SEO is a term that gets dropped into conversation a lot. There’s a great deal of information online about what it is and how it affects bloggers, but a lot of it is incorrect, misleading or just plain mystifying. Since we’re lucky enough to work in an agency full of SEO geniuses, the 4Ps Content Team decided to set the record straight.
So what is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. At its core, it’s as simple as giving search engines all the information they need to return your blog as an organic result (i.e. not paid for) on relevant searches. Google is the most frequently used example of a search engine, particularly here in the UK, but these techniques should improve your rankings for other search engines like Bing and Yahoo.
In this example, the top two results for the search term “blog” are ads and the second two are organic listings. When we optimise our websites for SEO, what we’re aiming to do is show up in these organic results for search terms around the topics our website covers.
Basically search engines will read through all of the information on your blog or website by crawling the site with bots. When someone types a query into the search engine, it returns pages in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) that it thinks will answer the question, which are hosted on user-friendly, helpful websites.
Is SEO just about Search Engines?
At the end of the day, Google wants more people to use Google so it can serve more ads and make more money. It might sound cynical, but bear with us. In order to do this, the Google algorithm (which is a fancy word to describe the series of processes Google goes through to answer your question) serves results which it thinks actual users will find useful. Think of it like this – if users get good results, they’ll be happy and they’ll continue to use Google. If they think the results are unhelpful or link to poor quality websites, they’ll get upset and use another search engine.
In the past, SEO experts would recommend measures to help computers process your website, but now it’s just as important to make sure real people can enjoy and understand your content. If users can’t use your website, Google is much less likely to show it in the search results. This makes it very difficult to build a strong following and will limit brands wanting to partner with you.
What can I do to improve my SEO?
There are a couple of simple things which will help your SEO regardless of the blogging platform you use. First, make sure you’ve locked down your meta data. Most major blogging platforms will allow you to change your meta title and meta description for each post or page. This allows search engines to easily determine what information it contains.
The meta title for the page usually gets pulled into the search results as the main blue title. To encourage people to click on it, it’s important that it’s eye catching and informative.
The amount of the title displayed by Google is measured in pixels, but as a quick rule of thumb, it’s usually best to keep titles under 60 characters including spaces. Titles which include phrases like “Top 5…” or “How to…” often do well; you can use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to check what language is being used around any given topic. Another great source of inspiration is a quick Google search of your target keywords to reveal what is already doing well in search.
The meta description often gets pulled into the search results as the description below the title. Ideally your meta descriptions should tell both Google and the user what your page is about.
Although many people believe that the meta description doesn’t count towards rank, it does have a big effect on the number of people who will click through to your page, which is a confirmed ranking factor. We recommend using calls to action in the meta description – think of phrases like “read more about…” “discover new ways to…” “learn how to…”etc. Best practice is to keep meta descriptions under 156 characters including spaces. If you want the whole description to appear, remember that a lot of blogs will show the date in the search result too, like the example above, which eats into your character limit!
H1s are another key area for SEO optimisation. Making sure that your page headline is optimised for keyword search and that the headline or post title (and only this) is marked as an H1 can make a huge difference in the SEO of your page. You can quickly check what is being marked as H1 using a simple Google Chrome extension such as Moz or viewing the source code either within your blogging platform or by right clicking in your web-browser. Depending on your blogging platform you may need to go into the HTML in order to mark H1s. These should be denoted by tagging the heading in the following way: <h1>Your Post Headline</h1>.
The last area that we always consider is image optimisation. Images are a key component since computers can’t “see” images the way people can. Although Google in particular is getting increasingly good at recognising what is in pictures, it’s still best practice to provide an image alt tag describing what is in the picture which accompanies your post, and using your keywords wherever possible. Not only is it good for search, it’s also useful for any readers of your blog who are visually impaired. It is also a good idea to name your images sensibly. Instead of just using abstract camera names like DSC1339374.jpg (or similar), name your images using hyphens to separate words. For example, something like my-awesome-blog.jpg or picture-of-tempura.jpg is really useful. You can use any image editing software to change the filename of your images before you upload to your blog.
When can I expect to land on page one of Google?
The problem with SEO is that it’s more of an art than an exact science. Even with a thorough overhaul, it can still take several months before you begin to see noticeable results. With literally trillions of websites to crawl, Google might take a bit of time to get to your blog, especially if you were recently crawled. Also, with a whole host of ranking factors being used by Google, it might be something completely different that is affecting your ranking. Don’t forget to be realistic in terms of what you want to be visible for – appearing on page one for something enormously competitive like “chocolate” is very unlikely to happen!
More of “A Content Marketer’s Guide For Bloggers”
Part 1 – How Content Marketers Choose Blogs
Part 2 – SEO Basics For Bloggers
Part 3 – Common SEO Mistakes That Bloggers Make
Part 4 – To Follow or Not to Follow: A Guide to Links for Bloggers
Part 5 – coming soon