Search engine optimization should be a priority for every business with an online presence. Having a strong SEO strategy and content marketing plan should be part of every small business’s blogging formula. As we have tried to outline to readers, it does not have to be as complicated as it seems. When it comes to optimizing blog posts for SEO, there are some do’s and don’ts you should follow.
If we take a look back, in our article What Is SEO? we explained that the complex search engine algorithms can be boiled down to just seven critical factors. Further, in the post, Simple Ways to Improve Your Content for SEO, we shared specific, straightforward strategies for incorporating SEO elements into your small business website.
Today, let’s dig a little deeper by clarifying some of the best, and worst, practices in SEO. This guide will illustrate what you should and should not do when optimizing blog posts for SEO.
14 Dos and Don’ts of Optimizing Blog Posts for SEO
Our lists of dos and don’ts for optimizing blog posts for SEO illustrates that SEO has a place in every step of small business blogging, from initial setup to post-publish follow through. Let’s walk through each of those now.
Setting Up Your Website
DO: Get Your Website Ready for SEO Blogging
There are several things you can do before you publish your first blog post to prepare it for an effective search engine crawling experience. Some of the most important are:
Set up a Sitemap: Google indexes individual web pages, not just entire websites. A sitemap communicates the organization and hierarchy of your website, so it is easier for search engines to crawl the site and find/index each page as candidates that may be presented in search engine results.
Mobile Friendliness: Ensure that your site is mobile-friendly from the start. A responsive design means that the page will look good and function well no matter the screen size. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you stand little chance of appearing in search results on mobile devices.
Descriptive URLs: Visit the permalink settings in your WordPress dashboard to make sure you are not using the default or numeric structure. A structure that includes the post title is ideal—since the post title will most likely include your keyword, this means that the URL will have the keyword too.
DON’T: Use Black Hat Strategies Like Cloaking
While websites can be set up to facilitate search engine crawling, they can also be set up to deceive those search engines. The general term for this is cloaking, and as Matt Cutts from Google explains:
“Cloaking refers to setting up a special code on your website that looks for the Google Bot specifically, or the exact Google Bot IP address, so it can treat Google Bot differently from regular users.”
In essence, the code shows the Google Bot a different page than what other users see when they visit the URL, causing Google to incorrectly score and index that page. In this video, Cutts explains that there is no such thing as white hat cloaking, but things like geolocation and handling mobile devices are not considered to be cloaking in Google’s eyes. Cloaking is a violation of Google’s quality guidelines, and violators can get banned, dropped from the search engine index, or even blacklisted.
Choosing a Focus Keyword for Your Blog
DO: Use Long Tail Keywords
We’ve talked about the importance of finding the right keywords for your blog before. ‘Keyword’ is singular, but don’t let that fool you. A keyword can be several words or even an entire sentence. These ‘long tail keywords’ are becoming more and more popular with searchers and are a crucial strategy for getting ranked on the first page of search results.
According to Moz, 70 percent of all search traffic is ‘long tail.’ Single words (for example, ‘shoes’) are popular and may be used millions of times per month in search engines. However, while long-tail keywords get less search volume, they carry with them a higher probability of conversion because the person searching is looking for something very specific.
These long-tail keywords can help you connect with people that are a better match for your company, products, and service. These searchers are also more likely to read your blog in its entirety, explore your website, and eventually become fans, followers, or customers.
DON’T: Assume Keywords
Before you even begin to write a blog post, you should have a keyword or long-tail phrase in mind. In choosing a keyword to focus on, it is vital that you never assume what words people are using in search. For best results, conduct research and carefully choose those that will have an impact and deliver results.
Here is an example: A doctor or skin care expert may be tempted to use the phrase “lowering melanoma risk” as a keyword in their blog. However, upon researching the topic, they may find that “skin cancer prevention” is a better keyword because it is the language that people are most likely to use in search. Remember, it’s all about what people are going to type in that google search bar.
Marketing guru Neil Patel also uses the example of the keyword ‘marketing’ in explaining the necessity of keyword research. With a little research, he shows that search terms such as ‘online marketing,’ ‘internet marketing,’ and ‘digital marketing’ work better for a blog post focused on that subject. In fact, different people will use different terms and the popularity of terminology may change over time. For these reasons, it is best to check your assumptions at the door and instead choose the best keyword based on research.
DO: Include Keywords in Strategic Places
While you should never engage in keyword stuffing, it is important to incorporate your researched and selected keyword strategically into your blog post. Aim for a keyword density of between 0.5 and 2.5 percent within the text of the blog post. This means, if your blog post is 1000 words, your keyword should appear between 5 and 25 times. But wait… more important than how many times it appears is how organically it appears in your writing. If you start adding keywords to ‘please’ the search engine and it doesn’t flow or make sense within the content you run the risk of being penalized.
You should also make sure that you include your keyword in the:
- SEO title
- Meta description
- Section headers
- Alt text of all images
Placing your keyword in these strategic locations will help the search engine understand the content on the page so that the page can rank higher for that keyword.
DON’T: Overuse Keywords
The overuse of keywords is a practice known as keyword stuffing. Before search engines became wiser, s was a common practice because using a keyword many times on a page would help you rank higher in search engines. However, these keyword-stuffed pages typically were nothing more than a jumble of repeated words without any real content, meaning or usefulness. This is obviously not what search engine users are looking for when they perform a search. As such, Google and other search engines have changed their algorithms in an attempt to provide a better user experience.
Today, most search engines have cracked down on keyword stuffing. While experts used to recommend a keyword density of 2 to 5 percent, experts say lower densities are better. This is due in main part to Google’s focus on providing the most valuable content to searchers and their ability to recognize synonyms of keywords.
Keyword stuffing can get you penalties, drop your search ranking, and eventually get your site banned. As such, it is one of the most significant SEO don’ts on our list.
DO: Provide High-Quality Content
Search engines want to delight users by presenting them with the best pages in search results. This includes pages that best match their search query, answer their questions, and leave them feeling informed and satisfied. As such, it is up to YOU to pack your blog posts with quality content so you can prove to the search engine that you deserve a coveted first-page position.
Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide defines quality content as:
- Content that is well written and easy to follow.
- Content free of spelling and grammatical errors.
- Content that is structured and organized, where large chunks of text are broken into sections using headings and subheadings.
- Content that is fresh and unique, not duplicate versions of other content on your website (or third party websites).
In general, Google advises that you design your website around your visitor’s needs. This means writing quality content with users in mind, not the search engine. They note:
“Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site’s reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.”
DON’T: Copy from Other Websites
Research is an important step in creating quality content for your website. However, when conducting research, don’t be tempted to copy sections of other websites and include their text in your blog post. Even if you feel they explained a concept perfectly, or you’re just trying to save some time – DON’T do it!
Google’s Quality Guidelines specify that websites must avoid “creating pages with little or no original content” and “scraped content.” If violated, Google may take ‘manual action’ against offenders.
Google describes these as “cookie-cutter pages that don’t add substantial value to users.” While you may get inspiration for blog posts from many places, always make sure that the words are your own and the spin you take is original.
DO: Use Links Wisely
While unnatural or excessive linking can work against you, you still must include linking in your SEO strategy. It is essential to link to third-party content because it helps the search engine understand how your content fits in amongst the complicated web of other sites on the internet.
When linking to other sites, follow best practices such as focusing on authoritative sites, or those which have a high domain rating and are trusted/respected. You also want to choose the right anchor text. Anchor text refers to the words that are attached to the link URL. Google recommends choosing descriptive text that gives a basic idea of what the page linked to is about and keeping it just a few words.
It is also crucial that your linking strategy includes internal linking. SEO expert Neil Patel calls this “the one advanced technique that a lot of SEO strategies completely neglect.” Patel shares how, after five years of blogging, he began to link to old blog posts within his new articles. The result: “…my site exploded! I watched my engagement metrics hit the roof.”
The practice of internal linking is also recommended by marketing sites like Kissmetrics, which points out that internal linking helps search engines understand the architecture and hierarchy of your website while also distributing page authority and ranking power throughout the site.
DON’T: Link Too Often
Lots of external linking in your blog post can raise the ‘spam’ alarm for search engines. Google, for one, is very conscious of link schemes. Various link schemes include buying or selling links that pass PageRank or participating in link exchanges where two websites agree to link to each other to boost rank. Since these practices manipulate the algorithm that is designed to give users the best experience, they are violations of the quality guidelines and can result in penalties.
Beginning in 2016, Google also started to crack down on unnatural linking. If the search engine detects that outbound links within your article are ‘unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative’ then the page is penalized. Using external linking purposefully but sparingly, or using the <nofollow> attribute, can help you avoid these penalties.
DO: Optimize Your Multimedia Elements
When crawling a website, a search engine cannot interpret multimedia elements; it only understands what it can read in the code. By using the ‘alt’ attribute to specify what the multimedia element is, the search engine can better understand and index things like images and video.
Google recommends optimizing images starting with creating descriptive filenames. After the image is uploaded, fill out the alt text box with detailed information about what is in the image. Avoid excessively long text because it can be considered spam.
Another way to optimize your images is to resize them, so the file is as small as possible. This helps with SEO because site speed is an element that can impact how well you rank. Here are several free image compressor tools you can use to optimize your media.
DON’T: Focus On Text Only
Relying on text only when creating blog posts is a poor strategy. Taking a multimedia approach has a ripple of benefits in the SEO world, including:
- Adding images, videos, and other media increases your chance of showing up in searches of other verticals within the search engine. For example, instead of just having a chance to show up in the primary Google search, people may also be able to discover you when searching Google Images.
- Multimedia can help you boost engagement statistics. For example, search engines use time on the web page as an indicator of trust and authority. If people are drawn to the multiple elements of your blog post and stay longer on the page, it can help your search ranking.
- Multimedia elements such as images, videos, infographics, audio clips, etc. are incredibly popular. Having them within your blog post makes it more likely that others will want to link to that page or share it on their social media accounts, both of which are important off-the-page SEO factors that help determine where that blog post will rank in searches.
After You Hit Publish
DO: Follow Through
After you hit publish on a blog post—in addition to prepping for the next one so you can establish a consistent schedule—there are several things you can do with that published piece that will add to its SEO power:
- Make sure you have visible and easy-to-use social share buttons set up on the page so people can share your content.
- Promote the new article regularly on your own social media pages, including a Facebook post when it first comes out, several tweets for the first few days after publishing, and posts on other platforms you may use, such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+.
- Email your list to share the new post with your current subscribers.
- Plan an internal linking strategy that includes linking the blog post to relevant past articles on your website, and planning to write other articles on related topics where you can link it as well.
- Reach out to other websites that may be interested in the topic of your article and offer to contribute a guest blog post on a topic related to that article.
DON’T: Think It’s Over After You Hit Publish
Many of the SEO strategies we have discussed are completed before a blog post is published. However, after you do hit publish, it is naïve to think that you can just sit back and wait for the search engines to crawl your page while you reap the benefits of search engine ranking.
After you hit publish, you should be thinking about your next blog post so you can keep your small business blog flowing with fresh content. Strong content plus a regular schedule will help establish your website as an authority in your industry/area of expertise. Create a content calendar and plan ahead so you can deliver a new article at least every two weeks.