Search engine optimization, or SEO, is incredibly important for marketers. When you optimize your web page — including your blog posts — you’re making your website more visible to people who are entering keywords associated with your product or service via search engines like Google.
But does your blog content really help your business organically rank on search engines?
Blogging helps boost SEO quality by positioning your website as a relevant answer to your customers’ questions. Blog posts that specifically use a variety of on-page SEO tactics can give you more opportunities to rank in search engines and get customers to visit your site.
Although it’s clear blog content does contribute to your SEO, Google’s copious algorithm update can make this tricky. And today’s SEO best practices are all about relevancy and intent.
So, when it comes to your blog, how do you know what matters and what doesn’t? What are today’s blog ranking tactics, and what’s considered “old-school”? How can you keep it all straight?
Keep reading — I’ll explain.
Confusion is a common issue facing digital content marketers — and we want to help. In this post, we’ll cover how to optimize your blog posts for the keywords you care about, along with a few other optimization tactics you should keep in mind.
1. Focus on 1–2 long-tail keywords that match the intent of your target reader.
Optimizing your blog posts for keywords is not about incorporating as many keywords into your posts as possible. Nowadays, this actually hurts your SEO because search engines consider this keyword stuffing (i.e., including keywords as much as possible with the sole purpose of ranking highly in organic search).
It also doesn’t make for a good reader experience — a ranking factor that search engines now prioritize to ensure you’re answering the intent of your visitors. Therefore, you should use keywords in your content in a way that doesn’t feel unnatural or forced.
A good rule of thumb is to focus on one or two long-tail keywords per blog post. While you can use more than one keyword in a single post, keep the focus of the post narrow enough to allow you to spend time optimizing for just one or two keywords.
You may be wondering: Why long-tail keywords?
These longer, often question-based keywords keep your post focused on the specific goals of your audience. For example, the long-tail keyword “how to write a blog post” is much more impactful in terms of SEO than the short keyword “blog post”.
Website visitors searching long-tail keywords are more likely to read the whole post and then seek more information from you. In other words, they’ll help you generate the right type of traffic — visitors who convert
2. Include these 1–2 keywords in specific parts of your post.
Now that you’ve got your one or two keywords, it’s time to incorporate them in your blog post. Where are the best parts of your posts to include these terms so you rank high in search results?
There are four essential places where you should try to include your keywords: title tag, headers & body, URL, and meta description.
The title (i.e., headline) of your blog post will be a search engine’s and reader’s first step in determining the relevancy of your content. So, including a keyword here is vital. Google calls this the “title tag” in a search result.
Be sure to include your keyword within the first 60 characters of your title, which is just about where Google cuts titles off on the SERP. Technically, Google measures by pixel width, not character count, and it recently increased the pixel width for organic search results from approximately 500 pixels to 600 pixels, which translates to around 60 characters.
Long title tag? When you have a lengthy headline, it’s a good idea to get your keyword in the beginning since it might get cut off in SERPs toward the end, which can take a toll on your post’s perceived relevancy.
In the example below, we had a long title that went over 65 characters, so we front-loaded it with the keyword for which we were trying to rank: “on-page SEO.”
Headers & Body
Mention your keyword at a normal cadence throughout the body of your post and in the headers. That means including your keywords in your copy, but only in a natural, reader-friendly way. Don’t go overboard at the risk of being penalized for keyword stuffing.
Before you start writing a new blog post, you’ll probably think about how to incorporate your keywords into your post. That’s a smart idea, but it shouldn’t be your only focus, nor even your primary focus.
Whenever you create content, your primary focus should be on what matters to your audience, not how many times you can include a keyword or keyword phrase in that content. Focus on being helpful and answering whatever question your customer might’ve asked to arrive on your post. Do that, and you’ll usually find you naturally optimize for important keywords, anyway.
Search engines also look to your URL to figure out what your post is about, and it’s one of the first things it’ll crawl on a page. You have a huge opportunity to optimize your URLs on every post you publish, as every post lives on its unique URL — so make sure you include your one to two keywords in it.
In the example below, we created the URL using the long-tail keyword for which we were trying to rank: “email marketing examples.”
Your meta description is meant to give search engines and readers information about your blog post’s content. Meaning, you must use your long-tail term so Google and your audience are clear on your post’s content.
At the same time, keep in mind the copy matters a great deal for click-through rates because it satisfies certain readers’ intent — the more engaging, the better.
3. Make sure your blog is mobile-friendly (or has a responsive design).
Did you know more people use a search engine from their mobile phone more than from a computer?
And for all those valuable search queries being done on mobile, Google displays the mobile-friendly results first. This is yet another example of Google heavily favoring mobile-friendly websites — which has been true ever since the company updated its Penguin algorithm in April 2015.
So, how do you make your blog mobile-friendly? By using responsive design. Websites that are responsive to mobile allow blog pages to have just one URL instead of two — one for desktop and one for mobile, respectively. This helps your post’s SEO because any inbound links that come back to your site won’t be divided between the separate URLs.
As a result, you’ll centralize the SEO power you gain from these links, helping Google more easily recognize your post’s value and rank it accordingly.
4. Optimize the meta description and use all the space
To review, a meta description is an additional text that appears in SERPs that lets readers know what the link is about. The meta description gives searchers the information they need to determine whether or not your content is what they’re looking for and ultimately helps them decide if they’ll click or not.
The maximum length of this meta description is greater than it once was — now around 300 characters — suggesting it wants to give readers more insight into what each result will give them.
So, in addition to being reader-friendly (compelling and relevant), your meta description should include the long-tail keyword for which you are trying to rank.
5. Optimize your images with image alt text.
Blog posts shouldn’t only contain text — they should also include images that help explain and support your content. However, search engines don’t simply look for images. Rather, they look for images with image alt text. Meaning, to ensure your images benefit your blog’s SEO, you’ll need to ensure you include image alt text.
You may be wondering why this is. Since search engines can’t “see” images the same way humans can, an image’s alt text tells the search engine what an image is about. This ultimately helps those images rank in the search engine’s images results page.
Image alt text also makes for a better user experience (UX) — it displays inside the image container when an image can’t be found or displayed and can improve accessibility for people with poor vision who are using screen readers. Technically, alt text is an attribute that can be added to an image tag in HTML.
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