Are you starting a new blog with no clue how to show up on Google? Or, maybe you’ve been blogging for a while, and you’re looking to sharpen your skills?
This A to Z guide will teach you to dominate Google rankings in a systematic way to grow your blog. Whether you are brand new or an established brand, you’ll find how to win the internet traffic game.
What Is SEO For Bloggers?
Before we go too far, let’s explain a few terms I’ve already used. I promise to keep the technical jargon to an absolute minimum.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a series of best practices to optimize your website and it’s content to be found on Google.
Google rankings, or Google rank, is where your page shows up for a Google search query. The goal is to be the first result on the page. That position takes 30-40% of searchers.
This guide can be used by anyone as a set of best practices. However, it is tailored for blogging.
Alright, let’s get started with the basics.
the “Wax on, Wax Off”
Basics of SEO for Bloggers
A. A Handy-Dandy Sitemap
Sitemaps are a handy directory your website gives to search engines to navigate your site. Without it, you may never show up on Google. Yoast SEO, a free WordPress plugin, will generate one of these automatically for you.
Non-WordPress sites can Google “XML sitemap generator” for a free sitemap you can add to your website.
B. Domo Arigato, Mr. “Robots.txt”-o
A robots.txt file is an “Authorized Personnel Only” sign for specific places on your website that you don’t want to be perused by search engines. They are most commonly used for things like a cart in your site’s shop or your RSS feed.
Not sure if you have a robots.txt file? Easy! Type in “yourdomain.com/robots.txt”. You should see a boring page that looks like this:
You may not have such dashing results. Don’t panic! Type in “robots.txt generator” into Google to make one.
C. What Gets Measured by Google Analytics Gets Managed
Make sure to have an analytics tool for monitoring your website. Google has a free one that you can use. It gives helpful insights on how visitors interact with your pages like average time on page and bounce rate. Insights you can use to improve your user experience and generate more sales.
If you have a hang-up with using Google, then there are plenty of other options available.
D. Google Search Console Is Not a Game Console
Google Search Console is a must-have set of tools and reports that track performance, monitor keyword rankings, and generally make your site easy to keep an eye on.
Search console is also kind enough to clue you into site issues you may not be aware of. Make sure to set it up for your blog.
On-page SEO for Bloggers to
Make Killer Content
On-page SEO refers to a group of things you can do on your site to make sure that you are able to rank on Google. It’s the opposite of off-page SEO which refers to how the web interacts with your site. You can only influence your off-page SEO through promotion and branding, whereas, on-page SEO is in your direct control.
E. Choose a Target Keyword
Keywords are specific words or phrases typed into a search engine. Google then does a thorough search of it’s indexed webpages to look for the most appropriate page to answer the searcher’s query. One page can rank for thousands of keywords, but each page should only target one, called the target keyword.
The target keyword is nearly always included in the URL and title of the page. For example, I wrote an article titled “34 Best Weekend Jobs That Make $60/Hr (or More!).” Can you guess my target keyword?
I’ll give you a hint:
It was “best weekend jobs”. I targeted the “best weekend jobs” keyword for several reasons.
- My blog is about personal finance. It makes sense to be on my blog.
- The competition for that keyword was appropriate to my blog’s authority when I wrote it.
- The traffic potential is high enough to justify the effort.
I discovered this keyword, it’s competition level, and traffic potential by using the keyword research tool Ahrefs. I highly recommend a subscription if you don’t have one already (or getting one whenever you’re generating enough revenue).
If you don’t have an extra $100 a month for that, then every tool in Ahrefs has a free—though less effective—alternative like Wordtracker for keyword research. Here’s what I got searching for the same keyword in Wordtracker.
Wordtracker also has related keywords, competition level from 0-100, and estimated monthly search volumes. Both tools can help you find excellent target keywords.
F. How to Crush “Search Intent” with SEO for Bloggers
Search intent is the why behind someone’s query in Google. It should be obvious, but not so fast. I was doing keyword research for a blog article about saving money when I came across the keyword “save that money”. It looked like an easy 5,000 potential visitors.
But, what is someone looking for when they type in “save that money”? If you’re like me, you were bamboozled by the pop-culture reference to a Lil’ Dicky song.
Imagine if I did manage to climb the ranks for that term. Would I stay anywhere near the top with a list of ways to save money? No, I would waste my time doing so. Searchers want a song, not a blog.
If you don’t solve the reason someone came to your blog, they will leave and your rankings will suffer. GET IT RIGHT!
The first and easiest way to assess search intent is to type your target keyword into Google and see what websites and pages show up. If it matches what you plan to write, you’re on the right track.
G. Dig Deeper with Related Queries
But, of course, there’s way more to it than that.
Let’s say you have a food blog. You just whipped up a new chocolate chip pancake recipe in your lab/kitchen, and you want to share it with your hungry audience. To make sure your adoring fans and new followers find your recipe, start by typing your keyword “chocolate chip pancakes” into Google. It easily passes the Google top results test (see above) with 10 recipe blogs featuring yummy pancakes doused in syrup.
The next step to sharing your dreamy recipe is to check Google auto-complete.
You can see that trying to organically add words like “tasty”, “how to make”, “calories”, and “ingredients” to your post would help reel in a few more visitors.
Next, you’ll want to scroll through the search engine results page, SERP, to look at the “People also ask” box. For chocolate chip pancakes you get:
It looks like adding in how to prevent chocolate chips from sinking in pancakes would be a cool hack to add to your post (answer: if you have a thick enough batter, you coat the chips in flour to keep them suspended).
Look at the last question. Once again, you have a question about calories! Searchers want to know how many of your delicious pancakes they can have. Let them know in a natural way 2 4-inch cakes are 93 calories.
H. Season It with Related Keywords and Subtopics
The last step to researching search intent is to find other related keywords and subtopics. There are two methods to do this.
First, if you have the Ahrefs Keywords Explorer tool, type in your target keyword and click the “Also rank for” tab.
That tab pulls up, “keywords the top-ranking pages for your target keyword also rank for in the top 100 search results.” Pick through the results to find subtopics that may be appropriate to your blog.
When you run this search in Ahrefs “who invented pancakes” shows up. Does that mean you need to include a history of pancakes in your post? The answer is, it depends.
If you read the pages of the top ten results, there is not a single mention of a pancake-y history. So, what gives? Google isn’t perfect, it’s constantly changing the top results to serve up the ten best pages on the web for every query. You can see the changing nature of Google results in a position history report like this:
The up and down lines show a change in position history. Google is trying to curate 10 perfect results that match search intent. It doesn’t always get it right. Therefore, a chocolate chip pancakes recipe can show up for a history of pancakes search.
So, should we include it in our post?
No, at most you might make a comment about Otzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old Neolithic Popsicle with bits of pancake found in his stomach. It’s interesting, but it’s not a must-have in your post.
The second option is to skim through the top 10-25 pages to see what they included. They’ve obviously matched search intent and you can piggy-back off of them.
I. Top Rank, Or Not to Rank? That is the Question.
Can you rank for your target keyword? There is not a hard science to answer this question, but here’s what you need to know.
Your new webpage needs backlinks. Backlinks are links from another website. You’ve passed by a dozen on this page already.
One of the primary ways to rank up on Google is to have backlinks. The more and higher quality you have, the better your odds of ranking. In that way, every backlink is a small vote of confidence in a website and webpage which increases site authority.
You can check your competitor’s authority with a free website authority checker. It’ll look like this (Forbes home page):
This will give you a ballpark estimate on your odds. It will also give you about how many backlinks you’ll need to build to rank on Google (more on that below).
J. Short URLs
Short, descriptive URLs are the best practice for search engines and humans alike. Number one rankings tend to have a URL page name (the underlined part in the picture) of 16 characters. Typically, those 16 characters are the target keyword the page targets.
Don’t go through the headache of changing your URLs if they are long now. It’s not a game-changer.
K. Do What You Want With the Title and Meta Description
Sometimes, you’ll hear that you should include your target keyword in three places: your URL, title, and meta description. It used to work to rank in Google. However, according to a Moz study of 2 million keywords, there is no correlation between having the keyword in all three positions and a page’s rankings.
These are for the human on the other side of the screen, not for Google. The title and description are the first interaction someone will have with your website. How enticing your title and descriptions are decides between scrolling past and clicking through.
Pithy titles and enticing descriptions draw more visitors. I advise spending as much time on your title as your post.
L. Grapevine Content with Internal Links
One way to bump up a new post’s authority is with internal links. Internal links are links from within your website to other pages on your website. Grapevining is connecting your content to flow from one to the next. It helps with retention and bounce rate.
To find the best places to link, go to Google and type in “site:yourdomain.com/ “target keyword”.” This will pull up every mention of your target keyword in other posts on your blog. For example, if food.com were making our post about chocolate chip pancakes it would look like this:
You need these links to go to and from your new page. So, once you’ve found other pages to point toward your new recipe, then find other places your new post can link to.
Did you mention whipped cream? Then, link to your post on “10 Best Whipped Creams You Can Order from Amazon” (this post would be great if you’re into affiliate marketing with Amazon).
M. External Links Make Your Content Beefier
External links are links that point from your website to someone else’s. Link to relevant pages for citation, further reading, or useful tools.
External links legitimize your new page in the eyes of readers by proving that you did your homework. For instance, say you did mention the history of pancakes in your article. That would be a great opportunity to link to this article:
It shows you did your due diligence for your post to readers and to Google.
N. Write an Engaging Introduction or Don’t Write
This will make or break your time-on-page which also factors into your rankings. No amount of perfect SEO practices make up for bad content. As we say in the South, “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.”
Readers need to know if they are in the right place. Solve the reason for them showing up to your page. Make it interesting. Build trust/street cred. Promise a solution.
For example, a blog about how to generate traffic from Facebook should start something like this:
It immediately engages you and leads you naturally to the rest of the post.
O. Readability Make It Easy to Read
50% of Americans read below an 8th-grade reading level. Using high-level words only distances half the population. Hemingway Editor is a free tool to make sure you stay on track. Start writing in the editor or copy and paste from another document.
Hit the “Edit” toggle switch and it will highlight problematic areas in your writing and give you a grade level for your writing.
Correct any mistakes you find until the highlights disappear. Also check the Readability score on the right to make sure you are at an appropriate grade level.
Now copy and paste the new writing into your blog post and you’re done!
Pro Tip: If you write in Google Docs as I do, then get the GradeProof add-on. GradeProof checks your spelling, grammar, advanced grammar (paid), and eloquence (paid) inside your document. It will also give you useful statistics like these:
It’s not a total replacement for Hemingway, but it will highlight common issues in your writing.
P. Make Sure Your Article is Easy to Scan
Here’s how I, and the rest of the internet, read a blog post.
- The page appears
- Read a bit
- Scroll to the bottom
- Read the conclusion
- Decide if I want to read the entire article
- Scroll up or click out
You need short sentences and short paragraphs. Break it up with quote boxes, contextually appropriate images, charts, gifs, custom graphics, bold highlighting, and bulleted lists.
Your goal is to stop the scroll!
Pro Tip: Instead of using stock images, try thinking of your visuals as part of the story. Say I was talking about knife-throwing on a survival site. I could use a stock photo of a throwing knife, or I could find a gif of someone throwing a knife using the technique I’m talking about.
Q. Keep Visitors with a Stunning User Interface
User Interface, UI, is what guests will see when they are on your blog. If you’re as artistically challenged as I am, then get honest feedback from your inner-circle about your UI (or ask for help from an artsy person). What they are thinking, big or small, thousands of other people will think. Take their feedback and correct it. It’s not information that’s meant to sit on the shelf. Go apply it.
For the artistically challenged: To design a website, find a site that has a great UI that fits your brand. I used Moz’s blog page as the inspiration for mine.
Then, go about making yours look as similar as possible. It may not be spot on, but it will get you to infinitely better UIs than what you have now. Your guests will thank you.
R. Reassess Search Intent
Once you hash out your data-driven, keyword-optimized blog and hit publish, you aren’t done. No, now you need to put a reminder on your calendar for 6 months from now. Remind yourself to reassess your post.
Are you number 1 on Google? If the answer is no, then you need to go through the steps above again. Once you’ve blazed through those steps, ask how many backlinks does this page have? You may need to earn more to unseat your competition (more below).
Beef Up Your Web Strength
by Link Building
S. White-Hat Link Building
Link building is purposefully trying to get as many backlinks as possible. There are good ways to do it and bad ways. When you do it like you’re supposed too, it is called white-hat link building. Doing it wrong, black-hat. The hats are references to old westerns always outfitting the hero in a white hat and the villain in a black hat.
I won’t attempt to go over every black-hat technique, but WordStream wrote a great article on the topic. Here is the skinny. Google will blacklist your website when they catch you using any spammy techniques. DON’T DO IT!
Instead, here are three easy and Google-friendly link building strategies to buff your stats.
T. Guest Posting to Glory
This is the most tried and true link building strategy. Offer to write an article for another website in your niche. You are guaranteed to get 1-4 links back to your blog. One, in the author’s bio box, will go to your homepage.
The others, if you’re allowed them, can go to pages you are trying to rank up. It’s not worth your time to smush more than the allowed number of backlinks in your guest post. There are diminishing returns for every link from the same page back to your site. Plus, it’s bad etiquette that will get your post taken down.
Guest blogging is more intricate than I’m making it sound. But, it is not as hard as some bloggers paint it. The number one reason blogs don’t use this method is that you’ll need to pony up and send a TON of cold emails.
That’s right, sending cold emails to strangers. Storytime! I had a business-to-business sales job. The job was awful because of the number of rejections I’d get every day. Cold emails are nice because, if they reject you, they don’t reply, and you’re none the wiser. When you’re standing in front of them, it’s not that benign. I say, cold emails aren’t bad by comparison.
Once you’ve sent enough personalized, targeted emails, you’ll get a guest post. Now smash it out of the park with quick turn-around times, excellent customer service, and a post that follows these steps. Your pages and your customers will thank you for it.
U. Broken Link Building
Have you ever clicked on a link and seen this?
Broken links are links that lead to a missing page. It’s annoying and bad user experience.
Now, run the same report to find broken pages on a competitor’s site. If you find a broken page with links to it that looks appropriate for your site, recreate the page with your own flavor. You can check what the page used to look like with Archive.org. It’ll look like this:
Once your article is live, contact all of the sites linking to the broken page, point out where the link is, and suggest they remove or replace it with your link. Sneaky, no?
V. How to Link Build with Resource Pages
I saved the easiest strategy for last. Links are, by nature, hard to get. What if there were pages devoted to linking to other pages? How easy is it for a site to add you to that list? Really easy. Luckily, such a thing exists, resource pages.
First, find good resource pages. Let’s say you wrote a post on “how to save money” and you want to build a few quick links. Go to Google and type in one of the following (not exhaustive):
- inurl:links.html intitle: “how to save money”
- inurl:links.html “how to save money”
- intitle: “how to save money” inurl:links.html
- inurl:.com/resources intitle: “how to save money”
- inurl:.com/links intitle: “how to save money”
- inurl:org/resources intitle: “how to save money”
Filter through the results for resource pages. You’re looking for sites with multiple outgoing links, not on a BlogSpot site (passes no value), and doesn’t feel sketchy. This one looks good.
Now click to see what the site looks like.
It looks promising. Now, I’d email the site owner or the editor to ask to be added to their resource page.
Technical SEO for Bloggers Who Geek Out
W. Start with a Site Audit Crawlers
Site crawlers are web tools that will scour your website like spiders. They’re job is to give your website a thorough medical workup. There are free tools available to crawl your website and point out any issues you may not know about.
I suggest doing this once a month to prevent any hidden issues causing more problems with your site. Once your website has been crawled, you’ll get a report that looks like this:
Fix every issue the report indicates like broken pages (see below) and run the audit again. Rinse and repeat until no issues come up.
X. Page Speed
Page speed is the speed at which a page loads, and it is a ranking factor on Google. Check every page on your site. Google has a free industrial-grade tool to measure site speed that works for both desktop and mobile. Check both! The report will give you suggestions for how to fix any glaring page speed issues.
It’s fairly simple to use, and there are loads of tutorials online for each error code message that may come up. You’ll notice that the errors come with an approximate page speed savings for each repair.
Start from the top and work your way down. The faster your page, the better your user experience. You don’t need a 100, you need a green light. Green means you’re good to go.
Did you know that Google considers how mobile-friendly a site is? It makes sense, considering close to half of its daily queries come from mobile devices. It wants users to be satisfied with their experience. You can check if your site’s pages are mobile-friendly with Google’s mobile-friendly checker. It’s totally free and completely worth your time.
If you aren’t mobile-friendly, then look into it. Normally, adjusting one or two settings is enough to okay your site.
Z. Broken Links
Your site audit (see above) may have revealed “404 Page Not Found” errors that devalue your blog. Don’t fret! Find the pages in your Content Management System, CMS (usually WordPress), and make a proper 301 redirect to another page on your blog.
Remember, broken link building is a great tactic, don’t let it be used against you.
Established and new bloggers alike can use this guide to systematically increase their organic search traffic from Google.
Having said that, it’s impossible to condense the entire SEO industry into a single guide. For more resources on anything mentioned (or not mentioned) in this guide, I recommend starting with a free introductory SEO course from Moz to learn more
Caleb Jones is an unapologetic Content Marketing Consultant, influential Personal Finance Writer, happy dad, happier husband, and can’t decide between Star Wars and Star Trek.
You can find him at his blog monkeyseemonkeydough.com or on Pinterest @monkeyseemonkeydough.