Blog SEO: How to Optimize Your Posts

Filed in Blogging, SEO by Matt McGee on August 28, 2012 12 Comments

(This is the third of a five-part series about blog SEO. This series was published two years ago on HyperlocalBlogger.com with an emphasis on local blogs, but has been updated and rewritten for publishing now.)

seo-200In the first two articles of this series, we’ve introduced SEO and covered some of the most important SEO decisions that should be thought about before you start blogging. In this article, we’ll assume that you’ve addressed those issues, your blog is setup correctly, and you’re ready to start writing. Before you actually put fingers to keyboard, though, here’s what you need to know about optimizing your blog and your blog content.

First, a disclaimer: When it comes to writing individual blog posts, I don’t really care about SEO 100 percent of the time. Some of the blog posts I write (on all of my blogs, not just this one) don’t need SEO; some are written fully for my readers and I don’t care or expect them to ever rank well in search engine results. So, please understand that, when I talk about optimizing an individual blog post, I realize you may not need to do that on everything you publish. With that in mind, let’s get started.

Keyword Research

Keyword research helps you understand what people search for at Google, Yahoo, and Bing, and how they search — the words they use. This is important because it helps you write the best headlines and blog posts possible.

Example: You might write a really great blog post about tourist attractions in your hometown — let’s say you live in Portland — and your headline is “Top Tourist Attractions in Portland.” And in your blog post, you use that phrase a few times more because you want your article to rank well when people search for “tourist attractions in portland” and phrases like that.

If you had done some keyword research, though, you would’ve learned that many more people search for “things to do in portland” than for “tourist attractions portland.” Have a look:

keywords-seo

As you can see, more people are searching for “things to do” in Portland, so your post would have a chance at more search engine traffic if you had used that phrase, instead. Yes, it’s also probably more competitive, so that means you’ll have to bring your “A” game … but I’m sure you planned to do that, anyway. Right?

How to Research Keywords
There are a number of keyword research tools online: Some are free, some aren’t, and some have both paid and free options. Here’s a quick list of places you can do some keyword research:

Important: When doing keyword research, don’t worry about the exact numbers you’ll see; focus instead on the relative popularity and trends of certain keywords.

SEO for Blog Posts/Articles

Let’s move ahead on the assumption that you know the words you’ll want to include in your blog post, and you’re ready to start writing.

Optimizing Article Headlines
The most important on-page SEO signal is the page title, also known as the “title tag.” In WordPress, and in other blog platforms I presume, the headline you use for your article also becomes part of the page title. The page title also becomes the large, clickable link when your content shows up in search engine results, like this

smallbizseo

The headline of that article is “Small Business SEO: Costs, Expectations & Realities.” It also became the page title; thus, it also shows as the clickable link in Google (and Bing). It’s very important that you include your primary keyword(s) in the headline of your article, and also try to write your headline in such a way that it will catch a searcher’s eyes and make him/her want to click the link on Google.

How to Optimize Article Headlines
The default WordPress installation will make your page title show up with the blog name first, followed by the article headline. Like this:

Blog Title : Article Headline

That’s generally not good for SEO. You want your headline to appear first in the page title. There are several WordPress plugins that will let you change the order of the page title (along with controlling other SEO elements). The one I use and recommend is Yoast’s WordPress SEO.

Some plugins will let you customize the page title so it says whatever you want. This can be a very handy and effective way to target multiple terms — one in your article headline and another in the page title. For example, a couple years ago, I wrote an article that I targeted toward the phrases “reputation management” and “small business.” The article headline is Why Reputation Management Matters for Small Businesses, but I used a plugin to write a custom page title. I switched around the order of those keywords, so that the page title is “Small Business Reputation Management: Why It Matters.”

I targeted two versions of the primary keyword — one with the visible article headline and the other with a custom page title. This is an effective way to optimize your posts to target similar keywords.

Optimizing Article URLs
The URL is another signal that search engines use to learn what a page/article is about. Google has written about the benefits of short URLs. Search engines and humans both prefer shorter URLs over really long ones with a lot of hyphens and words. WordPress makes it easy to optimize your URLs before publishing:

optimize-urls

Just click that “Edit” button and you’ll be able to rewrite the URL however you want. My advice is to eliminate as many unnecessary words as possible and leave the primary keywords. If you forget to do this, or just decide not to do it … not the end of the world. Google, in particular, has changed how it displays URLS on a search results page and it will clip or edit out parts of the URL that seem extraneous and only display what it thinks is relevant to the searcher.

Meta Tags
You can ignore the keywords meta tag completely. No search engine uses it. But you may want to spend some time on the meta description tag; it doesn’t have any impact on rankings, but it may show up as the snippet of text below your listing on a search results page. A good snippet can encourage searchers to click through and visit your blog.

But the description tag won’t always be used as the snippet — it depends on the search query and other factors. Sometimes I write a custom meta description tag for my articles, but I don’t do that with all of them. I’m often happy to let Google pull some text from the article itself to show as the snippet.

If you use WordPress, there are a variety of plugins that will let you write custom meta description tags. WordPress SEO (mentioned above) will let you do this for each article you publish.

Optimizing the Post (e.g., Keyword Density)
The first rule of writing blog articles should always be to focus on writing for humans. Your copy has to be readable and understandable. At the same time, you should include keywords in the article to help search engines understand what you’re writing about. But you don’t want to overdo this. There’s no such thing as a perfect keyword density. Don’t worry about counting how many times you use a certain keyword. Instead, read your post aloud before you publish — you should be able to tell if you’ve overdone it or not. Mention your keywords but don’t overdo it.

polaroid-imagesOptimizing Images
A striking image can help your articles succeed on social networks; people regularly share content that includes a unique or interesting photo. But images can also help with SEO. Here are a couple quick tips related to using images in your blog posts:

  1. Use the keyword in the file name of your image, like main-keyword.jpg.
  2. Use the keyword in the ALT text of the image, but don’t overdo it.
  3. If your blog template supports captions, use the keyword in the caption of your image. If not, it helps to have the keywords appear in close proximity to your image — again, without spamming/overdoing it.

Internal Linking
I’ve explained already that the anchor text of links are a strong SEO signal, and this includes internal links — these are links on your blog that point to other pages/articles on your blog. For example, when I link to my old article with the phrase small business seo costs, it helps that article rank for the keyword phrase I used in the link — the anchor text.

Use internal links (to your old blog posts) generously, but don’t overdo it. No one likes to read an article where every third word is a link back to some old article. Do it when it makes sense for your readers, but use keywords in the anchor text of those internal links to help search engines associate the old article(s) with the correct keywords.

Summary & Preview

Chances are that you won’t care about SEO with every post/article you write. But when you do, it’s important to make sure you’re using the right keywords and that you’ve optimized your post headline and the page title. You can also optimize the post URL, images, internal links, and the other things listed above to help with SEO.

Optimizing individual blog posts is just the beginning, though. There are a variety of things you can do to further optimize your blog for long-term trust and authority. In the next article, I’ll share some ideas for ongoing blog SEO.

In the meantime, if you have comments or questions about this article or the series so far, the comments are open.

(This is the first of a five-part series about SEO for local/small business blogs.)

(Stock images via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Comments (12)

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  1. Andrew Mayor says:

    For an article that is entirely about optimizing individual articles for search engines, it is amazing that you’ve completely ignored the conflict in your page title / headline dichotomy. The purpose of all of this effort is for your articles to shows up as search results.

  2. Matt:

    I write custom descriptions for every page and post. I find that if my descriptions are well optimized and under 155 characters, Google rarely overwrites them. This is just too valuable of real estate to let Google decide what to put in there.

    Travis Van Slooten

  3. Kent says:

    Most people focus on technical stuff when talks about optimizing blog for SEO, how about the human tone? It is very important as well.

    • Matt McGee says:

      I agree, Kent, that tone of voice is an important part of having a successful business blog. But I don’t think it really fits in with a discussion of SEO. Search engines don’t recognize one tone of voice over another.

  4. I’ve followed the steps above on two of my websites. One of my websites and it has done very well. Jumped up 4 places in google within two weeks. My other website has been slowly dropping down even after the changes. I have been changing the title tag quite regularly on this site. Could this be having a negative affect with too many changes?

    Thanks in advanced for any help.

    James

  5. Colm says:

    I use SEO by Yoast on my wordpress blog..it’s great for beginners and shows them how to optimise a page correctly! It was my first experience in SEO blogging anyway! :)

  6. Matthew Rupp says:

    So happy I found this series. Love your content. I will be linking to this series in my blog and encouraging my readers to visit! Thank you.

  7. Karen Porter says:

    Fabulous advice. Too often I see SEO advice that is so off base. I appreciate that you touched on all the vital aspects (title tag, headline, urls, etc.), but even more, I love that you included techniques like optimizing photo titles. My one point of disagreement is that I NEVER let Google pull in descriptions. To me, the description is your chance to showcase your page or post akin to classified ad text. Make it strong so that people want to click! Google may or may not hit the mark.

    • Matt McGee says:

      That’s true, Karen – the description is an opportunity, but no matter what you use as the description, Google may show whatever it wants. You have no control over it. Google prefers to show words in the snippet that match or relate to the query, so if your meta description is distinct from the search query, Google’s gonna ignore what you used and show some text from the article itself. You really have no control.

  8. Hi Matt,

    Just out of curiosity do you think its worth the space in the meta description to include a call to action? The description is limited real estate and I wonder if including a CTA is losing out on more keyword opportunities.

    • Matt McGee says:

      Hi Julius,

      There are studies that show it can be beneficial to include a CTA (or something along the lines of “Free Shipping”, etc.) in the meta description. But there’s no guarantee it’ll show up as the snippet in Google’s results.

      The meta description isn’t a ranking factor, so you’re not losing out on keyword opportunities.

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