Search engine optimization (SEO) sounds intimidating to the average blogger. However, SEO is crucial to getting traffic from internet users who are searching for the content you have to offer. In today’s article, you’ll learn about what SEO is and why it’s important, as well as basic SEO tips for beginners you can apply to your blog today.
Quick question: what do you do when you have a problem and you want to know the solution right now?
If you answered, “I Google it.” then you’re not so different from your target audience.
As a blogger, you want your content to be found by your readers.
How to do that?
Search engine optimization (SEO).
In today’s post, I’ll briefly go over what SEO is and why you need it. I’ll give you a simple system to do keyword research, which is the foundation of your SEO strategy. Lastly, I’ll enumerate basic SEO tips you can apply to your blog.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a digital marketing practice that aims to increase the visibility of a website or a specific page in organic search engine results. SEO focuses on driving traffic and increasing rankings in search engine results by refining elements of the website and the content on the page (known as on-page SEO) as well as building and improving links to the page from other sites (known as off-page SEO).
TL;DR: SEO is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
It’s also important to note here that it will seem like I’ll be using the term “search engines” and Google interchangeably, and that’s because Google currently dominates the search engine landscape. This could change in the future, of course, but for now, getting your blog on their search results page is what you should be aiming to do.
Promoting your blog through social media or paid advertising can entice interested users to read your posts, sure. But when people want to find a solution to their problem, they mostly to go to search engines first. And so you want them to find your blog post when they search for a topic that you wrote about.
The key to having your content found by the people who are looking for it is to have the search engines store your site in their database in the first place. So you need to optimize your page and your site so that search engines can find your content, store it in their database, and serve it up to people who are searching for what you have to offer.
But how do you know which terms or phrases to optimize your page for so that people can find your content?
This is where keyword research comes in.
A successfully search engine-optimized blog post starts with keyword research.
Keyword research is the process of researching and selecting words and phrases (yup, in the context of SEO, phrases are called keywords for simplicity) that users will most likely input into search engines when looking for a topic.
Your goal when doing keyword research is to discover the topics that matter to your target audience and, more importantly, learn the exact language they use when they search for information on that topic. In other words, it’s knowing your target audience so well that you know exactly which words will make your audience notice your content.
Good keywords strike a balance between how many times that keyword is searched (known as search volume) and how many other posts match or have that keyword (your competition). If no one is searching for that keyword, it’s hardly worth writing about. Similarly, if you have too much competition, it’s going to be difficult to push past them to get on the first page of the search results.
How do you do keyword research, then?
The entire process of keyword research merits its own post or even series of posts, but here’s a simple, 3-step system you can use for now.
Write down 5 to 6 phrases that you can use to begin your research. Try to use long-tail keywords (that is, a search phrase containing 3 or more words). They’re the most popular type of search (especially for Google), usually less competitive, and more likely to drive high-quality traffic to your blog.
Keyword research tools are essential for this step. Danyon already wrote about some free tools you can use to choose the right keyword. The notable ones are Google Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest.
What you want to know for each keyword is how many times people searched for it in the past month. You’ll also want to know how many other websites are ranking for that keyword, aka your competition.
The perfect keyword is one that’s being searched by a lot of people (high search volume) and with few websites trying to rank for it (low competition). A high number of searches means that there is a demand of information for that topic. Low competition means that not a lot of other websites are trying to rank for that keyword and that you can outrank them when people search for that keyword.
If a clear winner stands out from your initial list, that’s good enough for you to optimize your content around. But sometimes, it doesn’t happen in the first round.
If more than one of the initial keywords you listed looks equally good enough in terms of search volume and competition, choose the longer one. Conversely, if none of the keywords you listed seems good enough, go deeper into related words and phrases and check the data on those. Take care not to spend too much time here, though. Over time, you’ll learn how to gauge if the keywords you find are worth writing about.
Once you’ve selected the keyword you’re going to optimize for and you’ve written an awesome blog post around that keyword, you need to go back and start optimizing your post.
I know I said this is for beginners, but we’re venturing into non-beginner territory here, so I’ll try to break these down as best as I can. Here are the elements of the page that are absolutely crucial for you to optimize.
The title tag is the most important on-page component for SEO. This is an HTML element (written in code as <title>) that specifies the title of a web page or blog post. A title tag appears on search engine result pages as the clickable headline for a result, and tells both users and search engines what a particular page is about.
The title tag for your blog post should contain your keyword, and as much as possible, the keyword should be at the beginning of the title tag. Of course, if your title doesn’t make sense that way, it’s fine to move it back. Just keep in mind that the closer your keyword is to the start, the more impact it has on your rankings.
Aside from including your keyword in the title tag, you’ll want an eye-catching title so readers are enticed to click. In addition, you’ll want to keep your title tag to 70 characters or less, as Google will truncate titles longer than 70 characters.
The URL to your post appears on search engine results below the title tag. Nowadays, Google doesn’t give much importance to the URL in terms of rankings, and if it does, it only looks closely at the first 3 to 5 words. But if someone searched for the keyword you used, Google will display your URL in boldface. Thus, your keyword needs to be in your post URL to draw attention to it and entice people to click.
For example, if I wrote an article with “perfect keyword for my niche” as my keyword, the URL of that post should look like: https://stoppingscams.com/perfect-keyword-for-my-niche with dashes in between the words instead of one long string to make it easier for people (and search engines) to read.
The meta description, technically the “description” meta tag, is the summary of the contents of a page. Google might (i.e., not always) use them as snippets for your blog post. If they do, then the meta description is displayed in the search results page below the URL.
To increase the chance of Google displaying it in the search engine results page, you need to include your keyword in the meta description. As with the URL, if your keyword can be found in the meta description, it will be shown in boldface, telling the user that the content on the page matches what they are looking for.
If people don’t get convinced by your title tag and your post URL to click on your blog post and read it, your meta description is your last chance (on the search results page, at least) to do so. Summarize your content as best as you can and compel them to click and read on. Include a call to action at the end. Beware of the character limit here, though; anything above 160 characters will get truncated by Google.
Lastly, ensure your content delivers on what your meta description promises. Don’t mislead your readers. Otherwise, they won’t trust any future search results from your blog, even if it lands on the first search results page. Plus, Google will catch on pretty quickly and punish you for it.
Here is what a Google search result would typically look like. Note where the title tag, URL, and meta descriptions are.
Heading tags are HTML elements that help define the structure of your article by allowing you to specify headings and subheadings, ranked according to importance. Of the heading tags, H1 (written as <h1>) is the most important, followed by H2 (written as <h2>), and so on until H6.
The H1 heading tag is used for the actual title of your blog post. When a user clicks on your title tag on their search results page, they will be taken to your blog post, where your H1 tag is shown as the title of your blog post.
Google search bots use the H1 of your blog post to determine what it is about. Thus, your keyword needs to be in your H1 tag as well. Also, make sure you only have one H1 tag so that your article structure isn’t confusing for readers as well as search engines.
It’s also best to keep the title of your blog post as close as possible to the title tags your audience are going to see in the search results page. You don’t want people clicking on your blog post from search, seeing your title and then clicking away because it wasn’t what they were expecting. That kind of behavior in the page tells Google that your post isn’t a quality one and causes it to bring your ranking down.
As I mentioned above, H2 to H6 headings aren’t as important as H1 when it comes to SEO per se. However, search engine bots like to see organized content, especially if your posts are longer (1,500 words or more), and they’ll scan your headings to see how you’ve structured your content. Thus, you’ll want to include your keyword in one other heading aside from H1 for good measure, preferably in an H2.
The main thing you need to focus on when creating your content is to make it as valuable as possible to your readers. Aside from writing a high-quality blog post, try to include keywords when they make sense in the content, preferably in the first 100 words of your article so that it’s somewhere in your introduction.
If you’re doing this right, i.e., so that it reads naturally, you may find yourself being able to add your keyword only once or twice throughout the article especially if you’re using a long-tail keyword. That’s okay. Google’s algorithm has gotten pretty good such that as long as you use synonyms of your keyword throughout the text, Google will understand that they’re all related to your target keyword.
Conversely, if you just insert plenty of keywords that are unnecessary and out of context (also called “keyword stuffing”), Google will know. More importantly, readers will know that your content is low-quality and not worth reading. It’s just not worth the effort; spend that effort making high-quality content instead.
If you’re writing a number of articles with related content, it’ll do wonders for your SEO if you can link to your other related blog posts in your article.
Remember, link only to relevant content, and not just for the sake of having internal links on your article. If you’re only starting to write about a particular topic, it’s fine if you can’t do this at first. You’ll get more chances to do internal linking the more you write about a particular topic. Bonus: you can always go back to older posts and link to new ones. Google likes content that’s fresh and updated.
External, or outbound, links are links to other websites or pages. Try to include at least one external link in your article, or even two or more for longer articles.
What? Lead your readers away from your article?
I know it sounds weird, but hear me out.
When you link out to related websites, it helps search engines understand the topic of your post. Plus, when you link out to related, high-authority websites, it increases the trust rating and authority of your website.
Don’t link to other sites just because. If you link to unrelated, untrustworthy sites, you risk harming your SEO instead of helping it.
To sum it up, it benefits your SEO to link out to related, high-quality websites.
Anchor text is the clickable word or phrase that links to another page, whether you link within or outside your blog. For example, if I link back to the StoppingScams homepage, “StoppingScams homepage” is the anchor text.
Search engines take this text into consideration when ranking your post, so make sure to always use anchor text when you’re linking and use keywords in anchor text whenever it makes sense.
It’s tempting to ALWAYS use your target keyword in ALL your anchor texts because of the extra attention they get from search engines. However, it isn’t always appropriate. As in your body text, don’t overdo it. Peppering your content with your keywords in ALL your anchor texts will just get you on Google’s bad side.
Instead, ensure that the anchor text you use corresponds to the page you’re linking to. Or if it’s not possible given the context of the sentence, at least use words around it that are related.
Aside from increasing engagement and readability, images are great opportunities to optimize for search engines.
You should already be inserting images in your blog posts (in case you aren’t, here are the reasons why you really, really should). Keep in mind that all your images will have a title, a filename, and an alt attribute (also called an “alt tag” or “alt text”).
If you aren’t familiar with what an alt attribute is, they’re attributes in your images that screen readers can read out to help describe the image to the visually impaired. As this is actually a useful function, we don’t want to abuse this solely for our SEO, although it can be tempting to place your keyword in ALL the alt attributes of all the images.
Instead, aim to be descriptive in your alt attributes. Think of how you would describe the image to someone who can’t see, and that’s what you should normally place there.
You do have leeway with one image in your post: your featured image. Ensure that every post has a featured image that has your keyword in its title, filename, and alt attribute.
You can get away with doing this for your featured image, especially if you have the headline in your featured image like I suggest in this article because this image is specifically for your blog post; that is, it’s meant to visually represent your blog post on your blog and on social media.
If you optimized your post title, then that would have your keyword. Thus, it would make sense that your image title, filename, and alt attribute would all have your keyword.
Bonus: Your featured image has a chance of showing up in an image search result page if by any chance users search in Google Images or if they click the Images tab on a normal search for your keyword. It’s rare, but it can happen.
SEO is a massive, murky subject that will take more than a few paragraphs to thoroughly discuss. I merely covered the basics in this post, and I hope this will give you everything you need to start optimizing your posts for search engines.
Let me review the tips that I mentioned in today’s article.
Before you go forth and optimize, I do have some more tips and reminders I’d like to share.
No matter how impeccable your keyword research is, no matter how well you incorporate your keyword in your content, you’ll never get to reap the benefits of SEO if your content is crap.
Focus on creating useful, high-quality content, and then work on optimizing it so people can find your awesome content.
Whatever you’re thinking to do to get the odds in your favor, it’s been tried. Seriously.
Google’s too smart for that. Keyword stuffing? Google knows. Want to manipulate your outbound links to increase your ranking? Google knows. Planning to hide your keywords somewhere in your page so that users can’t see it but search engines can? Yup, you guessed it. Google knows.
Of course, people will always try to work around Google’s sophisticated algorithm, but why spend all that time and effort studying how to do it when you can spend that time and effort on actually creating content for your readers? After all, Google can collapse one day, and you’ll be left with worthless content. This brings me to the last thing, which is:
Make no mistake: writing for your readers while making it appealing for search engines as well is challenging.
Content creation would be much simpler if pleasing one meant pleasing the other. However, we know this is not always the case.
Remember this, though: Google won’t subscribe to your email updates, or share your content with others, or pay you to blog, or buy your products.
Your readers will.
Thus, when you create content, always put the needs of your readers first and search engines second. You want your excellent content to be found, sure, but you can only do so much. Your energies will be better spent in creating excellent content that gets shared and linked to by humans.
Were these basic tips helpful for your blog’s SEO? Do you think I missed something? Let me know in the comments below!
JoAnne is your average, everyday, sane stay-at-home mom who believes in the power of the internet to make dreams come true. She has an insatiable appetite for chocolate, as well as all things internet marketing. She keeps up with the latest trends in blogging, affiliate marketing, e-commerce, and more.