Why are we here? Where did we come from? Will we end up in the same place as our cats when we go? And, how does SEO *really* work? For many online business owners, the inner workings of SEO truly belong in the category of similar questions that science is yet unable to answer.

You may be overwhelmed and tempted to add “learn SEO” to your future to-dos list, but some simple statistics show why getting good at SEO is so incredibly important.

According to the SEO gurus, the first page of Google gets around 95% of all traffic. That means that only 5% of people ever click to page two. 

Wait, what?

Are you saying I have to do something I don’t understand? And I have to start sooner than later?

How?

Getting Started With SEO

Honestly, the enormous amount of SEO information that is out there doesn’t exactly help.

There is a seemingly amount of content that tells you to make this one tweak to get massive traffic.

While all of these SEO blog posts obviously contain valuable content, not all of them were written with the beginner blogger in mind.

This leads us nicely into the topic of today’s post; the basics of SEO.

What Is SEO?

SEO, or search engine optimization, is a collection of signals that you give to search engines about the topic and quality of your content.

Google, like most search engines, needs to be told two things:

  • what your content is about
  • that your blog content is quality and worth showing

Optimizing a blog post is a matter of using the right keywords in the right places while sticking to the criteria for quality, aka the algorithm, that Google uses in determining rankings.

Writing Optimized BLOG POSTS: 6 steps

While it will take a significant amount of time before you’re up there rubbing elbows with the likes of Moz, mastering the basics of SEO isn’t that hard.

In this blog post, we’ll go over X basic steps that will strengthen your SEO game, even as a blogging newbie.

This SEO checklist consists of a step-by-step process that’s basically a series of easy wins.

Once you improve on important things such as internal linking, meta descriptions, headings and keywords, you should see a boost in rankings.

In fact, you’ll see that outranking what’s on page one isn’t as hard as it looks!

1. Choose a target Keyword Before You Start Writing

The basics

When you SEO blog posts, picking a target keyword is the first step. After all, before you can write an seo optimized blog post, you have to decide what to optimize it for.

You can optimize for multiple keywords but let’s stick with one for this post.

How To Pick A Target Keyword

Choosing a target keyword is really the act of deciding what the focus of your article will be. As a result, it’s best to make your target keyword as specific as possible.

If you want to drive traffic to your amazing vegetarian pizza recipe, don’t optimize for just pizza recipe. After all, the meatlovers of the world might click away in hoor the moment they see your recipe is vegetarian.

While it’s tempting to optimize your recipe post for the generic term pizza, you will have to compete with pizza chains and everyone else. In other words, it’s best to go with keyphrases that consist of multiple words.

Consider Search Intent

Over the years, Google has learned that people go online for different reasons.

People either want to:

  • buy something
  • learn something
  • find something

In many cases, Google know what people are looking for and is unlikely to rank anything that doesn’t meet that intent.

A quick Google of the word pizza yields a list of restaurants instead of recipes. Apparently, Google has learned that people are looking to buy a pizza instead of finding a recipe or learning about this Italian dish.

Always consider search intent when you create content and pick your keywords for it. Don’t fight the alogrithm more than you have to.

Keyword Research

The process of researching keywords helps you find out if anyone searches for them. In other words, are people interested in an article with that particular focus. 

Keyword research gives you lots of information that you can use to decide whether a long tail keyword is worth pursuing:

  • Search Volume – The average number of monthly searches for a specific keyword
  • Difficulty Score – Can my article rank or is the competition too strong?
  • Search Intent – what kind of post should I write for this?

One of the main benefits of doing keyword reasearch is finding out if you can compete with the people already ranking.

While you can have an incredible blog post with insights on what to do in Amsterdam, Google will probably favor trusted brands such as Tripadvisor in their algorithm.

This doesn’t mean that writing blog posts on popular topics is out of bounds; it just means that you have to research and choose. 

Example: if this blog post was targeting the keyword “SEO tips,” it would never stand a chance against all of the SEO giants and marketing companies on Google’s first page. Instead, this piece is about “how to write SEO-friendly blog posts,” which is much less competitive. 

Keyword research is a time consuming process and it’s best to use a keyword research tool.

With it, you can not only research your chosen keyword but also find any related keywords that you can also rank for. Figuring out how to do keyword research is your first step towards writing an SEO friendly blog post.

You may be shocked by the price tag attached to some of the more popular ones. That’s why I use Keysearch, an amazing tool that costs about a quarter of some of the more well-known ones.

Want a walk-through of how to use Keysearch and a checklist for optimizing your posts?

Not sure what kinds of blog posts to write? Try these 10 essential blog post ideas for beginners.

2. Don’t Overuse Your Keywords

Let’s say you find a nice keyword or keyphrase that you want to write about and that you have a chance to rank for.

Instead of cramming it into your text as many times as you can, you want to use it sparingly. The SEO sages at Moz recommend using your focus keyword as little as 5 times can be enough as long as you put them in the right places. 

Where To Use Your Keywords

It’s okay if you use synonyms instead of the original keyword. This way, you don’t have to use the exact phrase over and over again.

Use your keywords strategically and put them in places that Google thinks are important:

  • the URL
  • your blog post titles
  • the first paragraph 
  • headings and subheadings
  • your meta description 
  • your images (more on naming images later)

Finally, sprinkle a few throughout your article. A light touch is good enough for Google, and usually provides a better experience for the reader, too. Whatever you do, avoid keyword stuffing. 

3. Use Headings Correctly

Most readers don’t read every line in a blog post. Instead, they just scan the headings to determine whether a text is worth reading in its entirety. Unsurprisingly, Google has picked up on this.

According to the people behind the Yoast SEO plugin, Google uses text structure as an important factor when it comes to determining rankings. 

Headings provide this structure and using them enables both people and Google to quickly determine what your text is about.

When you write your blog posts in WordPress, don’t just use a larger font but remember to use actual headings. Only the title should be H1, and each subsequent heading should be either H2 or H3. 

Gif showing how to change a line of text into a heading in WordPress

Make sure you put your keyword in your title (which is heading 1, or H1). Google uses something called semantic closeness as a ranking signal. When you include your main keyword in your H1 heading, Google creates a link between your keyword in the main heading and any H2 subheadings. It recognizes your subheadings as subtopics and uses them to get an idea of what the article is about.

When using headings, don’t make them overly creative. Instead, approach them as an opportunity to steer Google’s interpretation of your article in the direction you want. 

Explanation of use of headings for SEO purposes. Example: coffee recipe [H1], how to make coffee [H2], step 1-3 [H3], recipe alternatives [H4], desserts to serve with this coffee [H5].

After all, Google is trying to understand what your post is about so you want to make sure they pick up on the right things. Whatever you do, avoid confusion at all times. 

It’s a good SEO practice to start every article with a clear title (H1 heading) and then use H2 and even H3 headings for all subsequent points. Include your focus keyword in the main title and other relevant keywords in your H2/H3 headings.

4. Pay Attention To Readability

I think we can all agree that any text that is badly written is simply off-putting. Whether it’s poor grammar, confusing writing or just rambling, a blog post that is badly written will cause readers to stop reading.

Rather than spending time on your confusing article, they just leave your site and click on the next search result. 

Content that’s confusing affects your rankings. Google uses the time that people spend on your site as an indication of quality and therefore as a social, ranking signal.

Furthermore, just like real people, Google tries to scan the content of your blog post in order to determine where to put it in search results. Content that is well organized has a higher chance of showing up in search results. 

Readability is more than just working on your grammar and spelling. It’s about using transition words to break up long sentences and about writing paragraphs that are succinct and to the point.

Although good readability may not be a direct ranking signal, it does have an effect on SEO.

Easy Readability Trick #1: Shorter Sentences 

In order to shorten those overly long sentences, use linking words to break them up. Keep in mind, just because certain ideas are related doesn’t mean they belong in the same sentence. For example, take a look at these two sentences:

Although short sentences are often preferable, writing long sentences in itself is not a bad thing but having only long sentences may cause some problems with readability. 

Although short sentences are often preferable, writing long sentences in itself is not a bad thing. However, having only long sentences may cause some problems with readability. 

Yoast recommends a maximum of 20 words per sentence and this one has 27. However, by simply inserting a linking word, this one can be brought back to a reasonable length.

Writing tiny sentences is not hard, you just have to be aware of it.

Easy Readability Trick #2: Shorter Paragraphs 

In general, people read blogs because they want to learn something new. They find your article because they want you to answer their question.

Moreover, people want the shortest possible version of your answer. If they can’t find what they’re looking for quickly, they will leave. This shows why clear and concise paragraphs are so important.

Each paragraph should deal with just one idea that you explain in only a few sentences. In fact, the ideal length of a paragraph on a blog post is just 3 to 5 lines max.

Ideally, every paragraph should have the same basic structure. Start out with the core sentence and use the sentences in the middle to support it. Add a concluding sentence to wrap it up nicely.

Finally, use linking words to connect your paragraphs and give your article that natural flow. 

5. Include Internal Links

Having a large number of links is an important factor when it comes to showing up in search engine results. Any time someone links to your content, Google interprets it as a vote of confidence in your content.

When it comes to link building, there are two kinds of links: backlinks and internal links. A backlink is when someone else shares a link to your domain. If you have quality content, backlinks should happen organically over time.

Backlinks from other websites bring Domain Authority and they are certainly important but so are links to other pages on your website. Unlike acquiring backlinks, placing internal links is completely within your control.

Building internal links has an additional benefit; it makes people more likely to stay on your site longer. After all, your visitors are already interested and by offering them related content they will click around more.

Anything that makes people hang around longer is generally a sign of quality that Google is guaranteed to pick up on.

Although internal links are powerful, you don’t want to overdo it. Google is too smart to be fooled by adding hundreds of links to every single article. Only include links when they are relevant. 

You can even insert them manually with the internal linking plugin Link Whisper. Did you see how smooth and relevant that internal link was?! 

Think of your domain as a farmer’s field. Backlinks provide the necessary water but internal links function as the equally important irrigation system.

A backlink can provide authority to a single page on your site. If this page has links to other posts on your site, it spreads some of that authority to your other posts. Going back to the field, you need both internal and external links if you want to see SEO success!

6. Make Sure To Optimize Your Images

Given the amount of stimulation that a person can access at the click of any app on their phone, it’s fair to say that no blog post is complete without multimedia. 

Having images makes your content more engaging and it can help you explain complex ideas more easily.

For SEO purposes, adding images is not just a matter of adding images. They need optimization just like the rest of your blog post. The good news is that it doesn’t take that long to do it as there are only three main things you need to do.

Provide Alt Text

Not everyone can see the images you put in your content. Writing alt-text to go with your images is an easy way to boost SEO while making your content more accessible.

Adding extra descriptions alt-text is super easy. The easiest way to do this is to use the Yoast plugin where it’s located under Image Settings.

When you write your image descriptions, make sure to use clear language to describe what’s in the image.

Finally, images present an opportunity to include one your keywords.

Use it!

Resize Images

The most important thing when it comes to optimizing images is reducing their size. Though your high-quality image might be 3000 x 4000 pixels in its original, it is likely to be displayed in a format that is a lot smaller.

Even though the image is displayed in a smaller size, the large original image still needs to be loaded which takes a long time. Of course, you can choose to upload smaller images but that’s not all.

A laptop open to Google sits on a wooden table with a coffee cup

There are two main things that go into reducing the size of images;

  • compressing the image
  • resizing the image by lowering the length and width.

A free plugin that can do it all for you is Imsanity, but there are many alternatives out there. A quick Google search should give you plenty of free tools to use.

Name Images Correctly

Besides reducing the size of images, you should also make sure you name them correctly. A good rule of thumb is to give your images a name that tells Google how the image contributes to the value of your article.

So instead of keeping the random unnamed.jpg try to give it a more meaningful name. You could even choose to include your focus keyword in there if you are feeling uninspired.

Remember the search engine crawlers that try to understand the content of your article? Well, they also try to understand your images. By naming your images correctly, you can give them some more clarity!

Finally, you also qualify for the chance to be shown in Google image search. 

This is just one tip for optimizing images. Find even more steps in my SEO checklist.

Final Thoughts On Writing SEO-friendly Content

Are you still confused by SEO? Rest assured, you’re not alone. Writing a well-optimized blog post can be difficult when you first start out as a blogger.

Follow these practical tips for every new blog post and you’ll see your rankings improve!

As always, I am here rooting for you.