A lot of businesses nowadays have come to realize, that in order to stay competitive online, they need a smart content marketing strategy that includes blogging on a regular basis. That being said, many of those same businesses are not yet taking the necessary steps to optimize their blog content efficiently for search engines.
I am a firm believer that “content is king,” and that blog posts should always start with high quality content that is “uniqually valuable” to your readers. However, even the best content on the planet is not going to matter much if no one can find it. You need to optimize your blog content if you want to get found in the search results.
“Better Content = More Leads”
There are two kinds of search engine optimization: On-page SEO and off-page SEO. On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages/posts in order to rank higher and increase relevant traffic in search engines. Off-page SEO refers to links, social media and other external signals. For the purpose of this article, we are going to talk about the elements of on-page SEO and break it all down into easily, digestable steps.
Improving your on-page SEO will help you attract more targeted traffic to your site by increasing the organic rank of your content in the SERPs. Basically, on-page SEO helps search engines acertain who you are, what you do, and what your content is about.
Once you are finished writing a uniquely valuable and compelling page of content, the next step is to optimize it. As I stated before, it’s important that you start with a firm foundation of high quality content, as in “the best of the best,” before you embark on tackling the layer of search engine optimization.
“Write for people, then optimize for search engines – always in that order!”
The number one goal of search engines is to deliver Internet searchers the best user-experience possible. Keep that goal in mind when approaching content creation and SEO. Always write for people first, then go back and optimize your content for search engines.
Here are the on-page SEO elements you’ll want to understand and focus on when optimizing your blog posts:
URLs describe a site or page (post) to visitors and search engines. Keeping your URLs relevant, compelling, and accurate is the key to ranking well. If your title/headline includes stop or noise words (and, or, but, of, the, a, etc.) you can leave them out of the URL structure, although it’s not totally necessary. It can sometimes help to make a URL shorter and more readable in some sharing contexts.
There are some text characters, however, that that can be hard to read and also have the potential for breaking certain browsers, crawlers, or proper parsing – and it’s best to leave them out of the URL structure. Here is a quick reference chart explaining which characters are considered “safe” and which characters should be avoided in your URL structure (Chart – courtesy of Perishable Press):
When creating a page URL, make sure it includes your keyword(s) as well as geo-targeting if your target audience is in a specific locale. For example, if you are a real estate agent in Los Angeles, and blogging about “home buyer closing costs,” then you would want to also include “Los Angeles” in the URL structure.
The URL might look something like: www.abcname.com/los-angeles-home-buyers-closing-costs/. If you don’t geo-target the URL, you are basically competing for the term “home buyer closing costs” everywhere on the map instead of just Los Angeles in the search results.
Page Headline or H1 Title
Creating effective page titles or headlines is an essential skill for SEO and blogging. The title is the first thing a searcher sees in the search results. It’s also one of the most important factors for search engines to decide what the topic of your post is. You want to craft compelling post titles that searchers will choose to click over other titles in the search results.
You also want to place the keyword term or phrase that you are targeting in the page title – and as close to the start of the title as possible. Google uses the click-through rate (CTR) to determine how relevant you are for a specific keyword. And a compelling title that gets people to click will help you rank better. For more information on how to create effective headlines or titles, please read: “The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Blog Post Title.”
The title element of a web page is meant to be a concise and accurate description of a page’s content, and is critical to the user experience and search engine optimization. Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a meta title.
The meta title is what shows up in the search results and will override the headline or H1 title tag if different. I recommend that you make your headline (<h1> tag) different from the title tag. This creates another opportunity to vary the keyword phrasing of your page and increase its chances of appearing for different search intent.
When creating a meta title, you want to place the search term or phrase that you are targeting in the begining of the title. Example: Buying a Home in Nashville: Obtaining A Mortgage | Peterson Assoc.
Generally, the meta title should either be the same or similar enough to the H1 title or headline of the page, so that when a searcher clicks on the meta title, they see a match to their search in the headline. What you don’t want is a visitor bouncing back to a search page after clicking a result because the page title didn’t match the SERP title.
If someone hits their back button after landing on your page because it doesn’t look like a match to their search, it’s a sign of low quality content in the eyes of Google, which uses “dwell time” to size up the quality of your content. In other words, the time it takes the user to return back to search results.
A meta description is basically a mini-synopsis of what your page is about that is displayed in the search results (SERPs) directly under the meta title. Although meta descriptions don’t necessarily improve your rankings, they are important for gaining user click-through from SERPs.
The average SERP description allows around 155 – 160 characters. You want to stay within that number or your description will get cut off in midstream. Also, if you don’t create a custom meta description, search engines will automatically create one for you, which may be different than how you would choose to advertise your post.
Your readers and and search engines reward fresh content with repeat visits. Adding fresh content on a regular basis by blogging means your site can be crawled more frequently -allowing your new content to become searchable more quickly. Fresh content is also indicative of a more authoritative web site.
When it comes to keyword optimization, you want to optimize the body of your text with targeted keyword phrases in the most natural way possible. I recommend adding the layer of keyword optimization after you are done flushing out a post, so that it doesn’t sound like it was “written for search engines.” No one likes to read that stuff.
Also, keep in mind that SEO is not about stuffing as many different keywords as possible into one page or post. Rather, it’s about having a solid content seo strategy that includes picking topics to write about that are relevant to your target audience – and choosing specific search terms/phrases for each topic that are a “contextual fit” for each topic.
Heading tags are used to structure and organize your content, and help Google grasp the main topics of a longer post. Google might scan your post as well, so why not make that as easy as possible with the use of supportive heading tags. Typically, an H1 tag is reserved for title of the page and only used once.
H2 is for subheadings of that H1, which can be used to organize your content into scannable blocks that are easier to read for Search engines and usability. H3 is typically used for subheadings of H2, however, there are times when I use H3 instead of H2, depending on how the H2 tag looks in regards to visual formatting, as I write on multiple sites. H2 tags on one webite may look like H1 tags, and H3 tags may look like H2 on another, so it all depends.
Image Titles, File Names & Alt Text
Adding eye-catching images to your pages (posts) helps draw readers in past the title as well as visually breaks up blocks of text. Images can also show up in Google’s image search results, so creating a descriptive image file name is important. There is value in having your site and/or brand associated with useful graphics.
The image title and alt text also matter for ranking, so never leave those blank. When users mouse over an image, the title of the image will be displayed, or the file name if no title was created, which can look kind of sloppy and unprofessional.
You need a high quality, related image for your posts – and where it makes sense to have the focus keyword in the alt text. That being said, image alt text is not a place to stuff a bunch of keywords. The alt text should describe what’s on the image and the function of the image on the page to search engines, who can’t read images. It’s also used by screen readers, the browsers used by the visually impaired, letting them know what’s on the image.
Internal & Outbound (External) Linking
Internal linking of relevant pages and posts (related articles) creates an internal “web of content” or “information linking sctructure” that will help boost individual page and post authority as well as overall website authority and rankings. Blogs that post product or service related information can deep link anchor text to product information or purchase pages deep within the web site. This can be very beneficial for ranking on long tail phrases.
External links point at (target) any domain other than the domain the link exists on (source). if another website links to you, this is considered an external link to your site. If you link out to another website, this is also considered an external link. Creating external or outbound links from your content to relevant authority sites and sources, when applicable, adds “credibility” to your content.
According to Search Engine Journal, a study conducted by Reboot (marketing company) shows there’s a positive correlation between a page’s outgoing links and its search rankings. Reboot came to the following conclusion: “Outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings.” It does seem to indicate that linking to higher authority sites helps a page’s SEO, or at least doesn’t hurt it.
Brick & Mortar Address
A brick and mortar physical address informs searchers and search engines that you are a “legitiment” business. I recommend that you include the physical address (not a P.O. box) of your business on every page (post) along with your important contact information including your name, business name, address, phone numbers, email, etc. I call it an “address contact signature” that can be copied and pasted on the bottom of each page (post),
Letting customers know where you are actually located adds credibility to your website or business. Otherwise, you are just a vague concept floating around on the web. There is also some evidence indicating that having a verifiable address on your website can boost your site’s credibility in the eyes of Google, directly impacting your ranking.
Social sharing can help expose your blog content to more people who might not otherwise see it. And as more people read your content, more opportunities for natural links arise, as these readers mention and link to your content on their blogs and websites. Social signals also help rankings by letting search engines know that your content is “worth being shared.”
You want to make sure that your social sharing icons (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) are clearly visible on your site, including on pages and posts, and are also easy to navigate. A study by BrightEdge found that prominent social share buttons can increase social sharing by as much as 700%.
On-page SEO Takeaway
Your blog content is competing with thousands of brands accross billions of pages. That is why you need the advantage of on-page SEO. No longer is it enough to be a good writer, you must also have SEO skills to be competitive online. I hope this basic on-page SEO tutorial was helpful, and that you include these on-page SEO elements in future blog posts!
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