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In this article, I will share with you the best SEO strategies and techniques and how to optimize your blog for search engines. Using SEO on WordPress as an example, I will show you a combination of simple and advances techniques to improve the ranking of your blog on Google and other major search engines.
I started blogging in 2012, and at the time, I knew little about how to start a blog, and I knew virtually nothing about Google Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Now that my blog has grown to over 130,000 unique visitors a month, many people ask me how to make a blog SEO friendly so that readers find my content on Google.
Besides simple SEO tips and examples, I will also demonstrate some advanced techniques to improve page load time and scores on GTMetrix, and Google PageSpeed. I hope that after reading this article, you will be equipped with sufficient information to improve the ranking of your blog articles.
Search Engine Optimization, as the name implies, has the goal to optimize your blog posts or pages so that users can find them when they search keywords related to your content. For example, if you have written an article comparing Beats vs. Bose noise-canceling headphones and someone searches for “Beats vs. Bose” on Google, you want Google to show your article on top of the search results. To accomplish that, your article has to meet specific criteria that I am covering in this article.
Tipp: Nobody can guarantee that your page or blog posts will rank high on Google. I can only give you tips on how to improve the odds. If you come across someone who offers guarantees (typically for money), walk away.
I had already over 400 blog articles published before I started paying attention to SEO. In retrospect, I wish I had known many of the tips and tricks I am sharing with you below. That would have saved me a lot of time and frustration. So before you publish your first article, I would recommend to familiarize yourself with the search engine optimization basics.
Here is my basic SEO Checklist with the top 15 search engine optimization tips and how to do SEO on your website:
Arguably the most important factor in ranking is the quality of your content. Always attempt to write outstanding content that is unique and worth being published in a major newspaper. To learn more, I recommend reading the Google Webmaster Guidelines, if you haven’t already done so.
Before I write a review about a product, I usually test it for a few weeks and keep notes along the way. Documenting my observations while I test, for example, a new gadget helps me to give my review a unique spin that goes beyond listing the features or specifications of it.
When I write about a health-related topic, I read up on the latest studies that help back up my claims, statements, or observations. These two techniques alone often differentiate my reviews from those of others who did not invest that extra time.
Tipp: Write unique and exceptional content instead of repeating what thousands of others have written before you.
I usually spend hours and sometimes days on each of my blog articles before I press the “Publish” button. Of course, writing unique content is easier the more of a niche your blog covers. The broader the topic, the more difficult it is to write something that is not already out there. But with a bit of creativity and passion, you can add a new spin to even the most crowded topics.
One of the questions many bloggers ask is how long articles should be. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. The most important factor for Google (and other search engines) is how unique your content is. I blog about topics that thousands of other bloggers cover as well. As a result, I often need 1,000 – 4,000 words to express my thoughts in a unique fashion that provides value to my readers.
If you write about a niche topic, that nobody else covers, you may be able to get away with less than 1,000 words. But even then, I doubt you can add value to the Internet in less than 200-300 words. So if you don’t know where to start, I would suggest staying above the 1-1.5k word range.
Tipp: Write articles with at least 1-1.5k words.
The SEO plugin I use to optimize my content, recommends at least 1,000 words per article.
Google takes the freshness of your blog into account when ranking your content. One way to maintain the freshness is to publish frequently and, most importantly, consistently. That doesn’t mean you have to publish every day, but you want to maintain a cadence that you can sustain. I used to post shorter articles (less than 1,000 words) multiple times per week. But as I shifted towards longer and higher-quality content, my publishing frequency went down. I wish I could publish three long-form articles per week, but with a day job and two kids, I realized that’s not possible.
Right now, my goal is to publish once a week consistently. Sometimes, I manage to publish twice a week and sometimes every two weeks.
Tipp: Pick a schedule that works for you and stick to it.
Most importantly, don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results. Success in blogging is a product of time, as demonstrated by how my visitor count developed over the years. Note, the dip at the end of the graph marks the end of the tracking period and does not reflect an actual drop in visitors.
Google uses the readability of your content as a ranking factor. As a result, the easier your article is to understand, the better it will rank. You can improve readability by paying attention to the following factors:
Using passive voice is one of the most common mistakes I make. For example, I could say:
Passive voice: My router can be configured to block all incoming traffic.
Instead, I should say:
Active voice: I can configure my router to block all incoming traffic.
I recommend not to have more than 200 words per paragraph. If you have written longer paragraphs, just add a line break.
When I write an article, such as this one, I often start with the table of contents. That gives me the opportunity to come up with a suitable structure. In WordPress, you can use so-called Headings to help structure your article.
The title of your article usually is first heading, marked by an H1 tag. Everything else underneath uses a higher number. In this article, I use H2, H3, H4, and even H5 to define sub-chapters. Using those chapter markers makes it easier for your readers and search engines to understand the structure of your article.
To improve readability, try to add chapter markers for every 300 words you write.
Shorter sentences are easier to read than longer sentences. It’s as simple as that.
Bullet points are an incredibly useful tool to improve the readability of your article by breaking up the text. So don’t be shy and use them.
Photos and illustrations are another great way of breaking up your content and adding value to your article. Of course, the images you use should relate to your text.
Using a fancy but hard-to-read font can quickly turn your otherwise great content into an unreadable mess. So stick with the defaults that WordPress or your theme suggests unless you know what you are doing.
If you are serious about blogging (or writing in general), I highly recommend investing in a Grammarly subscription to check your text for spelling and grammar issues. I use Grammarly all the time to detect passive voice, missing or wrong commas, synonyms for frequently used words, etc. You can check out my review about Grammarly here before signing up for the service.
My goal, as a blogger, is for readers to find my content. So when I write an article, I think about what keywords or phrases users would search for to find content like mine. For this article, I came up with the following keywords:
Those are obviously only just three examples of many variations of keywords that your readers may search for on Google. As a result, your content should not only contain the exact keywords you would like to rank for, but also variations thereof. The SEOPressor plugin I use helps me with suggesting related keywords that I can use in my articles.
You may have heard the terms short-tail and long-tail keywords. A short-tail keyword, for example, is “blog” and as you can imagine, it is incredibly difficult to rank for those. That’s especially true if you pick a popular word.
Long-tail keywords are something like “How to start a blog on WordPress.” Depending on the phrase, those keywords are not only easier to rank for, but they mimic more realistically what users may search for.
Selecting the keywords for your article is about trying to find out what keywords users search for and how difficult it is to rank for them. So you have to do some keyword research to find out what keywords make the most sense for your content.
One of my favorite tools to do keyword research is the Moz Keyword Explorer. Type in the keyword you would like to learn more about, and Moz tells you essential stats, including:
In the screenshot below, I searched for “Geeky Toys & Gadgets” to get more information about the monthly search volume and difficulty to rank for it.
Another tool I often use is Google’s auto-complete feature. Go to google.com and start typing in “top SEO tips” and see what recommendations Google predicts you want to type next. Those predictions are also an indication of what other users have searched for.
Once you have selected up to three (long-tail) keywords you would like to rank for; you have to use them strategically throughout your blog article. Specifically, you want to use your keywords in the following areas:
Additionally, decorate your keywords by making them bold. I do this in the first paragraph of each blog article, to help users quickly understand what the article is about.
The title or headline of your blog post is what users see first in the search results. And while the “awesomeness” of your headline doesn’t directly influence ranking, it very much influences the so-called click-through rate (CTR). That means, how likely a user is to click on your article in the search results.
I cannot stress enough the importance of a catchy title. As a result, I would highly recommend that you spend a significant amount of time on only the headline for your article. The attention span of most users is short, and most of them decide within a split second if your title is interesting enough to warrant a click. So keep that in mind when writing a headline and be creative.
Besides the headline, the meta description is the second most important part of your article. Search engines often use the contents of the meta tag as the search snippet. Those are the two lines of text you see under the headline of search results.
The meta description is supposed to tell potential readers what your article is about and why they should click on your link. That’s why it is so important to write descriptive meta tags that convince users of opening your article.
It is important to note that if you don’t add a meta description to your article, you leave it up to search engines to pick any part of your article and show it as the search snippet. You don’t want that!
If you want search engines to find your blog, you need to tell them where to find it. You can do that quickly by creating and submitting a so-called sitemap. A sitemap is an index of all of your pages, posts and other content you have on your site.
I use the Google XML Sitemaps plugin to automatically create and update my sitemap, anytime I make changes to my blog. Every day, the plugin submits my sitemap to Google and other major search engines, so they know that there is new content for them to crawl. Of course, I cannot force search engines to crawl my page, but unless Google has blacklisted it, it will eventually do it.
I would also recommend using the Google Search Console (aka Google Webmaster Tools). If you already have a Google account, just sign up for it. Otherwise, you will have to create a Google account first. The Google Search Console gives you a lot of insight into the indexing and crawling status of your blog. For example, you can see when Google processed your sitemap last and how many pages and posts it has indexed.
Note: Google just released a new version of its Search Console that also tells you what pages it has not indexed and, sometimes, also why. The new version is not available for all pages yet. If the new console is not available for your page yet, just give it some time and wait for Google to notify you when it becomes available!
SEO used to be a synonym for trying to trick search engines into ranking your pages higher than others. But over the years, Google has periodically updated its algorithms to crack down on and massively penalize such behavior.
Tipp: Don’t try to trick Google. Instead, “make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.”
Stick to Google’s recommendation and make pages for your readers and not for search engines. If users like your content, so will search engines and you won’t risk getting penalized or even blacklisted.
Google made another significant change to its search algorithms in March of 2018. The goal of that change was to surface more high-quality search results to users. Fortunately, Google seems to like my content because my daily visitor count went up from 2.5k to over 4k, thanks to more traffic Google sent my way. That’s a massive change that also triggered an increase in revenue from ads and affiliate links!
Search engines use so-called robots (or bots) to crawl the Internet and index what they find. But as smart as bots are, they are not human. As a result, you need to help them understand what “they are looking at” when they crawl your site.
The easiest way to do that is by adding structured data that describes what your content is about. I know of two standards that major search engines use to understand the structure of your page:
The SEO plugin I use supports both, and so I have made it a habit of adding structured data for both standards. The type of data I add includes the following attributes:
I make it a point to populate these fields for every blog article I create.
I will talk about more about page load time further down, but images play a major role in how quickly a page loads. Google takes load time into account for ranking purposes. More importantly, users take load time into account and may abandon your page if it loads too slow.
As a result, it is essential to optimize the images you use on your blog. Optimizing usually means compressing them and stripping away unnecessary metadata. You can choose between lossless and lossy compression. The latter will visibly degrade the quality of your images but results in smaller file sizes.
I used to optimize images before uploading them to WordPress using a free Mac app called ImageOptim. It does an excellent job of reducing the size of images, but there is a catch. When you upload an image to your blog, WordPress automatically creates several copies of that image in various resolutions. The problem is that even if you upload an already optimized image, the copies WordPress creates won’t be optimized. As a result, I switched to a plugin that would optimize all uploaded images and their automatically created copies.
Also, make sure that the images you use in your articles are not wider than the width of your content. For example, the width of my blog articles is about 600 pixels. As a result, I have configured WordPress to created medium-sized copies of my images that are 600 pixels wide. Those resized images are the ones I add to my content, instead of the full-resolution originals. The benefit of doing that is that WordPress doesn’t try to load a larger image than what it can display on the screen. If it did, WordPress would load the larger image and then dynamically size it down using HTML or CSS code. Unfortunately, by loading the larger image first, my overall load time would be longer, resulting in less-than-ideal user experience.
Depending on what topics you write about, previously published articles get outdated sooner or later. That’s why it is important to update old articles regularly.
For many years, I was only focused on generating new content. By having done so, I completely ignored previously published articles. I told myself that I didn’t have time to go back and update the old stuff. That view was shortsighted for various reasons: