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SEO Basics for Bloggers (How to Get FREE Traffic From Google!!)

June 18, 2020 Caitlin J
seo basics for bloggers
Let’s talk about SEO basics. Let’s talk about you and search. Let’s talk about all the keywords and all the ways to get free traffic~

Ok listen, I’ve been in the blogging game awhile (just hit five years) and I’ve been working in digital marketing for nearly twice as long. 

And what mistake do I see bloggers making over and over and over again???

TOTALLY disregarding SEO…

Which totally blows my mind…

So I’ve taken it upon myself to detail out everything I know about SEO. Everything I know to grow this blog into a five-figure monthly viewers (78% of which comes from organic) type of blog.

This is part 1 of 3 to learning the basics of SEO as a blogger. Part 2 is all about keyword research. Start reading it here!

Honestly though, this blog post on SEO could have been five parts. 

But I wanted to keep it simple so it wouldn’t be intimidating to start. And I of course didn’t want to give away all my secrets…

SEO Basics: What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. 

SEO, simply put, is the process of growing the quality and quantity of your website traffic by increasing the visibility of your page on web search engines. 

It’s unpaid. It’s organic. And it results in direct traffic to your site.

Why SEO?

There are so many reasons to love SEO. 

Yes, it is confusing. And frustrating. AND it has a huge learning curve…

But I’m telling you, even just learning the basics of SEO will take your blog far.

So, without getting too deep into things straight off the bat, here are the reasons why I’m crazy in love with SEO:

1. SEO is Free Traffic That You Don’t Have to Beg For

Once you have SEO best practices in place, the traffic pretty much comes in without any work on your end. No “Swipe Up” or “Link in Bio” nonsense.

Yes, if you are in competitive keywords or niches, you might have to do more work like link-building and long tail keyword research…

But generally, for most food, alcohol, beer, local bloggers, it’s pretty low competition for keywords. Which is good.

Most of the time you’ll find yourself battling with Google’s own elements such as their map functions or their Q&A drop down tabs or big sites like Yelp and Eater.

But here’s the thing, you don’t need to rank number one… 

You just need to look attractive (in terms of how your website looks in search) and most of all, you need to rank on that first page.

Note: Studies show that 90% of people never go beyond the first page of Google.

A second note… There are usually 8-10 websites linked on the first page. Plenty of room for your blog there!

2. SEO Brings New People to Your Website

On social media, it takes so much work to bring on new followers… Searching hashtags, leaving comments, etc., etc. 

While these are good and important things to do to grow your brand… Don’t forget about all the potential new followers that can come in thanks to organic traffic.

What is Organic Traffic?

The term “organic traffic” is used for referring to the visitors that land on your website as a result of unpaid (“organic”) search results. Visitors who are considered organic find your website after using a search engine like Google or Bing, so they are not “referred” by any other website.

Source

Related: 6 Things You Need To Do to Grow Your Instagram

3. SEO Keeps Your Blog Competitive

Let’s say you’ve got a local competitor that has more followers than you. You all both have blogs and regularly get sponsorships. However, you never come across their blog in the search engines… YIKES.

SEO keeps your blog competitive. Many brands and PR people hit Google first when searching for new influencers to partner with on big campaigns. Normally they’re searching using terms such as  “[your niche] blogger” or “[your location] [your niche] Instagrammer”. 

Factors like these are why site-wide SEO matters just as much as SEO blog content. We’ll cover site-wide SEO here in just a second.

Understanding How Google Search Works

So now that you can see that learning about SEO basics is important to growing and running a successful blog, let’s talk about how Google works and how you can get on that first page. 

The first part of understanding SEO is understanding how search engines work. 

For the sake of simplicity, in this blog post, I will be referring to Google’s search engine ranking. (Generally speaking, most search engines follow Google’s lead anyways.)

And buddy, if you thought Instagram’s algorithm was confusing, mysterious, and frustrating, you’ve never met Google’s algorithm

So How Do Search Engines Work?

Imagine you’re searching for a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. So you go to Google and type in “chocolate chip cookies”. 

The first search page will be a mix of all different sorts of Google elements– recipe cards, local results with a map, shopping cards to buy chocolate chip cookie scented candles, and heck, maybe even a Wikipedia card on the right side with the history of the cookie.

Here are some screengrabs of all types of elements Google provides on SERP.

basics of seo 2020
seo basics 2020

Google has all types of ‘stuff’ on their search engine results page, and they’re adding more all the time. They hope to answer questions without the user ever having to leave Google.

With a broad keyword like “chocolate chip cookies” you’re going to get a lot of wide results.

Luckily, for users, Google adds related searches at the bottom of the page that get more specific. (This is a great way to research keywords, another topic to be covered in Part 2 of SEO Basics for Bloggers!)

google related searches

So getting more specific with chocolate chip cookies, you could search: “chocolate chip cookies near me”, “vegan chocolate chip cookie recipes”, or “best way to make chocolate chip cookies”.

And by getting more specific like that, you can beat out all those Google elements and the large publications that are always on the first page.

Ok, but like, how does Google know who to put on the first page? Well it’s hard to say, but I’ll share with you some of the biggest key factors.

How Do You Rank First Page on Google?

It’s important to rank on the first page of the search engine results page (or SERP). That should be your goal with your blog and your blog posts. 

But how do you beat out the competition and get to that first page? 

Well, it’s a few different factors:

  • Site Usability (Including, but Not Limited to Page Load Speed, Time On Page, Bounce Rate) 

Is your site fast? Is it easy for readers to navigate the site? How long do they stay on your page? Are they reading other pages on your site? 

These are important to Google. And in Google Analytics, you will see those factors reflected in your Time on Page and Bounce Rate figures.

My advice? 

Give your website to a friend. Ask them if it’s easy to find stuff and that the menu navigation makes sense.

Of course, we all think we have the best site that’s perfectly outlined, but the audience doesn’t really know that. And it could be their first time visiting. They’re not going to know all you talk and write about!

  • Backlinks

This is a topic that could be its own mega post. but I’m going to try to keep this short. Backlinks are critically important to ranking on the first page.  

I worked VERY hard at building backlinks when I first launched my blog, and I’m still reaping the benefits of my labor years later.

What is a Backlink?

A backlink is a link created when one website links to another site. Also called “inbound links” or “incoming links.”

Source

So for example, when Austin Food Bloggers Association links to my dog-friendly restaurant guide blog post, this is going to improve my position for those keywords.

Why? Google knows that Austin Food Bloggers Association is a good source for Austin food. 

It’s an organization that’s been around for a while and they’ve been linked to often by bigger publications. So Google finds them trustworthy. 

This means when they link to a post about food and things to do in Austin post, it must be a good source. So now, Google puts my content above other dog-friendly restaurant guides.

(I mean getting that post to rank number 1, and stay number 1, was so a bit more than that. Still, that backlink has a huge impact especially when I first published it…)

There is a dirty business of buying and selling backlinks, but it can totally be done ethically. You’re probably already doing it and don’t even know!

Collaborate with your other blogger friends and see if you guys want to trade backlinks and link to each other’s content. Just make sure the not content is not in the same niche or your friend’s website isn’t trash! 

Example: My blogger friend who used to live in Austin, once wrote a blog post of things to do in Austin, in it, she included a sentence about craft beer and linked to one of my blog posts on Austin craft beer. In return, I linked to her blog post about Texas BBQ in one of my Fort Worth travel guides where I had a sentence talking about the subject. That is a way to work with friends to backlink each other that would please the Google Bots.

Appearing on podcasts, shows, and other publications is a great way to earn high-quality backlinks as well. For more information about building high-quality backlinks in 2020, read this article.

  • Site Age

The age of your site and blog posts is another huge factor in ranking on Google’s first page.

Unfortunately, this one you can’t do much about, it comes with time. Still, though, it is good to update and refresh your blog posts on a yearly or so basis. Google likes to see content updated and added to.

  • Site Health

I’m not going to dive deep here, but you need to have a healthy, safe, and secure site. Google is not going to show an insecure site to its users. 

Luckily, as of 2019, WordPress added their own built-in Site Health Check Score. You can view your score by visiting Tools >> Site Health in your admin area. Easy as pie!

To learn more about improving your score, read this article.

Getting Your Site Ready for SEO

Now it’s time to start optimizing your blog for search engines.

BUT FIRST!

Before you start writing blog posts for SEO, you need to make sure the overall health of your site is up-to-par with Google’s standards.

It’s no good to spend energy on blogs optimized for search engines if your site is slow, filled with bad links, or not even being “crawled” by Google’s bots. (That last part is a good thing by the way, more on that in a bit.)

Follow these steps to get your blog optimized for Google sitewide:

  1. Check Your Current SEO Standing

First, sign up for a free trial of one of my favorite SEO tools: AHrefs

It’s insanely expensive, but you can get a free trial for a week or two. (and maybe more if you’ve got some additional email accounts… *wink*) 

Either way, a trial alone will take you far. 

With this tool you can see your current backlinks, keywords, and so much other important SEO stuff.

Below is a preview of what their site explorer tool can show on your site.

how to use ahrefs site explorer

AHrefs kind of gives you a good baseline to work with in the beginning. 

Get in there and explore around. (Especially with your site and the Site Explorer as shown above.)

It looks complicated, but they work really hard to make it user-friendly.

AHrefs also provides other tools like keyword research and competitor analysis. So make sure you explore and export as much data as you can during this free trial!

  1. Search Console/Analytics/ETC 

If you’re not already, you MUST get your site verified and added to Google Search Console.

This free SEO tool from Google allows you to check how your site performs, see your keywords, and submit new content to Google for their “Bots” to crawl.

For more information on getting set up in Google Search Console, read this article.

If you are on a self-hosted WordPress.org site, I highly, highly, highly suggest you download and install the free plugin: Yoast SEO.

The plugin will guide you through setting up Google Search Console and come in handy later when we start writing blogs. (We dive deep into this plugin in Part 2.)

Once you have downloaded and installed Yoast SEO, go to the plugin in WordPress and select “Search Appearance” and fill out the information in all the tabs.

search appearance yoast seo

This is a very critical step in setting up your sitewide SEO, and Yoast makes it so easy!

Setting this up will help people find your blog when they search for its name. You can also add keywords related to your location and niche.

Below is an example of what the SEO title and meta description look like in action. I went to Google, searched for “Buzzfeed” and this was the very first listing:

google open graph
  1. Site Speed

Site speed plays a HUGE factor on your ranking. 

Google hates slow sites. And so do readers. (See image below). So you need a fast site! 

mobile-page-speed-new-industry-benchmarks-01-21

Use a free tool like GTMetrix or Google’s own Page Speed Insights to test your website.  Just plug in your URL and see your speed.

Once you test your site, you’ll see what things are slowing it down.

Both of those sites above contain tips on what to do to fix your site’s speed. Though, I will say GTMetrix is much more in-depth than Google. So I usually go with them… 

Next, go item-by-item and get the problems fixed ASAP. Especially the critical ones. 

Note: Pictures are probably going to be the biggest cause of a slow site, especially for food and beer bloggers. Start fixing that with a plugin! My recommendation is Smush, a free WordPress plugin. And for future blog posts, make sure the images are optimized before they go into WordPress. (A quick Google search will show you many great posts on how to optimize your images)

  1. Backlinks

As mentioned earlier, backlinks are a strong way to increase your page authority and rise up in the rankings of the SERPs. 

Additionally, what previous media appearances, collaborations, etc have you done recently? Check that these sources are linking to your site correctly. (which includes the correct www and https://)

Also, during your free trial of AHrefs, check on the backlinks of your competitors… What sites are linking (aka ‘talking’) about them? Maybe there’s a spot there for you!

  1. Site Health

Site health plays a huge role in ranking high in Google. Google does not want to be sending their users to any bad or malicious sites, so you need to get your health in check.

Who knows what’s going on below the surface of your site… Left unmonitored it can wreak havoc.

Luckily, as of 2019, WordPress added their own built-in Site Health Check Score. You can view your score by visiting Tools >> Site Health in your admin area. Easy as pie!

To learn more about improving your score, read this article.

So now you know the basics of SEO… What’s next?

If you made it this far, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. It’s ok and totally normal.

SEO is huge and this article really only scratches the surface.

But now you know the SEO basics, so what’s next?

I recommend getting to work on optimizing your sitewide SEO as listed out above. Make sure you don’t skip verifying your site with Google Search Console.

Also, get a free trial of AHrefs and spend some time clicking around and exploring in there. That tool has really helped me have a better understanding of how SEO works.

Then, head over here to learn about writing blog posts for SEO and how to do the oh-so-important step of researching keywords!

Have any questions? Please let me know if the comments and I will be more than happy to help you out.

If you found this SEO guide useful, please share it with others! You can use the pins below as well.

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I’m Caitlin, an Austin-based blogger sharing adventures, stories, and interviews from your favorite breweries and drinks. Join me!

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