Welcome to Part 3 of my SEO Basics for Bloggers series: the art of writing for search engines.
This is my third, and most likely final update in this series.
If you’re just starting with SEO, I highly recommend reading over Part 1 (SEO for Beginners and Setting Your Site Up for Search Engines) and Part 2 (How to Do Keyword Research for Free) first.
Anyways… let’s jump into it!
With keyword list in hand, it’s time to start writing. But first…
Meet My Favorite (and Free!) WordPress SEO Plugin: Yoast SEO
Before we even get into the SEO checklist, there is one thing you must do if you have a blog on WordPress.
If you haven’t already, download and activate the Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin.
It’s free version is full of benefits. So just make sure to select that option on this page.
With this plugin, you’ll have a little “helper” with you when you write your blog posts in WordPress.
When you’re creating a new blog post, plug in your primary keyword in the Yoast SEO Focus keyphrase” box. (below)
Yoast SEO plugin will then guide you with your keyword usage as you write your post. And it’s very helpful… See below:
I want to note that the Yoast SEO plugin should be used as a guide when it comes to keyword usage.
It can be very finicky.
For example, it will say you’re not using your keyword enough, but you know you are, you are just using slight variations.
Let’s say your focus keyword is: “Miami bars”, but you’re also using “bars in Miami” or “Miami bar” just as much.
Yoast won’t like that, but it’s totally okay, because it makes sense to use the keywords in different ways. Just use it as a guide.
On-Page SEO Checklist
This SEO checklist is to help you make sure you’re using your keywords and optimizing your blog posts for search engines before you hit publish on your WordPress blog.
It might seem like a lot, but after a few posts using this checklist, blog SEO will be second nature. I promise!
This is the part of the URL that identifies a particular blog or page on one website. For example, this post’s slug is https://bigworldsmallgirl.com/seo-checklist/.
The top benefit of a slug for your SEO is that you can set it to make sure it contains the words you really want to rank for.
More importantly, those words are one of the indicators Google uses to determine what a page is really about.
How to Optimize Your Slug for SEO:
- Include your focus keyword or keyphrase.
- Remove “function” words such as “the” and “and”.
- Keep it short.
- Use lowercase letters only, and add a “-” between each word.
Meta Title and Meta Description
You can set your Meta Title and Meta Description using Yoast SEO plugin. Just select “Edit Snippet”. (See image below)
Meta title and meta description are different than your blog post’s title and the excerpt. The meta title and description are what show up on the SERP.
Make it attractive and of course, use your keywords and keyphrases. Luckily, Yoast also gives you a mobile and desktop preview what your blog will look like in search.
Headings and Subheadings
Headings act as an outline for Google’s crawl bots and they really help readers navigate long posts. Therefore, keep them organized.
For example, you should only use H1 heading once, and it should contain your focus keyword.
The use of subheadings is up to you.
The headings are as follows:
- H1 (In WordPress, this is the title of your blog post)
Just keep it logical and make sure that you are making the most out of the real estate by using keywords and keyphrases.
Use your keywords and long-tail keywords frequently in your blog body text.
Also, heads up, long gone are the days of keyword stuffing. So don’t go overboard.
There is no set “1 keyword per x amount of words” rule. Just make it natural, and think outside the box, as you write your blog post.
There are two types of links: internal and external. Internal links link to other pages on your website, such as below.
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External links link to pages not on your website. Like this one to my craft beer podcast.
When writing blog posts, make sure that you include plenty of both types to direct users to more information or relevant articles.
Without getting too complicated, there are some rules you should know about linking. In general, try not to hyperlink to other pages on text that includes your keywords or keyphrases.
This isn’t such a big deal with internal links, but it is huge with external links. Let me give you an example…
One of my friends created a guide to the best cookies in town. Her keyword, whether she knew it or not, was going to be along the lines of “cookie guide” or “cookies near me”.
Anyway, in the first paragraph of her article, she linked to another (and much more well-known) local blogger’s cookie guide. Saying, “I’m no cookie expert, so here’s this cookie guide from a bigger blogger in town.”
Honey, what are you doing??
You are literally linking to your competition’s cookie guide. Not only does this tell readers to leave your site immediately because you don’t know Jack. It also tells Google that your “cookie guide” isn’t the best.
Think about it…
You’re referencing a “cookie guide” from a site with more “SEO juice”.
Why would Google want to put it on the first page?
Give yourself more credit, and don’t ever, ever link out to another piece of content with the same focus keyword, much less over text using your keyword. (This is why you’ll often see bloggers place external links over words such as “source” or “read this article”.)
What is SEO Juice? SEO juice is a non-technical SEO term used to reference the SEO value of a hyperlink to a particular website or webpage.(Source)
Images and Alt Text
Optimizing your images for SEO is a must though. Not to mention, it’s such an easy win to gaining more organic traffic from search engines.
Following the system below will help your image SEO.
Before Uploading Images into WordPress:
- Choose a file name:
Don’t you ever upload images with the original file name (ex. IMG_D35422.jpg) Take the time and rename your file.
I like to choose 3-5 files that use my primary and long-tail keywords, then the rest I’ll be descriptive.
Instead of the name being “new-york-city”, change it to “new-york-city-things-to-do” or “statue-of-liberty”.
- File size:
You want the actual image file size to be as small as possible. I like to aim for under 500 KB. You don’t have to sacrifice quality either.
This was something I struggled with for years.
There are plugins such as Smush for WordPress, but I also love to use TinyPNG.com (below).
Along the lines of above, don’t use a 5000 x 5000 pixel image when you can actually use a 700×700 pixel image.
The image should be as small as it needs to be. Crop it, resize it, etc.
When You’re Uploading Images to WordPress:
- Alt Tags:
The alt text (AKA alt tag) is added to an image so there will be descriptive text in place if the image can’t be displayed to the visitor for any reason. (See image below)
Make sure to add alt text to every image you upload to WordPress.
The alt text should include the SEO keyphrase for that page. That’s why most of the time my file names match my alt tags.
Since it is now considered essential SEO, responsive images are must. Luckily, if you’re using WordPress v4.4 or higher, it’s done for you
Captions on every photo are optional, but for SEO, try to use at least a few. When you do, be sure to include your keywords.
To Recap… Your Blog SEO Checklist:
I know this seems like so much to do.
Honestly though, after a few times, it becomes second nature.
So to recap…
- Research to find primary keyword and long-tail targets
- Use primary keyword in Slug, Meta Title, Meta Description
- Use primary keyword in H1 and/or H2 Headings
- Use long-tail keywords in Subheadings
- Internal and External Links are working, not hyperlinked on any keywords, and all open in a new tab
- All images are optimized for size and speed
- Alt tags and captions are used with keywords
- Finally, how does Yoast think it looks?
The Next Steps–
How Long Does it Take Until You Start Getting Traffic From Google?
So you’ve done all the work, you’ve published a blog post that’s been top-to-bottom optimized for search engine, your SEO checklist is all marked off.
Now when will you start seeing the results?
Well, I hate to say it, but there’s no real answer. It could happen immediately, as in a week, or it could take months of work before you see large masses of organic traffic.
Sometimes you’ll have a few posts that bring in the majority of traffic. You can’t always plan which posts those are going to be, but you can improve on them.
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When you see one piece of traffic soaring in organic search, optimize it.
Make sure the links are right, proofread it, add more images, more internal links, more multimedia. Overall, enhance it to please the users and make them stay on your site longer. Google likes that.
One More Thing: Optimize Your Blog’s Current Content
I’m not going to get into too much detail in this blog post, but this little trick will be such a boost to the current ranking of your blog and its posts…
Optimize the best content you already have!
Start with the 80/20 method and optimize the top 20% of your blog posts.
The 80/20 rule, also know as the Pareto principle, states that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This is especially helpful to remember in business and in life.
But what does a “top post” look like?
Well, what posts are currently bringing you the most traffic, comments and social shares?
For an easy win, start by optimizing those first.
What I mean by optimizing your post, is to update your post. And to do that, I:
- Replace current images with optimized images.
- Double check external links to make sure they are active.
- Optimize headings.
- Add more internal links as appropriate.
- Analyze the post on Google Analytics and make changes based on the data.
- Update the publish date to the current day.
- Finally, there’s an old saying that goes… “Never take away when optimizing old blog posts. Only add.” Follow that.
Note: Whatever you do, do not change the slug (unless you are familiar with redirects). If you change the slug of a blog post, you have to change all the links to that content everywhere across the web. It’s hard to explain simply, but let me tell you… Unless you know what you’re doing, messing with the permalinks of current content on your website will give you a big headache.
You did it! You made it to the end.
I really do hope you found these blog posts helpful. As mentioned in the beginning, this SEO checklist will likely be the final part of my SEO Basics for Bloggers series.
To check out the full Basics of Blogging series, click here.
If you found this post helpful, please share it with a friend!
Have a question about how to do keyword research? Drop it for me in the comments below. I’d love to help!