Panda, penguin, hummingbird.
These all sound like cute, harmless critters, right? But if you know anything about SEO, you’ll also know that they’re just a handful of the many, many algorithm updates Google releases every year.
SEO feels like it changes every day - once upon a time, you could stuff repeated keywords into your pages, or buy links to boost your ranking, but now its an entirely different story.
So what really matters when it comes to getting your blog post ranked on that much-coveted first page of Google?
First off, I want to hit you with a pretty hefty stat:
Google facilitates over 63,000 searches per second on any given day.
That’s a lot of potential customers that are actively looking for something - and these aren’t just people who are scrolling through social media, they’re people who want information on something. This is why SEO is such a powerful marketing method.
But only if it’s done right.
And, because there’s so much jargon and misinformation out there, we’ve put together this list of twelve things you can do to your blog posts to improve their Google ranking.
Check it out if you need inspiration for your SEO efforts.
1. Add Credible Reference Sources to Your Content
Think back to when you were at school or college for a moment. When you wrote papers you needed to do a huge amount of research and collect relevant information from credible sources – professors wouldn’t accept anything less, right?
It’s the same with blog posts - but imagine Google is your all-seeing, all-knowing professor.
Most of us aren’t established experts in our fields, so integrating cold, hard data and credibly sourced information to back up our points builds reader trust, and indicates to our Professor (sorry, Google) that we’re providing good stuff.
Today, the quality of your content is one of the most important Google ranking factors.
According to Andrey Lipattsev, a Senior Search Quality Strategist at Google, high-quality content is one of the two most important signals used by Google to rank blog posts in searches.
High-quality content doesn’t mean your post has to be epically long (although the average first-page result on Google is 1890 words), Google simply wants to see that searchers aren’t quickly clicking away from your site when they land on it - which indicates that it’s not giving them what they're looking for.
2. Include Engaging Visuals
Consumer attention spans are plummeting by the day (seriously, our attention spans are now shorter than that of a goldfish), but there’s one thing you can do to keep people on your site for longer: include visuals.
It’s been proven that images are more compelling than copy alone and, when you add that to the fact that people remember what they see more so than what they read, you’ve got yourself an important reason to add images to your posts.
Don’t just stop at static images though - populate your posts with relevant videos, charts, and infographics to dramatically increase the time people spend on the page. But remember, if you want to avoid any sticky copyright situations, make sure you always include the image source.
However, simply throwing up a few images and hoping for the best won’t do anything for your SEO. Just like with your written words, Google wants to know what your images are about so it can serve them up to people who are searching specifically for them, which is why it’s vital to optimize your images by:
- Adding your keywords into the 'Alt Title' and description of your images
- Making sure your images are the right resolution, and not so big that they hold up page load time
3. Spice Up Your Headlines
Your headlines are almost as important as the content you create - with a compelling, eye-catching headline, you’ll get more click-throughs, which means you’ll get rewarded by Google.
BuzzSumo recently analyzed 100 million headlines to see what made the most successful ones engaging. As well as tapping into your reader’s emotions, it’s important that you think about which words you use, and in what order.
For example, “will make you” was by far the most engaging phrase in the headlines analyzed (“This Trick Will Make You Rank Higher in Google”).
And, while you might jump to the conclusion that shorter headlines pack a heftier punch, think again. In fact, the study revealed that headlines with about 15 words were the most successful.
If you aren’t already conjuring up juicy, click-able headlines, it might be time to change your strategy.
4. Keyword Research
Google needs to know what your content is about. and in order to do that, it sifts through your blog post for specific words that will help it get an idea.
This is where keywords come in - these terms act as prompts to Google, and basically tell it, “THIS is what my blog post is about”.
Keyword research is the very first stage of on-page optimization, and it fuels all of the other elements - but it can be confusing if you’ve never done it before.
The key is to not think too hard about it.
It’s highly likely you’re already integrating relevant keywords into your content simply by writing about your chosen topic (e.g. if you’re writing a post about “cupcake recipes”, chances are you’re going to use the words “cupcake recipes” in that post in a pretty natural way).
But if you want to discover which other keywords relate to that topic, get the most searches each month or have the highest competition (with lots of other brands targeting them, too), you might want to try out a keyword analysis tool, like the Google Adwords Keyword Tool.
The app show you the exact words people are using in Google’s search bar to search for the kind of content you’re writing about, helping to better target the right terms.
5. Sprinkle Relevant Keywords Throughout Your Blog Post
Now that you’ve established which keywords are:
- Most relevant to the topic you’re writing about
- Being searched by people you’d like to attract
- Not being used by too many competitors
Next, you want to sprinkle your chosen phrases throughout your blog post in places where they’ll have the most impact - both for human readers and search engine bot readers.
Don’t panic, it’s a lot easier than it sounds.
Basically, you should try to include your chosen keywords in the following places:
- The title of your blog post
- The headings and subheadings of your blog post (more on that in a mo)
- The first paragraph of your blog post
- The last paragraph of your blog post
- The title tags and meta descriptions of your blog post
- The image descriptions of any visuals in your blog post (again, more on that in a mo)
A word of warning here - as noted in the introduction, in the past, it was common practice to stuff blog posts full of keywords until they were bursting at the seams, and practically unreadable.
Don’t do this.
Not only will it confuse and annoy your readers, but you’ll also get penalized by Google, which is more intelligent than ever, and will detect what you’re attempting to do. Focus on readers, and post readability, first.
6. Integrate Longtail Keywords
Did you know that 50% of search queries on Google are longer than four words?
These longer phrases include more related terms, which are commonly known as 'longtail keywords' and they indicate to Google what your blog post is about on a deeper level.
Think about it - when you search on Google, are you more likely to search “SEO tips” or “SEO tips for small businesses”?
Consumers often narrow their searches down, and longtail keywords let you tap into this market of people who are more specifically focused, and therefore, more likely to become customers.
Again, you can use a keyword tool to analyze which longtail phrases have the best ranking potential for your posts, then you can go ahead and strategically add a few of these throughout your content also.
7. Incorporate 'Bucket Brigades' to Increase Reader Engagment
Here’s the deal:
When readers spend more time on your website pages, Google immediately knows that the content on said pages is likely worthy of a high ranking.
If people stick around after coming to your page via a specific query, there must be a reason for that, right?
As such, engaging content is key, but what does that look like?
'Bucket Brigades' are a really simple copywriting technique that were originally created to pull readers through a sales letter. In blog posts, they look like a short sentence ending with a colon or a question mark.
These work great in the introduction to immediately grab reader’s attention, and then again half-way through when the reader might be getting twitchy and wanting to click away.
Go back to the top of #7 and you’ll see I’ve used a Bucket Bridge (“Here’s the deal:”).
Sub-headings are the backbone of your blog post - they give readers an indication of what they can expect from the next section, and they make your posts more easily scannable (remember, our attention spans are now dangerously low).
But more than that, sub-headings are important for SEO because they help Google grasp the key points you’re making in your post.
Rather than being faced with a huge wall of text - which, let’s face it, has most people clicking away faster than it takes to say “Google” - subheadings give readers the chance to quickly consume the main points of your post.
And, if you want to make your sub-headings particularly compelling (for both readers and Google), sprinkle in some of your keywords for an extra pinch of SEO goodness.
9. Link Out to Other Sites and Mention Relevant Influencers
You are not an island – nor is your blog post.
Don’t try and handle an entire topic on your own - instead, link out to useful resources, key thought leaders in your industry, and other relevant sites to.
First of all, this generates good blogging karma (and better awareness withni your industry), and second, it increases your chances of getting a link bank (remember earlier when I said that high-quality content was one of the two biggest factors in Google ranking? Well, the other biggest factor is incoming links).
When you link out to high-quality relevant sites, Google can see that you’re trying to provide as much value as possible to your readers. You can also leverage those link-outs to encourage big-name thought leaders to return the favor.
For example, if you’ve included a list of experts in your post, you could email them, and any publications you’ve mentioned, to make them aware of the post. If they like it, they might also share it with their audiences.
10. Check Your Link Structure
As well as linking out to other sites, you also want to be linking to relevant blog posts within your own site.
If you’ve already written a couple of posts on a similar topic, linking to them will make your new post stronger, because it shows that you’ve written about it more than once and are somewhat of an authority on the matter.
For example, Forbes links out to a selection of further reading or “Recommended Posts” at the end of every article:
On top of that, your internal linking structure (where one blog post links to another and so on) is important for SEO too, because it gives Google an insight into what your content is about.
11. Make Your Blog Post Easy to Share
Let’s rewind to linkbacks again - getting high-priority sites to link back to your blog is often the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the SEO process, but you can make it easier on yourself by implementing share buttons.
This makes it a piece of cake for other sites and brands to share your blog post across social media channels, which can lead to more backlinks.
12. Optimize Your On-Page Load Time
How frustrated do you get when a webpage takes ages to load?
If you instantly feel that little fire burning in your chest, and start aggressively drumming your fingers on the nearest surface, you’re not alone. You see, page load time is a vital part of SEO, but it’s one that a lot of people overlook.
But it’s so important - in fact, that Amazon has reported an increased revenue of 1% for every 100 milliseconds of improved loading time. That’s no minor feat.
Check out Google PageSpeed to help you get your load time up to scratch - and if it’s still provoking aggressive surface drumming, there are plenty of plugins that help optimize load speed.
Are You Ready to Optimize Your Blog Post for SEO?
SEO is an amazing technique for businesses to tap into, but the related jargon and mumbo jumbo can be confusing and head-spinning, especially if you’re not tech-savvy.
But it doesn’t have to be difficult.
All you need to do is make sure Google knows exactly what your content is about by integrating keywords and phrases, and ensuring your content is the best quality it can be.