How to optimize a blog post for SEO

If a bear…well, you know.

When you’re creating content online, you’re probably not just doing it to “make something” out of some high-held ideal of creativity. You’re writing it to be found.

There are many ways to get content found of course, but one of the best (and it’s “free”!) is organically through the search engines.

To do that, you need to leverage the power of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Contrary to what you may read online, it’s not a bunch of dark magic voodoo that you sprinkle on your content and magically it ranks.

In fact, SEO is a huge industry with some saying it’s at least an $80B per year industry. I personally made my living doing SEO for about 7 years, and know many people who have built a great career and income off doing search engine optimization professionally.

So while it might be advantageous to many of us to say that SEO is super difficult and you should just hire someone, the reality is that any normal person and non-marketer can learn the best practices of SEO and those will get you 80%+ of the results you’re looking for and that a professional SEO could get you.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to do today.

I am going to show you specifically how to optimize a blog post for SEO so you can do it on your own and reap the benefits of organic SEO traffic for years to come.

Even though I stopped my regular blogging in 2013, I still get thousands of visits a month from SEO.

SEO is holistic and starts before you create

Now let’s discuss how to properly optimize a blog post for SEO.

First, let’s get something straight.

SEO starts before you start writing

At my other company Credo, we speak with a lot of companies who are trying to hire someone for SEO services. A common request we get is for someone to “SEO our blog posts”.

While there can be value to going back to optimize old blog posts especially if you’ve been creating content for a long time and not thinking about SEO, when you’re creating new content the SEO process starts from the beginning with keyword research.

By doing keyword research (or as we call it more commonly in SEO circles these days, topic research) you can identify the topics/keywords/phrases your audience is searching for and then write with those keywords (and related ones!) in mind.

After all, SEO isn’t just about the words on the page. It’s also about:

  • The meta title
  • The meta description
  • The title on the page
  • Subheadings
  • Internal links
  • External backlinks

If you know the topic ahead of time (and related keyphrases/topics), you can craft all of this during the creation process so you don’t have to go back and do it again.

SEO is holistic

There’s a lot of advice about SEO out on the internet, making it sound complicated and like you can’t know anything because the search engines and “the algorithm” are constantly changing.

That’s simply not true. SEO, at its core, involves three things:

  1. Technical SEO – having a website where the search engines can crawl it and find all of your pages and determine how important they are and what keywords they should rank for;
  2. Content – the pages that exist, including the keywords used in URLs and headings, as well as the words on the page matter for SEO to target specific keywords and topics. Editorial content, such as blog posts and guides, are a great way to open the top of the funnel of traffic and awareness because you can target informational keywords like “how to” and “what is”.
  3. Backlinks – links from other websites that refer people and search engines back to your site. Google was the first search engine to use backlinks as a ranking factor and they are still a strong ranking factor in the present day. There are many ways to earn backlinks, but the best backlinks are the ones you earn through doing things that are worth being linked to.

All three of these core tenets matter for SEO, and without one of them you’re not going to be very successful with driving organic traffic.

I’ve spent this time talking about the SEO framework because I believe it is important for you to understand while creating blog content and articles. You must understand the framework so that you can create blog content and articles that are optimized to be found by search engines, to be ranked for the right keywords, and to be shared and linked to from other places.

How to optimize a blog post for SEO

In this section, I am going to talk about how to optimize a blog post for SEO. We’re going to cover the following:

  • Where to optimize
  • How to optimize
  • Using keywords throughout the article
  • Building backlinks

First let’s talk about where in your blog post to optimize for SEO.

Where to optimize your blog post

As mentioned above, the first tenet of search engine optimization is technical SEO. This means not only your article’s title (and its subsequent H1 formatting), but also the URL and the meta information on the page.

You’ll hear a lot of talk about “SEO metas” around the internet. While I hate that term specifically and also know that meta tags are simply the start of SEO, they are important for you to understand.

Here is the meta content on a recent EditorNinja blog post, with the specific important pieces emphasized:

The important meta information above are:

  • <title> – this is the text that shows in your browser tab and is the text that shows in search engines when your page is found ranking. It is ~60 characters long.
  • Meta description – the meta description is the text that shows up below the title in the search results. It is not a ranking factor and has not been for a very long time, but a well written meta description can improve clickthroughs when not ranking #1, which has been shown to also increase rankings!
  • Rel-canonical – the rel canonical tells the search engines where the original source of the content is. Default for almost all publishing and blogging platforms is to point to itself. You can pretty much just make sure this is set up correctly, and then let it be.
  • Meta robots – the meta robots tag tells search engines to index (or not) a piece of content and whether to pass link equity, or “follow” (or not), through outbound links on that page. Default should be index, follow and you shouldn’t mess with this unless you know what you’re doing.
  • Open Graph information – open graph information tells various social platforms the title, content, image, and more to use when that piece of content is being shared on their platform.

As a note, all of this content can be controlled at a relatively granular page-by-page level (and at a broader site level) on WordPress (our blogging platform of choice!) by using Yoast SEO, which I recommend you install on your WordPress site immediately.

Title and meta description in the wild.
Yoast SEO on an individual blog post (this one, in fact)

On-page elements to optimize in a blog post

Now that we’ve talked about the meta elements that are important to have (and which most blogging platforms have by default or close-to-default at this point), let’s talk about the on-page elements to optimize in your blog post.

These are:

  1. URL
  2. H1
  3. H2/H3
  4. Types of content
  5. Keywords in content
  6. ALT tags on images

URL

First up, let’s talk about URLs. The URL is the destination where a specific file (aka, a page) can be found on the internet. It’s what you type into a browser to navigate somewhere.

For example, this blog post’s URL is https://editorninja.com/how-to-optimize-a-blog-post-for-seo/

The first part is called the root domain. That’s “https://editorninja.com/” in our case.

The second part is called the URL slug. This is often the part that is keyword optimized for your blog post, as you can’t change the root domain easily.

There are search engine friendly URLs and non-search engine friendly URLs. By default WordPress’s are not, as they’d show as something like editorninja.com?p=249. By using Yoast and setting your Permalinks (/wp-admin/options-permalinks.php or Settings -> Permalinks in your sidebar) you can make them search engine friendly.

URLs should describe what the page is about by targeting the main keyphrase. In the case of this article, it’s “how to optimize a blog post for SEO”.

In general, the shorter your URL the better. Some people recommend removing “stop words”, or words like “and” or “but” or “or” from your URLs to make them shorter. I did this for years using a WordPress plugin, but stopped once that plugin kept breaking my site. I haven’t seen an organic traffic distance, so IMO do what makes you happy and you prefer.

Keyword-rich H1

Next up is a keyword rich H1. Here’s the H1 for an article:

The H1 is probably the strongest on-page ranking signal after your URL. You will also see the most benefit from SEO when your <title> and your H1 are closely aligned. I’ll often set a blog to automatically make the H1 and the <title> the same on articles, and only occasionally will I change one or the other.

Remember: it is easy to change an H1 and a <title> in WordPress and many other publishing platforms. It is much much harder to change your URL, because then you need to worry about 301 redirects. And that’s a topic for another day.

H2/H3 (subheadings)

Search engines are just complex computer programs, and they thrive off of logic. That’s why we use meta content to tell them what the page is about, and then structure our pages so they make sense to the bot as well as humans.

This is why, as we write, we need to structure our headings and subheadings so that the search engine bots (or “crawlers”) can determine which content is part of which section of content.

I also use the opportunity to make subheadings keyword-rich so they add to the keyword narrative being crafted throughout a post.

To make a concrete example to make this make sense to you:

The above heading “H2/H3 (subheadings)” is an H4. It is nested under an H3, which is “On-page elements to optimize in a blog post”. And that is under the H2 of “How to optimize a blog post for SEO”.

Types of content

Next up, let’s talk about the types of elements you can include in your blog post that can help it rank.

Search engines don’t just want to rank a block of text, because most people don’t want to just read a block of text. In our social media heavy world, a lot of text can even be a negative thing.

That’s partially why I write with one or two sentences per paragraph, and then move onto the next.

It is simply how we read these days.

Along with that, our eyes are visually looking for something that breaks up the monotony. We’re looking for things like:

  • Headings
  • Images
  • Lists
  • Pull quotes

By using these, you are providing a better experience to your readers and thus they’ll stay on the page longer and be more likely to convert. At minimum, they will not bounce back to the search results as fast (and bouncing back like this is a negative signal to the search engines that your result did not satisfy their query).

ALT tags

Finally, an often overlooked (:raises hand guiltily:) of on-page SEO is using the ALT text option for images.

This improves readability and accessibility, as without ALT text a screen reader could not describe an image to someone who is visually challenged.

ALT tags should be as descriptive of the image as possible, and here is where you can set it:

An example of ALT text

Using keywords in the article

We’ve already talked about keywords quite a bit in this article, so I’m going to keep this section short so we can get to the third tenet of SEO, which is backlinks.

I do want to prescribe where you should use your target keyword(s) throughout your blog post, however.

Your main keywords/phrase/topic should be included in your article’s:

  1. URL
  2. <title>
  3. Meta description
  4. H1
  5. Throughout the article a few times

Your main keyword phrase should be included a few places, naturally, through your content. Anywhere from 3-6 is natural, and that’s about what I aim for with most articles.

With your subheadings and the rest of your content, I’ll also include other related keyphrases/topics that my research tells me people are asking about.

For example, if I was writing an article about “proofreading vs copyediting”, I’d look at the search result (image below) and see what People Also Ask, then try to work those questions and their answers into the article.

Building backlinks

Finally, let’s talk about building backlinks. After reading this article you know that backlinks are an important part of SEO and often are the difference between ranking and obscurity.

So how do you build good backlinks to your blog articles?

The most common ways to build backlinks to your blog articles are:

  1. Guest posting or podcasts – referencing your content and getting it linked
  2. Syndicating content as you promote it to places like Reddit. In the old days we called this “social bookmarking”, and it’s still kind of a thing.
  3. Link roundups and mentions in other people’s content as they write. Link roundups were more of a thing in the glory days of blogging, but they’re still there. I honestly prefer to get a mention in a well-read email newsletter that is also published online for people to read.

The reason Google used backlinks as a primary ranking factor when they launched their search engine is because they are the hardest thing to get.

Optimizing a site technically is pretty easy if you know what you are doing.

Conducting keyword research and writing content that people want to read, that search engine bots also enjoy, is also pretty easy.

But building backlinks requires real marketing, which is hard to do.

The links that really matter are the authoritative ones, from trusted sources, that are relevant to your audience.

For example, I write in the internet marketing space about topics like SEO. Overall, it’s mostly about B2B businesses and marketing. So getting mentioned on a cat blog won’t do much, but getting mentioned on and linked from somewhere like Forbes or Business Insider should have a big impact.

I’ve never really focused hard on backlinks for Credo, but as you can see we’ve managed to earn quite a few:

Over time we rank better and better, which drives more traffic and more business our way.

Links are a long play and strong ones are hard to get, but move the needle better than anything else.

Conclusion

So there you go, how to optimize your blog posts for SEO.

I hope this post was helpful to you and now you understand better how to leverage the power of SEO to rank your blog posts and drive traffic to them!