You already know how important blog post SEO is. You know how much you need it, but you might not know where to start. I don’t blame you, though. There are tens of thousands of blog posts on the subject already, stretching back for over a decade. The problem is, SEO as an institution has changed a lot over the last decade. Techniques that were commonplace even five years ago are now no longer valid. Many of them can even penalize your site. If you’re following outdated advice, you’re going to hurt your site in both the short term and the long term.
That’s why I’m writing this post for you. You can consider it accurate in 2016, and likely for some time afterwards. If something major changes, I’ll try to come back to fix it, or at least write a new post for you to read.
How SEO Works
The general concept of SEO is pleasing the search engines. We can narrow it down even more, though; it’s all about pleasing Google. Google has the dominant market share in search usage worldwide, and as a result it means they’re more or less able to set the policies that get used globally. Other search engines, like Bing, have to mimic them or else end up serving up sub-par search results.
Google uses web crawlers called spiders to index the web. These spiders are essentially just programs that click a link, download the content of the page into Google’s massive database along with some meta information about the page, click a link on the page, and repeat the process until it runs out of links. Despite sheer number of websites online, Google has the power to index just about all of it. If it shows up in Google search results, their crawlers have visited your site at some point in the past.
All of the data harvested by the crawlers is then filtered, categorized, and sorted by The Algorithm. The algorithm is a massively complex pile of code that can tear apart content and determine what it’s really about, factor in meta information, link information, and a whole lot more, and come up with a relevance score for various search queries.
As a sanity check and as a way to prevent the algorithm from operating in a way that the engineers don’t understand, there is a human component to the process as well. These search engine evaluators are freelancers who work for companies contracted to Google, using a set of guidelines to test queries and determine if the results are accurate. The guidelines document is intense; it’s a PDF file that’s over 160 pages long. You can read more about it here.
Of course, all of that is just background to what you need to do. You don’t need to know exactly how Google’s algorithm works, you just need to know what’s beneficial and what’s detrimental to the SEO of a site. That, in fact, is how I’m going to sort the knowledge in this article for you. You’ll want to cover as many of these categories as possible, to ensure that your site has as much SEO power as possible.
One thing to note is that these categories are kind of just randomly assigned. Anything in the beneficial category can be inverted and put into the detrimental category, and vice versa. “Site speed,” for example, can go in both; a fast site is beneficial, a slow site is detrimental. Keep that in mind.
These are the factors that go into making a blog post better. Making sure your posts meet these criteria to get the most out of your SEO.
Content Originality. There are two forms of originality with posts on the internet. There’s originality in topic and originality in mechanical coverage. This one is the originality in topic. Now, having an original topic is not essential. Remember how I said there were so many basic guides to SEO out there? That didn’t stop me from writing this post, and it isn’t going to penalize my post, though it is going to make it a bit harder to rank just due to the competition. The trick is that you need to write your content to be better than the competition in some way. Approach the problem from a different angle, cover it in greater detail, put it into context with statistics, that kind of thing.
Content Uniqueness. This is the other kind of originality in content. Specifically, it means that the actual words and phrases you use are unique to your post. You can use the same keywords, like SEO and blog posts and meta data, but you can’t use the exact same sentences and paragraphs as another post. There are enough variations in the way the language works that any direct copies are easy to identify. Heck, all you need to do is run your content through a tool like Copyscape. That will tell you if any phrases or sentences in your piece are copied from another source.
It should be noted that quotations are okay, so long as they’re of reasonable length. You don’t want to quote an entire blog post, you won’t get away with it. Pulling a sentence or two, though, is fine, so long as there’s a greater context to the quote.
Topic Synchronicity. This is just a fancy phrase I coined just now for consistency in the topics you cover on your site. You know how sites have specialties? PC Magazine covers computer topics, Search Engine Journal covers search and marketing topics, the BBC covers news and current events, and so forth? These are all ways of keeping topics relatively focused. You can’t be writing about pets one minute, computers the next, cooking the next, and space exploration the next. Well, I mean, you can, but it hurts your SEO. The reason is that Google parses your site as a whole, looking to figure out what it’s about and what topics you cover. When all of your posts point to the same set of topics, you start to show up for search results for that topic. If you’re all over the map, Google doesn’t know where to put you, so you have less weight with any given topic.
Links From Relevant Sites. Links are not strictly a metric you can control within your blog posts, but since they’re such a core pillar of SEO, they’re something worth covering. The context of a link matters. Your goal is to get as many links as possible from as many different sources as possible, as long as those sources are relevant to your site in some way. If you’re a business selling gardening tools, a link from a gardening blog is good. A link from HGTV is good. A link from a news agency is good. A link from an SEO blog is probably not very good. It’s all about the relationship between the content focus of the linking site and the content focus of your site. Even a link from a great site in the wrong niche can still be a mostly valueless link to your site.
User Readable URLs. Which would you rather see when you look in the URL bar: www.example.com/12n4n41lk29s9ff.asp or www.example.com/awesome-blog-post-title/? Human-readable URLs are a minor search ranking factor, but they help users understand what your site is and what your link is, when your URL is posted on other sites. This encourages more clicks, more shares, and more links, which are all valuable to your SEO and to your blog as a whole.
Viable Meta Data. There are several forms of meta data you should have on your site. Rather than just ramble about them, I’ve made a checklist for you.
- Meta title. This is a title in your header section that determines what displays in the top title bar of your web browser and what displays in search results. This should be catchy, short, and similar if not identical to your non-meta post title.
- Meta description. This is an invisible description of the post that only shows up in search results, beneath the title and URL. Make it interesting and catchy.
- Meta keywords. If you see anyone recommending that you use these, abandon their advice. Meta keywords have not been useful in years.
- Title H1. The H1 tags should wrap around the title of the blog post, and there should only be one instance of them per page. Any subtitles should be H2 tags, generally. Sub-subtitles can be H3, but at that point you’re nesting so much it’s no longer relevant.
These are factors that can drag your site down. If you find your posts fit any of these descriptions, you have some changes to make before you can find true success.
Spammy Incoming Links. I already mentioned links above; this is the inverse. Links coming from spam sites and other low quality websites are generally going to be valueless to you, but if you rack up too many of them in too short a time, it looks like you’re buying links and can be penalized for them. This is why Google made tools like the Disavow tool.
Overused Anchor Text. You’ll notice that all of the links in this blog post have different words as the foundation of the link, or the anchor text. Links should generally have unique and descriptive anchor text, both so that the user knows what they’re clicking on and so that the receiving site doesn’t worry about the value of the link. One of the techniques used by spammers in their links is just to make all of the links say the same thing, so Google tends to devalue a massive number of links with the same anchor text.
Repeated Typos and Poor Quality Content. It should go without saying these days, but your blog needs to be technically proficient in the language you’re using. This applies whether you’re writing for an English audience, or in Spanish, or German, or any other language. Follow the rules of your chosen language’s grammar and spelling. This can be particularly tricky for English, since you have British, Australian, and American English variations, each of which have their own grammatical rules. Spanish can be similar, with Spain, Mexico, Portugal, Brazil and other variations all having significant differences.
Rest assured that as long as you can demonstrate the proficiency of a native speaker, you’re probably good enough. A few typos can be overlooked, it’s only when every post is riddled with them that your site starts to suffer.
Overly Short Content. Length isn’t something I’ve talked about much, but it’s become an increasingly important SEO factor in the last few years. It used to be that any post, no matter how long or short, could be viable. Google got tired of seeing search results flooded with 200-word posts that didn’t offer anything worthwhile, though, so they made changes. These days, anything under 1,000 words is cutting it short, and the “ideal” is around 2,000. Anything much longer than 4-5,000 can be either split into a second post or turned into an ebook for value outside of your website.
Excessive Keywords. One of the older factors people cared about to an excessive degree was keyword density. The idea was that you would write a post based on a keyword like “blog post SEO” and you would need, say, a 2% keyword density. That meant that for every 100 words in the blog post, there would need to be 2 instances of the exact phrase “blog post SEO.” You can imagine how in a post 1,000 words long, it would be annoying to read that exact phrase over and over. Google changed their algorithm to respond better to semantic synonyms and contextual meaning, so blog authors no longer have to care quite so much about specific keywords. I always recommend using keywords to guide your topic, but not caring overly much about them on a specific level. Google certainly doesn’t care how often a keyword is used, so long as it isn’t used too frequently.
A Lack of Formatting. Have you ever gone to read a blog post and encountered massive walls of text over a dozen sentences long? Paragraph after paragraph with no bold, no italics, no links, no line breaks, nothing? That’s a lack of formatting that can dramatically hurt user readability, which in turn hurts Google’s perception of your site. Break up lengthy paragraphs and add in formatting; it will be better for everyone involved.