How to Optimize Your Blog Posts for SEO
Blogging for SEO is pretty much a no brainer. Publishing regular blog posts gives you opportunities to target a large number of long-tail keywords, keeps people on your website longer, and gives other websites something to link back to.
Getting your blog up and producing content for it are both important steps, but you can make that work go much further for your SEO efforts by taking a few extra steps to optimize your blog posts for SEO.
While you should generally prioritize writing for your audience rather than search engines, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t useful steps you can take to make your posts go further with the search engines.
1. Do Keyword Research.
Keyword research should be one of the first steps you take in developing a blog strategy for SEO because it helps you figure out the types of topics your audience is interested in. For each blog post you write, it’s smart to have a primary keyword or two in mind, along with a few similar or related secondary keywords.
You’ll want to use these in the post where relevant, but only when it makes natural sense to do so. Don’t ever try to force a keyword in where it doesn’t work –the search engines frown on keyword stuffing and you could be penalized. And with Google’s use of latent semantic indexing (LSI), it’s less important than it used to be to use exact keywords in lieu of synonyms or similar terms. But having those keywords in mind and using them as you write is still worth it, as long as you don’t go overboard.
A couple of useful tips for doing blogging keyword research:
- Go for long-tail keywords – One or two-word phrases are often very competitive and hard to rank for, so relevant longer phrases or questions are more worth your time. As an example, targeting a broad keyword like “seo” in a blog post makes less sense than getting more specific, like “small business local seo.”
- Think about voice search. As more people use Siri and Alexa, optimizing your content for voice search becomes more important. And since voice search is a newer development in SEO that not all businesses are thinking about, it’s a good way to be competitive.
2. Check for Rich Results in the SERP.
Once you have your target keywords in mind, head to Google and do some searches for them. Many types of searches now include rich results on the search engine results page (SERP).
If a search for your target keyword produces a featured snippet above the organic results, or if many of the organic results include images, video thumbnails, or other rich information, then you want to make sure you’re optimizing your content to compete for those things.
In some cases, that means adding schema markup to your webpage. In others, it means changing the way you structure your content to try to compete for the featured snippet. Either way, you need to know what you’re competing for and against in order to create the right kind of content to be competitive.
3. Choose Your Post Title Well.
One of the main parts of the page the search engines pay attention to in trying to understand what the page is about is the title. That makes it an important opportunity for you to communicate your topic by using your primary target keyword.
Make sure you include it in a way that makes sense. If you shoehorn it in so that it’s confusing for your human readers, the lack of clicks you get will hurt your SEO chances more than use of the keyword will help them. But since your post will be covering the topic of your keyword, finding a natural way to include it shouldn’t be too difficult.
4. Include the Keyword in Your URL.
The page URL is another important place to include your target keyword. It’s another part of the page search engines look at to figure out how to understand what the page is and, as such, is an important ranking factor.
Always customize the URL before publishing. A blog post on how to find good winter boots should therefore have a URL like www.shoewebsite.com/blog/winter-boots.
5. Optimize Your Headings.
You may be sensing a theme here. Your page headings are another part of the page that search engines give weight to in figuring out what your page is about. That means that, once again, you want to look for opportunities to (naturally) include your keywords in the page heading. That includes anything that has a <h1>, <h2>, or <h3> tag on the page.
Headings are often a good place for those secondary keywords you have in mind, since it probably won’t make sense to use your primary keyword in every heading on the page.
6. Use Your Image Text.
Another page element that search engines pay attention to is the text behind your images. The name of your image (e.g. keyword.jpg) and the alt text you can fill in are two more places you can include your primary keyword on the page.
7. Use Relevant Internal Links.
Links are easily one of the most important ranking signals for the search engine algorithms. Getting other websites to link to yours is a challenge, but you have the power to do as much relevant internal linking on your own site as possible.
Each time you write a new post, think about any blog posts you’ve already published that are relevant to what you’re writing now. Wherever it makes sense to do so, add in those links and, if you can do so naturally, use anchor text that relates to your target keyword for the older post you’re linking to.
8. Write a Meta Description.
While meta descriptions don’t affect how your website ranks, they do influence what people see when they’re browsing their options on the search engine results page. If they’re trying to decide between a few links on the page, a strong description that uses the keywords they searched for (which show up in bold on the SERP) could make the difference in their choosing to click on yours.
Google will display up to around 300 characters on the SERP in the description field, so figure out how to describe what’s on your page (using your target keyword) within a couple of lines here.
9. Link Your New Post to Old Posts.
For all the same reasons you look for opportunities to add old links from your blog to new posts, you should periodically review your old posts to look for opportunities to link to posts that were published later.
One way you can do this is by doing a search of your own site for the target keyword of each new post you create. When you find uses of that keyword or similar terms in your old posts, you can add in a link to the new.
10. Choose Tags and Categories Strategically.
Blogs allow you to create tags and categories that help you group related posts together. This is both a useful navigational aid for people browsing your blog and a tool you can use strategically for SEO. Every category or tag you use creates a new page that will include the name of the tag or category in the URL, along with a lot of relevant content and links on the page.
As with keyword stuffing, you don’t want to overdo it here and create tons of tags with similar keywords, but you should think carefully about which keywords and tags will be the most valuable to readers and for your SEO strategy.
Come up with a list of a few based on the most important keywords you want to rank for, but making sure they each represent different types of topics (e.g. don’t have categories for synonyms or slight variations on terms) and use them whenever they’re relevant to what you’ve written.
Optimize Every Blog Post for SEO
Your blog is one of your most important and powerful SEO tools. Every blog post you publish presents a number of opportunities to strengthen your website’s search authority. Don’t waste any opportunity you have to use your posts to their fullest SEO potential.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.