You could be writing the most amazing content on the internet (and I hope you are), but unless Google can easily understand what you’re talking about, it won’t display your blog posts in searches — even if you’re asking the exact question that the search is asking! So here’s an SEO checklist framework for structuring your blog posts, to simultaneously maximize your readers’ understanding of your topic and increase your Google rank.
(Grab this as a downloadable SEO checklist PDF here.)
1 | Choose your blog subject
There are a million ideas out there, and selecting just one can be paralyzing. My favorite resource for narrowing down what I specifically want to discuss is Answer the Public. Type in a topic and you’ll get a long list of questions that real people are asking.
Or crowdsource some ideas from social media. Ask your friends & peers what they want to know about a topic, and use their exact words to start planning what to write!
2 | Find a keyword (or even better: a short, relevant phrase)
Last week we discovered a bees’ nest under our porch, and I wanted to whether we could safely remove it or if we needed to hire an expert. So I popped open my phone, and instead of typing in one word, “bees” (which would have brought up a Wikipedia about the different types of bees), I used the longer phrase: “How do I kill bees under my porch?” Then, once I discovered that getting under the porch would be tough without professional equipment, I started a new search, “bee removal rochester ny.”
Think about what phrases your ideal clients are actually searching. If you get stuck, try a keyword research tool (I like the simplicity of this one) to find a 2-4 word phrase that is both specific and relevant to your topic.
I recommend Yoast’s Keyword Research Ultimate Guide to get started.
3 | Draft your post title, based on your keyword
Build your blog post title around your selected keyword — this way Google will know you’re serious about this topic. But also find a way to make the headline compelling and interesting, not robotic. The best way to do this is to find a really specific keyword. Look for one that is specific and not too common, based on your niche. The longer/more specific search terms are, the easier it will be to be found in that search.
The full title should be 30-65 characters (usually about 6-10 words); anything longer than about 70 words will probably get cut off in search results.
To get instant feedback on your title, check out CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. (But also, stick with your gut about what you think resonates with your audience. You know them best, this is just using an algorithm to guess.)
To understand the mechanics behind great headlines, I’m obsessed with Copyblogger’s free ebook, How to Write Magnetic headlines. Here’s a quick excerpt to explain why steps 2 and 3 are so important & interrelated:
“Any SEO pro worth listening to will tell you that you don’t go after the most popular keywords. You target the niche phrases. They may result in less traffic individually, but there’s a lot more of them, and less competition.
Keywords matter, because when you speak the language of the audience you attract more readers, more links, more retweets, more social bookmarks, and yes… more relevant search traffic.
This is perfect for writing headlines for humans. The niche phrases are much more specific, and specificity makes for a much better headline. Further, better headlines lead to better content when you write the headline first.”
4 | Write the post like you’re talking to a real person
Keep the keyword in the back of your mind as your write your draft, but don’t worry yet about including it. Instead, focus on providing valuable information to your audience … because if you write like you’re trying to rank on Google, you risk sounding clumsy and robotic. In other words, don’t be this girl:
5 | Optimize the text
Now go back through your draft and naturally work in your keyword. It should already be in your title, but the keyword should also be included in the body of the post. Sprinkle the keyword and other related words through both subheadings (H2 and H3 headlines) and throughout the copy … but don’t force it. The primary intention of your post is to be useful to your audience, and if you jam keywords into the copy just to tick off boxes on your SEO checklist, readers could get annoyed.
(For example: My keyword for this post is “SEO checklist” – did you see how I worked it into that last sentence? Tricky!)
Also, break up your text into sections using headlines. Not only does it help your readers scan your post, H2 and H3 headlines help Google understand how your post is structure and what important points you’re trying to convey.
6 | Optimize your images
Most of your readers can view your images and understand what they are … but Google is just a bunch of robots who can only understand text, so you need to describe the images.
If you’re not sure whether you have these labeled, go to your Media folder & open the file, you’ll see the image title as the file name and the alt text below the image:
Your images needs two different types of descriptions so Google understands what the images show:
- Image names – Always name your image files with actual words related to your content before uploading them; instead of DC0001.JPG, rename the file name so Google can recognize what it is.
Use hyphens between words in the image file names. For example, if you were to name it flying_pig.jpg or flyingpig.jpg Google won’t be able to read this. Google reads files with hyphens as individual words, so you will want to name it amazing-flying-pig.JPG.
Include your focus keyword if applicable, at least on your featured image.
- Alt tags – if your image doesn’t show up, this is the text that will appear. In the visual editor hover over your image and click on the “Edit” option, then add a description in the “Alternative Text” field, and include your keyword if appropriate.
FYI – the image alt tag is the default text when an image is pinned, so think of what you want people to see on Pinterest!
Also, don’t forget to add a relevant title & alt tag to your Featured Image!
Try to include two different kinds of links:
Include internal links, which are links to other relevant posts on your site (especially your most popular posts). This tells Google how these posts relate to each other.
Add external links, to high-authority sites that Google loves; this will help the robots understand how you fit within your industry.
8 | Put on your makeup for Google
Head over to Google and search for, well, anything. You’ll notice that each listing has at least these 3 elements:
This is what we wrote in step 3, and it shows up at the top of the listing in blue. Google will truncate your title after 67 characters, including your page name.
That’s the part in green, right below the title. It can just be your keyword, or it can be a memorable phrase. However you write it, make sure that it tells something about your post … a post with /?239021 is an opportunity missed.
The black text that describes the post, which gets cut off at 155 characters. If you don’t include a meta description (either using the Yoast plug-in in WordPress or the Excerpt function in Squarespace), the search engine will use the first 155 characters of your post, which might not include your most salient points.
FYI – the content of your meta description isn’t factored into your page rank, so don’t worry about keywords here. Think of this as a way to make your case to your audience about why this article will answer their questions better than any other results on this page.
9 | Double check your work
If you’re blogging on the WordPress platform, I highly recommend the free Yoast SEO plugin. You start by typing in your keyword, then it shows you what your listing will look like on google and gives you red, yellow or green rankings based on how well you’ve followed the optimization rules. Here’s what my Yoast looked like before I did step 6:
As you can see, I hadn’t yet optimized images (yellow light), added links (red light) or written my meta description (red light).
FYI – I very rarely get a post with all green lights! There’s always something that looks like it’s missing, but the important part is to get most of the key placements, without sounding repetitive.
10 | Download the SEO checklist PDF
Yoast tells me that this post is already 1248 words, and you don’t want to read the whole damn thing every time you write a post …
… so sign up below to get a TL;DR for easy reference of this post as an actual SEO checklist, with checkboxes to make you feel accomplished.
Or is that just me that loves the feeling of checking off a to-do list?