improving or maintaining your position in search engine rankings. With this in mind, you want to be posting at least once or twice a month, depending on the topic of your blog.

Remember, however, that there is a correlation between frequent posting and high volumes of traffic.

When performing research, which statistic would you find most useful: the one from several years ago or the one that bears today's date? Keep producing and releasing content to let search engines and your potential customers know that your website, your business and your opinions are up-to-date and relevant.

If you're blogging in a fast-moving industry or say, reporting on news or ongoing celebrity dramas, search engines and users alike will be seeking the most relevant AND the most current content, which might mean posting several times per day.

Keeping your site fresh might also involve returning to existing content and making a few changes to improve its relevance and its value to your audience. The change might be a tweak to the original title that makes it more engaging and more relevant to your customers in order to reach your target audience. Or, your update might mean adding a thousand words of new content to improve the accuracy and depth of the post. Either way, as long as your changes merit an updated post, this is an excellent way to use existing material to reach a new audience and to provide a timely update on your site.

In the case of online marketing firm Hubspot, three-quarters of their blog views and 9 out of 10 leads came from content that was written months ago. Some of that content was years old. Your old content keeps working for you, so keep working on it to keep it fresh. Seek an evergreen title and check any facts against current information. Your old post could do a great job at converting visitors into new leads as well as providing you with an opportunity to demonstrate that your site is fresh.

Share Buttons

It's good SEO practice to make it easy for visitors to share content that they find valuable and think that their networks would also find useful or amusing. The number of people sharing your content provides you with social proof, which helps Google determine the popularity, usefulness and authority of your posts.

Add sharing buttons as a call-to-action for your blog posts to encourage social media sharing and receive more traffic and endorsements.

Don't complain that visitors are not converting or engaging, without first ensuring that your guests know what you expect them to do. A share button is a recognizable icon that gives visitors a clear prompt as to how to proceed after reading your content.

Ever been in a store and felt overwhelmed by the array of options available? Sometimes, wouldn't it be nice to choose from a handful of truly compelling offers? Use share buttons for the primary social media channels that are frequented by your visitors. Consider using share buttons for just three or four of the most relevant social media networks to prevent your visitors going into sharing overload. Experiment with channels, buttons and positioning to find patterns in relation to your average number of shares.

Advanced SEO Tactics

Get to Know Google Panda

Google Panda refers to an algorithm that is now a core part of how Google ranks websites and which seeks to eliminate poor quality content, including spam, from its listings.

There was a time when a page full of nonsense text plus keywords could rank well and receive generous amounts of organic traffic. Not anymore. Content deemed as spam can now result in a website being blacklisted by Google.

When creating content, keep Google's Panda in mind. Keep your words natural, authentic, and valuable. Demonstrate your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness with every post.

Permalinks

A permalink is as it sounds: a permanent link to a web page or a blog post.

If you send someone a permalink, you're sending them the direct link to a web page or blog post. You're not sending them to the main page of your blog, where the visitor might find that the particular post you were referring to has 'dropped off' the page or has already been archived. Using permalinks allows visitors to go directly to the post in question, not just the hub of the blog.

There are various ways that permalinks are formatted, but the most useful for optimizing your blog for SEO is to have you permalinks contain the title of the blog post. Some sites then remove stop words from permalinks, terms such as 'a', 'of' and 'and', to keep the permalink short while remaining useful for SEO.

You may also be able to include automatically categories in your permalinks, which would provide valuable information to visitors and search engines regarding the organization of your website. Check out the post or blog settings of your blogging platform to optimize your permalinks.

Breadcrumbs

As in the story of the eponymous antiheroes Hansel and Gretel, breadcrumbs allow website users to retrace their steps from whatever page they are on to the home page. As in the story of Hansel and Gretel, you should not rely on breadcrumbs as your sole form of navigation.

You may well see breadcrumbs reproduced in search results from Google. They usually look something like this:

Home > Books > Children's Books > Classics > Hansel and Gretel

They provide a quick, visual way for the visitor to learn where he or she is within a website and provide an additional but secondary tool for getting around. When each section is named well, they are easy to use and can add context to your deepest and innermost pages.

You may not need to use breadcrumbs, though. If your site is on a single level or is divided into only two categories, you may well find that your site is not complicated enough to merit secondary navigation.

Briefly, there are three types of breadcrumbs:

  • Location Breadcrumbs – These allow users to trace back through the different layers of a website. A visitor can use these breadcrumbs to get to similar pages within a category.
  • Path Breadcrumbs – This represents the various logical paths that a visitor could use to reach the same page.
  • Keyword or Attribute Breadcrumbs – Rather than using something like the page title as part of this navigation system, it uses the keywords and attributes that describe the page. This type of breadcrumb is more common on technical support pages and e-commerce websites.

Note that keyword or attribute breadcrumbs and path breadcrumbs can result in duplication. This duplication of your breadcrumbs can come across as 'over-optimization', making it look like you're not focused on providing value, but on appealing to search engines. Duplicate breadcrumbs, therefore, can earn disapproval from search engines. Be careful with your breadcrumbs and opt for location breadcrumbs unless you are sure you would benefit greatly from one of the other two types.

For large, complex sites, breadcrumbs help users understand the site layout, encourage them to explore and allow them to move quickly through the structure. The extra 'hand-holding' can reduce your site's bounce rate, which helps your page rank more highly with search engines.

The very format of breadcrumbs is not only useful to human visitors, but it speaks the language of search engines.

Make your breadcrumbs small, so they are unobtrusive to those who don't wish to use them but think about putting them up on the top left so that they can be found easily both by humans and by spiders from search engines.

Adding keywords to your breadcrumbs may improve your SEO rankings because it demonstrates how pages relate to each other. Search engines love to know how your site is organized. Your site's ability to be navigated is considered part of its value to users. It's likely that your categories will be keywords of interest to your customers/visitors.

As with using keywords in your blog content, however, don't overdo it. If you're using breadcrumbs, just make sure that the structure is intelligent and authentically described.

Pagination

Indicating that content is divided into two or more related pages can help search engines show the starting page to users searching for your content. Essentially, you tell Google and other search engines that the content is part of a larger whole and where each piece fits.

Again, this is helping search engines understand the structure of your site. It also gives you more control over what your users see in search results.

An alternative to providing pagination information for search engines is to do nothing. Even if they say so themselves, Google does a good job of giving its users the information they want, regardless of whether or not that information is split over a number of sequenced pages.

Canonical Tags

You can use canonical tags to gain more control over how your pages appear in search results. You'd create canonical tags in the following circumstances:

  • When you have a post, page or product that is reachable from more than one URL
  • When your blogging system automatically saves the same content under different headings
  • When your content provided for syndication to other sites is replicated on their domains.
  • When your server serves the same content regardless of the www subdomain or the http protocol, in which case http://example.com/greyhound, https://example.com/greyhound, and http://www.example.com/greyhound would all take the user to the same content.

Creating a canonical URL, tells search engines which URL you want them to present to their users in search results.

The benefits of canonical URLs are that:

  • Duplicated or similar content directs visitors to the same URL.
  • You can track metrics more effectively for one URL than you can if the same material is found on various URLs.
  • If you are syndicating content to other domains, you can consolidate page ranking to a URL of your choice

There are different ways to define a canonical URL for content that's available via multiple URLs, most of which you perform through your website, including using the rel="canonical" link element, using a sitemap to set preferred URLS for duplicate content and specifying a canonical link in the HTTP header.

For the nuts and bolts of how to get this done, check out Google's support for refining personal and site settings

XML Sitemap

Simply speaking, a sitemap is a list of your pages and content and how they link to each other.

An XML sitemap, as opposed to an HTML sitemap, is created for the use of search engines' spiders. They'll lap it up because sitemaps effectively communicate the hierarchy of your website and how the content is related.

While it's not necessary to have a sitemap, you may find it helps your rankings by making your site easier for spiders to interpret and they are particularly useful for websites that have complex structures and/or duplicate content accessible via a number of locations.

Fortunately, many third-party tools can help create effective sitemaps.

Plugins

There is a vast army of plugins that can be installed on either your blogging platform or your web browser in order to maximize various aspects of your SEO. There is a tool for every situation, helping you to maximize your page setup, your social media capability, your use of keywords and much more.

Yoast is a popular SEO plugin that works with Wordpress (the most popular website CMS). It focuses content creators on maximizing SEO opportunities when posting, is practical and easy to use.

PluginSeo is one example of a free tool that can be run from a browser and checks your site for areas that could stand some improvement for SEO. It examines your site with the eye of a search engine and then reports back to you with a rundown of areas that were inaccessible or poor performers, as well as recommendations and actionable advice on how to further optimize your site.

SEO involves many moving parts and using one or more plugins can help you keep track of all the things you can do to optimize your site.

Striking a Balance with SEO Through Taking a Tiered Approach

You don't have to do everything that is recommended by SEO specialists and guides, including this one. You don't have to make sweeping changes within 24 hours to 'fix' your site.

Yes, there are changes that you can make immediately that can return quick results, but an SEO strategy is something to create, consider, and adapt over time. You should constantly be thinking about SEO, but don't break yourself trying to satisfy every single element all the time. If you're performing SEO alone, you might find spinning plates easier than trying to optimize every area of your website all at once.

Use plugin tools or professionals to help you focus on the main elements to optimize your blog. Start with the basics as listed above for relatively quick fixes that can generate good returns for your effort regarding increased organic search numbers.

When you have the basics down, consider moving onto advanced SEO techniques. Take your time, engaging with the factors that are relevant to you. They might not all be.

Concentrate, however, on the kind of SEO optimization that is going to help you in every blog post you create: write quality content that provides valuable information for your visitors.

Create relevant headlines with appropriate keywords and distribute keyword variations naturally throughout your text. Pay particular attention to sub-headings. Keep your post on the topic and make the most of those in-depth posts that provide almost inevitable opportunities to use more ranking keywords without looking forced. Create content that people want to take the time to read and make them want to come back for more.

If you focus on providing valuable information to real readers, the search engines will be on your side. Their job is to connect their users with people like you, providers of quality content.