What makes a blog post SEO friendly?
What steps does it take for you to make sure your content is well optimized for search engines so that you can start pulling in traffic from Google?
In this post, we'll talk about the context that should inform how you think about making your blog posts SEO friendly, some practical steps you should take during planning and execution, and some important post elements you need to be aware of and how best to optimize them.
Blogging Does Help Your SEO: Understand Why
Good SEO isn't just about meeting a checklist of items that every blog post should adhere to. SEO is half technical application, half marketing. That means strategy is central to good SEO, so writing an SEO friendly blog post is impossible to do deliberately without understanding why blogging is good for your site's SEO in the first place:
- Long Tail: The long tail of search queries is the collection of miscellaneous, unpopular questions and queries that users submit to Google. Individually, these phrases don't account for much, but altogether, they make up the majority of search activity:In fact, fifteen percent of search queries submitted every day have never been searched for before. Targeting long tail phrases like these individually is pointless, but since they are low competition and make up the majority of search activity, earning traffic from a collection of long tail phrases is a smart way to increase your overall traffic and brand impressions. Since blog posts contain a lot more content then landing pages typically do, they tend to rank for the majority of long tail queries.
- Authority: While product pages, landing pages, lead magnets, and so on are where the magic happens in terms of lead generation and revenue, they are also the types of pages that are the least likely to get shared or linked to, and they have the smallest target audience. Since people have very little reason to link to these types of pages, using them and them alone means that your site as a whole is unlikely to earn the kinds of links and attention that allows it to turn up in search results. All else being equal, a landing page on a site with a blog that attracts links will outrank an landing page on a site without a blog.
- Topic Relevance and Depth: Since Google receives so many queries that are rare or have never been searched for before, it likes to return results from sites that have proven themselves with users who have searched for similar information on related topics before. Google ranks results not just on authority, but on relevance. A blog gives your site depth on a topic and establishes a clearer definition of what your brand is about and what types of queries you are likely to be trustworthy on. This is especially true if your site's internal link structure establishes a clear topical hierarchy and taxonomy, ripe for semantic analysis.
Writing an SEO friendly blog post requires you to keep these contributions to your site's SEO in mind, so that every blog post makes sense within the context of a broader SEO strategy.
The Planning Phase
The reason so many blogs fail to live up to their potential is that there is a failure in the planning stage of the process: for the blog as a whole and for each individual post.
The primary issue is that most blogs end up covering the same topics as every other blog in their niche and fail to say anything new on the subject. During the planning phase, you need to determine what will make your content unique so that it stands a better chance of outranking other posts for the same topics, and ranking for phrases and long tail traffic that others aren't even targeting in the first place.
To find a unique spot in the search results you need to plan for unique blog posts, as well as perform some competitive analysis to understand the marketplace you are competing in for each topic.
When selecting a topic, it's often best to start with some competitive analysis at the top level with something general, and drill your way down to the specifics. What you're looking for is a topic that hasn't been done to death, but has enough built-in interest that it is worth addressing with a full sized blog post.
For competitive keyword research, we recommend using SEMrush.
Using it, or a similar tool, you can see which sites are ranking well for top level keywords, then drill down and see what other phrases those sites are ranking well for. You can further narrow down which topics you are most likely to be able to rank for using their keyword difficulty tool.
Typically what you are looking for are topics that sites are ranking well for despite not really explicitly targeting. These are topics Google is struggling to surface relevant content for, and if you can write the authoritative blog post on the topic, you stand a good chance of ranking well for all the relevant queries involved.
Don't limit your competitive research to the competitive analysis tools and difficulty scores, though. Be sure to review the content on the front page for the topics you are considering, considering how well this content serves the needs of the searcher, and whether you can meet that need better than anything else currently on the front page.
Remember, your primary goal is to select topics you could be the hypothetical best result for. Google's quality evaluators determine quality based on how well the page serves its purpose, and Google's algorithms are designed to evaluate quality in a similar way.
How To Write Unique Blog Posts
Writing the definitive, most comprehensive blog post on your subject demands that you build uniqueness into the planning stage of your writing process.
Start by reviewing what is on the front page of the search results for the query. It's okay to compile all of this information and include it in your post in order to be as comprehensive as possible, assuming it's all accurate and useful, of course. However, this isn't necessarily enough.
Here are some additional steps you can take while outlining your post:
- Review Google's "People also ask" and "Searches related to" sections in the search results for related queries to build into your outline
- See what has been covered or asked about on the topic in Quora, message boards, and other sites
- Research and cite sources other than those that turn up in a direct search for the query you are targeting
- Take your research to Google Scholar
- Consider how insights from other industries could play into the topic
- Get creative with your sources during the research phase
The Basic Elements Of SEO Friendly Content
Now that we've covered some of the most important strategic elements of SEO for blog posts, it's time to start diving into the more technical requirements your content needs to meet in order for it to be easy for search engines to parse it and rank you for the most relevant queries.
How To Title Blog Posts For SEO
The title tag of your blog post is the headline that shows up in search results. It is the first thing users see, before they click through and actually visit your site. The title must both inform the user that your content is a good match for them and entice them to click it over other options that may also appear relevant.
The words in the title tag are also the words that weigh most heavily in Google's algorithms, so it's vital that you choose your words carefully here, taking care to entice users as well as inform search engines about the content.
Here are some guidelines:
- Verify that the part of the title you want users to be able to see from search results is visible. Google cuts off the title based on pixel count, not character limit, so we recommend using Moz's title tag preview tool to see what will be visible to users and what will be cut out. Contrary to popular belief, it's not strictly necessary that the title tag is always short enough to be completely visible, and the words after the cutoff will still influence rankings. Still, you do want to know exactly what users will see in search results, including the cutoff, to know that it is both clear and enticing.
- While it's not strictly necessary for the title tag to be short enough to fit in the search results every time, keep title tags short enough to make sense as headlines, and avoid regularly going past the cutoff.
- Make sure your most relevant keywords are listed closer to the beginning of the title tag, since various studies suggest the words impact rankings more heavily here
- Choose a title that makes it clear you are addressing the queries in question, but that also stands out from what is currently on the front page to catch the user's eye
- Do not stuff a list of keywords into the title tag. It should use natural language and make sense to users.
The meta description is the snippet of text that displays below the title in search results. It isn't considered when ranking pages, but it does influence whether or not a user will click through, since it gives a preview or summary of what to expect from visiting the page.
Here are some suggestions regarding your meta description:
- The meta description should make it clear what searchers can expect on the other side of the click so they know it meets their needs
- Use your target keywords in the meta description where it makes sense, since they will be bolded in the search results and capture the user's attention
- It is honestly better to use no meta description than a generic boilerplate one, since Google's automatically generated snippets would actually be more relevant to the user in this case
- Do not stuff keywords into the meta description. Use natural language and make sure it's clear to users.
- Limit your meta description to 160 characters, since anything afterward will likely get cut off, the text is not visible anywhere else, and it does not influence search results.
Optimize The URL
Most CMSs will generate a URL based on the title tag, with the words separated by hyphens. This is a good default use, but not necessarily the best one in every circumstance.
Here are our recommendations:
- Remove filler words from the URL like "the" etc.
- If the URL is especially long, just use your target keyword phrase instead
- It's best if your CMS includes category folders to indicate a clear taxonomic hierarchy that matches your navigational and link structures, as long as your posts aren't listed in multiple categories that would generate duplicate URLs
- Make sure your primary keyword is in the URL
- No keyword stuffing
Optimize your images so that they do well in image searches and help inform your content for standard searches:
- Compress your images so that they load fast
- Use an "alt" tag that accurately describes the image and acts as its replacement if it can't load or the user is visually impaired
- Use images that contribute and serve a function in the content beyond adding visual flair
- Make sure your images are responsive
- Use unique images, rather than stock images, when possible
- Customize the image filename to use relevant keywords
- Use an image sitemap
- Host the images on your site if possible
The Blog Writing Format: Headings and Hierarchy
For both SEO and readability, it's best if your blog posts are broken up into pieces with a clear structure and hierarchy so that the information is categorized and all subtopics are highlighted and made clear.
HTML provides a method of categorizing information on the page into a hierarchy using heading tags. While there is some evidence that Google infers a hierarchy using font size, even if you aren't using proper heading tags, using heading tags properly is still your best bet to ensure the information is parsed properly.
Headings tags are meant to follow a hierarchy in which H1 is a top level heading for the whole page, H2 is a subheading for a section on the page, H3 is a subheading for a subsection nested inside of the H2 tag's section, and so on.
Here are our recommendations regarding heading tags:
- The H1 tag should act as a headline for the entire page. It should contain your primary target keywords, or similar.
- The H1 tag does not need to be identical to the title tag, since the title tag acts as a call-to-action from search results, while the H1 tag acts as a headline for the page. It can be the same, but it should make sense as a headline for the post first and foremost.
- Include any secondary keywords you are targeting in H2 subheadings
- Tertiary keywords can be included in H3 subheadings underneath H2 subheadings, although this isn't typically necessary
- Do break up large H2 sections into smaller H3 sections for readability and to establish a semantic hierarchy, regardless of if you are explicitly targeting tertiary keywords
- H4 and beyond should generally be avoided, since users will at this point have trouble distinguishing between heading levels
- Include keywords closer to the beginning of heading tags if it makes sense to do so
- Do not keyword stuff your heading tags
Keep Paragraphs Short
Keeping paragraphs short increases whitespace and makes your post more readable, and establishes clearer delineations between individual ideas. It may also help search engines better categorize your content and establish a semantic hierarchy, although this is speculative.
Include links to other blog posts or relevant pages on your site whenever it makes sense to do so naturally. This helps establish what each page on your site is about and can boost relevance for rankings. Consider how often Wikipedia interlinks to itself:
It can be especially useful to do this in taxonomic fashion, so that "hub pages" link "downward" to "sub pages," creating a nested hierarchy not unlike the h1, h2, h3 hierarchy. This helps clarify which pages on your site are more general and broad, and which are deeper dives with a more specific topic in mind.
Linking to trusted, authoritative sources can help boost the trustworthiness of your site with Google. Be a good web samaritan and cite sources for your factual claims and borrowed ideas, using hyperlinks links to do so.
We have already given the following advice on keywords:
- Use your primary keywords in the title tag, H1 tag, and URL
- Use secondary keywords in the H2 subheadings and tertiary keywords, if they exist, in the H3 subheadings
- Use relevant keywords in the alt tag of your images
- Use keywords in your meta description
As general notes on keyword use throughout your content, whether in a special tag or within your paragraphs:
- Do not overuse your keywords. Using them once is enough if it's clear from the content and its hierarchy that they are the primary topic of discussion.
- Using the exact phrasing of keywords isn't necessary. Natural language use is more important. It's okay to reorganize the words, use plurals, make a statement instead of phrase it as a question, and so on.
- Do not go out of your way to include keyword variations if they obviously mean the same thing. There is no need to cover every possible reorganization of the keywords, every permutation with plurals and without, etc.
- Do be sure to include a keyword in a prominent place if it is both relevant to the post and different enough in meaning from your primary keyword not to be confused for it.
- If the same word shows up over and over in your keyword list, don't repeat the word if it's obviously the topic of discussion. For example, don't use subheadings like "Car Prices," "Car Brands," and "Car Dealerships." Just be sure to use "Cars" in your title and H1 tags, then use "Prices," "Brands" and "Dealerships" for your subheadings.
- Try to organize your keywords into a hierarchy that fits together logically and outline your post accordingly.
- Always think about the intent behind the query and make answering the query the goal, rather than finding a way to work the keyword into your content.
Writing SEO friendly blog posts requires both strategic and technical elements. Think about your posts in the context of a broader SEO strategy and plan accordingly, incorporating competitive analysis and differentiation into your research and outlining process. Understand the basics of how to structure your posts according to HTML standards, incorporating keyword research into the process, and thinking about your post's semantic hierarchy.
Taking these steps will put your blog posts far ahead of most competitors in terms of SEO friendliness, giving you an edge many aren't even aware exists.