SEO Foundations For Bloggers: How To Optimize Your Search Ranking
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to the strategies that bloggers and web publishers implement to have their websites rank high on search engine result pages (SERP). And why is ranking high so important? 90% of users click on websites listed on the first result page of an online search, with 59% of clicks going to the first 3 search results.
What makes SEO so special is that it is extremely cost-effective, and yields great results with a minimal spending budget. So listen up, if you are a blogger trying to get ahead, but do not have a large enough budget for advertising, SEO is the answer you’ve been looking for. Luckily, you do not need to be an SEO expert in order to improve your website’s search ranking. To help get you started, this article breaks down the basic practices that you need to follow in order to lay out your blog’s SEO foundation.
First, how does a search engine work?
Most search engines, including Google, behave with a similar logic. They have programs known as ‘crawlers’, ‘spiders’ or ‘bots’, that crawl through your blog and analyze its code to index it in the search engine. The search engine then displays results to the user’s search query based on two main criteria: relevance and popularity.
Any reliable search engine behaves as a trustworthy friend. Ask Google for “the best Adobe Illustrator tutorial”, for example, and it will recommend the most relevant and popular results. Google’s first priority is satisfying its users by answering their queries, but it also goes a long way in helping blogs and websites rank higher on its search result pages. It does that by adopting a transparent policy and supplying websites owners with guidelines for best practices. Content creators would do well to take these seriously: 80% of all users will find your blog through a search they entered on Google, Bing, or Yahoo.
What is the difference between SEO and SEM?
The point of SEO is to drive traffic to your website organically, which means without advertisement. Search Engine Marketing (SEM, also known as paid search) helps you rank high on search engine results pages for the pre-set duration of your campaign through sponsored placements. So in a way, SEO will gradually increase your audience on the long-term, whereas SEM is more effective in driving conversions quickly on the short run.
Notice how in the above snapshot, the ‘Ad’ sign appears next to the Paid Search Results. Another thing to take note of is that the travel website Expedia shows up in the Paid Search results. This is because Expedia’s team has targeted the keywords ‘New Jersey’ and ‘Hotel’ in their SEM targeting.
Optimizing your blog’s search engine ranking:
SEO works by enhancing your online reputation. Different factors affect your SEO ranking. These can be grouped under two main categories: on-page elements and off-page elements.
A. What are On-Page Elements?
This category includes two groups. The first refers to the content presented to your audience. This includes your blog’s URL, its name, blog post titles, headlines, articles, images and captions.
The second refers to the content embedded in the blog’s code. This means meta-titles and tags: the alternative titles, image captions and tags inside your code that are only visible to crawlers.
The content that contains these on-page elements can be either static, which basically refers to your blog’s foundational pages, such as the ‘about us’ page, or it can be dynamic, which refers to the blog posts that you publish or update regularly.
Search engines refer to your on-page elements in order to judge your website’s relevance, i.e how relevant is your content to a user’s search query.
B. How to Optimize Your On-Page Elements?
The golden rule is: SEO begins at the planning phase, before you even begin to create content. So here’s what you need to do to start planning ahead:
1. Define measurable objectives:
Always begin by defining your objective. Whether you’re just about to launch your blog, or are writing a new blog post, ask yourself: what is the purpose of this content? These goals can range from acquiring new visitors, to collecting leads, and driving up your traffic.
Defining your objectives is going to shape your article’s content, and the indicators you will need to measure in order to assess its success or failure. A good indicator should have an achievable, quantifiable objective and a time-frame. An example of a good indicator is “I want this blog post to earn me 20 newsletter sign ups.” Now that you’ve set your objective you will have a better idea on how you are going to shape your article in order to accomplish the goal you have in mind.
2. Select the keywords you want to include in your content:
Once your objectives are defined, you can start thinking about which keywords to target your audience with. You should aim for no more than five keywords to include in your blog posts. Google Adwords, SEMRush and Moz are some of the keyword planning tools that can help you do this. These tools will highlight the words and expressions that your target audience tends to search for. Knowing which keywords you want to rank on is the part that requires skill.
The ideal keyword should satisfy three criteria:
- It should have a high volume of users searching for it regularly
- It should have low competition from other websites
- It should be attractive to audiences, ie: have a high click-through rate.
To learn more about how to best select keywords, take a look this useful at this article by Writers In Charge.
Before you kick off the writing phase, don’t forget to benchmark what the competition is doing to find a way to differentiate yourself. Think of what makes your piece of content unique. So now that you’ve set your objective, chosen your keywords, and defined your edge, it’s time to start writing.
3. Create SEO-friendly content:
Search engines decide on your blog’s relevance to a search query based on keyword density, or how frequently the keyword appears in your text. So when you write any piece of content make sure to mention the necessary keywords. First, choose the most popular keywords from the list you’ve compiled. You will be including them in your title, headline, text, and meta-descriptions. Second, add the remaining selection from your keyword list in your article’s introductions, captions and metadata.
With that being said, Google’s priority is its user’s trust. So you’ll need to be careful as Google penalizes excessive keyword density that tries to manipulate its bots.
A. What are Off-Page Elements?
Off-page elements rank your blog’s popularity. Search engines don’t look exclusively at keywords and metatags when they’re indexing a website, but also at other technical factors: click-through rates, the number of backlinks, loading speed, technical performance, user experience, and page responsiveness to mobile and tablet formats, just to name a few. All these elements can ultimately affect authority and user engagement, and in turn influence your popularity in search rankings.
B. How to optimize your Off-Page elements?
There are a multitude of actions you can take to optimize your off-page elements, each of which will help improve your blog’s popularity, and in turn its SEO ranking. So here’s what you need to do:
1. Link your Blog to Trustworthy Websites
The main factor in determining SEO ranking, according to this MOZ survey, is the links from external websites leading back to your blog. These backlinks help build the authority of your platform at your domain level and at a page level. The totality of the links that lead to your website make up your platform’s ‘online reputation’.
As a content publisher, you have no quick control over these metrics, but there are measures you can take to improve them. The trust that other websites and audiences assign to you dictate your blog’s reputation. SEO ranking is directly affected by this digital reputation, which is why you should invest time in advertising your blog to the right people who will link back to you.
One other thing to keep in mind: as important as links to your website are, links from your website are also important. Don’t be afraid to link your readers to pieces of content on other websites and blogs that you trust. Doing this regularly is a good way to associate yourself with other brands. By doing so, this SEO tip helps legitimize your blog, get it noticed, and, consequently increase its ranking.
2. Make sure to create “good” Content
Another factor that influences your blog’s popularity is your user engagement, which is measured by your website’s bounce rate, and the average time users spend on it. In order to make sure that this metric is optimal: veer away from clickbait headlines and thin content, focusing instead on creating enjoyable, reliable, and honest content that creates value for your audience and keeps them engaged.
So for example, if many users visit your blog for a just few seconds before closing their tabs and browsing off immediately, this lowers your user engagement. What search engines will understand from this is that your content is thin, which will result in a drop of your blog’s ranking.
3. Arm Your Blog With a Stellar Technical Performance
It’s important to keep in mind the technical aspects of search engine optimization: a page’s speed and performance.
A page’s loading speed is the time it takes for the content on the page to be displayed in its entirety. This is affected by the size of the content and how efficient your code is. If your blog is slow, users are more likely to become frustrated and exit your site. At the end of the day, this will affect your search ranking.
Besides improving your loading speed, here are a few other technical aspects you can address that will optimize your website’s performance, and improve its ranking:
- Use a powerful CMS such as WordPress or Magento which will streamline this process
- Focus on building a clear sitemap that facilitates navigation, and keeps your audience coming back.
- Make sure your website is responsive. A responsive website adapts to mobile and tablet formats, which is especially important for search engines since more and more users browse the web from a mobile device.
Like any reputation building exercise, SEO requires a long term commitment to consistency and a dedication to quality. Keyword research, technical optimizations and online tools are all essential for a successful SEO strategy, but ultimately futile if the strategy is approached with an opportunistic mindset. Consider SEM, social media and syndication as other traffic generators, if you’re looking for short-term timely results or an effective launching strategy. SEO is a cost-effective investment that pays off long after you lay out its foundations, and like any work of optimization, it requires constant monitoring, maintenance, and patience.
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