How to Optimize Your Blog for SEO & Engagement

September 19, 2016 Dave Smith

The Inbound Methodology consists of four marketing stages: Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight. When looking at the most important components of the Attract Stage, blogging is right there at the top. Proper execution of your blog  both through search engine optimization (SEO) and reader engagement  are the best methods for driving organic traffic to your website.

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Fortunately, you can up your efficiency and effectiveness by optimizing simultaneously for click-throughs and search engines throughout every step of your blog creation.

Develop Your Blogging Strategy

The first step in writing amazing blog posts that are sure to entice both the search engines and your customers is to develop a strategy. You’ve probably already gone through most of these steps for your overall inbound marketing strategy, so we’ll just briefly touch on the crucial elements here.

Identify and Understand Your Audience

As with every single aspect of your marketing, your blogging strategy is going to be driven by your Buyer Personas - semi-fictional, composite characters that represent the various needs, wants and challenges of your ideal customers. Your buyer personas serve as the foundation for all of your inbound marketing efforts.

You’ll gain basic demographic information about your audience – education and geographic location as well as deeper insights such as business goals, personal aspirations, trusted resources and online activity. You’ll learn what they’re searching for and where they get their information, which will directly inform your master keyword list.

Understanding who your buyer personas are, what they’re searching for and where they are in their buyer’s journey will be your content guide. You’ll not only be able to decide what topics to write about; you’ll effectively create tailor-made content that addresses your customers’ questions, goals and problems.

Choose Your Best Keywords

It’s impossible to rank for every keyword in your niche, so it’s important to create content around the best keywords that will make the biggest impact on your business. Each new blog post should be optimized around one of these high-value long-tail keywords. It’s important to find that “search engine sweet spot” - a phrase that has enough traffic that it’s worth ranking for, but not too much traffic where there’s too much competition.

As an example, we went through this process when choosing keywords for our own inbound marketing agency. “Marketing” is too broad of a term with endless competition; we’d never be able to rank for it. A quick Google search of it produced a healthy variety of everything from marketing publications to marketing definitions and marketing agencies.

A much better long-tail keyword for us is “inbound marketing agency,” but still, we’ve got a lot of competition from other inbound agencies. At the time of this writing, we’re ranking on page 2 of Google. Not ideal. How can we get more specific?

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Outranked by established competitors.

We’ve seen success within the AEC industry (architecture, engineering, construction), and we’ve written a generous amount of content on topics for that segment, including blog posts and a targeted landing page. Our site is currently ranking #1 for “aec marketing.” It’s a small niche (as evidenced by the screenshot below), but it’s proven to be a very effective keyword for driving traffic to us.

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Current rankings inside HubSpot Keywords.

Once you’ve chosen your best keywords, you’re ready to start creating blog posts around them.

Compose Your Blog Post

Remember, you’re writing for people first, Google second. That said, by keeping search engine best practices in mind while composing your blog, you’ll be able to seamlessly mesh SEO with blog clicks. Each blog is optimized to a long-tail keyword, and you’ll use that keyword appropriately throughout your post when writing it.

Add Keyword and Links to Body Text

Your top priority with the body of your post is readability. Focus on your audience and what you want your post to accomplish (educational, entertaining, etc.). Break your post into different sections with their own subheadings, maximizing it for scannability. Naturally include your keyword throughout the post body and headers, which signals to the search engines that this page is directly relevant to the user’s search. But no keyword stuffing - it’s a red flag for Google and it adversely affects readability.

Reader engagement is key, and I’m not talking about CTR analytics here. Your readers need to get something out of your blog post. The easier your post is to scan and comprehend and the more valuable the information is the more likely it is that the reader will click on a CTA (Call-To-Action) or share your post within their social networks.

Include Links with Anchor Text

Including hyperlinks in your text makes your page (and site) more credible in the eyes of the search engines. As with your keyword placement, this should be done naturally throughout the blog post. There are two types of hyperlinks that you need to include:

  1. Internal Links direct the user to another page on your website. You can use this to link to previous blog posts, product or service pages, etc.
  2. External Links direct the user to someone else’s website. These are great to site your information sources or to link to a reference that is discussed in much more detail.

You should have a minimum of one of each of the types of links outlined above, but don’t overdo it. The more links within a single post, the less impact they will have. If you have 10 internal links linking to other parts of your site, it’s likely that a reader will click none of them. However, one or two relevant internal links may help send the user exactly where you want them to go next.

Optimize Blog Title

For SEO, there are two major guidelines to follow: include the long-tail keyword in the title and keep the title to under 60 characters. Easy enough for the search engines, but when it comes to your potential readers, title optimization gets a little more nuanced.

The goal here is to get the user to click on your link in the search engine results page (SERP). The more relevant your title is to their search, the more likely it is that this will happen. But it’s not just about displaying their keyword -- it’s about drawing them in, making them want to click your link and read your post. You want your title to stand out, while still being descriptive enough to be relevant. You might have the urge to create a clever blog title. Resist it.

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One of our early blog posts with a title that’s far too ambiguous.

 

Having a clever or abstract title will likely confuse your audience and result in fewer (or zero) clicks. Instead of being clever, try being original, helpful, specific or timely. Don’t worry about being too dry if the content of your post is unique and thorough enough to create value. Create great content, then be honest about it. If you’ve done your work up front with the persona research, you’ll eventually get in a groove where these titles tend to write themselves.

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One of our recent blogs, clear and compelling.

 

Optimize Meta Data & Images

Meta information primarily has to do with SEO, but not completely. It does not appear in the body of your post, but is seen in the SERPs. Likewise, there are several additional steps necessary to ensure that you get the most search engine equity out of your blog images.

Optimize Your Meta Description

The meta description is a short description of your web page (150 characters or less), though it’s not actually visible on that page. It is used exclusively in the SERPs and social shares to provide a summary of your web page below the title.

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Though Google has stated that their algorithm is not affected by meta descriptions, they are imperative to clicks Use the keyword organically in your description to convey to the user that this is, indeed, the post they’re looking for. Your clicks will increase, and your click rate looks to be something that Google does analyze. So, a properly optimized meta description gets you a win-win with SEO and blog clicks.

Personalize Your URL

Your page URL is yet another place to include that long-tail keyword. This one is primarily for SEO since the search engines look at your URL for search query relevance. Have your page URL match your blog title as close as possible, using hyphens or underscores as word separators.

 

Optimize Your Images

Including images on your blog posts will up your engagement, but there are several SEO guidelines to follow to ensure that all images are included properly and effectively.

  1. Reduce the image file to a reasonable size to cut down on load time. Find the right balance for a modest file size while retaining image quality. Take note of the pixel width of your blog, as that’s as wide as the image can be without being auto-shrunk to fit the page (i.e. if your blog is 800 pixels wide, make your image 800 pixels wide as well).
  2. Name your image files descriptively, and include the target keyword of the post.
  3. Include alt tags, which are text alternatives to images when they can’t be rendered. Make sure to include the target keyword here, too, because reading the alt tag of an image is how the search engines “see” it.

Additional SEO Guidelines

In addition to the bulk of search engine optimization guidelines outlined above, here are a few more quick tips to keep your blogs in Google’s good graces:

  1. Properly Tag Your Post - When tagging your post by topic, be sure to be simple and precise. Avoid over-tagging posts with similar topic tags. This could result in a penalty from Google for having duplicate content.
  2. No Duplicate Posts! - As mentioned, Google deems duplicate posts as something very bad. This also goes for reposting blogs that you’ve guest-posted somewhere else, which, generally speaking, is not a recommended practice. Don’t get penalized for doing something careless and easily avoidable.
  3. Optimize for Mobile - You’ll want your page (and entire site) mobile optimized, not just because that maximizes readability for the user, but also because it is a major consideration for search engines.
  4. Be Consistent - Committing to publish a regular blog is just that - a commitment. By releasing less than one new blog post a month, you might as well not be doing it at all, as far as SEO is concerned. Strive for one a week, then up your volume, if needed, to keep up with the content demands of your audience.

There is a lot of information here, but the important thing is to start now… with a plan. Profile your audience, use your keywords to come up with topics, and start writing, all the time focusing on readability and search engine must-haves. Before long, you’ll have a library of useful, engaging resources that your personas will be craving to consume.

 

Dave Smith is the Chief Value Officer (CVO) at Cherry

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