Last week, we hosted our first-ever Ask Us Anything in our private Facebook group for EmPress customers. The very first question that came up? SEO. It’s a topic that comes up often with our custom clients, as well! SEO is one of those things you know you should be doing, but you don’t really know where to start. There’s an entire industry dedicated to SEO, from people who base their careers on it, to businesses who dedicate their mission to it. So how does a blogger — who already takes on the titles of writer, editor, photographer, accountant, and then some — add “SEO specialist” to their repertoire, without going insane? Thankfully, it’s not as difficult or as intimidating as it seems. Today we’re demystifying SEO for your blog and sharing five easy ways you can improve your blog’s SEO.
What is SEO?
Before we dive in, let’s talk about what SEO actually is. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Put simply, it’s a series of practices you can employ to ensure your content is readable to search engines like Google, so that when users type in keywords into a search engine, your content gets returned to them. In other words, SEO tells search engines what your content is all about.
The best advice we can give any SEO newbie is to think about your content in terms of how people would ideally discover it. Keep in mind that search engines are crawling your site looking for particular strings of keywords. When users land on your site, it’s then looking at what they do — do the leave the page quickly? Do they stay and read? Do they click on your links? Do they buy things from your links?
Search engines are also paying attention to what other people say about your content. Who is linking back to your posts? What do they write about those links? How many people are sharing your site? What do they say on social media? This confirms to the search engine that your content is what you say it is.
All this data tells search engines whether the content you are producing is valuable and reliable for a particular topic. Remember, the primary purpose of a search engine is to give people the answers they are looking for. If search engines determine that your content provides a great answer, your post will rank higher in results.
Above all, keep in mind that SEO is definitely a long game. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate, drastic results. Just do what you can! The point is to get search engines on your team, so to speak, so they are promoting your content for you without any extra effort on your part.
5 easy ways to improve your blog’s SEO
1. Install the Yoast SEO plugin.
This is a no-brainer! Yoast’s SEO plugin is a free, invaluable resource for your blog. It allows you to set a focus keyword for an individual post, as well as edit all elements of the “snippet preview” that appears in Google search results. You can use the plugin settings on every single post and page, making it easy to ensure your SEO is optimized for as many content pieces on your site as possible. The plugin also has a bunch of other cool features, one of which is allowing you to easily integrate Pinterest Rich Pins from your blog. Learn more about the plugin, and download it here.
The Yoast SEO plugin can be a bit overwhelming when you first install it, but don’t stress. Think of it as a tool that highlights areas you can improve upon in your posts. Use it as a checklist for editing your post for SEO purposes, but don’t feel like you have to follow it to the letter. Remember that you are writing for people first and foremost, so if one of the suggestions from Yoast doesn’t fit naturally in your post, that’s okay.
2. Name your image files.
Whenever possible, you should name the images you upload to a post with like keywords that you’ve designated within your Yoast SEO plugin settings. This is because search engines crawl information associated with images just like they do the text in your post. If you’ve named your image a default title like “IMG_0865,” search engines have no idea what this means, or what the content is about. Conversely, if an image is named “Top 10 Budget Boots for Fall,” this tells search engines exactly what it’s about, and your image may be returned in search results, particularly image search results. At minimum, your file names should describe the image itself, whether it matches your selected keywords or not.
3. Write alt tags.
When you upload your images to WordPress, you’ll see a field called “Alt.” Be sure to input keywords in your alt tag fields! These correspond to the “alt” attribute in the HTML for the image, which serves many important purposes for any website. For SEO purposes, this is another way to describe your image to search engines, and something search engines will pay close attention to in particular when returning image search results. Furthermore, alt tags improve the usability and accessibility of your site. If for some reason your images won’t load, a placeholder box will show the alt text describing your image. The alt tag also provides text for screen reader users. Finally, if you’re not using another method to optimize your Pinterest descriptions, the Pinterest description will default to your alt tag for that image. In other words, writing alt tags is the number one thing you should do if you’re short on time, especially if your blog is very visual.
4. Use headings.
Using headings in your posts is a good practice regardless, as it breaks up your content for easier reading. But headings also serve to outline your content for search engines. Think about your school textbooks: the chapter title told you what each chapter would teach you. It’s the same with headings — they reinforce to search engines what your post is about. To use headings in WordPress, click on your heading text, then click on the dropdown in the toolbar that says “Paragraph.” You’ll find six headings you can apply to your text. We recommend sticking to Heading 2 and Heading 3. Even though Heading 1 is available from the dropdown menu, it corresponds to the <h1> tag, which should be reserved for your blog post title only.
5. Write content worth sharing!
Years ago, our co-founder Victoria heard a great quote at a blogging conference: “links are the currency of the Internet.” While much has changed since that blog conference in the late 2000s, this is still a very true statement — and especially when it comes to SEO. The more people you can get to link to you and your site, the more search engines assume you must have some authority on particular topics. Remember what we said before — what other people say about your content confirms that your content is what you say it is. This is why, if you’ve been blogging for even a short time, you’ve probably received link requests from strangers, asking you to link to their post in one of your posts on a similar topic. This used to be a common practice, and some marketers still hold on to it (or, more likely, their bosses do). But search engines are catching on to the practice and giving weight to authentic sharing — when readers follow links to your posts and continue to engage with your content.
So while we love the original quote Victoria heard, the age old adage about blogs is probably even more true: Content is king. If your content is good, people will ultimately link to it, talk about it, and share it. While the nature of lifestyle blogging means that some posts are going to be of-the-moment, balance out your content with high-quality, evergreen content that is so helpful, people can’t help but share it and refer back to it over and over again.
Bonus points: Make your site mobile friendly.
If you look at your site analytics, you probably have a pretty significant portion of your readership accessing your site from mobile devices. As more and more users browse the Internet on mobile devices, search engines are taking notice and giving weight to sites that are mobile friendly. If your site isn’t mobile friendly, as a quick fix we recommend the mobile theme from the Jetpack plugin. However, your best option is to use a theme that’s mobile responsive (like ours!). If a redesign is on your radar for 2018, it’s essential to make sure your new design is mobile responsive. If you’re not planning a redesign, then make it a priority to research and switch to a mobile responsive theme this year.
What questions do you have about SEO? Are there any other questions we can answer for you on the blog? Let us know in the comments!