As I was thinking about an inbound marketing topic to follow my blog last week on the need for powerful positioning statements, it occurred to me that I’d never written on the mechanics of writing a great blog. A blog is one of the best tools for regularly adding relevant, keyword-rich content to your website, helping it rank better for key terms on search engines. So optimizing your blog posts will make your best top of funnel offer easier for your prospects to find.
Great blog writing is part art, part science… I’m going to deal with the scientific part. The art is up to you! Follow these proven best practices to increase your presence with your best prospects.
Keywords. Just Do Them.
When I first started blogging, I completely ignored keywords. What a mistake! If you don’t use keyword best practices, guaranteed you’re making your success as a blogger 10x harder than it needs to be. Begin with keyword analysis and buyer persona research using a keyword tool like Hubspot’s or Google’s, look for keywords that a prospect would use to describe the problem that you solve (refer to your positioning statement!), then focus the keyword by adding additional relevant words in order to get the difficulty score down (ideally below 40 for starters). Here are some keyword metrics you’ll need to keep in mind:
- Search volume: This is how many times that particular keyword phrase is searched on a monthly basis. Search volume is important but choosing keywords simply based on search volume is a bad strategy. Overly broad keywords will be very difficult to rank for and if you do happen to rank, chances are many of the prospects using that keyword aren’t looking for what you specifically offer.
- Competition/difficulty score: This score indicates how hard it is to rank for that particular keyword based on the number and quality of sites competing for search rankings. In Hubspot, difficulty scores go from 0 – 100 with 100 being the most difficult. In Google, difficulty is measured on a scale from 0-1, with 1 indicating a highly competitive term.
- Relevancy: Keywords shouldn’t be selected only for search. Think about your audience and how they would likely describe their pain points and potential solutions/products. For example, a government agency may use different terms than a small business owner when seeking similar information. Also, consider how well the keyword will integrate with the theme of your content. Don’t stuff keywords – the practice of over-using keywords to try to improve rank – into a post.
Using these guidelines, identify one-to-two keyword phrases per blog post. Remember that you can often combine multiple keywords into one (key)phrase.
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Use your keywords in your blog content using a process called on-page optimization.
On-page search engine optimization of your content is just one element of an effective SEO program, which should also include factors such as number and diversity of inbound links, content freshness, external and internal anchor text, social sharing and more. However, many of the important SEO factors are not completely within your control. You can influence, but you can’t force inbound links for example. So let’s look at the one element of your SEO that is completely in your control and how to make it work for your blog.
Placement: For each blog post, the keywords you chose for your blog should be placed in 6 key areas—title tag, page URL, heading, page copy, image alt text and page meta description. The image below demonstrates where these items are located on a sample blog page.
Strategic Keyword Placement in Your Blog
Most content management systems (CMS) like Hubspot and blogging platforms, like WordPress, have on-page SEO functionality built in so there’s no need to edit your page HTML for your blog in order to achieve good on-page SEO. That said, you still need to actively manage the placement of you on page SEO for maximum effect. Here’s the detail:
This is one of the most important on-page optimization factors, and appears at the top of the browser and as the headline in search results. Best practice is to use your target keyword(s) within the first few words of the title, and limit the length to 70 characters. In the Hubspot blogging tool, this is also your blog subject. All too often, the title is an afterthought. Bad. Not only is your title a cue to human prospects but also to search engines. Take your blog title seriously.
This is the page’s web address. In the Hubspot blogging tool, the URL is auto-generated by your subject so once again… subject matters! Use the keywords you’ve chosen for your blog in your subject.
The blog meta description is the snippet of text that often appears below your page title and link in search engine results. For those social media users, you can almost think of this as a Tweet about your blog. For best results, include your target keywords, limit copy to 150 characters, and make your description interesting and/or action-oriented to give people a reason to click.
Headings Within Your Blog Copy
Headings, or <H> tags, are markers within a web page, coded in HTML and scanned by search engines to help identify the important aspects of your content. There are two reasons, one machine and one human to use headlines or subheads in your copy. The machine reason is that search engines use headlines and subheads to help rank your content. The human reason is similar – using headlines makes your content more scannable – easier to read. Best practice is to include target keywords in tagged headings and subheads (note: this is not just making the standard copy bold, you have to actually use the heading style) when appropriate.
The Meat: Page Copy
When appropriate, incorporate keyword phrases into blog copy. Keep in mind, however, that readability should always be the main priority. Keyword Stuffing – or the practice of just putting keywords in every paragraph whether appropriate or not, will not help you. In fact, if your blog post exceeds about 2% keyword frequency (twice in each 100 words), search engines may decrease your rank under the presumption that you’re not creating a reader-friendly article.
Image Alt Text
Like headings, images are an important part of good blogging for both human and search reasons. The human reason is that we like images. They break up text and, good images choices add visual context to the blog copy. The search reason is that search engines give special attention to images. Did you ever wonder how certain images end up in the Google images search? It’s because of the tags used when the images are inserted into web pages or blogs. Google can’t ‘see’ the image so it relies on the tag text to tell it what the image is about. Again, using keywords helps improve your SEO. In the Hubspot platform, you assign image tags when you place the image. Often people overlook this and just use gibberish as a tag. Bad. I find that the simplest thing to do is to use a descriptive file name for the image that includes my keywords e.g. this-image-shows-my-keyword. Use hyphens or underscores to separate words rather than spaces. Hubspot will use this title as the default image alt text so if you name well, you can just approve what Hubspot puts in the image tag when you place the image.
Platforms like Hubspot include a place to insert “meta keywords” into your blog. In the past these keywords were important cues to search engines for ranking your content but as search engines have become more sophisticated meta keywords have become less relevant. You should fill them in with the keywords that are important to your blog for reference but meta keywords aren’t a factor in on page SEO any longer.
Conclusion: If You Want to be Found, Optimize Your Blog Posts!
By optimizing your blog posts for target keywords using these on page SEO tactics, you’ll increase your site’s visibility in search engines, and improve your organic traffic. Earlier I mentioned important off-page SEO such as inbound links. How does on-page SEO help your off page SEO? When people find information in your blog valuable they likely to share it by passing on a link to your blog. Platforms like Hubspot track inbound link metrics on your blog posts. You can use your blogs link volume as one gauge of how valuable people find your content.
What other blogging tips and best practices have you found useful?