Full disclosure: for the most part, blog post SEO is on-page SEO.
However, the content, format, and goals of blog posts are different from site pages, often in ways that bring certain SEO elements to the forefront.
If you never read anything else about SEO optimization, this should be enough to keep you safe:
- Write clear, focused blog posts that are genuinely helpful to your intended audience. The goal of every search engine algorithm is to mimic and serve human users, so focus on your readers and you'll be fine.
- Use a keyword phrase that readers would use to search for that topic in the title, URL, and body of your post.
- Include images, videos, headings, lists, links, and other tools that keep your readers interested in your posts and make them more likely to share them.
The most important thing is that the content be valuable to your audience. if it's not, none of this will help.
According to Moz's analysis of on-page ranking factors, "Content quality stands apart from the crowd by a significant margin [among elements of an optimized page]," and the blog post must provide "authentic, obvious value beyond self-promotion of the host site/author."
But even great content can be sabotaged by big SEO mistakes. Though most SEO errors amount to missed opportunities, "penalties" can happen when people use outdated SEO tactics like keyword stuffing. Here's a blog post SEO checklist you can use to seize the opportunities, dodge the penalties, and make your stellar content as likely to get found as possible.
The 6-Point Blog Post SEO Checklist
1. Choose a target keyword.
Each blog post and site page should target a single goal that your ideal reader has. For instance, this post is targeting people who want to give their blog posts the best chance of appearing on the first page of search results.
The keyword phrase you're targeting (mine is "blog post SEO") should be exactly what your ideal customer is searching for in the words that he or she would use. For the best chance at ranking, choose a long-tail keyword, a.k.a. one that falls in the long tail of the distribution curve.
These long-tail keywords get less search traffic, but they're much more specific, which makes you more likely to find the right audience and to reach the top of the search results. For example, "blog post SEO checklist" is a long-tail variation of my target keyword.
2. Make sure it's substantial.
All the data about top ranking pages suggests that longer is better if you want to land in the top 3. Pages under about 300 words will have more trouble ranking, while a word count of 1500-plus is best. If you're concerned that your audience doesn't want to read War and Peace, don't worry about making it to the 1000 mark—just make sure your blog posts are thorough and substantive, and experiment with different structures to help readers find what they're looking for quickly.
3. Put the keyword in the right places.
The Title: The title is the most important element of on-page SEO, and you'll get the most value by placing the keyword at the beginning. That said, the appeal of the title to your human readers is equally important, so try to strike a balance.
If there's a keyword you really want to rank for, consider doing a series that would allow you to use it at the beginning of a number of titles, like "Blog Post SEO: How to Optimize a URL" and "Blog Post SEO: The Importance of Inbound Links."
The Permalink: You may not think much of your URLs, but both search engines and your readers are paying attention. They should be short—less than 90 characters is ideal—and succinct, and they should clearly reflect the topic of the post so people feel comfortable clicking. The first 3-5 words in a URL are given the most SEO weight, at least by Google.
If you're using a long-tail keyword, you may want to use only that term in the URL (like www.vieodesign.com/blog/blog-post-seo-checklist). You may not want to do the same for blog posts using broad keywords (like simply ".com/SEO"), because that URL may more valuable for a website page, lead-generating offer, or other core content.
The Body Copy: Your target keyword should appear in the first 100 words to signal to search engines (and readers) that the post is about what you claimed in the title. The keyword should appear more than twice in the body of the post, but not more than 5 or 6 times or it starts sounding spammy. If you need to use the keyword more frequently than that, use variations wherever possible. Using a range of related terms has SEO benefits of its own, so when in doubt, err on the side of natural language.
The Meta Description: While search engines don't directly use meta description in their rankings, it is a big part of how users choose which result to click. And that impacts your ranking massively—getting a large share of the clicks is an extremely clear signal to the search engine that you're a good fit for the keyword. So use this brief but prominent snippet of text to draw in the readers who will most benefit from your post.
Internal Links: After your post is published, you'll want to add links to it from other blog posts and website pages. When you do, use your target keyword as the "anchor text", or the words that are linked. Search engines work by following links, and they like it when the anchor text and URL of a link line up all nice 'n' pretty with the page title, page content, and other SEO elements at the target.
4. Include high-authority outbound links.
Links from your blog post to related pages on high-authority sites (e.g. your sources) show search engines that you know where to find top-quality info, and so you yourself are likely to be quality as well. It's really common for people to avoid linking off-site because they don't want people to leave their websites, but they're missing an SEO opportunity.
If you're concerned about sending people away, you can always make sure that outbound links open in a separate browser tab. Many blogging platforms include an option when you add a link (a checkbox with something like "open in new window"), but if yours doesn't you can always add a "target=_blank" tag to the link in the HTML.
5. Take steps to reduce bounce rate.
A high bounce rate signals search engines that your blog post isn't what people are looking for after all, and they'll be less likely to serve it up in search results.
Tools like clear, helpful section headings (which also carry SEO weight if they're H2 or H3 tags rather than just bigger text) make copy easy to scan and keep people from bouncing, because they can quickly identify whether your post has what they're looking for.
Anything that the reader finds engaging (photos, videos, GIFs, etc.) will also reduce the bounce rate, and—bonus—multimedia stuff adds to the perceived value of your content, so people are more likely to share and link to it. Since inbound links are one of the most powerful SEO cues, anything you can do to encourage them is incredibly valuable.
Adding internal links to other pages on your website early in your blog post is one of the best ways to decrease your bounce rate, because if your post isn't exactly what a reader was looking for, they may be interested in a different but related option. Internal links have tons of benefits, and there's a lot of information about internal linking strategy out there. Just prioritize links that are relevant (No, seriously. Don't just stuff them in.) and direct traffic to your most important related content.
6. Optimize your images.
Not only are images great for keeping people on the page, they also have some SEO impact. The file name and the alt text of the image are opportunities to include your keyword. For the file name, use your keyword phrase separated by hyphen (like blog-post-seo.jpg), and use something simple but descriptive like "Blog post SEO 1" as the alt text. This also tell search engines that the page is, in fact, about what the title says it is. It may even bring in traffic from image searches.
In short? Don't overthink it. Your topic and the reader's experience should be your #1 priorities, and as long as you serve both of those ends, you'll be fine. Search engines have ways of knowing what content is high-quality from things like repeat visits, social shares, time spent on the site, and bookmarks in their own browsers (like Google Chrome). If you're doing a good job and readers are enjoying and sharing your content, you'll be rewarded by the search engine powers that be.
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