SEO is every bloggers favourite topic of discussion at a party (we’re such a cool bunch) and yet for many new bloggers it’s a hard topic to learn about.
You often hear more experienced bloggers say you have to “optimise” your blog posts for SEO and Google if you want to get traffic to your site, but what does that really mean? What does optimising mean in the blogging world?
As someone who worked for two years as a performance improvement consultant I had a lot of experience optimising processes, but somehow I had the feeling it wasn’t my writing process that people wanted to optimise and make more efficient.
This beginners guide to SEO covers everything you need to know about how to get traffic to your blog from Google, including what is SEO, how to implement it to your site and Google best practices. There are also a few goodies and freebies that you can download at the end so bear with me (please)!
If you’re not a beginner to SEO, you might want to read these guides instead:
Before we get started, here is a screenshot of the sessions to my blog from organic search in the past 30 days, compared to December 2017 when I first started implementing these SEO tips. As you can see my search engine traffic went up 6,480% in less than 1.5 years. I included the screenshot below so you know that I know what I’m talking about and I’m not just making this up.
So let’s get started with these key SEO tips to help you also explode your blog traffic!
What does SEO even stand for?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation.
Ok cool but what does that actually mean?
Optimising your blog for search engines means performing a series of tasks that allow Google and other search engines to find your site in the chaos that is the internet.
Why do I care about Google finding my blog?
Do you care about getting traffic to your blog? Do you care about making money passively from ads and affiliates? Then you should care about Google and SEO. Google is THE BEST source of website traffic out there.
Now you might be thinking “Hey that’s not true, every time I publish a new blog post and share it on my Instagram stories / personal Facebook profile / blog Facebook page / Twitter / mailing list / insert other form of social media and communication here, I get tons of views but I’m not getting any from Google right now!” That’s because you’re not doing SEO right (yet).
The issue with getting blog views from social media is that you have to keep sharing the post to get those views. Once the 24 hours of your Instagram story have expired the link to that blog post is gone. The shelf life of a Facebook or Twitter post are even shorter than that, within a few hours at most your posts will be buried under countless photos of your friends Sunday brunch, cute puppies or random memes. Furthermore, even if you have a huge following on social media, your audience always remains the same. There’s only so many times that you can share the same article before people get fed up of seeing your “Guide to baking the perfect brownie”.
The beauty of Google is that it reaches millions of new people every day and once your article is on the first page of Google it’s there to stay (give or take, more on this later) and it will always bring in a constant stream of traffic.
Ok you’ve convinced me, how do I get Google to love me?
Your aim when writing and optimising your content for SEO is to make it to the first page of Google.
Being the first result on the first page of Google doesn’t happen by a stroke of good luck or magic. To reach the first page of Google you need to:
- Be specific – stick to one topic article
- Do keyword research – find topics you can rank for
- Be clear – make sure Google knows your chosen topic
Let’s look into each of these in more detail.
The aim for every article you write is to appear at the top of the first page of Google for a specific user query. Google displays first the articles that they believe answer the specific question that person just Googled.
As much as I’d love all my New Zealand content to appear first on Google when someone searches “New Zealand”, the harsh truth is that they simply won’t. There are much older and more authoritative sites than Greta’s Travels that answer that particular query (think Wikipedia, Lonely Planet, New Zealand government and tourism office websites etc). So the only way for my New Zealand articles to appear first on Google is for them to answer a more specific search, such as “New Zealand 7-day itinerary” or “Best hikes in New Zealand”.
The more specific your article title and topic, the easier it will be for it to rank on Google. Each article should aim to answer one question. I have an old article whose title is “Vancouver aquarium & whale watching in Vancouver”, this is a prime example of a bad article. People that search for Vancouver aquarium don’t want to read about the whale watching and viceversa. So learn from what I say and not from what I do and stick to one topic per article.
Do keyword research
Being specific is great, but if you write an article on “The best beach shoes to wear for snorkelling in the Surin Islands, Thailand, during low tide if you visit during monsoon season”, the chances are that it’s a bit too niche. Yes, most likely you will be the first result on Google for that search query since nobody else is writing that article, but realistically nobody is searching for it either.
How do you decide what to write about? In order to write articles that people are searching for but that you also have a chance to rank for, you need to do keyword research. There are a number of free and paid tools that you can use to evaluate different potential titles and decide which one will give you the best results.
Keywords Everywhere – Google Chrome addon
Keywords Everywhere is where I always start my keyword research. When I first think of an article I want to write I go to Google Chrome and search for it. You can see in the screenshot below how the Keywords Everywhere addon will display the monthly search volume for that exact query, and give you suggestions on the side for related searches.
If the search volume is 0, you know that nobody is searching for that term and spending however long to write it, add photos to the post, create pins etc is probably not a good use of your time. Instead, have a browse of the “related keywords” and “people also search for” to get inspiration of other potential post titles.
One thing to note is that the volume displayed by Keyword Everywhere isn’t 100% accurate. I will sometimes write posts that have a keyword volume of 100 or less (granted that it’s a topic I know well and it won’t take me too long to write) since there are often related keywords that aren’t taken into account that could bring additional traffic. For example “10 days in Italy” might have a volume of 50, but “Italy 10-day itinerary” could have a volume of 150. If you sum together all the potential keywords, it might reach a good total monthly volume.
Also, just because you can’t rank on Google doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it, you can still push the article on social media like Pinterest. Read here how to explore your blog traffic with Pinterest!
Keywords Everywhere is good in giving you a volume figure but it doesn’t show you how competitive the keyword is. If you search for “London” it will tell you there are 1.8 million monthly searches which is great, but let’s be real, none of us are ever going to rank for that.
Moz has a free keyword search tool (see the screenshot below) where they show you the monthly volume and give you a difficulty score. This makes it easier to assess whether a potential title could be a good keyword since it gives you an idea of how easy or not it is to rank for that keyword.
However Moz has a cap on 10 monthly searches on the free plan, after that you have to pay for premium service. Furthermore the volume isn’t super accurate and the difficulty score is absolute, it doesn’t assess the level of your own blog.
Which brings me to our final keyword research tool and my personal favourite. Like everything in life, the best services unfortunately have a cost attached to them. Keysearch costs 17 USD a month but trust me when I say it’s the best investment you will ever make for your blog. It’s fast, user friendly and provides all the information you need when doing keyword research.
When you search for a keyword Keysearch will not only show you monthly volume and competition, but also lots of useful information on how to beat the current competition.
Since going into a full explanation of how Keysearch works would take too long (and if you’re reading this beginners guide to SEO there is still more you need to know before jumping into extensive keyword research!) I have written a separate guide on how to do effective keyword research.
So you’ve done your research and you’ve selected a keyword that you think your website can rank for, now you need to make sure Google understands what your chosen keyword is.
Generally speaking, Google is pretty clever. People smarter than you and I have designed it so that it can understand what an article on a website is talking about and rank it accordingly when people search for that topic. Nobody outside Google fully knows all the factors Google uses to rank websites but there are some that Google has chosen to share with us and here are the most important and easily actionable ones. (You can see a full list of Google’s 200 ranking factors here).
Clear H1, H2, H3 tags
These are your headings and sub-headings. Google uses these to understand what your article is about so make sure your chosen keyword is present here. It’s also good to use variations of your chosen keyword so that you can rank for more related searches. For example if your chosen keyword is “10 days in Italy” your H2 could be “My Italy 10-day itinerary” and then you can use H3 tags for the day-by-day sub-headings.
Sprinkle your chosen keyword throughout the post
This should happen naturally throughout the post because if you’re writing a tutorial on “how to build a chair” you’re very likely to repeat the keywords “build” and “chair” more than once throughout your guide. You just want to make sure that you always add keywords where it makes sense and flows naturally with the writing, you don’t want to overdo it and “keyword stuff” your post. Also make sure to add your chosen keyword at the top of the post, preferably within the first 100 words.
Alt text for images
When you add media on WordPress you have the option of giving it a title, caption, description and alt text. Alt text is the most important field you can fill. It’s what is read out loud to visually impaired visitors to your site, what is displayed in that annoying white box when your photos aren’t loading and what Google uses to index your photos. As such, you should be writing an accurate description of what is in the photo for your alt text. If you can include your chosen keyword in the alt text of some of your photos, even better. For example if you’re trying to rank for “the perfect mac and cheese recipe” when you add a photo of your mac and cheese don’t just write “my mac and cheese”, be a bit more elaborate and include your keyword, for example: “The final product cooked with the perfect mac and cheese recipe”.
WordPress is usually set so that whatever sentence you write in your H1 title field becomes your URL. While there is a logic in that, it’s a bit inconvenient when your chosen keyword is “SEO for beginners” but you tried to write a creative and attention grabbing title like “A beginners guide to SEO: how to get blog traffic from Google”. That will automatically all show in your URL but you don’t need such a long URL. In the Yoast SEO plugin field you can edit this so that you can have have a short and sharp URL that includes your target keyword.
Write long content
Sometimes I feel like I’m back in school where I had to meet a minimum word count for essays but unfortunately that’s the case also with Google. It has been proved that long content is more likely to rank higher on Google.
Google gives the first page to articles that it believes are useful resources in answering that specific user query; it makes sense for it to think that long, in-depth content would provide the best answer.
Now I’m not saying that you should blab on for thousands of words only to meet a minimum word count, just make sure that when you write an article you really are including all the possible information that someone searching for that topic might want to know.
If you want to make sure you never forget any of these important steps when optimising your articles, download my FREE SEO checklist!
The checklist also includes an important next step when it comes to SEO, the importance of building links and increasing your site authority. What does that really mean?
You need to become an authority and trustworthy source
Let’s be real, there’s a lot of crap on the Internet. New spam websites are created every day, which is why Google doesn’t trust new websites. You might have written the most in-depth, complete and useful guide on “how to change a tire”, but the reality is that if you just created your website and that is your only post, you won’t rank anywhere near the first page of Google.
SEO takes time. It’s not like sharing an article on social media and seeing people immediately clicking on it. Google takes time to index and analyse new websites and you need time to build your authority. You might have heard the term DA (domain authority), if you haven’t check this guide first.
One of the indicators everyone is fairly sure Google uses to decide whether websites are useful or not is whether other websites are linking to it. After all, if it wasn’t a good and trustworthy source why would others be linking to it?
This guide is becoming excessively long though and I do apologise for that, so if you want to learn everything about building links to your site check out this guide.
I hope you’ve found this beginners SEO guide useful, if you have any questions please let me know in the comments below, I’m more than happy to answer them! Google is the best source of traffic for blogs, it just takes time for it to start working and many people give up before it happens. With this SEO guide I wanted to give you an introduction to SEO so that you can start on the right foot and set up your blog for Google success!
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