Create great content that people want to read. That’s the number one rule of search engine optimisation, or SEO: the term given to online activities that help raise a website up the results pages of search engines like Google. It therefore stands to reason that when it comes to the actual substance of your blog, the best thing you can do to improve its performance in search engines is to write interesting posts that people will enjoy reading. But what if nobody can find your blog? That’s where knowing a few tricks of the SEO trade can help. Here are some simple tips to help you optimise your blog for search engines so that it gets the audience it deserves.
1. Know your keywords
Before you can get started with SEO, there’s one important concept you’ll need to be familiar with, and that’s the idea of keywords. Keywords are the words and phrases people use to search for things in Google and other search engines. Although some people do type long questions and phrases into Google – and we’ll come onto those later in this post – most abbreviate them to their key components. “Gyms Coventry”, for example, or “women’s shoes”.
Getting started with SEO means thinking about how your readers are likely to search for blogs like yours. To help you do this, there’s a handy tool called the Google AdWords Keyword Planner, which generates keyword ideas and gives you a better idea of the number of people searching for different terms. If you have a blog about travel, for instance, you enter a general term like “travel blog” and it will give you all kinds of related keywords and tell you roughly how many people search for them each month.
From here, you can choose the keywords for which you’d ideally like your blog to appear in the search results. These will be the terms most relevant to what your blog is about, and that have a good number of monthly searches. Bear in mind that the shorter the keyword, the more competitive it is; there are lots of sites competing for the keyword “travel”, for example, but only a handful for more niche search terms such as “travel blog Nicaragua”.
2. Title tags and meta descriptions
When you search for something in a search engine, you see a page of results with blue clickable links and a short snippet of text. Those blue links are called ‘title tags’ and the snippets of text beneath are called ‘meta descriptions’. Using some of your chosen keywords in the title tags will help your blog appear for relevant searches, while the meta description is there to provide a brief explanation of the page and encourage people to click to read more.
Note that not all blogging platforms allow you to edit title tags and meta descriptions, and that’s why WordPress is a good choice if you want to be able to control these components. If you blog using a WordPress site, you can install a plugin called Yoast SEO, which not only allows you to edit title tags and meta descriptions, but it gives you lots of other more advanced SEO options as well.
3. URL structure
Your blogging platform will probably default to random numbers for the URL of your individual blog posts, but you should have the option to format them so that they’re more user-friendly. Google won’t understand random numbers any more than readers will, so using real words – ideally keywords, depending on the title of the post – is a must. That means changing the default URL structure from www.blogname.co.uk/1234 to www.blogname.co.uk/post-name.
4. Blog post titles
The titles of your blog posts have some bearing on the performance of your blog in search results, so it’s worth keeping keywords in mind when you’re crafting a clever blog post title that will intrigue your readers. Earlier, we mentioned that some people type long search terms into Google. These are known as long-tail keywords, of which “men’s running trainers blue” and “how to make chicken korma from scratch” are examples.
Blog post titles are the ideal place to target these more specific search terms; the longer ones, like the “how to” example, can often form titles in themselves. If you start typing into the Google search box, many of the suggested terms will be long-tail keywords. Try typing “how to” and a term relevant to your blog and see what comes up. What’s more, finding these terms is a great way of generating content ideas that are likely to be popular, as the suggested searches show what people are most commonly looking for.
5. Tags and categories
Creating a logical set of categories and tags for your posts will make your site easier for users to find their way around, but it can also help your SEO. Each time you write a post, put it into a relevant category (if it’s a post about France on a travel blog, it could go under “France” or “Europe”, for example) and add a few tags to describe the topic. Use keywords for these, such as “Loire Valley”, “wine tasting in France”, and so on. Adding title tags and meta descriptions for category and tag pages provides further opportunities to optimise your blog for a wider range of keywords, so these category and tag pages could appear in search engines themselves.
Finally, creating what’s known as an XML sitemap – essentially a list of all the pages on your blog – ties everything together and enables search engines to discover everything on your site more easily. The Yoast SEO WordPress plugin will generate a sitemap for you, or you can do this yourself using tools such as this sitemap generator.