April 25, 2014
Search engine optimization (SEO) has been around for a while now, but many still see it as a big, scary, nebulous concept that’s best left to professionals.
While it can certainly be helpful to have someone in-the-know directly tasked with making sure your website ranks well, SEO isn’t really the faceless monster it’s perceived to be. There are plenty of SEO-boosting tricks that are well within the average Joe’s power to execute.
Having a business blog is a hugely beneficial form of SEO in itself. With a blog, you’re putting fresh content out into the world on a regular basis, illustrating your company’s expertise and passion. From an SEO perspective, new content tells search engines that your site is active and, therefore, possibly more relevant than less active sites. This, of course, inspires the search engine (let’s be real: it inspires Google) to suggest your site more frequently in search results.
How to Grade Your Blog’s SEO
Before you dive into optimization, it wouldn’t hurt to find out how your business blog is doing on SEO right now. There are plenty of online website analyzers—many of them completely free—that will automatically grade your blog on important SEO factors like load time, social media impact and technical proficiency. And they don’t need any information from you other than your URL.
I like these two the best:
- Neil Patel’s analyzer at QuickSprout, which gives you an overall letter grade along with an easy-to-digest breakdown of the elements you were scored on. (It also told me that the S&B blog is the 3,973,070th most popular website in the world, should anyone ask.)
- WooRank, which pulls out the top five optimization tasks you should be focusing on and describes them in plain English. (One caveat: you can only generate one free report per week.)
Six Quick Wins for SEO
Site analyzing tools can give you a good starting place for understanding how search engines are seeing your blog, and they can even help drive your improvement efforts. But if the reports make you go a little cross-eyed, here’s a breakdown of six easy SEO boosters you can start implementing on your blog today.
1) Use H-tags
These are the formatting codes that make headlines and subheadings bigger than regular text. They make it easy for search engines to find your titles and main points.
On WordPress sites, H-tags are available in a dropdown: Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc. In HTML code, they look like this:
For good SEO, you want one H1 tag per page, along with one or more H2, H3 and H4’s.
2) Add a sitemap
I know this might sound intimidating already, but stay with me!
A sitemap is a list of all the pages on a website that are accessible to search engine crawlers. It’s important for ensuring that search engines like Google can find all of the content on your site and serve it up in search results. Sitemaps can also give search engines important information about pages’ relative importance to each other and how often they are updated.
The sitemap itself is generated on the backend, in code, and never actually seen by users. But it’s important to make sure your site has one.
To check whether your site has a sitemap, follow the instructions in step three of this article.
If you need to add a sitemap to your site, you can find lots of free automatic sitemap generators online, like this one. For WordPress sites, you can use plugins like this one to both create an original sitemap and to continually update it as new content is added.
3) Add meta descriptions
Another intimidating word! Except that it’s not.
A meta description is just the text that appears directly under the main blog post title in search results. If you don’t specify a meta description, search engines will just grab a snippet from the first few sentences of your post. This isn’t ideal for two reasons:
A) Your first sentences probably don’t offer a compact summary of your post, which is what a meta description is intended to do.
B) Search-engine-generated meta descriptions get chopped off at 160 characters, regardless of where that limit falls in a sentence. (Google will stop at the last full word and then insert an ellipsis […]).
At S&B, we use this plugin to help simplify the process of adding meta descriptions to our blog posts. (Bonus: this plugin also automatically creates and updates our sitemap!). The plugin simply adds a bunch of fields to the editing screen at the bottom of every new blog post, one of which is Meta Description, so we remember to fill in the content search engines will be looking for.
This plugin also allows us to run a quick test on how well we’re using our focus keyword from an SEO perspective. In the example above, we included the keyword “processes” in our article heading, page title, page URL, content and meta description. (We do take this test with a grain of salt, however, since keyword usage should never feel forced. There are many times we haven’t fulfilled all five of those requirements and we were perfectly comfortable with our content as written.)
The plugin also limits our meta descriptions to 156 characters, to keep them safely within the 160-character limit. The general rule is that descriptions should fall between 150-160 characters—maybe less, but never more.
4) Add descriptions for your images
Search engines are very good at finding and understanding text on a page, but images just look like a bunch of colored pixels to them. In many cases, your images are a valuable part of your message, but without a little extra SEO help, search engines will never see what they have to offer.
Anytime you upload an image to your blog, you should be able to edit the associated descriptive text, which is stored in what’s called a tag. Search engines recognize and understand tags, and can consider their content for inclusion in search results.
Here’s what it looks like when you add an image in WordPress:
The most important elements for SEO are the title and alternative text. “Alternative text” is just a fancy way of saying “description”—it’s the text Google checks when picking images to return in an image search, among other things.
When writing your image descriptions, use text that fulfills the same function as the image. So, if you have an image of a question mark on your FAQ page, your description should say something about FAQs or help, rather than “question mark.”
You can also add a custom link URL for your image, which should include the same keywords you used in the description. This is also a huge help for SEO, since it gives search engines one more thing to look at when determining relevance. Without a custom URL, your image’s URL will just be an auto-generated jumble of letters and numbers that are meaningless to search engines.
5) Set up Google authorship
Setting up Google authorship involves linking your personal Google+ account (which you will need to have) to your blog posts. This wins you some points with Google, since they have a special appreciation for those who use their products. It also has the handy side effect of making your picture appear in search results, giving your blog posts a little visual boost over the rest in search results. Here’s how to set up Google authorship. (And a more detailed explanation of why.)
6) Improve your load time
This final suggestion might not be as quick to fix as the others, depending your blog’s current load time. But a snappy load time is so critical for SEO that it belongs on almost all SEO improvement lists.
You can check your blog’s current load time, and possibly even identify a few bottlenecks, through Pingdom.
If your load time is graded poorly, it’s time to investigate. You might need to switch to a faster host or remove elements of your site that are slowing it down. Remove plugins that you don’t need, since those can be taxing to load time. Keep your design elements simple, with plenty of white space (this benefits both SEO and readability). If you have large images on your blog that take a long time to load, you might need to consider optimizing them with a free image optimizer tool.
Oh, and we have a plugin recommendation for this, too: if you have a WordPress website, you can use this plugin (as we do) to improve load time through smart caching (information saving).
Don’t let SEO intimidate you. Even if you don’t consider yourself a tech savvy person, there are so many articles and tools available to help you these days that anyone can get comfortable with SEO.
Also, make sure you’re prioritizing SEO efforts, rather than hoarding them for the miraculous day you find yourself with a little free time. After all, if you’re going to go through all the effort to maintain a business blog, you might as well get people reading it.
What other SEO tips for blogs would you add to this list?