Organic content marketing allows us to capture audience attention, grow our reach, and expand our reputation online without paying for it. Of course, by now we realize that organic content marketing is easier talked about than done well. We use social media, email marketing, videos, and a variety of other content to capture audiences using the community-building tools that are already available. The benefit to this approach is a slow drip of already-vetted leads who love your content and can’t wait to buy from you. The downside to this approach is how long it takes — there’s no shortcut to building authority, trust, and community.
Though there are no shortcuts, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) provides an avenue to growing your audience organically that’s a bit different from the slow burn of social media. With SEO, the right actions can help you gain traction with your audience immediately. After all, Google is a powerful tool that connects questions with answers. If you can be the answer to a question, you’ve built trust. If that answer drives your audience to a product or service, you’re in business.
We achieve SEO through website content. We build a lot of our SEO authority through static content — pages that are always present and rarely change on the site. However, the most palpable example of great SEO content is your blog.
Understanding SEO for Blog Posts
Your blog should be an evergreen repository of new information for your ideal audience. These posts should help your audience evaluate products and services like yours, inform themselves about the industry, seek answers and discover inspiration. The foremost step to optimizing your blog for search is to create content that people would want to find, given the search they entered into Google.
10 Steps to Smarter SEO for Blog Posts
Perform Keyword Research
The first step is to decide what you’re going to write about. There are a lot of different avenues for deciding on the right topic. These might include surveying your audience for what they want to read, looking at past top-performing posts, or observing trends. However, if you want your blog post to perform for Google searches, you need to know what’s being searched and write to that end. You can use a variety of keyword research tools to determine what people are looking for online. When you begin to dig into keywords for organic SEO, there are two main metrics you want to look at: Monthly Volume and Keyword Competition. In most tools, monthly volume will look like, let’s say, 1,500. This means the keyword is searched an average of 1,500 times per month. These numbers could range from 10 or 20 to hundreds of thousands of searches. The higher volume searches could lead to higher traffic, but there’s a caveat: the competition score. Competition scores often look like a decimal between 0.01 and 1, with 1 being the highest level of competition. Scores under 0.5 tend to yield less density of results and less competition for the intended keyword. Those approaching 1 are higher and therefore more difficult to rank for.
Choose a keyword or phrase for your blog post by finding the best balance of high volume searches and low competition. Keep an eye on keywords that seem to fit your ideal audience and which inspire you to write an in-depth and valuable article. You’ll be using these in the title, metadata, headers, and throughout the copy of the post. Here’s a guide on effective keyword usage.
Choose a Slug
The “slug” is the part of your URL string that comes after the .com/ or .org/ in your website URL. You want your slugs to be short and concise, keyworded, and relevant.
It’s important to use your slug as an opportunity to add a relevant keyword or phrase to the URL for every post. You also want to make sure the URL makes sense to what the post is about, and that you remove most “stop words” from the slug to keep it short and sweet.
For example, on a post called “10 Ways to Prepare Your House to Sell This Summer,” you could choose a slug like XYZ.com/prepare-house-to-sell
Organize Your Post
Once you’ve got your keywords decided, you’re almost ready to write. Your post needs a few key things in place: A title, a CTA, and an outline of sections and subsections.
- Choosing a Title
Your post title is different from the SEO title that we’ll get into in a bit. This is the title you’ll enter at the top of your post in most content editors, and will be the display title on your actual website. Include the keyword in your post title, but focus less on SEO for this one. Instead, make sure it’s clear and compelling for your actual users.
- Outlining & Adding Headers
You don’t have to outline your post before you write it, but if you do, you can match each section header to an H2 or H3 heading that has the right keywords in the right place. Further, you’ll ensure that your post flows top to bottom and keeps people engaged. Remember: if your bounce rate is high or your post clocks a low time-on-page, Google will be compelled to devalue your ranking. Google wants to feed users the highest quality content. If you don’t keep your users engaged, they’ll bounce and Google will see that as a sign of poor content.
- Choosing a CTA
Your CTA is the Call to Action at the end of your blog post. Your CTA might look like “call now for more information” or “visit our resource library to learn more.” Sometimes CTAs drive to a specific product or sale; other times, they’re just pushing users to more content and exploration. It’s smart to set this up early on so you know what your post will conclude with. This will help you drive readers to that eventual goal as you write.
Write Your Post
The basics are in place and it’s time to start creating. You’ll perform research and make sure that your information is correct, updated, and accessible for your readers. These aren’t SEO tips; this is just good practice for content. Once you do that, though, it’s important to go back through and make sure a few things are in place: proper length, readability, and originality.
- Proper length
Make sure your post is at least 300 words. The average word count for a top ranked blog post is 1,200 words but 300 is the bare minimum. A sweet spot for most content is at least 750 words with a trend toward higher word counts. If your post is packed full of statistics, links to more resources, or tons of value, you can get away with more words. Don’t just add words to meet a minimum – make sure you’re really saying something.
Google wants to push readable, accessible content to their users. If you want your content to rank, it should idle at the 5th – 8th grade reading level to make it easier to skim for people on-the-go, more accessible for every kind of audience, and more comprehensible for search crawlers. Yoast – the most popular SEO plugin – uses the Fleisch-Kincaid Readability Index to evaluate your copy on readability markers like length of sentences, length of words, use of transitions and active voice, and more. If you’re using Yoast, or a third-party tool to test your readability, aim for a score closer to 100.
Duplicate content is the enemy. Copying your own content will cannibalize your SEO efforts. Copying other people’s content is plagiarism and is frowned upon, if not unlawful. Google and their users both want to see original content because it’s fair, honest, and most useful. Regurgitating other brands’ content, even if you don’t copy it word for word, won’t help you make many friends or differentiate from competitors. Instead, make sure your posts are 100% unique to you.
Select & Add Images
Your blog post should include images to capture reader attention, help explain your points, and provoke users to scroll. However, there’s a right and wrong way to use images in your posts, from an SEO perspective. Focus on the following:
- Choosing proper images
Choose the images for your post with humans in mind. Don’t worry about SEO for this part, but do make sure that your images are relevant to the post, captivating, and — most importantly — owned by you, licensed by you, or open source and free to use.
- Correct sizing
Make sure your images aren’t too tiny or too large to be seen and clicked on. However, you also want to keep your image sizes and proportions under control so the image doesn’t skew or stretch, and so your site doesn’t get slowed down by massive files.
When you save an image to your desktop for use on your website, consider the filename. If you plan to use an image you’ve already saved, you can rename the file before you upload. The filename will be used in the URL string attached to your image and that will help you bolster SEO. Make sure any image you plan to upload to your post is saved with a filename that’s relevant to your content, at least. Especially, make sure to avoid filenames like “stupidpic.jpg” or “236349fbas.png” that mean nothing.
- Alt Tag
An alt tag on a website image is an indicator of what the image includes. This is partially used to help identify images for those who need this for accessibility reasons. However, it’s also an opportunity to optimize your first piece of metadata. Here’s a guide to comprehensive alt text optimization, but a good rule of thumb is to use simple phrasing, add keywords and keyword alternates, and describe the image accurately.
This is where things can level up a little bit. For beginners, though, make sure that you have an SEO title and a meta description set for every post. Here’s what you need to know:
This is the title of the post, as it is displayed in the Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page). The title should mimic the post title we set earlier, but with the fluff cut out. It should be compelling — as this is what you’ll use to get users to click on your result once you do rank. This title should be no longer than 60 characters but should be more than 20, and it must include the keyword you chose, as well as any alternate forms or longtail options. Here’s more on the best practices for SEO titles or title tags.
Your meta description functions to provide further context for your SERP result. At up to 150 characters, meta descriptions are longer and can provide a summary, promise, or excerpt of the content you’re presenting. The description should also include keywords and alternates, and should be used to persuade readers to click by explaining the value of what’s inside if they do. More on meta descriptions here.
Strategize Your Links
Every post you publish should include some amount of internal and external links. Internal links point to pages or posts on the same site and external links point away from your site. Both are essential to your blog post at face-value and for SEO.
While there’s no hard and fast rule about link usage, there are a few best practices that will help you optimize them:
Link use and placement
All of the links in your blog posts should be set to open in a new tab. This helps to avoid redirection of the traffic you’d like to keep. It’s smart to make sure you use at least 1-2 external links and 3-4 internal links, though actual numbers can and should vary.
All links in your blog post should be text-based links that use anchor text. That means that when the link is shared, it doesn’t display with the full URL, but with a piece of text. You’ll see links throughout this post use anchor text. You’ll never see “www.” in one of our posts.
You should choose anchor text wisely, though. Don’t use “click here” as the text for all your links. First of all, that’s not compelling to readers, nor providing of context for what they’ll find if they do. Anchor text is a valuable opportunity to add keywords and keyword alternatives, so choose anchor texts that align to the topic of the post you’re writing, and the post you’ve linked to.
Choosing what to link to
When choosing internal links, opt for a mix of content pages and action pages. For example, a blog post about “how to book the perfect family vacation” might link to your list of safe family destinations, an ebook about packing for a family trip, and a contact page to set up a travel agent consultation. The first two are content links that help add context and value to the discussion with your reader. The third link, to a contact page, is an action link that pushes your readers to a potential sale. Make sure to mix it up — if you always try to push readers to the sale, they’ll get sick of it and take their business elsewhere.
When choosing external links, make sure to check for credibility. Don’t link to sites that will spam your readers or content that’s irrelevant to the topic of discussion.
Position Categories & Tags
Categories and tags are two extras you can add to make your blog post easier to find on site and easier to discover through Google.
These actually separate your content into piles. For example, your makeup blog might have categories for tutorials, product reviews, and favorite looks. When your users click one category, they’ll see just the posts that have been categorized under that umbrella. You choose categories upfront for your blog and compartmentalize all future content into those preset categories. You can add or change them, but you could be messing with the sanctity of your sitemap. It’s best to keep these simplified.
Tags are more like hashtags on social media. They help you add a few qualifiers to your post to tell Google and your site visitors more about what your blog post includes. Your makeup blog (from the previous example) might include a post about The 14 Best Makeup Removers. Tags might include makeup remover, makeup remover wipes, makeup removal, removing makeup, and the specific brands you mention in the post.
Publish & Promote
Optimization happens before you hit publish, but Google is watching what happens afterward, too. If you publish a post to your site and do nothing else to promote it, Google will eventually pick it up. It could take much longer to gain traction, though, since you aren’t showing Google the good faith of promoting your own content.
When you promote your post through social sharing, email blasts, ads, or any other form of traffic acquisition, Google takes notice. Most importantly, traffic to the post, time on page, bounce rate, and the general reaction across the web do impact Google’s perception of the post over time. Posts that get a lot of attention outside the SERP are more likely to be pushed to the top of the results. Also, SEO isn’t the only way forward for traffic acquisition and it’s usually many channels working in tandem that help you grow.
Measure & Adjust
SEO doesn’t work well with a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. In fact, it is the evolutionary nature of SEO that makes it so effective and yet so complex. Google is constantly changing their algorithms to balance out the immense free gift they’re giving us all (the potential for organic growth) with their own business interests (selling ads). It’s a push-pull that keeps Google and other engines in the ultimate captain’s chair. We can provide all of the best practices in the world but you’ll learn more from analyzing your own data. Start with what we’ve given you here, but then begin to watch your Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Use SEO Tools to monitor your position for intended keywords, to aggregate the keywords you’re ranking for that you hadn’t already considered, and to help you reoptimize your content again and again, to keep up with an ever-changing digital world.
If you find this guide helpful, stay tuned. We’re constantly publishing new content to help you grow your business and move your goals forward. What are your biggest SEO questions? We’d love to answer those in the comments below.