If you are a blogger or managing a corporate blog, you have probably heard of SEO, but you may not know what to do with it. You have probably gone online and seen a lot of sites making promises to teach you how to get your website to the top of the SERPs in ALL three major search engines. Call them or write them and get the first magic trick for free! For the rest, you only need to pay $999.99.
There are no magic tricks in SEO (I’d say there are no magic tricks at all, but I have a friend who is an illusionist). If you happen to see an offer like the one I described above, your internal warning system should be flashing red.
When it comes to excellent SEO results, there is only hard work, sweat and, sadly, tears.
Because I am a good person, I will be presenting 11 tips that will help you gain visibility and rank higher in the SERPs. Keep in mind that these tips are just the start, as there is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to SEO.
To make your life easier (I did say I was a good person), I divided these tips into three levels based on their difficulty. Let’s start with the easy ones…
1. GET RID OF THOSE UGLY URLs
Do you see the difference between
Can you guess what you will see after clicking the first link? Yeah, me neither. Maybe it’s something about AIaIQobChMIlNfX44yU2Q or AiAAEgLRnPD_BwE&gclsrc=a. Who knows?
But I’m fairly confident that under the second link there is a blog post about website performance. You get me?
This distinction is not only important for users. Even Google recommends paying attention to your URLs structure on their webmaster blog.
Summarizing Google’s recommendations on URLs, you should:
- Keep them as simple as possible.
- Try to make them intelligible to humans.
- Use hyphens to separate words.
- Be careful with parameters.
And remember that you have to set a redirect when beautifying those URLs.
2. SIZE MATTERS
Or rather, word count matters. A short story is usually defined by having between a 1,000 to 30,000 words. A novel is generally viewed as having 40,000 words or more. For perspective, the first Harry Potter book – the shortest in the series – had 76,944 words.
But when it comes to writing your blog, your job is not to be Stephen King.
While Google appreciates a high word count, readers generally have anxiety when they stare at a long scroll bar on the side of your content.
To start with, try not to write less than 500 words. And then try not to go above 2,000 words (which is about the right length for someone to read in one sitting). That said, sometimes your content is full of gold and you have 11 things you want to write about.
The trick is to find the right balance that works for your readers and crawlers. And once you get that right, then you need to start thinking about keywords.
3. KEYWORD RESEARCH
Whether you’re writing a paragraph or an epic, none of it really matters without some quality keywords to get Google’s attention. This is why it’s important that you do your research.
There are some great tools you can use to find keywords that are relevant to your content, many of which you might not have thought of. For instance, there’s Answer the Public, which provides you with the possible questions (keyword possibilities) that could lead readers to your blog.
I put in blogging into Answer the Public, and I got a visualization like this:
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg for what they present.
If keyword research is something that strikes your fancy, then you’re going to love #4.
All right! You survived Level One! Let’s turn up the difficulty just a little bit and take a look at some more tips.
4. TF*IDF – The Algorithm to Rule Them All
TF*IDF is probably one of those things you’ve never heard of, like the name of the thing that hangs in the back of your throat (uvula, by the way!). TF*IDF is an algorithm used to see how many times a keyword appears in any content and then determines the word’s importance, or weight, in the content itself. Once that is established, the algorithm can then figure out the weight of the keyword in relation to how many times it appears throughout the web.
Basically, the more the word weighs, the rarer it is – meaning, the more value the keyword has to your content and search engines.
You really should read Bartosz Góralewicz’s “The TF*IDF Algorithm Explained” because his step-by-step guide on how to effectively utilize the algorithm is an invaluable resource for content writers and bloggers alike.
5. SPEED UP YOUR WEBSITE
It is extremely important that your website is loading promptly. 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load. Nobody wants to wait for the page to load.
Do you know who else doesn’t like waiting for your website to load? Crawlers.
And this is a serious problem, especially when taking your crawl budget into consideration.
The crawl budget is “the number of pages Googlebot will regularly crawl based on the size and cleanliness of your site, as well as the number of links directing the crawler to your site.” Generally speaking, the longer it takes for Googlebot to crawl your website, the greater the possibility that your website won’t rank.
You can check your website’s speed by simply pasting your website’s URL in Google PageSpeed Insights. Or use any other commercial tool like GTmetrix or WebPageTest.
If you’re using WordPress CMS, you can read about how to reduce WordPress Load Time. And if your blog uses international languages like Spanish or English, try using a Content Delivery Network (CDN). This will decrease the loading time for your international readers.
6. WORK ON YOUR BLOG’S INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE
Getting readers to come to your website is half the battle. They need to intuitively know where to go once they arrive. You need to take the time to consider the organization of your website so that it is easier for readers to access and find their way around. And then think of ways to encourage readers to continue discovering your work, like adding a section with related posts.
Follow these guidelines in order to optimize your Information Architecture:
- Base it on proper keyword research.
- Consider what your users are searching for and expecting.
- Improve the usability of your website.
- Think about monetization – let the users flow naturally to the Call To Action pages.
- Create an awesome user experience while organizing the content.
- Support your most important landing pages.
- Allow proper PageRank flow with internal linking and navigational solutions.
Basically, don’t let your website be like this cat.
If you are still uncertain about Information Architecture Optimization, you should read this article.
7. Don’t manipulate links
Don’t sell, buy, or trade links that pass PageRank. Accepting or offering a text link advertising is not only against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, it may cause the downranking of your website. This also applies to taking part in the system for exchanging links (quite popular among starting bloggers).
If you’re signing an affiliate contract, or for any other reason you thought to point to another website for money (or other compensation that has significant value), make sure that your link is equipped with a rel=”nofollow” attribute.
Look at you! You made it to Level Three. The previous levels had aspects that didn’t require you to have a complete background in SEO; however, this level is a bit more technical. You may need additional research or help from a developer in order to implement these tips and insights.
8. Install Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin that helps you take care of your SEO efforts. It’s free of charge, but there is a premium version that brings more cool features.
Some of the free features worth mentioning:
- Breadcrumbs control – if your theme supports Yoast breadcrumbs control, you can actually customize your breadcrumbs pretty easily.
- Technical stuff in the background – Yoast will let you directly edit robots.txt, htaccess file, or sitemap.xml without any additional software; e.g. you can just pick whether you want to put posts in your sitemap or not with one switch.
- Automatic canonicalization of duplicates – try using this if you’re not familiar with fixing duplicates issues, as doing something is usually better than doing nothing.
- Title and metas management – plenty of options you can set to show a great custom meta title!
- Search Console Integration.
- Social – OpenGraph data, Twitter Cards, and other cool stuff.
Premium features that are quite useful:
- Technical support – you can take advantage of Yoast support for up to one year from the date you bought the premium version.
- Redirect manager – this comes in handy if you’re an ignod, by reminding you whether or not you want to redirect a just-deleted page. It’s also possible to manage redirects in the form of a table, or by REGEX (for advanced users). Speaking of – Tomek Rudzki wrote a great article on how to use regex in SEO.
- Internal linking suggestions – you will get suggestions on to which posts/pages you should link to in your new post.
- Social Preview – this feature will let you check how your post will look when shared on Twitter or Facebook.
9. Don’t Duplicate
Always try to avoid duplicates; that is, the same page being accessible through many URL addresses.
Here are some of the most common causes of duplicate content:
- Print pages
- Keeping both, www and non-www, as well as http and https versions of your website
The difficulty arises when a search engine cannot find the correct version of a web page.
To fix duplicate content, you should get rid of all the duplicates that are on your website. Mainly, there are three ways of dealing with duplicates:
- Redirecting duplicated pages
- Setting a link rel=”canonical” tag (a hint for Google, which webpage is main – “canonical”)
- In some cases, using the parameter handling tool in Google Search Console (Crawl ->Url Parameters)
For redirects, set a 301 redirect on duplicated pages pointing to the original. This is helpful, for example, when http and https versions of your website answer with a 200 OK status code.
Use canonicals for the sake of the user experience when you want to keep a page. This also works for cross-domain canonicalization.
In the URL parameters section of Google Search Console, all of your website’s URL parameters are revealed. With this information, you can, for example, tell Google that all the URLs containing parameter ?ref are passive, meaning they don’t change the content of the web page. From now on you are giving Google a hint that https://example.com/blog/post?ref=twitter is the same as https://example.com/blog/post?ref=facebook and it will actually crawl just a representative of each group. This way Google will crawl either https://example.com/blog/post?ref=facebook or https://example.com/blog/post?ref=twitter, not both. This will save your crawl budget and avoid keyword cannibalization.
However, if your parameters change the page content seen by users, e.g. pagination https://example.com/blog?page=3, which definitely differs from https://example.com/blog?page=1, pick another option from the drop-down list and select how a parameter affects the page content.
In this case we want to index every URL containing this parameter, because the content changes for each value of the parameter.
10. Markup your data
Structured Data are the markups in the code of your website that help search engines understand what you wrote about. Search engines use them to find and present the most relevant results to the user. Let me explain using an example: Imagine that you are a blogging Chef de Cuisine. You just added a jaw-breaking recipe for microwaved chicken. You can implement a structured data markup so that it becomes visually appealing.
Pro tip: Check out the schemas you can apply to your website! I’m sure you searched for this kick-ass microwaved chicken recipe. Did you see all those stars, images and stuff?
Thanks to structured data you can get those too.
But let’s get back to the explanation; your recipe has to contain the know-how and the list of ingredients. You can also add some information about the prep-time and nutrition. Guess what? All of these can be the properties of a markup.
Check out this simple markup of the recipe for this chicken.
Structured Data Markup Helper will let you easily find proper markups for your web pages! This is a great way of learning what it’s all about. You can actually pick any web page and try different markups on your own.
Take a look at the table below and check whether your content can bring you some SERP features 🙂
11. Say Hello to Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog is crawling software that you can install on your desktop. Put simply, this is an application that visits all the pages of your website in a similar manner Googlebot does. It analyzes your website and provides you with fresh insights on what is going on.
You can download and use it for free with a limit of up to 500 pages for a single crawl (list mode is unlimited).
It crawls a website page by page and discovers all the links that are within them, all files, images and so on. Then it presents its findings in the form of reports in CSV or Excel files; all you have to do is to pick a specific report.
Using the extracted data can help you optimize your website.
Here is the data directly available in the application (through tabs):
- External links – all the links found on your website pointing outside of it.
- Response Codes – all the URLs of your website with status codes; this helps to discover how many broken pages, redirects, and server errors are on your website.
- Page Titles – the titles of all the found webpages.
- Meta Description – the meta descriptions of all the pages found.
- Meta Keywords (This is not something you need to care about).
- H tags – how H tags are used in all the found webpages.
- Images – lists of all images found on your website.
Data available after exporting a specific report:
- Redirect chains – finds all redirects across your domain and extracts all that point to another redirect.
- Canonical errors – finds all web pages with rel=canonical tag pointing to a page that responds with anything other than a 200 OK.
- Rel=”next/prev” report – this report shows errors with pagination indicating attributes.
- Hreflang – there are 4 reports concerning Hreflangs:
1. Errors – rel alternate pointing to web page responding with anything other than a 200 OK.
2. Missing confirmation links – if on page A there is a hreflang link to page B, on page B there must be a link to page A. This report shows pages that are missing these confirmation links.
3. Inconsistent language – if on page A there is a link to page B and it indicates that it’s in English, but the page’s C link indicates it’s in Spanish, then Google will misunderstand the hreflang.
4. Non-canonical links – if there is a link to page B on page A, but page B then redirects to page C, page B is non-canonical and it’s an error.
You can download Screaming Frog here.
You did it! I hope you found these 11 tips useful and saved yourself $999.99. Hopefully this information will make your blog more visible and better optimized for your readers and search engines.