Getting search engines, especially Google, to find your blog is critical. Otherwise, you’re missing out on a huge audience.
Search engine optimization (SEO) can seem difficult to grasp at first. However, in reality, it’s not. Most of SEO comes down to using common sense and applying a strict process to the content you create.
A couple of years ago, SEO had us writing for search engines, rather than people. Strategies such as repeating the same keyword multiple times were surefire ways to rank high on Google. But that’s no longer the case.
Today, SEO best practices are closely connected to how people read your content. In most cases, high-ranking content can be both well written and SEO-friendly.
But how do you manage that?
There are many aspects to SEO, but in this article, I’ll at least show you the basics. Keep in mind, applying SEO to your blog won’t give you overnight success. You can turn paid traffic on instantly, but SEO doesn’t work that way. It takes time to plan out your SEO game and get a positive reputation from Google.
Truth be told, with SEO, you’ll start seeing results only after six to 12 months of effort. So that means you should have realistic expectations when first starting out. But if done right, SEO can pay off in spades!
Why SEO Is Important
According to GrowthBadger, on average, 60% of traffic comes from organic search. In many niches, that percentage can be much higher.
You need traffic. Without traffic, you don’t have a blog. Since search takes up a big percentage of traffic, you need to focus on optimizing your site for organic search. (But that’s not to say you should rely only on search for traffic.)
The other thing to think about with search traffic is that, unlike other channels, it’s highly actionable. When someone is searching, they’re looking to solve a problem.
By contrast, when you use Facebook, you’re not searching for something; you’re wanting to interact with your friends and family. Typically, the audience on social media is less actionable, and conversion rates are much lower.
How Does Google Work?
Google is perhaps the biggest database in existence. Google uses “spiders” or “bots” to visit all of the content on your blog. It has scanned millions, if not billions, of webpages and indexed them.
Once Google captures this content, it uses more than 200 different metrics to score and rank your content against other blogs.
In effect, with SEO, you aren’t competing against Google, but against the other bloggers.
Understand there are really just two things you can improve:
- On-page content
Everything to do with SEO falls into these two buckets.
As I’ve pointed out, Google looks at your content and deems how good is it compared to other content out there.
However, it wasn’t always this way. Years ago, when Google first started, it based how important an article was on the number of links to the webpage. After all, the web was built on linking content to other content. The more interlinks, the more important the article must be.
Unfortunately, this was somewhat easy to game. All sorts of bad SEO techniques were used to get content to rank. For example, webmasters would buy backlinks from other blogs.
Around 2008, Google decided the user experience (content, navigation, intersite links, etc.) would also count toward the ranking in a Google search. Google also gets feedback from website visitors to deem the quality of the content. So Google looks at your content just as a person would look at it.
Two factors have become more important when creating content:
- Intent — What a visitor expects to see on your site should match their expectations.
- User Experience — Compared to other sites, how good is the user’s experience? Does the typical user find your site hard to navigate? Are there popups that interrupt the user while reading?
User experience can mean many things — including your choice in WordPress theme, the navigation menu, and the links in your content.
If you’re just starting out, you should focus on page content first, because you have control over this.
Why Is Intent Important in SEO?
How informational is your content?
How transactional is it?
When it comes to your blog’s intent, these should be your primary concerns.
Organic search is just another sales funnel and behaves similarly to paid traffic. When a visitor searches on Google and lands on your website, they’re somewhere in the buying process. Your blog’s intent should be appropriate to that point.
That means your content should match the intent of the keywords the visitor types into Google.
The classic example I always use is the difference between “what is a mortgage” and “what’s the best mortgage rate.” Both searches are about mortgages, but the intent of each is much different.
If someone is searching for “what is a mortgage,” they might be at an earlier point in the sales funnel process than someone searching for “what’s the best mortgage rate.” The first search is more informational, while the latter is more transactional.
Not sure how informational or transactional your content should be? Fortunately, Google leaves clues.
You should always examine the existing search results for the keyword you want to rank for. That’s not to say you should replicate the existing content. However, you should get a feel for what readers are expecting to see on your website. Then follow suit with similar information.
As Walt Disney said about his cartoons, you should always be “plussing” your content — always improving it so that it’s better than before.
I’m not referring to just making your content longer in length than the competing articles. Instead, you should add information or content that builds value appropriate to the reader’s location in the sales funnel process.
Ideally, you should answer all a reader’s questions in your article, or link to other articles on your website that can answer them in full.
The other aspect of SEO is the links to your blog — otherwise known as backlinks. You obviously have less control over these than over the content on your blog.
Ideally, you want links that are “followed” as opposed to “nofollow” links. However, you should take any link. A link is a link, even if Google doesn’t directly count it.
“Link velocity” refers to how quickly the number of links for a single blog post grows. In the eyes of Google, the faster the growth, the more important the blog post. If you have a high link velocity, Google interprets that to mean more people liked your article and found it worthy of sharing with others.
Another factor that isn’t often discussed is the placement of a backlink. Link relevancy is important. Getting links from any source doesn’t always help. For example, a link placed within a relevant blog post is worth more than a link in a forum discussion.
You want to get backlinks from well-respected sites within your niche. This is critical. If you have a personal finance blog, it won’t help you if you get a backlink from a medical website.
Here’s a brief rundown of how to get backlinks:
- Guest post on other blogs
- Guest host on podcasts
- Contact blogs with broken links and see if you can replace them
- Conduct a well-researched survey and write an article to share in your niche
- Create a shareable infographic
- Use HARO (Help A Reporter Out)
- Write testimonials for other businesses
- Create authoritative long-form content
An important tip is to make sure the URL is easily shareable, not only for social media, but for backlinks. Long URLs are harder to share.
As a side note, you may think you can’t rank for keywords unless you have backlinks. That isn’t always the case. There have been several instances in which I was able to rank for low- to moderate-difficulty keywords with no backlinks.
SEO Tips for Bloggers
As you can imagine, backlinks can be difficult to acquire. They require a good deal of effort and can be tricky especially for someone just starting out.
In my opinion, you should first build a great foundation for your blog before you get backlinks. So for the rest of this article, I’m going to focus on on-page SEO techniques.
Keep in mind Google uses more than 200 different metrics to rank a webpage. I’ll touch on some of the technical SEO aspects for your WordPress blog.
Let’s discuss the ones that really give you the biggest “bang for your buck.”
Your Choice in WordPress Hosting
The most important thing is your choice in your web-hosting provider. A slow web-hosting provider has a cascade effect on everything else. If you’re just starting out, Bluehost is perhaps the best option at a reasonable price. (If you’re interested, I discuss other options that may be better suited to you in my “Best WordPress Hosting for Bloggers” article.)
Improve Your WordPress Webpage Speed
A slower webpage will rank lower. According to Google, one full second can decrease conversion rates by 70%! You have literally only seconds to make your first impression, so you must make them count!
To test your blog, visit GTmetrix. The site has a free tool that shows you how long it takes to load your WordPress site.
How fast should your webpage load? A good rule of thumb is less than five seconds, with a more ideal time of less than three seconds. If your blog is taking more than seven seconds to load, look out!
Unfortunately, WordPress is a resource hog. Usually, the more plugins you have installed, the slower your website runs. But the only way to extend the functionality of WordPress is via plugins. So you must strike a balance.
However, you should know that not all plugins are created equal. Some plugins are well developed, while many others are not.
To speed up WordPress, I recommend using WP Rocket.
WP Rocket is a commercial plugin that minifies, combines files, and caches your content. This speeds up the time it takes to load your blog.
Improving load times is an article unto itself, and at some point I’ll discuss it in more detail.
Your Choice of WordPress Theme
I’ve seen too many bloggers use cheap or free WordPress themes because of budget concerns. Don’t make the same mistake.
Your choice in WordPress theme can affect many aspects of your site and can make or break your blog.
A blog that looks generic will hurt your branding and also affect your Google ranking. But you also want a site that is simple to navigate and easy for Google to index and rank your content.
From my experience, I’ve found the StudioPress Genesis theme to be the best theme if SEO is important to you.
Not only is Genesis SEO friendly, but it uses schema markup to assist Google with your webpage content. I highly recommend this WordPress theme and use it on this blog and every other WordPress blog I’ve created.
The Content Above the Fold
Keep in mind, Google scans your content as if it were a reader. It renders your webpages as they’re seen in a web browser. That means things like the location of buttons, navigation, and layout are important.
One of the more crucial aspects is your content “above the fold.” This term refers to the content displayed on your screen when you first visit the webpage, before you scroll down. It should be no surprise that visitors are less likely to view the content further down on a webpage.
As on a first date, you must put your best foot forward. Put content above the fold that should entice the reader to read more. This is what’s known as creating an “open loop.”
Here are examples of an open loop:
- Placing a visual cue such as an arrow to show there’s more content below
- Using a table of contents
- Asking the reader a question that is answered below the fold
- Uploading an image that only partially displays above the fold
It’s also important to remember what can be above the fold on a desktop will be different from what’s above the fold on a mobile device.
More Informational and Less Transactional
The best way to think about organic search is as if you’re renting your search results.
You do not own Google, and Google can change its algorithm at any time. If you were in Google’s position, would you want organic traffic to be as important as paid? Of course not.
So by its very nature, paid traffic can be more transactional than organic search. Google wants paid traffic for content that yields a conversion, whereas Google places the value to the reader as the primary importance of organic traffic. Transactions are secondary.
This means you can get away with more with paid traffic than with organic search. With organic search, you must engage the reader with your content and make it educational — with just a dash of transaction.
A transaction can be any result you want to achieve from the visitor, including:
- Signing up for an email list
- Ordering a product
- Clicking on an affiliate link
It’s possible to create an article that’s too transactional and therefore never ranks with Google. Be aware you must create content to appease the Google gods.
Compress Your Images
Page loading time is important. Unless you’re a real minimalist, you’ll have images on your site. Smaller images mean a faster-loading webpage.
Since I recommend going with WP Rocket, I also recommend the supplemental plugin Imagify. It’s easy to set up, and in some cases, it can compress your images by more than 50%.
SEO Press WordPress Plugin
I used to use the popular WordPress plugin Yoast SEO, but I believe it’s become too bloated. The company has somewhat lost its way and what it stands for. I have recently switched to SEO Press, which I think is much more lightweight. I believe it is the next leading SEO plugin.
SEO Press not only supports setting up your content correctly, but it also helps with social media sharing as well.
Linking to Content Within Your Own Site
Again, since you have control over your blog, you should link to articles within your own site. You should think of content you create as a model of what the web was intended to be, with pages interlinked among themselves.
Consider creating a bunch of articles around core topics. Because Google puts your blog within specific niches, you should expand your articles around those niches and make sure you cover them in detail.
In this article, I’ve just touched the surface of optimizing your blog for SEO.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out my SEO for Writers course. My course targets writers, instead of getting bogged down in the technical aspects of SEO and building backlinks.