Let me just say this up front…
…bloggers are awesome.
- Bloggers have something to say and they’re not afraid to say it.
- Bloggers create great content (generally) and that content is making up a larger and larger portion of the web.
- Bloggers are making the web a better place by engaging their respective communities and encouraging thoughtful discussions (let’s just pretend ALL bloggers do that).
However, being awesome doesn’t equate to knowing anything about SEO. Not everybody can be, or wants to be, a SEO geek. Well, I was a blogger long before I was an SEO, so I’d like to give back to my “people” with this guide: SEO 101 for bloggers. Let’s hop right into it.
What the Heck is SEO Anyway?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, but that doesn’t exactly provide a meaningful answer to the question of “what is SEO?”. So, let me explain what SEO is about instead. SEO is about making websites easier for search engines to understand. Search engines are work thanks to the efforts of search engine robots (or spiders); computer programs, essentially. They don’t see your blog’s content in the same way your readers do (though the do try) so SEO is about making sure they can see your content and understand what you’re blogging about. A popular analogy is to think of search engine spiders as blind five-year-olds.
Once search engines can read your blog’s content and understand what it’s about, they can return it in search results when people search for stuff. If someone searches for something that you wrote a post about and Google’s robot has read it, Google’s search results can show that post to the searcher. If they click on your post, you’ve got a new reader!
At the end of the day, SEO is about making a search engine’s job as easy as possible so that you get more readers. If you’re running ads on your blog or selling something, this means more money in your pocket. That’s always nice, too.
How Search Engines Work
Before you try to optimize your blog posts for search engines, it’s important to understand the basics of how they work. As mentioned previously, search engines are robots (kinda). Google, Bing, and Yahoo all have their own robots, but the robot’s job is always the same…
Go out and “crawl” every page on the web.
When a robot goes out on its magical journey into cyberspace, it records everything its little eyes see (the code that makes up website). At the end of the day, the robot brings that back to Search Engine HQ and that data is added to the Index. The search engine then runs an algorithm over that data to determine what kinds of searches your web pages are relevant to.
When someone runs a search on Google.com, they’re actually asking Google what webpages it has recorded in its Index that are relevant to whatever they typed in. Imagine if GoogleBot couldn’t get to your website or couldn’t understand what you were talking about in a certain post (maybe you weren’t clear with poor Googlebot). If that happened, no one could find your blog through Google! Understanding that process is essentially what makes SEO possible.
The Basic Components of SEO
All SEO can be broken into two main buckets: On-site and Off-site.
- On-site SEO refers to what you can optimize on your actual blog. This includes your content (blog posts), the meta data (code that gives information about your content), and your accessibility (the easy with which search robots can read your stuff).
- Off-site SEO refers to outside factors that influence how your blog is regarded by search engines. This include backlinks (other websites linking to you) and social signals (mentions and shares of your blog on social sites). Search engines look at this stuff do get an idea of how valuable your blog is. If people are linking to your posts and talking about them on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, search engines can infer that there’s probably a good chance you’re doing something worth checking out.
We’ll dive into each of those areas in a bit, but first, I’d like to hop into what most people seem to want to know about when I talk to bloggers about SEO: keywords.
The term “keyword” can be a bit confusing, since a keyword can be one or many words. Some people call them “keyphrases”. A keyword is simply anything a person would type into a search engine in order to find what they’re looking for.
“Fashion blogs” is a keyword and “how to make a candle out of old candles” is a keyword. Since the days of old (’95) we, as users, have been trained to search in short snippets that represent the kind of content we’re looking for. Search engines are trying to get much more semantic in how they interpret those short snippets (i.e, keywords), but by and large, the keyword is still key.
Picking Keywords for Your Blog Posts
The process of choosing keywords is pretty unique when you’re doing it for a blog, but it’s also a lot of fun. Finding great keywords for your blog is all about three things:
- Understanding your readers.
- Understanding your content.
- Connecting both of those things for search engines.
If you’ve been blogging for long, you should have an idea of what you like to write about and that tells you about your ideal reader: someone who shares your same interests. So think about the kinds of searches they would type into a search engine to find and answer to a question they have. Those are going to make great a keyword. If you create content around those searches, or adapt existing content, search engines will be able to connect a search to your blog. That’s what gets you more visitors and readers!
Google’s Keyword Tool
If you have an idea for a post, you have a great starting point. You can probably think of some keywords off the top of your head. Now, you can find the best version of your keywords by using a simple and free tool, courtesy of Google. Check out Google’s keyword tool here or just search for “Keyword Tool”; it’s always the first result. Dump as many variations of your main keyword or phrase into that text box up top and hit Search. The tool will come back and tell you if those keywords have a decent monthly search volume or not. When it comes down to it, I wouldn’t really worry about the numbers. If there are people searching for it and it’s relevant to your post’s topic, go with it.
Below that section where the tool returned data on the keywords you entered, you’ll also see a list of related keywords that you didn’t actually put in. These are searches that Google thinks are probably related to what you put in. These can be good alternatives to go for as well.
But sometimes your blog post isn’t exactly focused on a broad keyword that people are searching for in large numbers. Sometimes, your topic is very specific and it doesn’t make sense to water it down just to chase keywords. It’s times like these that you should take a different approach. For this one, just head over to Google.com. Good old Google has a hidden feature that is pure gold for bloggers. Start with a broad keyword (like “DIY projects” or “photoshop tutorial”) or even the beginning of a longer search (like “how to tie…” or “my child won’t…”). If you don’t hit enter right away, you’ll see all kinds of stuff start to pop up. That’s Google Autosuggest. They’re using data they have on actual searches to try to help you find what you’re looking for, but guess what? That means people are actively searching for those things. If something pops up there, it could make a great keyword.
Keep in mind, though, that keywords and SEO should never receive more focus than writing the posts you want to write. Search engines are getting better everyday at figuring out which sites are creating good content that people want to reach and which sites are chasing keywords, so make sure you’re using keywords and SEO to compliment your blog, not run it.
How to Optimize a Blog Post
So let’s get to the good part: how do we actually optimize a blog post to rank in search and get more traffic? I’ll take you through the most important things you should do with every blog post. All of these are thing we use in-house at SwellPath.
The title of your blog post is one of the most important SEO elements for a number of reasons. Search engines give a lot of weight to the words in your title and, perhaps more importantly, your title is commonly what shows up in search results. Bonus: your title also gets pulled into social networks that your post gets shared to. So, you want to make sure you have a title that’s both descriptive (contains keywords if it makes sense) but that also draws in a reader. If your blog post title contains keywords that a user searched for, those keywords also appear bolded in their results. Try to keep your title to 70 characters or less (including spaces), since that’s all search engines will show in search results.
While the title of your post is important, the content of your blog post is what will make and break your success in search. If you want your blog post to be included in search results for a specific keyword, make sure you’re using that keyword in your post. There’s no perfect keyword density or a specific number of times you should use a keyword in your post, but try to use it three times. If you can’t use the keyword naturally in your post at least three time, you might not have a relevant keyword.
Another thing to keep in mind is that search engines typically give a bit more weight to keywords that appear earlier in the content. Think about it this way: your keyword is your topic, so go ahead and introduce your topic in your first paragraph so that your readers (and search engines) know what you’re going to be talking about.
The title of your blog post will typically show up on the page as large bold text at the top of the page. If your blogging platform is built correctly, this will be wrapped in what’s known as an H1 Heading tag behind the scenes in the code of the website. This tells search engines that this heading is the main topic of the page. That’s one of the reasons why the title of your post is so important.
It doesn’t stop there though. You can also include sub-headings; H2 and H3 headings that you can choose in your WYSIWYG editor. Use these to define sub-sections of your post. Know that if you include your keyword here, you’ll get a bit more juice out of it.
Good old metadata. Meta tags kinda get a bad rap these days, but they can still be valuable. The most important one that you need to know about is the meta description tag. In many cases, this is just defined as “description” when you’re editing a blog post. The reason that this is important to fill out is that it displays as the snippet under your blog post title and can really increase the likelihood that searchers will click through to your site.
Fill this out for every post and limit it to 160 characters. You can use this tool to check how you’re doing. Also, know that this description will most often get pulled into Facebook and Google+ when people share the post, too.
If you’re worrying about “meta keywords” and whether or not you should fill that out on all your posts, go ahead and skip it. Search engines don’t really use it anymore and can do more harm than good if misused.
Promoting Your New Blog Post
Promoting each new blog post should be just as much a part of blogging as crafting a title. Once you finish your post, share it to Google+, Twitter, and Facebook so people can see it. This can also get it on the search engines’ radar so that it gets picked up quickly and starts being returned in search results. Even if you don’t use or like Google+, you need to share your blog posts there. Learn more about why you need to get down with Google+.
SEO Checklist for Everyday Blogging
- Pick a keyword – Once you have a topic in mind, use the keyword tools available to you to make sure you’re using a version that people are searching for. You can also use a keyword as a secondary consideration and just throw it in where appropriate.
- Optimize your title – Make your title catchy because it will show up pretty much everywhere. Also, work in your main keyword if at all possible.
- Write your content – Introduce your topic (keyword) in the first paragraph. Try to include that keyword three or more times if you can throughout the entire post.
- Use headings – Set off new sections using H2 and H3 headings for extra SEO value.
- Fill out the description – Write a concise and catchy meta description for your blog post and include your keyword.
- Promote your post – Share your shiny new post with the world.
Is There More SEO for Bloggers?
When it comes to SEO, it seems like there’s always more. In SEO 201 for bloggers, we’ll get into how you can optimize your blogging platform so that it’s easy to get your content picked up, avoid nasty search engine penalties, and get the most out of this traffic gold mine. In SEO 301 for bloggers, we’ll explore some simple ways to increase your blog’s authority and reputation with the search engines.
Comment for a chance to win a blog SEO review
But wait, there’s more! At SwellPath, we love bloggers and we want to help them out. If you leave a comment on this post telling us about what you learned from this post, SEO 101 for Bloggers, and then follow us on Google+, you’ll have a chance to win a blog SEO review with a SwellPath SEO analyst. We’ll check out your blog, tell you how you’re doing with SEO and explain what you can do better so that you get more traffic and more readers. Comment by November 30th and we’ll announce a winner during the first week of December.