Here’s your “duh” of the day: You don’t have to be an SEO to be a good blogger. I bet 90% of search marketers read a blog or five that has nothing to do with search marketing, whether it’s a cooking blog, nail art porn or Andrew Sullivan.
Some of the best and most popular blogs in any given niche get high rankings and lots of links without thinking too hard about SEO. Instead, they focus on:
- Great content: Popular blogs develop huge readerships primarily because the content is awesome; it’s that simple. (Here’s a reminder of the eight qualities that make great content great.)
- Great design: Almost as important as great content is great design – your blog needs to be both attractive and usable. High-quality photographs or illustrations are a big plus.
- Community building: The best bloggers nurture an active, devoted following. New search engine traffic is nice, but they put most of the focus on the readers that keep coming back.
- Social sharing: Good bloggers love their own content, so they’re not shy to share it around when they create something new. They put it up on Twitter, Facebook, etc. post haste. This gets the chain going so people can start reading, sharing, and commenting.
When you’re nailing it in all four areas, you’re doing a good amount of SEO as a matter of course. That’s because Google knows that by serving up your blog in the top of the results, its users are going to be happy.
But there’s still more you could do to make your blog even better. Here are a few tricks that search engine optimizers know and non-SEO bloggers frequently forget.
Add Internal Links
Don’t think of internal linking as “PageRank sculpting” or some shady-hat SEO thing. The main reason to practice regular internal linking is that it makes your site stickier.
If you write for CinemaFunk, you rank on the first page for “movie review blogs.” Good job! But let’s say, for example, that someone lands on your blog after googling “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints Review.” They find your movie review and read it with interest … but do they stick around and read anything else?
They might, if they really like your writing style – luckily, CinemaFunk has a sidebar with links to recent reviews and most popular reviews. This is a great tactic to reduce bounce rate, since new visitors might want to see other content that best represents what you do. There’s a problem with relegating all your links to the sidebar, though – they’re not clearly relevant to the article the visitor landed on, since they’re the same links site-wide.
This blogger missed an opportunity when he compared this movie to another movie that he has reviewed, Upstream Color, but didn’t link to that review:
Since this would clearly be relevant to the reader, it should really be a link. Don’t make the reader use your site search to find that review! And you know your own content better than anyone, so it should simple for you to find older posts to link to while writing.
Internal linking do’s and don’ts:
- If you write a new post and realize you have nothing relevant to link to, do let that serve as a map for your next content pieces. For example, CinemaFunk compares Gravity to 2001, but the site doesn’t have a review of 2001 to link to. Why not post some reviews of classic films?
- Do use descriptive anchor text when linking internally. Hyperlink the words “Upstream Color review,” not arbitrary words like “reviewed last week.” This tells readers what they’ll get when they click the link. There is, theoretically, a risk of over-optimizing your anchor text, but that’s unlikely to happen if you’re not abusing automation or buying links.
- Don’t overdo it, obviously. Text with too many links is hard to read, and readers will just ignore them.
- Don’t get so excited about internal links that you never link externally. Sometimes an external link will be the best resource for your readers. Also, when people click that link, you’ll show up in the referring sites list for that external site’s analytics – and that’s a great way to make relevant site owners aware of your existence.
Optimize Images for Search
Often, popular blogs in non-SEO niches will have really beautiful images and photography. For example, take Michelle Phan, who has one of the most popular beauty blogs. She has plenty of pretty sparkly images, like this one:
If you right-click this image in Chrome and select “Inspect element,” you can see what kind of optimization was done on this photo:
You can see that the image has been made easily Pinnable – hover over the photo, and the words “PIN THIS” appear in an overlay. That’s great because Pinterest is huge for driving traffic to this kind of beauty/lifestyle blog.
But more could be done here to optimize the image for search. The file name is a string of random letters and numbers. This isn’t readable by humans or search engine spiders. Further, the alt text doesn’t tell us what the image is either – it just refers back to the name of the post (“My Week in Photos”).
Blog image optimization do’s and don’ts:
- Do use descriptive words in your image file names. Instead of 662gf…., this photo should be named something like purple-lips.jpg.
- Do use your alt text to describe the photo. Use words that will tell Google what’s in the image. This will help it rank in image search results.
- Do choose photos that are relevant to the topic of your post. That way, you can describe what the photo is using keywords that will help your post rank in the regular search results too.
- Don’t use image file names and alt text as an opportunity for keyword stuffing. Cramming 20 words into your alt text (“purple lips sparkly lips purple lipstick purple glitter lipstick” etc. etc.) is unnecessary.
Long-Tail Keyword Research
Great bloggers tend to be really good at intuiting the topics their readers want to hear about – that, and/or they pay close attention to what their readers request in the comments. Often, blogging naturals just stumble upon great keywords. They might not even be using keyword tools; can you imagine?!
If you’re just that good at giving the people what they want, I support you. But even if you don’t use keyword tools to get your initial content topic ideas, it’s a good idea to use them to find long-tail keyword variations on your topic of choice. Using those long-tail terms in your content will help you rank for a wider range of keyword searches.
Unfortunately, Google no longer offers an external keyword tool to people who don’t have an AdWords account. But there are lots of other ways to find long-tail keywords – for example, by using Google suggest:
Here’s a random blog post that I grabbed from my Feedly reader: “Five Books on French Cuisine.” Taking a quick look at Keyword Planner, we can see that “French food” has almost three times the search volume of “French cuisine.”
So “French food books” or “books on French food” or “books about French food” would be good keyword variations to include here. (The phrase “French food” appears once in the post, but that’s not a long-tail term.)
There are lot of other ideas here too: “traditional French food,” “French food recipes,” etc. Seeing these terms before you start writing might change the way you approach the post – you might decide to write a few different posts, one on books about traditional French food or the history of French cuisine, another on new French cookbooks, and so on. Or you might decide to write a longer list, divided up into subcategories. Then you could put all those long-tail keyword variations, like “Easy French Food Cookbooks,” into subheadings on the page.
Long-tail keyword do’s and don’ts:
- Do use long-tail keywords as a way of building out your content. Doing long-tail keyword research may make you realize that you can expand on a point you had forgotten.
- Do use long-tail keywords in subheads, image file names, your meta description … not just the regular text.
- Don’t long-tail-keyword-stuff. You can use long-tail keywords in your content without making it obvious that you’re doing it for SEO purposes, as in this old joke:
BONUS: A Few More Blog SEO Best Practices You May Be Forgetting
Do you optimize your URL structure, so that the URL clearly communicates what the post is about? Some blogging software just assigns a random URL string, rather than keywords, as in this URL:
Do you moderate comments, and respond to all the legitimate ones?
Do you make it easy as cake for people to share your content? We’re talking prominent social buttons!
If you’re in the business of blogging but not in the business of SEO, take a good hard look at your blogging practices. You might be under-optimizing your content.