This article is part of our Complete Guide to Small Business Marketing, which covers topics like market research, SEO, SEM, social media and content marketing.
A blog that’s not optimized doesn’t do much for you. The process of writing and maintaining it is simply a waste of your already-minimal time. An optimized blog, on the other hand, can be the best traffic and lead-driving tool in your tool box.
But first, let’s take a step back. What do I mean by “SEO?” This is an important term for content marketers, or anyone maintaining a blog, so let’s break it down. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the process of showing search engines what your website is all about.
For example: When a search engine like Google sees that you write a lot of blog posts on home construction, plus every article gets a lot of social shares and people stay on the page for a long time, Google thinks, “Wow, this website must be providing expert content on home construction. They should show up right away when people search for term X or Y.”
The more you optimize for search engines, the more of an authority on that topic you become. This then leads to higher search rankings, which turns into more traffic and sales. The ultimate goal is to reach page one for the search terms that matter most to your business.
While this is simplified version of what SEO is (if you want to dive in deeper, check out this guide from Search Engine Land) it’s what you need to know when it comes to SEO for your blog. There are dozens of ranking factors, and your job is “optimize” your blog for those factors. This means, playing into the search engine game. While we don’t know every factor they consider for ranking search results (there are 100’s), we do know many of the most important ones.
If you’re spending money on maintaining a blog, you need to optimize for SEO to make it worth your time. Here’s how to do exactly that.
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Submit your XML sitemap
When you submit your XML Sitemap (for Google, this is done through your Google Webmaster Tools dashboard), you give search engines a guide for your website. This allows them to index all of your pages quickly and easily, while recognizing you as the author of the content:
“XML sitemaps serve as a way to communicate directly with the search engines, alerting them to new or changed content very quickly and helping to ensure that the content is indexed faster. For content publishers, it’s become critical to help Google specifically understand if your site is the original publisher of content,” explains Janet Driscoll Miller, Search Engine Land contributor.
Both of these factors are critical for SEO. In addition the helping Google find your site, it’s important to show that you’re the the original author of the article. When you do, you get full credit—full SEO value—for that piece.
There are two steps to submitting your sitemap:
- Find your sitemap URL: Use the plugin Google XML Sitemaps, which will generate the sitemap URL for you.
- Submit it to search engines: Head to your webmaster tools dashboard, navigate to the “Sitemaps” section and submit it.
Update your meta tags
SEO optimization, as we said above, helps Google understand what your website is all about, and meta tags play an important role in that. This is another area where keywords become important. They should be found in both your title tag and meta description:
- Title tag: Your title tag is what shows up in search engines at the top of the result; it appears as the title of your blog post. You can see an example of how your title tag looks in search with this awesome tool from Moz.
- Meta description: Your meta description is what shows as the description in search. Remember, this is likely what causes someone to click or not, so make it persuasive. While most experts agree that it doesn’t affect SEO, your meta description will affect click-through rate from search, so don’t miss it.
In both instances, the keyword should be as close to the front of the sentence, tag or phrase as possible. For example, if your blog was called Vegan Recipe World, and the top SEO keyword for you is vegan recipes, your tags may look like this:
Title tag: Vegan Recipe World | Recipes, Reviews and Cooking Tips
Meta description: Creating new vegan recipes every day, and sharing tips and tricks for living a healthier vegan lifestyle.
Note that you’ll need to set a title tag and meta description for your blog as a whole, in addition to every individual blog post.
Make it easy: Download the Yoast SEO plugin. With this, you can set all the tags for your site in one place. It also provides an SEO-optimizer tool for every individual blog post, so your SEO is always where it should be. Bonus: You can submit your sitemap with this plugin too.
Use keywords to hone topics
We all think we know what our customers want to read—but we might not know what they’re actually searching for on a regular basis. If you want to find new customers through your blog, it’s important to spend your time writing about the topics your customers search for most. This way, when they type that keyword or phrase into search, your website is more likely to be the one that comes up.
There are two reasons why using keywords to hone your topics is so important:
- The keyword is used to describe your content to search engines in just one or a few words. This gives Google crawlers (the bots that check your page for new content and determine how to rank it) something quick and easy to identify with your page.
- There are a variety of tools you can use to find the keywords searched most frequently. Those are the ones you want to include in your content because they’re the ones searchers use the most. This gives your content a better chance of being seen.
When you have a list of topics you know your current and future customers want to read about, head to your keyword tool to find related words and phrases. The most frequently searched keyword is the one you’ll choose as your main keyword, with another one or two related terms that act as secondary keywords.
Make it easy: If you already use AdWords, simply navigate to the keyword tool, where you can start searching for keywords related to your topics. You may already have a list of keywords for ads, which is a great place to start. As you’re looking through keywords, choose the ones that have high search volume and low competition. If you don’t use AdWords, there are dozens of other paid tools to choose from.
Sprinkle your keywords in all the right places
Once you have your keywords, your job is to put them in all the right places. While you’ll likely have one main word or phrase for your blog as a whole (this goes in the meta title and meta description of your blog), you’ll have a different keyword for each blog post specifically.
To make your keyword most effective, put it in the right places:
- Title of the post; as close to the beginning as you can. For example: if the keyword is shoes for kids, your title might be “Shoes for Kids: Your Back to School Guide” versus “A Back to School Guide to Choose New Shoes for Kids.”
- First paragraph, preferably in the first and last sentence of the intro.
- At least one header. If you use sub-headers in your content (you should!), stick your keyword in at least one that has an H1 tag.
- Sprinkled a few more times naturally throughout the text, not forced in a way that sounds weird or forceful. (Not sure why? Look up “keyword stuffing.”)
- In the last paragraph of the article.
If you’ve never used H1, H2 or H3 tags, now is the time to do it—and it doesn’t require any special knowledge. This is crucial for SEO, according to the SEO WordPress Checklist. It explains:
“The Google crawler (bot) checks HTML header tags such as H1, H2, H3, etc. to determine the relevancy of your site content. Generally, the best practice is to have a single H1 tag per post or page and then multiple H2s and H3s underneath that. Think of it has a hierarchy of importance. The H1 tag is one of your most important headers and should contain your focus keyword. Additional headers could also include your keyword or long-tail variations of your keyword.”
Remember, however, that you don’t want headers in every other sentence. Use them as a way to naturally split the blog post between topics and make the post more scannable for readers. As with all SEO, it should look and feel natural.
Finally, to insert the headers in your blog posts, just choose which one you want in the blog post editing area. See a screenshot of where you can find this:
Make it easy: Use the blog-post Yoast feature, which will give you tips for improving the SEO-value of the blog post, including number of times the keyword is found in the text.
Don’t forget about images
Images play a role in your SEO just as much as the text. Search engines want them to be two things:
- Optimized with your keyword:This just means the alt tag of the image needs to be the main keyword of your article. Continuing the example above, the alt tag of their feature image would then be, “shoes for kids.”
- On the smaller side: Large images slow your blog down, and a slow site speed will have a significant effect on your blog’s SEO. More about this in the next section.
Make it easy: Use this image optimizer plugin, available only for WordPress, which automatically reduces every image you upload.
Check Your Speed
Finally, don’t let speed stop your blog from being fully SEO-optimized. Speed is a major ranking factor for search engines for one simple reason: it’s important to users. When a site takes too long to load, the user clicks away to find the next one.
As such, speed affects another area of SEO that’s important: time on site and bounce rate. If people continually reach your site and then click away for another result in search, search engines see that as a sign that your site isn’t as valuable as others. This is another one of their ranking factors.
Check your page speed with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. This will give you a grade for speed, and then tell you why you got that grade. All you have to do is fix those issues for your speed to improve.
Make it easy: Always work with a professional for technical SEO updates like this. A freelance developer, who you can hire with a site like UpWork, on a per-project basis, will be most effective. They’re more likely to get it right the first time, while using the most efficient means of doing so.
It’s time to optimize your blog for SEO
That’s a lot to think about, but don’t stress. You don’t have to fix all of this over night. Start by making sure your blog has the correct meta tags and the sitemap is submitted. These details are most important. Then re-think your content strategy and start a new plan with keywords in mind. Slowly, you can tick things like, “improve page speed” or “upload new sitemap” off your checklist to create a lead-driving blog that earns traffic and sales.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing and editing for more than 10 years and spent the last seven years in marketing. She’s now a consultant and offers organic content marketing packages to businesses of all sizes and social media coaching to entrepreneurs who need some guidance to get started. You can find her work on more than 500 websites worldwide, including Virgin, Forbes, Business2Community, Score.org and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.
The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.