The Ultimate Guide to Optimizing a Blog Post for SEO Success
Want more people to visit your website organically? It’s a tricky task to conquer, even if you’re following content marketing “best practices” and regularly posting blog content to your website.
You’re not the only one struggling, though. Over 91% of content gets zero organic search traffic! Now, what if I told you that’s actually a good thing?
The internet is overrun with bad content, and that makes it easy for you and your content to stand out. How?
I’m going to show you. Use this on-page SEO checklist to shoot up search engine results, demand attention from your target audience, and drive more readers through search engines!
Why bother with SEO, anyway?
Search engine optimization (SEO) has the power to drive millions of new visitors to your company’s website - especially when over 90% of online search traffic comes from Google.
Did you know that search engines drive 300% more traffic to sites than social media? Some of those searchers are bound to be your ideal customers (more if you follow this checklist properly).
Through SEO, you’re able to target your ideal customers and readers to get in front of them when they’re actively looking for what it is you do.
It’s the most opportune time to get their attention. It’s also why organic search leads have a 14.6% close rate, compared to 1.7% for outbound leads.
The people using Google to search for information are farther along their buying journey. They often know they’re struggling with a problem, and are looking for a solution to solve it. That’s where you come in.
If you’re able to position your company (and your blog content) as a solution, you’re already in good stead for converting readers into leads and customers. This 11-step on-page SEO checklist is going to show you exactly how to do that.
11-Step On-Page SEO Checklist for Blog Posts
Reaching page one isn’t as simple as including a keyword in every other sentence, or building a couple of backlinks to your website. You have to follow the right steps in the right order.
1. Pick the right keywords.
We all know keywords are the first and last word in SEO, but keyword research doesn’t start and end with a few Google searches (or worse, listing the first few terms that come to mind).
You need to dig deeper into the keywords that your target customers are using in order to see results from SEO.
Otherwise, you’ll be targeting keywords that attract the wrong people, which could increase bounce rates and result in low conversion rates.
So, what’s a “good” keyword? One that drives the right kind of traffic to your website, including people who will stick around to read what you have to say, and click “purchase” once you answer their question?
Look for four things when choosing your blog post keywords:
- Low/medium search volume: Fewer people are searching for this keyword, which likely means fewer companies are targeting it. That improves your chances of ranking for it.
- Low/medium search difficulty: Similar to above, fewer companies are targeting this keyword, which likely means it will be easier for you to rank high for it.
- Long-tail: Ideally 3+ words in length.
- High search intent: This keyword is being searched for by people further along the sales funnel. You understand exactly what they’re looking for, and are able to create great content to provide it.
But, to analyze whether keywords are “good,” you need to brainstorm a list of phrases to research. Do this by heading over to Answer The Public. It’s a free tool that shows a list of the most common questions around whatever phrase you type in. All of these terms are long-tail, so that’s one box checked.
Next, plug your primary keyword into Google and use their suggest feature to uncover more options. (You can use the Keywords Everywhere Chrome extension to traffic and cost estimates as you search.)
Once you’ve got your list, plug your options into Ubersuggest to find the search volume and difficulty score for each. It will also highlight any long-tail keywords you might’ve missed!
We can see the keyword “start a blog in WordPress” looks like the best bet. It’s got a medium/low search volume of 170, and a low organic search difficulty of 16.
However, Google’s search algorithm runs with latent semantic indexing (LSI). In layman’s terms, that means a blog post using similar keywords throughout the page is more likely to rank higher than a blog post that just uses one keyword because it’s clearly covering a topic in-depth.
Here’s Jakub Kliszczak, Marketing Specialist at CrazyCall, to explain what that means:
“LSI keywords are a set of keywords which take on the same topic. For example, when you write a blog post on social media, typically marketers include a ton of ‘social media’ just to increase the density of that particular keyword. On the other hand, LSI keywords would include ‘social media,’ ‘Facebook,’ ‘Instagram,’ ‘Twitter,’ ‘influencers,’ etc.
Most marketers focus solely on keywords and big numbers while the LSIs are the real goldmine. They help your content rank more accurately for the topic your blog post covers which, later on, results in better on-page time, lower bounce rate, and better social share rate.
In the end, your blog post will be ranked better as you've made it easier for Google's algorithms to identify the topic your blog post covers.”
With that in mind, we should also use these keywords in our “start a blog in WordPress” page:
- “Start a blog on WordPress”
- “Start a blog online”
- “Start a blog website”
2. Craft clever meta titles and descriptions.
When you show up in SERPs, you want people to click on your page, right? But did you know that improving your click-through rate for organic search will likely make you rank even higher? Organic click-through rate is a primary ranking factor in a search engine’s algorithm.
To improve your organic CTR, you need to strongly encourage people to click your listing when it appears. How?
You can do that by optimizing these two fields:
- Meta title: The main title that appears in search results, often the page’s main title.
- Meta Description: A description of the page, shown beneath the meta title and URL.
Here’s an example from a blog post on our site:
Many marketers fall into the trap of forgetting the value of a meta title tag, and automatically letting a tool like Yoast use the page’s main title as their title.
That’s a good rule of thumb, but a meta title needs more attention. Why?
Because it’s the main thing people see when they’re searching, so you need to use that space to command searchers’ attention and entice them to click. Do that by:
- Using power words
- Adding your brand name for recognition
- Including your main keyword towards the beginning
Let’s put that into practice.
You could use a title like How to Create a Landing Page, which is fine by itself and uses your target keyword. Or, you could add a little kick to it and use 5 Steps to Create High Converting Landing Pages, which is more likely to stand out among other search results.
A similar concept applies for meta descriptions, though you’ve got more space to play with. The meta description field houses 300 characters, and you can make the most out of them by:
- Adding variations of your keyword
- Including a call-to-action
- Addressing a pain point, and promising a solution
Here’s a fantastic example I found from Lifehack when searching for “how to increase attention span.”
That’s such an enticing - even shocking - description. It’s no wonder why it’s ranking on page one for the keyword!
3. Write keyword-rich heading tags.
Google’s spiders use heading tags to quickly understand what a page is about, and what topics it should rank for. But heading tags can be confusing.
It’s common practice for marketers to use heading tags purely for styling, but there’s a hierarchy you need to follow to make it easy for Google to understand your page, which looks like this.
So, take the primary keyword we found earlier and create one, single <h1> tag for each page. This is often the title of your blog post, which you can optimize using a tool like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer.
Next, take a look at the structure of your blog post.
Can you break each block of text down into a sub-section (it’s best practice to keep each section to fewer than 300 words)? Are there other headings you can use within each subsection? Those should be your <h2> and <h3> heading tags. They should also include variations of your target keywords.
Here’s what that might look in practice:
- <h1> How to do keyword research
- <h2> Why are keywords important?
- <h3> Keywords improve rankings
- <h3> Keywords help target customers
- <h3> Keywords tell Google what your page is about
- <h2> Keyword research tools you’ll need
- <h2> Why are keywords important?
You get the gist. If you want to optimize a blog post for SEO success, this step is a must.
4. Discuss the topic in-depth
When Backlinko analyzed over a million search engine results pages, they found the average first-page result on Google contains 1,890 words.
Using that, we can confidently say you need to discuss a topic in depth to get the best possible chance of ranking at the top.
Sound overwhelming? It’s not as difficult as you might think.
If you know your topic inside and out, it’s easy to hit 1,500 words. The main thing to remember is that each word needs to provide value. Adding fluff will hurt you, but concisely explaining how and why something works will help immensely.
You could also use Brian’s skyscraper technique to create incredible long-form content:
- Find content in your industry that’s already generating backlinks. (You could use Ahrefs’ Content Explorer to do this.)
- Search Google for other content discussing a similar topic.
- Create something better than anything you’ve found, with more detail, graphics, opinions, and influencer quotes. (Remember that “better” = more helpful to readers, not longer)
- Send personalized outreach emails to build links to your skyscraper resource.
Remember: Your aim is to cover everything that a person needs to know when they’re searching for the keyword you’re targeting. Google is much more likely to rank a page like this high in it’s search results.
Zach Zorn, Owner of MoneyNomad.com, agrees:
“The one SEO tip that I would share, would be to spend time in creating content that is of the highest quality. I would define “highest quality” as a piece of content that is 2000+ words in length, uses quality photos or illustrations and has good formatting that includes H1, H2, and H3 tags.”
5. Format content so it’s easy to digest.
When you’re optimizing a blog post, there’s one huge ranking factor you need to think about - time on page.
Here’s Craig Murphy, Head of SEO at ALT Agency, explaining why:
“The best way to optimize your blog post for SEO is to increase the time a user spends on your page. Why? Because Google loves user experience metrics and time on site is one of them. In theory: the longer they spend on your website, the better.”
Makes sense, right?
Time spent on page, along with dwell time (the time spent on your site before clicking back to the SERPs), are both proven to be ranking factors in a search engine’s algorithm.
So how do you get viewers to stick around?
You make your page easy to engage with! That’s why you need to include things in your article like:
- An anchor-linked outline that people can click on to jump to a specific section (for longer pages)
- Inserting photos, charts, and videos
- Using short paragraphs (no more than four lines at a time)
- Adding bullet points and numbered list to break-up large sections of text
- Explaining your points with relevant illustrations
Always remember to sense-check your blog posts before you publish them. How does it feel while you’re reading through your post? Does it feel good to go through, or do you feel like you’re slogging through?
The easier and quicker it is to read, scroll, and engage with your blog post, the better it’s going to rank.
6. Add internal and external links.
There are two types of links you need to think about when optimizing blog posts for SEO.
- Internal links: URLs that point from one page on your site to another page on your site
- External links: URLs that point from a page on your website to a different, third-party website
You probably already use internal links in your blog posts, like when you want to point people to another relevant page of yours. But internal links are more powerful to SEO thank you might think.
That’s because internal links pass link equity through your website. For example: Linking to an already well-performing page on your site will give your newer page a stronger chance of ranking due to the association.
Here’s Kulwant Nagi, Blogger and Affiliate Marketer at Blogging Cage, explaining how he grew site traffic (and Google rankings) by taking advantage of the power held in internal links:
“To start the process, we found many keywords around our main keyword using the tool Answer The Public and started writing around 2000-word articles on each. We interlinked our main keyword in those articles with the closely related anchor texts and some generic anchors like ‘click here,’ ‘read more,’ etc.
We did it this for 2 months and saw a big shift in rankings in the upcoming 3-4 months. That website is making a decent $12,000+ every month now.”
External links associate your site with someone else’s, and associating yourself with an already-trusted website can work wonders for your SEO strategy.
One company put this to the test by creating a word that had zero search volume. They built several websites to target the keyword, some with external links and the others without.
What do you think happened? The websites with external links came out higher in the SERPs.
The best part about this tip? It takes minimal effort.
Simply do a site search for content you want to link to from your website. You might do this to add sources to your article, reference helpful guides, or even just to include strong links inside your article.
But how do you know which sites you should link to? Which will be most helpful? Sites that show up on the first page of Google SERPs for targeted keywords are good choices.
You can also use a tool like MozBar Chrome extension to see how what the site’s domain authority (also known as DA, or ranking potential) is. The higher the better (and you probably don’t want to link to any page with a DA under 40).
7. Upload images with alt text.
Google is smart, but not that smart. Their spiders can’t understand images without a little help from you.
That’s why you need to add alt text to all your blog post images. Alt text is a small snippet of text inserted in the code of an image, that tells Google what the image is about.
In many cases, the alt text is whatever you named the image file when you saved or downloaded it. But some platforms, like WordPress and Umbraco, have you manually enter image alt text whenever you’re adding a new image.
The alt text for your image shouldn’t solely describe the image itself. Instead, make this field another opportunity to target your blog post’s keyword.
For example: If you’re targeting “how to start a blog” in your post, use that same phrase for your image’s alt text, too. This boosts your blog post’s overall ranking power, plus the chance to be found via Image search.
8. Make sure your images are compressed.
Remember when we said time on page is really important? Well, first you have to make sure your page loads quickly enough so that viewers have a shot at engaging with your content.
Page speed is also a major search engine ranking factor, and images are often responsible for slowing download times.
Pages should load within 2 seconds. Otherwise, your readers are going to leave your page before they even see your content, and your chances of ranking high will plummet.
That’s not what we want.
However, a quick tip to decrease the time it takes for your page to load is to compress images.
Large, uncompressed files are bound to make a blog post load slowly, but running your image through a tool like TinyPNG can make them website-ready.
Granted, it’s a small step to add into your blog post process. But it’s one that’s worth its weight in gold!
9. Publish under an optimized URL.
Did you know that the first 3-5 words in a URL have the most weight?
It’s true, Google’s very own, Matt Cutts, said it:
“If you can make your title four- or five-words long – and it is pretty natural. If you have got three, four or five words in your URL, that can be perfectly normal. As it gets a little longer, then it starts to look a little worse. Now, our algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.”
And, another study from Backlinko proves it’s in full force:
You’ll need to make it easy for users, and Google spiders, to understand your page.
Why? Because links that look cluttered, or like they’re from a spammy website, won’t be trusted. That means they also won’t be clicked, and your rankings won’t improve.
You can make your URLs neat and tidy by:
- Avoiding numbers
- Using your post’s keyword
- Filing the page properly (like under /blog or /news)
Putting that into practice, you might want to opt for “/blog/on-page-seo”, instead of “/onpage-97g-seo.html”.
Before you go full steam ahead and tidy-up all of your blog post URLs, remember that editing URLs makes the old version void. Unless you’re redirecting old URLs to your new links, you could lose all ranking power.
10. Build backlinks naturally.
After extensive research conducted by Moz, they concluded it’s almost impossible for a page to rank in Google without backlinks.
Alan Lafrance, Marketing Strategy Manager at Lawnstarter, agrees:
“The highest value SEO metric is still inbound links, and without them it’s very, very difficult to get new blog posts to rank well for competitive terms.”
But unfortunately, building links isn’t as easy as we all hope, which is why link building has often found itself in black hat SEO territory.
Want the good news?
You can build links to your blog posts without sending spammy outreach emails, commenting “great post!” on thousands of other articles, or inserting your website link on any directory listing you can find.
You can use the following tactics to manually build white hat backlinks:
- Guest posting: Writing a unique, long-form article that’s packed with value, and publishing it on another high-ranking website, with a link back to yours.
- Resource pages: Sourcing resource pages (like “best tools for freelancers”), and reaching out to the site owner to have your resource/website added.
- Broken link building: Finding top blogs in your industry, and using Broken Link Checker to find broken links, then creating an alternative and asking the site owner to replace the broken link with yours.
- Infographics: Creating an infographic to go alongside a blog post you’ve published on your website, and reaching out to other blogs in your industry to see whether they’d publish it--with a link back to your post as credit.
Since backlinks are one of the most important aspects of SEO, it’s wise to start using these link building methods to skyrocket your organic search traffic!
11. Refresh and re-optimize your page.
How often do you head back into your blog’s archive, and edit the existing content to bring it back up to date?
This might be common practice for a yearly post, like a “2018 in review” or “best tips for 2018”-style article, but evergreen content needs regularly re-optimizing, too.
Did you know improvements in content have been known to increase blog traffic by as much as 2,000%?
So, set a reminder to re-optimize your blog post every six months or so. You could:
- Add new images
- Insert recent internal and external links
- Reference new studies
- Expand on some sections
- Include new keywords increasing in popularity (check Google Trends for this!)
Are you ready to optimize your blog posts and see success in the SERPs?
While these topics can make it easier to drive more traffic (and customers!) through organic search, remember that SEO isn’t instant. It can take at least 4-6 months to start seeing results, but it will pay-off in the long-term.