How to best optimize your blog posts for SEO
What is Blog Optimization?
According to Hubspot:
When you optimize your web pages — including your blog posts — you’re making your website more visible to people who are looking for keywords associated with your brand, product, or service via search engines like Google.
Once I got serious about this publishing career thingy, I studied, took classes, hired a professional (Barb Drozdowich of Bakerview Consulting who is amazing) and switched to WordPress.org (from Blogger — if you’re an author, WordPress.org is, by far, the preferred publishing platform of the industry). My decades in Big Pharma didn’t prepare me for the enormity of the multitude of tasks required for online publishing, but it certainly helped me to embrace it.
And now I want to help you do the same. Here is my 23-step blog optimization guide. It’s specifically designed for WordPress, but you can adapt it for whichever platform you use.
Here we go.
Blog Post Optimization 23-Point Guide
Use the Coschedule headline analyzer. Be sure to head over to the analyzer to fiddle with the headline and aim for a score of 70 or above. This will help with your Google SEO and click rate. If you can only get into the high sixties, that’s cool. Read their tips to score a better headline — VERY helpful! It takes some practice but you will get the hang of it quickly. I find this helpful for all clients and even my own blogs.
Once you change the headline, be SURE to change the permalink (which is right under the title and says ‘permalink’). Again, this goes to the SEO. Pro Tip: If you change an existing permalink (e.g., on an old post), you’ll lose your existing social proof, aka shares, so be aware. There is a way to do it that involves coding — read more here.
Pro Tip: You can update an old post’s pub date without affecting your social proof/shares if you don’t want to change the permalink. This will move it to the front of your queue. I recommend regularly updating evergreen posts.
When you choose photos to add to your posts (e.g., from Pixabay or Unsplash or wherever), be sure to resize it to 800×600 right when you download it. If you have a Mac, use Tools to adjust size and then save. This way, it won’t look blurry or pixelated when you upload it. Photo goes at the top and click on ‘Center’ for position (usually preferable, but if you would rather a different placement, fine). If you have a PC, use whatever software you PC users use.
Pro Tip: If, when you share to Facebook, the post is showing the wrong thumbnail pic, head over to the Facebook Debugger, a handy free tool which helps you to better connect and display your posts on Facebook. It will rescrape your site (aka, debug) for Facebook. Easy, and it work.
Another hack: post your photo first if you’re posting directly to Facebook, then copy/paste or compose your post.
4) Open in a New Tab
When you upload your photos, you want to make sure to click on ‘Link to,’ then click on custom URL, then add your book link on Amazon (or wherever you want to link to). Be SURE to click the box below that says ‘open link in a new tab’ so readers won’t click off the blog post if they click on the picture. We want them to stay on the blog and not have to search to come back to read the rest of the post. Click ‘update’ if you make any changes or ‘save’ if this is the first time you’re in that box.
5) Alt Text and Caption
While still in this box, and this is very important: at the top, add a Caption (here’s why and how to format – see point #2), but more importantly, where it says ‘Alternative Text’ you must fill this out. This is what shows up when you share to Pinterest and other sites (or when others share). Add the headline, your full name, your handle, and the main keyword. If you take away nothing else, remember this one thing! VERY IMPORTANT.
6) Articles and Proof Sources aka External Links
When you add external links (articles and/or proof sources), highlight them in royal blue (it’s easy on the eyes). Also, be sure to click on the edit button (the little pencil) and click on the ‘open in a new tab’ window. Again, we want them to stay on your post. (If you don’t like royal blue, pick another color. This is my suggestion, but hey, free country.)
External links are incredibly important to help increase your Google ranking. While you don’t want to go crazy by adding in dozens of external links to your blog posts, studies show that having external links does increase your chances of a higher rank. You can read those studies here from Moz and PageOnPower.
Use Heading 2 for each sub-heading tag. I make them navy blue. That’s a personal choice. Again, easy on the eyes but also a different blue than the articles. Have at least 3 sub-headings. If you have bullets or sub-headings beneath these sub-headings, use smaller heading tags, such as Heading 3 or Heading 4 tags, though I caution you not to use more than 4 heading tags per post (unless it’s a list post, like this one).
8) Focus Keyword
When you choose the headline, be sure it has the one focus keyword that you’ll use throughout the headings, and at the bottom as well where it says ‘focus keyword.’ This will help with getting the ‘green light’ from the Yoast SEO plugin (more below. FYI: the free version is fine for our purposes). E.g., If “books” is in the headline, be sure to use it in each heading, if possible (or at least 2 out of 3).
As I just mentioned, add the keyword down below under the post where it says ‘focus keyword’ (if you have the plugin installed). This helps the Google Search engine crawler, so very important. You want it to be something general, like “books” or “writing,” as opposed to something more niche like “blue bunnies who eat green grass,” or an obscure name. Think about how people search for articles, and the majority of terms are typically more broad, if that helps.
The point of keywords (beyond SEO) is to insure you are reaching your target audience.
10) Categories and Tags
Add a minimum of two categories, and between 5-10 tags that are relevant to the theme of your post. Again, don’t go too obscure.
11) Edit Snippet
The snippet at the bottom is what will show up on Google, Pinterest, Facebook, G+, etc., so it will pull the first sentence-ish, and cut it off after about 30-40 words; therefore, you need to edit it to be a complete sentence that expresses a one-sentence summary of the blog that includes the keyword. You’ll know if it works correctly because the line above the box turns green (if using Yoast). If it’s still brown, keep working on it.
12) Internal Links
You want to add at least one ‘internal’ link, meaning link to one of your own previous articles in each blog post. Simply highlight a term (e.g., book signing, but use whatever term works for your post), and click on the link button in the toolbar. The gear button pops up, click on it, and in the Search box, type in book signing, and choose from whichever articles pop up. Be sure to click on ‘open in a new tab,’ highlight the article in blue, save, and you’re good to go.
The goal is to get the little green checkmark on the top right that says SEO GOOD and Readability OK (Readability RARELY says GOOD, so don’t worry about that unless you really want to. It’s pretty fussy). Sometimes you need to re-work your sub-headings, the snippet, or the alt-text to get that green light.
14) Featured Image
Additionally, don’t forget to add the Featured Image (bottom right) to your post – some themes will automatically pick up your top photo as the featured image, some won’t. Regardless, you want to insure you’ve added the Alt Text to each photo to insure that whichever image is picked up when you share the article (or others share), your title, author name, handle, and keyword are picked up by Google, Facebook (known for being persnickety), Pinterest, and others. This increases your visibility.
15) Sharing Posts
Once you publish the post, go ahead and share to Twitter, FB, G+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Medium and StumbleUpon.
Tip: Keep all your usernames and passwords organized in a password-protected spreadsheet or program of some kind.
The Yoast Plug-In gives you info as well along the bottom, and tips to improve (e.g., avoid past tense, keep sentences short) which is helpful. If you want to go for ‘green’ in both Readability and SEO, keep plugging away at their suggestions, and be sure to hit ‘Save Draft’ or ‘Update’ in order to see if the changes make a difference. I use the free version, but feel free to upgrade if you want.
17) Other Sharing Sites
Medium is a great platform to re-share your articles, though with the new restructuring, who knows what that will look like in the near future. Stay tuned. StumbleUpon is also great way to share. Reddit is something I personally don’t share to, but I know many people like it — that might be something new for you to share articles to perhaps? Just a thought.
You can share your blog posts more than once throughout the week and of course, for #MondayBlogs on Mondays. Over 10K people participate weekly. If you’re not participating, why not? It’s a wonderful way to build your Twitter following and grow your blog traffic. (Remember, NO book promotion, though.)
19) Have Two Tabs Open — Front End and Dashboard
Have two tabs open – the backend dashboard, and the front-end so you can see how your updates and previews look. This is far easier than going back and forth each time.
20) Use of Royalty-Free Photos — More Info
I mentioned using Pixabay and Unsplash above. These are wonderful sites with hi-res, royalty-free photos, and neither requires attribution. It’s crucial that you only use royalty-free photos, pay for photos from photo sites like Shutterstock, or use your own photos. Finding a photo on Google doesn’t make it okay to use, and you risk being sued by the photographer who owns the rights to that photo. It can, and often does, happen.
21) Be sure to add yourself into the Users module
Look to the left on your WordPress dashboard. When you post to Twitter, Facebook, etc., the posts will link to your name. This is especially helpful on Facebook, and can help increase likes and visibility on your author page.
22) Multiple Authors
If you have more than one person writing posts for you, click on your name as the post author. It should automatically populate if you opened the ‘new post’ option, but if not, head up to ‘Screen Options’ on the top right, and click the ‘Author’ box. Choose your name, and done. (Note: This is super easy to forget to do if you are posting for someone else, e.g., if you are an assistant or do optimization for clients like I do. Get in the habit of always checking the correct author each and every time.)
23) Long or Short Content: Which Ranks Better?
Long-form, evergreen, quality content (e.g., longer posts that don’t get stale) rank farbetter than shorter posts that become dated quickly, contrary to popular opinion. Oh, do people whine, moan and argue over this, and mostly those people are uninformed about SEO. Based on fact, not your own personal opinion, quality, long-form posts rank. Read this, research, be informed.
That pretty much covers blog optimization basics. This is a very basic overview, so if you’re an SEO expert, you probably have a lot more to add regarding SERPS, long-tail keywords, and the like. However, if everything I shared is Greek to you, this is a good start. I know it’s a lot, but if you go through each point one by one, it will make sense and eventually, will raise your visibility exponentially.
Rachel Thompson is a bestselling author, and a social media and author marketing/branding consultant (BadRedheadMedia). She writes for several sites, including Huffington Post, Medium, Mogul, Feminine Collective, Pronoun, Blue Ink Review and Indie Reader. This post was originally published on Rachel’s blog.