In Part 1 of this article that introduces search engine optimization to authors who blog, we looked at the forces at work that make search engine optimization (SEO) so critically important for authors to understand. In Part 2, we put this learning to work, first by looking at the tools we use for SEO, then with practical steps you can take today to improve your own author sites.
Tools for SEO
Here are the tools we’ll be using to get our SEO up and running:
1. WordPress themes
In this article, I’m going to focus on blogs run on the WordPress platform. Once you install WordPress, you need to pick a theme. The theme will have a lot to do with how your blog looks to visitors as well as the kinds of tools it provides behind the scenes.
Choosing the right theme by itself won’t necessarily improve your SEO, but some themes have capabilities that can enhance your SEO efforts. For example, premium (i.e. you have to pay for them) themes like Thesis or the Genesis Themes from Studio Press give you ways to control your SEO that you won’t get with most standard, free themes.
Even if your theme doesn’t support the SEO options like being able to directly access the title tag separate from the blog headline, or allow you to enter meta tags, you can use plugins, which are small software programs that add functionality to WordPress. A good example is the All In One SEO Pack plugin, which provides these kinds of controls.
3. Keyword research
Everything we do to optimize our blog posts and website articles for search engines revolves around keywords. Keywords are the words and phrases people use when they are typing in that search bar.
It’s vital that you know what words and phrases people use when they are looking for help within your subject area. Almost everything you do in SEO will revolve around, or be influenced by, your keywords.
My favorite way to find out the keywords that are important for a specific article is with the free Google Adwords External Keyword Tool. It’s crucial for you to do this research even—or especially—if you think you already know what the keywords in your area are. You may be surprised to find out that a small change in the way a phrase is expressed can make a large difference in how many people are using it. For instance, the keyword phrase “publish a book” is popular, but the alternate form “publishing a book” is more than twice as popular with searchers. You wouldn’t know this unless you had done a few minutes’ research.
4. Domain names
One of the best things you can do for your blog traffic and SEO efforts is to use one of your keywords in the domain name of your site. However, if you already have your domain set up, that’s fine too; it won’t hold you back. For example, if you write about dog care, having a domain name like www.wecarefordogs.com would include a couple of keywords within it. Every time someone links to your blog, this domain name will reinforce exactly what your blog or website is about.
5. Keyword use
Now that you know how to find keywords, you’ll want to develop a list of 10-50 of these words and phrases and keep it handy. When it comes time to write your next blog post or article, pull out your list and pick the one or two keywords that you’ll focus on for that specific article.
6. Anchor text
The words that you choose to use as the “click here” text for a link are referred to as anchor text. Because you’ve emphasized this text by turning it into a link, it carries more weight, so it’s a perfect place to use your keywords. Using our example from above, if you are linking to an information resource on your site, you might say something like, “For more information on dog care, see this list of resources.”
7. Organic writing
One thing you don’t want to do is “stuff” your article with your keywords to try to trick the system. Search engine robots know all about that and don’t like it. The idea is to use these words and phrases organically within your writing so they seem natural and inevitable. Aim to use each keyword about 4 or 5 times in an article of 750-1,000 words, and make sure one of those uses is in the first paragraph, where it will get extra emphasis.
It’s a great idea to break up your blog post with subheads. They make it easier for readers to navigate the article and keep it from looking like a long gray column of type. Since subheads are also a method of emphasizing certain words or phrases, this is another great place to use your keywords.
Another great idea for bloggers is to use images in your blog posts. You’re likely to get more readers and encourage pinning of your articles on sites like Pinterest, which can drive even more traffic to your site. But did you know that images can be used for SEO? In addition to having a description where your keywords might appear, each image also has an “alt” tag. This “alternative” information is used when the image itself isn’t available or the user has turned off images in her browser.
In addition to giving you a place to describe your article’s subject in plain text, you can also use it for SEO. Put the main keyword used in your article in your image’s alt tag. It’s another way to help search engines index your content.
10. Title tag
Most blog software uses the headline you write to fill the “title” tag for your blog post or article. This is the title that will show up if you hover your cursor over the tab that holds the article. But savvy authors know that it doesn’t have to exactly match your headline, and there are times you want to use slightly different forms in the headline and title tag.
For instance, when I publish guest articles on my blog, I use a regular headline, but then I also put the author’s name in the title tag. The title tag is what a search engine will show in its search results; having the author’s name included adds some importance and the opportunity for links to their name as well. Premium themes and SEO plugins will give you access to the title tag separately from the blog headline.
11. Meta keywords
Assigning meta keywords to your post apparently doesn’t carry the weight it used to, but they are still available and you can use them for your keywords. This is another area in which premium themes and SEO plugins can help your efforts.
12. Categories and tags
WordPress blogs allow you to assign both categories and tags to your posts or articles. I think of categories like the chapters in a book, and you may have only 6 to 12 categories on your blog. Tags are more like entries in an index, and you may have hundreds of tags as you continue to create content. Keep your keywords in mind when you’re creating your categories and tags to further optimize your articles and blog posts.
10 Ways You Can SEO Today
Now it’s time to turn this information into action. Here’s a plan to help move your articles up the search engine results until you, too, start showing up on page 1 for your keyword terms.
- Do your research before you start to write. Nothing will have a bigger effect on your SEO efforts than knowing the right keywords to target. Pick one or two for each post.
- Use keywords in your article’s headline and also in the title tag.
- If you mention a city, a person, or a product in your article, be specific in your headline, because those names will be what people are using in their searches.
- Make sure you write in a natural style that’s enjoyable for humans to read.
- Use your keywords as anchor text for a link in the first paragraph of your article.
- Make sure your keywords are represented in your blog’s categories and tags.
- Use subheads to break up your content and emphasize the subjects covered.
- Use bullet lists and number lists (like I did in this article) to make your articles easier to read and easier for both robots and humans to “scan.”
- If you’ve used images in your blog post (and you should) make sure your keywords are included in the image’s “alt” field.
- Your blog’s tagline is a perfect place to express your unique approach to your subject, and a great place for your keywords, too.
This may seem like a lot of steps, but I think you’ll find over time that many of them become second nature to you as you continue to write and publish your blog posts.
About half these suggestions are structural; that is, they are part of the way you set up your blog and only have to be done once.
That leaves you with the SEO work you do on your articles, and there’s no simple way around that. But think of the outcome. It’s entirely possible that a few minutes of careful SEO on your blog post can make a huge difference in where your article will rank when searchers go looking for information on your topic.
Let’s face it: most bloggers don’t study SEO, don’t know how to apply it, and don’t make the effort. Just taking a few simple steps will put you above the majority of people writing on your subject. That translates directly into more readers, more prospects, more inquires, more engagement, more interest in what you are doing, a larger community, and all the other benefits we hope to get from blogging in the first place.
So spend some time to learn and practice SEO. It will pay off handsomely.
Photo: brapke. Originally published in a slightly different form under the title “A Quick Guide to SEO for the Indie Author: Part 2” at CreateSpace