It’s no secret today that search engine optimization (SEO) is a pretty big deal when it comes to promoting yourself online and improving your business’s discoverability.
While there are tons of ways to get your website noticed by Google’s bots, today we’re going to be focusing on the blog part of your website and the unique (hopefully) content you’re publishing yourself.
Before we move on to the good stuff, I feel I should really address something that I’ve seen many people do and is just plain wrong: writing ONLY for SEO. What that means is writing content while following a strict set of rules that may play well with Google’s algorithm, but not with actual people.
Let me give you an example of something I’ve come across many times: let’s say you’ve got a website that’s focused on movies, TV, and all that. The year’s almost at an end and you want to write an article about the highest rated movies of the past year. You do a little keyword research and discover that “best movies 2020” is the highest rated keyword relating to your article’s subject. You decide to use it in your article in that exact form, despite it not being appropriate for a human reader.
Many people will choose to use poor grammar or sacrifice sentence structures or readability in an attempt to please the bots, which is just not how this is supposed to work.
I’m using this keyword example just to point out that you should always keep in mind who you’re writing for: people. This is why I never like saying “writing for SEO,” because you should never write for SEO, you should write for people first and foremost. It’s called search engine optimization because that’s all we’re doing, optimizing. You should never sacrifice your content’s quality as perceived by people – your target audience – for the sake of a search engine. After all, if your writing’s good, it’s the people who will then spread your work, and if they don’t like what they’re reading, all your SEO will have been for nothing.
Always write primarily with the user experience in mind. As with UX writing, the underlying principle of a user-centric experience applies to content writing as well, so don’t focus on just pleasing bots that will never buy anything from you.
Alright, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to the nitty-gritty and take a look at 10 things you can do to improve your website’s search engine ranking through blogging.
- Use Google Search Console
- Find effective keywords
- Integrate keywords naturally
- Link internally
- Optimize images for faster loading times
- Optimize meta descriptions
- Use friendly URL structures
- Add alt text to your images
- Ensure your website is mobile friendly
- Update or remove old content
1. Use Google Search Console
Search Console, formerly known as Webmaster Tools, can be of great help to anyone looking to improve their ranking in Google.
By using the Search Analytics Report, for example, you can analyze clicks from searches on Google and determine the keywords used by people to reach your blog.
Search Console provides easy to access analytics that can help you make the right choices when it comes to optimizing your posts for traffic and leads. It’s important to remember, however, that posts don’t start ranking immediately. Search authority takes time to build.
If you need help learning how to use it – if you’re here, you probably do – you can always check out Google’s own support pages, as they do a great job of not only getting you started, but also helping with more advanced features.
While Microsoft Bing is nowhere near as popular as Google’s search engine, it’s still worth putting the effort into ranking in their searches as well, especially if you’ve got an international audience. Microsoft offers their own Bing Webmaster Tools which can help with that.
2. Find effective keywords
There are over 80,000 searches being performed each second on Google. Pretty incredible, right? In order to outrank competitors and reach your target audience, you need to focus on specific keywords and phrases that potential clients might be using in searches.
You probably already know some popular industry terms that may help you rank, but you can also get help from Google Trends, as well as other tools such as SEMRush, which lets you see what keywords your competitors are ranking for and other important metrics.
It’s worth noting that the most obvious keywords aren’t necessarily the best. People tend to use “long-tail” keywords when searching, which are more specific phrases or questions. While they don’t get as much traffic, they usually have higher conversion values since they are more specific. Since competition for short and more general keywords tends to be fierce, your best bet might be to focus on long-tail keywords.
After you’ve finished your research and decided on a list of keywords, you can use tools like Ubsersuggest, Moz’s Keyword Explorer, or even Google’s own Keyword Planner to see monthly volumes for your chosen keywords.
It’s important to remember that the best keywords to focus on will change over time, so you need to research them periodically and ensure you’re always targeting the best ones and not missing out on ranking opportunities.
3. Integrate keywords naturally
We’ve already gone through this one in the beginning, but it’s a very important step.
Like I said, always keep in mind that you’re writing for people and only optimizing for search engines. Do not compromise the quality and readability of the text simply to appease search engines. It’s people who will be consuming your content and deciding whether it’s any good.
As part of the optimization process, here are the key places where your primary keyword should appear in for the best results:
- Headings & subheadings
- Alt text
- Meta description
- Throughout your post
Before moving on, it’s crucial that you remember not to overdo it and use keywords too much throughout the content that the overall post quality suffers (this is known as “keyword stuffing”). Search engines condemn this practice, and it may actually hurt your chances of ranking higher.
Keyword density (words in post / times keyword appears) should generally be kept at around 2%.
4. Link internally
Linking to your own content or other pages on your site will show search engines that your content is relevant and valid. If you’re mentioning something in a blog post that you’re already talked about somewhere else, you should link to it.
Not only is this good for search engines, but it will also keep visitors on your website and ensure that they see as much content as possible, thus potentially increasing conversions.
It’s important to keep in mind that when linking to other content on your site, you should never use generic text such as “click here.” Instead, use natural language for the anchor text and give readers a sense of what they will find on the page you’re linking to.
5. Optimize images for faster loading times
The time it takes to load a page can either be a helpful ranking factor or something that actually pushes your pages down the results lists in search engines.
Large photos are often the main culprit when dealing with slow pages. Thankfully, dealing with the various formats and compressing images with difficult to use software has been a thing of the past for some years now. All you have to do nowadays is upload your image files to a tool like TinyPNG and download compressed versions of them, optimized for web use.
It might not seem like much on the surface but compressing images can have a huge impact on the load times of your pages. Not only will this help with search engines, but it will also improve regular traffic to your site, as visitors are less likely to be frustrated by slowly loading pages. They may spend more time on your site, and they will be more likely to share your content with others.
6. Optimize meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are those blocks of text that appear in search engine result pages (SERPs) below the URLs. They let potential visitors know what to expect if they visit a page and it’s important that you choose them carefully and make them as attractive as possible – your ultimate goal is to essentially convince searchers to visit your website out of all the others.
The maximum length of these descriptions is around 300 characters, which should be more than enough to give searchers an idea of what to expect when visiting your website.
As mentioned above in my third point, these meta descriptions should ideally also contain your primary keyword. When searching for that keyword, it will appear in bold in the description, drawing attention to the fact that you are in fact talking about whatever it is searchers are looking for. Google can also make connections on its own; for example, if someone searches for “digital books”, it might also emphasize “ebooks” in the meta description.
It’s worth remembering that providing a meta description won’t guarantee it will always show up in SERPs. Sometimes Google might just think that it has a more relevant snippet of text from your content to offer searchers and there’s really not much you can do about it. Nonetheless, optimizing your meta description is something you should absolutely always do.
7. Use friendly URL structures
The URL structure doesn’t refer to the actual URLs of your posts, but to the overall structure of your website.
As is common, for example, your blog will be split up into categories. Typically, your post URLs may look something like this: website.com/blog/individual-post-url. This lets visitors know that the page they are about to access is a blog post. You may go a step further and have categories show up in your URLs, like so: website.com/blog/recipes/individual-post-url. This gives searchers more information about the type of content they’ll see on your page and either convince them to visit your site or dissuade them if they’re actually looking for something different (thus reducing your bounce rate, which is good).
If in the SERP they see something like website.com/services, then it’s safe to assume they won’t be getting much information about their search terms, but instead be taken to a page where you’re offering paid help with those specific terms. Google also understands these things so it’s worthwhile investing a little time into choosing a helpful URL structure for your website.
Since we’re on the topic of URLs, we’re going to sidetrack just a little bit and talk about post slugs – that is, the specific URL for each article, or everything that may typically come after “blog/” in the URL. No one likes long URLs, and they aren’t search engine friendly either. It’s safe to assume that whatever you’re writing about, the title will pretty much always be too long to include all of it in the URL.
So, here’s what you need to do: if your article is titled “How to Cook a Delicious Turkey in 10 Minutes,” you slug should look something like this: how-cook-turkey-10mins. See what I did there? The URL is much shorter, but you still know exactly what to expect just from the URL slug alone.
8. Add alt text to your images
An image’s alt text is basically a description of that image. Since search engines can’t really “see” images like we do (yet, at least), this description helps them understand what’s in a certain photo and much the same as with text, it will help it rank higher in image results pages.
Not only is an alt text useful for search engines, but it can also be useful for people. One instance where this could help is if for some reason an image gets deleted, but it’s still embedded in a blog post. If this happens, instead of displaying a blank space in its stead or an error icon to suggest there should be an image there, it will display the alt text, letting users know that an image was supposed to be there and what it contained.
Another instance is when someone who is visually impaired visits your site and uses a screen reader to read your content. Since they may not be able to see the images in your posts, the alt text will inform them that they are there and what’s in each of them.
The maximum number of characters used in the alt text should be under 125, so that gives you more than enough to provide a basic description of what the image is showing.
9. Ensure your website is mobile friendly
You probably already know this, but nowadays most internet traffic comes from mobile devices such as phones. This means that most searches happen on mobile devices and as such, Google ranks mobile friendly websites higher than those with a lower mobile usability score.
To simplify things a bit, making your website mobile friendly means ensuring that it is responsive, meaning that its layout and design automatically adjusts according to screen size.
While in the past you’d have two separate URLs for each page, one for mobile and one for desktop, responsiveness has allowed us to stop dividing URLs like that and thus improve our SEO gains since all the traffic now goes to just one page.
Thankfully, optimizing pages for mobile is relatively easy these days and doesn’t require much effort if you’ve got the right tools.
10. Update or remove old content
Improving your SEO isn’t just about publishing new content. While that is a big piece of the puzzle, you also need to set aside some time for your existing content. This means updating or straight up removing content that is outdated and maybe no longer relevant.
New content takes longer to rank on SERPs and gain authority, while older content that’s already ranking could simply be updated and you could benefit from it much quicker. This also takes a lot less time than producing new content.
Finally, old content that is no longer relevant in any way should simply be removed if updating it is not an option.
That’s about it. Note that the above list is by no means exhaustive and there are many more things you can do to improve your website’s ranking through the content that you publish. However, everything we’ve gone through is pretty essential and should absolutely do quite a lot for your SEO.