How to Write SEO Friendly Blog Posts (Even Without a Plugin)
It’s no secret that blogging can be a great way to attract attention to your business, but if your efforts aren’t producing the results you crave, it’s easy to get discouraged.
The truth is, blogging is hard work, and if you really want the effort to pay off, it’s essential that you learn how to do it right. So before you invest a ton of time into your next masterpiece, let’s talk about how to write SEO friendly blog posts.
SEO (search engine optimization) is the practice of making your online content easy for search engines to find, understand and trust so they can match it to relevant queries. The ultimate goal is to earn a high position (rank) in the organic search results so you can boost the visibility of your brand and traffic to your website.
Although some aspects of SEO are complex (and, yes, more than a little nerdy), learning how to optimize a blog post doesn’t require a technical background. What it does require, however, is patience.
Effective SEO benefits from a deep understanding of the problems your target audience is grappling with, a strategy for providing them with answers and the determination to keep on trying.
Tools (like the Yoast SEO plugin) can guide you through the mechanics of SEO, but these tools can’t do the entire job for you, and some content management systems (like SquareSpace) don’t permit plugins at all. So in this post, I’m going to outline how to write an SEO friendly blog post, regardless of whether you can use a plugin.
Here we go.
1. Choose a Focus Keyword that Your Target Audience Would Actually Use
If your blog posts are ranking for the wrong keywords you’re wasting your time. Before you start writing, carefully consider the words your target audience would use if they were researching the topic you plan to discuss.
For instance, imagine you're a veterinarian. If your goal is to build your professional brand by writing articles that demonstrate your expertise to others in your field, targeting the term “canine behaviors that signal illness” might be perfectly reasonable. But if you’re writing to promote a new veterinary practice and you want to attract pet owners, it would be better to use more common language like “signs that your dog is sick.”
Select a focus keyword that your target audience would actually use when exploring a question or problem you can help with, then do your research to determine if:
- The volume of searches for the term is substantial enough to warrant an investment
- You understand the searcher's intent (what they want when they use that term)
- You have the resources to build something that can compete with the content that already appears in the search results.
This will help you clarify “why’ you're targeting this term, and how you can design a post that will satisfy your target audience and the search engines.
2. Build an Outline to Ensure Full Coverage of the Topic
When designing content with the intent to rank, it helps to consider the situation from the search engine’s perspective, so let’s focus on Google - Google’s goal is to satisfy the searcher’s query completely. Happy searchers who become loyal to the search engine result in a bigger, more valuable audience, which advertisers will then pay to access.
Google knows when searchers are satisfied because it monitors how they react to content. If they linger on the page or (better yet) share or link to your content, Google takes note. This kind of behavior sends a signal that your content met the searcher’s need and should be considered for similar queries in the future.
So design your blog post to completely fulfill the searcher’s need. Provide information that's helpful and informative, but not overly promotional. Research your topic and build an outline which incorporates sub-sections on related issues to ensure that you address the subject in depth.
The Yoast SEO plugin recommends a minimum of 300 words per post, but if you address a topic completely it will likely be significantly longer. In fact, research suggests that longer posts tend to perform better overall.
If you'd like to learn more, check out the article titled “How Long Should a Blog Post Be to Get the Most Traffic and Shares?” from CoSchedule, which explores the latest research on this topic.
3. Use Your Focus Keyword and Logical Variations of the Keyword in the Body of Your Post
Although you've chosen a focus keyword and are attempting to rank, it’s important to use clean, concise and natural language. Awkwardly repeating the same keyword throughout your post is an outdated, ineffective black hat SEO tactic. Instead, write for your customers first - using engaging, conversational prose - and then optimize for the search engines.
Concentrate on making your point in a way that's relevant and meaningful to your target audience. Then, when your post is complete, go back and review your work from the perspective of the search engines. Your focus keyword should appear early in the post (preferably in the first paragraph) and a few other times throughout the copy. Then mix it up (and keep things natural) by weaving in synonyms or related phrases.
For example, the focus keyword of this article is “how to write SEO friendly blog posts”. You'll see that I've used this term several times within the body of my text, but I also mixed in variations of the phrase such as such as “optimize blog posts” and “SEO friendly content.” Much of this happens naturally, but during the editing phase you can adjust certain phrases to provide additional clarity for the search engines.
4. Check Your Post for Readability
All writers make mistakes - in fact, if you'd be kind enough to tell me about any errors you spot in this post I will be eternally grateful.
Mistakes are embarrassing, and worse, they can damage your reputation and hinder your ability to appear in search results. As such, you need to ensure you allow enough time for an editorial process.
In a perfect world, we would all have an editor who could review our work before we hit publish, but if this isn’t possible, take a long break (at least 24 hours) then return with a fresh mind so you can be critical of your own work.
Examine your writing to ensure that it's free of punctuation and grammatical errors. Standard office software can help with the basics, but readability tools (like Hemmingway) can alert you to additional issues like passive voice or complex sentences.
Then, review your formatting. When writing for an online audience, it’s best to use short paragraphs and plenty of white space, sections, images, bullets and bolding. Many people skim articles before committing to reading them - careful formatting will make your articles easier to skim and will allow your readers to quickly grasp your main points.
5. Support Your Efforts with Internal and External Links
Although the goal is to address your topic completely, there'll likely be words, points or statistics in your post that could benefit from additional clarification. Avoid the temptation to ramble - instead, use these opportunities to build internal and external links into your post.
Links are desirable because they provide your reader with the option to explore the topic further while keeping the focus on your main point. Links also offer other important benefits.
External links (links that point to other websites):
- Build trust with your readers by demonstrating that you have done your research
- Are gesture of goodwill toward others in your space (links are essentially a “vote” in the eyes of Google that improves one’s ability to rank)
- Demonstrate to your reader that you're dedicated to meeting their needs – even if it means sending them to another website
Internal Links (links that point to other sections of your own website):
- Provide the reader with an easy way to further explore your website
- Increase the amount of time the reader remains on your site
- Help Google crawl your site and improve its understanding of your topical focus
Yet, you need to be prudent with your usage of links. One or two per section is plenty - any more than that can be distracting or can come across as spammy. And be sure to use descriptive anchor text so the reader will understand where the link leads.
6. Build the Focus Keyword into Important Elements of the Page
With the bulk of your writing behind you, you can finally breathe a sigh of relief and load your post into your content management system. At this stage, it’s all about the details - this is what many people focus on when describing the best way to optimize blog posts, so the tips in this section will likely be familiar.
The idea is to work your focus keyword into specific elements of the page. This includes the:
Most systems automatically populate the URL with the entire title of the post, which isn’t necessarily to your benefit. Shorten the URL if necessary and include your focus keyword. For example:
You can shorten this: https://www.domainname.com/blog/signs-that-your-dog-is-sick-10-important-clues-you-should-not-ignore
To this: https://www.domainname.com/blog/signs-that-your-dog-is-sick
Blog Post Title
Choose a short, compelling and descriptive title that communicates what the post is about and what the reader will gain from reading it. And include your focus keyword in that title – preferably, at the beginning.
Use your focus keyword (or a logical variation of that keyword) in at least one of your sub-section headers. But, again, keep it natural - if it simply doesn’t make sense, don’t force it.
The meta description is the short, explanation of your article that appears beneath the title in search results - the words used in the searcher’s query are shown in bold to demonstrate why the search engine selected each result. Search engines will automatically create a meta description for you, but you can make it more compelling to readers by customizing it.
For example, which of these two search results would you be more likely to click on if you wanted a list of signs that your dog was under the weather?
Even though the first result is from 2014, that article has the number 1 spot in Google. The meta description makes it clear that the post will provide a complete list of the most important clues that you have a sick dog. It even provides a few of the symptoms as an example. If my dog were exhibiting one of those signs, I would probably click through to the full article.
Until recently, meta descriptions were limited in length to approximately 155 characters, but Google recently changed this restriction. Now SEOs are reporting meta descriptions more in the range of 300 characters.
The full impact of this change is yet to be realized, but if you wish to learn more check out this video from Moz titled “What Do Google’s New, Longer Snippets Mean for SEO?”
Including images in articles is a great way to improve their visual appeal and support your points, but many of us overlook an important detail that can affect SEO - the image alt-text.
Image alt-text is usually invisible to website visitors, but it’s used for three important purposes:
- Screen readers for the blind and visually impaired use this information to describe the image and its utility (if any) to the reader
- If there's a problem loading the image on a given device, the alt-text will be displayed instead
- Search engines use this information to understand what the image is and to gather knowledge about the surrounding text
So, once again, start by crafting image alt-text that will satisfy your target audience. Then, don’t force it, but look for opportunities to work your focus keyword into the text whenever it's sensible.
The location of this element may vary slightly from one content management system to the next, but here's an example of where you can customize this element in WordPress.
7. Promote Your Post Like Crazy
Of course, there is one more thing that will help you optimize your blog posts for the search engines. Promote your SEO-friendly content like crazy.
Create visibility and drive traffic to your post by sending it to your email list, sharing it on social media and by alerting anyone you mentioned in the article about their inclusion. And continue promoting your article by linking to it in other, related articles on your site.
Promoting your post will help you expand its reach beyond your contacts so it can earn the links and mentions it so desperately needs to rank.
It takes time to learn how to write SEO friendly blog posts, and it can take even longer for your hard work to pay off. But knowing how to optimize blog posts for SEO is a valuable skill that can make a huge difference in your ability to drive value from your blogging efforts.
And don’t forget that SEO doesn’t just apply to your blog. These tips can be used when creating any type of SEO friendly content.
Here's a checklist of the key points above for quick reference.
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