There are two steps you must follow if you want your blog to be popular: 1) write top quality content; 2) optimize your content to rank highly with search engines. Welcome to the world of search engine optimization (SEO). This post will describe several tips to SEO optimize your content.
This post is part of the Blog Cogs Start Blogging With WordPress Today tutorial.
- Start Blogging Today with This WordPress Tutorial
- Choosing the Right Domain Name for Your Blog
- Registering for a Bluehost Web Hosting Account
- How to Install WordPress on Your Domain
- Optimizing the WordPress Settings
- Installing WordPress Plugins
- Install These WordPress Plugins Now!
- Choosing and Installing a WordPress Theme
- SEO Optimize Your WordPress Blog Posts
- Improving Your WordPress Blog Security
SEO Optimizing Your Posts with Yoast SEO
If you’ve been following this guide from the start, you should already have installed and activated a WordPress SEO plugin. If you haven’t, go ahead and do it now.
This free (for the basic version) plugin is invaluable for optimizing your content. This post will explain some of the features of Yoast SEO and describe how to optimize the settings. Yoast SEO has a traffic light system that grades the SEO for each of your posts and suggests changes to improve it. Before we describe how to optimize your content, let’s clear up some SEO definitions.
The snippet shows how your post will appear on a Google search results page. Yoast SEO allows you to customize every aspect of the snippet in the snippet editor, and if you want good SEO, you’d be very wise to spend a little time before publishing each of your posts to make sure the snippet is doing its job of selling your content to potential readers.
The image above shows the first draft of the snippet for this post and the various SEO elements. Now, I’m not saying this is a textbook example of a snippet. In fact, it went through a number of changes before I finally hit publish, but it will serve to illustrate the point. Let’s take each element in turn and discuss how best to optimize it.
I have set Yoast SEO to automatically set a meta title of post title (How to SEO Optimize Your WordPress Blog Posts), separator (-), blog title (Blog Cogs) and you can see the result above. For most cases the automatically generated Meta title will be fine, especially if you work hard at writing good, keyword-rich post titles. But sometimes you may want to have a different meta title. In this case, you can override the automatic meta title and manually type in your meta title. You can add %%sep%% %%sitename%% to append the separator and blog title.
Meta titles should:
- Include the focus keyword as close to the beginning as possible
- Be between 35 and 65 characters (including spaces)
- Make people want to read your post!
Google gives you 160 characters to sell your post to potential readers. You’d be a fool not to use them. If you don’t set a manual meta description, Google will grab the first 160 characters of your post, which, let’s face it, will probably look terrible. Your meta description should give a flavour of what your post is about and persuade readers to read on. Writing good meta descriptions is an art form and you’ll get better at it over time.
Meta descriptions should:
- Be 160 characters or fewer (use as many of those 160 characters as you can)
- Be unique
- Include the focus keyword as close to the beginning as possible
- Include a call to action (find out more or get it now etc.)
- Make people want to read your post!
The slug is the latter part of the post’s URL – the bit that comes after the domain name. If you’ve been following this guide to start blogging with WordPress from the start, you should already have set your permalink structure to ‘post name’. If you haven’t, I’d recommend you do it (assuming you haven’t already got a ton of posts, backlinks, and visitors.) The post, Optimizing the WordPress Settings, will show you where to change your permalink structure. The slug doesn’t have to be a complete sentence (in fact it shouldn’t be because you should remove stop words) but it should make sense. Sometimes just removing the stop words from your post tile is fine. For example, How to SEO Optimize Your WordPress Blog Posts becomes SEO Optimize WordPress Blog Posts.
- Be 3 to 5 words long
- Not contain stop words (see a list of stop words here)
- Contain the focus keyword
The focus keyword (or phrase, also know and long tail keyword) is the keyword you want your page to rank for. You tell Yoast SEO what the focus keyword is and it makes a number of recommendations (such as making sure to include it in your post title, first paragraph, slug etc.) based on the developer’s expert knowledge of how Google ranks pages. Choosing focus keywords is a huge topic which we’ll return to in future posts. For now, I recommend you do a Google search for posts similar to yours and let Google help you in a couple of ways: search auto complete and related searches.
The image above shows common searches in Google for SEO topics. Choosing one of these and optimizing your post around it is a good way to be included in searches. In this example, trying to rank for a keyword of SEO is never going to work – the market is just too competitive. Choosing longer key phrases can help bring in targeted searches. For example a Google search for SEO gets 174,000,000 results. A Google search for SEO optimizing a recipe blog gets 1,290,000 results. That’s still a lot, but your chances of being included in the search are higher if you optimize for a more specific keyword or use a keyphrase instead.
Other Ways to SEO Optimize Your Posts
Image Alt Attribute
If you want your blog to be visually appealing, you should be including plenty of images. Search engines use the alt tag (called alternative, or alt, text in the WordPress media library) to find and rank images. However, WordPress leaves the alt tag blank by default when you upload a new image. You can add alt tags manually when you upload a new image to the media library or add media to a post.
What should the alt tag be? The alt tag should be a brief description of what the image shows and should contain keywords people might search for. For the above image, the alt tag is adding alt tags to images. If someone was to search for that in Google images there’s a good chance they’ll find my image.
But manually adding alt tags to all your images is not a good use of your time. As you might have guessed, there’s a plugin that can do it for you.
This plugin automatically assigns alt tags and image titles to your images based on how you set the plugin settings, improving your SEO without you lifting a finger!
Here’s a screenshot of the plugin settings I use:
Based on these settings, the plugin automatically assigns an alt tag of ‘image-name post-title’ and an image title (this is what you see when you hover over an image and is less important for SEO) of ‘image-name’. Why include the post title in your alt tag? Good SEO of course. If you’ve got a good keyword-rich post title, you want it linked to your images too. Be careful not to duplicate the same keywords in both the post title and image name. The image name the plugin uses to generate the alt tag is the file name of the image, so it’s no good calling your images picture 1, or cropped picture of that thing I saw, or whatever random string of numbers and letters it had on Flickr.
Interlinks and Anchor Text
Interlinks are links to other posts and pages on your own blog. They are an important way of getting your readers and search engines to find more related content on your blog. It also helps keep readers on your site for longer, reducing your bounce rate. And by sending them to other posts they may be interested in, you increase the chances of them clicking an affiliate link, signing up to your mailing list, or buying your eBook. If you’ve published only a few posts, then interlinking is easy. Once you have several hundred posts, it becomes more difficult. Yes, you’ve guessed it, there’s a plugin for that.
Anchor Text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. In this sentence, this is the anchor text. Search engines use the anchor text to help determine the subject matter of the destination page. It should be obvious that using this or click here as anchor text is useless as it tells you nothing about the destination. Instead use meaningful anchor text that tells search engines (and readers) what the destination is. Here’s a better example: Read this post to learn how to change the structure of your permalinks.
Permalinks and Stop Words
We touched on permalinks and stop words above, but it’s worth mentioning them again. Don’t use the WordPress default permalink structure; use post title instead.
Stop words are words like a, and, the, or etc. that offer no value to your URL. Google will strip them out when it performs a search. It’s best to remove the stop words yourself to give you tighter, more focused URLs.
If people have already linked to your post and you change the permalink, that link may no longer work. If you do change the permalink, make sure the post is properly redirected. WordPress should redirect the old URL to the new one, but if it doesn’t, you’ll have to make the redirect manually.
Heading Structure (H1, H2, H3…)
WordPress has six levels of heading which range from H1 (largest) to H6 (smallest). A well-coded, SEO-optimized theme will use H1 for the post title. It is advisable to have one and only one H1 heading in each post. Therefore, the first heading you manually use when writing your post should be H2. A good heading structure should look like this:
As you can see, the example heading structure starts with H2 (after the post title) and uses the other levels of heading sequentially. Here are a few general rules for headings:
- Using headings to divide text into scannable blocks
- Never miss a level of heading (e.g. jump from H2 to H4)
- Never use headings for other purposes (e.g. to emphasize important words)
- Try to include keywords in your headings
Next: Improving Your WordPress Blog Security
After all that hard work creating great content for your blog and optimizing it to rank highly with search engines, the last thing you want is for a hacker to bring it all tumbling down. Fear not, there are steps you can take to improve your blog security. Click the button below to get started.